The Mercury Men and the Thrill of Corporate Learning
Switch on your smart phone or tablet and watch The Mercury Men if you want your organizational learning to have a greater impact on changing behavior and culture. After seeing just a minute and a half of the free trailer, I had to spend a few dollars to buy the first web based episodes. I'm glad I did and I’m ready for more. That's the point.
First, some background and full disclosure: The Mercury Men is a low-budget, retro, science-fiction serial thriller, staged in Pittsburgh, my hometown. The lead character, Edward Boreman, is a long time buddy from high school, Mark Tierno. He's an unlikely hero battling Mercureans who are sent to destroy Earth benefiting from superior technology and near supernatural powers. The Mercury Men is tightly plotted, well acted, directed and edited, spare in its design with minimal, yet effective, special effects and sets. Except for a clip or two, the series is all black and white. Yet, The Mercury Men is constantly engaging, edgy and excruciatingly suspenseful. Clearly, a lot of thought and artistry went into this series distinguishing it from many higher-end, glitzier, bigger-name productions that hardly anyone watches and no one remembers.
Yes, this is all partly a shameless plug for a long-time friend, but the free trailer and the series are worth watching for anyone trying to increase the benefit of workplace learning when time, money and attention are scarce resources. Just as the trailer of The Mercury Men has to hook a viewer into viewing more episodes, corporate learning must hook a participant into wanting to learn more. How? First, many organizations are now considering what they can do to prepare participants for an upcoming classroom or online experience. Often, the focus is on sending out information to be reviewed before learning is delivered. This may be useful for some topics. Generally, there would be greater value in creating short bursts of intriguing content, which pose realistic, timely workplace problems, promising they’ll be addressed in subsequent learning experiences. This will make participants anticipate and think about what they'll learn, in the same way The Mercury Men's cliff hanger trailer made me wonder about what would happen to Edward Boreman and Planet Earth.
Second, many organizations are investing heavily in building corporate libraries covering virtually every imaginable topic, all available on demand. One client recently told us that they have several thousand courses on their LMS. It's almost impossible for anyone to use, much less remember all of the information - or even a small fraction - represented in this collection. You could just as well give employees access to the Netflix movie catalogue and tell them to watch what they want and absorb what they can. They might see a lot but would likely remember little. In the same way, workplace learning is often anticipated as a mind numbing, time draining waste...a torrent of useless information to receive and quickly forget.
For learning to be worth accessing and leave a behavioral impact, it must be memorable and applicable. Boredom is the key enemy of learning, more toxic than lack of time. Curiosity may have killed the cat but it keeps our attention alive. This is why The Mercury Men works as a series...as each episode ends, it makes you want to see what happens in the following segment. Similarly, we have to generate enthusiasm for learning and retention by delivering novel, engaging experiences that matter to participants while providing tools that can be used on the job.
Finally, to keep key lessons top of mind, we must deliver ongoing reinforcement and nuggets of learning that are simple, quick and captivating. This type of "refresher”training is especially suited for online delivery. Follow up learning segments should be provocative, short, conceptually linked to what was previously taught, and as compelling as the “pre-enforcement”trailers that set the stage for initial deliveries. Overall, where changing long term behavior and culture is the goal, think of learning as an ongoing series, not as a single movie. And as you apply these lessons, watch out for The Mercury Men - they're still on the loose.