The learning asylum

Time to escape the mad house


October 31, 2016
by Mike Collins

Painting the world around you

Public speaking; the final frontier.

For many it doesn’t even get to the first frontier, rather a feeling of dread that starts in the pit of the stomach and slowly engulfs your entire physical being.

Public speaking is hard, like REALLY hard!

There are those who are naturals, who grace whatever stage they are on with integrity, humility, knowledge and experience; but also captivate and entertain. It’s a rare combination, to speak on a subject and tell a story that makes people want to listen.

Not only listen, but inspires them to go and do something different, to become better, to have adventures, to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Sorry going off-track with the Star trek thing again but seriously these ‘naturals’ have put the time in, they have worked hard and practiced a lot to refine this art.

I’ve attended a fair amount of conferences in my time. I’ve seen lots of speakers talk on subjects that bore me to death, proper dross – although I think the conference free seminar is responsible for most of those. I’ve seen experienced practitioners share fascinating stories that fall flat and don’t make an impression. I’ve seen people with similar personality and dynamism hold the attention of 10,000 people, spellbound and silent, waiting on every word. I’m fascinated by this. What is the magic formula?

It’s easy to separate the OK from the truly awful but it’s harder to separate the good from the great. However, you can tell when you’re in the presence of a truly world class speaker. There have been 3 of these occasions in my life, 2 in real life and 1 virtual. The content and delivery of which has stayed with me and made me want to shake shit up, to go and work differently and follow my own ideas with belief and passion. They are:

I believe these three speakers allow the audience to connect with what they are saying. No flashy slides, no big brashy promises or wild sweeping statements about how easy it is to change the world or CHECK ME OUT, check out what I’VE done. They don’t claim to be or act like ‘thought leaders’ – they just do their thing and get results.

They talk with the audience not at them, they tell stories, they use humour, they narrate, they entertain and convey powerful messages that people understand and can relate to. They listen, they observe and reflect…

They paint the world around them.

They make you believe in them and the story they are telling. You believe they believe what they are saying. It’s not a bullshit sales pitch or the latest fad, it’s from the heart. Their words and body language create an emotional connection with the audience. It becomes an experience rather than a presentation.

So if you’re presenting in the near future or it’s something that you want to get better at, think about how you tell your story and paint the world around you. What experience do you want your audience to have, how do you want them to remember you and your story? Remember….

Your thoughts, words and deeds are painting the world around you.

Jewel Diamond Taylor
Inspirational Speaker, Author

Which speakers or talks have you seen and heard that have made you want to shake shit up, go and work differently and follow your own ideas with belief and passion?

If there’s a link to it, post it in comments and let other people see the world they’re painting.

Thanks to Steve Trister for getting me to think about this stuff. You should check out his work here

October 10, 2016
by Mike Collins

The Fabreeze Effect

Today’s been a good day. My thinking has been jolted in a different way about my practice. My practice? That sounds like something a bit wanky.

Wait. Hold on. My practice, do I have one? Yes, yes I do. My work and beliefs are massively important to me and what I practice defines who I am and what I do. Sometimes it’s easy to lose this in the daily rigmarole.  The great news is I remembered today that I can get better at stuff through applying new techniques, practicing them and reflecting on them.

Today I have been coached in the art of presentation skills. Thanks to Steve Trister for an inspiring day.

The focus of the day was to talk about a subject for 2 minutes. Didn’t matter what it was about – the content was kind of irrelevant. It was how you were saying it that was the important bit. More to follow on that once I’ve processed day 2. So my story changed a bit throughout the day but the following is the extended version of my 2 minute talk on culture.


Ask yourself this question.

What… is….  culture?

Then ask yourself how do you explain culture change?

Take a minute – write down one sentence that you feel describes culture.

In L&D and HR there is a lot of talk about culture change, so collectively there has to be a good understanding of culture in the first place in order to change ‘it’.

Do you agree?

So what’s the answer to these questions?

I don’t have a definitive answer (sorry), but what I have been mulling over and processing for some time now is some way to understand organisational culture myself. This is the best I’ve got.


A dinner table, The office, DNA and a can of Fabreeze

These four things help me to understand culture and describe it.

This is important stuff, if I ever want to have a positive influence over the culture in an organisation I work in (which I do); I must first seek to understand what the culture is before anything else and be clear on what if anything needs to change.

It’s been about 4 years since I came across a video which provided me with a sentence that I could relate to when it comes to describing culture. It’s already been written about a lot and the video that has provoked my thoughts on this subject is this video by Prof. Sumantra Ghoshal

It’s a really interesting video and the metaphor that really resonates with me when describing culture is ‘the smell of the place’. So back to the four images.

The Sunday lunch

Imagine you’re joining your new partners’ family or a friends’ family at the dinner table for Sunday lunch. Consider how this might differ to your own experience of Sunday lunch with your own family or friends.

  • Is the table set differently?
  • Do you notice any different table manners?
  • Are there different personalities to your own family or friends?
  • Are they speaking in a different language or using different terminology?
  • Are they serving different food, using different or unusual ingredients?
  • It might be a familiar dish but does it tastes different somehow?
  • Are there different drinks or worst still no (alcoholic) drinks?
  • Different traditions?
  • What stories are being told – are they similar or different to the ones you’ve heard before?

How does the ‘meal experience’ make you feel?

The first week in a new office

Now imagine you’re starting a new role in a new organisation. You’re coming to the end of your first week. Consider the following things and how they may have compared to the last organisation you worked with.

  • What’s the working environment like?
  • How is it decorated – pictures on the walls, what do the meeting rooms look like?
  • What technology is used and provided?
  • What access to the internet do you get?
  • What is the language used or terminology?
  • How do your peers behave?
  • How do managers behave? Did you ever cringe watching the office?
  • How do the leaders behave?
  • What happens if you ask for help?
  • What happens if you make a mistake?
  • What are the stories being shared and told?
  • What are the expectations around your work and how you perform?

How does this ‘first week experience’ – make you feel?

It’s in the DNA

Culture isn’t something you can touch, it’s not something you can put your finger on or make assumptions about. When people talk about changing culture it’s important to dig deep.

So back to the smell; Both of the above situations might make you feel something because of the DNA make up that’s been created over time. Traditions and experiences that have evolved because of the people & processes involved in them. Whether that is how you eat lunch with your family or how you work in your organisation.

Both these situations and contexts provide you with a ‘smell of the place’. An invisible smell that makes you feel what you feel and either provides that sense of belonging or that sense that something isn’t quite right and doesn’t quite fit.

The Fabreeze Effect

It’s easier to mask smells than to get rid of them. Have you ever felt like you are constantly doing the same things over and over again? A hamster in a wheel – running faster and faster attempting to cross the line and stand on top of the culture change podium.

Attempts to get to this elusive ‘destination’ can involve spraying leadership & management programmes, soft skills development, new technologies, new mission statements, values and competency frameworks in to our organisations without truly understanding what is trying to be changed.

As a result, very little changes, the smells that are merely masked and eventually wear away like Fabreeze or cheap perfume, leaving what has always been.

The root cause of the smell and ultimately the same culture.

So the question to ask next time you hear someone talk about culture or culture change – is this….

Is this going to be the ‘Fabreeze effect’ – is it some programme or project being sprayed to mask a smell that will eventually fade away leaving what has always been or will the smell start to shift and will things start to smell differently, could the smell even change forever?

If nothing else, it will lead to an interesting conversation.


So this will be the content I turn in to my final 2 minute presentation….a much shorter version will be needed but to be honest it’s not the content that matters… will be how I say it that will make the difference and have the real impact.

I might share the video if I’m brave.

A little experiment?

October 29, 2015
by Mike Collins

A little experiment – get involved!

Public speaking is one of the most feared things to do, in fact, according to some it is more feared than death itself. 

L&D folk must be mad then to actually want to get up in front of people on a regular basis and present, guide, talk, chat, facilitate, question and generally be in the ‘public domain’.

Speaking for myself, I still get the worse case of nerves and ‘the fear’ before I speak in public and I’m not the only one as this beautiful post from @Fuchsia_Blue  explains far more eloquently than I ever could

Breath & Bravery 

There is perhaps some difference between the day job in L&D and facilitating a workshop for example and getting up in front of X amount of people at an event to speak about X. Both scenarios can provoke the same emotions and feelings of unease and nervousness.

I admire anyone who can get up and talk in front of an audience whether that audience is 5 or 500. Luckily, I’ve seen some fantastic speakers – people who tell stories and capture the imagination of their audience leaving them spellbound for 60 minutes. I’ve seen speakers who read off a slide deck full of bullet points, who don’t make eye contact or know their subject matter.

When I spoke at ATD earlier this year – the American audience were very unforgiving and the rule of two feet applied. If the speaker wasn’t doing what they said there were going to do or talk about what they said they were going talk about…. or if the speaker was as engaging as a dead parrot they would just up and leave and find a session that offered them more.

It’s this ‘more’ that has always fascinated me in terms of presenting in a public space, my work with communities over the last few years as led me to think about content, curation and sharing in different ways and this has filtered through to the way I deliver and share the sessions I’m involved in. Questions I ponder.

  • How do I make the sessions I deliver more open and collaborative?
  • How do I make them more interactive and engaging?
  • How do I create resources, curate and share the content ‘we’ produce with a wider audience?

I’ve tried making all my sessions more social through using the back channel at whatever conference it is and I’ve then started to curate the content afterwards to share on tools like Storifyexample from ATD here 

This time at CIPD ACE 15 I’m pushing the boat out a little further and experimenting with more social tools and sharing the session in different ways.

Firstly for anyone who attends I encourage you to bring your ipad and/or mobile as I’ll be broadcasting the presentation live at the same time using Zeetings

At 10.45 on the 4th November I’ll be broadcasting from the following URL

You’ll be able to see the slides and make notes, share ideas and also participate in polls and questions live when you’re there, or if you’re not.

For anyone who can’t be there on the day the way I thought I’d get around this is to broadcast the presentation using Periscope TV – you can download the app and follow me @Community_Mike so you’ll be notified when I’m online.

You’ll be able to tune in to watch the presentation via

I’ll also be sending some tweets out using the #LDchange hashtag on Twitter so watch out for tweets and get involved as I’ll be curating whatever comes back and pulling together any content that is generated from Zeetings, Periscope and Twitter.

So it’s going to be live and available to those who attend and for anyone who can’t there are opportunities to watch, get involved and contribute. Hopefully I’ll have some good resources to share afterwards as well.

The title of the session is Why Corporate Learning Needs to Change and How in the HR Trends and Essentials area.

It’s at 10.45-11.15 GMT and it would be fabulous if you could join me – from where ever you are in the world.

This might turn out to be style over substance, this might be gimmicky and it could fall flat on its face as so many things ‘could’ go wrong but if you don’t try, you don’t know, if you don’t experiment, you don’t discover, and if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

And that’s not being brave.

A leap of faith?

A leap of faith?



work of heart

December 15, 2014
by Mike Collins

A Work of Heart

Talk to anyone in L&D about why they do what they do and I think one word will pop up time and time again. Passion.

In fact, it’s probably the one thing that joins all us L&D people together more than any other role on the planet. In my mind there is no other calling like it.

I say calling even though most people don’t decide at school that they want to become a Learning Professional, Teacher maybe, but Learning Professional – unlikely. Most people tend to find themselves in L&D through opportunities that might arise via coaching, becoming a product or subject matter expert, becoming a trainer due to in-depth technical knowledge or because hey – your a “people person”. Whatever the route that brought you in the profession for me it’s never felt like a job or a career it’s felt like a calling. They say if you find something you love you’ll never do another days work in your life. I love this saying and believe it implicitly – perhaps a little idealistic but everyone should be able find something they enjoy doing and be able to do it everyday. Sadly this happens all too rarely and I am thankful I’ve found something I truly enjoy.

So back to passion. What is it that makes us L&Ders such passionate people and why?

Wikipedia can help me out here.

Passion is a term applied to a very strong feeling about a person or thing. Passion is an intense emotion, compelling enthusiasm or desire for anything.

Broken down in to its simplest state L&D and its focus is to help individuals unlock their potential becoming the best they can possibly be.

It’s quite a noble thing to feel passionate about don’t you think?

To work with a compelling desire and enthusiasm to help others be the best they can be.

Now more than ever we have wonderful opportunities to shape the way in which people can be the best they can be. Neuroscience is unlocking our understanding of the brain and technology has changed the world in which we live in just a few short years. Training in the classroom has given way to learning any time anywhere with collaboration and knowledge sharing becoming the underpinning currency of the 21st century workplace. This has led to a shift in thinking for us L&Ders and a realisation that the old way of stand and deliver, chalk and talk, sage on the stage and face to face training is just a very small (but still important) part of what we should be doing. Letting go and redefining what we can be and what we can do is just the start.

This blog was called “The Learning Asylum – Time to Escape The Mad House” because of a growing frustration in the organisation I worked in at the time seeing a huge amount of time and money being spent on ineffective learning/delivery strategies for a small return. It’s deeper than just a delivery strategy of course; it’s the technology infrastructure around us, the skills, mindset and vision of organisational leaders and Learning Professionals, the expectations and understanding of what workplace and adult learning is – all muddled together in the thing we call organisational culture.

Changing any of the above things  is hard work so if anything needs enthusiasm, desire and passion it is this. However strong feelings need to translate in to ACTION. It’s a bit like having a crush on someone – if you don’t ask the lucky person out it will always be a crush and never amount to anything other than anonymous valentine cards and heart ache.

Change has been a regular part of my working life since joining @DPGplc in 2012. I escaped the mad house with a vision that was shared by my new colleagues and was given an opportunity to shape the delivery strategy of the UK’s leading CIPD training provider.  The work that @DPGplc do always resonated with me since I became CIPD qualified with them in 2006. If you had told me then that 8 years later I’d be co-creating the learning experiences of new and experienced L&D professionals undertaking a CIPD qualification I’d have probably laughed and thrown a flip chart marker at you. But this is what I’ve been doing and we’re now 2 years in to a 3 year strategy.

A strategy that has seen us focus on our technology infrastructure putting a social Community of Practice at the heart of the learning experience we provide and introducing a LMS (yes one of those nasty evil things). System architecture & Community design is as much a science and form of art as anything I’ve ever done. Understanding our learners’ experience has been paramount to this, linking these systems together to create a digital learning ecosystem. It’s not been without it’s challenges as we have two intakes per year for our qualification programmes. That’s 4 times to learn what works and what doesn’t, 4 times to experiment and fail, change and experiment, change and succeed. Repeat. It needs agility, flexibility and courage both at an individual and organisational level. Passion is the undercurrent that keeps this moving. It’s this never ending journey that’s taking me to the US next year to speak at the ATD Conference on the subject of creating learning communities but more to come on that.

When you’re moving from a model of workshop/classroom delivery and email communication getting the technology in place to support and replace these methods is just one part of the jigsaw puzzle. Hearts and minds is more important with the confidence and capability to use technology effectively being crucial to success. It’s an evolutionary process like all change. Sometimes evolution needs a helping hand as if given the choice, people will stick with what they feel comfortable with and what they know. It’s changing behaviours……..Sometimes you HAVE to influence and indeed force people to change by providing no other option.

“If you build it they won’t come”

Well I’ve built it, the proverbial blood, sweat and tears have gone in to it over the last two years and it’s not over yet.

DPG are designing new foundation and intermediate L&D programmes following the CIPD releasing new qualifications that will launch in Spring 2015. I’m designing the new foundation Certificate in Learning & Development in Practice which I’m hugely exciting about. I’m not only designing the programme but I’ll be delivering the programme in March so it’s time to live by the sword and die by the sword. I’ll be drawing on all my experiences over the last 8 years, designing the programme using the learning ecosystem I’ve put in place and using the approaches and methods I champion. I get to help shape and influence L&D professionals new to the role or those looking to get the CIPD badge. Either way I get to role model what I believe a 21st century Learning Professional can be and what we can do. I get to coach and inspire others to think differently, helping them go back in to their organisations with new skills, knowledge and a passion for change.

It might not be right the first time, but it’s an approach I believe in. There will be opportunities to experiment, fail, change, experiment and succeed. I think this is something that will breathe new life in to the CIPD qualification experience and I hope develop a new breed of Learning Professional. One that is ready and equipped for the 21st century and one that can role model all that we can be and can deliver on what we need to.

It might not be a work of art but it’s my work of heart.



October 30, 2014
by Mike Collins

Presentation #Hashtag

I mentioned in Swimming in the Social Stream that the outcome of our conversations and learning experience was to create a 3 minute presentation on social learning. This was then to be played back to the other attendees of the Social HR Conference to provide a flavour of the day. No mean feat then for a group of strangers to create a presentation in little over 3 hours. I remember seeing the look of fear in people’s eyes when this little nugget was divulged.

Oh and as well as presenting back we imposed a little rule as that’s how we roll mwah ha ha ha.

This well meaning and simple rule was this. To use social media as part of the presentation.

There were significantly less people in the sessions starting after dinner (sorry lunch) and I’m sure that had nothing to do with this imposed rule and presentation. No way. The only other rule of the day, ‘the rule of two feet‘ had spoken and people were exploring the other topics and that was fine and dandy. We still had people who returned to carry on the conversations and we had new people who joined us so the afternoon kicked off and continued with a great mix.

Time literally flew and before long our conversations turned to what were we going to do in the 3 minute slot?

Could we use social media? Could we share what we had discussed using the technology that had formed a large part of the days conversations?

Who would do what? How would we do it? What were our options? Questions, questions, questions….


Sometimes all you need is a flipchart and colourful pens to create a masterpiece. We each decided to think of a phrase that summed up our experience of the day and as there were 8 of us on our table and 180 seconds to fill, we would each get 22.5 seconds to talk about that phrase. A phrase mmm…..that just wouldn’t cut it though, after all this presentation had to use social media.


Presentation #Hashtag was born.

Presentation #Hashtag


We ran through the sorts of things we were going to say – after all it wasn’t going to be scripted and we all felt quite confident in representing our hashtag. These words meant something to each of us so we would at least be speaking from the heart. Here’s how it went (Twitter ID’s included where possible i.e. they have one that I can remember)

1. #ScaredToDeath (by @JodiODell1)

Dr Jodi O’Dell set up her Twitter account that very day and was open and honest in her fear of using social media. Even after she had had a session in the ‘surgery’ with @Damiana_HR and following the conversations she was still #scaredtodeath and it served as a useful reminder that social tools are scary. I remember being on Twitter for 12 months lurking before really starting to understand it. It can be a strange and foreign land.

2 #SocialJourney (by @MrfranchiseChe)

Kathryn Orange summed the day up perfectly with her explanation that we had all been on a social journey. Talking, laughing, challenging, listening. Different people, different levels of experience but despite this we had all come together and gone on our own social journey and were walking away with new found knowledge and understanding.

3. #ShareExperiences 

Once of the things that cropped up a few times was “what do I share on social media?” It’s a very good question as some still see social media as a channel to share what you had for breakfast. Pah. For the enlightened and in a professional context social media allows you to share your experiences. Also known as Working Out Loud. It completely changes how you can interact with social, how you derive value from it and provide value for others. Share what you know and what you are doing. The good, the bad and the damn right ugly.

4. #RightTools

Sometimes there is a misconception about what tool is right to use for you personally or for your business. There are so many different tools out there that Twitter might not be the right one for you. That’s OK. Think about WHY you’re using social tools, what do you want to achieve? Be creative, be daring, think about how you want to interact and create value for others. This person arrived in the hope of leaving with a Twitter strategy and left with something completely different.

5. #BeInTheRoom

Irrelevant of social media and fandangled technology be present. Be in the room with the people and whilst the back channel might be interesting people connect with people. There is still (and always will be) something fantastic about making new connection in person, talking to someone face to face, seeing someone’s eyes light up or hearing someone laugh. Social media has it’s place but sometimes you’ve got to be in the room.

6. #Generations (by @Little_Figs)

Our youngest group member by far at the tender age of 18. @DPGplc‘s digital apprentice made some great contributions and challenged some ideas that social media was just for the kids. Do not let your age be any sort of barrier when it comes to technology and social media. The only barrier is in your head.

7. #BringItOn

Perhaps my favourite. Charlotte worked for Hilton Hotels and after joining us for the afternoon session was leaving with her head bursting with new ideas she could take back to work with her. You could actually see the cogs turning lighting up her eyes as to the possibilities. It was a joy to see and sometimes you’ve got to roll up your sleeves and shout BRING IT ON.

8. #Community (by me @Community_Mike)

Never before have we possessed the ability to connect with people all over the world. To find people who share the same passions and enjoy the same things as us. Who can come together face to face but can meet virtually before hand and who can continue developing those conversations and relationships long afterwards. Social HR Conference had community at it’s heart. There were communities within communities – @LnDConnect @CIPDManchester @DPGplc @ConnectingHR to name a few.

When you bring a group of like-minded, talented people who want to share and learn together – great things can happen. Social HR Conference and Presentation #Hashtag was a great example of this in action.

Presentation #Hashtag Live

Were you there?

What would have been your hashtag for the day?

Twitter Swimming

October 28, 2014
by Mike Collins

Swimming in the Social Stream

On the 16th October 2014 the first ever Social HR Conference took place at the rather splendid Old Trafford cricket ground. Manchester CIPD branch did a fantastic job of organising what was a unique blend of conference / unconference formats that I felt worked really well. There have been a number of great blogs written about the event with some cool Storify action being curated and shared too. You can read about and find out more here to get a sense of the conference content and format.

Social Learning Gang

Social Learning Gang

I had the honour of working with Flora Marriott and Rachel Burnham on the Social Learning stream and we worked together to co-create and shape what we could do and how the session could be run. We had about 3.5 hours ish and whilst we were facilitating, the purpose of an unconference is to allow the attendees to create the agenda and talk about things that mattered most to them.

In Bruce Lee terms it kinda feels like the ‘art of facilitation without facilitating‘. Continue Reading →

October 12, 2014
by Mike Collins

Rage Against The Machine

I’ve been watching the Collaborate Live sessions unfold with interest over the last few months. A great idea for a series of Google Hangouts organised & hosted by Bev Holden and Kate Hargreaves aka @Stickythinker and @k8clearthinker from Clear Thinking.

The Collaborate Live sessions, also affectionately known as #LiveClive over on Twitter are short conversations with people who share their own experiences of collaboration. The sessions are based around three questions although the conversations are fluid and can duck, weave and traverse in any direction possible as Bev does a great job in diving deeper in to what is said, skilfully exploring the themes raised around collaboration.

You can watch all episodes to date (and I highly recommend you do) over on Bev’s YouTube channel here  Continue Reading →

July 10, 2014
by Mike Collins

Changing times and opening minds

This time last week, I was taking another trip out of my comfort zone as Alistair Nicholls had very kindly invited me to speak at the North West Business Breakfast organised by Manchester Business School. The title of my talk was Why Corporate L&D Needs to Change and How and it felt a good title to share my own journey thus far and to open up conversation.

Now I can talk fast (due to my alter-ego), but when Alistair asked me to keep to 20 mins I knew I’d have to speak even faster to get everything in – challenge set. It was relieved to see a good turn out and I enjoyed the hospitality of a strong coffee and a sausage butty.

Now it’s probably best to get this out the way….feels a little like a confession. I’m not an academic, I went to university but was one of those that returned after a couple of years empty handed without the piece of paper that’s not worth the paper it’s written on. It wasn’t for me. Wrong degree, maybe, wrong time, maybe, it just didn’t work for me….. Continue Reading →

July 1, 2014
by Mike Collins

Working quietly

Hello blog, I’ve missed you.

I’m not going to get all soppy but it’s been a while, 7 months to be exact. It’s nothing to do with you, don’t take it personally. It’s me, all my fault, it was nothing you said or did but I hope you’re as pleased to see me as I am to see you.

To celebrate I’ve given you a little make over, a lick of paint so to speak. If you look good you feel good so it’s time I paid you some attention and put a smile on your digital face.

Where have I been you ask? Well that’s a story for another time. All you need to know is that I’m back.

I’m back writing again after a spell in the blogging wilderness. It feels good, like I’m being re-acquainted with an old friend. After all you and I have got history….31 little pieces of history in fact. Lots to catch up on and lots more to add. If you’ll have me back……..?!? Continue Reading →

November 9, 2013
by Mike Collins

Bringing the Disney experience to Conferences

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to go to America for three weeks. A fantastic holiday of a life-time where I visited my sister Lucy in Minnesota for a week before heading down to the sunshine state of Florida for some Disney mayhem.

There was a strange Déjà vu about the whole thing as it was the exact trip I completed in 1994 when I played school football in Minnesota before meeting up with my folks down in Florida for…yes you’ve guessed it,  some Disney mayhem.

This time was very different as I had my two boys with me and I was the chap in charge of the mayhem.

Continue Reading →