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Five questions...for Larry Prusack

By Lisa Neal / September 2007

TYPE: INTERVIEW
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Larry Prusack was possibly the most fun interview I have ever done; Larry is funny, personable, and opinionated. For the past 20 years, more or less, Larry has been studying knowledge in organizations. He is a researcher, consultant, and writer and has taught in many universities, worked for five major consulting firms, and published nine books on related topics. His new book, The Future of Knowledge, will be out next spring.

Lisa Neal: What do you think of the current state of corporate training?

Larry Prusack: All the money that currently funds training initiatives should be given to charity. Most training is almost worthless. You train a puppy but humans need to learn on the job with their peers. A huge ethnographic study, done by EDC in Newton, Mass. for the U.S. Department of Labor under Robert Reich, found that 85 to 90 percent of learning is informal. But since it was a government study it had no impact on workforce training. In fact, most people learn from others, learn by doing, and learn from stories.

LN: I don't imagine most human resource or training departments will donate their funds to charity. Do you have another recommendation that their CEO will like better?

LP: Use the money to give people time to spend with their peers talking. Connectivity in its various forms is always the best investment. Use the money for off-site meetings, technologies, free time, open spaces-anything that signals and enables people to meet, talk, and form connections.

LN: Have you seen or taken online courses that were valuable?

LP: Anything worth doing can't be taught online, such as swimming, playing tennis, mentoring, loving, or dying. However, that being said, there are some worthwhile instances, such as with compliance training. My wife and I took a class about writing a will but I would have preferred to read a book. At least courses that are rules-based, which lends itself more to a class. Most training doesn't work because it is based on idiosyncratic behavior, not rules.

LN: What do you think of technology in general for communication and collaboration?

LP: Herbert Dreyfus talks about the huge emotional component to learning, which is hard to convey online. Most communication and collaboration works best when you know someone in person. We are meeting in person for this interview. People pay Bill Clinton $150,000 to give talks because they want to see him in person. People travel to conferences to meet people. Once you know someone, working online is easier, but it is essentially not a human activity.

LN: Are you saying this to be an agent provocateur?

LP: No, I say this because all the human emotions that are so important, like empathy, are hard to convey electronically.



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