Here is part one of the interview.
Catalyst: You just got back from the Degreed conference, how was it?
Andrew: “It was definitely very different from conferences I’ve been to before. It was very niche and very focused on the future of learning, and all the participants seemed to very much be on the same page about what that future is going to look like. The presentations were a mixture between L&D professionals who are working in corporate or as freelancers or vendors like we are, and then L&D buyers. So it had both perspectives coming through.
“My big takeaways were that learning in the future is very much continuous, it’s curated, people learn from different channels—from YouTube to podcasts—and it’s all very self-directed.It definitely changes the paradigm for vendors because we have to adapt to this new future. It was also evident that learning is becoming more and more important to the average employee. Millennials are expecting training to be part of their career development, their contracts, and their overall work experiences. The conference was a really great mixture of both of those things, and there will definitely be a demand for more focused and curated training going forward.”
What were 3 highlights for you?
“There were a couple of presentations that stand out. The CEO of Degreed, David Blake, did a really great presentation on some of the data that their platform has been collecting. That was a really fascinating way to see how people are learning. It bore out things like curation, bite-sized learning, informal learning, continuous learning, and self-directed learning—all of these tendencies and preferences came through in hard data, so that was really great to see.
“There were some great panels with corporate buyers—one in particular stands out. It had the head of learning for Airbnb, Caterpillar, and Mastercard, so three really different kinds of companies. Hearing their perspectives on what they’re trying to achieve internally and how they work with vendors was great to hear.
“And then the last presentation that really stood out was the final keynote with Dan Lyons, who is the author of the book Disrupted. He used to write for Forbes and Newsweek, but then he became a screenwriter for Silicon Valley. But his book is about his career working for a startup from a baby boomer’s perspective. He’s hilarious, very edgy, satirical, and sarcastic. I’m going to start watching Silicon Valley now.
What kind of things did the L&D professionals touch on in terms of their own buying behaviors? And how are vendors positioning themselves to be bought?
“I’ll start with the vendor side. In line with David Blake’s presentation on all of [Degreed]’s data, there were a couple of great presentations throughout the conference on collecting your own data as a provider of learning. When you’re watching videos and interacting with content online, there’s a lot more that you can track these days. The call to action was to start to track and measure that data and use that data to support your intuition. As learning professionals, we all have a gut feeling about how to create learning to best support somebody, and now you can find data to either support or reject the intuitions that you have. That data being available is quite important.
“In terms of the buying behaviors of corporate L&D departments, there were a couple of realizations. Mainly that L&D departments are constantly challenged by their own organizations to be agile, flexible, responsive, and proactive to changes in business. It’s a worn cliché now that times are changing so quickly, but it’s true, and L&D departments are feeling that more and more. What’s more is that this push is coming not only from the business but from their employees. Priorities and needs for learning are constantly changing, so these departments are having to react and be proactive at the same time. I think this was also a big call to vendors to help L&D departments do this. That’s a way for vendors to add value—to help with that responsiveness and agility.”
You used to work for KPMG creating similar content to what your company, Curious Lion, creates now. How has being on the corporate side informed your company’s approach when it comes to selling?
“I think for me, the biggest thing I’ve taken out of that experience is that firms like KPMG–most companies—are very professional. It’s in their DNA. As a training vendor, we try to bring that level of professionalism, attention to detail, and white glove service in everything we do. It’s affected us in how we do what we do. It’s attention to detail in the way we communicate, the way we project manage, the quality of the ultimate deliverables, presentation, look and feel, all those things. It’s important.
“At a firm like KPMG, we’d have some really creative companies that would come in and speak to us, but they didn’t have the benefit of that experience within a professional environment, and sometimes it rubbed people the wrong way. And keep in mind, you don’t need to lose authenticity when you’re being professional. You just have to have integrity. It’s not meant to stifle creativity. In project managing, you need to under promise and over deliver. You need to be in constant communication and manage expectations. Those kinds of details make a big difference to big corporate buyers because they need to demonstrate that this [relationship] was a good use of their budget. It creates a feeling of confidence.”