We all know the story of Sir Isaac Newton: He’s hit in the head with an apple, and it launches all of his world-changing thoughts, theories and laws. But did he really invent anything new? Did he create something or cause anything new to happen? It all existed already. We all experience gravity, motion and physics every day. We all could have predicted the apple was going to hit the ground. What made him uniquely different was that he saw an urgency to measure it. What are the different forces at work? What are the amounts of those forces? How do they all fit together? How does one event validly and reliably predict that something else will happen? How much of it can we truly measure?
The nature of science and exploration pushes us to know more than what’s happening in front of us. We want to know why and how things happen. We want to know how certain things are going to change and by how much. Newton didn’t just want to predict the apple was going to hit the ground – anyone could have done that. He wanted to know which way it would fall, how fast it was going to accelerate, what was going to slow it down, what was going to speed it up, and what was going to be the impact when it finally reached its destination and crashed into the ground.
This approach uses the same curiosity and rigor we need to use when we measure training. How is training going to work? What is it going to change? How fast will it reach its destination? What’s going to help or hinder it? And how much impact is it ultimately going to have?
We all know training will have some effect, and we hope it’s going to be positive, but that hope isn’t good enough anymore. It’s been 100 years since the Industrial Revolution, and billions of dollars later, we still struggle to identify the forces and measurable outcomes of training. Sure, we may never get to a training “law” or even a proven formula, but one thing is for sure: We have room to make a few giant steps toward making training measurement more of a science.
As a first step, we should start thinking of training in the same scientific way we do a drug. Just like medication, training is an intervention to improve some aspect of your performance. Instead of your body’s physiological performance, it’s your behavioral work performance. And just like researchers do for prescription drugs, we need to start measuring what’s going to happen to us when we take the training treatment. What are the effects? How long are they going to last? What are the right dosages to produce the desired improvement? And what’s going to happen if we don’t take our medicine?
If training as a drug is too ambitious an analogy for you, let’s start smaller. Can you commit to bringing training measurement to the same level of science and scrutiny as taking a vitamin? We know vitamins are good for us. We know how they interact with our bodies and how they help us become healthier. We also know how much we should take and which organs can benefit from higher dosages. The biggest lesson we can learn from the study of vitamins is that the ones that are consumed the most are, by far, the ones that have research behind them. When you’re able to say, “Increasing dosages of vitamin X by 500 milliliters per day can cut your chances of stroke by 25 percent” or, “Vitamin Y can increase brain function by 15 percent” or, “Taking vitamin Z before exercise can help increase muscle mass by 20 percent,” you’ll have a lot more people filling their cabinets with those vitamins. As for Vitamin W with no proven benefit, we can take it or leave it – who cares?
Similarly, when we start backing our training with rigorous research and are able to report clear and significant benefits for the people who consume it, employees are going to want a lot more of that training. Most organizations today only evaluate and report the success of training with Level 1 smile sheets. What kind of research is that? That’s like telling health-conscious customers that your vitamins taste good. Would you trust a vitamin to make you healthier just because it tastes good?
So, consider yourself hit on the head with an apple. Let’s start measuring our training impact and moving this industry forward. As with all advances in science, some people will be champions, some will silently agree and some will be resistors. Eventually, all will benefit. Measurement and analysis add undeniable insights and a bounty of new benefits. It might be scary at first to ask these questions and find out just how much your training is really working, but in the end, we all will gain more respect and credibility. Most importantly, more people will be consuming training.
So, take out your lab coat and your safety goggles, and start measuring. Don’t wait to be hit on the head with something else. Pick up that apple, and take a big bite.