Recurring themes

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Written by Peter Honey on 18 December 2013

Today in my newspaper there is one of those year-end reviews about technology. It is called Twenty-Thirteen's Nifty Fifty: The 50 gadgets that have changed the course of technology this year. The list includes Google glass, Jetpacks, 3-D printers in space, Electronic pills and 64-bit. I struggle to comprehend many of these gadgets but I can remember doing that with fax machines, microwave ovens and, more recently, with my smart phone and now I take them in my stride (and fax machines already seem absurdly old fashioned). However, I readily admit to struggling to walk briskly while sending a text message - something I can't help but notice young people can do because I so often have to side-step to avoid a head-on collision. 

I recently attended the first day of the annual conference of The Charity Learning Consortium. Over the past few years I have much enjoyed their conferences - a blend of fun activities and speakers exactly as their strap line promises; Coming together to share learning, experiences and resources to develop our people. Nowadays when I participate in conferences everyone looks unbelievably young (they can all send text messages effortlessly) and I can't help feeling conspicuously old. A good day for me is when no one expresses astonishment that I'm still alive!   

And increasingly nowadays there is another emotion that I can best describe as a strong feeling of déjà vu. This is because so many of the topics, unlike the Nifty-Fifty gadgets, were already familiar to me. Some have no obvious sell-by date so they have never gone away and others are rediscovered and come round again. This doesn't surprise me because some time ago I came to the realisation that everything was cyclical - though I'm still waiting for my flared trousers to come back into fashion! Thirteen years ago I wrote a song about things being cyclical. The first verse goes like this (it sounds more profound when it's sung):

Oh, the pendulum swings 

As changes it brings.

Nothing stays cool

It's an unwritten rule.

Things turn turtle

They go full circle.

Say it ain't so, say it ain't so.

It is inevitable that some things go full circle or remain relevant and never go out of fashion. Take listening for example. How could a fundamental communication skill like listening ever be declared obsolete? I suppose it's just possible to imagine it if the Nifty-Fifty advance to the point where face-to-face interaction between human beings becomes redundant. But, thankfully, we are not there yet.    

There were other old chestnuts lauded at the conference I attended. Every time one was mentioned I noted it down - much to the surprise of people near me who couldn't understand what I was finding so remarkable. Here is the list I compiled of basic skills that were mentioned as 'musts' for people in L&D (in no order of importance - they are all important):

• Flexibility

• Influencing skills

• Understanding the business

• Consulting meaningfully

• Marketing

• Engagement

• Collaboration

• Teamwork

• Real listening 

There were some newer entrants.  Here are four things it was claimed have changed in L&D over the last five years:

• The growing expectation that learning will be offered in bite-sized chunks

• The increasing impact of social media

• The continuing  'learning outside the classroom' trend

• The increasing emphasis on the need for learner's to take responsibility for their own learning and development.

Even an old codger like me found these four things unremarkable - not because they are unimportant, but because they simply didn't sound leading-edge. In fact, with the exception of social media, the other three were, to my certain knowledge, being lauded 30 years ago.

Perhaps I sound disappointed at the stark contrast between the pace of change with gadgets and people? But I'm not. It is inevitable and I have reasons to be grateful that the two themes that pervade my life's work - experiential learning and interpersonal-skills - remain as relevant today as they always were and, unlike gadgets, will surely never go out of fashion.

About the author
Peter Honey FRSA, FCIPD, FIMC is a chartered psychologist and founder of Peter Honey Publications. He can be contacted at or via

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