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Erica Farmer

Quantum Rise Talent Group Ltd

Co- Founder & Business Director, Digital Learning & Apprenticeship Expert, Speaker & Facilitator -

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Review of 2022: L&D’s Adventures in Ponderland

Erica Farmer goes down the rabbit hole to discover key learnings for L&D in the last 12 months.
Alice in Wonderland painting of the white rabbit

It’s been another quick-moving, changeable and fascinating year for the people profession. In itself, 2022 has been curious, non-sensical, fanciful and, you could almost go as far as to say, ridiculous. All words used in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which this year has very much reminded me of. I started off using the word ‘unusual’ in this article; however, I have used this word so many times in my writing that, ironically, I now find the 'unusual' has become the ‘usual’. 

What are the impossible things you believe you can achieve in 2023?

When TrainingZone asked me to sum up 2022 for L&D, I struggled to be clear on what to hang my hat on. If this year has taught me one important lesson it is that nothing will be the same again. This might sound cliché, but now more than ever we should be embracing this mantra. And just like Alice encountering all the characters in the Lewis Carroll saga, L&D has come across a new challenge at every turn, each with its own complex and subliminal messaging.

A summary of reflections on 2022

1. The ebb and flow of business

Some retail and tech giants have hit the ground hard and, unfortunately, there will be more to come. Some organisations learnt lessons from the pandemic, but many pinged back to what they were doing before. Political uncertainty, Brexit and other factors have created a slippery slide which many haven’t been able to get back up.

2. Regular budget reviews and longer buying cycles

These are contributing to decision-making by committee since many moved back into the office following two years of home working. As a supplier, we have experienced this in 2022 and seen the impact on cashflow.

3. Quick-paced innovation

There is a fascination with what technologies such as the Metaverse will bring. There remains, however, a lack of governance and policing for safeguarding and security. Are we guilty of the next shiny thing, without thinking through the consequence of anonymity and avatars?

4. A battle of will and skill over learning tech

With many still trying to grapple with what this means to their organisations, and whether they have the confidence to carry on, sometimes it can just feel difficult, and easier to put in the ‘too difficult’ box. 

You could see why many have found 2022 a tough year. After all, aren’t we all fatigued from the pandemic and in need of a break?

But let’s flip this on its head –  once again, 2022 has presented us with a golden opportunity to make a difference and craft a new way of doing things. We are Alice, and we have our Wonderland to Ponder – or Ponderland, we could call it.

We still like to overcomplicate great learning, confuse stakeholders with jargon, and sit in our ivory tower

Taking opportunities where we see them

L&D practitioners have a chance to lead the way but to do this, we need pace, agility, faith and bravery. As Alice boldly states: ‘Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast’. So I ask you, what are the impossible things you believe you can achieve in 2023?

Before we know it, structures and models are expiring and becoming outdated. Even the term VUCA (Variable, Uncertain, Changeable, Ambiguous) has changed. BANI (Brittle, Anxious, Nonlinear, and Incomprehensible) is the new kid on the block and represents the turmoil of their time, with Jamais Cascio, the creator of BANI, describing it in the recent article Facing the Age of Chaos.

But what I find really ironic is that we still like to overcomplicate great learning, confuse stakeholders with jargon, and sit in our ivory tower. Now more than ever we need fewer acronyms, fewer models, and less detail. 

Now, more than ever, we need to keep it simple. 

So, let’s ponder our key wins in 2022, and which of those are going to help us both navigate this chaos, and see us good for 2023.

Let’s follow the white rabbit – the unlikely clue which takes us to the middle of an extraordinary situation –  but we’ll try not to go too far down the rabbit hole.

1. Have simplicity as the centre of your L&D strategy

Just like the Cheshire Cat, Alice had a guide who appeared when needed, leading her to the final destination. Be clear on what, or who, your guide will be in 2023, and take this from what you have learnt in 2022. You’ve probably found this year has presented many choices, and at times you’ve been unsure on where to turn. This is OK, as long as you have a flexible strategy (your Cheshire Cat) to show you the way when needed.

2. Prioritise key learnings from 2022

We can easily get caught up in expensive programmes and pathways, which we rigidly stick to due to the time and effort put in upfront. We also don’t want to lose face with all the stakeholders we’ve engaged with. But this year we need to try something new – intelligent risk-taking, and making mistakes are the ‘Eat Me’ and ‘Drink Me’ options which enable us to try something new and different. Some will have a massive impact, some will have a small impact or no impact at all.

We’ll make a ton of errors before getting something right, but this experience is what drives innovation and critical thinking in organisations. This year in particular has sparked ideas about agility, flexibility and how these fundamentals can drive that competitive edge.

3. Be open to growth and change, even when it feels really tough

We have already seen the markets start to shift due to the Ukrainian War, and the cost-of-living crisis. This will undoubtedly mean tricky decisions in 2023. We have seen large layoffs in the tech sector leaving those behind to pick up the pieces. But we are L&D and we know this can mean personal and professional growth. It can feel tough, but we often find the learning we are left with is priceless.

When Alice meets the Caterpillar for the first time, she is uncomfortable with what she is presented with and struggles to align with his message. Although antagonistic in nature, he tells Alice exactly what she needed to hear, and gave her the direction she was looking for.

Many interpret the caterpillar in the story as being there to highlight Alice’s confusion, as she starts to forget who she really is. Many believe he is there to show her that change is not a bad thing and turns into something beautiful. After all, even the most challenging caterpillars turn into a butterfly.

We can’t see what the future holds but what we can do is reflect on how far we’ve come over the last three years

None of us has a crystal ball

We can’t see what the future holds but what we can do is reflect on how far we’ve come over the last three years and take that agility, learning and flexibility into 2023. Couple that will a thirst for knowledge, curious nature, and my three key points outlined above, and you’ll find your way through Ponderland.

'Curiouser and curiouser', said Alice. 

'Well, indeed', said L&D.

Interested in this topic? Read Need to know trends for 2022.

One Response

  1. This is a great read Erica.
    This is a great read Erica.

    Totally agree that simplifying what learning means and does is vital. L&D isn’t alone, other business functions do it however it all needs improving – not everyone can agree on if employees are employees, people or learners when describing the situation for example.

    I’d add in “context” as something for 2023 – and anytime tbh. Look at your own company context before casting an envious eye to another company and what they appear to be doing.

    From the clients i’ve worked with these past years they have embraced fear and taken on the new challenges – first COVID and then coming out of this and adapting to the hybrid working world we are in now.

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Erica Farmer

Co- Founder & Business Director, Digital Learning & Apprenticeship Expert, Speaker & Facilitator -

Read more from Erica Farmer

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