Month: September 2010

To hug or not to hug…


I’m often surprised and pleased by the number of people that hug me the first time I ever meet them; some people even hug me as soon as we’re introduced.  I don’t know why this happens although I must say I’m pleased it does.  In my opinion, hugging shows you feel close to other people in a non-threatening & not too intimate way & it feels nice.  Others in the Learning Pool team have been known to push me forward when there’s hugging to be done.

I’m in Scotland this weekend taking a couple of days out after a busy month of getting Learning Pool’s new Glasgow office up & running.  Dave, Breda & I hosted a breakfast briefing in Edinburgh on Thursday at which one of Learning Pool’s non execs, Donald Clark was speaking.  Donald is pretty much always controversial (read his blog at to see for yourself if you don’t believe me), especially when he’s talking to people that train others using traditional means – and he didn’t disappoint on Thursday.  At the end of the morning, I could see Sheila Fleetwood (pictured with me above) making a bee-line for me.  She’d been engaging in some lively banter with Donald over the course of his session & I must admit I thought for one second she was coming over to give me a slap.  Instead, to my delight, she hugged me & thanked me for such an interesting & thought provoking morning.  Phew!

A couple of months ago, Dave & I were in Exeter for Likeminds (gosh – was that really February?) and we had a fab night out with some of our local guvvie pals we don’t see anywhere near often enough.  That night I had a great conversation with Martin Howitt & Bill Wells about hugging and how much we like to do it.  The three of us decided that one of the measures of how well Learning Pool is doing could be the number of customer hugs I receive every month – admittedly a rather unusual business metric.  So far it seems to work.

Next week is the company’s annual birthday bash (hard to believe but we’re 4 years old) – we’re having a party on HMS President & I expect to get a lot of hugs that day – tell you what – I’ll count them & post the number back up here as a comment next week.

Conclusion – hugging is good with your business associates – keep doing it & keep those hugs coming for me!


Similarities between the Learning Pool community and the “Deadheads”…


There was a great article a couple of months back in the Sunday Times magazine.  It made comparisons between the Grateful Dead (Californian band headed up by the late Jerry Garcia, prolific creators, performers, LSD fuelled, very personal relationship with their fans – known as the Deadheads) and the Apple Corporation (personified best in their use of the “Think Different” slogan).  The basic premise of the article was that the Grateful Dead were ahead of their time in the way that they interacted with & involved their fans in the running of the band.  It was an innovative business model that was the exact opposite of what every other band did. 

This got me thinking about the way Learning Pool interacts with its own community – and yes – there’s a lot of similarities, with the exception of consumption of large amounts of LSD of course.  Here are 5 of them:

1.       The Grateful Dead allowed & even encouraged the Deadheads to tape their concerts and share the tapes with each other – as long as no money changed hands; Learning Pool encourages its community to use our authoring tool to create content and share it via the community – as long as no money changes hands.  This is fundamentally different from how other e-learning companies operate.  Even those that facilitate “sharing” make some money out of that process somewhere along the way.

2.       The Grateful Dead’s operating model flew in the face of how bands did things back in the 1970s and 80s; Learning Pool bucked the trend in e-learning by launching a learning management system in 2008 that was built on open source technology and priced to disrupt the market.  It has since been adopted right across local government making it the LMS of choice and the clear market leader by a long chalk.

3.       Barry Barnes, professor of leadership in the School of Business & Entrepreneurship in Florida describes the Grateful Dead’s energy as “dynamic synchronicity”; I like to think that this description could be equally well applied to the way that Learning Pool builds products hand in hand with its community and steering group, encouraging community members to steer our direction and shape the way we do things is second nature and allows for dynamic interaction.

4.       Continual innovation & creativity meant the Grateful Dead had a repertoire of over 150 active songs covering many musical genres and this in turn meant that none of their 2,300 or so live concerts were ever the same; the way Learning Pool builds content and accesses subject matter expertise with its members means that we have a huge catalogue of well over 200 up-to-date & constantly refreshed e-learning courses for our community to use.

5.       The Grateful Dead understood that in an information economy, the key relationship is between familiarity & value (not scarcity & value as in the old supply & demand model) and for the band this manifested itself in the incredibly close almost mystical relationship that existed between the band and the Deadheads – in business parlance they brought passion to the customer relationship; Learning Pool has built an incredibly personal relationship with its growing community (tens of thousands of local government officers, elected members and school governors use our learning products) and our customers frequently tell us we are more like partners than suppliers or that we’re part of the fabric of local government – and that makes us both proud and happy.

In true Irish fashion I’m going to leave you with a local story about the Grateful Dead, as told to me by Raphoe man & famous fiddler, Martin McGinley.  Jerry Garcia was in Co Donegal whilst recovering from his triple heart bypass operation & happened upon the Bridge Bar in Ramelton, a well known & popular music venue.  He noticed that the McPeake band from Belfast were playing that night & returned later for the gig.  He was spotted drinking tumblers of Jack Daniels at the bar by local men James McDaid & John McIvor.  The boys sidled over for a chat & established that it was indeed really Jerry Garcia and with mounting excitement they asked him if he would get up and play a few numbers.  Jerry said that he would – but the McPeake band refused to allow it – saying they didn’t permit anyone to perform with them on stage.  Hard to know what to say sometimes, isn’t it?


Image of Jerry Garcia used above attributed to Jay Blakesberg with grateful thanks