How many articles on leadership include advisories to “Play Poker, Not Chess” and “Blow up the Enterprise”? Not many, and certainly not as many as this author would like. However, in a series of articles on leadership for Forbes Magazine in 2012, Alex Knapp gave these two bits of advice using episodes from the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises as source material.
Knapp used Starfleet captains James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard as positive leadership examples in articles titled “Five Leadership Lessons from James T. Kirk” and “Five Leadership Lessons from Jean-Luc Picard,” respectively. For negative examples, he visited Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s nemesis in an article called “Five Leadership Mistakes of the Galactic Empire.” Besides an affinity for the number five, Knapp gives an interesting twist to traits of leadership that are far from unfamiliar territory. His unique insights, dead-on applications and intriguing examples give this well-discussed topic new spirit and made reviewing some old saws interesting and enjoyable.
Giving well-discussed topics new spirit and making them both interesting and enjoyable is the challenge for all writers and educators. While writers are more or less on their own, there is help for professional trainers and educators.
The Internet provides opportunities for new ideas and new discussions of old topics. It also simultaneously presentsmultitudes of people talking about these same things. Ideas, terms, and examples are bound to be repeated and repeated and repeated. The challenge for professional trainers is to keep their material fresh, relevant, and attractive. This requires knowing one’s students and this is where playing poker instead of chess comes in. Knapp writes, “For all of its intricacies, chess is a game of defined rules that can be mathematically determined. A far better analogy to strategy is poker, not chess. Life is a game of probabilities, not defined rules. And often understanding your opponents [students] is a much greater advantage than the cards you have in your hand.”
This isn’t to say that the “the cards you have in your hand” are not important; trainers and educators put most of their attention on them, and rightly so. However, in addition to knowing one’s subject matter, professional educators must share it in evocative and effective ways. And those are not the only things professional training providers must do. Each must also prepare knowledge assessments and track student progress. Aligning tests to the requirements of appropriate, associated certifications is often more than a trainer can handle. For this, the educator needs to follow the advice one learns from Jean-Luc Picard, “When you’re overwhelmed, ask for help.”
Knapp observes that seeking help “is a hard thing to do.” Because of this, there are organizations making it easier for professional training providers to get help, especially with tasks such as preparing and giving exams and tracking student progress. One such company is VMEdu, Inc., a leader in the professional training and certification industry that has developed a versatile course delivery platform and back office support. During the seven years it spent creating its Learning Management System (LMS), the company used it with its PMstudy and MyITstudy brands, whose students have achieved 98.7 and 99.2 percent pass rates, respectively, on professional certification exams. The LMS system helped PMstudy grow to be the largest PMP trainer worldwide and the SCRUMstudy brand to become the global accreditation body for Scrum with a network of more than 800 training partners. VMEdu now offers its platform and back office services and products to professional trainers across the globe.
For professional trainers in its VMEdu Authorized Training Partners (V.A.T.P.) and VMEdu Authorized Content Providers (V.A.C.P.) programs, it also develops apps designed to generate additional leads, provide immediate feedback on courses and lessons and generate up-sell and cross-sell opportunities, according to VMEdu. The training apps VMEdu has already created include interactive case studies, specialized glossaries, games, flash cards and practice exams.
Using an episode in which Captain Kirk, a 23rd century space explorer, mixes and uses gunpowder to save himself and his crew, Knapp points out that there was no need for Kirk to know this information because “Starfleet officers fight with phasers and photon torpedoes.” However, Kirk is a voracious learner and develops expertise outside of his primary field of focus. Knapp applies this to leaders saying, “In the same way, no matter what your organization does, it helps to never stop learning. The more knowledge you have, the more creative you can be. The more you’re able to do, the more solutions you have for problems at your disposal.” During World War II, General Eisenhower of the Allied command used a group of officers to increase his own knowledge base and put more solutions at his disposal.
Creating mobile apps and databases for following student progress may not be your primary area of focus, but they are two solutions for problems facing the trainer in the technological age. Knapp tells his readers that “Kirk’s reputation at the Academy was that of a ‘walking stack of books.’” Where Kirk had Starfleet Academy and General Eisenhower had his officers, today’s professional trainers have companies such as VMEdu.
Keeping one’s training fresh and interesting with unique insights, engaging mobile apps, and intriguing examples is a huge challenge, but NOT a challenge the modern professional educator must meet alone.