The Webinar is Dead. Long Live the Quiz.

New In 1998 Webinars -2

Marketers:  It’s time to ditch a marketing relic. Give your audience something far more engaging and powerful.

“Sign up for our free webinar!”

Do those six words make you feel excited? Intrigued? Doubtful. You probably feel some combination of bored, burdened and “Blech!” Why? Because like most people, you secretly never want to attend another webinar if you can possibly avoid it.

In 2015, it’s time to bid farewell to one of 1998’s greatest inventions: the Webinar. When webinars went mainstream in the early 2000’s, everyone loved them. “You mean you don’t have to be in a room with someone to hear and see their presentation live??? Amazing!!!”

Since then, we’ve ditched other turn-of-the-millennium technologies, such as Palm Pilots, MiniDiscs, and Rio MP3 players. Yet the webinar hangs on. Along with other defunct inventions, it’s time to replace the webinar with something better.

Why Webinars Need To Go.

Three C’s summarize why webinars are awful: canned, cluttered, controlling. Canned, as in they usually deliver generic information not specific to you. Unlike consuming a book or an article, you’re somehow more aware of a webinar feeling canned. Cluttered, as in you can’t help but notice every single “um” and “uh” from the presenter, as Justin Bariso recently pointed out. Since you are not in the room with the presenter, your brain has a harder time tuning out the speaker’s verbal filler, not to mention irrelevant questions from other participants.

Yet the controlling nature of webinars is their fatal flaw: Webinars hijack 30-60 minutes of your life you’ll never get back. Worse, you’re typically invited to attend them “live,” when they’re initially delivered, meaning you have to actually schedule your attendance and you can’t skim through the boring/irrelevant parts. If you’re busy, have ADHD, or you’re a true masochist, you can watch a webinar on replay. Although replay allows you to skim, a webinar on replay is as appealing as a plate of cold, soggy, leftover fries.

Several years ago, before content became hyper-targeted, collaboratively-filtered and consumable in three-minute chunks, we could tolerate the webinar’s shortcomings. According to Outsell, webinars in 2014 were a $5.6 billion business – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t upgrade to something far more user-friendly and enjoyable.

But upgrade to what? Let’s start by specifying webinars’ purpose. Webinars are promoted as gifts of invaluable guidance from benevolent souls. But in a marketing context, webinars are used in three ways: They’re used to build brand awareness, they’re used to capture Leads, or they’re used to build engagement. But is there a better way to achieve those goals? Indeed, there is. It’s called The Quiz.

The Webinar is dead. Long live the Quiz.

Think back to your high school days. Admit it — you spent a lot of time daydreaming, even in the more interesting classes. Why? Because your teachers spent large chunks of time standing in front of the classroom talking at you. During those times, you were merely a passive participant in your learning who was expected to sit still and sustain focus as content washed over you.

Now, what happened when the teacher announced that it was time to take a quiz? Your brain snapped into action! You quit passing notes, you sat up straight, your pulse quickened and you focused. You knew you were about to be challenged, and therefore you became both cognitively and emotionally engaged. You suddenly had become an active participant in your learning.

You’ve seen quizzes all over social media. Why? Online quizzes are what I call Cognitive Catnip; people engage with them at remarkably high rates, often spending several minutes in each quiz, then sharing with colleagues and friends. Quizzes fit the ‘on-your-own-time, bite-sized’ ethos of social media, and are thus very audience-friendly (unlike webinars.) Most quizzes are simply designed to generate clicks, pageviews and ad impressions but can do much more.

Quizzes: User-Friendly Sources of Terrific Audience Data.

Well-designed quizzes also gather unique data on your audience, matching data on “who they are” with data on “what they know”. When people have answered several questions about what they know on a particular topic, they usually don’t mind answering a few unscored survey questions in order to see their quiz results. Plus, because they’re inherently engaging, quizzes can generate much higher registration and opt-in rates than other forms of content.

In addition, quizzes that explain the right vs. wrong answers allow people to learn in a personalized, targeted way. Did you get question 5 wrong? If so, the quiz author has embedded a link to a great resource allowing you to learn more. This is why quizzes have become essential tools for establishing thought leadership. My own startup, CredSpark, helps experts, brands, and publishers leverage the extreme engagement of quizzes to generate leads, gather unique data, establish thought leadership, teach and grow their audiences. If you’re not already using quizzes in your marketing, you should certainly explore doing so.

R.I.P. Webinar. You had a good run. Now, class, it’s time for a Quiz.

(Note: Entrepreneur first published this. Reprinted here with permission.)

Generalists vs. Specialists: Who Owns The Future?

Broad vs Deep

Who’s more valuable to your organization:  Someone who can ‘wear multiple hats’ or someone who’s very talented at one thing?

How would you advise a student looking at college options:  Pursue a degree that exposed her to a range of disciplines and taught her to think critically in different contexts, or pursue a degree allowing her to leave university with a specialized set of knowledge and skills?

The answer to these questions always seems to be “it depends.”  Along with such eternal debates as Security vs. Liberty or Chocolate vs. Vanilla ice cream, the Specialist vs. Generalist debate seems to have no clear consensus.  Every month I read articles that weigh in on one side or the other, emphasizing the importance of being either a Specialist or a Generalist, depending upon the author’s point of view.

Two worthwhile contributions to this debate recently came from an Economist Special Report on the impact of technology on jobs, and an article in The Atlantic by Tamar Jacoby on the German apprenticeship system and what that might look like in the USA, if it could be transplanted at all.

Here’s my take on Generalists vs. Specialists:

Generalists will  find it harder and harder to get hired.  A friend and b-school classmate of mine put it succinctly a decade ago:  “Companies tend to hire Specialists, not Generalists, from outside the firm.”  That’s even more true today.  Much has been written on the rise of the freelance workforce, but less attention gets paid to the fact that the overwhelming number of freelancers are Specialists (programmers, designers, etc.)  These days, why buy a Specialist when you can rent one, ever-more-efficiently and cheaply?

A mainstream hiring approach today is ‘Let’s bring on an external Specialist to build/fix/launch/analyze this, and when the work’s done, either send them on their way or figure out a way to keep them longer-term.’ Recent college grads are unemployed or underemployed in huge numbers, yet companies report they can’t fill millions of open jobs due to a shortage of Specialist candidates.  In short, we’re facing a glut of Generalists.

Specialists are under threat from software and robots.  The Economist article compared the introduction of the first automobiles to the forthcoming introduction of ‘self-driving’ cars.  In the early 20th century, when cars and trucks replaced horse-drawn carriages, carriage drivers were able to switch from holding horses’ reins to holding a steering wheel.  The introduction of automobiles changed the driver’s job, but did not eliminate it.  But what will happen when the 21st century’s self-driving, software-controlled cars begin carrying passengers and cargo?  Answer:  Huge numbers of drivers will lose their jobs.  I’m certain that ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft won’t mind replacing their freelance drivers with self-driving cars, ferrying nighttime revelers home more cheaply and safely.  (Goodbye Designated Driver, Hello Designated Robot.)

Perhaps a few of you are thinking, “Being a driver isn’t a Specialist job.”  True, but I’ll bet you $5 you know a Specialist whose job was displaced or radically altered by technology in the past 5-10 years.  Finance?  Stockbrokers are being replaced by programmatic trading.  Law?  Software today can review documents faster and cheaper than paralegals and junior associates.  Healthcare?  Technology enables non-doctor specialists in developing countries to review x-rays faster and cheaper than doctors in the rich world.  Due to the quickening pace of innovation and the tech media’s favorite 10-letter word – disruption –  few Specialist jobs look safe in the long term.

Two types of people will own the future:  Generalizing-Specialists and Specializing-Generalists.  Imagine you hired a Specialist who was great at one particular function, and over time you found out he or she was also good at handling a broader range of duties, and eager to grow?  You’d be thrilled, and you’d want to work with that person a long time.  Now imagine you had in your organization a Generalist who wore multiple hats and could handle a range of duties, but who also spent time acquiring greater proficiency in certain specific skills?  You’d be equally thrilled, and you’d want to work with that person a long time.

Let’s call the first person above a Generalizing-Specialist, and the second person a Specializing-Generalist.  Each person starts out as one type, but realizes he or she needs to become the other type as well.  I’ve hired and managed each of these hybrid types, and if you’re lucky, so have you.  These people tend to be the MVP’s of their organizations – the people everyone deeply appreciates, no matter how junior or senior their roles.  Hopefully you’ll recommend them for promotions (although their shoes are hard to fill) and likely you’ll lose sleep over your fear that they’ll jump to another organization.

How did these people become MVP’s?  They made themselves that way.  Starting out as either ‘broad’ or a ‘deep’, they sought opportunities to learn more, either horizontally or vertically, and in so doing, increased their value significantly.

To conclude:  Rather than settling the Specialist vs. Generalist debate with the answer “it depends”, the better answer is:  “Since we need both types, each of us needs to be both types.”  In order to get hired and stay employable in the future, we’ll need to BOTH broaden AND deepen our skills.  Unfortunately, actually doing so is a bit harder than settling the Chocolate vs. Vanilla debate by having one scoop of each in your sundae.

‘Test’ is NOT a four-letter word

Scantron test image

Your palms moisten with sweat.  You cast furtive glances at others around you, to confirm you’re not the only nervous one.  The clock tells you it’s almost ‘go’ time.  Your heartbeat rises in your chest as you try to squelch a voice inside your head saying, “This could be baaaad…”

Why is this happening?  Because you’re about to take an Important Test that will impact your entire future.

Been there?  Felt that?  I bet you have.  We each advance through school and our careers taking hundreds of tests along the way, with emotions typically ranging from boredom through anxiety to terror. Most tests aren’t that momentous; if we ‘blow’ a typical test, our futures will still be intact.  But other tests, such as school final exams, college entrance exams, professional certification and licensing exams–can be Very Big Deals.  You likely know someone whose educational trajectory was lowered, or whose career advance was delayed, as a result of blowing a test.  Tales of people we know blowing Important Tests haunt us like stories of car accidents.

But as was well-articulated recently in a New York Times piece entitled Why Tests Make Us Smarter, tests unfairly get a bad stigma in our minds and in society.  It’s time for us to start loving tests, for three reasons:

Tests are an essential part of learning.  The research cited by Henry Roediger, III in the NYT supports a large body of evidence that at all ages, across many different types of learning (formal schooling or self-directed learning, online or offline) testing helps the brain cement its understanding of material that’s been presented.  Basically, tests help subject matter ‘stick’ in our heads better than merely absorbing material and hoping we retain it.  There’s a reason that students’ timeless question of ‘Is this going to be on the test?’ is so familiar in educational settings – it’s because we understand that things being tested are things that matter, so we work harder at grasping them.

Tests can be interesting.  The word ‘test’ connotes a long, hard mental slog during which we struggle to maintain our focus, let alone to perform well.  Yet tests do not have to be that way. Thanks to the digitization of everything, tests are now being ‘chunked’ down in size and consumed like most other forms of online content (short web videos, individual .MP3’s), which reduces the effort required for our ever-shrinking attention spans.  In addition, well-constructed online tests can be more engaging online experiences than merely reading someone’s written word; your brain gets to volley ideas back and forth, vs. merely watching the pro.

Tests give you information you can’t get elsewhere – about yourself.  There’s a concept familiar to those in the education sector called formative assessment.  It refers to tests that are NOT used to judge someone’s mastery at the end of a course of study, nor to filter out low performers.  Rather, formative assessments are low-stakes tests used during a course of study, on a regular basis, to determine how well the learner is grasping the material as she is learning it.  They’re valuable not only to the teacher, who wants his students to learn effectively, but also to the learner, who benefits from the guidance along the way that formative assessments can uniquely provide.

Bad stigmas associated with near-universal experiences such as testing can take decades to change; I’ve merely added a single brick to a very large bridge to the future, in which testing may yet be viewed positively by people of all ages.  But hopefully I’ve made the case for making the word T-E-S-T a ‘four-letter word’ only in the literal sense, and not the figurative one.

What are your impressions of the the word ‘test’?  Do you think it carries a stigma?  Could we learn to love tests? – Lev Kaye

 Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

Startup/Yoga Parallels

Entrepreneur Mag Logo

The following post authored by Lev Kaye originally appeared here in Entrepreneur Magazine on May 29th, 2014.  It is reprinted here with permission.

Startups and yoga are two cultural phenomena that have become mainstream over the past decade. There’s a 20 percent chance you’ve tried a startup, a 40 percent chance you’ve tried yoga and a 100 percent chance you know someone who’s tried one or the other.

As a startup founder and yoga dabbler, I’m struck by a parallel between startups and yoga. To pursue either one well, you must focus on your center and build your flexibility. That creates a paradox in the startup world. Two startup imperatives, focus on the core business while remaining flexible, seem to be in conflict.

The Paradox. Radically focused on your startup’s core mission? You might pursue the wrong target market or feature set for too long. You might hurt yourself by not pivoting quickly enough. Maintaining your startup’s flexibility? You may explore too many potential growth avenues and not push hard enough on the single product-market fit that will enable your startup to succeed.

Startup literature is filled with firms that either never gained traction, or did so and then flamed out, because they were either too core-focused or too flexible. Unpacking the nature of yoga can help us resolve this startup paradox.

The term “yoga” derives from the Sanskrit word for “yoke.” Just as two oxen yoked together can pull a heavy load, yoga joins together mind and body to achieve a goal. In yoga, disciplined mental effort increases your body’s capabilities, leading to greater health, longevity and sense of fulfillment.

Yoga teaches that physical and mental centeredness, i.e. core focus, is the starting point. By paying close attention to breathing, the central activity of your body, you begin unlocking greater capabilities in your muscles and connective tissues. Yoga starts at your center and, from there, builds strength and flexibility.

The Discipline of Flexibility. The same principle applies both to successful yoga practitioners and to successful startups: Focus on the core enables flexibility. To Rob Bernshteyn, CEO of successful late-stage startup Coupa, your core means not just your line of business, but also “the set of core values that keeps your culture intact. If a startup were to define “agility” as a core value, it could evolve its line of business without losing focus on customer success.”

Agility-as-core-value aligns with the principles of the Lean Startup movement, which teaches that startups succeed by learning as much as they can from customers over the shortest iterative cycles at the lowest possible cost. Just as one can perfect a balanced yoga pose over a series of trials and errors (gravity often wins), so too a startup can take a disciplined approach to experimenting and learning, building flexibility in the process.

The Startup in Your Mind’s Eye.  Yoga and startups both harness the power of vision. In yoga, a meditative state is often used to induce a vision. The student is encouraged to picture something in his or her ‘mind’s eye’. Startups are frequently tied to a vision, typically that of the founder. John Foley, founder and CEO of innovative indoor cycling startup Peloton, believes a founder’s higher consciousness comes from accepting that a startup’s reality, at least initially, may fall short of his or her vision.

“Compared to where a founder sees his or her business ultimately going, it’s almost always a disappointment to launch the version 1.0 product,” Foley said. Yoga teaches the student to pursue an intention without becoming discouraged at the gulf between vision and present reality. That is a critical skill for entrepreneurs facing significant resource and capital constraints.

With important parallels between startups and yoga, it seems the insight for entrepreneurs is that there is no paradox after all. You can stay centered without sacrificing flexibility, however doing so requires discipline and placing your vision in proper perspective. If customer learning is a startup’s oxygen, then achieving traction represents a startup’s mastery of poses, each one guided by intention and achieved through disciplined practice, leading to business health, longevity, and the team’s sense of fulfillment.


The World’s Leading Expert (In Something)


My late grandfather, Saul Kaye, was among the millions of Brooklyn kids raised by hardworking immigrant parents.  He came of age during the Depression, studied hard, served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and spent his postwar years doing his part to build America into a powerhouse, while building a respectable middle-class life for his family.  (You’ve heard similar stories before.)

What’s less typical about his story, however, was that my grandfather became one of the World’s Leading Experts In Something.  A chemist and inventor, he knew everything there was to know about one tiny subject:  How to use a particular gas compound to sterilize hospital and lab equipment.  Saul spent most of his career working for and consulting to private companies such as chemical and equipment manufacturers, despite never having earned a Ph.D.  He became an expert mainly due to his work, not his study.

Today, in my own work with experts, Saul’s story reminds me of a few truths about expertise. Two are Old Truths, and one is a New Truth:

OLD TRUTH #1:  Expertise Comes In Many Specialties and Sizes.  Saul’s specialty knowledge mattered only to a small number of people and chemical firms.  But it mattered intensely to those folks.  The importance of most experts can’t be measured by the number of people who’ve heard of them.  There are millions of niche-but-important topics, each containing its own World’s Leading Experts.

OLD TRUTH #2:  Formal Credentials Tell Us Less Than We Think.  Much has been written about famous successful college dropouts.  Less has been written about the people we’ve worked with whose value cannot be measured by their formal credentials.  Each of us knows someone like my grandfather who may lack the most fancy credentials, yet is extremely smart and important to his or her colleagues and clients.  (Chances are that we revere that person.)

NEW TRUTH:  We’re In The Golden Age of Experts.  There’s simply never been a better time to be an expert in something.  We can see this in a few important ways:

  • There’s a huge need for specialty knowledge – things that not everyone knows or can quickly pick up – and that need is growing geometrically.  Specialty knowledge cuts across all professions and job types, from the technical to the interpersonal. Everyone needs specialty knowledge – whether they’re an employee, a consultant, a business owner, or a student trying to land his or her first job.
  • It’s easier than ever for experts to engage with audiences, for mutual benefit.  The web allows niche communities to self-organize and thrive quickly.  Experts can, at very little cost, teach and guide their way toward a large following.  For the experts’ followers, there are now countless ways to learn from experts.

If you’re a World’s Leading Expert In Something (anything!) it’s time to stake your claim.  Your formal credentials don’t matter as much as you think.  You can find people who not only want, but need to learn from you.  You may simply need to start engaging in new ways.  What’s your particular expertise?  Team CredSpark would like to hear from you – feel free to comment below or email us:

 Image:  Saul Kaye, 1950’s

Test-Driven Career Development

Working on a startup is the new graduate school—you learn a lot, and you hope it will pay off someday.

I’ve learned a ton from my startup experiences, but I’d like to share one of the most important concepts to which our software engineers recently introduced me.  It’s called Test-Driven Development – and it contains a kernel of wisdom for anyone seeking to develop their career-related knowledge and skills.

New Approach To Building

Humans have been building things for millennia, and there’s been a standard approach:

  • Step 1:  Think about what you want.
  • Step 2:  Build it.
  • Step 3:  See if it works.

Simple, right?  And yet it’s fairly dumb, because you don’t know if ‘it’ works until you’ve already put in the time, the energy, and the expense to build it.  If it doesn’t work, you’ve wasted all three.

Enter some smart software engineers, who in the last 10 years have popularized a New Approach to Building Stuff, which goes as follows:

  • Step 1:  Think about what you want.
  • Step 2:  See if it works.
  • Step 3:  Build it.

Read closely.  They flipped Steps 2 and 3!  They don’t build stuff that’s going to break, because they figure out whether or not it’s going to work BEFORE they build it.  Smart, right?  That’s Test-Driven Development.  After they’ve thought about what they want, they first create a test.  THEN they build.  (More and more software is being developed this way—learn more here.)

Once Again, The Geeks Are Ahead Of Us

The Geeks (in my experience, the best of them don’t consider that term pejorative) have hit upon a key insight:  When you’re building something, the most efficient and effective way to start is by testing it.  Think about what you want.  Test it.  THEN build it.

What’s the thing YOU’RE building?  Your career.  No matter your age, nor your stage, unless you’re retired, you are likely building your career.  Given that few careers remain stable these days, most of us need to build and rebuild our careers.  But if we’re building something, how do we know if it’s going to work before we’ve put in the time, energy and expense?

The Geeks have pointed the way:  We should first test ourselves.

Start By Testing Yourself

Professional Development, also known as Professional Learning, is a large global industry.  Much of it is test-driven, as in the case of licensure exams (like the CFA) or voluntary professional certifications (like the PMP.)  But there’s much, much more to learn beyond just what’s found on existing, formal exams.

Based upon my many years in educational technology and publishing, including companies like Kaplan and The Princeton Review, taking tests drives learning because (1) it makes you aware of what you do and don’t currently understand and (2) it focuses your learning on the most important things.  Just as in software development, testing your career development in advance can point out areas where YOU don’t ‘work’ as well as you need to—so you can focus your learning and career growth.

Learn from the Geeks:  Look for ways to test your career knowledge before you spend much time, energy, and expense on career-builds.  Research and perhaps seek out the experts in your field. See if they have, or can recommend, a test for you.  Odds are that it will help you build a career that works.