Gazing into a murky crystal ball. Revisited

by Jan 8, 2019Managing People & Organizations

ISPI-EMEA has an imperative role in helping our profession become really professional, create valuable results, and be accountable for them. I suggest that we can, as a profession armed with valid research-based concepts and methods, help to measurably improve our shared world and to transform our society from its current trajectory to a welcoming place for tomorrow’s child. Last year, I had a look at where we are coming from and where we might go (Kaufman, 2017). Our field is at a crossroads which can only be saved by professionals who know the right things to do and do them.   In this regard, here is a revisit on my earlier thinking.

The late Bob Morgan invited professors to work with him at Florida State University who were going to create the future, not just improve our present reality.  The Learning Systems Institute (LSI), created by Bob Morgan, Bob Branson, and me, along with Bob Gagné, intended to change our world for the better.  It was different from just about every other organization at Florida State, and indeed our field.  Morgan worked with developing nations and governments around the globe, Branson created the military specifications and methods for educational technology, and I worked on societal-referenced planning and needs assessment.  It worked well and prospered in funding, adding value, and reputation until a senior Florida State University executive decided to pull it up by its roots and replace it with something conventional.  The concepts and tools lived on through the applied research and the graduate students we prepared. It was all about evidence based practice based on research and validation…not on philosophy and ideology which keeps capturing the attention, unfortunately, of many.

A few years later, Geary Rummler and Claude Lineberry decided our field was floundering and created the Tucson 7. Each person there had created valuable concepts and tools, not just focused on popular nostrums: Rummler, Lineberry, Don Tosti, Dale Brethower, Danny Langdon, Bob Carleton, and me. We agreed that our field was drifting from its roots of evidence-based, research-based innovations and validated, applied methods, to fix-and-repair methods and often just plain gimmicks.  Each member of the Tucson 7 had different ways for approaching problems but the differing tactics applied to a consistent approach of adding measurable value within and outside of an organization.  Any planning or method was to be based on performance results! The data to be used were about the principles of science and technology and governance that are relevant to the variables and foundational principles of human learning, organizational performance, and economics. The grim reaper ended this group.

I suggest we are facing the same issues that LSI and the Tucson 7 were concerned with. I further suggest that ISPI-EMEA provides a vehicle and track record to make a difference. Don Tosti early suggested that culture was primary and indeed suggested that tribalism, commitment to one’s groups and norms over any other ones, was increasingly defining and driving nations and communities alike. The commitment to one’s self-interest above others’ results in conflict, and thus leads me to believe our world is increasingly less safe and welcoming than it might be because of no shared societal norms and purposes.  The ‘social contract’ is being replaced by cultural relativism.  Conflict, thus, seems to win out over productivity and calm. But does it have to be thus? Our profession is able to account for this in helping create the future.

I suggest that we can, as a profession armed with valid research-based concepts and methods, help to measurably improve our shared world (to use Roger Addison’s term) and to transform our society from its current trajectory to a welcoming place for tomorrow’s child (Mega thinking and planning).

But the popular culture, both in our profession and our society, is strangely morphing into linear thinking and solutions that are searching for real problems.  And/or fixing blame and not fixing problems.  Our field is pre-occupied with individual learning and performance improvement alone, and not with first defining what should be learned and applied and justifying why that performance in the first place. We should shift our emphasis on ‘how’ to also include “what” and “why,”

Our educational system, I suggest, is increasingly complicit as it moves from teaching people how to think, to teaching them what to think. We have created a reactive, linear analytic deductive world where we assume that goals exist and that they are valid. And we too often substitute opinion for fact.

To verify this, simply look at any political campaign where both sides suggest popular fixes while criticizing the fixes of the opposition…all parties focus on means and not ends. No one provides measurable societal objectives and viable ways to get from here to there, and thus attempt to avoid providing evidence of success or failure.  We are floundering from one set of quick fixes to another without proper accountability for results delivered and the human and financial costs to do so.  This is expensive and innocent people get hurt. Or crippled.

We can help if we choose. With our holistic 10 ISPI principles and associated models and methods, we can contribute to help all to define the kind of world we want to create for tomorrow’s child and then help with frameworks to guide the transformation.  We must first agree on the world and society we want to create for tomorrow’s child before selecting programs, projects, methods, and activities.

While doing this, we must prepare for a world in which graduates know increasingly little that can contribute to the world of commerce, social survival, and quality of life. Furthermore, we must prepare for decreasing numbers of them, even at the doctoral level, who are interested in or capable of inductive thinking and creating things that don’t currently exist.

We can help design total and holistic learning systems for unready workers who will be doing routine jobs, encourage and enable the few who can and will be creative, and develop artificial intelligence that will help fill in the gaps in our human resources. We may develop learning opportunities for developing creativity and out of the box thinking, and link rewards to such skills. We have to help enable people to perform the jobs of the future that are evolving now as AI and innovations change the nature of work and our shared society.  We should move from replacing the worker to re-placing the worker.

The nature of the associate and workspace is changing and changeable, and this requires us to build the bridges between the current what is and the desired what should be.  Workplaces will likely become less centralized as valid performance criteria are developed from three-level needs assessments, and performance will be tracked to engage in continual improvement.  It is likely that the current research on learning and performance will be applied to current workplaces. Also likely is the integration of expert systems into the performance of tasks, with this serving as both performance guides and on-the-job training. Finally, the near future cries out for incentives to be developed that will facilitate workplace performance and job satisfaction. But all of this must be aligned with useful societal objectives and with continual improvement so what works will continue and what doesn’t will be replaced.

My crystal ball for our future is murky. And the elements keep changing.  I suggest there are some basic realities and resources we can and must use if we are to contribute to creating our future instead of being the victims of it.

As the crystal ball is shifting again, we must revise as required, based on valid data. To this end let me suggest a practical dream for all to consider and use for creating a worthy future…a shared North Star toward which we can all steer while making our unique contributions to achieve our future.

A Pratical Dream

Like Martin Luther King, Jr., I have a dream. I dream that no person regardless of color, race, creed, nationality, gender, age, or sexual orientation will be known by anything other than the nature of their character.  My dream includes that no adult will be under the care, custody, or control of another person, agency, or substance, and that every adult will be self-sufficient, self-reliant, and have a positive quality of life.

My dream will be enabled by the stirring words of John F, Kennedy who advised us, “ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for our Country.” My dream includes that everyone can walk the streets of their cities without being raped, murdered, or abused, and that they have clean water, clean air, and sufficient food to obtain and maintain good health.

I invite you and other professionals to share the dream. And as JFK said, “If not now, when? If not us, who?


Kaufman, R. (2017: Apr.)   What Might Be the Future of Our Profession: Gazing Into a Murky Crystal Ball. Performance Improvement Journal. Vol. 56, No. 4. Pp.10-13.

Kaufman, R. & Guerra-Lopez (2013) Needs Assessment for Organizational Success. Alexandria, Va. ATD/ ASTD Press.

Kaufman, R. (2011) A Manager’s Pocket Guide to Strategic Thinking and Planning. Amherst, MA. HRD Press, Inc.

Cite as:

Kaufman, R. (2019) Gazing into a murky crystal ball. Revisited. Being Better Matters 8 January. Available at (accessed: date of your access)

Authors profile:

Roger Kaufman (1933-2020)

It is with our deepest sadness and sorrow that we announce the passing of our dear collegue Roger Kaufman on September 23, 2020.

Professor emeritus, Florida State University, and has served as Distinguished Research Professor at the Sonora Institute of Technology (Mexico). He received ATD’s Distinguished Contribution to Workplace Learning and Performance award. He is a past president, honorary member for life and Thomas Gilbert Award winner, all with the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), Kaufman has published 41 books and over 300 articles on strategic planning, performance improvement, quality management, needs assessment, management, and evaluation.

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