Gentle Bamboo Solutions

The dark side of Personalisation


We have always heard a "one size fits all" approach can never be the most effective way to corporate training. Training should be personalized. People’s preference for personalization boils down to one factor: Control. When people understand that learning corresponds to their interests, goals, and needs, it gives them an intrinsic feeling of being in control that then leads to a more successful outcome.

I’ve always advocated for personalization. In fact in our GPS Framework for Training, P stands for personalization. But I learnt about the dark side of personalization yesterday.

In a session I do called ‘Decision Making’, I run an activity where I crowd-source a problem for us to apply a decision making process to. I allow participants to pick a problem of their choice. We agree to solve the problem with the largest number of votes. I apologise to the others whose problem has not been selected, get their consent on working together, and continue.

Except, there is a flaw in this approach.

Let’s say there are 3 problems to choose from – A, B, and C. In a training room of say 30 people, about 14 choose problem A. 10 choose problem B. And 6 choose problem C. Since the largest number of votes has gone to problem A, I pick that. I ask my audience, are we ok with this? Many people enthusiastically answer yes. What I miss is that these people are the same who have picked problem A. I apologise to those who’ve lost the popular vote and check-in with them if we can proceed with problem A. Again, I get a few responses saying ok, and I move on.

"Do you see the problem yet, Harry? The problem with my beautiful plan?" – Albus Dumbledore.

There are 2 problems here. One, my majority of 14 votes is not an absolute majority. There are 16 people who did not choose problem A. Two, the subsequent acceptance I get from participants is primarily from people who chose problem A. Those who chose the other options are already starting to dissociate from my training.

My lesson from this experience: Personalization is great. But in personalizing the program for the majority, or what looks like the majority, do not forget the large silent minority.

Exploring the dark side,