How to Be a Noticer: Orienting Learning Towards the Future

Written by Carolyn B. Thompson on March 7, 2019

Is the learning you offer future focused? If you start changing your learning programs once you discover a new direction or need in your industry, it’s likely too late. It takes months or years to retool things like learning design, pathways and marketing. We need to find out what’s going to happen in our industry next year, in five years, and in ten years, then align the learning. We have to service not just what has been, but what is going to be.

How do organizations make the practice of thinking about the future a part of their day-to-day? You know the saying: “if everyone’s responsible for it then no one is.” This is why so many of our organizations are falling behind.

A Two-Pronged Approach

Approach the ongoing, essential task of strategically noticing precursors to the industry’s future from two fronts: everyone and someone. Make sure everyone knows how to be a “noticer”. At the same time have someone, no matter their title, designated to be a noticer.

Our customized training company is many times hired because we work with a lot of different industries, business models, and skill needs. We have to pay attention to everything around us to be prepared for anything. It’s as much a passion as a skill. We are energized by gathering and analyzing the huge amount of information that comes our way. We practice strategic noticing and so can you.

Locate Your Noticers

These are some attributes of strategic noticers:

  • Think like you’re new to your industry
  • Be actively on the lookout for ways to update your own knowledge and skills
  • Take in information (some call it trivia) by osmosis
  • Read blogs, newspapers, magazines and books and listen to podcasts about your industry and beyond
  • Ask questions

Everyone should have the noticer role listed in their job description, be assessed for these attributes, have learning available to fill in gaps in those attributes, and be evaluated in their performance appraisal for doing these actions.

The designated someone should naturally possess these attributes. Maybe it’s not you. Maybe it’s not the person in the Learning & Development or Education departments. Some organizations have futurists, the ultimate noticers. Your organization may not be able support a dedicated position for a futurist or noticer, but if you have a staff member or volunteer who is naturally a noticer, they’ll be doing it anyway, no matter what else is on their to-do list. The strategic part comes in when we harness the information they take in.

Guide Your Strategic Noticing

Here are some ways to source the information you want to notice:

  • Ask your general membership what you should be keeping your eyes open for
  • Ask former members why they left
  • Ask the customers of your members questions about the industry
  • Ask volunteer leaders what’s changing in the industry and association
  • Create and read learner evaluations
  • Read what people are saying in the industry and association forums, online communities, and listeners
  • Read and respond to association and industry social media
  • Listen to what futurists in the industry are saying

Make a Plan

Before you start your strategic listening campaign, plan what you’re trying to pick up. What seeds, pain points, and solutions are people looking for? What kind of questions are they asking?

You also need to plan an output method to make it easy for people to data dump. Slack or a spreadsheet template lets everyone use the same category heads, making for easy comparisons.

What’s Next?

The amount of information around us is staggering once you start to notice it. And it doesn’t stop there. You have to recognize patterns and identify highlights through all the noise of the data coming in.

The patterns you discover are desperately needed by every part of your association. Get people talking about the trends and the highlights. Intentionally listen to those conversations with the channels you already have in place. Hear from multiple voices. And then get busy creating the learning experiences and learning pathways that are going to be needed for tomorrow.

Author’s Note: This strategy is only one end of the spectrum for marking trends. Full-on market research is just as important to understanding your landscape. Invest in that research every three to five years, depending on how much disruption is in your industry.

Carolyn spoke in the “Mission Critical: Advance Your Industry’s Workforce Through Real Learning” session during SURGE Optimism 2018, an interactive virtual conference hosted by on November 7th-9th. Click here to watch the sessions on demand.