Three things I have learned from Professor Brinkerhoff


First time I met Rob Brinkerhoff I didn’t actually meet him, in fact he didn’t even see me. I was sitting way back at his speaking engagement at the 2010 ASTD (ATD) conference in Chicago and I instantly became a fan.

Finally, someone pointing out the elephant in the room, the fact that most learners in a soft skill training don’t apply what they are being taught, while at the same time making a compelling case for what could be done to fix this. The wealth of knowledge and experience behind his reasoning emerging from many years research and field work made it all crystal clear. A gauntlet had been thrown down and I decided to pick it up. I went back to Sweden filled with energy and in my notebook, the last piece of the puzzle that would soon become PromoteĀ®.

Little did I suspect that Rob and I would meet again, this time face to face.

January 2015, Kalamazoo, MI. I parked my car outside the house of a legend, got out and knocked on the door. Just a week earlier I had contacted Rob under the pretext that I was in the neighborhood and wanted to know if he could spare an hour and a cup of coffee and give me feedback on some ideas I had. Being “in the neighborhood” was a stretch… I was actually going from Stockholm to San Francisco so this was quite a detour.

Nonetheless, Rob had graciously accepted my request and here I was, about to have a “fika” with the one and only Professor Brinkerhoff. And the coffee turned into lunch, turned into another cup of coffee and as the sun set, two strangers had become friends and a seed for the future had been sown.

Since then I’ve had the privilege to work closely with Rob on a number of projects. Evaluations for clients, writing papers and articles, development work for the Promote platform, instructional design work, documenting best practices, arranging conferences etc. And although we have almost daily contact I’m still amazed how much I can learn from his vast knowledge and experience.


Here are a few insights that have made a lot of difference to me and that I hope can be useful for you too:

1. Design your trainings as learner-centric “journeys” with the focus being performance improvement. Cut out any scrap that doesn’t help achieve this in order to maintain a clear “line-of-sight” for the learners towards the business objectives.

2. The learning journey needs to be powerful enough (focus, length, design et c.) to propel the learners beyond the “gravitational pull” of old ways and get them adopting, the new knowledge/behaviors in their working environment.

3. The initial phase of the learning journey is more important than you might think. The learners focus, intentionality and sense of accountability trumps everything, so make sure to help them get into the right mindset.