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The CLO’s Dilemma

Coding is not a learning strategy. Instead, explore what skills create real digital device value.

learning strategy, technology, codingCoding is being advanced as the answer to an important part of today’s organizational skills gap. It’s anything but.

While Donald Trump cleverly reduces answers to complex world problems to 140 characters, this speculation about coding makes the lives of all learning executives much more difficult. When the CEO reads about coding as a skills gap solution, it does what simplified answers do, it resonates intuitively.

Why? It’s painfully obvious to even the digital Neanderthals among us, digital technology has infiltrated every dimension of our lives. We search online. We shop online. When we have a problem to be solved, we get targeted learning on YouTube. We create communities on Facebook. We even find marriage partners on Match.com.

Those facts not sufficiently compelling evidence? Take a few minutes to look around at fellow passengers on the subway or those waiting to board an airplane. What are virtually all of them doing? With heads bowed, they are interacting with their smartphones, oblivious to all else. It’s a total digital immersion.

This modern manifestation of the digital body snatchers has every organizational leader from bankers to retailers and educators scrambling to get to the head of the parade to the digital future. Why? It’s obvious to all but the most remote natives of Papua New Guinea that failure to successfully compete in the digital world will lead to almost certain organizational death well before the end of the coming decade. And it’s no fun being on the endangered species list.

Here is one additional element for consideration. Coding is the digital translation of the messy, ever rapidly changing human world to machines that reason in the language of zeros and ones. A coder is a translator. Coders write in the syntax and vocabulary of digital machines.

So, here is the dilemma for CLOs. Were we successful at fully deploying a coding learning strategy, we would have an organization largely composed of translators. Now, I could be wrong about this, but I am not familiar with any successful competitor composed of translators — not even Google or Facebook.

I know, I know, at this point you’re thinking: “Don’t be absurd Echols. We’re not talking about everyone becoming a coder.” I agree, but herein lies the dilemma. If coding is not the goose that lays the golden egg, what is?

Here is one suggestion for at least a partial answer to this digital dilemma. The real value creation is not in the role as translator. For evidence of this simply plug the job title translator into the search box on any job site and see how many open positions come up and at what salary. For instance, a quick job search on CareerBuilder shows Japanese translators at $45,000 – $65,000 per year.

What makes coding so hot is not the translation skill per se, but the massive explosion in digital devices as we dash headlong into a world of billions and billions of devices in the world called the “Internet of Things.” The point is, at least a part of the huge demand for coders is the need to have enough capacity to communicate in the language of those billions of digital devices.

All of this brings me to a preliminary recommendation for CLOs. In the spirit of our new POTUS, I will toss out a simple position, and then explore the details later. While coding is an immediate priority for learning, that priority is fundamentally an investment in translator capacity. It is not a learning strategy. Instead, explore what skills are required to create real value in the population explosion of digital devices.

For now, a few items on that list are: problem solving, critical thinking, communication skills, the ability to successfully work on teams and the ability to understand and prioritize tidal waves of new information. Note, those waves grow taller every day.

This priority list is not new. Its presentation here is made not as an “aha!” moment, but as a recalibration of what remains important to learning in the face of coding — one of the latest shiny objects. Let’s not even start talking about issue identification and recommended solutions. For now, think Google AdWords and big data.

Michael E. Echols is principal and founder of Human Capital LLC and author of “Your Future Is Calling.” Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com.

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