Dr. Woods and his wailing machine 

Some years ago I attended a specialist medical practitioner’s office in London. His speciality was identifying allergies and he did this with the most interesting item of test equipment I had ever seen.

He evaluated my sensitivity by connecting a stainless steel tube to my big toe and another similar tube to my thumb, both connected with a wiring harness to a machine with flashing lights and a big dial. Then he placed a small quantity of the material he believed I might be sensitive to in a glass vial and dropped it into a small receptacle in the machine. Pushing buttons and turning knobs, the machine began to wail and the needle on the dial danced madly up and down the scale. I could not tell the difference in the wailing between water and whisky.


We laughed all the way home and have dined out many times on the story of the allergy clinic. While I found out I was sensitive to an excess of alcohol, I would have paid twice the amount to see someone else’s report to compare the findings, or see if it was generic.


I often wonder about Dr Wood’s machine ( I now know it was an early version of the Vega test machine) could be used, in today’s turbulent world, to measure other things – like performance, for instance? How great would it be to hook a delegate to some machine, place the intervention (either in note form, maybe a video or on a disk) into a machine and measure the outcome before spending any money trying to deliver it. The more the machine wails the better the result…

Evaluation of performance has become one of those subjects that every conference discusses. Both HR and L&D people have differing views on the importance of performance and methodology of the evaluation. In many of the conferences I have attended in the last six months, the discussion ends up trying to define what performance is and how you recognise it. Some even try to assess the best way to deliver it, as if it was a commodity.

I believe that performance is best improved through the training department, using every available technique we have in the box: coaching, mentoring, training and learning.

The rapid development of e-learning has become one of the latest ‘fads’ to try to deliver learning (not training) in a quicker manner, where speed to the end user and price per moment of learning has pushed aside the importance of quality and instructional design.


The age of speed has been with us for some time. We have far less patience than the generation that preceded us.  Look at the differences between generations X and Y. Look at their expectations, tolerance levels and patience towards speed of technologically delivered services and you will see how fast we expect results in everything and how much it has speeded up as the generations evolve.


There are two guaranteed sales in the world today: the cheapest on the market, and the most expensive. Everything in the middle has to make excuses for why it is cheaper than the competition but still worth buying, or, why it is more expensive than the competition and the reasons why it is worth paying more.

The bottom end of the market is the one that will have most long-term affect on training. To make it ‘cheap’ and ‘quick’ you have to cut out something. The old love triangle still is in play:


You can only have two of the points of the triangle.


·      If you want it quick and cheap, you can’t expect high quality.

·      If you want it fast and in high quality, it will cost more.

·      If you want quality but want it cheap, don’t expect it quickly.


Rapid Development tools are trying to break this triangle that has been accepted for so many years: offering cheap, quick e-learning and purporting to be high quality. How would these courses score on the ‘Dr Wood wail test’?

We want to reduce the time to market and we want to maintain the high quality and efficiency of the courseware we are delivering and, of course, we claim to have no budget. 

If you, like me, are not sure if there are answers, you could always buy one of the machines I may be offering early next year that wails when you have a good intervention – or maybe the more the delegate wails, the better the result!