Return guest Tom Morrison, CEO of Metal Treating Institute (MTI), is a highly-sought after keynote speaker, and author of multiple books, including most recently, The Dash: Making Sure Your Obituary Won’t Suck. And a key concept that he speaks about is around the idea of “uberization” – a term based on the highly successful market disruptor that we all know, Uber.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Jeff talks with Tom about the concept of uberization including how it applies to learning businesses and how to avoid being “uberized”. He also talks about what MTI is doing with their highly successful e-learning and certificate programs to solidify their niche in the market.
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[00:18] –Our sponsor for this episode is Learning • Technology • Design™ (LTD), our annual virtual conference designed specifically for those who work in the business of lifelong learning, continuing education, and professional development. This will be our fourth time offering LTD, and we know from all the feedback we have received that past attendees have found it a unique and highly valuable experience. Registration is open at ltd.tagoras.com, and through the month of November we are offering reduced pricing as well as the opportunity to extend a complimentary invitation to a colleague or friend who has not attended LTD before.
We are also offering the opportunity to be a Patron for the event, an option that may be of interest to companies that serve learning businesses. You can find out about that by going to ltd.tagoras.com/patron. And we would like to spotlight some of our current patrons including Web Courseworks, makers of the Course Stage LMS, and Event Garde, a professional development consulting firm committed to lifelong learning.
[02:22] – A preview of what will be covered in this episode where Jeff interviews Tom Morrison, CEO of Metal Treating Institute Management.
Note this is Tom’s second interview on the Leading Learning podcast—check out his previous interview, Giving Learning the Treatment It Deserves with Tom Morrison of MTI.
[03:54] – Introduction to Tom.
[05:14] – To start us off, I want to give you the chance to say more about your background and interests. What else would you like to highlight about yourself and your work for listeners? Tom admits that he’s been obsessed with the future since he began his work with associations back in 1995. He is always looking at how to grow in a face of change that’s coming at us at light speed. In 13 years, his association will have grown by 2,600% and that’s because of a strategic, formidable plan on how they approach change. Tom emphasizes that you can accomplish anything you want as long as you’re willing to go after it, make good choices, and not look in the past, because you cannot do business in the next five years how you’ve done it in the last ten or you will fail miserably.
[07:00] – A concept at the core of your message is uberization. You ask organizations, what is your uber? Can you explain what you mean by this and provide some examples? Tom shares that uberization came out of an article by Jena McGregor about a study that revealed the number one fear of over 50% of 5,000 C-suite executives, was the uberization of their industry—a way of doing business cheaper, smarter, faster and better than they could. This is because Uber was the poster child of market disruption (he also highlights Airbnb as another big disruptor). Even though most of us think this type of disruption has only happened in the last 5-10 years, Tom points out this has been happening since the early 1900’s but the difference is, today, you don’t have the luxury of time to react and change. Since your industry can change so fast, if you don’t change with it and get ahead of it, you’re going to be behind the curve and it’s too late at that point. An acronym he uses is C.U.T. (consistent/constant change, urgency, time) and he says you need to keep these on the forefront if you’re going to compete in the next five years.
[11:21] – How does uberization apply to organizations/companies that are in the business of lifelong learning, continuing education, and professional development – what are some ways they might find themselves “uber’d?” Tom says it’s important to keep your eye out for sites like Coursera, General Assembly, and Lynda.com. The biggest thing associations and learning facilities need to look at is what sites are lurking out there that can offer courses for cheaper or next to nothing. He encourages everybody to have a “Chief Change Officer”, or people who are looking around your sphere to see if that kind of stuff is coming your way so you can be aware of it and get ahead of it. You have to make sure you have your niche solidified so people know that you are the experts in that area of training.
[13:47] – What should that person or people in charge of looking for change be doing? How do they track this? What is the process and/or habits of anybody that is going to track change and try to stay ahead of being uberized? Tom recommends going on YouTube and Google and typing in the type of training your industry offers in the search field to see what pops up.
[15:45] – What should you do if you’re an organization that finds you have somebody competing with your offerings? What are some of the strategic ways in which learning businesses may need to be thinking now when they encounter competition coming into their market? In the case of a member starting to compete, Tom says you need to think about whether you continued offering learning the old way and maybe this person is offering it the new way. In this case you may be getting what you deserve because you’ve refused to go into the future with training. There are two things you can look at in this case—to either become a competitor or a collaborator. If you can’t compete, it’s imperative that you look at finding a way to collaborate because it’s better to get 15% of something than 100% of nothing. As industries are growing, Tom says there is enough business for everybody and you just have to figure out who your customer and niche are and really play to those people.
[18:53] –In your first interview on the podcast, we talked in depth about what MTI is doing with e-learning and certificates. For those who don’t remember or haven’t heard that interview, can you give us some background and provide an update on how MTI has managed to stand up a successful e-learning program? Tom talks about his experience setting up courses online when he first came onto MTI 12 years ago. He says he learned from the CAE (the American Society of Association Executives’ credential) which inspired the creation of the Qualified Furnace Operator Program (QFO), which offered a certificate for completed courses. This ended up taking off because it demonstrated expertise. They realized they needed to build on this with a series of certificates that build on one another, which is what they’ve continued to do with great success over the years. They also sell organizational subscriptions to their members and about 30-40% of their members have a corporate subscription in that program.
[23:24] – You’ve done a lot to protect your place in the industry—understanding what the learner and employer needs are (which ensure buyers) and stackable credentials. Even if Lynda.com decided to compete with you, it almost wouldn’t be worth their time—are you that confident with what you’ve created? Tom admits he’s never that confident where he thinks nobody could come in and uberize their industry because that’s where people fall complacent. They are constantly thinking about how to make the brand of the Heat Treat Specialist Certificate high because that’s the CAE of their industry. The biggest thing they did early on was to ask themselves the key questions – what is the highest pain point? He says associations spend too much time on perceived value and not actual value. Actual value is the highest pain point where every single individual or business owner in an association that’s a member wakes up everyday and they have frustrations in their company or individual process that keeps them up at night. They started thinking that the number one thing was that a new person gets hired and someone has to train them – but nobody really has time. So they decided they needed an online training where they could sit the new hires down for one hour a day for the first week to gain a general understanding of what happens in the heat-treat plant (and this was a big part of their QFO program). Jeff adds that this process of onboarding/orientation is an opportunity for anybody who wants to lead learning in whatever field or sector they’re serving.
[27:17] – A discussion about how brand is going to be more and more important to defend your niche. Tom shares that they publish the top ten members who have the most Heat Treat Specialists in their plants about once every quarter in their online newsletter. This helps create a little friendly competition to help others want to be a part of the process.
[29:04] –What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education? Tom shares that he’s not a huge book reader but he spends a lot of time each week watching TED Talks, YouTube videos, and reading articles. He talks about how h he has an obsession with microlearning so that he can take in the bits of information at a time since things usually change in small quantities that eventually mushroom into a larger picture.
[31:37] – Do you have a favorite TED talk that you’d recommend folks listen to? Tom references an episode on the topic of how to communicate with people and have your message heard. Another episode that’s resonated with him was the Housing First approach to homelessness.
[33:37] – How to connect with Tom and/or learn more:
[35:15] – Wrap-Up
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[37:17] – Sign off