With the Winter Olympics kicking off this week, I was reminded of my own somewhat painful experiences on the slopes. The first time I ever attempted to ski was at a small ski resort in Northern Arizona. At the advice of my wife I attended the Beginner Camp with about 15 other people. We had two professional instructors, one of whom told us that he had been teaching people to ski for more than 10 years and during that time had never given up on anyone and so no matter how bad we think we are when we start, he will have us skiing by the end of the day. This instilled some confidence in me because although I had never skied before, I had tried ice skating and the instructor then had pleaded with me to quit before I seriously damaged myself. When I told him it was just bruises and I would not give up, he begged me to stop for the sake of the damage I was inflicting upon the ice!
The first part of the lesson focused on how to start and stop on the skis with the emphasis on stop. We were just practicing on small bunny slopes and after a while, I was really starting to get the hang of staying up and not falling over. However, I was struggling with the stopping part. While the instructor assured me that if I turned my skis inwards, I would slow down and stop, I just seemed to go faster. At one point, I turned them inwards quite dramatically which caused them to cross and send me flying through the air with a spectacular somersault! The rest of the class appeared to be doing better so the instructors took us up to a slightly steeper and longer slope to further advance our skills. At the top of the slope we were told to ski down and slow to a smooth stop at the bottom. The instructors demonstrated this and then waited for us at the bottom and they had told us that if we were not slowing down enough one of them would hold out their hand for us to grab to bring us to a stop. I was the last to go. As I headed down the slope, I picked up speed and it felt really good. As I approached the rest of the group, I started to turn the skis in but I did not feel like I was slowing down. Panic was written across my face and the instructor could see it. He held out his hand at the same time as yelling commands at me that I could not hear. I reached out and grabbed his hand but I was going so fast that his whole ski glove came off and I continued racing on towards the forest holding his glove! I remember the instructor telling me that if all else failed then just sit down to stop. I did this but it did not prevent me from hitting a tree, losing both skis and face-planting in the snow before finally coming to a stationary position.
The instructor who had lost his glove now also lost his cool and began screaming at me saying that I had not listened to anything he had told me. After a minute of this verbal barrage, it suddenly occurred to him to ask me if I was OK. When I responded yes, he continued his barrage for another minute! When he had finished, I suggested to him that I try again. His bright red face drained to white at the terror of this thought. He quietly said that he did not think this was a good idea and that I should seriously reconsider learning to ski. When I reminded him of his 10 year track record of never giving up on anyone, he hung his head in defeat and said, “Like Napoleon Bonaparte, I have met my Waterloo!”
As I hobbled back to the ski rental, I bumped in to my 11 year-old son coming down a slope and told him what happened. After he picked himself up after falling over in hysterical laughter, he took me to one side and patiently showed me how to turn the blades of my skis to slow down and stop. After a dozen attempts and about 20 minutes, I could do it.
The lesson I learned that day is that training in a group is not always effective and that some people, like me, need individual or personalized instruction. This is as true for Business Intelligence as it is for skiing. While generic courses on universe, report and dashboard development may be adequate for some people, others will learn a lot better by sitting down one-on-one with an experienced consultant and getting personalized knowledge transfer. Similarly, people will often learn better if the course material is adapted to the way they will be using the tools and software and the workshop exercises are using data with which they are familiar.
I have seen an increase in demand for this type of customized knowledge transfer over the last year as more companies discover the benefits of this approach. In addition, some companies are requesting remote support hours after the training that they can use for further help from the instructor or consultant once they get back to their office and start to use the tools in different situations. This is a brilliant idea since it combines both the economy of group training and the effectiveness of one-on-one assistance for those who need more specific help and attention.
Personally, I do not think learning Business Intelligence is as difficult as learning to ski but then it is “different strokes for different folks” or maybe that should be “different slopes for different dopes”!