performance support in the real-world

My laptop crashed a couple of weeks back.  All was working perfectly the night before, and when I shut down and was prompted to install Windows updates, I did.  The next morning, I was met with this…

Windows 8 Error

I found myself stuck in an endless loop of sad face.  After the initial panic subsided, I worked through some diagnostics and error codes, and with the help of Google, found that I needed to do a system refresh, to take me back to a simpler time of pre-update harmony.  I was reassured by the on screen advice that my files and settings would be preserved, but I may need to reinstall some software and apps.  Sounded great to me, so I did what I was told, and all appeared to be well.

Unfortunately, once I got going again, I found that some of my Outlook data files had not restored properly.  I’ve long been a user of the Notes feature in Outlook to store useful info, including the usernames and passwords for my many subscriptions to sites and services.  And like a numpty, I had not backed them up anywhere.

After Googling and then searching through my system files, I found where Outlook had stored the archive file that contained the Notes and Contacts.   The trouble was getting Outlook to recognise and open the file. After much interweb searching and experimentation throughout the day, I found similar tales of woe, but no successful advice on what to do.  So  I ‘phoned a friend’ – a web chat with the Microsoft Technical Support crew, and started a late night discussion with a lovely fellow in another timezone.  He remotely logged on to my laptop, I showed him where the file was, and together we tried several ways to bring it back into Outlook.  He got his colleagues involved. We tried a few more things, but the upshot was that my Notes were apparently gone forever.  Paraphrased: ‘So sorry Mairi.  This new version of Outlook will never open that file.  It’s a bug that we’re aware of and will try to rectify in the future.  But this will not help you. Thanks for calling Microsoft.  Is there anything else I can help you with today?’

Not being one to easily give up on anything, let alone the mini-passports to my increasingly digital life, I kept searching for a solution to recover them, or at least a way to open them so I could copy the information into new notes and back them up.  I found a few Outlook recovery tools that looked promising, but I wasn’t prepared to pay the big bucks their creators were asking.  But then I stumbled across a free demo that suggested maybe all was not lost.  I downloaded it, ran the extractor, and my heart skipped an excited beat when all my Notes, with clickable access to their precious content, appeared before me.  I opened up Outlook, and set about creating a new set of Notes files, singing a happy tune as I went.  And then I set a click-speed record backing those little gems right up!

In the spirit of sharing good fortune (and great learnings), I initiated another web chat to my friendly Microsoft Tech Support Crew fellow, told him the good news, and gave him the lowdown and links to how I’d solved the problem.  He was grateful and I went to bed a very happy girl. 🙂

Over the following days, I got to thinking about how this was a good  real-life example of Performance Support in action.  All the ingredients were there:

  • I had a wicked real-time problem that my tacit knowledge alone could not fix.
  • I had a clear view of the performance goal and was motivated to achieve it.
  • I had a network of technical experts available to me to bounce ideas off that might help me fix my problem.
  • I had easy access to a rich array of information generously shared by others that helped me understand more about my problem and contained guideposts to potential solutions.
  • I had an experimental mindset and I persisted until I achieved my goal.
  • When I finally achieved my goal, I paid the learning forward.

Performance Support is a valuable tool for learning in any sector.  It’s a fancy name given to something that has happened as a matter of course in nature forever – a problem is presented, available  resources are used to solve it, and life goes on.  This natural approach resonates with the relatively recent use of the term ‘Learning and Performance Ecosystem’.  I just love the mental imagery this conjures up of the world of learning – one of connection, collaboration, adaptability, responsiveness, creativity, persistence.  All wonderful attributes, and all very natural for humans of all ages everywhere.

The more we can foster, create and support learning and performance ecosystems, particularly in our workplaces, the less we will need to rely on traditional training models, where we attempt to predict all possible performance problems, and inject the knowledge to fix them ahead of time.  Now more than ever, the world doesn’t work like this, and neither do people.