What if you were the Dyson of your market?

BY Jeff Cobb

No, I don’t mean your education should suck.

Rather, I have in mind that obvious and yet amazing claim for a vacuum cleaner manufacturer to make:

Our vacuums have strong suction and they don’t lose it.

How could you claim the same for the educational experiences you offer?

It might be something along the lines of: our seminars deliver high quality, actionable knowledge that learners retain and use.

Same for conference sessions.

And Webinars, etc.

Of course, it’s easy enough to see what a Dyson vacuum cleaner does. And what’s more, the company backs up its claim with a substantial guarantee.

How might you do something similar?

The first requirement is clear, measurable learning objectives that are shared with the learners. This may require some work with your presenters and/or staff to make sure they actually know how to formulate clear, measurable learning objectives.

The second is learning experiences that are (1) well-designed to meet those objectives, and  in which (2) the leaders are as prepared as possible to facilitate learning, and (3) the learners are as prepared as possible to learn.

The third is follow up to determine whether learning has occurred and is being applied. This has to go beyond post-session evaluations, which I’d argue are nearly worthless.

All of this takes time, of course, and at least some financial resources. From what I gather, James Dyson invested quite a bit of time and money in coming up with his top of the line vacuum cleaners.

Maybe this level of quality is not what you are shooting for, but imagine if you could validly say “People who participate in our learning experiences gain high quality, actionable knowledge; they retain it; and, they use it. We guarantee it.”

What an obvious and yet amazing claim for an education provider to make.


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  1. Thanks for this, Jeff. It has a spark for blog post lighting up in my head, but I want to respond here first.

    This kind of guarantee is, as you mention, a potential differentiator. Backed up, it can set your product or service apart from the competition. To get there, though, requires an immense amount of dedication and focus. For Dyson, the goal is both simple and singular: make the best consumer vacuum cleaner in the world. It doesn’t do anything else. It doesn’t make televisions or refrigerators or washing machines, and it doesn’t offer in-home cleaning services. Just vacuums.

    I think associations often struggle to achieve this kind of singular focus on education (or on any one service) because they are typically so multi-faceted. They do education and meetings and publications and advocacy and standards and so on and so on. To achieve the level of quality to back up a guarantee like Dyson’s would likely require the will to let go of other pursuits, or at least significantly de-prioritize them.

    I believe a lot of associations could stand to be more focused. Perhaps examples like Dyson can offer a good argument for the power of doing one thing really well.

  2. I stand corrected. Dyson does make a washing machine: http://www.dyson.com/insideDyson/article.asp?aID=cr02. Also a few fans and a hand dryer. I’d say that’s still a lot more focused than most associations, though. Thanks again.

  3. Jeff Cobb says:

    Joe – You raise an important point, and one that certainly does factor into how associations manage their education businesses – at least among the ones I’ve dealt with. A more singular focus is one answer – and may be the right one for smaller associations, in particular – but I think that a much more integrated approach across services would be beneficial to many organizations.

    Advocacy, membership, education, and the various other functions within organizations are often far too siloed. They should all be aligned to creating a “rising tide” for the entire profession or trade, and this sort of alignment would naturally drive the caliber of educational experience suggested in my post (IMHO, of course).

    In any case, I think it is inevitable that there will be more pressure on associations and all other providers of continuing education to show more in the way of value and measurable outcomes than is currently the case. This is already a major focus in the corporate and academic sectors. Organizations can start planning for it now, and potentially lead their fields as a result, or get swept along as the change comes.

    Thanks for commenting. I look forward to seeing your “spark” turn into a post. Also, I occasionally fly through Philly, and the hand dryers in the airport bathrooms there are Dysons. I remember being, er, blown away by them the first time I encountered them. It will be interesting to see if the company has any success in that market.


  4. Thanks Jeff. You’re right that better integration would help associations move toward higher levels of service. As I thought more about the idea of focus, it occurred to me that an association that chooses any one product line to focus on exclusively might not really be an association anymore (I left this somewhat open ended in the post I ended up writing on Acronym.) The challenge with integration is that, of course, it isn’t easy, and you’ll likely be competing against outside companies that each specialize in a particular area.

    In regard to education, though, it’s good to know that a higher demand for measurable outcomes is on the way. I think it will be vital for associations to have a thorough understanding of exactly what their members/customers are expecting in terms of those outcomes, because people pursue professional development opportunities for such a wide variety of reasons. (Whereas the expected outcome for a vacuum cleaner is a lot more straightforward.)

    And I’ve had the fortune to experience the Dyson hand dryer as well. Definitely a brilliant design.

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