When people get headaches, one of the first things they think of is painkillers.

Feel pain, take painkillers.

So they go out to the nearest pharmacy and buy painkillers. They then take those painkillers, and their pain gets killed…


After a few hours, the pain comes back. So they go and get more painkillers.

Clearly the painkillers didn’t solve the problem. They merely concealed the problem.

If they went to a GOOD Doctor, that Doctor may recommend painkillers, but only for temporary relief, and they would probably recommend a few other things as well.

Things like:

  • Stop drinking so much coffee
  • Do some exercise
  • Take some time to relax
  • Change your diet
  • Get better sleep

An even better Doctor would then analyse why you aren’t doing those things at the moment. Then work with you to help you find practical ways of starting to implement those solutions into your life. 

Instead of telling you to stop drinking coffee completely, they’d advise you to take it down from 5 cups a day to 3 for the time being. Instead of encouraging you to join a gym, they’d recommend you add more walking into your daily routine. Instead of telling you to quit your stressful job, they’d encourage you to practice simple breathing exercises several times a day. And so on.

And then, only then, would they offer you painkillers as a temporary solution to the pain.

A good Doctor recognises that painkillers are not THE solution. A good Doctor recognises that the solution consists of multiple factors. And a good Doctor recognises that a human being’s capacity for change at any one moment is limited, and so would recommend minimal effort and maximal impact changes.

In the corporate world, we frequently use training the same way we’d use a painkiller.

Firstly, training is almost always the first solution we think of for performance problems, because just like painkillers, it’s the solution we’re most familiar with. We see painkiller adverts on TV everyday, and our L&D team asks us every few months what training we want.

Secondly, training is frequently used to conceal REAL problems. Normally unintentionally, but sometimes intentionally.

If you want to solve a headache, you should eliminate all factors that cause it. If you want to solve a performance problem, you should eliminate all factors that cause it.

Training, on its own, works just like a painkiller, on its own. The pain will go away, but if other factors have not been considered, the pain will only come back again.

To create value in L&D, we need to think like a good Doctor. We need to identify what the REAL problem is, and propose minimal effort and maximal impact changes that will eliminate as many of the causes as we practically can.

Don’t just sell painkillers.

Solve problems.

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