How can we get our clients to play the “What If” game?

visualcalcCan we all agree that technology can sometimes be a double-edged sword? Some technology can cause people to lose their job because it is replaced by technology. Although, some technology can make new jobs possible. For example, according to Wikipedia, Dan Bricklin creator of VisiCalc, came up with the idea of an “electronic spreadsheet” during his time at Harvard. It was when he witnessed a professor’s difficulty updating a financial model due to an error on a blackboard. This simple 1980 green and black rendered spreadsheet which ran on the Apple 2 (which sold for only $99 btw) changed the world!

What happened is that VisiCalc both killed jobs and it created jobs. Before VisiCalc there were about 400,000 bookkeeping clerk jobs. But the efficient spreadsheet program went viral and both the industry and personal computer hobbyist all over the world ran out to buy the Apple 2 for $2000 to solve all of the spreadsheeting needs. What’s odd is that as these bookkeeping clerk jobs were going away, 600,000 accounting jobs were also added!

So while the number of bookkeepers and accounting clerks fell, the electronic spreadsheet actually made more jobs for regular accountants. As accounting essentially became cheaper, clients bought more accounting!

Where am I going with all of this? How does electronic spreadsheets relate to eLearning or Instructional Design? Well, their clients could start playing the “What If” game. What if we made our chocolate bars a little bit smaller? What if we made them 2 percent larger? Can we give everyone a raise this year? What if we started selling a lot of chocolate bars to China?

The “What If” game changed other industries as well. Doctors could now use it to do better calculations for anesthesiology during open heart surgery, casinos could now finally figure out where to put slot machines on the casino floor, and the “What If” game paved the way for the modern Wall Street.

Here is a question to ponder on what actually changed the world. Was it

A) The invention VisiCalc?
B) The inventor Dan Bricklin?
C) The general accountants?
D) The clients asking questions?

If you were to ask me, I would say that the answer would be both C and D. Here’s why. Innovation changes the world. Not the invention. It is the innovative use of the invention that makes the invention more than just $99 for an 8in floppy disk that puts black and green colors on the screen and animates when you click some buttons on a keyboard. It can either entertain a 2 year old kid from the 80’s for an hour or assist a doctor in choosing the right amount of medicine dosage for an open heart surgery patient. Clients didn’t just fire all of their accountants and buy Apple 2’s either. They would just collect dust in the corner of an office if someone didn’t know how to use them properly. The same is true for any other tool, e.g., hammers, hairdryers, and hamster wheels.

As our instructional design processes improve we could just give our clients a job-aid that tells them how to choose the right method of instruction. Perhaps even teach our clients how to use Captivate to develop some training. You know. Teach a man to fish and all that jazz. But true instructional designers know the value that they bring to the table when it comes to making decisions about learning, creating learning, deploying learning, etc. We just have to get our clients to see the value to and get them to play the “What If” game.

Inspiration for this post comes from NPR’s Planet Money Podcast, Episode 606: Spreadsheets!

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About DaveHallmon

With experience in web, graphic, and instructional design, Dave maintains a balance between what is efficient and effective in every message. He always focuses on the why and how rather than "just doing it" to get the job done. By day he works at a leading university designing online courses that support 9,000 students in 64 countries. He works directly with faculty to brainstorm, design, and develop their online instruction utilizing the Adobe suite. He also teaches for the university as an adjunct faculty member in the area of web design. By night he is a devoted husband, father, freelancer, and adventurer of the outdoors. His other interests include LifeHacker, Science Fiction and Hayao Miyazaki movies, Settlers of Catan, and coffee with friends. He currently lives in St. Louis and has an M.S. in Instructional Design and aspires to pursue a professional degree in content marketing and strategy. Visit the links below for more information about his interests and design work.
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3 Responses to How can we get our clients to play the “What If” game?

  1. I actually had a gentleman in my computer class about 3 years ago that upgraded to Windows 7, from MS-DOS, he was still using VisiCalc on a disc. He was shocked that the computer started with a button and not 5 1/4″ discs. In the world of teaching Microsoft Excel, VisiCalc changed the world. I downloaded the program a long time ago just to see it.

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