Problem Solving with Situation Expert

About my guest:

Today I want to introduce you to Ray Jimenez, Chief Architect at Situation Expert. His system falls into the category of specialty systems in the Learning and Development area. A tool to help your team members find solutions to day-to-day on-the-job challenges. A tool for collaboration and to develop internal experts.

Don’t miss this interesting interview!

More information:

Ray Jimenez on LinkedIn

Information about Situation Expert

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Interview Transcript

{Edited for ease of reading)

Petra Mayer  00:03

Hello, and welcome. I’m Petra Mayer. I’m the founder of Petra Mayer and Associates consulting, and I’m super thrilled to have Ray Jimenez here with me today. He is the chief architect of Situation Expert, a very interesting system that I wanted to share with you.

Thank you, Ray, for joining me, and I’m really thrilled to have you.

Ray Jimenez  00:28

Well, thanks for having me. Let’s have fun and exchange ideas.

Petra Mayer  00:31

That is a good idea. Always fun to exchange ideas with you, right? So before we dive into the topic of today’s session here in the interview, in a sentence or two, can you give us the primary benefit of your system Situation Expert?

Ray Jimenez  00:51

The primary benefit focuses on organizations trying to solve problems and allowing the learners to learn in the process. So that is the core capability of Situation Expert.

Petra Mayer  01:05

Wow, that is very concise. So we’re talking about solution finding. So organizations solve problems all the time. But now we’re doing it in a way that the individuals who are going through it are also learning along the way. So that’s a very interesting way to show learning. Now, how does that differentiate from a traditional, more usual mainstream learning management system?

Ray Jimenez  01:33

Right, traditional learning management systems are born out of instruction. So their main core is memorization, testing, checking and compliance. It has its own value. Situation Expert is born out of the necessity to discover answers at work. Using that opportunity to help the workers or the learners trying to fix, solve and improve work, and along the way, they learn. So we start with the other side, which is the application in real-life situations – rather than learning to memorize the concepts.

Petra Mayer  02:13

And that is very crucial for organizations. So Situation Expert then could say safely that it is built for the corporate environment.

Ray Jimenez  02:24

It is for corporate, and it is for any group or individuals. That may be a nonprofit that really wants to focus on using the work situation as a learning opportunity. It might be in schools, it might be in corporate. But that’s the crux of Situation Expert.

Petra Mayer  02:43

How did you come up with the name Situation Expert?

Ray Jimenez  02:46

Situation! We all learn from situations day in and day out. You can call it a scenario or situation. But the bottom line is real-life issues. When we use real-life issues. More importantly, when we allow the learners and the workers to bring in real-life issues, they own it, and they learn from it because they own it and they understand the problems. They are, more often than not, very capable people to solve their own problems.

Finally, by looking at situations, situations are real to companies. They want it fixed, and they want impacts on work situations. So then the expert side Situation Expert is that if we want to be learners, we have to be experts at learning how to think in situations. Doesn’t have to be 10,000 hours of expertise. But as long as you can find a solution and solve a problem day to day, we are experts.

Petra Mayer  03:44

Very nice way to look at it and could also be very motivating for team members to look at themselves as being an expert and having some sort of control. It’s really about control.

Ray Jimenez  03:56

That’s the core discovery I have made. In the old way of doing things, like an LMS, they assume that they need to teach people. In Situation Experts, we assume that people are capable of solving their own problems. That’s the major shift because we are motivating people. People are capable, inspired and passionate. We want to get that engine of motivation to be working by allowing them to feed into their own real-life situations.

Petra Mayer  04:28

Very interesting. So talking about that, then what are common misconceptions when we’re thinking about online learning systems?

Ray Jimenez  04:39

It is a misconception because we use technology to extend an old habit. A good example is when we’re teaching in the classroom with registered participants, we’re giving a test. So we’re using technology only to mimic that, which, in my own humble opinion, is an unfortunate thing. Technology should disrupt old ways of doing things by allowing learners and companies to have more latitude in exploring different ways. But technology can only be developed if and when the users, members and leaders in the company know-how.

So the challenging misconception is that the technology the Online Learning System will solve is the problem. The reality is it will not. It will just extend, it will probably add efficiency, it will add reduced headcount, and it will add all of that. Still, the big misconception is technology will improve our lives. In most cases, it does not if we don’t add on some serious strategy and serious disruption of how we used to think of things.

Petra Mayer  05:53

So how does Situation Experts do that? Give us some secrets.

Ray Jimenez  06:00

A good secret is, for example, one of our largest clients is one of the biggest logistics companies in the world. They train their technicians and engineers on the 747s to go through six months in between training for five weeks here, and then they go back to work for five weeks here. They noticed that nothing happened in between the six months. So they want to raise the issue of readiness.

So now what they’re doing is they’re asking their engineers and their technicians to report using Situation Expert, a problem, an issue that they encounter once a month at work. When they collect those, they have an online interaction to have an online assessment. They’ve used a lot of thinking tools to allow them to stay close to work issues, at the same time using learning that. So that is what we call filling in the gaps, where the gaps are very important, and filling in the unknown answers.

So that is where Situation Expert flourishes. It fills in the answers. It helps learners to discover answers by thinking through problems without even necessarily going to a training program. Now, some people will hate hearing that because some people say oh, we need to train them. But most adults have skills already. Most adults go to formal learning. Most engineers know what to do. What they don’t know what to do is how to really locate good answers and create new knowledge. And that is what Situation Expert is all about.

Petra Mayer  07:41

And so what happens then in that situation where they can’t find the answer? Where they need to get other input, or they need their input or their answer to be verified by anybody.

Ray Jimenez  07:54

Right, that’s really the biggest opportunity for learning. Now, the LMS says they don’t address this problem because it’s very challenging to address. But in Situation Expert, what we have done is build connections among people. Really make sure that they go to their trusted relationships in order to discuss a very specific process, right? Then we allow them some real metrics to see what the gaps are and allow them to find creative solutions amongst themselves or outside themselves.

Then finally, track the impacts and simply say: have I really improved my performance and my contribution at work?

So it’s the same core concept of learning, feedback and application, but learning while they’re trying to fix a problem rather than learning in an isolated learning management system. When you click lesson, you memorize the lesson and don’t remember a lot of ideas because it’s too far away from your work.

Here, we have the learners go through the system so that they can use over 30 thinking tools. And the thinking tools are just models for the learners to have a little bit of a guide on how to have penetrating, provocative and evocative kinds of conversations so that their answers can be located or situated.

Petra Mayer  09:20

Awesome. So what do you think are recent trends in online learning? And how does that impact choice of systems? How does Situation Expert kind of respond to these trends?

Ray Jimenez  09:35

Right, the trend has been that we are tired. And again, I’m ready for tomatoes in my face. We’re tired of the click-forward, kick-forward, and compliance-only type of LMS. It served its own function because there are many organizations that need compliance. The biggest problem was that many of our colleagues now begin to think about how learning is. Compliant, checking, and that, which is kind of really unfortunate.

So the trend now is trying to free the learners. Now you’re familiar with corporate nomads. We’re getting into this new culture today where people want to assert themselves. So the trend is allowing learning systems to become freer. Emancipates the learner. Allows them more room to control their environment, control their learning, and allow more choices. And they are pursuing what is free for them as a learning process.

So they are looking for experiences. They’re looking for third-party inputs from relationships and systems that support them. They have a lot of openness to integrating quickly. For example, learning in a situation does not separate itself from operations. So there’s a need for integration.

Now, a good example is that Situation Expert is used right now by another company. And what we have done was to do Situation Expert, but also connected it to MRO, which is your maintenance, repairs and operation. So that if they have a problem, they discover in fixing a particular component of equipment, they could check into the newest update of the repairs and the newest update or procurements.

That way, they can solve problems quickly. So this is like bringing learners, merging them together rather than separating. So these are some of the trends that they can see. And Situation Expert is at the crux of this. Because we have left, we have departed, and we have gotten away from the concept of just learning to be content. Companies are looking for, not learning the content but really impacting their businesses.

Petra Mayer  11:55

I think when I was listening to you, when you started speaking, I was thinking about particularly the new generations of learners versus maybe the baby boomers who have had a certain experience of what learning should look like. But now the new learners that are coming into the organizations, the younger generations, I think they will really value what you are describing here that freedom that being in control, that designing their own learning journey,

Ray Jimenez  12:26

Right, that’s why I’m coming up with a workshop, if you don’t mind me saying, Petra. It is entitled, Just in Time, Just Enough Learning for Corporate Nomads. Because there are corporate nomads, like you and I are nomads, too. You and I work on the airplane. We work at the beach, too, right?

Petra Mayer  12:49

Don’t tell my secrets.

Ray Jimenez  12:52

I do that often. So free learning is not just for the newer generation or the completely ‘gig’ economy. But even for people like you and me who want to exercise our freedom in order to improve our well-being.

So just in time, getting just enough learning that helps this Nomad is very important because that’s the way it’s done. But to do this, you need a different way of thinking about a platform. You cannot have a restrictive, confined, knowledge-only platform. You have a platform that is so close to work because if I’m learning, I don’t want to learn anything superfluous. I want to learn something that I can use now because I want to enjoy the beach. I don’t want to be attending courses! I’m kidding.

Petra Mayer  13:47

No, I think you’re so spot on with this. So when organizations want to offer online training, when they want to consider what kind of system they need. What do you think they need to take into consideration?

Ray Jimenez  14:02

That is a really interesting challenge. It’s always like a business question more than a learning question. The business question really is to formulate a strategy of how you want to disrupt your learning methodology in the organization. So if you have an operational problem, for example, you are in the delivery business logistics or health care. There are things that are very slow because our assumptions of learning platforms are cumbersome.

So if you want to get rid of that and shorten the process, we need to have firstly a strategy that’s clear enough for how to eliminate, I’m very bold in this, eliminate what slows down things. Because we don’t want to slow down things. So that’s the number one understanding.

Secondly, to really envision, add a vision to it and simply say with technology, what else can we do in order to catapult results, reduce waste, and increase performance to tenfold or a hundredfold? Challenge ourselves because technology has so much capability. But we are the ones creating the imagination to push that technology.

So strategy and pushing our own imagination in order to prescribe and locate and build and tell the platform people that it has to be more creative than just mimicking the existing behaviours of learners and leaders.

Petra Mayer  15:40

So, where do you think your sweet spot is? Who is the ideal user or the ideal organization? Who would tap into Situation Expert and gets the most benefit out of it?

Ray Jimenez  15:52

I have observed two types. Number one is those who are doing classical traditional learning. They get to face a wall and say: gee, our application is not happening. We have a good explanation of the FAQ and the procedure, but it doesn’t happen. So, in that case, they contact Situation Expert, and they would say now that you know the principle go out there and apply the idea by looking for a problem and see how you’re going to work. So that’s one situation.

The other side of that would be there are real problems at work. And companies need all the technologies and tools to identify those problems. They need to get everyone thinking of how to fix them as they notice them. So that’s another big model that is happening. So it’s almost operational in nature.

Most of the clients we work with are operations people, logistics, are healthcare because they recognize that the approach should be: look for a problem, solve the problem. And along the way, to learn it and one of my favourite quotes from a client said that it is like learning without knowing that one is learning. I love that quote from him.

Petra Mayer  17:11

Yeah, I’ve got to think about that. So I find that what you’re speaking about is, is so in line with the adult learning principles like we don’t want to learn stuff that we don’t use. We want to learn at the time that we need it. And, we want to be in control of our learning experience. And to design it in some ways around the needs that we have. So your system really serves the adult learner.

Ray Jimenez  17:41

Yes. The reality of life is we only learn by doing things. And we learn things when we have consequences in real life. I love your example earlier. If it’s not in the bonus, nobody will do it. Right. So let’s bring in those numbers attached to learning because people then begin to focus more on understanding how to contribute better.

Petra Mayer  18:06

Okay, now we get a good sense of what we can achieve with Situation Expert. What does a typical implementation look like for an organization?

Ray Jimenez  18:17

I’ve discovered that we look for a pain area in an operation. For example, there are shortfalls and delays, and there is trouble next. There is probably a problem with too much waste and cost. Or the company is trying to launch a product and they want to make sure that it’s well supported. So we identify pain points and initiatives that need that component, where questions might come up that nobody knows how to answer.

So that’s the starting point. Looking for that, and then we test it, we simply develop the configuration of Situation Expert to match that need. Then we beta it, we test it, we pilot it, and we get feedback. You iterate the process, but in my experience, it always starts better with small groups.

Unlike an LMS, where you can launch it for 10,000 people almost every night, overnight and say: okay, you need to get this program overnight for 10,000 people. It’s a very impersonal approach, but it’s doable in the LMS. And that’s the strength of the LMS. But Situation Expert is different. We’re looking for those areas of high impact. And then, we attach Situation Expert as a tool that will help the workers, the line person and the leaders in that business unit.

Petra Mayer  19:40

So I think what I’m hearing you say is that an organization, particularly large organizations, may have the need for both. You said very early in our interview here that there is some requirement where they have to check off that somebody has done, let’s say, their Health and Safety Training.

So there is a real benefit of an LMS to do that, but on the other hand, there are all these different situations where an organization wants to improve on processes or resolve issues for which the LMS isn’t the right tool. So Situation Expert could be the tool that helps them in that area. Would you say that’s a fair statement?

Ray Jimenez  20:27

I was speaking to one of our top thought leaders in the industry. And he mentioned that the informal learning side of what we do is so powerful that we know it’s there. In fact, we influence our thinking and our work that way heavily. But there’s no answer to it because it’s a nebulous, hard-to-grasp concept, right? The formal learning, which is probably about 10, 20% of all the knowledge delivery, is all done by the LMS, which is rightfully, so it’s designed for that. Situation Expert is designed for this gray area.

Petra Mayer  21:05

That’s a really interesting point you’re making there because I think the gray area is also the one that can have a huge impact. But I think it also makes it difficult for organizations to make decisions on system support in those areas.

Ray Jimenez  21:21

Right. That’s why the approach of Situation Expert is more surgical and specific rather than a broad kind of content delivery. And in that case, that’s a major difference between the LMS. Because the LMS is a broad-stroke delivery of knowledge, which is a strength. Situation Expert is really to get things done, identify something small that you can deal with, and keep it rolling that way. It’s more organic.

Whereas LMSs are what I call artificial if I can say that word. Why? Because they’re teaching people to learn what they should learn in real life, but they put them in a lab, which is clicking of pages and interaction. It has its own purpose. It’s almost like going to school, right? But at the end of school, we need to go out and do the job. And that’s what Situation Expert is all about.

Petra Mayer  22:19

It would be so great if you could combine them and utilize them to their strengths. And I am making an assumption here that there is an integration opportunity.

Ray Jimenez  22:29

Yeah, most of the time, we integrate with LMSs. Because although Situation Expert has the capability to have content, there are just massive compliance programs. To give you an example, the LMSs are good at many of them are connected with legislation. Many of them are connected with, for example, the health and the FDA approval system, so there’s a lot of this Compliance Certification is there.

It is very valuable for safety, valuable for following restrictions. And it has its own place, and I don’t think it will disappear. But we have those who recognize that it is not learning per se. That’s what I call compliance, which may not necessarily be all about learning.

Petra Mayer  23:21

So the systems have their different use cases.  I think that speaks very much to what I’ve done with clients, where sometimes they decide on a system before they actually really understand what their requirements are. And that’s usually a painful process because then later you try to work within the constraints of the system because of the financial contribution that the business has made into that LMS and the investment.

Now talking about investment, what is the pricing model that your organization that you offer to your client organizations?

Ray Jimenez  24:04

Well, there are about two or three tiers of work number one is if you are a medium-small type, and you want to get 500 people started: around ballpark about 1,500 US dollars per month, and then there might be five to ten thousand of upfront configuration setup. And then, if there is an integration, that would probably be another charge or another fee. And then, as you grow, you just pay extra per person. It is a very affordable investment with the amount of value that one is getting from the system.

Petra Mayer  24:43

Okay, so as we’re closing here, what is one thing that you wish all clients would know before they come to see you?

Ray Jimenez  24:52

Before they come to see us, basically the fact that there are very creative ways to look at a problem. Learning is so vital in what we do day in and day out. Just because an LMS is familiar, the familiarity makes us feel that it is the only natural thing. What we need to look at are the disruptions.

We consider Situation Expert a disruption, not only by myself but to the people we talk to. And you are doing a strategy look for those outliers, those disruptors because they’re probably answering some of the questions where the traditional seemingly comfortable natural solutions would easily come in because we’re familiar, but they may not carry over there. So think disruptors. Who are the disruptors when you’re looking at procuring, strategy formulating, and really the implementation of a learning system?

Petra Mayer  25:57

Awesome. Well, Ray, thank you so much for sharing with us. I’m fascinated by your system. I’ve been really interested in it. I think it is such a need in the market to have a system like yours that has that flexibility. Organic, as you mentioned, is to adapt to the needs of the organization. Of course, that requires some insights and some strategy around how to set it up. I’m thrilled to have you here today. And I want to thank you for your time.

Ray Jimenez  26:28

Thank you so much, Petra. It’s so wonderful to have this conversation with you, and more power to you.

Petra Mayer  26:33

Thank you so much.

About the author 

Petra Mayer