Author Archives: apollo2

Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control

PathfinderIn 1989, Rodney Brooks and Anita Flynn of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab had a wild idea that flew in the face of most conventional thinking about how to build robots for pioneering space exploration. In “Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control,” they argue a case for creating micro-robots as a more effective, less expensive alternative than the large complex systems NASA had been developing at the time.

“Complex systems and complex missions take years of planning and force launches to become incredibly expensive. The longer the planning and the more expensive the mission, the more catastrophic if it fails,” they wrote, suggesting that by trying to anticipate every scenario and contigency of a proposed mission, we burdened technologies with expectations that human decision making, problem solving, and creativity could be replicated in bits and bytes.

As we create training programs for workforce development we’re struck by the relevance of Brooks and Flynn’s points to our own field, even as NASA and others continue to overdesign, overengineer, and overbuild technology solutions.


hospCompanies are looking for innovative digital tools to better train and upskill employees in an economy that’s dramatically different than it was just a decade or two ago. They struggle to fill the skills gaps that have emerged because our K-12 and college educational programs are still a few more decades behind in preparing today’s young people for a brave new 21st Century world.

Businesses want training programs that help their employees develop better customer service, teamwork, and leadership skills — they want a silver bullet that fixes it all. They struggle with defining their role in supporting basic skills like literacy, numeracy, and Enlisgh language, concerned that investment providing general education programs will not lead to a justifiable ROI.

When they’ve finished defining requirements and budgets, they’re staring down a six- or seven-figure investment.

At the same time, managers sometimes miss clues in identifying skills deficiences. They allocate dollars for something that may not be the real challenge. We’ve seen situations where management misdiagnosed training needs and believed employees lacked sufficient knowledge of corporate history and branding when frontline and back-end workers were really struggling with English — they lacked basic language skill to make connections to the business’s processes and messaging.

The numbers don’t lie. Research shows that even small, incremental investments in training send a strong message to employees while improving skills that ultimately benefit performance, productivity, and sales.

At Skylab Learning, our strategy is to tackle one issue at a time through inexpensive and targeted solutions that enable managers to review usage data and observe changes in behavior and performance. A literacy program may reveal a need to support numeracy skills development. A brand awareness program may highlight the need to provide ESL support. A customer service or sales training program may lead to a new focus on teamwork and collaborative skills development.

We work with companies to develop and deploy cost-effective programs that are easy to pilot and scale, believing that the more data we review and analyze with customers the better we’ll be able to support business goals, define ROI, and identify additional skills development needs.

phone (1)Our modular programs are designed to be bite-sized to either easily supplement existing training priorities or provide a standalone training path that employees complete at their own pace on smartphones and tablets. We help companies make smart moves to get the most from their training investments while providing employees with learning resources that are relevant, playful, and engaging and map to career ladders.

We take our cue from the Brooks and Flynn’s conclusion:

Exploration of the Earth proceeded by many small spontaneous sorties into the unknown. Small autonomous rovers give us the same opportunity for the rest of the solar system. Useful autonomous robots can be designed, bunt and tested on fast timescales. They are cheap because of their size and the ability to mass produce them. They are cheap because they reduce the required launch mass. They are cheap and reliable because they are out of the control of a large ground-based mission organisation. With imagination and nerve we can invade the whole solar system.”

Our mission is to help companies and individuals win in today’s markets with “fast, cheap, and out-of-control” training programs.