Online Learning and The “Too Hard Pile”

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Warren Buffett’s right hand man, Charlie Munger, coined (or made famous) the idea of the “too hard pile.” Back in the day when communication was by physical letters and memos, you would have three bins on your desk: inbox, outbox and the “too hard pile.” In Charlie’s world of investing at Berkshire Hathaway, the key was to look at an investment opportunity and decide where it belonged. If there was “hair on the deal”, his rule was to put it in the “too hard pile” and move on.

A lot of organizations have a “too hard pile.” But there are also elite organizations that specialize in doing things on the “too hard pile” of bigger institutions. The Navy SEALs solve the “too hard pile” of the President. McKinsey & Company solves things on the “too hard pile” of the Fortune 500.

At Extension Engine, our clients rely on us to handle things in their “too hard pile” when it comes to online learning. There are a lot of reasons something can end up in the “too hard pile,” but rarely is it technical complexity alone. Usually it is a combination of organizational ossification, business model innovation and new pedagogy combined with technical complexity.

For many of our projects, we are not at liberty to discuss the details but include things like launching a learning experience without revenue sharing, new revenue models for online learning and what to do when your LMS doesn’t cut it.

How is it that we can solve things in the “too hard pile”? It is part of our culture.

  • Expertise — We have an impressive range of expertise in software development, instructional design, user experience, learning acquisition and software engineering.
  • Experience — We’ve tackled the challenges elite universities and major business organizations felt were “too hard” to handle and produced results that not only met their needs but advanced the entire industry.

  • Organizational thinking & incentives — Our dozens of experts and specialists think and act as one unit dedicated to solving the problem and bringing to life an elegant, forward-thinking solution. Additionally, we can work within the structures of large organizations, cutting through “red-tape” and delivering solutions quickly and efficiently.

I often advise prospective clients to not hire us for routine work. It would be like deploying SEAL team six for a traffic stop. Everyone on our team, myself included, is motivated by the challenge of doing the thing that is difficult or even hasn’t been done before. I’m reminded of what JFK said in his speech announcing plans to go to the moon: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” That really sums up how I feel.

Do you have something in your “too hard pile?” If sotell us a bit more and let's get started.

Furqan Nazeeri

Furqan Nazeeri is a Partner at Extension Engine. He regularly speaks on innovation in online learning and has 20+ years of experience building and managing high-performance teams. Prior to Extension Engine, Furqan was a founder/CEO of VC-backed Pivot Inc. (acquired by NASDAQ:CME) and EIR at Softbank Capital. He has a BSE in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan and an MBA from Harvard University.

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