Different phases of a brisket cooked over twelve hours.

Slow Cooking – Our First Year of MakingBetter

Different phases of a brisket cooked over twelve hours.
How a 13-pound brisket looks after four hours, eight hours and twelve hours

We really like our burnt ends at MakingBetter — I obsess over the grill almost as much as I obsess over coffee, and while I’m always thinking about smoking something (and eating) anything from beets to briskets, turns out it’s a good metaphor for a new consultancy.

When you’re smoking something, it’s only when you start up the grill and put something on it do you have to deal with reality that the meal you want is potential.

Process only gets you so far — grilling is about realizing the potential of what’s been set in motion. You need great raw food tos start with: portabella mushrooms soaked in teriyaki and garlic, a rubbed brisket or pork shoulder, golden beets with cumin and ancho chili powder. Without the right food and preparation, the process can only do so much.

If you got something good to throw onto the grill, you soon find out smoke heavily influences how this will taste, so what you use for fuel has a lot of impact on the outcome. Hickory works for lots of meats and vegetables. Mesquite is especially good for beef. Apple, Cherry and Pecan are good for many foods that aren’t beef.

Temperature in the grill fluctuates while you’re trying to keep the temperature consistent over the long cooking time, so you need to make sure the flow of fuel and oxygen produces consistent results. You want to always be cooking, but if the temperature gets too high, you’ll burn the food and it can easily become inedible. If the flame keeps going out because you’re trying to keep the temperature low, it’s near impossible to get the food cooked just right.

Seasonings you applied at the beginning may not yield the flavor you’re really looking for, so you need to add different seasonings to yield just the flavor you want. Fat and sugars in the food caramelize. They get sweeter. To bring out the flavor, you need other spices to balance sweet, sour, spice and salt.

Everything requires tuning. As much as cooking is about science, grilling is an art. Such, we’ve learned, is starting a business helping people, businesses and industries make something better for themselves and each other.

When we first launched MakingBetter on January 7, 2014, it was with the intent that we’d mostly focus our efforts on a few small projects and workshops while beginning standardization work on xAPI with IEEE-LTSC. Building the business throughout the year created something more than what we started cooking. We had an amazing Up to All of Us in March, which gave us some great ideas to influence our company (smoke). We had some great projects (oxygen) working with great people (fuel). We learned a lot as we adjusted our ideas (seasonings), about how we want to influence both practice and industry, and our clients’ reality.

Our clients have to work more with tools they already have, technologies that their IT already supports. The revolution Megan & I espouse has to come about as an evolution, working within organizational structures and systems as they are today and nudging things forward from there.

When I was working with ADL, it was easy to talk about the potential for revolutionary performance improvement and deeper learning with the advent of xAPI.

This year, we’ll do more than talk about change; this year, we’re going to point to (and sometimes manifest) solutions. We’re demonstrate how better gets made.

As a consultant I’ve had to budget and manage xAPI projects instead of just evangelizing for them. Megan and I designed new approaches for instruction that model the ideas we’ve talked about for the past five years. We’ve worked to architect integrations of learning systems with other web services and enterprise that are reliable, reusable and supported by our clients’ infrastructure. We’ve built dashboards pulling data out of Learning Record Stores and analyzing them to yield meaningful, valuable information back to stakeholders. It’s been fulfilling work. It’s been challenging work. We love it and we’ve learned a lot from the projects we took on in 2014.

Ideas, when first put to work, are hard when they’re new. Brisket can be really tough to chew if it’s not cooked enough. Fortunately, as any fan of Franklin’s or La Barbecue can tell you, when it’s done well, there’s just nothing better.

We have a few things that are finally getting ready to come off the grill. We’re really fortunate to work on some incredible projects that are about to see the light of day. We’ll be at ATD TechKnowledge 2015 where Megan is on the planning committee. We’ll discuss Content Strategy and Adaptive Learning.

Connections Forum spent most of 2014 on the grill. Now it’s finally cooking to its potential. Register for xAPI Camp which happens on March 24, just before Learning Solutions, in Orlando, Florida.

In weeks to come, we expect you’ll see some amazing things coming from our clients and we’re excited to share them. Most of all, we can’t wait to talk with you… and hopefully sit down with you for some barbecue.

Happy New Year, friends!