Discover more from Productive Flourishing
How to Avoid the Slippery Slope of Learning Seep
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Breanne Dyck.
I knew it was dumb, even as I was doing it.
This was about three years ago. I was sitting at my computer, putting the finishing touches on the sales page for my first ever online course. Tweaking a word here, adjusting a headline there ...
... and staring at the price and wondering, "Will anyone actually PAY for this?"
My fear screamed, "No."
My fear said, "Not with how it is right now."
My fear whispered, "Not unless ... you add some videos!"
And so, even though I knew that my material would stand alone, that the curriculum I'd produced needed no multimedia support, and that the results my students would get would far outstrip the costs, I added "6 exclusive training videos" to the sales page and hit Publish.
It wasn't until years later, when I found the work of top management consultant Alan Weiss, that I had a phrase to explain what had happened and why.
Meet Scope Seep
Here's how Weiss defines scope seep in his book The Consulting Bible: "Scope seep occurs when the consultant, without impetus or request from the client, enlarges the project unilaterally without changing the proposal, agreements or fees."
Or, put another way: Unlike scope creep, which occurs when a client adds more and more to a project, scope seep comes from within the business. It happens when you feel as though you aren't delivering enough value – even when all evidence points to the contrary – and you set out to fix it by adding more.
Weiss goes on to describe several symptoms that can help you see where scope seep is, well, seeping into your business:
You believe you can do it faster or better, so why not just do it yourself?
You are anal-retentive and like things done your way, so you "fix" things that are probably fine the way they are.
You are so in love with your ideas that you want to show them off, even if they're not appropriate to the current situation.
You realize that you and the client misjudged the situation, but rather than re-opening negotiations, you decide to just eat the cost (even though it was a mutual mistake).
You want people to think well of you, so you give, and give, and give.
In my case, the pull to add "more" in the form of videos came largely because of that last reason: I looked at what everyone else in the industry was doing, saw that they were using videos, and decided I needed to do so, too.
More Is Never More
Of course, as someone who has studied adult learning – and advised countless business owners on how to craft remarkable online training – I know that when it comes to learning, more is never more.
In fact, when it comes to actually learning, "less is more" isn't just a saying; it's the gospel truth.
One of my favorite studies on this topic comes from a Stanford neuroscience class. Through the magic of technology (and some old-fashioned ingenuity), the instructors created an interactive 3D model of the brain. Students were tasked with exploring and experimenting with this "brain," without any prior explanation, to see what they could discover about how it worked. At the same time, another group of students was assigned a bunch of reading on the same subject. Then the researchers evaluated which group had learned more.
The students who simply dove in and learned by experimentation gained far more from the experience than those who had everything laid out for them.
To the researchers, and to me, this is a clear example of one of the fundamental principles of how we learn: we learn by doing.
Every time we do, we increase our facility with the task at hand. It feels easier. We get better.
More content, more videos, more reading -- they don’t help. But doing does.
Learning Seep Is Real
How many times have you found yourself thinking, "I just need more information" before you feel ready, or qualified, to do something new? You turn to Google, find another blog, read another book – all in the hopes that somewhere is a fact, a tidbit, or a piece of information that will make everything else fall into place. That expanding search for the magical amount or piece of information that will tell you that you finally know enough -- that’s learning seep.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not denying that content doesn't have the ability to shift our minds and hearts. But there comes a point at which our constant pursuit of new information actually starts to inhibit our ability to put that learning to work.
You think you need to read another book. In reality, you'd be better off applying one thing from every book you've read in the past two years.
You think you should buy that course. In reality, you've got a hard drive full of free PDFs just waiting to be implemented.
You think you should watch a bunch of video tutorials for the new software you bought. In reality, just as in the Stanford neuroscience classroom, you may well learn more if you play around, make mistakes, and figure it out for yourself.
Entrepreneurial Course Creators, This Means You, Too
If you're on the other side of the table – providing courses rather than consuming them – then learning seep applies to you, too.
Every piece of content, every video, every additional concept you introduce into your training ... should it really be there?
Does it really make a difference?
And, most important, is it necessary for your learners to be able to do what they want to do?
For a course creator, that's the ultimate litmus test for learning seep: in the end, all that matters is whether your training enables your customers to do the things they bought your course to be able to do.
Strip out anything that doesn't serve that purpose, and you'll find that your success rates and completion rates skyrocket.
Which, by the way, is key to growing your business’s impact. Serve customers over and over with specifically targeted products that help them achieve their goals.
Don’t try to cram everything you teach into one massive product and go for one big sale. By trying to do too much, you’re not only falling victim to learning seep; you’re also guaranteeing that you’ll never be able to deliver on your promise.
Instead, focus on ways to increase the mutual value over time -- the value of your courses to your customers, and the value of your customers to your business -- and you’ll be richly rewarded without having seep become a problem.
Addressing the Root Cause of Seep
Even if you know all of this, learning seep can still creep up on you.
Consider the story I led off this article with: I knew I didn't need videos, yet I added them anyway. I – a recognized expert in all of this – fell victim to learning seep.
That's because at its core, learning seep isn't a logic problem at all. It's an emotional one.
Tanya Geisler would have us call this out for what it really is: Impostor Syndrome. That insidious belief that what we're bringing to the table isn't good enough. That we need to add more. To be more.
It's the same problem that causes us to slash prices, work overtime on a project, or constantly ask, “Was that okay?”
Seep happens because we don't believe we're worth the things (money, praise, recognition) we’re receiving.
The Solution to Learning Seep
In the end, the solution to learning seep is actually the same as the solution to effective learning: rather than trying to reason or think your way out of the problem, do something about it.
Don't spend time over-thinking the learning journey; instead, focus on the one key, core nugget, the one thing that you (or your learners) want to gain from the experience. Then strip out everything that doesn't serve that purpose.
Once you’ve done that, you’re left with what actually matters. You’re left with the things that you can do, which will lead to success. You can focus on that, with all the intention and energy you can muster.
If you're learning something, that may mean you make a whole lot of messes while you try to navigate it. That's okay.
If you're creating a course, that may mean your 10-week course ends up being a series of ten 10-minute videos. That's okay.
The value in learning isn't based on the number of gigabytes involved; it's based on the transformation that occurs over time.
By the Way
That course I created? The one I mentioned at the top?
It sold just fine. And no one watched the videos.
(Seriously, I have the analytics to prove it.)
In fact, we now sell the latest version of that product for five times the original amount. There are no videos – and our clients buy happily and get amazing results. And then later, they’ll buy again, when they’re ready to tackle the next problem.
Ultimately, though, whether you’re a learner or a teacher, the same thing is true: small steps, over time, add up to big changes in the long run.
That’s how you overcome both scope and learning seep.