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A moustachioed gentleman wearing a tophat riding an old fashioned bicycle

A bicycle for your mind

Mark Murrell

"A computer is like a bicycle for your mind"

This very old quote comes from Steve Jobs, way back in 1980. Back then, pre-iPhone, pre-Macintosh even, they were selling Apple II computers to schools and consumers. The analogy was a way to conceptualize what was then a new, unknown entity and get people to understand both the benefits and the expectations.

The comparison, as Jobs told the story at the time, originated with a scientific study that measured the efficiency of locomotion in different animals - how much energy they had to expend in order to get from point A to point B. Humans, as it turned out, didn't do very well compared to other species. We were about a third of the way down the list - not very impressive for the supposed pinnacle of the animal kingdom!

However, when that same study measured the efficiency of a human on a bicycle, we did MUCH better. We handily beat every other species in overall efficiency. Jobs used this point to highlight the fact that humans aren't naturally great in many areas, but are great at creating tools to overcome those limitations. The computer, he said, was another tool that gave us similar efficiency advantages to the bicycle.

This was a nice analogy, and very carefully crafted for the time. Computers in 1980 did open up a significant number of new capabilities, greatly reducing the effort required to do things, but they were still command-line driven so the user had to invest some effort to unlock those capabilities.

In other words, they were a lot like a bicycle: something that gets you from point A to point B more quickly, with greater efficiency, but still requires an investment of energy to do it. The upside of investing that effort is that you end up stronger and fitter than before, so you're better off all around.

With today's technology, that comparison doesn't really work anymore. Since you can get a ton of benefit with little or no effort required, computers are now closer to cars than bicycles.

However, it occurred to me that the analogy still works very nicely for another type of technology - an online training system. Much like the computer of 1980, an online training system is like a bicycle for your safety program. It opens up a world of new capabilities, but requires an investment of energy to get the full benefit. And the result of the invested energy is a greater fitness level overall. Let's look at why that is.

More Efficient Locomotion

An online training system greatly increases the amount of training that can be delivered per unit of effort. Instead of relying on an instructor to deliver classroom content to small groups of people over an extended period, the online system can deliver content to everyone in a short period of time. If you're trying to train 1000 people in a classroom, it takes multiple instructors and many weeks (or months) to get it done. However, I've seen large corporate initiatives that trained 1000 or more people inside of a week with online tools, and without disrupting regular work schedules either. Exponentially more efficient.

Point A to Point B More Quickly

As a result of the improved efficiency, online training helps companies improve their overall safety profile much more quickly. More training delivered to staff, with a broader range of subjects and better tracking of results, makes it easier to improve performance in key areas - whether that means better inspections, safer driving, better trip planning, improved fuel efficiency, or any number of other subjects. Whatever the end objective is, online helps you get their faster.

Investment of Energy is Required

To make the most of that speed and efficiency, though, some effort needs to be invested. Yes, an online training system provides a library of courses and tracking of results out of the box, and that can start improving efficiency right away. However, that's kind of like a kids' bike with training wheels - it's better than walking but you're just scratching the surface of what's possible. To really unlock the opportunities available, you need to invest some time to customize and configure the online system to best fit your company's individual needs. Once it's up and running, you need to review the results and refine the program, act on the reports and data that are being collected, and take full advantage of the features. That's how you get rid of the training wheels and get moving at full speed.

Better Overall Fitness Level as a Result

The upside of investing that effort is a greater overall "fitness" level for the safety program. If you're customizing it to fit your specific company needs, it's going to deliver better results each time you use it. If you review the data that's being captured, you can identify trends and hard-to-see gaps that warrant further attention. If you follow up with users after they complete courses, you get better feedback on how to optimize the program. If you continue this train-monitor-review-adjust cycle you'll see dramatically better safety and compliance numbers overall, all for the same investment of energy.

We often have fleets ask us if using online training will protect them in court cases, or if they'll get a reduction in insurance premiums for signing up for the service. The short answer to those questions is always 'no'. You don't get any immediate benefit or protection just from signing up for a service, anymore than owning a bicycle automatically makes you faster and fitter. However, if you put the effort in to build habits and continuous improvement processes around the training system, you can end up seeing some fantastic results that do positively influence insurance rates and provide strong legal protection.

That's an effort that's worth investing in, and a bicycle that's worth riding.

So, to borrow another line from another wise man who left us too soon, Freddie Mercury...

"Get on your bikes and ride!"