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What You Can Learn About Onboarding From Bob Ross

Header: What You Can Learn About Onboarding From Bob Ross

Onboarding is the process of helping someone gain necessary knowledge, skills and behaviours. This could mean properly welcoming and training a new employee, or helping your clients learn more about your products and services. If anyone knows how to warmly invite someone else to learn a new skill, it’s Bob Ross.

Yes, THAT Bob Ross. The one of “happy little cloud” on PBS fame. Before you roll your eyes and “OK Boomer” me (I’m Gen X I’ll have you know), consider this: Bob Ross built a paint supply empire worth an estimated $15 million at the time of his death in 1995. Sure, his PBS TV program was a gentle journey through mountain vistas and seascapes, but the whole point of starting The Joy of Painting was to show potential customers how they, too, could be real artists.

He never really spoke about his own brand of paints, brushes, palette knives, and so on. There was no sales pitch. He simply invited you to paint along with him, step by step, without incrimination or judgement, so that together, you’d make something beautiful.

Keep reading to see how you can adopt some of his methodologies into your onboarding and skill development programs.

Bob Ross Quote Graphic from Inspirationfeed.com: "We don't make mistakes, just happy little accidents."

Celebrate Accidents

Week after week, year after year, Bob Ross showed up with a fresh canvas. He knew that mastering a skill wasn’t something you did in one day. It took practice and perseverance (and maybe several tubes of Alizarin Crimson). It also meant that whatever mistakes you’d made before were in the past. Now you had a blank slate to start something new. The potential was unlimited. Lessons were learned. There was no shame in taking a misstep. Accidents were incorporated, even celebrated, as they made each new painting unique.

Build Off A Framework

Even artistic pursuits need a plan. Otherwise, how could one person be so prolific? Even though we like to think of creativity as being boundless and outside-the-box, it’s harnessed by following a framework. Bob (it’s strange to say his name without including the Ross) developed straightforward frameworks for his various scenes.

  • Start with the sky.
  • Underpaint distant big-picture mountains to anchor the background and add bright highlights to create interesting contrast.
  • Daub in middle ground trees or foothills.
  • Guide the viewer into the scene with a pathway, wave-crashed boulder, or winding stream.
  • Use a palette knife to scratch in twigs, grasses, and other highlight details in the foreground.

He had hundreds, maybe even thousands of scenes that followed those basic steps, each one building on the foundation set by previous steps. In other words, don’t get caught up in the finishing touches until you’ve nailed the base layer.

You can apply this technique to developing any new skill, creative or not.


Photo of 9 smiling Enable Education employees holding their finished painted canvases after a guided Paint & Snack party.

Enablers recently gathered for a Paint & Snack party to channel our own inner artists. During the workshop, our User Experience Designer guided employees to complete an artistic scene within an hour. Each Enabler brought their own interpretation to the experience and expressed support and encouragement to one another during happy little accidents.


Customizable Training at Scale

Bob’s instructional style was repeatable and yet customizable. He once even painted all in grey for a colour-blind viewer; talk about making your training materials inclusive!

He managed to record 403 episodes of the Joy of Painting over 20 years. Even one single episode would have been able to onboard an unfathomable number of would-be artists. These 30-minute training sessions have stood the test of time. How?

  • They were shot with a simple set.
  • Bob wore a timeless outfit.
  • He stayed with his framework and took viewers along step by step
Bob Ross Quote Graphic from Inspirationfeed.com: "Talent is a pursued interest. Anything that you're willing to practice, you can do."

You, Too, Can Train Like Bob Ross

Now, I know what you might be thinking…there’s no way you could do the same thing. You’re too busy leading your company, you don’t have access to your own video production studio, and your business is much more complicated than an oil painting (plus you’re all out of Alizarin Crimson). But I say you CAN be an onboarding and training hero like Bob Ross, and here’s how Enable Education can guide you.

We can help you by:

  • Designing your learning framework with L&D best practices
  • Developing materials that fit your needs with minimal effort from you
  • Capturing in-house expertise to manage knowledge transfer
  • Producing high-quality instructional videos in our innovative production training studios

Regardless of your industry—manufacturing, technology, construction, education, hospitality, logistics, social enterprise, or other—you’ve probably got some high-performing employees who really know their stuff. Maybe they’re excellent painters too, but more likely they’re data scientists, customer service representatives, machinists, caseworkers, account managers, professors, custodians or <insert job title here>.

Whatever the job, your subject matter experts have a wealth of knowledge that needs to be shared. By recording their insights on camera, you’ll have a training asset you can use over and over again to help others grow their skills.

Manage knowledge transfer to help your subject matter experts get back to work.

One-To-One Video to Train Many

Video is one of the best ways of sharing knowledge with a lot of other people. A properly produced video can be watched again and again from almost anywhere. Reach your remote workers, shift workers, those on contract, and those yet to be hired by capturing your expertise on video. Bob Ross didn’t have to go from art store to art store to demonstrate his paint line because one video could be shared with the whole world!

He made it seem like he was talking to just one person­—you. Slowly but confidently, Bob walked you through his framework to achieve a finished product every time. How empowering would it be to give your new employee or a new client a video that walks them through a process that rewards them with a defined accomplishment at the end? What would happen if the video was so engaging your audience would happily watch a second and third video to learn even more new skills?

I’ll tell you what happens with the companies we’ve produced videos for. Their employees adopt the culture sooner, become more productive faster, have a useful tool to refer to when they need a refresher, and the managers come back to us for more custom training experiences because they’re so happy to provide the guidance their staff desired.

Delivery Style Is Key

Learning a new skill can make people feel inadequate or overwhelmed. It’s up to the trainer to set the proper tone that mirrors the values of your company culture. Enthusiasm, empathy, patience, and accessibility is so important when asking your learners to embrace your message.

Not only did Bob walk viewers through proper steps, he did it in a way that was supportive and joyful. I challenge you to watch a Joy of Painting episode without feeling inspired to create works of art. And then I challenge you to emulate Bob while creating your learning pathways and instructional materials. If you need some help with that, Enable Education has a team of learning experience designers who can help you align company culture with skills development. You can contact us here.

The visual delivery style is also important. Watching someone go through the motions step by step can be way more powerful than trying to get the same information from a book. By the way, do you know how Bob learned to paint the wet-on-wet technique he’s so famous for? He learned by watching ANOTHER show dedicated to oil painting! That’s how effective the power of video is!

Applying the Bob Ross Training Method

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little foray into the world of Bob Ross. By now, you should be able to see how:

  • embracing mistakes,
  • using a repeatable framework,
  • creating visual assets to share knowledge,
  • and using a personal tone

can transform your employee and client onboarding program into an inspiring experience. Invite your learners to come back again and again to strengthen their skills. Encourage them to contribute to your mission by gaining knowledge. Be open to the possibilities of a blank canvas. And like Bob Ross, acknowledge the unlimited potential just waiting to be uncovered.

Has Bob Ross, or any other artist, inspired you to make changes at your company? Tell us how in the comments.


Bob Ross 1 Employee Onboarding 1

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