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Getting to Cooperation: 4-C your work

10 Dec

In modern organizations, indeed in our digital world, the key modes of working will rely on connection, communication, collaboration and cooperation.

With whom you do work, and with whom you make that work available, are in fact more important than the task itself. This can seem like a radical departure from the way most people think about how they work. And, I suppose it is. That’s why, however, it is at the heart of the disconnect and dysfunction that we feel in our working lives.

The maxim is true: Anything that can be automated will be. With the advent of scripting, coding and AI, nearly any task that one can complete in isolation and anonymity will be replaced by automation. From truck drivers to data specialist, the machines are coming.

Rather than dystopian, I see this as an opening to something greater: The things that machines will do in our place will also liberate people to be more human.

Connection

The key function of human work will be to search for insights: “Computers are for answers. Humans are for questions.” (I’ve seen this quote attributed to several people, but I think it is Kevin Kelly. Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

cooperation-1237280_960_720At its core, forming the right questions and working to make sense of the answers that come back to us is a creative act. It is a human act. Creativity thrives on connection, discovery and the combination of ideas and objects that we exchange with others. Any creative output is not complete until others react to it. And if the creation is purposeful (=work), then it is only as useful as the feedback we get and how we revise and recreate.

Our ability to connect broadly, with a diverse trusted network of people that pulls together multiple disciplines and viewpoints, is the essence of purposeful creativity.

Communication

Building your network to find new people, ideas and processes, requires an active practice. There is no substitute for personal, deep, intimate conversation. When you find those opportunities, treasure them and capture the outcomes in a way that makes the ideas applicable.

In our digital world, however, we have more opportunity to communicate widely than was ever possible before. Email was a good start 25 years ago, but it’s usefulness is limited. The key is to communicate widely and openly: Let your voice be heard far and wide if you have something to say. Conversely, listen to conversations among others. The human voice will still carry the news.

Find channels that allow you to contribute and listen to those whom you are not immediately connected, or may not know (yet!). Ideas travel and their originators obscured. But the channels create a collective greater than is possible between the few. For me, Twitter has served this purpose, because I can choose to “listen” to whom I choose, and the act of contribution and the constant pruning of my community is an important part of my practice. You may choose other channels, but without communication, there is no growth.

Collaboration

This is the easiest part for people to grasp, and probably something you already do (and do well, hopefully). Working with others to complete specific tasks and projects can also benefit from the other “Cs” discussed here. The question is, what can others learn from your current collaboration, and how to share that?

Cooperation

It doesn’t surprise me how much confusion there is about what it means to act cooperatively: In ways that create the potential that others will benefit from what we do though if, when, and how is unknowable.

True cooperative functions actually fly in the face of command-and-control, competitive, hierarchical industrial-military systems that we are often so familiar that we may not even be aware of them most of the time.

Acting cooperatively is really the culmination of communication, connection and collaboration. When we share ideas, pass on our stories of success and failures, we lay the crumbs for others to follow. Even as we are following in the footsteps of others. We are all in it together – no matter how you define your current it. Serendipity happens, but only when we are open to and contribute to cooperative channels.

Learning, unlearning, relearning through and with others. Synthesizing ideas. It’s what I call The Learning Age.

 

 

 

Gold from Straw: Creating Your Own Meaning

27 Oct

Personal learning is a form of assembly, where we find, evaluate, use or discard things we encounter on our way. More often than not, though. we won’t know the meaning of what we discover until long after the fact. Over time, with experience, we’re able to create meaning of (from?) objects, assembling them into applicable learned compounds.

Ah, but what to pick up? We are awash with information, opinions and competing ideas. Through traditional media, social media, conversations, meetings, directives…. we live in an age of overabundance. In prior times information was scarce, and we looked to authority to provide us what was valuable:

I read it in the Times.” “Our CEO thinks that we should redirect our efforts.” “My trusted financial adviser recommended I put my money into tech.” “My mentor said this book was important.” “I ask my assistant to provide me with daily clippings.” Information was scarce, and we looked to those with expertise, time, and the resources to research and bring us information we could use.

Those days are done. We create our own meaning now. We divine it out of the countless dots – the nodes in our network of people, ideas and information – that fill our universe.

Like ancient explorers, we connect dots and create patterns in order to navigate through our world.

Like ancient explorers, we connect dots and create patterns in order to navigate through our world. Photo by Greg Rakozy via unsplash.com.

The solution becomes not one of knowing what is useful, but of deciding what to pay attention to, and weighing whatever we find for its potential value.  There is no way to pre-sort what is worthy; there is simply too much out there and exponentially more being created all the time. Like the scroll at the bottom of a 24-hour news station, we barely notice it’s there. When something catches our attention, we have that “Wait! What was that?!” moment. It’s much the same to navigate through our connected, networked world. Something catches our attention, and we make an immediate judgement: This is something I should pay attention to, something I might be able to use at some point. Or not… let it pass.

The decision is the key. Yes, I like this idea. This is new to me and sparks my interest. This is from a known source that I already trust, so I’m willing to give it a little more attention than I might otherwise. Once a decision is made, apply your process.

  1. Clip, copy, save, share it, while tagging in some way that you’ll be able to find it later (that takes practice, but you’ll get better at it with time).

  2. Note why you thought it was worthy of carrying with you on your journey: That is a critical part of it, and will inform and refine your knowledge management practice over time.

  3. Weigh it for its value over time. Does the idea make sense? Does it add, extend, amplify or purposefully redirect what I do and what I know?

  4. Cull frequently, letting go of what it no longer useful.

By following this process, you’ll create your own meaning, and build your own unique area of expertise that is yours alone. That is an exciting proposition. When each of us is self-directed to build our own knowledge, to create our own Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM), we bring a unique perspective and ability to any organization’s collaborative or cooperative effort. That is a valuable place to be.

From Auckland, a charge to curate

24 Jul

Nigel Young, a professional colleague via my Twitter PLN, pointed me to a live broadcast from eLearnz 2015, a New Zealand eLearning conference that I could watch while at my desk in Portland, Oregon. Randomly, and quite fortunately, I saw some of Nigel Paine’s remarks. (A classic case of serendipity, but that’s a topic for another time!)

Wait! I was watching a live broadcast of a conference happening in as far away place as could possibly be! That, in itself, should highlight how very different our world has become. But, that’s not what I want to discuss in this current post — just a rather amazing set up.

A comment he made, among many important comments on MOOCs, neuroscience and some serious debunking of “rubbish,” that really made me sit up and pay attention was his discussion of the wastefulness of content creation for almost all learning programs.

L & D, training providers and their kin serve their clients’ needs, whether they’re internal or external. As a service provider, I think we do our clients a disservice if our first thought is to

Create your own learning boutique from the abundance around us. Or better yet, let your learners put together the collection themselves!

Create your own learning boutique from the abundance around us. Or better yet, let your learners put together the collection themselves!

create something new for the learning need (real or imagined). For the vast majority of topics, there is nothing we could create that does not already exist. Like a good librarian or boutique shopkeeper, the value is in the careful curation of artifacts that take the customer (learner) on a journey of discovery. If I ask a librarian to help me learn to fix my bicycle, I certainly would not expect him to write me a guidebook! He will find the best existing materials to recommend.

As Nigel Paine said, people will yawn their way through a corporate training event, and, later that evening, happily turn to YouTube to repair their dishwasher. Can’t we learn from this new reality? The feeling among some of our colleagues is that our learning problems are so complex, so unique that no video or website could adequately address them. That may be, but in aggregate of sources, via a collection of various bits and parts? I’m guessing we could get just about all the way there. Our own sense of importance becomes our blinders.

The key is to make sense of the overabundance that exists in our digital, connected world. The skills adults need to find, connect, synthesize and share content are not instinctive. It’s not a matter of some “having the knack” and others out of luck. It’s a learned skillset.

Taking this to its logical conclusion: For your next learning activity, direct your cohort to curate their own resources. I had discussed this once before, in a much earlier post. While my thinking and practice have evolved quite a bit in the two years since then, I think that the idea remains valid. By learners curating their own learning, then sharing it back with a cohort, it allows for learning skills, reflection, demonstration, defense, social interaction. That’s how people learn!

You’ll not only have a great collection of learning resources, but you’ll help your learners learn the skills of the digital age at the same time. Oh, and you save your client a lot of time and money, too.

WOL concerns, blow-by-(glass)blow counters

2 Jul

I had the pleasure of being able to share some ideas and practices about Working Out Loud/Showing Your Work (WOL) the other day with a group of Pacific Northwest educators. I wanted to share my main idea with which I framed my talk, and a few really good questions that the teachers had about what I was pitching.

We’re all professionals and craftspeople (of a sort)

We began our discussion by considering this photo of a glassblower.glassblower_studio

This is not a blower among peers in a workshop. Clearly, this is a demonstration of how he forms hot liquid glass into shape. I have watched blowers perform their craft on numerous occasions and it is always fascinating. I posed the question: What’s in it for him?

The conjecture was that he adds value to his finished products by allowing interested parties to watch him work. He is a craftsperson, and he knows that people who see his work will more highly value his craft.

Similarly, there are people we call “professionals,” who are in practice: doctors, lawyers, accountants, veterinarians, etc. They “practice” because we expect that part of being a professional means staying current on latest trends, new discoveries, technological advances and best practices. I don’t expect my accountant to use 2006 tax law, or my dentist to practice the same way she did 15 years ago. Professionals are in practice—they stay informed, learn new methods, and constantly share across their fields of expertise.

I pressed the roomful of educators to think of themselves as professionals (as we all should, no matter our position) in their own education practice. They too should stay current, constantly learn, and share new ideas and methods. Working Out Loud is a great way to do that.

What about others “stealing” ideas and/or not assigning credit?

On the flipside of feeling like you’re a bit of a braggart (see below), concern about someone stealing your idea comes up a lot. If you’ve spent most of your life in a hierarchy (real or imagined), where advancement comes from recognition from superiors, this feels genuinely worrisome. The short answer is that your personal satisfaction from helping peers by sharing your ideas (and problems, successes, questions, and processes) should provide more gratification than praise from on high.

The longer answer suggests that we are all working in a new paradigm, one in which the power of the connections and the professional learning networks (PLNs) we create are chipping away at the very foundations of traditional workplace hierarchy. Once you realize that you don’t need your supervisor, director, or principal’s direction or approval to solve your problems and advance your practice, your need for recognition and approval will dissipate. At the same time, if your job is to supervise or direct, you are coming to the realization (some more quickly than others) that by empowering your people to connect and share freely you’ll advance your goals and achieve better outcomes.

How do we reconcile sharing with copyright and IP?

For this, too, there is a short answer and a long answer.

Short answer: Give credit where credit is due, lead with generosity, and publicly thank those whose ideas you advance in practice or synthesize with others. I have personally seen how an ethos of open sharing leads to an economy of ideas that seeks to neither “steal” the work of others nor hide the easily traceable digital paths back to their source.

Longer answer: The very notion of intellectual property and copyright is being shaken at its foundations. From music to books to art, I’m not sure what IP means anymore. In our networked digitized age, it is a very tricky

that's me, pointing out that email and files folders are where god ideas go to die.

That’s me, pointing out that email and files folders are where good ideas go to die.

undertaking to establish and maintain ownership over ideas. This is an especially important issue in academia, where people earn their reputations and living from their original ideas. Where the world of IP and copyright is headed, I have no idea. Bottom line: While WOL, be generous, give credit, and when in doubt ask permission.

How to overcome feelings of bragging?

True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” — C.S. Lewis

It ain’t bragging if it’s true.” — Mohammed Ali (or perhaps Dizzy Dean, or Bear Bryant)

If you think you share great ideas all the time, check yourself! You are either a very accomplished, talented person or you have an overinflated sense of yourself. Our approach should be that WOL practice is a place to ask questions, gather a diversity of opinions and methods, and test our ideas by their usefulness to others. There is nothing selfish or attention-seeking about that. And, if you think you have stumbled upon something original or particularly useful, sharing it is not bragging, it’s generosity. Why keep it to yourself?

Of course, you won’t really know until your network has had time to weigh your idea for themselves. In that case, they’ll be the ones to credit your breakthrough or expertise. Again, it comes back to the spirit of sharing freely and communicating transparently. Your many mistakes and false starts ought to sweep away any sense of bragging. It’s not about any individual, it’s about (mostly half-baked) ideas and people networked together and sharing experiences as they happen.

My new puppy

My new puppy “Chester.” Added for no reason at all (other than to make me smile).

Abundance and Choices: Make the decision and move on

22 Apr

We know the feeling: Standing in the cereal aisle, or before the maddeningly long rack of cold medicines, frozen by the overwhelming number of choices. Can’t there be just three choices? Fiber-filled, healthy, or frosted. Good, better, best. Too much really is too much!

I was asked to talk recently about Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM) practice, curation and the ability to sort through the overwhelming amount of content that streams at us constantly. One sincere listener mentioned that while he spends time and energy clipping useful articles and organizing content into folders, he knows he’ll never have time to go back and examine all the saved content and sort through it all to find the nuggets of potentially useful ideas.

My response to him was that it doesn’t matter. The room fell silent (as I hoped) and opened the door to explain in further detail. (Side note: If you ever want to get a room of serious-mined people to pay attention to a particular point, set it up with “What you do doesn’t matter,” or “What you know is not important.” Provocative, and engaging!)

In the digital age, the social age, or what I call The Learning Age, what you save in a file somewhere really doesn’t matter. Saving clippings in a file folder or, more recently, on a digital drive somewhere, is a bygone mindset for a world in which content was scarce and locating something on a particular subject was difficult and time-consuming.

We now live in an age of abundance and constant choice. It’s all available at our fingertips, and anyone with even the most basic digital literacy skills can find just about anything. As an example, I had foot surgery last year: Not only could I look up my diagnosis, I watched videos, in fascination and horror, of the actual surgical procedures. Bone saws and drills. NOT recommended!

The critical practice of our age is not finding and saving content, it’s curating, sense-making and sharing. That is, it’s a new practice.

Step 1. Make a decision. Act. Looking for something on topic “X” gets 500 results. There is no way you’ll ever know which few will make the most sense or prove to be the most immediately useful to you. Skim and choose one (or two or three). The decision is the first step of the practice. There is no right or wrong decision, only the act (with apologies to Yoda). Also, note how you made the decision – the reasons, the decision-making criteria – so that it also becomes part of the practice.

Step 2. As you read (or watch, or listen), note how it relates to what you already know, or do, or think. Even if you don’t find the immediate use that you may had originally hoped, relate it to other thoughts and ideas. (If you can’t, toss it.) Content is relational and contextual, and how your mind makes those connections is critical to PKM practice. “This relates to that, reminds me of this, and here’s why.” Putting new information into context: That’s learning. Be creative, metaphorical, and experimental. Tag it with whatever taxonomy terms makes sense at the time (it may change later – don’t be rigid).

Step 3: Share it, and by “it” I mean the content, your notes on the context, and the tags: All of it! Make it visible to you (later) and to others in your organization and your Personal Learning Network (PLN). Rely on social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) and curation tools (Scoop.it, Feedly, Storify, Evernote, Delicious, etc.) to share it with whomever will find it. The technology you use is unimportant. The practice is the key. (I happen to like scoop.it because it’s easy to write your notes with each share, and invite others to do the same. Use what you like and what works for you.)

Step 4: Let the network do the work. Once you begin to form your own Personal Learning Network (PLN) through social media and in-person connections, they will share with you, comment on your shares and patterns will emerge. You’ll find those people whose content you trust, and in turn connect with who they trust. You will increasingly find relevant content—because you are getting better at contextualizing and sense-making – making Step 1 less and less necessary. You’ll find that the content you find through your PLN comes preloaded with contextual relevance because it is from/through the network you are building: Your own network of people, ideas and applications.

Step 5: Practice. It’s a practice, so, you know, practice! This is not a just-in-time activity to do at the moment of need. In order to build your sense-making capabilities, this becomes a part of the way you work. It requires pruning, nurturing, adding and subtracting. Your PLN and the ways you make sense of ideas will shift over time. That’s learning! Don’t be rigid: Learn to trust the system you’ve created.

Ben's PKM ProcessIn the end, the important thing is making the initial decision, learning what you can from it and moving forward. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself relating back to a few core ideas time and again, anchoring learning in principles and allowing for deep exploration without completely losing your bearings.

Happy exploring! (Oh, and choose the healthy cereal, except on your birthday. Then, frosted all the way!)

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