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I have an Idea: Now what?

31 Mar

The older I become and experience I gain, the more interesting ideas I find and (sometimes) generate. Some are silly, some (I think) are quite insightful, and other need time to marinate in the juices of other ideas and experience to even make sense.

Some ideas are immediately applicable, while others remain theoretical. Some never make it past mindful amusement, while others change personal and professional practice in meaningful and lasting ways. But even the most ethereal add value by constantly shifting the filter mechanisms through which new ideas and experiences are sorted.

I’m not exceptional in any way in this regard – pretty much everyone has ideas all the time that amuse, fascinate, and distract. I have created my own system that has been working (for me) for keeping and weighing ideas over the last several years, and it folds in nicely with the more general connectivist mindset that resonate with me. At the heart of connectivism is the idea of relativity: Ideas, knowledge, experience and actions are not absolute, but are constantly measured against past and freshly-acquired content/context. That is, we are in a constant state of recalibrating and re-measuring what we know, what we do, and what we think.

I am not a good self-organizer, and never have been. Attention to detail is not my strong suit. But, I’ve learned how to incorporate a systematic process – a PKM practice, I suppose – that works for me. Being naturally disorganized and messy, it would be a stretch to recommend what works for me to

My Scoop.It page is one place to collect and reflect on ideas.

My Scoop.IT page is one place to collect and reflect on ideas.

anyone else.

I believe the key, though, is to have a system – any system that works – and practice it faithfully. What’s more, when we capture those ideas digitally, via Evernonote file, audio “notes-to-self”, curated boards (like Pinterest or Scoop.It), Twitter favs and retweets, and so on, it becomes easy to tag, retrieve and connect. I shuffle ideas into connections via visual mind maps, with arrows, dotted lines and color codes. About once a month I do a formal iteration break, with the archives becoming a record of my idea evolution.

One other great benefit of that process is it is easily shared, too. As we are discovering, the Work Out Loud (and their corollaries Think Out Loud and Learn Out Loud) practice is a centerpiece of both personal and organizational growth.

Whatever your practice is or becomes, it is learned and constantly refined. Don’t assume that others have the skills to do this on their own. I learned from others, and I try to share with others the purpose and benefits of thinking and working in this way.

Sense-making In The Learning Age is an ongoing process, and I welcome hearing from you about how you make it work.

Why tweet, and who gives a hoot? What Twitter does for me

30 Jan

I read, write and think about learning, knowledge management and collaborative work — it’s a lot to keep up with.

My Personal Learning Network (PLN) and Personal Knowledge Management/Mastery (PKM) practice has become vital to my professional growth . Of all the things I do in support of these efforts — blog, write articles, read, synthesize (what PKM calls “sense-making”), share, meet, respond and react — it is Twitter that I get the most questions, doubt, and even hostility about.

I want to share here why I use Twitter, and how it helps me.

I begin by saying I was late to it. I was skeptical, and more than a little derisive about those tweeters constantly tethered to their phones. I did not dive in: I was hesitant, lurking, dipping my toes in one digit at time. So, to you doubters, I was there with you not long ago.

Now, in two-years’ time, I can’t imagine my professional life without it!

With that said, it is NOT about Twitter itself. Twitter is a tool, like a hammer or a saw — they are useless until used purposefully. Twitter will be gone in 5 (or 10?) years, replaced by something(s) else. While I have found great value in applying Twitter to develop my PLN, it needn’t have been Twitter. It just worked well for me. You might find another tool that works for you. Great! It is the practice, not the tool.

Some ways I use Twitter to propel “real” work:

  • Capture thoughts and notes in real time, often with a hashtag (#, as in #learning) to help categorize it for myself and others.
  • Share and “favorite” useful tweets to let the most pertinent comments rise to the top and become easy to find.
  • Find like-minded people across the hall, or across the globe, with whom to share and learn. I have built my PLN from scratch, relying on Twitter for 90% of it. There is generally a true spirit of generosity and openness that’s remarkable.
  • Follow and learn from experts and leaders, to see what they are thinking, reading and see who they are following. Because Twitter is a-symmetrical (unlike Facebook, for example) you can follow anyone without the need for that person to reciprocate. (This difference was articulated nicely by Harold Jarche, which — and whom — I found via Twitter.) I follow @BarackObama, but he doesn’t follow me… yet!
  • Twitter storms. A synchronous (live) twitter event around a particular topic, these are generally moderated in a Q/A format with some opportunity for intros and self-promotions. Twitter storms are extremely useful to share and hear ideas, “meet” new like-minded people, and enjoy some PD time. Best of all, the transcripts are available after to remember and reflect on the storm’s activity.
  • Like Twitter storms, tweeting during — yes during! — live events, classes and sessions proves to be very useful. It creates a “back-channel” to help make sense of the information, and adds instant and long-lasting value by providing insights into what others make of it. In addition, it is a great way for me to experience an event even if I’m not there. It is so valuable!

The most common reservations I hear:

Who cares what I think? I care what I think (or thought last week or last year). You also might. And if not, that’s fine too. It is a micro-blog tool, a way to share thoughts and activities. The value is in the stream to reflect upon later, to discover others who cared, reactions to forming ideas and activities as they grow. When you share an idea or thought, you never know how others — or even you, after some time passes — will react. I saw Dr. deGrasse-Tyson stop, mid-talk, to tweet a thought. If it is worth noting, it’s worth saving. And, if worth saving, it’s worth sharing.

What can you learn from 140 characters? It’s not enough! Enough for what? To jot a note? Or ask a colleague a question? Or refer your friend to an article or video you found? 140 characters is plenty. In fact, I have found over time that the space limit actually helps sharpen my writing — and thoughts — down to essentials. Remember: It is not a replacement for other forms of communication!

It’s a fad that’s going away. As I say above, it’s true: If we’re still using Twitter 10 years from now, I’ll be quite surprised. The same is also true of Facebook, email (please, let it be so!!), and wired telephones (who has long phone conversations anymore!?). Tools come and go, but building PLN and PKM practice will remain.

It’s too informal. It’s frivolous. Depends on who’s wielding the tool. It can be feathery light or as serious as life-and-death (literally, as #BlackLivesMatter showed).

– I don’t have time. If you find it useful, you’ll have time. You don’t have time to change a tire on your car on your way to work, unless you need to change the tire.

Find me @BenCpdx… I’ll leave the bird on for you. If I’m the recipient of your first tweet, it would be an honor and I promise to reply.

bdc twitter

Note to Self: How ’bout a note to all?

29 Dec

We gather for our meeting. Some pull out laptop computers, others prefer pen and paper. We talk over our projects, progress, next steps, risk factors. It’s a scene that plays out every day, to the point where we barely think through the opportunity that each meeting might represent.

We head back to our desks or on to our next meeting. The most organized, resourceful, and determined among us will file notes into whatever organizing system we have devised. Perhaps they’ll reappear in the minutes before the moment of need, either as we work on that project or gather again. Rinse and repeat.

But what if we changed the cycle? What if those meeting notes were out in the open, cataloged for team members and colleagues—and managers and mentees—to find, save, share, and make sense of for their own personal knowledge management (PKM)? I’m proposing that we don’t just save our notes, but use them, share them, integrate them with others, and build both individual and organizational learning.

That kind of transparency has so many benefits:

  • Notes become living documents to add to and glean from.
  • Meetings are more focused, productive, and (maybe) less frequent when show your work/working out loud (#WOL) practices are systemically applied.
  • Managers, stakeholders, and cross-functional coworkers can benefit from knowledge of and insights from the ongoing notes.
  • Potential misunderstandings, cross-purposes, and redundancies can be avoided by sharing freely with teammates.
  • New insights can be found in the notes “feed” from all our of organization’s ongoing work.
  • It helps each of us make better sense of our daily activities.
Open note-taking hits several keys of Working/Learning Out Loud. Click image to read H. Jarche's excellent post  and source for this graphic.

Open note-taking hits several keys of Working/Learning Out Loud. Click image to read H. Jarche’s excellent post and source for this graphic.

I hear misgivings and concerns about this practice all the time, and here’s are the three most common:

  1. We already have too much information coming at us, and I can’t take any more inbox filler. There are many ways to manage information, and I recommend that you skip email notifications of any kind. Instead, use wikis, social feeds, SharePoint, ESNs, Google Docs, some project management and CRM tools, etc. It is not hard, and need not clutter; in fact, sharing this way will make long, substantive email chains unnecessary. Ultimately, this is a de-cluttering exercise.
  2. I don’t have time, and we already have too many reporting requirements. There’s the famous story of the delivery driver who claims he is too busy to change his flat tire as he clunk-a-clunks down the street. This is a new way of working, yes, but it doesn’t really require any new skills—you can simply take notes on a public platform instead of a private one. This may not satisfy your reporting requirements, but it will surely save you time when you have to create those reports, and may even make some reports superfluous.
  3. Isn’t that what a CRM system is supposed to do for us? A social CRM would indeed do this, at least in part. Few of us, however, have access to and use a CRM tool in this way. I certainly don’t. I invite those kind readers who do to let me know about it, for the benefit of all of us.

Heads of state (or their staff) take detailed notes and keep diaries to be made public after their terms of service, so that we might make sense of and learn from their decisions and insights. Few of us, however, deal in statecraft, classified files, or even sensitive information. We can benefit from these insights and knowledge today. As Jane Bozarth rightly says, “Share is the new save.” If you note it, there is a good chance others can benefit from it, too. Please, share the wealth.

In a future post, already in draft, I’ll discuss some tools and processes, and invite others to share how they’ve shared notes. But if you want to share your tips, no need to waitI’ll include them in my post and give you credit (if you’d like it).

Learning and Schrodinger’s Cat: Bringing content back from obsolescence

10 Oct

My father is a mathematician, and my brother studied physics and engineering. My nephew is in doctoral work in plasma physics, and my father-in-law is an active MIT alum. There are many, many things I do not have in common with these family members: My MA is in SE Asian studies and political science, and I stay firmly on the social side of sciences. (And to be fair, social science – even economics – is not science in any real sense.)

However, I was exposed to topology (oh! those bubbles and spheres!), imaginary numbers and game-playing machines much earlier than most. As much as I shied away from the sciences most of my life, I am grateful for the exposure. I learned early about Euclid and Napier (who was, in fact, not a shepherd), and plowed my way through Gödel, Escher and Bach at much too early an age.

What was I saying…?

Oh, yes, a cat. Schrodinger’s cat! I heard about this sad little cat an early age. The image of the poor creature exposed to lethal radioactivity never left me. But in fact, I later learned, it was

Failure Confetti Comics

Failure Confetti Comics

only a theoretical exercise, not an actual live-animal experiment (I think!), as a way to illustrate the Uncertainty Principle and the related Observer Effect. Both of these arise from quantum physics, and point out the disambiguation that something can exist in two simultaneous states, and/or change states as a result of the act of being observed.

“Learning is the Work”

I’ve read this quote so often in the last 18 months that I am unsure of correct attribution (heck, maybe it was me!), but I read it most recently on Harold Jarche’s blog. I certainly agree. In the modern workplace, resting as it does on a dynamic digital platform and shape-shifting networks, we can no longer rely on our knowledge or expertise. Access to content (information) is the lifeblood of our work, be it in a colleague’s mind or data in the cloud. (Or, as Charles Jennings points out, even residing with our competitors.)

Given the fluidity of our Learning Age, when instructional designers and trainers secure content, chunk it to be easily understood and applied, and deliver it back via e-learning or synchronous training, I would argue that very act changes the state of the content, and certainly the context in which it resides.

Yes, cleaving content from application and setting it up as received knowledge certainly changes the way we see it. And, the way we apply it. The cat may die under our manipulation. The content is either useful or not, applicable or not, advantageous or not. But once we pick it up, process it, and deliver it, it may not be the same as when we found it.

The very act of training removes content from its “natural habitat,” unnaturally elevates certain things over others that in actual application may be just as useful, and creates an altered perception of the very same content – a kind of Observer Effect.

Stay close to the machine

This is not to suggest that there is no place for training, e-learning programs and learner engagement initiatives. In fact, I rather like my job! It is a call to be thoughtful, conscientious and limited in the approaches we use. Keep learning as close to the machine as possible, to borrow a concept from computer programmers. Remove learning activities as little as possible from the tasks that people perform. Needless elaboration and unnecessary barriers placed in a way that separates learning from the work, rather than making learning a part of the work, should be used sparingly and purposefully. Mathematicians speak of an elegant proof, with as little elaboration as possible. In similar fashion, we necessarily curate content for our learners, but we need to be aware as to the effect that has and limit distortions.

As I’ve discussed before, learning practitioners should embed learning activities into the work (aka, performance support), and reciprocally direct work activities and social connections into training activities and eLearning courses. If not, we run the danger of creating altered perceptions in our learners’ minds: “Oh yeah, that’s the training way, but in the real world…” Yes, as soon as we observe it as something other than what it is (our work!), we evaluate and apply the content differently, too.

Poor kitty.

P.S. Yes, I love Calvin and Hobbes, and am aware of the alive-dead dynamic.

P.P.S. I hope to see you at #DevLearn2014! I’ll be talking about this topic and related ideas in Concurrent Session 609.

Transmission Job: Receiving the right opinions

14 Jul

A colleague challenged me the other day on my premise that the rise of digital social networks had fundamentally changed a person’s approach to gathering data and weighing options to make informed decisions. (Full disclosure: The colleague, Steve Fleischman, is the CEO of Education Northwest, where I work, and someone whom I have a great deal of intellectual respect for. Which is to say, I’ve been mulling on his question for a few days now.)

He offered the example of his decision to have an auto repair done, as his mechanic suggested, or to forgo the work. Does the social-centric, connectivistly-constructed world inform our decision-making process? He argued that it essentially does not. He called a knowledgeable friend, weighed the (hopefully) trusted mechanic’s opinion, and decided to have the work done.

I argued that, certainly within organizations, things have shifted (or are shifting) to alternative ways of decision-making. When we need to make an informed work-place or project-based decision, simply relying on the handful of experts available to us hamstrings both our efforts, and our organization’s agility and long-term viability.

Let’s be clear: I’m NOT suggesting eliciting advice from all quarters, consensus-building or democratic workplace processes. All these more often than not lead to organizational paralysis and an unacceptable lack or agility.

What I am suggesting is that individual knowledge (experience + expertise) be systematically captured, cataloged and shared; at the same time, organizational decision-making be documented and then inform the next divergent event.

My rather poorly-rendered depiction of knowledge-learning-decision loop. The blue could is the systematic practice.

My rather poorly-rendered depiction of  the knowledge-learning-decision loop. The blue cloud is the systematic practice.

This is not an essentially digital learning process: this is what Peter Senge, et. al., have been saying for 20+ years. However, digital-social technology has made this easier, more transparent and in fact far more necessary than ever. Success will shine on those organizations that have the culture and practices to nurture individual knowledge management and growth. Reciprocally, professional development is there for individuals to manage for themselves by the virtuous feedback loop of person-to-organization. Knowledge is personal, learning is social, and they both require deliberate, coordinated management.

So, I can call my Uncle Harold (well, were he still alive) to ask him about my transmission work. But, far better would be to have been following him for the last several years, to follow those folks whom he finds valuable, and for me to share that socially curated content with others, including my mechanic. Then, I’d weigh my mechanic’s recommendation against–or in coordination with–those data points. The final act in this small loop would be for me to share my decision, and the data that informed it, with all who care to find it. It’s the Show Your Work movement, writ small.

Thanks for the challenge, Steve, and happy driving.

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