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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.

Our Competition Is Our Co-Operator: The new coopetition

16 Sep

The term coopetition has actually been around for quite some time, as strange as it may seem. Going back to at least the 1930s, the word was coined to capture the idea that those who we compete against are in fact our partners in developing technologies and processes. We may fight fiercely to protect our trade secrets and to differentiate ourselves from our competitors, but we all gain from new developments. Think Microsoft and Apple—the mouse, windows, directory systems, tablets, product design—both benefit from “stealing” from the other.

However, the idea of coopetition is just now having—or about to have—its moment in the world of knowledge management, workplace learning, organizational dynamism and professional development. In our connected, networked, decentralized world, the very notion of X vs. Y, Us vs. Them, Me vs. You is falling away. Whether we think this is good or bad is irrelevant—it simply is. (I happen to think it’s wonderful.)

Manuel Lima has a really interesting take on how the interconnected, leaderless network is expressed in the shift in visualizations from the paradigm of trees and hierarchies to meshes of interconnectivity: from the “Tree of Life” to the “Network of Life.” If you have 12 minutes, check it out:

The point is that we are not insulated in our working groups, departments, organizations or the few professional colleagues who we happen to meet at annual conferences. We should seek out peers, experts and diverse members of our networks throughout our industry and across the globe. A widget manufacturer, a financial consultant or an electrician can and should learn as much from “competing” organizations as from the coworkers they see every day. We should constantly forage for innovations, learning and insights—the essence of modern work—across our networks. This is especially true of our supposed competitors.

We all improve together when we cooperate through open sharing and knowledge transfer. Coopetition requires a new mindset for our organizations. Individual workers are transitory, taking their expertise with them from workplace to workplace. Institutional memory becomes less important than mining the networks for functional knowledge that may or may not exist within the walls of a particular company.

The rising tide of shared knowledge and strengthening networks through coopetition really does raise all in our flotilla of ideas.

The lesson: Learn through the diversity of our competitors. In my next post I’ll share some ways to achieve that openness to learning that builds coopetition.

A Manifesto (with Poor Graphic Design)

26 Aug

If you have been following my blog over the last couple of years (thank you!), you may have noticed some changes to the banner and template recently. Other than the aesthetics, which I like better, I wanted to have a banner image in my own hand that represents what I’m working on in this space, and in my professional life.

That said, I know that the graphics are a bit opaque. Allow me to explain.

For fully realized learners* to function across an organization and find personal satisfaction through professional development, three foundational elements must stand firm:

3 pillarsAcculturation & Alignment: Individuals must feel that their efforts are adding value to the organization, and that those efforts are nurtured in turn by coworkers, organizational leaders and professional peers. Tasks have meaning, and individuals should feel a part of something larger within a set of cultural cues that enable growth and autonomy.

Competency & Assessment: Workers need a measure of their own competence and a way of assessing and measuring the growth of new competencies over time. As we move to an increasingly automated workplace and rote tasks are replaced by automation, workers’ sense of worth (competency) must grow, adapt and change over time, in internally and externally measurable ways. Stagnation is the enemy not only of the human spirit but of organizational livelihood.

Skills and Knowledge: This is the core. Learners’ sense of self and their value to others starts here. “I know what I know!” and “I know what I can do!” are the essence of professional identity. The practice that needs to develop is how learners can share what they know, and do so in a manner that cuts across the other realms of competency and acculturation. Continue reading

Working in the Age of (Digital) Exploration: Part II – Navigating the digital high seas

13 Aug
Set your course and head for the high seas. (yachtpals.com)

Set your course and head for the high seas.

There you are, navigator of your solo vessel, heading for discovery, terra incognita, riding a sea of digital waves. In my last post I argued that we all should head out in search of adventure, discovery and limitless exploration. While that may sound inviting, it is hard to know how to navigate through unknown territory, to keep going even when the next port is unknown. Indeed, it is unknowable!

In an earlier age, travelers learned to navigate by understanding the natural markers around them. At its most basic, the sun and moon provide cardinal direction. Gazing at the night sky compelled people across the globe to draw patterns, and from those patterns, to note how they could guide movement: The northern star, the southern cross, the big dipper, the tropics and the planetary ecliptic. Later, with the advent of the sexton and (eventually) accurate timekeeping, global circumnavigation became so commonplace that the age of exploration drew to a close. Arise the age of commerce, of global trade.

The Learning Age, a new kind of age of discovery, requires a similar sort of basic navigational tools in order to keep going and to judge the value of what you find: To sort out gold and spices from flotsam and jetsam. Instead of gazing skyward, we need to work from within outward, and back again, in order to make sense of our known world.

And that requires a system, a method by which to navigate and then to make sense of discoveries.

  1. Know your cardinal directions. While there is no limit to what you’ll discover, you need to always have a general sense of your course. Rather the compass direction, the cardinal orientation here is purpose. What assets or artifacts do you feel lacking? What areas could help you intentionally improve your profession or craft? What people or knowledge would be of most help to you (and you to them!)? For every next shiny object you come across, measure it against your purpose. That will tell you if you’re headed in the right direction.
  2. Be in practice; navigation is your profession. By practice, I mean be in process. Once you have a general sense of your cardinals — where you want to go, and why – the key is to know how to move in that direction with consistency and deliberate action. The process through which you encounter potential treasure, measure its worth, and then keep or discard it is the way to move through the digital world. The more you practice, the more intuitive and natural it becomes.
  3. Patronize the trading posts. Our networks and the Internet as whole are essentially a marketplace of ideas and connections. Share freely: blog, tweet, post, react, write, question, discuss. Sometimes others will pick up what you share, other times not. Have no expectations for reciprocation or immediate return. It’s a process, right? Also understand that there is no way to attend to everything that you encounter – there’s too much information and far too little time. The important thing is picking things up to see if you
    The market is open, 24/7. Make your own discoveries, measure their worth, assemble your inventory as you like.

    The market is open, 24/7. Make your own discoveries, measure their worth, assemble your inventory as you like.

    can use it, and not to sweat about the vast majority of wares you’ll never see. You build what you can out of what you find valuable; don’t fret about the rest.

  4. Attend to your cargo. Is what you carry in your SS Learning worth the effort of transport? Knowledge, adaptations, applications and members of your networks will come and go. Take the time for useful, purposeful pruning. In all likelihood you’ll carry a few ideas, partnerships, and methods to the ends of the digital seas and back. However, the majority of what you put into your hold will at some point become outdated, no longer useful or even dead weight holding you back from the learning velocity you need to maintain. Only you can determine value, but be prepared to reassess and let go on a regular basis.
  5. Move on. If you find a great port, a trove of useful knowledge and ideas, consider yourself lucky. Glean what you can, and return to it as you need to, but keep moving on. What’s precious today may not be tomorrow, depending on changing conditions in what you find useful. The Learning Age is about ongoing learning, adaptation, exposure and network maintenance. Don’t let a beautiful moment in port lead you to settling for a stale life of safe harbor! Gold today may be straw tomorrow.

Choose the life of exploration and set your course, always on the lookout for what is yet to be discovered as you push into the horizon.

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).

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