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Is It Really Property? What’s the Expense of Guarding It?

12 Mar
  • The future is unknown.
  • Specific goals should change frequently. Whatever you think you are working towards at present will be different a year from now (and if it’s not, ask some deep questions).
  • Learning is acquiring and applying skills so that individuals become skilled at sense-making from abundance.
  • Value is accrued by sharing freely across, between and beyond specific organizations.
  • Workers should discover, test, elevate and discard new ideas and processes.
  • Trust is the lifeblood of modern work.
  • Creativity > Skills: What you can learn above what you know; synthesis over distillation.

I have been thinking about these ideas for quite some time. I read, write, discuss and promote ideas about organizations, and the ways in which individuals move through and beyond them. The power of networks and worker mobility have altered the ways in which we need to organize ourselves and develop our professional skills.

I am not alone, nor breaking vast areas of new ground. I owe much to others whom I follow and learn from. (See @BenCpdx to see whom I connect with.) This is the model I build on.

Learning Age

As I consult with organizations, I get two common push-backs:

  1. What about protecting intellectual property (IP)?
  2. How can we (our organization) maintain focus on our goals if we allow a free-for-all of exploration and individual sense-making?

This post will focus on IP. I will follow up with the organizational goals in my next post.

I find people often confuse smart ideas and clever people with actual “property.” Property represents specific, recognizable, and likely commercial products. That actually limits the conversation reasonably well. Because a team within your organization is working on a new product or service line does not mean that you need to guard a specific property. In those cases, I argue that transparency and working out loud (#WOL) will benefit progress much more than expose it to danger.

IP should also mean In Progress. Whatever you feel may your organization’s secrets, or the guarded technology that allows you to out-perform your competitors, are likely much less important than you think. We live in an era of constant change, and the value of any given IP is also in flux. Context and connection reign. Thriving organizations are more concerned with culture and process than with particular property.

Even in cases where one feels the need to protect patent information, in fact the reverse is often true. Joerg Thomaier, Chief IP Counsel at Bayer: “Greater transparency on the patents covering a product would avoid situations where companies inadvertently infringe our patents… the whole industry will need to embrace the idea [of] greater transparency.” In other words, the considerable time and cost into protecting and fighting for IP could be significantly reduced by transparency.

The core of the push-back lies in the us v them industrial view of business and the traditional command-and-control mechanisms of the late industrial age. Those days are fading into the past. Creativity, synthesis and transparency are the new lifeblood of the connected age (what I call “The Learning Age”). The work, then, is to develop the skills for people and organizations to thrive in the new era.

Curious or Ignorant: The choice we have

15 Feb

I have been and remain a big believer in curiosity. A curious mind prepares us to be open to new ideas, assimilate and synthesize those ideas with our own thinking and operations, and lays the foundation for those serendipitous moments that unexpectedly reveal themselves.

So, it has been delightfully reaffirming to read Ian Leslie’s Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It. While I’m still a couple of chapters from completion, Leslie’s book is a fine read and a well-reasoned argument for making curiosity the key to unlocking our world of information abundance.

curious: the desire to know and why your future depends on it

Ian Leslie’s book is not only a good read, it has a fantastic cover!

There is one section, however, that keeps playing over in my head: He argues that the (over-) abundance of information is making us less curious. Put another way, easy answers make us less curious, and less able to do the necessary sense-making.

[Curiosity] is also about discrimination; it involves choices about which knowledge we want to explore. The Web can give us answers before we’ve even had time to think about the question. It can also make it too easy for us to ignore our own ignorance.

Google… is more like a railway booking office – a place to visit when you know your destination. A truly curious person know that she doesn’t always know what she wants to know about… Google never says, “I don’t know.” (pp. 72-5)

The idea that it is all the easier for us to ignore our own ignorance given the ease of answers alarms me. I hadn’t really thought of it that way. But taken with what we already know about the dangers of confirmation bubbles, I now think that Leslie is quite right.

True intellectual curiosity may be harder than ever to maintain. As he suggests, curiosity is stoked by unanswered (perhaps even unanswerable) questions. It’s been my experience that it is the constant sense-making, PKM practices and networking with other curious, smart people that stokes my own curiosity.

The good news: These are learned behaviors! So, who is teaching them? I’ll follow up soon with some ideas about this means for workplace learning in a future post. This is still fresh in my mind’s gears, so I welcome your thoughts.

How Fast Can They Learn?

20 Jul

I’ve been part of a complex change initiative for the past 18 months or so, at a large legacy organization that is struggling to catch up to the realities of doing business in this century. By which I mean, in large part, to live and make use of the digital world we now inhabit. One of the primary things we are trying to do is to get people to think about their business data in different ways, and to unify standards of data across a far-flung enterprise.

speedometer-1063350_960_720People are asked to learn new tools and processes, the areas of traditional learning solutions. But also, to think about how their actions improve their teams, departments (lines of business) and client experiences, the ways in which they cooperate and collaborate, and the changing environment that is rolling out around them.

“So,” my client asks, “how quickly can we expect them to learn this?”

I completely understand how she believes this to be a straightforward question, driven by her “learning” budget. She struggled with my answer: “It will take as long as it takes. And it will take something like a lifetime.” I see how that is not a terribly satisfying or reassuring response.

So, I turn it back to her learning experiences. I asked her what kind of phone she had. An Apple iPhone 7, as it happens. “How long did it take you to learn how to use it?” She hesitates, and then answers that she learned how to use it in the first few minutes.

“OK, do you use it in the same way today as you did the first day you got it?”

“No, of course I discover new things and new apps and what I can do with it all the time.” She is starting to catch on to my line.

I get her to see that she has an internal motivation to continually learn its many features, discover new apps (mostly via word of mouth and observation – social learning!) and keep up with her peers, if not her children.

Right. I explain it is very much akin to the same thing.

We can train people on the new technology platforms up to an advanced-beginner level. However, unless they have the motivation to learn, internalize why they should do so, and start out on their own journey of discovery through social learning, peer support (or pressure not to appear behind, if you like) and organizational allowance that learning is as much about trial and failure as it is about success, they are unlikely to ever achieve a state where we can say, “Now they’re done learning.”

In fact, we need to reset hearts and minds to never say they’re done learning. We are teaching a set of technologies, it’s true. But to live and adapt to the modern workplace means learning that is much more like the iPhone than it is like traditional corporate training.

Learn the basics, observe what others are doing, share your own discoveries, and adapt and learn constantly. How will it take you to learn to use a computer? As long as it takes, and it takes forever. That’s the world we live in.

Exactly. That’s where Learning & Development needs to be. Training, sure, if it’s needed (none was needed for the iPhone because it was well designed). But training is the starting blocks. Our primary function is to teach people to be learners. Our organizations depend on it.

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.

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