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Networks of Influence: Borderless organizations and Southeast Asian kingdoms

12 Feb

This is what I love about writing in this space!

It allows me to make sense of seemingly unrelated ideas that suddenly burst through, like a magic eye picture. The act of writing helps me form ideas, and the act of sharing helps me find/refer to others that will enhance or redirect those notions. (Sharing publicly is also a lesson in personal bravery for me, telling the world, “This is my idea today, which I concede I may contradict tomorrow.” I like that, too.)

I am finishing up Harold Jarche’s latest book, Finding Perpetual Beta. If you’re interested in organizational growth, knowledge management, technology and change management, I highly recommend that you obtain, read, mark up and share it. One of the ideas that struck me was the importance of exploration at the soft edges of the organization.

In many organizations the outside world is better connected than inside the workplace. This makes it difficult to connect at the boundaries, which is where we have the best opportunities for serendipity and potential innovation.

At the edge of the organization, where there are few rules and everything is a blur… opportunities are found in chaos. In such a changing environment, failure has to be tolerated. Value emerges from forays into the chaos. (pp. 26–7)

This sounded so familiar to me, but it took me a while to place where the same idea applies in a very different context: traditional Southeast Asian kingdoms. Wait, what?!

When I was in graduate school, I studied Southeast Asia and political science. I remember sitting in a class led by the brilliant Al McCoy, as he discussed the structures of authority in traditional kingdoms and sultanates in the islands of what

Borders are hard to draw on waterways. Power was distributed in spheres of influence radiating out from the thrown.

Borders are hard to draw on waterways. Power was distributed in spheres of influence radiating out from the throne.

are now Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines, etc. I remember him describing how these were influenced-based networks of rule without formal borders. The king sat on his throne at the divinely placed epicenter of authority, while the edges of his influence—where his network brushed up against others—was where trade, creativity, artistry and knowledge were most active.

As I read Jarche, among others, I see the same things: Organizational walls are becoming porous and unguardable. Hierarchal structures are being transformed into networks and what John Husband has termed wirearchy. I could barely wrap my young mind around the notion of authority without borders and kingdoms without armies to guard them. But great trading post cultures—from Singapore to Samarkand to Timbuktu (to New York?)—grew and their culture thrived precisely because they lay at places where authority dissipated and cultures combined in new ways.

Jarche is quite right to say that there is nothing natural or traditional about hierarchy as an organizing principle. It emerged with modern military and manufacturing. As the social learning age replaces command-and-control, and the notion of the loyal “company man” disappears, organizations and individuals that thrive will develop new ways to find and create value.

As Joi Ito rightly points out, we now inhabit a chaotic, democratic, crowd-sourced world. Finding new ways to develop PKM and ongoing organizational adaptations (“perpetual beta”) are the ways forward.

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

Stuck inside of mobile with the platform blues again

22 Jan

I hear it everywhere I go, in conversations with people who don’t know better and—more frustratingly—with people who should. Some variation of the themes laid down in this recent article from CMS Wire. Complete with a fine-looking infographic (which I’m a sucker for!), the author highlights trends in business communication. She points out the shift to a higher share of communications on mobile devices and internal tools (intranets and enterprise network solutions (ENS)), and away from face-to-face meetings.

She is correct on each point, and yet misses the point entirely.

The significant trends in our networked world aren’t about mobile, communication platforms and new devices. The “trends” in workplace communication are about why and how, not what and on which platform.

As I’ve discussed in this blog before, alongside and in the footsteps of those more expert than I, all that devices and platforms provide us with is a new gateway to discover, categorize, tag, share, synthesize and learn from the information at our fingertips. The hot new device of 2015, and whatever new platform your organization rolls out this year, doesn’t really matter. Devices and platforms are fleeting and will be gone by 2020.

The mental maps we create are the critical element in how we work/ learn.

The mental maps we create are the critical element in how we work/ learn.

The real change is between our ears, within organizations that are reconfiguring away from hierarchies and toward network-centered activities, and those who can learn—and make use of that learning—every day, individually and collectively.

I see this confusion raging even close to home in my own PLN in eLearning and L & D circles. “Mobile is the next big thing!” No, it isn’t. Mobile devices are becoming ubiquitous and we can’t ignore their significance in how we deliver learning experiences and performance support, but they are only a facet of what really is the next big thing: personal learning and how it intersects organizational and communal learning. The significance of “mobile vs. other” will be over by 2020 (along with email as primary work function, please!!), but the significance of learning practice as the tool for organizational and professional development is just getting off the ground.

Sooner or later, one of must know… sorry, couldn’t stop myself.

Thanks, Bob.

Thanks, Bob.

Moving from SMEs to LMPs: Learning Matter Practitioners.

13 Jan

There are countless resources on how to work with subject matter experts (SMEs). How to get the information you need from them. How to get their buy-in. How to negotiate what’s learning content from organized resources. How to help your SMEs understand how instructional designers do our jobs, and why. This battle for cooperation, if not partnership, with SMEs has been well-worn topic for a long time.

But in this new world of building learning landscapes and personal knowledge management (PKM) (what I call The Learning Age), we’d be better off if we approach the problem in a new way.

SMEs are just another node in a networked world/workplace. Let's work to integrate their expertise to be available to all.

SMEs are just another node in a networked world/workplace that includes data, workers and support systems. Let’s work to integrate their expertise to be available to all. 

Perhaps instead of wrangling content, divining applicable knowledge from content, and support information from noise, we should spend more time inviting SMEs into the world of networked learning. The days of heading to the mountain top to receive golden nuggets are over. Content is everywhere, information can be found—or at least should be able to be found—easily. Our SME is not the font of content, or knowledge, but of experience. That is, how the knowledge is applied effectively, efficiently, and with 360° understanding of the context.

In other words, we need to train our SMEs to become LMPs—learning matter practitioners. Not that they need to be great teachers or steeped in instructional design, but they do need to be taught how to share their work (WOL, work out loud!), deliver insights in useful, accessible ways, and be available to people across their organization and (perhaps) industry. If SMEs don’t document, share, comment, tweet, blog, and visit with others, then that is an area for learning practitioners to invest time and programming dollars.

This may require that most daring of high-wire acts, the change in workplace culture. Spoiler: The change is happening under our feet anyway. Let’s invite even the most siloed SME to join the emerging networked workplace.

Some now claim that 81% of workplace learners are responsible for managing their own professional development (PD), and 91% expect technology to enable quicker responses to learning/change conditions. Whatever the actual numbers may be, the trend toward individually initiated PD is clear. Whether SMEs know it or not, or are resistant or not, “traditional” SME status will only be as elevated as their ability to integrate hard-won experience into the dynamic, shape-shifting network of the modern workplace. Now that is a learning challenge for us to dig our hands into.

Learning Economy: Two disciplines beginning to align

2 Sep

If learning is ultimately about seeing patterns, connecting dots and creating a new synthesized idea, then I suppose this post is evidence of my learning in progress. I’m not sure this is completely baked, but as the saying goes: “If you are waiting for certainty before sharing an idea, you’re waiting too long.”

In addition to my interest in learning, professional development, instructional design, and football(!), I also read a lot of economics and political/social sciences. What I’ve been intrigued to note lately is the confluence of some good economic thinking with the latest trends in learning. Yes, really!

Three ideas that have crossed the divide between economics and learning:

1. Actions lead thoughts, behaviors lead learning. Traditional thinking states that you need to teach adults what they need to know for their jobs, which leads to better performance. That notion is being challenged on many fronts. In fact, both research and practice is showing that guiding actions, providing tools and freeing people to experiment leads to learning in more impactful ways than traditional training and instruction. Learning by doing, or Action Learning, is not a new idea, but it is one that is gaining renewed relevance.

  • Learning: See Jane Hart and Avi Singer, where they (as many others have) point out that learning is the work, and that the ability to extract meaning from tasks, learn from coworkers through collaboration and cooperation, and document what is learned is usually a more powerful learning experience than formal training and professional development courses.
  • Economics: See Ricardo Hausmann:

“Once upon a time, IBM asked a Chinese manufacturer to assemble its Thinkpad – using the components that it would supply and following a set of instructions – and send the final product back to IBM. A couple of years later, the Chinese company suggested that it take responsibility for procuring the parts. Later, it offered to handle international distribution of the final product. Then it offered to take on redesigning the computer itself. Soon enough, it was no longer clear what IBM was contributing to the arrangement. Learning to master new technologies and tasks lies at the heart of the growth process.”

2. Openness and collaboration trump safeguards and secrets. Allowing actions to lead learning requires an openness to allow the learning process to occur, even as the work unfolds. If management can overcome that mental hurdle, a treasure of potential may be realized.

“In the world of talent, learning and performance (“The Collaboration Age”) …[it’s] those who share and work together who are the winners. Those who hide behind organisational [sic] garden walls end up deep in weeds. If we’re to succeed …We need to do so with others, in some cases even with our competitors. The rather ungainly term ‘co-opetition’ is being increasingly used to define co-operative competition, where competitors work together to achieve increased value at the same time as they are competing with each other.”

“If, while learning, you face competition from those with experience, you will never live long enough to acquire the experience yourself. This has been the basic argument behind import-substitution strategies, which use trade barriers as their main policy instrument…. The problem with trade protection is that restricting foreign competition also means preventing access to inputs and knowhow.”

3. Deliberate, programmatic supports for learning are key. Far from being a call for laissez-faire policies, organizations and societies that can create the structures to nurture systemic learning will thrive in the 21st century. It may on the surface appear as if I’m recommending soft management to allow people to run down any hunch or notion as they wish. While the freedom to explore – and social-learning-for-work-1-638fail—is important, this calls for deliberate structures and new managerial approaches to work well. Building silos and setting rules is easier than guiding and mentoring adaptation, and begs for more innovative managerial skills.

  • Learning: As Harold Jarche rightly points out, the managerial skill needed for modern work is the ability manage complexities, not hierarchies.

“Sharing complex knowledge requires strong interpersonal relationships, with shared values, concepts, and mutual trust. But discovering innovative ideas usually comes via loose personal ties and diverse networks. Knowledge intensive organizations need to be structured for both. Effective knowledge-sharing drives business value in a complex economy.”

stiglitz“Successful industrial policies identify sources of positive externalities – sectors where learning might generate benefits elsewhere in the economy… Virtually every government policy, intentionally or not, for better or for worse, has direct and indirect effects on learning. Developing countries where policymakers are cognizant of these effects are more likely to close the knowledge gap that separates them from the more developed countries. Developed countries, meanwhile, have an opportunity to narrow the gap between average and best practices.”

So what’s the insight here? The ways in which our world is increasingly based around dispersed networks rather than hierarchies is changing the way we work–which is to say, learn. On the macro-economic level, for the organizations in which we work, and in our increasing responsibility for our own learning and professional development, we’re relying on network-based relationships where nexuses of knowledge and various levels of association are as shifting as our conditions and motivations of the moment.

If you’re reading this, you are part of exactly what I’m describing. I’m glad to have your open association and welcome your thoughts.

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