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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.

 

 

 

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.

Trust or Control? It’s one or the other.

14 Oct

When I speak to people about the value of participating in professional learning networks (PLN), work out loud (WOL) practices, and the promise of sharing freely in order to reap the benefits of the Learning Age, I hear the same reservations time and again. The obstacles most often come down to trust.

Do I trust my organization and bosses to value my time and my contributions? Do I trust my peers, known and yet unknown, to accept my perspective and ideas without judgment to hostility? Do I trust my friends and family not to mock me for putting myself out there? (Early in my social sharing participation activities, I did get some “Who do you think you are, Mr. Fancy-pants?!” kind of responses. Then I realized that vulnerability is the part of the process of learning… a topic for another day.)

Most of all, at formal events and in conversations with individuals alike, I hear what amounts to lack of trust in one’s self. Do I trust myself to share the right things, and to be able to sort and make sense of what I find out there?

I attended an event at my local ATD Cascadia chapter last week in which Nan Russell presented on “The Titleless Leader.” What stuck with me most in a great presentation was when she asked the participants, “What’s the opposite of trust?” The answer? “Control.”

This is so important. We have to give up the idea that we can control our daily forays into learning, sharing, and growing. Nor should we want to hold onto control. In order to make the most of explorations, we should prepare to encounter the unknown. It is a matter of trust that good things will happen when we give up control, open to what comes.

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.

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