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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 I – Exploring our digital world

11 Aug

Ferdinand Magellan. Marco Polo. Leif Eriksson. Christopher Columbus. The big names of the Age of Exploration traversed land and sea in search of adventure, discovery, glory and wealth. Hong Kong. Amsterdam. Timbuktu. New York. Samarkand. Goa. San Francisco. Great trading cities of the last 700 years (or more), where peoples, cultures, ideas, trades and goods came together and combined in new ways.

We know even less about our digital world than Ptolemy knew about his physical one, circa 1470.

We know even less about our digital world than Ptolemy knew about his physical one, circa 1470.

I say we’re entering a new age of exploration. One in which we are all explorers pushed by digital trade winds to find a new type of discovery, wealth, culture and trade. This new exploration age (what I call The Learning Age) brings together three interrelated facets:

  • The Do It Yourself (DIY) movement overlaps with the “sharing economy,” the “maker movement” and the “hack revolution.” DIY arises from the fact that we don’t need permission to find and use whatever shiny object we happen upon. We can create our own processes, find our own learning opportunities wherever we find them, creating our own Professional Development paths. Intellectual property (IP) rights are in an upheaval, and artifacts that we find in abundance are there to be used, combined, repurposed or discarded—such is our new age of discovery.
  • Digital communities are emerging in ways that allow us to meet people that would have otherwise been impossible, and share ideas exponentially farther than was possible for all but a handful of very famous people in previous generations. The digital trading posts are everywhere, bringing ideas, cultures and wealth of knowledge (along with the same number of hucksters and swindlers, I acknowledge). When TIME ran its person of the year issue in 2006 as “You,” I thought it nothing more than a gimmick. In fact, they were prescient. Who would have guessed?!
  • Learning is the work (not the job): As is increasingly recognized by economists, technologists, strategists, learning professionals and keen observers, the traditional job-based economy is morphing into the “gig economy.” Tasks that require automation and repetition will increasingly become the domain of machines. Economic buoyancy depends on our ability to change, adapt, create and add value. That’s learning, my friends!

But that necessary learning doesn’t happen when we sit behind our desks performing the same tasks in the same ways, and relying on the same information and interpretation as we did yesterday and five years ago. Time to set on a journey of discovery! When we meet new ideas and people on our excursions near and far, traversing the marketplaces of ideas for novelty and gems, we are very much akin to explorers of old. The biggest difference is that we don’t risk our lives at sea, count on the generosity of the moneyed or monarchy, or rely on a crew of many to journey the globe. No, we don’t need the purse of monarchs and financiers to take our trips, nor will anyone command we leave port.

Marco Polo and the extension of the Silk Road into Europe.

Marco Polo and the extension of the Silk Road into Europe.

We are all able to set sail to New Goa or caravan to Nova Samarkand on our own exploration, to ride whatever winds we catch to carry us into unknown regions of knowledge, culture and application. In my next post, I’ll share ways to navigate this new world without knowing exactly where you’re going to land.

The Blimage Challenge: Just use your blimagination

27 Jul

I’ve been watching the #blimage activities from the edge, but decided it was time to jump in and test the waters. I read Clark Quinn’s response to Jane Hart’s challenge last week (nicely done!), and decided to take him up on his open challenge to join the pool party.

The #blimage (blog image, I suppose) idea is a kind of Rorschach test. An image is presented as the challenge, and the responder conjures a way to make sense of it as metaphor or interpret it as a way to look at our work. This process works well for me, as it aligns with my own approach to working, thinking and learning (all the same things, really): 1) the key is acting, not the prompt for the action, 2) artifacts don’t carry their own meaning, only the meaning the observer assigns (why curation is so critical) and 3) we should share ideas transparently before they have a chance to set into solid ideology or methodology (#WOL/#LOL).

So, here is the image:

maze

Watch your step!

We all work through the maze of our professional and personal lives. Obstacles present themselves in the forms of walls to overcome and holes to avoid falling into. The danger is in planning moves too far in advance.

Here, our figure seems prepared, alert, and ready to take on his challenges. His gaze is up and to the right, on where he’s headed. He’s prepared to execute his plan to navigate to his goal, quite unaware that he is one stride away from falling into the hole directly in front of him.

He’d… we’d… OK, I’d… be much better off focusing on the task at hand and negotiating the small work-arounds as they present themselves rather making long-term plans to achieve a goal that may very well be an ever-moving target.

The skill, then, is to have a navigable path, or at least a direction in which to set sail by setting a few easily sighted principal points of orientation by which to measure progress. (I wrote about navigation by stars here a while ago as a similar metaphor, but perhaps it’s time to revisit that theme.) Then, be prepared for what lies directly at the fore, and have a plan should you find yourself falling into a hole.

So, chart a course by which to navigate. Avoid the pitfalls that you may not see directly in front of you. Be prepared should you need to pick yourself up after you fall.

Learning is the lifeblood, not the appendix

13 Jul

No one puts learning in the corner. Those days are gone.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, or familiar with the work of forward-thinking learning organization practitioners, social network evangelists and advocates of Connectivism, this news will not come as a surprise.

But sometimes I find myself making a cardinal learning professional mistake: Assuming my audience’s knowledge where no evidence exists.

So, why isn’t learning just “learning” anymore? Because in today’s modern, hyper-connected world, traditional workplace learning programs have almost entirely lost whatever relevance they may have had as the centerpiece of how people actually learn. Training courses—be they live or asynchronous eLearning courses—should now be the last resort for all but the most stubborn learning needs.

Why?

  1. Few of us have a specific “job” for very long. I don’t think I need spend many words to convince you that hopping from company to company and even career to career is the new norm. Depending on which statistics you believe, we can expect the typical 30-year-old today to spend the next 35 years of her working life in at least 7 different jobs, and in 1.2 complete career shifts.

What does that mean for learning professionals? Learning is individual, portable, and an ongoing process.

  1. Learning is the job—or should be. People don’t rely on authority for answers anymore. There is no “received” wisdom of how things are done. A recent study (Bersin by Deloitte, June 2014) finds that 60% of L & D professionals report that employees have trouble engaging in corporate learning. That’s because this is based in the assumption that learning is something outside of “regular” work. Learning is the work! Every meeting, project, task and conversation should be thought of as part of an ongoing learning process, and catalogued, shared and honored accordingly. People shouldn’t get paid to “do a job” anymore: Rather, they should be paid to stay current, improve, serve and add value. That, my friends, is learning.

What are we (learning pros) doing to put process, skills and culture in place to properly nurture this new reality?

  1. Organizational structures are going to go through radical change. Individuals do not serve at the behest of their companies—at least, not for very long. Because of employee portability, workers are in it mostly for themselves. That is actually a good thing! To put it another way, we need to shift our thinking to make that new reality a good thing.

People are able to connect with experts in their field from within your organization as easily as with your partners and competitors. Equally, information is plentiful and access to new ideas (good and bad) is nearly limitless. We don’t need gatekeepers or managers to tell us to seek, synthesize and share. Those are simply the skills of the new reality.

PLN

A Professional Learning Network(s) (PLN) extends well beyond an organization’s real or virtual structures. Encourage all to develop these networks for both personal and organizational currency.

By empowering folks to digitally practice far and wide, we allow them to bring what they find back into your organization, while freeing them to chart their own professional development and career course. In this new paradigm, L & D professionals are guides, coaches and obstacle breakers. If either manager or employee is having trouble adjusting to this new arrangement, therein lies our opportunity as learning professionals to help our people thrive. Traditional training courses and programs (other than compliance) should be the last resort for the most complex situations. Telling folks to find the answer in a Google search or on YouTube is not an abdication of our professional learning responsibilities, it opens the door to more meaningful passageways of how to learn in the post-industrial era (what I call The Learning Age).

In short, we should all take it upon ourselves to ask:

  • What can I learn from my current task, project or activity?
  • How do I document that learning so others can benefit?
  • How do I share what I’ve learned, along with relevant artifacts, outcomes and tools (that is, how do I curate knowledge)?
  • How am I engaging with, and gaining from, what others are learning?

Promoting the culture that makes this a practice, a habit, is the L & D task of the moment. Bring learning out of the corner. It is now the lifeblood of your organization.

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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