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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.

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.

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.

What I’m reading … or not.

21 Jul

If intent were king, I would be a high minister indeed.

I liberated myself from my much-loved periodicals last year so I would have time to focus on my stack of books (some stackable, some digital) that I have the best of intentions to get through. As much as I love and get a lot out of magazines, they were relentless to keep up with (looking right at you, New Yorker!).

It should be said I am not a reader. That is, I have never consumed books with the speed and voracious appetite of many of my friends. My wife, Stephanie, is one of those people who read for the simple pleasure of the word on the page, embracing the mental distraction.

With equal parts envy and pride, I do NOT read for pleasure. I read for ideas, contemplation and engagement—the opposite of escape. I rarely read fiction, outside of the occasional short story (you again, New Yorker!). I can’t remember the last novel I completed. Really.

And so, we come to the central point: Completion. I read slowly, usually with a pen in hand for margin notes. I am easily distracted—just as in my non-literary pursuits—by what’s next. That said, I am making slow progress through my stack this year, and have been drawing lots of ideas together and synthesizing new ones from what I read. That’s exciting.

So, here is what I’m slogging (happily) through these days, in no particular order:

curious

Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It

Ian Leslie


WOL

Working Out Loud: For a Better Career and Life

John Stepper


boss

Be the (Best) Boss of You

Patti Shank


beta

Finding Perpetual Beta: Reflections on the Network Era

Harold Jarche


nexus

Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking World of Networks

Mark Buchanan


Revolutionize Learning & Development: Performance and Innovation Strategy for the Information Age

Clark N. Quinn


ideas

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

Steven Johnson


funcart

The Functional Art: An Introduction to Information Graphics and Visualization (Voices That Matter)

Alberto Cairo

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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