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Things I learned on my trip to India

4 Dec India Nov 2015 1050

I recently returned from an amazing 20 days in India (Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan). It was overwhelming (in a good way), and I’ll be processing my experiences for quite some time. Just last night I dreamt about being in the beautiful desert city of Jodhpur.

Inspired by Kate Pinner’s frequent reflections on her life and how it relates to our chosen profession, I thought I would share my half-baked reflections even as they are still being sorted.

  1. Chaos is normal, and fuels productive activity
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(Old) Delhi, on the eve of Diwali, November 9, 2015.

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I’m not sure I’d been so happy to see the other side of the street.

I heard it constantly during our journey: “India is ‘organized chaos, but somehow it all works.’” It’s a pretty apt description. I have seen traffic in Boston, Bangkok and on the Bay Bridge, but nothing was like Delhi on the eve of Diwali. The key to getting through the cacophony of cars, trucks, ox carts, tuk-tuks and pedestrians is to be both single-minded and good humored about the moving maze. One large man walked by our rickshaw as it inched forward, and said with a wide smile, “Welcome to India!” Indeed. Chaos, cross-traffic and distractors are the reality for most of us, and best option is determined acceptance rather than short-tempered resistance.

  1. There’s power in diversity

I knew of course that India was a very diverse country, but as compared to North America it is remarkable how people intermingle. Whatever the divides of religion, region, caste, income, education, etc., people are in constant contact with each other (literally). Where in the US, folks can live in a gated suburb or specific ethnic enclave without much rubbing shoulders with others, in India the mix and flow seems constant. I think that is truly to the benefit of all, no matter what tensions may exist.

  1. Specialization works when part of the tight tapestry (network)
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Each vendor sells one thing, and one thing only…

India still appears to be a land of specialization. I saw very few supermarkets or “box” stores. Primarily, if something needed to be purchased or a service provided, you went to the specialist. The knife vendor didn’t also sell saws, the barber didn’t also sell high-end shampoos, and the vegetable vendor sold vegetables, not fruits, canned goods or condiments. But, since each specialist is in close proximity of hundreds (thousands?) of others, one can frequent the expert, the favorite vendor, on the way to and from all the others. All things being equal, I’d rather by my cookware from a cookware vendor than from a department store (or Amazon). You?

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…And there are thousands of vendors. Find whatever you need on the narrow streets of (Old) Delhi. Here, Diwali decorations.

  1. Say “Yes!”

This is true for travel – and life in general: Let your first and last answer to opportunities be yes. But even more so in India, where every single day, all day, there was something new, fascinating, thought-provoking and unexpected. When we spent a day at a tiger nature reserve, I was not feeling well at all. Through the morning drive, where we didn’t spot a tiger or much else, my head cold was terrible. I almost decided to skip the afternoon drive, as the bouncing and dust was hard on my head, and the chance of seeing a tiger was not good. But at the last minute I said yes, and was rewarded for it beyond my dreams….

India Nov 2015 1444

India Nov 2015 1480

Thank you, India (apologies, A. Morissette)

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.

Yogi’s Fork: Take it

8 Oct

Yogi Berra, the great baseball player, admired public figure and philosopher of the common man, recently passed away. Famous for his many aphorisms, there is one in particular that applies well to how individuals and organizations operate in the digital age (what I call The Learning Age): “When you get to the fork in the road, take it.”

While this could be interpreted a number of ways I suppose, I’ve always taken it to mean that action is better than inaction. Making a decision can be as important as making the right decision, at least in most circumstances. That is, if we do the work of reflection, documentation, and in so doing allow it to inform what we do at similar forks in the future, that is the most important action.

I wrote about this some time ago, but it is worth revisiting.

While it’s of course ideal to make evidence-based, informed decisions when possible, we live in a world of novelty and experimentation. We are constantly faced with decision points that are unlike those we have encountered previously. The worst thing we can do is to be paralyzed by indecision. Make a choice, note how and why you made that choice so that you can create your own evidence for next time. Then, do your best to make the decision work as best as possible. That way, once we are past the fork, we have a trail of actions and outcomes that we can reflect on the next time we face a similar divergence on our path (and there will be many!).

Peter Senge, in The Fifth Discipline and elsewhere, talks about a double loop of learning, and if we want to dress up our Yogi’ism we can overlay Senge’s principle to it. Take the fork, make the choice, but use the data you collected from previous choices to consider the assumptions and underlying reasoning that steer things left or right, and build your next decision on the knowledge (living in the people, the outcomes and the technology at hand) to create a constant updated loop of what you know and you apply it.

Individuals and organizations need to thrive in a constantly-changing set of circumstances. If we wait for the perfect choice to reveal itself before acting, we are doomed to the dustbin. Act based on the information at hand, and learn from the outcome(s) for the next fork.

There are no “wrong” choices. Mistakes are fine, just remember what Yogi said: Losing only happens because “We made too many wrong mistakes.”

Rest in peace, Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra.

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.

What We’re Missing When Discussing MOOCs: Unintended intentions

20 Aug

There is much talk about MOOCs already, so I needn’t rehash the pros, cons, exemplars and far-more-common horrors as MOOCs reach their fifth birthday. MOOCs for fun, for hobby, for education, for egalitarianism—even MOOCs for corporate purposes and MOOCs for profit. And yes, (Silly Rabbit!) MOOCs for kids!

MOOC completion rates, in the mid-single digits last I saw, get a lot of press. What an uninspired question! But what I have read very little of, and to me is the most interesting question, is why do people sign up for MOOCs in the first place?

Put another way: What are people’s intent when they sign up for a MOOC? If we can begin to capture that, those of us in the learning game might be on to something.

Joining a MOOC is a nearly perfect moment of good intentions. How can we harness that?

Joining a MOOC is a nearly perfect moment of good intentions. How can we harness that?

Millions have taken the time to peruse course offerings, register for a class and attend the first session or two—at least until they are asked to complete tasks and participate in online groups. That is no small act. Those millions are hungry for learning of one kind or another, demonstrated by the act of choosing and signing up.

Is it for hobby? Professional development? Work-related skills? Life skills? Intellectual curiosity? Social pressure (“You’ve never read Moby Dick!?”)? If MOOCs fail to fill most of those hungry minds, that’s a golden opportunity lost.

People want to learn. We yearn for new knowledge, desire (sometimes require) new skills. What if we could offer our people—that is, the folks for whom learning is our responsibility—a vast array of choice, but direct them to learn it in ways that they can actually be successful? When I (and many others) talk about self-directed learning, this is where my imagination runs.

Get our folks to understand that the content they need to learn just about anything and acquire many skills they may lack is there at their fingertips. What an age we live in! They just need the skill to see it, use it, learn it, share it, connect to others through it, incorporate it, grok it. The world is our MOOC, and we can all be our own instructor.

Our jobs need to shift to where we are the facilitators and coaches of self-directed learning, breaking down learning into systems and practices they’ll want to complete … eventually realizing that learning is an ongoing process of their own design that never is complete.

Completion rates? That’s the wrong question! Intention rates? That’s where we need to direct our efforts. Where there is intent to learn, there is shell waiting to be cracked. Where there may even be no intent, there is opportunity to introduce curiosity and growth.

Can you MOOC it, man?!

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