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.

 

 

 

Aside

Courage Camp: Yes is the Answer

15 Aug

At the end of June I attended Courage Camp, in Avignon, France. In many ways and (to be truthful) quite unexpectedly, it was the start of something potentially transformational. I’ll share more and put it into a more professional context another time. What follows is my very personal reflection. Courage is a practice, and sharing something as personal as this here is part of my own process.


The answer is: Yes.

I’ve been thinking about the symbol I created to represent my personal courage and encapsulate the experience I was having at Courage Camp, in that time and place. And indeed, it was an at-the-moment manifestation of the internal movement that Courage Camp was provoking. The provocations continue, were I to be honest.

When the original idea was pitched – that we were all to develop our own symbol of courage to paint in semi-permanence on the wall – I had a notion about sowing seeds. Growth and renewal. Nurture and harvest. You know, all that crap. I did some sketches and felt settled on the idea.

But as the moment approached, I allowed something else to reveal itself.

  • Why was that particular song playing over and over in my head?

  • Why did the phrase I often use suddenly seem even more apt than ever? You can’t push the river.

  • Why was a blog post I wrote three years ago suddenly in mind? When you get to the fork in the road, take it.

  • Why do I so often say no to being courageous? What am I afraid of?

  • Why is David’s ghost hanging over me today?

Believe me when I say this is not like me. It is not. I closed my eyes and listened… Yes is the answer.


I lost David in December 2016 – truly a brother in every sense of the word but genetic. We’d been friends since we were 12. He died in a traffic accident in Uganda, while working on a documentary film about refugees from Sudan. He was the most courageous person I ever knew. He was also funny as hell, incredibly creative, and a real pain in the ass much of the time. He was a Yes Man.*

Want to take a road trip? Yes!

Jump off this cliff into the water? Yes!

Walk on the wrong side of the fence? Yes!

Go to Africa to make a film?

* I am very aware on the non-gender neutral term here. Since I am using it ironically to reflect off the original negative connotation of “Yes Man,” please forgive the anachronism. 


So, the symbol is a Y, of course. Yes.

Courage Symbols

But it is also a fork, and inflexion point, a decision to make and from which there is no return. Blue, the river flows and spills forward and down to the sea to be taken in by unimaginable vastness. I leave my mark on the wall. I may return to look at it again, but the moment will be gone. Yes is also a kind of impermanence.


There is an apocryphal story about the first time John Lennon met Yoko Ono. Yoko was already a known artist in the London avant-garde scene of the mid-60s (talk about courage – a single Japanese woman travels to London in the 1960s to be an artist!).  One the installations was a high-ceilinged white room with a nothing but a tall white ladder in the center. Above the ladder hung a magnifying glass. John climbed the ladder and used the glass to look at the black spot floating on the white ceiling: YES.

It made an impression. In 1973, he wrote Mind Games, the title song of his album of the same name. It is a beautiful piece, one of my favorite Lennon songs.  As the soundtrack in my head, that song left its mark on me that day in Avignon. The proof is on the wall.

Yes is the answer. You know that for sure. / Yes is surrender. You’ve got to let it go.


Addendum:

Mind Games was the first album that John Lennon produced on his own. To be honest, I think he covered up several beautiful songs with overproduction and unneeded flourishes. It’s my opinion to take or leave.

I have been playing Mind Games (the song) on my guitar for many years, and so I include my own version of it, recorded just here and now (18 July, 2018; Geneva), on my phone with my travel-sized Martin guitar.

I encourage you to listen to the original if you are unfamiliar with it. John Lennon’s was a beautiful voice, instantly recognizable and unlike any other. I believe he, too, was a Yes Man.

Me? A work in progress.

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.

Aside

What’s Next? Shall we find out together?

11 Sep

Friends and Colleagues,

As many of you are aware, I’ve been consulting as the principal of In The Learning Age Consulting for two full years now. It has been a rewarding, busy and learning-rich adventure. For the first time, I find myself without my “next project” after I get back from my trip to southern Africa (S. Africa, Botswana, Namibia. Yes, I am very lucky!).

I have purposefully and steadily relied on my network of friends and peers to help find meaningful, interesting projects. Now, I am reaching out to you again to rely on your collective eyes and ears. Looking forward to what’s next with great anticipation!

I’ll be back at my desk in Portland on October 3, looking to jump into my next project, program or event. I am happy to work on engagements large or small, full- or part-time. My work includes:

  • Learning Design/Instructional Design

  • Training Program Development

  • Needs Analysis & Discovery

  • Social/Informal Learning Frameworks

  • Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM) and Practices

  • Continuous Improvement and Performance Support

  • Change Frameworks & Implementation

  • Workshops, Speaking and Keynote Events

Wishing you the best for the autumn (or spring for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere),

-Ben

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