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.

The Minor Miracle of the Backchannel

18 Sep

Two things happened over the last several weeks that have completely energized my professional engagement via social media, and reconfirmed my strong belief that the digital transformation of our work is just as important – perhaps more important – through in-person work as through distance communication.

In other words, it’s the digitization, not the environment or geography that’s truly transformational.

The first event was my ability to watch a great live talk by Nigel Paine, a renowned business consultant on leadership, learning and innovation. I was lucky to hear it, but there’s nothing particularly remarkable about hearing a respected industry leader speak live. What was remarkable was that I did so while sitting at my desk in Portland, Oregon, USA, while the Englishman spoke at a conference in Auckland, New Zealand. Another Twitter colleague, Nigel Young had the forethought and courtesy to stream the talk live via Periscope. I wrote about that singular event back in July. It was terrific.

Second, I have been following the backchannel of BIF2015 (The Business Innovation Factory Summit) in Providence, Rhode Island. I was unable to watch the broadcast live, though that ability was provided (thank you, BIF!). But, thanks to my professional Twitter community, I am able to read the backchannel of the event.

Through their tweets and retweets (aka the backchannel, where each tweet uses the specified hashtag, in this case #BIF2015), I heard the message of the speakers loud and clear. And so can you, here/hear from the last speaker of the day, Jaime Casap:

The power of our digital trails are so powerful. The more we can make them open, visible, retrievable and connective the better off we are. Twitter is a great vehicle for that, but it’s not the only one. This is exactly why I recommend, however, that organizations work on the practice of digital trail-making and digital storytelling before investing in the platform (ESN). Practice first, and you may find that the transparency and engagement it provides makes a proprietary, closed ESN unneeded and unwanted.

That really would be a minor miracle indeed.

Watch Jaime Casap’s talk (2:50:00 – 3:06:45) (It seems the recording of the conference is no longer online, at least at that URL. I’ll watch for a post of the talk in the coming days and update it here if it appears.)

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.

Aside

An Open Letter to My Readers

31 Aug

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Starting in September of this year, I will be free to engage across a variety of learning and organizational development projects through my own business, In the Learning Age Consulting.

The time is right for me to set my own course, pursuing my own professional goals by assisting those who want to lead in the way people work, learn, engage, change, and continuously improve both their own skills and organizational capacities.

I have a loose but active affiliation of experienced L&D professionals, instructional designers, graphic designers, trainers, writers, project managers and editors/QA professionals who I can call upon as the demands of particular engagements dictate, so no endeavor is potentially too big or too small.

I encourage you to review my website (very much a work in progress), follow my blog, and engage with me on Twitter and Scoop.It page. And, when the time is right, contact me directly to see how I can help you create and implement learning designs, scaffold change efforts, plan professional development programs and attract/retain the best talent.

Without my community of support from folks like you, I’d be adrift. I hope that this new venture will allow us to work together.

Thanks for all your encouragement,

Ben

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

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