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October 2008
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December 2008

What Are You Doing to Invest in Yourself?

Invest Harold Jarche points us to a recently released study on corporate responses to the recession/depression we're currently in:

This morning the CLC (Corporate Leadership Council) released the results of a survey that asked CEOs which areas were to suffer the most in response to the crisis. L&D [learning & development] came out on top at 38%. So this means, globally, that a third of organisations surveyed will stop investing in development of employees. Recruiting was second and IT infrastructure was third.

Aside from the obvious implications for L&D (which Harold dissects nicely), the bigger issue is that here is yet another reason why no one can afford to depend on their company for professional development. You must take responsibility for your own learning.

Smart companies use the downturns to prepare for when the economy improves. That's what smart people do, too. So some questions to consider in preparation for what promises to be a long, cold winter:

  • Do you know what skills employers are looking for? (This article says that part of what we're dealing with here is a fundamental mismatch between what people know how to do and where the jobs are).
  • Do you know which of your skills are obsolete or on their way to becoming so? Are you doing something to build new ones?

Now is the time to invest in yourself. If you don't, no one else will. What can you do to make that investment?

Flickr photo via wonderwebby

Course Community Building with Ning

Alisa Cooper of South Mountain Community Colleges has produced a great narrated presentation on how she uses Ning to build community in her courses. She's also using podcasts, live streaming video and And check out her Voicethread on using Ning, which she said she started using because she thought the usual online offerings were "a little sterile and boring." Good stuff.

Creating Tribes

Seth Godin on Tribes
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: book tribes)

Yesterday I read Seth Godin's newest book, Tribes. It was a quick read--a few hours--but with a lot of food for thought, particularly for creating communities of practice. Some key points:

  • A tribe is a self-selected group of people, often with a leader, usually with a purpose, always with a way of connecting and identifying with each other, a set of norms, insiders and outsiders.
  • Tribes matter--you can't create movement with a group, only with a tribe. Tribes provide leverage. They also generate energy.
  • People organize around extraordinary. Ordinary is just boring.
  • Having the RIGHT people is more important than having the MOST people.
  • Focus on providing ways to tighten the tribe so they feel a sense of common purpose, connections to one another and responsibility to one another.
  • Providing opportunities to connect and act together is as important (probably more so) than providing "content." 
  • Communicate with authenticity and emotion--this is the hook that people connect to.
  • Innovation needs faith, which leads to hope, which conquers fear. We need to foster faith without choking that faith with "religion" (imposing too many rules, restrictions, etc. that con stifle faith)
  • When it comes to hiring, you don't want "sheepwalkers"--people who have been raised to be obedient and then you put them in brain-dead jobs where they don't have to think and you use fear to keep them in line.
  • People aren't afraid of failure. They're afraid of blame and criticism. Criticism is a powerful deterrent because you only have to see other people being criticized to shut down yourself.

The Powerpoint above is excellent. I suggest downloading it from Slideshare so you can check out the notes. Also check out these ideas on strategies for building a tribe.You can also listen to Tribes for free by downloading this audiobook.

Change Doesn't Come with a Permission Slip

"The American Revolution was not financed with matching grants from the crown,"
 --David Bayles and Ted Orland,  Art and Fear.

"Great change doesn't come with official endorsement. . . Change occurs at the edges, without permission."
--Patti Digh, Life is Verb

One thing I've noticed about organizational life is that job uncertainty tends to breed a culture where we seek permission for everything we do.  The problem with this course of action, engaged in on a massive scale, is that we individually and collectively stop changing and adapting exactly at the time we need to do it the most.

In part we get stuck in permission mode because we tend to seek permission from those people in our organizations least likely to give it. We're talking to Finance and Legal and IT, departments made up of people who by both nature and training are more likely to say "no"--or who make getting to "yes" so painful that we give up halfway through.

This permission mentality also persists out of simple fear. When times are great and we screw up, it's more likely that all will be forgiven.  When things turn sour, going out on a limb can be a way to lose your livelihood.

But here's the thing. Great change--the kind we need in times of uncertainty and disruption--does not come with a permission slip. It happens because a few brave souls take it upon themselves to be revolutionaries. They may start with small skirmishes on the edges of things, but as they experience success on the margins, they begin to gain a following that becomes a movement that becomes the change that is needed.

Change doesn't have to begin with large, bold movements. It can happen as a result of small steps, taken daily and with purpose. But you cannot wait for permission to take that first step. If you do, the journey may never begin.

Start Something

In times of great upheaval and negativity, there's a tendency to conserve. It's a natural human tendency to withdraw and "hunker down" when the outside world feels like it's on the attack. We're pulled into thinking small, focused on saving what we have rather than on thinking big and using downturns as an opportunity to make things happen

But this is a mistake. When we move into scarcity mode, we become competitive, not collaborative. We hoard information and ideas rather than sharing them freely. We stop learning because learning requires risks and the possibility of making mistakes and it feels like we can't afford mistakes when everything around us is falling down.

In bad times, we get stuck in doing things that "worked"  even when it's clear that they no longer do.   We're looking for any port in the storm, rather than finding a way to use the storm to take us some place better. We are reacting, using instincts and intuition that come from our animal brains and our need to just survive. We are not initiating, which requires us calm our fears and to be thoughtful and imaginative. We become victims of circumstances rather than actors in our own lives.

We have another choice, though. We can use bad times to do things differently, to start new habits and find new ideas, to get creative about where and how we want to move forward. In adversity, we can find new strengths within and new opportunities in the world around us.

We can see upheaval as a time to stop . . . or as a time to start. It can be a time to hoard or a time to share. It's up to us.

What can you start today? How can you share?

Avoiding "SpeedFit" Syndrome

This video cracks me up. It's a product video for a treadmill that "walks/runs" the streets while you're treading on it. Because apparently it's too hard to just walk or run ON the street. Instead, we need a tool that does the same thing as walking or running, but is heavy, clunky, hard to turn and makes you look like an idiot.

This is what we do sometimes when we try to incorporate social media into learning and work without thinking through the work process and how it feels to the learners. We impose a clunky tool on top of a process rather than redesigning the process so that using the tool feels as effortless as running. Then we're shocked when people don't adopt the new tool.

The next time you're tempted to throw up a wiki, join a social network or set up a blog without really thinking things through, remember the SpeedFit Treadmobile and think again.

Pixar University on Learning and Working in the Collaborative Age

Great video--some money thoughts:

  • If you're looking for innovators, people who are going to create things that have never been created before or solve problems that haven't been solved, you can't look at their resumes and find evidence that they've accomplished what you want them to accomplish. It hasn't been done, so it's not going to be on their resumes.
  • When you work collaboratively, you take someone's work and say "Here's where I'm starting. How can I 'plus' this? How can I build on it to make the person who gave it to me look good?" It isn't about judging the work, it's about "plussing" it.
  • "The core skill of innovation is error recovery, not failure avoidance."
  • "Looking for mastery in anything is a really good predictor of mastery in the the thing you want done."
  • Look for the "proof of a portfolio, rather than the promise of a resume."
  • We need depth AND breadth in people.
  • "We want people who are interested, not interesting." Interesting is easy to get. Interested is a skill that's tougher to find. 
  • Look for people who "amplify." When you go to them and say "I have a problem," they lean in and want to know more, rather than saying "I have problems too and I'll bet they are more interesting than yours." 
  • Communication involves translation--if you're a tech trying to talk to an artist, you can't just "emit tech." You have to be able to translate into language the artist understands.
  • People who are interested are much more willing to work on communication as a destination, not a source. They're willing to do the translating on their end, to make sure that things are understood by the receiver. Breadth--knowing about a lot of different fields/areas is what fuels that ability.
  • On cooperation vs. collaboration--cooperation is simply doing your job and staying out of people's way. That is, it's work that one person could do, given enough time. An assembly line is a good example--several people, each doing their particular function and staying out of each others way.
Collaboration is something different. It means amplification--the amplification you get from "bringing together a bunch of human beings who are interested in each other, listening to each other, bring separate depth to the problem, bring breadth that gives them interest in the entire solution, allows them to communicate on multiple levels and finding the most articulate way to get a high fidelity notion across to a broad range of people so that they can each pull on the right lever."

Deconstructing the Work Literacy Learning Event

The Work Literacy online learning event is over and Harold Jarche has posted some of what he learned from our facilitation of the course. Time for me to share some of my thoughts. .  

Using Ning for the Course

Our first big decision was what platform to use. We ended up going with Ning because it integrated several different tools (blogs, forums, video and photo-sharing, social networking profiles, groups) at the right price (free). We also wanted to use something that would give people a true flavor of Web 2.0 learning. While Moodle would have been a potential choice, it's still a CMS and we wanted to see what would happen with a tool that was set up for social networking rather than for course management. We also considered using a blog platform (like Wordpress) and having people participate via comments and their own blogs, but decided that Ning might give us a fuller experience of using social media tools in a more integrated way.

From my perspective, Ning seemed to work well. It was more chaotic than if we'd used a structured tool like Moodle, and I know that some people struggled a little with feeling that they couldn't quite connect with what was going on. There was less of a step-by-step feel and more of a networked approach that, at first, was disconcerting.  But I also think with Ning we did a better job of helping people to form more social connections. The profile pages gave a good sense of who people were and I felt like I had more of a handle on having specific people involved in the course, rather than a list of names.

One thing that I think was a MAJOR asset of using Ning was the fact that it made it very easy for people to assume responsibility for different aspects of the course. We saw several people start up smaller study and interest groups and various forum threads that really added to the overall learning. Many people seemed to take ownership of the course in a way that wouldn't have happened with a CMS. That was one of the most positive benefits from my perspective of using a social networking platform--it really did a much better job of creating a community of practice/peer-to-peer learning environment. 

Facilitating the Course

In setting up the course, we focused on a topic per week, with different levels of involvement in the assignments--Spectators, Joiners/Collectors and Creators.  One thing we heard repeatedly was that people really liked the idea that they had permission to be spectators, dipping in and out of readings and forums as they wanted to. This kind of "lurking" behavior is the hallmark of any online course, but I think that participants were happy that being a spectator was a more "official" and sanctioned way of participating in the course, rather than a cop-out.

As Harold pointed out, the Ning platform did require us to act as synthesizers and information connectors  because great nuggets of conversation started in various locations (in individual blog posts, on forums, etc.) and they could easily be lost in the discussions. We tried to stay on top of that, though, and to pull those nuggets to the forefront by posting them on the main page, adding them to assignment pages and/or sending out blast emails to the entire group to let them know what was happening.

What was interesting for me as a facilitator was that I found myself paying much more attention to creating a particular kind of environment and trying to facilitate dialogue in ways that it's harder for me to do in a face-to-face setting. When I'm doing stand-up sessions, it's easier for me to fall into the "sage on the stage" kind of behavior, even when I'm actively trying to avoid it. But in an asynchronous, social environment like we had with the Work Literacy course, I couldn't be everywhere at once and I found that many other people stepped up to "teach" to others. I also found myself paying more attention to how I framed questions and assignments so that they encouraged thinking and dialogue. Not that I don't do this in face-to-face, but there was a different quality to my thinking in this setting.

Another interesting aspect was finding the balance between being an "instructor" and being a community facilitator. As an "instructor," I think that there's a tendency to want to comment on every blog and forum post. But in doing that, I'm reinforcing this idea of me as "expert" or "teacher," that I wanted to avoid. I really wanted to try to move out of that more traditional role and into a facilitator/community-builder role. I will say that in a lot of ways it was harder to do than I'd thought. There's a certain level of backing off that's necessary, but overall I think the community is better for it. 

Was the Course a Success?

I wondered before the course ended if we'd been "successful" and this was one of the questions we asked in the final week. We got some excellent feedback from participants on this issue that primarily indicated that people had defined for themselves what success would be and then participated in activities accordingly.

One big aspect of thinking about this was the level of participation. We saw a drop-off in the number of people contributing to forums, blog posts, etc. as the weeks went by, so we naturally had to wonder what this meant. I'm still not sure (Harold wonders if the course lasted too long, something I've asked too), but I'm not sure that participation is really the true measure of success anyway. Or at least it's not the only measure we could use.

What I do think we managed to do was create and foster a community of practice that, for a period of time, brought together a large group of people who wanted to work together on learning about using Web 2.0 tools for learning. Through this network of connections and discussion, we also created an excellent resource that will be available to other people who may want to explore these tools on their own, at their leisure.

I know that for myself, I "met" and had an opportunity to engage with the thinking and ideas of some really smart, interesting people--and even had an outstanding lunch with one of the participants, Catherine Lombardozzi, who happens to live in the Philadelphia area. So for me, at least, this was definitely a successful and enriching experience.

What Would I Do Next Time?

  • I say this every time I do an online learning event, but I think that I'd shorten the course. If you're doing activities every day (like we did for the Comment Challenge), I think it needs to last only a week, maybe two. If we're doing one topic a week, I'm thinking that it shouldn't go longer than a month. More chunking and some breathing time in between might keep energy levels up.
  • I would definitely do the three levels of activities again, at least in circumstances where that's possible. I think that explicit permission and encouragement for lurking really helps people. At the same time, I have to then be prepared for the fact that they WILL lurk.
  • I will be more consistent with some of the structural aspects of the course. One strategy we used was to set up a forum to ask people what they wanted to learn about the next week's topic, but we didn't do that every week. I was trying to fit in the course around work stuff and some weeks were better than others for keeping up with different components. I need to be a little more planful on some of these pieces the next time around. There's only so much "building the plane while you're flying it" that I should do.
  • I would definitely use Ning again for a project like this. Overall there was a lot of flexibilty and functionality that we were able to access and I do think that it encouraged more group ownership than we might have had using a blog or CMS platform.
  • Related to the group ownership idea, I will be more explicit next time about inviting group ownership and suggesting that people feel free to take the learning in directions where they'd like. Paul Lowe volunteered to run a webinar (which was excellent), but he volunteered on his own. Next time I'd have explicit invitations for people from the outset and provide ideas and instructions to encouraget that thinking. (Although is there an advantage to waiting for things to evolve organically?) 

Overall, this was an excellent experience. I will say that I'm ready for a break though. :-)

What Type Are You?

Via Stephen Downes comes the Typealyzer, which analyzes your blog to identify your Myers-Briggs Type. I came out an INTJ (like Stephen), which is sort of accurate. I've tested as an INFP, but I'm  in the middle on my final two preferences, so the INTJ result isn't totally surprising. This does sound like my blog writing though:

The long-range thinking and individualistic type. They are especially good at looking at almost anything and figuring out a way of improving it - often with a highly creative and imaginative touch. They are intellectually curious and daring, but might be pshysically hesitant to try new things.

The Scientists enjoy theoretical work that allows them to use their strong minds and bold creativity. Since they tend to be so abstract and theoretical in their communication they often have a problem communcating their visions to other people and need to learn patience and use conrete examples. Since they are extremly good at concentrating they often have no trouble working alone.

Maybe I need to show more of my Feeling/Perceiving preferences here. . .

How Do You Create a Culture of Sharing?

Yesterday I shared a couple of videos on real-life, online communities of practice. In comments, LaDonna Coy asks an excellent question:

I really appreciate this post. I've been looking for some good examples of communities of practice and here's two that are spot on. Thank you. I'm particularly taken by the sharing culture concept that Dave talks about and Rio Tinto does in practice. In my line of work we'd call it a collaborative culture.

There's a lot of organizations that simply do not have such a culture for a variety of reasons whether silo boundaries, competitiveness or perhaps simply the habit of working locally (co-located) but not connecting beyond in this sharing culture kind of way. I'm wondering if you have examples of companies or organizations that shifted the culture to one of sharing and how they may have seeded the shift?

By coincidence (or perhaps serendipity), Stewart Mader blogged today about an article I had bookmarked awhile ago on how to create a "know-it-all" company. In addition to some excellent real-life examples, it has a few tips that get at LaDonna's question: 

  • Show personal ROI--how will knowledge-sharing help people do a better job or build their own skills?  Communicate this to people, even in the most competitive environments, and they're more likely to start sharing.
  • Hire the right people--look for staff that want to share and that understand the sharing culture. Find people who talk about "we" instead of "I" and who tell stories about shared accomplishments rather than what they alone achieved. Probe specifically for examples of collaboration and knowledge-sharing that wasn't mandated.
  • "Keep it real"--Related to point number 1, the article recommends focusing on nurturing communities around business needs. I would add, though, that there's much to be gained from allowing people to form their own communities based on their interests, etc. Although I think that organizations can certainly provide tools and guidance, if they hold people only to forming communities around "business needs," they're going to miss out on communities that might foster other kinds of relationships or future innovation.
  • Recognize contributors--the most powerful incentive to sharing and creating a community is peer recognition. Find ways to acknowledge the contributions of those who share.
  • Use a range of strategies, including face-to-face--technology is obviously a fabulous tool for nurturing communities of practice, so look at ways you can tie together different tools. How can you use blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, Twitter, forums, social networks, etc. to provide people with a variety of ways to share. But don't forget the power of face-to-face. Find ways to bring people physically together to share knowledge and form stronger community bonds.

What are other ways to nurture a culture of sharing within an organization? How can we create a foundation for building communities of practice? Do you have any real-life examples of how you can move an organization from a culture of competition or knowledge-hoarding to one that generously shares?