The Six 21st Century Skills You REALLY Need

Skills to pay the bills yellow dear colleen poster

Given the work that I do, I'm a sucker for skill lists. As our work worlds grow ever more complex and challenging, it seems that the skills themselves become more complex too. 

Increasingly, though, I've begun to believe that these lists are distracting us from the real skills of success. While working with big data, operating in virtual teams and"cognitive load management"all sound great, I think there are far more fundamental skills we should be developing first. 

My 21st Century Skills List

I think there are 6 fundamental skills we need to develop for success in this or any other century. I would also argue that we are not nearly as good at these skills as we think we are. 

In no particular order, my 6 21st Century skills are:

  1. Self-Awareness
  2. Asking Questions
  3. Empathic Listening
  4. Authentic Conversation
  5. Reflection
  6. Seeking and working with multiple perspectives

Let's take a closer look.

1. Self-Awareness

We humans can be amazingly robotic. And by that I mean responding to commands and conditions without really questioning what we are doing or why we are doing it. This habit of going through life without really being aware of our own internal motivations, mental and emotional habits, assumptions and belief systems is remarkably common and remarkably damaging. 

The first and most fundamental skill we need to develop is the ability to look inside to see how we respond to the external world. What are our values systems, assumptions and mental models? What strengths and gifts do we need to bring into the world? What are our habitual blind spots? What are our insecurities, vulnerabilities and sore points? 

All of these aspects of ourselves, when they are unexamined and unacknowledged, contribute in major ways to our ability to function in the world. The more aware we are of our own mental and emotional processes, the more skilled we will be in all other areas. 

2. Asking Questions

I agree with Seth Godin that as adults, it is often stunning how few questions we ask. I'm not sure why. Maybe we think we know the answers already. Or maybe we just lose our sense of curiosity and wonder about the world. 

What I do know is that our ability to ask good questions is critical to success, not only professionally but in our personal lives as well. And it's a skill we have to cultivate and refine, because the questions we ask will frame the solutions we find. 

We first need to re-learn the practice of questioning, period. Too often we accept what we are told, without going any further.

We also need to learn how to ask different kinds of questions--important questions, positive questions, reflective questions. We need to carefully cultivate and nurture our curiosity and use it to keep asking "why?," how?" and "what if?"

We need to look at how we ask questions, when we ask them and what kinds of questions we ask. Developing our ability to question, rather than to simply accept what is, is the foundation of growth and development. It is also at the heart of creativity and innovation. 

3. Empathic Listening

Stephen Covey writes in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that we should "first seek to understand." He calls this empathic listening and it is the most difficult form of listening for us to cultivate.  It is not waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can relate your story.  It is not listening to find places where you agree or disagree. It is something much deeper than that: 

The essence of empathic listening is not that you agree with someone; it's that you fully, deeply, understand that person, emotionally as well as intellectually.

Empathic listening involves much more than registering, reflecting, or even understanding the words that are said. Communications experts estimate, in fact, that only 10% of our communication is represented by the words we say. Another 30 percent is represented by our sounds, and 60% by our body language. In empathic listening, you listen with your ears, but you also, and more importantly, listen with your eyes and with your heart. You listen for feeling, for meaning. You listen for behavior. You use your right brain as well as your left. You sense, you intuit, you feel.

Raise your hand if you regularly engage in this form of listening. I know I don't, but that when I do, amazing things happen as a result. (See this excerpt for more on empathic listening) 

4. Authentic Conversation

Creating the space for authentic, meaningful conversations is one of the most valuable skills we can develop. Last week I wrote about moving from being a hero to being a host and when I talk about authentic conversation, I mean our ability to act as a host and participant in deep, authentic discussions.

Conversations are how we learn and how we do our work. They are how we identify and solve problems and how we build collaboration and community. The capacity to create and hold the space for authentic discussion is under-valued and much needed in work and in our personal lives. 

Self-awareness, questioning and empathic listening all contribute to our ability to engage in authentic, meaningful conversation. But there are other related skills and strategies we must employ. 

Our ability to host and engage in authentic discussions is critical for success in and out of work. 

5. Reflection

On one level, the ability to reflect on your actions and work could be considered part of self-awareness. However I see reflective practice as something related, but separate. Self-awareness is one thing we can develop through and as part of our reflective practices, but reflection also is a skill that can help us develop more technical expertise, too. 

Reflection is both an internal, introspective process, as well as a social one. Reflection can happen alone or in groups. It can happen while we are in the midst of action, as well as after the fact.

Reflective practice helps us learn from experience and use our failures and mistakes as fodder for development, rather than for self-flagellation and blame. Reflective practitioners know what they don't know and can devise experiments and activities to help them continue developing.

The ability to adapt to ever-changing and more complex environments is directly related to our capacity to effectively reflect on what we do and how we do it. 

6. Seeking and Working with Multiple Perspectives

Homophily--our human tendency to connect to people like ourselves--is both a blessing and a curse. It's important for us to find and connect to our tribes, yes. But we also benefit from our ability to seek out and work effectively with a diversity of perspectives and frames of reference. This is even more true in a global economy.

I've written before about combating homophily and even as I've become increasingly aware of the negative impact of connecting to only those people who share my perspectives, I still find it difficult to intentionally create space for working with multiple viewpoints. Like most people, I tend to see people who have a different worldview as being "others." I either want to convert them to my own viewpoint or ignore them, neither of which is beneficial. 

As a 21st century skill, I think we have to look at not only how we listen to and engage with people who see the world differently, we also need to look at the strategies we use to find and connect with them in the first place. How intentional are we about diversifying our networks? How effective are we? And more importantly, how willing are we to be shaped and influenced by these differences? 

 

From a career perspective, I think it is these 6 skills that offer the most "bang for your buck." They are the skills needed for success in all aspects of our lives (not just at work) and they are core to most other skillsets. 

As I think about 2012 and how I want to develop myself, it is these core areas that I will focus on. What do you think? How do these skills resonate with you? And what are you doing to develop them? 

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Announcing the Launch of the Work Literacy Network

Work_literacy_logo Building on my ongoing interest in understanding what it means to be "literate" in the 21st century, as well as my exploration of professional development and personal learning environments using social media tools, I'm pleased to announce a new project I'm working on with Tony Karrer--Work Literacy.

Work Literacy is a network of individuals, companies and organizations who are interested in learning, defining, mentoring, teaching and consulting on the frameworks, skills, methods and tools of modern knowledge work. It's a result of our recognition that knowledge work in the 21st century not only has us using new tools like blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, etc., it's also demanding that we develop new skills to make the most effective use of those tools. What it takes to be a great knowledge worker seems to change almost daily, so we need structures, frameworks and supports that can help us make sense of everything that's coming at us.

We're purposely keeping things loose with Work Literacy as we see the network and its work evolving over time. What we hope to do is generate discussion and ideas that will help us think about what it means to be a literate knowledge worker and the best ways to support and build work literacy for all knowledge workers.  Some very cool and knowledgeable people are already involved, but we want to expand the network to hear from as many individuals, organizations and sectors as possible. If you're involved in knowledge work, then Work Literacy is something for you to check out.

Some ways to Participate:

  • Subscribe
    • RSS Feed for the Work Literacy Blog
    • RSS Feed for an aggregation of related content.
    • You can subscribe by email using the entries in the sidebar to either of these feeds.
  • Point us to resources using the Del.icio.us tag: WorkLiteracy
  • Comment
  • Blog your thoughts.  When you blog, include the term workliteracy or better yet a link to www.workliteracy.com and we’ll do our best to aggregate these posts for access by the community.

I'd also love to hear your thoughts on what kinds of questions and issues we should be discussing and addressing through the network. What skills do you think literate knowledge workers need? What resources would you want to be able to access? What do you think we could be doing to support companies, organizations and individuals in developing work literacy skills for the 21st century? Drop me a line in comments or better yet, head on over to Work Literacy and leave a comment here.


21st Century Workplace Literacy: What Does that Mean and How Do We Engage More People in the Discussion?

Literacy_2 I find that when it comes to learning and instruction, I tend to run in two different circles, as evidenced by the "Learning" tab in my feed reader. Here, I'm following both bloggers from the world of workplace learning (i.e. corporate and organizational trainers and instructional designers) and edubloggers--people who are working in the k-12 and university systems. I do this in part because I tend to be working with both constituencies, so I need to keep an eye on developments in each area. I also do this because it's interesting to see the cross-over (or lack of cross-over) that occurs.

One of the areas that is generates a fair amount of discussion in the edublogosphere is how to define 21st century literacy. What are the skills that students will need in order to be successful in a constantly changing work world? David Warlick, for example, has some ideas here.  Last year, Stephen Downes had some some thoughts on what you really need to learn here.

In a global economy, these are conversations all nations should be having if they hope to remain competitive, and you would think that this would be an area where there would be considerable discussion going on between workplace learning professionals and edubloggers. Interestingly, this does not seem to be the case.  

From what I've observed, edubloggers are weighing in with their ideas about the key skills young people will need to be successful in the world of work, but it's educators talking to other educators without a lot of input from people who are operating in the work world for which students are supposedly being prepared.

This is nothing new of course--education and the so-called "real world" have long been disconnected (at least according to most businesses). However, given our new-found ability to connect the two groups through technology and the high stakes involved, it's unfortunate that we aren't doing more to have joint discussions. And I mean on the ground floor, practitioner to practitioner--not these high level "partnerships" that supposedly bring together business and education but never seem to really mean anything at work or in the classroom.

I see a few issues and implications with this . . .

First, if educators are basically talking to other educators, attending conferences together, running in the same blogging circles, etc., how do they truly get an appreciation for the needs of the workplace? Certainly they can make certain inferences about what constitutes "workplace literacy," but it seems to me that if you're talking about skills that people need to be successful in a particular environment, it would be more productive to reach outside of your educator circle and connect to the people who will be hiring the workers you're preparing.  Shouldn't there be more discussions happening between the two groups?

I don't say this as a criticism as much as an observation. I suspect it has to do with the fact that online we still tend to connect to the people we know and feel comfortable with, but then are we getting the most from the technology if we end up having the same conversations with the same kinds of people? (Amy Gahran has an excellent blog post on this tendency, by the way, and some suggestions for how to reach out to people who are outside of our normal circles).Literacy_2_2

I'm also wondering why workplace learning professionals aren't talking more about the issue of changing workplace literacy and 21st century foundational success skills. We know, for example, that people need to have what we've always called "basic literacy," (reading, writing, math skills) and it's understood that for people to be successful at work they need some minimal level of skills in these areas. They are the scaffolding that allow people to develop more technical skills.

It seems to me that technology and dramatically different ways of doing business (virtual teams, etc.) are drastically impacting our definitions of basic workplace literacy. If we haven't really re-defined workplace literacy, how can we be sure that staff have those underlying skills? I think, for example, that being able to learn new materials and skills quickly is a fundamental workplace literacy. Yet what has been done or is being done to ensure that people who are in the workplace now have those skills? And if they don't, how can they realistically operate in such a fast-paced economy?

Personally what I'd like to see is more conversations happening between edubloggers and workplace learning professionals on the issue of 21s century workplace literacy. The same technology that is impacting our definitions also provides us with the means to have the discussions, although it will mean we have to step outside of our silos.   I know it's too much to hope that we'd start attending each other's conferences (limited dollars, limited time), but at a minimum, it would be nice if we did something virtual to share ideas and generate discussion. I think we'd actually have a lot to learn from each other.

How could we start better connecting the two worlds to further the conversations and define how we could all proceed together to ensure that people have the foundational workplace skills they need to be successful? Is this even an issue?

Photo via Julie Lindsay


Some Thoughts on Professional Development in the Nonprofit Sector After Our Career Retreat

Hope_elizabeth_and_danielle_2 Yesterday was the "Take Back Your 9-5" Career Retreat that Rosetta Thurman and I began planning for a few months ago. Quite simply, it was amazing. Just incredible to be in a room with 18 professional women, most of them in their 20's and 30's, taking a day for themselves to really explore where they were at and what they wanted to do. It became much bigger than talking about careers. It was about how do you build a LIFE that's interesting and satisfying and that helps you feel like you're making a difference.

Things are still a bit jumbled for me, but I wanted to blog this while it's all fresh. Moments/thoughts/themes that stood out for me. . .

Women need a place and space of their own for professional development. One of the reasons that I originally approached Rosetta about the retreat was because I've had a feeling for a long time that women need a space of their own for career and professional development planning. Our needs are the same as men in many ways, but we approach things differently and place value on different things. We're also more likely to be juggling work/life balance and we still (sadly) fight all sorts of discriminatory attitudes and behavior in the workplace, including the things that we do to ourselves. What was amazing about the retreat was the positive, supportive energy in that room and the ways we were able to bring together a group of relative strangers and end the day feeling like we'd done something huge, both for ourselves and collectively. One of the overriding themes was that it was necessary to do this as a group of women because it brought new and different insights from what occurs in professional development venues that include women and men together.

This space to think and plan for personal development is particularly important in the nonprofit sector.  All of these women are incredibly dedicated to both their causes and to their profession. As we discussed, the difference between working for a nonprofit vs. a for-profit is that non-profit staff tend to have a sense of zeal about their nonprofit's mission that can lead to burnout quickly if not moderated by other things. This is compounded by the lack of resources in many nonprofits that has staff performing many different and important functions that will quite literally make or break the organization. That's a lot to be dealing with and these women do it day in and day out without getting the opportunity to take a step back and see what's working and what isn't. I think a lot of people yesterday saw places where their lives needed to get more into balance. It's like we discussed, you can't help anyone else until you put your own oxygen mask on first.

Jee_before Visual tools can bring some amazing insights. Most of the group were hardcore left-brainers. They've had to be because it's the logical left brain that is generally most valued in the work that we do. But the problem with the left brain is that it's the "judging" part of the brain--the part that has everything figured out already and isn't interested in understanding what you REALLY want to do. It's also less creative, less able to see new solutions to old problems.

Pictures help bypass that left brain, so we used them a lot in yesterday's session. Everyone LOVED Christine Martell's VisualsSpeak tool for exploring their career visions. For many, they gave some fresh insights into what they'd thought was well-traveled territory. Most also elected to use collage to develop their mission statements. What was wonderful was seeing how the hard-core wordsmiths took to using visuals and their excitement in seeing how it brought them fresh perspectives and new options to explore.

Reflection is CRITICAL. Probably the biggest thing that stood out at the retreat was the value in taking 8 hours of uninterrupted time to explore these questions about career and life. We probably could have taken more, but just this one day boosted many of these women past what had felt like hardcore obstacles in their paths. By taking the time to truly reflect and explore some different questions, they got much greater clarity and understanding about ways to move forward. This doesn't happen when you take a piecemeal approach.

Img_1262 So is a support group. People spent a lot of time on solitary reflection, but we also took time to share what we were learning about ourselves and to give advice and support to each other. I also think that there's something to be said about engaging in solitary activity in a group setting. There's a certain energy in the room that makes you realize you aren't alone in your quest--energy that isn't available when career and professional development planning is done alone or with just one another person like a supervisor or career coach. One-on-one and alone time are certainly necessary parts of the overall equation, but I think that group support is a critical piece too.

Build It and They Will Come. The final big insight/thought here. My belief is that while we can all benefit from feedback and advice from others about our growth and development, in the end, we're the ones who have most of the answers that will work for us. I believe that if you provide people with the right space, the right tools and the right questions, they will take those things and use them to transform their understanding of themselves and of their world. This retreat proved that to me.

In my career, there have been a few transformative experiences that have changed my direction and path. This was one of them. I actually did the retreat as another one of my personal learning experiments, to test my hunch that there's a need for this kind of career and professional support done in a group environment using tools and processes that aren't the usual "take this interest inventory" kind of approach. The reaction and feedback I got yesterday told me that I'm very much on the right track with this. Not only is there a need, there's a way to have impact on people's lives that is powerful and exciting. And who DOESN'T want that?

One more thing--huge props to Rosetta for all of her help in planning and organizing this. She was amazing. Also, thank you to Maryland Nonprofits who rented us the space for the retreat.  And, of course, the biggest thank you of all to the women who participated in yesterday's retreat. You were a HUGE inspiration for me on a lot of different levels and it was wonderful to meet and spend time with such a pool of amazing women. Thank you!


Supporting Personal Learning Environments--A Definition of a PLE

 

As part of answering Reader Questions this week, I'm going back to something that Glenn Ross asked me awhile ago:

If I'm responsible for L&D in my organization, how can I help my employees identify their PLEs (personal learning environments) and what resources do I need to provide for them?

Apparently Glenn likes to ask the tough questions. But I'm feeling brave, so I'm going to try for an answer here.  It actually will take two posts to do this, so let's start with my definition of  a PLE.

My_ple_5

 



The Elements of a Personal Learning Environment
There is a lot of discussion about what exactly constitutes a personal learning environment. To write about how to support PLEs, I want to first make sure we're on the same page as far as what I mean by a PLE.

It's Personal
Personal means two things to me.

A personal learning environment is personal in the sense that WHAT is learned has to be based on what interests the learner. We're hoping, of course, that learning about work-related things is going to be part of what interests people, but we also have to accept that people are more than their cubes, so a personal learning environment has to start with embracing the personal aspect. People simply won't learn if they aren't interested in the topic. 

A PLE also has to be personal in terms of the tools. That is, the learner should have some ability to select the tools that work best for his/her learning style and needs. The learner should also have maximum flexibility in how he/she uses those tools. If the tools of a PLE are imposed on the learner, then in my book, you've lost one of the key benefits of personal learning. People will simply balk at using them.

It's About Self-Directed Learning
I'm sorry to report that most people don't really know how to learn. School and training programs have taught them that "learning" is simply the passive transfer of knowledge from an "expert" into their waiting brains. Unfortunately, this is not a particularly successful strategy for learning.

For a PLE to be successful, a person needs to know how to learn. This means that he/she needs to have some key skills, such as an ability to do research, process information, etc. I started to do some brainstorming on these skills based on a presentation by Stephen Downes. If an organization is going to seriously work to implement PLEs with their staff, I think that they need to consider ways to boost some of these key skills as part of that process.

It's About the Environment
Again, this means two things to me. First, there has to be an organizational culture of learning, not a culture of training. Without a learning culture, you might as well forget about implementing something as radical as a PLE. People have to feel supported and nurtured as they try out new tools and ways of doing things and this doesn't happen in organizations that don't think carefully about creating a culture of learning.

The second aspect of the environment is, of course, having access to the tools of PLEs. Typically we're talking here about online tools, such as blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, etc., although a PLE isn't strictly about online learning. It also includes face-to-face interaction, reading real-world books and magazines, going to conferences, engaging in activities, writing in journals, etc.

An important point here--I'm of the "small pieces, loosely joined" school of thought on tools, so when I'm talking about an environment that provides the tools, I'm talking about people having access to a wide range of options that they can pull together as they see fit.

One final note on my approach--I'm with Tom Haskins that PLEs should be regarded as power tools. I see PLEs as a strategy of empowerment that allows staff to become more self-directed in their learning. I personally believe that most organizations benefit from knowledge workers who roam far and wide in the learning landscape and that PLEs should be used as a way to support both personal and professional development, not as a sort of organizationally-driven way to control learners. That's what LMS systems are for.

So that's how I define a PLE. Next time, I'll write about how I think we can support staff in developing and using their own PLEs.


My Online Portfolio Presentation and Fun With Slideshare's Slidecasting

UPDATE--Since I posted this, I deleted the presentation from Slideshare as it was definitely a work in progress that is going to be replaced. I put the original presentation up for the practice and to get feedback and now it's no longer needed.  However, I wanted to leave this post here because it also includes  info on Slideshare and the slidecasting process I went through. After using it a second time, I can say that things went much more smoothly and that I highly recommend the Slidecasting feature.
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Friends, it's been a long day. Above you will find the fruits of my labor--a 14.5 minute Slidecast on Creating and Using Online Portfolios. 

Let me first tell you a little about the presentation, then I'll share my experience with using Slideshare to create a Slidecast of this baby.

The Presentation
I'm currently working on a project to introduce online portfolios to students at four different high schools. I did this particular presentation to start to get my thoughts in order, so this time around I'm doing it for a broader audience. In the next iteration, I'll need to change some things to adapt it for these students.   

This is my first stab at pulling things together and even as I'm writing this, I'm realizing many  things I want to change or add in. Like here's a big duh--I didn't define what a portfolio actually IS, until after I went through all the reasons to have one. Can you tell that I'm brain dead?

Anyway, let me know what you think, what questions I didn't answer, etc. And I definitely want feedback on how you think it should be changed for high school. Especially you edubloggers out there--hit me with your feedback.  Anything is helpful. Please share your thoughts.

Using Slidecasting
For those of you who could care less about online portfolios, you still may want to take a look just to see how Slidecasting works. Basically, it allows you to synch up an mp3 file with a Powerpoint Presentation so that visitors can not only SEE your slides, they can see how you set them to cool music or provided narration.

Slidecast_banner_5

I'm not going to go into the step-by-step of things--they do a good job of that here, where they also include a Slidescast on how to create a Slidecast. I just want to comment on a few aspects of the process.

  • I used Audacity to record my audio file and for whatever reason, it was a bear today. I've never had problems before (maybe it's my mic) and usually I highly recommend the software. But today it took me forever to get this recording, and the quality still isn't great. So no comments on that, please. It will have to be redone.
  • Thanks to a tip from Slideshare, I discovered that I could upload my audio for FREE to the Internet Archive, in exchange for a Creative Commons license, which I would have granted anyway. That was a nice little surprise. Am I the only one who didn't know about this? I thought that, at $5 a month,  Hipcast was great, but the last time I checked, free still beats $5, so Hipcast may have to go.
  • Slideshare's interface for Slidecasting is actually pretty intuitive and easy to use. Lots of dragging and dropping (which I like) and I was able to quickly find my way around the synchronizing.  I will tell you, though, that it takes a while to get the audio and slide synching timed properly and this thing still isn't perfect, which you know I prefer. For now, I'll blame myself and the fact that it's my first time. We'll see if it continues.

Overall, although it took me all day to put everything together, it was still not a bad process. Much of my trouble stemmed from Audacity and I was interrupted several times, too. If you're going to use a PowerPoint, particularly if it's something you'll be re-using, it's worth the time, I think.

Now, feel free to leave me feedback on the presentation. Also, let me know if you've made a Slidecast and how it turned out.


Some Readings on Leadership and Finding Your Passions

Good Monday morning from Philadelphia, where the sun is just starting to peek through the clouds and we're preparing for yet another muggy day. A few quick reads for you:


Note to the Next Generation of Leaders: Don't Wait for Baby Boomers to Hand Over the Reins

Last week, Rosetta Thurman reported from the front-lines of nonprofit leadership about her experiences at Nonprofit 2020: Issues and Answers from the Next Generation, where much of the talk centered around how to transition leadership from the Baby Boomers to Gen X and the Millenials. You can also read more on the conference here from the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

As a Gen X-er myself, I long ago gave up on the idea that Baby Boomers were going to help me make the transition from front-line worker to leader. Nothing against Boomers, but they have their own issues to worry about, and helping me with my professional development has been pretty low on the list. In fact, I've observed that most Boomers are quite happy where they are and have no intention of moving anytime soon.

Turns out I'm not alone in my evaluation of the situation, as Brazen Careerist Penelope Trunk notes here talking about the "gray ceiling," which is rapidly replacing the glass one we've heard so much about.

So what's an X-er or Millenial to Do?

  • Assess your leadership skills--Penelope's article  includes some links to some great resources from Jo Miller who coaches people on how to move into executive positions. Check out Jo's leadership assessment tool (PDF), which she uses to help people figure out where to start in addressing leadership development.
  • Start blogging--My blog has been a great platform for personal learning, connecting to other people and building my network. Having your own blog helps you develop your voice and a point of view that will be very powerful in developing your leadership skills.
  • Get disruptive--If you're not able to assume the mantle of leadership in your current organization, think about starting your own. Disruptive innovations are one way in which you can change the rules of the game and start bringing your own leadership voice to the table. Disruptive strategies bring  to the market a more affordable product that is simpler to use. Another way to look at it is to evaluate  your current organization or field and think about finding the "blue ocean"--where is there a need that no one is meeting and how can you come up with a tool, resource, process, etc. that helps people get what they want. Sometimes it's good to try to keep playing the game. But sometimes the only way you'll move is if you start a new one.

These are my suggestions for developing your leadership capacities in a world where no one will be doing it for you.  What strategies have you used?

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Want to Teach People About Web 2.0? Do It Through Facebook

I've talked here many times about the difficulties in teaching people about the concepts and tools of Web 2.0. I've lamented how difficult it can be to help people understand RSS or wikis. The Common Craft videos have begun to fill that gap, certainly, but as Facebook becomes more and more mainstream, Aidan Henry points out that Facebook is Bringing Web 2.0 to Mainstream:

Those who live in this (Web 2.0) echo-chamber glorify the trends and technologies, as their value and potential is recognizable. This bleeding-edge Internet group wants the world to learn about these technologies, but the fact of the matter is that they are very daunting and intimidating to the average user. In other words, web 2.0 needs to be humanized before it can ever be adopted by the mainstream.

Who is leading the pack when it comes to humanizing web 2.0? Facebook. Here is proof: Facebook new logoask any Facebook user if they know what RSS is or if they’ve ever used it? Chances are they have no idea what it is and they’ll admit to never using it. Little do they know, the Facebook ‘News Feed’ is essentially a rebranded RSS reader. Instead of pulling blog posts and news articles, the reader aggregates updates from your friends’ profiles.

He goes on to link virtually every Web 2.0 tool we know, from "blogging" to "widget" to a Facebook feature.

Now not everyone is using Facebook, obviously, so we still have a ways to go in being able to use this as a teaching tool for staff. But as more and more people become familiar with the features of Facebook and how it works, it can provide some good examples of what we mean when we're using some of these "scary" terms.


Why Face-to-Face Still Rules

Yesterday's plea for rethinking face-to-face meetings apparently struck a nerve, as a lively discussion broke out in comments and Jane of Wandering Eyre weighed in on her blog.

As you'll recall, I was complaining that a group I'm working with wouldn't use online tools to gather information, preferring to meet face-to-face and I suggested a few reasons why I thought that might be true.

I was initially going to keep the converations going through comments, but too many people had interesting things to say, so I'm bringing them into another post.

Here's what I've learned so far.

First, I'm not alone in wishing that we could figure out how to get people to move online, at least in certain circumstances. Writes Shannon of Random Mutterings:

This has been a very challenging question for our organization as well. As a nonprofit with globally dispersed staff, face-to-face meetings are expensive, often unfunded by donors, difficult to coordinate. But yet there seems to be no progress without them -- it is almost as if people don't become "real" until you meet them in person. I think this resistance is more pronounced in cultures where technology is not so prevalent. I don't have any suggestions or solutions, only frustrations. But I am open to all suggestions for how we can make virtual teaming work when the reality is that there is no substitute for face to face, but costs and other concerns often prevent it.

This made me feel somewhat better, because after I wrote the post I started to think I was just being unnecessarily crabby. But obviously other people struggle with the same issue. And I think that Shannon's point that people aren't "real" without face-to-face contact is an interesting one. I certainly know that it's one reason why I like bloggers to include their photos on their site so I can at least picture a person doing the "talking."

That said, a number of people had some additional suggestions for why so many resist moving away from f2f meetings. First up was Harold Jarche, who suggested that people are simply uncomfortable with online tools and that if we could just expose them and let them poke around, it might be an easier sell. I tend to agree with this, although in my particular case, the group I'm working with is apparently familiar with things like blogs and wikis, but have no interest in using them because it "takes too much time." Which I find interesting, given that they're willing to give a day and night to a trip that will accomplish less.

Then Jane at Wandering Eye suggested that people might be uncomfortable with the transparency and accountability that comes with online meetings, something that definitely hadn't occurred to me:

When you hold a meeting over chat, develop an idea on a wiki, discuss solutions to problems on a discussion board, or collectively edit a document, you leave little traces of the process everywhere. There are transcripts, different versions of documents, and there is an actual record of who made what comment and contributed what material.

In a f2f meeting, we rely on a person to take notes. We all know that Meeting Minutes are nothing more then a list of decisions and action items. Meeting minutes do not reflect the decision process, the tension a topic may have induced, or the crazy idea that got thrown on the table and very quickly was swept under the rug. Meeting minutes are the sanitized version of what really happened. Sometimes, they are so sanitized as to be completely useless to those who were not in attendance.

Conducting committee work on the web can be dirty, it can be chaotic, and, in most instances, it is open for all the world to see. Moving committee work to the web is the picture of radical transparency and that scares people. Big organizations hate admitting failure and process can look like failure.

Wow! Very true, I think, although I also wonder if people have been that strategic in their thinking. Or is this something that they intuitively understand and dread? Regardless, this is a really powerful point that probably does have an impact.

Another reason to keep meeting face-to-face was suggested by Bronwyn Maudlin--the "trust factor":

I think there's something more going on here that goes beyond relationship building and motivation, or lack of comfort/knowledge of web 2.0 tools, and that's about trust. It's about looking people in the eye, seeing their body language and being able to react appropriately to all those nonverbal cues. It's the ability to react instantly when a question or concern is raised, rather than waiting for cumbersome written messages to make their way back and forth across the ether. As humans, we're built with a lot of communication tools that we often aren't aware we're using.

Michelle Murrain echoed these thoughts and added that to her, face-to-face is the "glue" that holds virtual groups together. She also made a plea for balance, arguing that while she didn't want to spend all of her time traveling, she also didn't want to spend all of her time in front of a 14" screen either.

I think that it's important to find the balance, and understand that people who might seem simply wedded to old ideas might actually have a point. It's not really about efficiency of information transfer, it's about information transfer of the kind that can only happen when people are physically in the same room together.

One final suggestion for why face-to-face persists came from Chris, who suggested that the real issue here is that 70% of us are extroverted, which means we tend to get more out of talking and face-to-face interaction and less out of reading a website or adding to a wiki:

There have been many studies in this area over the years. Basically, only about 30% of us are satisfied with quickly interacting for the exchange of data.

That leaves a whopping 70% who want to meet in person, and who will NEVER prefer to do otherwise. In short, these people draw their enthusiasm and personal energy from direct contact with other people. Video does not satisfy that need. Podcasting does not satisfy that need. It involves more than sight and sound.

Now if Web 2.0 tools could pump human pheromones across a "meeting enhancement" wiki, then you might have a hope of prying those people out of the face to face meeting mode. Apparently, the scent of others who reach agreement is part of the face to face crowd's need. . . .
Anyone up for developing a pheromone releasing keyboard?

This is something I'd considered after I wrote the post. I'm definitely an introvert, so to me, social media is a dream come true--social interaction and information sharing on MY terms! But I also do a lot of work with an extrovert who HATES all things Internet. At a minimum she needs to talk to (at?) me over the phone in order to get her thoughts in order. In her perfect world, though, I would be on call 24/7 to capture everything she says because she's never sure when she's going to come up with something good. Her response to just about every situation is "we need to have a meeting." I say this lovingly (we have a great relationship), but she's one of the people I have in mind to avoid by doing more things online. To me it would be so much EASIER to get to what I need.

So where does this take us? Tim Davies has one suggestion:

There is something interesting about looking for the 'bridging' technologies. The ways of meeting, or holding a conference call, that bring in benefits of social media and online technologies alongside an existing meeting/discussion practise - so that face-to-face meetings without their online compontent become unthinkable... and the online compotent without the face-to-face becomes a bit more thinkable...

I've been exploring this a bit with conference calls, using parallel online workspaces for note-taking (http://www.thinkature.com was particularly interesting to use), and through making sure from meetings information is captured and fed back to people through an online tool - rather than as an e-mail attachment / paper minutes. By offering the online element and tools 'in-addition', no-one is forced at first to engage any of the extra features (or as they may see - complexity) - but as participants come to experience the added value - the hope is that they choose to use these tools and that they transition away from inefficient ways of meeting...

Very true and this feeds back into what Harold suggested, which is finding ways to get people comfortable with the technology.

I also think that at a minimum, we need to do a better job with structuring meetings and outcomes and being sure to share that information on the web using tools like tagging and RSS so that people see how information can be better categorized, accessed and used when we put it online. One of the beauties of online meeting, I think, is the creation of re-usable bits of knowledge that can always be accessed and re-packaged long after a meeting is over.

But at the same time I recognize that at least for the foreseeable future, people will still want face-to-face. It may be something that we've evolved to need, as Chris and Bronwyn suggest. Or it may just be that it makes us comfortable. Regardless, I'm afraid we'll always have meetings. The best I can do is to figure out how to eliminate some and then make those that remain more productive.