Natural learning, networks, management innovation, ROI (video)

When I prepare for a presentation, I’ll record what I intend to say to get an estimate of the timing. It’s just as easy to flick on the video cam as not. These five- to ten-minute videos are things I’m talking about in September 2008. The topics are Natural Learning, Network Effects, Management Innovation, and Slam-Dunk ROI.


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Characteristics of successful learning networks

from Learning Networks + Knowledge Exchange = Learning 2.0 by Stephen Downes

The internet itself illustrates a sound set of principles, grounded by two major characteristics: simple services with realistic scope. “Simple service or simple devices with realistic scope are usually able to offer a superior user experience compared to a complex, multi-purpose service or device“.

Or as David Weinberger describes the network: small pieces, loosely joined. In practice, these principles may be realized in the following design principles. It is worth noting at this juncture that these principles are intended to describe not only networks but also network learning, to show how network learning differs from traditional learning.

The idea is that each principle confers an advantage over non-network systems, and that the set, therefore, may be used as a means of evaluating new technology. This is a tentative set of principles, based on observation and pattern recognition. It is not a definitive list, and indeed, it is likely that there cannot be a definitive list.

  1. Effective networks are decentralized.


    Centralized networks have a characteristic “star” shape, where some entities have many connections while the vast majority have few. This is typical of, say a broadcast network or the method of a teacher in a classroom. Decentralized networks, by contrast, form a mesh. The weight of connections and the flow of information is distributed. This balanced load results in a more stable network, with no single point of failure.

  2. Effective networks are distributed.


    Network entities reside in different physical locations. This reduces the risk of network failure. It also reduces need for major infrastructure, such as powerful servers, large bandwidth, massive storage. Examples of distributed networks include peer-to-peer networks, such as Kazaa, Gnutella and content syndication networks, such as RSS. The emphasis of such systems is on sharing, not copying; local copies, if they exist, are temporary.

  3. Effective networks disintermediated.


    That is, they eliminate “mediation“, the barrier between source and receiver. Examples of disintermediation include the bypassing of editors, replacing peer review prior to publication with recommender systems subsequent to publication. Or of the replacement of traditional news media and broadcasters with networks of news bloggers.

    And, crucially, the removal of the intermediate teacher that stands between knowledge and the student. The idea is to, where possible, provide direct access to information and services. The purpose of mediation, if any, is to manage flow, not information, to reduce the volume of information, not the type of information.

  4. In effective networks, content and services are disaggregated.


    Units of content should be as small as possible and content should not be “bundled“. Instead, the organization and structure of content and services is created by the receiver.

    This allows the integration of new information and services with the old, of popular news and services with those in an individual’s particular niche interests. This was the idea behind learning objects; the learning object was sometimes defined as the “smallest possible unit of instruction“.

    The assembly of learning objects into pre-packaged “courses” defeats this, however, obviating any advantage the disaggregating of content may have provided.

  5. In an effective network, content and services are dis-integrated.

    That is to say, entities in a network are not “components” of one another. For example, plug-ins or required software to be avoided. What this means in practice is that the structure of the message is logically distinct from the type of entity sending or receiving it.

    The message is coded in a common “language” where the code is open, not proprietary. So no particular software or device is needed to receive the code. This is the idea of standards, but where standards evolve rather than being created, and where they are adopted by agreement, not requirement.

  6. An effective network is democratic.


    Entities in a network are autonomous; they have the freedom to negotiate connections with other entities, and they have the freedom to send and receive information. Diversity in a network is an asset, as it confers flexibility and adaptation.

    It also allows the network as a whole to represent more than just the part. Control of the entities in a network, therefore, should be impossible. Indeed, in an effective network, even where control seems desirable, it is not practical. This condition – which may be thought of as the semantic condition – is what distinguishes networks from groups (see below).

  7. An effective network is dynamic.


    A network is a fluid, changing entity, because without change, growth, adaptation are not possible. This is sometimes described as the “plasticity” of a network. It is through this process of change that new knowledge is discovered, where the creation of connections is a core function.

  8. An effective network is desegregated.


    For example, in network learning, learning is not thought of as a separate domain. Hence, there is no need for learning-specific tools and processes. Learning is instead thought of as a part of living, of work, of play. The same tools we use to perform day-to-day activities are the tools we use to learn.

    Viewed more broadly, this condition amounts to seeing the network as infrastructure. Computing, communicating and learning are not something we “go some place to do“. Instead, we think of network resources as similar to a utility, like electricity, like water, like telephones. The network is everywhere.

It should be noted that though some indication of the justification for these methodological principles has been offered in the list above, along with some examples, this list is in essence descriptive. In other words, what is claimed here is that successful networks in fact adhere to these principles.

Another observation from Stephen: And I have also expounded, in slogan form, a basic theory of practice: ‘to teach is to model and demonstrate, to learn is to practice and reflect.’


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PowerPoint as learning tool

PowerPoint is the program we love to hate. In the wrong hands, it can create sustained boredom. Used wisely, it’s a get authoring environment.

In one of his first staff meetings after joining IBM, Lou Gerstner flipped off the Powerpoint projector and said, “Let’s just talk about business.” Candor replaced puffery.

Slide after slide of bulleted sentence fragments is an awful thing to endure. If the speaker giving the presentation reads them to you word for word, it makes a bad spectacle even worse. Regardless of these unpleasantries, PowerPoint has become the language of business.

PowerPoint also happens to be learning’s most popular authoring tool. Many software packages enable learning and development leaders to narrate a PowerPoint presentation and upload it to the Web. The problem is that if live lectures are ineffective, prerecorded ones online are going to be even more ineffective. Unfortunately, being a subject-matter expert doesn’t necessarily make someone an expert public speaker. Sadly, many experts think the purpose of a PowerPoint presentation is to expose the audience to content and pure information–as if emotion plays no part in getting a message across.

However, it makes no more sense to blame PowerPoint for boring presentations than to blame fountain pens for forgery.

Steve Denning, the author of several books on storytelling, recalls not being able to get fully engaged into someone’s PowerPoint presentation. He recognized that PowerPoint can be too concrete, and therefore, he abandoned PowerPoint in his own presentations in favor of telling stories. No one missed it. When you hear a powerful story, you internalize it. Your imagination makes it your story, and that’s something that will stick with you.

It makes no more sense to blame PowerPoint for boring prsentations than to blame fountain pens for forgery.

Cliff Atkinson‘s book Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft PowerPoint to Create Presentations That Inform, Motivate and Inspire shows how to use Hollywood’s script-writing techniques to focus your ideas, how to use storyboards to establish clarity and how to properly produce the script so that it best engages the audience.

Atkinson recently told me the story of a presentation that made a $250 million difference. Attorney Mark Lanier pled the case against Merck in the first Vioxx-related death trial, brought by the widow of a man who died of a heart attack that she believed was caused by the painkiller. Before preparing his presentation, he read Beyond Bullet Points, and invited Atkinson to Houston to lend a hand in putting his presentation together.

“We used the three-step approach from the book,” Atkinson said. “Then (Lanier’s) flawless delivery took the experience beyond what I imagined possible. He masterfully framed his argument with an even flow of projected images and blended it with personal stories, physical props, a flip chart, a tablet PC, a document projector and a deeply personal connection with his audience.”

Fortune magazine’s coverage of the trial describing Lanier’s presentation said, “The attorney for the plaintiff presented simple and emotional stories that strongly contrasted with Merck’s appeals to colorless reason. Fortune reported that Lanier ‘gave a frighteningly powerful and skillful opening statement. Speaking, without notes and in gloriously plain English, and accompanying nearly every point with imaginative, easily understood (if often hokey) slides and overhead projections, Lanier, a part-time Baptist preacher, took on Merck and its former CEO Ray Gilmartin with merciless, spellbinding savagery.”

Lanier’s technique was persuasive and aimed to get the jurors to believe in his “simple, alluring and emotionally cathartic stories, versus Merck’s appeals to colorless, heavy-going, soporific reason. Lanier is inviting the jurors to join him on a bracing mission to catch a wrongdoer and bring him to justice.” The Texas jury awarded the widow $253.4 million.

You may be thinking, “I don’t have time to do something that elaborate.” Put that in perspective: If you spend months on a complex project, isn’t it worth a few days to wrap up the results into an effective presentation? If you’re using PowerPoint as an authoring system, remember this: A presentation and self-directed learning are two totally different experiences, and the fact that they both may be in PowerPoint doesn’t change that. For compelling presentations, follow the advice in Beyond Bullet Points. And for training that works, follow the tenets of sound instructional design.

Dave Snowden’s story of planning a girl’s birthday party captures the essence of why informal learning trumps corporate claptrap every time:

Imagine organising a birthday party for a group of young children. Would you agree a set of learning objectives with their parents in advance of the party? Would those objectives be aligned with the mission statement for education in the society to which you belong

Would you create a project plan for the party with clear milestones associated with empirical measures of achievement? Would you start the party with a motivational video so that the children did not waste time in play not aligned with the learning objectives? Would you use PowerPoint to demonstrate to the children that their pocket money is linked to achievement of the empirical measures at each milestone? Would you conduct an after action review at the end of the party, update your best practice database and revise standard operation procedures for party management?

No, instead like most parents you would create barriers to prevent certain types of behaviour, you would use attractors (party games, a football, a videotape) to encourage the formation of beneficial largely self organising identities; you would disrupt negative patterns early, to prevent the party becoming chaotic, or necessitating the draconian imposition of authority. At the end of the party you would know whether it had been a success, but you could not define (in other than the most general terms) what that success would look like in advance.

In April 2007, I took part in a panel discussion on The Future of Rapid eLearning Tools. As rapid eLearning (the rapidity is development time, not learning time) had not been on my radar; I approached the topic with beginner’s mind. Usually the approach is to run PowerPoint decks through a software app for display on the web.

How did this approach come about? I trace the genesis back to the late nineties. A training manager who wasn’t going to develop content around a topic from a meeting would make the PowerPoint deck available. Ninety percent had neither sound nor notes. I learn about as much from looking at someone else’s silent PowerPoint presentation as I do from looking at inkblots, yet training directors included this crap in their listings of courses and workshops to bulk up the appearance of what they had to offer.

When is it appropriate to use rapid eLearning development tools? For procedural, how-topics. For things you have to get out the door right away. And I see e-information applications in addition to eLearning. “Information is not instruction,” but sometimes information is all you need.

While no one came out and said it, rapid eLearning can cut the instructional designer out of the process. One member of the audience cautioned against letting the rapid tools fall into the wrong hands. Another said it would be disastrous if content were developed outside of the watchful eye of an instructional designer. It wouldn’t be “real training.” You betcha.

We are learn from one another. In communities. Peer learning. Why deny people tools for formatting and consistency? Clive Shepherd pointed out that this would be a marketing bonanza for the vendors. Get everyone creating content. Millions upon millions of potential customers….

My major ah-ha’s were that Articulate, Adobe Contribute, and Qarbon can play a major role in sharing knowledge and democratizing content. My wish list would include easy assignment of tags. I’d also like to see a content rating system that kicks in automatically. As Wayne Hodgins has said, there’s no excuse not to associate a rating with every scrap of digital content. Another person wanted to be able to pluck (or add) one slide at a time from an existing presentation.

People were concerned about keeping track of swarms of small rapid eLearning chunks. Chris Willis brought up the good old days of Authorware, when everything was right there in one package. Unfortunately, those monoliths were difficult to update and required skilled programmers/designers.

My picture of the future mimics the loose coupling of the web. “Small pieces, loosely bound.” Today’s rapid eLearning tools may evolve into the platform where the small pieces are made.

Slide:ology, Nancy Duarte’s online resources. (Think Al Gore’s eco presentation)
Pecha Kucha Night
Presentations consisting of 20 slides, each shown for 20 seconds

PowerPoint Karaoke
“The person in front of the room launches into a completely impromptu talk from a PowerPoint slide deck she has never seen before. The results are openly, gleefully absurd.”

PowerPoint Does Rocket Science
(aka Did PowerPoint Crash the Space Shuttle?)
Edward Tufte addresses the question, “Does PowerPoint’s cognitive style affect the quality of engineering analysis?” REQUIRED READING.
also see:

OSCON 2005 Keynote – Identity 2.0
Dick Hardt’s original rapid-fire visual/spoken presentation, emulated later by many.

The 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint
Guy Kawasaki’s advice for pitching VCs via PowerPoint. More about VC pitches than PowerPoint, but the 10/20/30 rule is a good one.

Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information
David Byrne’s PowerPoint Art

In Defense of PowerPoint
Don Norman’s essay. “… don’t blame the tool for a poorly prepared, poorly presented talk.”

case examples
Tools for Learning

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Sources of the Internet Culture

Three well-known sources clarify the basics of Internet Culture as I define it: The Cluetrain Manifesto, the ideas of Kevin Kelly/Wired, and the movements backed by O’Reilly Media, particularly web 2.0 and Open Source.

The Cluetrain
Key Cluetrain concepts
: Honesty, authenticity, transparency.

The Cluetrain Manifesto is the most revolutionary business book of the late twentieth century. The clue is that the internet enables person-to-person conversation, and everyone is the wiser for it. The entire book and a bit of its history are available for free at

Markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.

There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.

Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor. Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.

Imagine a world where everyone was constantly learning, a world where what you wondered was more interesting than what you knew, and curiosity counted for more than certain knowledge.

Kevin Kelly
Key Kelly concepts
: Intangibles, connections, push the edges, power to peers.

Kevin Kelly is the pied piper of the new economy. As the founding editor of Wired magazine, author of Out of Control and New Rules for the New Economy, and cohort of Steward Brand, Kelly’s technophilic philosophy has become the new business gospel. Kelly’s books and all past issues of Wired magazine are available on the web for free (at and Some apt maxims from New Rules:

The tricks of the intangible trade will become the tricks of your trade.

Communication – which in the end is what the digital technology and media are all about – is not just a sector of the economy. Communication IS the economy.

We are connecting everything to everything.

At present there is far more to be gained by pushing the boundaries of what can be done by the bottom than by focusing on what can be done at the top.

When information is plentiful, peers take over.

Tim O’Reilly

Key O’Reilly concepts: perpetual beta, user-centered development, web 2.0, loose coupling.

Tim O’Reilly publishes books about the net and open source software, but he’s more than a publisher. Tim’s goal is “to become the information provider of choice to the people who are shaping the future of our planet, and to enable change by capturing and transmitting the knowledge of innovators and innovative communities.”

Tim and his colleagues coined the term Web 2.0. Earlier on, they repositioned free software as Open Software. A dozen years ago, when the web was on its early, wobbly legs, O’Reilly offered “Internet in a Box,” the software you needed to get on the net if you had a PC running DOS 3.0. Those 3.5″ floppies are what connected me and lots of others to the net for the first time. From Tim’s personal web site and reports of his conference presentations:

Open source licensing began as an attempt to preserve a culture of sharing, and only later led to an expanded awareness of the value of that sharing. Open source licensing is a means of encouraging Internet-enabled collaboration.

The fundamental architecture of hyperlinking ensures that the value of the web is created by its users.

A successful open source software project consists of “small pieces loosely joined”. Therefore architect your software or service in such a way as to be used easily as a component of a larger system. Keep it modular, document your interfaces, and use a license that doesn’t hinder recombination.

There is great benefit in sharing your development efforts and processes with your users. Therefore release early and often. Set up mechanisms for user feedback, bug reports and patch contribution.

When devices and programs are connected to the internet, applications are no longer software artifacts, they’re ongoing services. Amazon, eBay, and Google just roll in new features, unsure whether they even want them… therefore don’t package up new features into monolithic releases: rather, fold them in on a regular basis. So if you’re not already thinking this way: operate as if you’re in perpetual beta.

Many of the limiting factors from the physical world are absent on the internet. Therefore use the power of the computer to monetize niches formerly too small to be commercial. Find the long tail in your own – or someone else’s! – business. Google Adsense


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Work and the Web are Converging

Since seeing the first website (Tim Berners-Lee’s site at CERN) in the early 1990s, I’ve been ecstatic about the web. Having spent the previous 14 years in the corporate training business, it was only natural for me to speculate about its potential for learning. With the web, information was available everywhere. I could share a single copy of a document, eliminating the hassle of distributing updates. The system could keep track of goals and progress. FAQs and mentors were a click away. What’s more, you didn’t have to be in IT to create and post your own content. A cyber campus I could access from my home office. I was in heaven.

Fifteen years on the web have made me less starry-eyed and more reflective. I’m still excited, because we’ve only scratched the surface of what the web will become in the next 15 years, but I’m able to realize that the web is doing a lot more than making communication instantaneous and information available to all. The web is changing culture.

Aided by the web, school children work with one another to complete assignments. Confined to the indoors because of random craziness and violence outside, kids maintain continual contact with friends through Instant Messenger. They get to know one another by sharing photos and thoughts on communities like MySpace. They are accustomed to learning by assembling snips of knowledge on the web into coherent papers and presentations. They work in the now, and they are starting to enter the workforce.

Culture shift

First we shape the web; then the web shapes us. E-learning has shown me that it is easy—and often okay—to skip subjects or presentations that don’t seem to be taking me anywhere. Click. Good-bye. My online behavior now shapes how I act in real life. For example, when listening to a presentation at a conference, despite the fact that I usually sit in the front row, if the presenter is not delivering the goods, I leave. I think of it as clicking on a fresh link.

The ways of the web are changing corporate behavior, too. People expect organizations we deal with to have a website, to explain how to use their products, to give us an email address or two for getting in touch, and to provide fresh information. The web is spreading values and expectations that we’ll call “Internet culture.” Here a few examples:

Customers expect a response to a query within a day or two, and sometimes immediately. However, when snail mail was the vehicle, a week was an excellent response time.

Many managers assume that workers are aware of what is going on in their organizations, which was not the case when information was always sent via memo.

The old notion of “us” and “them” no longer applies. Haughty companies will be called on it. We are all nodes on the net.

Nothing is set in stone. It’s tough to recall a book, but easy to edit a webpage.

Many presume that keeping something secret is probably a cover-up.

Unfortunately, the typical corporate manager is unfamiliar with Internet culture. They consider the web as “a marketplace for mass speech, a jungle where children are prey, a mall or concert hall, a safari for surf, a commercial space much in need of zoning,” writes Wesley Cooper in “ Information Technology and Internet Culture.

Corporations must embrace the web, however. Organizations cannot only reap the tangible benefits of connectedness, they must also internalize the memes of Internet culture. It is internet culture that can reinforce the values of collaboration, sharing, rapid response, innovation through prototyping, openness, authenticity, and agility.

The role of learning

Corporate learning can be an ideal place to initiate this Internet acculturation. In addition to providing a framework for learning the metaphors of the web, organizations can receive a large and quick payback in cost savings and improved performance.

Today’s work is knowledge work. Try to imagine working in this environment without Internet culture.

Workers are challenged to make their own decisions, on the fly. The boss is spread too thin to answer questions. No one has time for workshops and courses. Real-time learning is replacing learn-in-advance courses. Networks glue teams together and promote two-way relationships with customers and suppliers. Increasingly, people acquire the skills they use at work informally—observing others, trial-and-error, Goggling, and checking the Net so see what people have done in the past.

internet culture

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Internet Culture

The internet is more than the technology of the greatest human network ever assembled. The net comes with values that reshape the world. The culture of the internet is blowing back at us, merging the real and the virtual, and shaping how we think and act not only online but in real life as well.

The values of the Internet Culture are the strongest foundation upon which to evolve a next-generation learnscape.

Connections. Connections are everything. They create networks, and networks are growing exponentially. If your learning plans don’t embrace the power of networks, go back the drawing board for another look. Learning occurs in conversations, collaboration, knowledge transfer, focused news, and other network phenomena. A prime directive in any evolving learnscape is to increase the throughput of personal network connections such as instant messenger, higher bandwidth, searchable directories, optimized organizational channels, and watercoolers, both virtual and real.

Push the edges. Twenty years ago, training departments fretted about consistency: providing precisely the same training experience to everyone in the organization. That’s not a good strategy for making money. In the old days, a hyper-proficient worker might outperform the average by twenty or thirty percent. Now that products are intangible, mindware knows no limits. Google figures a superlative engineer creates 200 times as much value as his middle-tier peer. Back the superlative guy or gal, the wild ideas, and the weirdness of the new. Experiment continuously. As IBM’s Tom Watson said, “If you want to succeed, double your failure-rate.”

Power to the peers. Networks subvert hierarchy. Users create value and when information is plentiful, peers take over. Abundant knowledge dethrones kings and fosters democracy. In a knowledge era, knowledge workers are the means of production. Forget command and control. Encourage bottom-up learning where people share and solve problems with their peers. Knowledge workers want you to show them the dots but demand that they connect them on their own. Think of learning as a partnership with the learners, not “delivery.”

Honesty and authenticity. Simpler is better. The spirit of the net is to tell is like it is, to peel away the facade and be authentic. “Be who you are!” suggested Nietsche. It’s easier than faking it. In learning, being authentic means admitting that we don’t have all the answers. It’s recognition that we’re all in this together. It’s hooking people up so they may learn from and with one another.

Transparency. Seeing the inside of an organization enables us to collaborate with them to make things better. People who hoard information shoot themselves in the foot; nobody will know who they are. You’ve got to know an organization or person to form a relationship with them. You cannot make friends with someone hidden behind an opaque wall.

Perpetual beta. Nothing is ever finished. Hence, it’s better to put an unfinished offering out there before dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. He who hesitates for typos is lost. Do it, try it, fix it. Drive changes with feedback from learners themselves. More frequent reviews translate into less time invested in going down the wrong path. If someone says a project is finished, it is.

The Long Tail. When it comes to learning opportunities, small businesses, esoteric specialists, and fast-moving teams have traditionally been short-changed. It wasn’t worth the effort. You couldn’t reach critical mass. Now you can. Web technology scales. Five-person companies use for customer relationship management. Expect to see a learning equivalent soon. As for the esoterica, distance no longer keeps specialists from conversing with one another. Rich niches imply that a need to assess upside opportunities more closely than out-of-pocket costs.

Loose coupling. A specific case is Cluetrain author David Weinberger’s conceptualization of the web as “small pieces, loosely joined.” I’ve been doing an increasing amount of my work on the web, and I am astounded how the ability to work with small chunks improves my productivity. What once took a rewrite now requires simply changing a link. No learning environment need resist improvements until it bites the dust. What we once thought of as “maintenance” is becoming more important than the initial “deliverable.” Pieces of any system morph into plug-compatible chunks that can be swapped in and out without disrupting the ecosystem. Changing a small item does not require unpacking the whole apparatus.

Intangibles. More and more of the world’s wealth is intangible. You can’t see patents, brands, good will, expertise, culture, and so forth, but they account for more and more of corporations’ value.  Twenty-five years ago, intangible assets accounted for 38% of the wealth of the Standard and Poors’s 500 companies. Forget about measuring only what’s visible to the naked eye, (“ROI”) and begin assessing transfers of value. That’s where the smart money is headed.



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Once upon a time, every learning project was a big deal. If you wanted to go near a computer, you needed to draw up and elaborate business case, wait in line to do battle with the IT department, and get a lot of other people involved who were one or two steps away from the issues you were hoping to resolve.

Things have changed. You don’t have to be a techie to set up web-based applications. Web tools are easy enough to use that you can experiment with applications before committing to the whole enchilada. It takes only minutes to set up a blog, a wiki, or an online community. Most of the software and services you will use are free. If you’re a klutz, ask anyone under 20 to help you put it in place.

Put it out there; see if it works. Do it, try it, fix it. It takes so little to set up a prototype application that it justifies running lots of experiments before committing to one model. The way to succeed is to fail early and fail often.

One of my favorite social network examples was the result of two guys sitting on their back porch who realized lots of people could learn what was going on my listening to their conversation. Without asking permission, they set up a blog which became required daily reading for their fellow company commanders in Iraq.

You could go to this very minute and have a your own blog up and running in less time than it takes a drink a cup of coffee. What you write can be seen by the world — unless you want more privacy. You can click a box to deflect Google’s glaring gaze. You can restrict readership. You can select who can write. It’s easy.

Just do it!

It’s easy to say but if this is new, it’s out of your comfort zone. It’s not just you.

Luiz Algarra told me a story about trying to coax professionals to try blogging. He asked everyone to make a blog entry; no one did. He instructed them to take a sheet of paper and write out something interesting that had happened to them. Then he asked them to pass their papers to the next person and write a comment or observation on the bottom of each person’s paper. During a break, he posted all the papers on the wall. When people returned, he announced, “See? This is the blogosphere.” He asked them each to write an entry in their blog that evening. Guess what happened. No one did. They did not see the relevance of technology to their lives. They will lead sub-optimal professional lives.

The web is the way of the future; you might as well get on the train before it picks up more speed. Take a baby step. Go to Open your blog. Write whatever’s on your mind. (No one else has to know.) Come back the next day, and do it again. Before you know it, you’ll have your sea legs.


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A sample pattern

Pattern: Better professional research updates in less time.

Situation: Professional staff need to stay current with gushers of industry developments and research findings. The volume of information is too great for any individual to keep up with.

Solution: Select one or two respected individuals per discipline to do front-end research for everyone. Provide them time to scan the news and write up summaries and pointers. Encourage everyone in the community to provide these spotters with tips on new developments. Set high standards for accuracy and brevity of the reports to encourage on-going readership. Do not overwhelm the readers: three or four items/week is the upper limit.  The simpler a learning intervention fits into a person’s existing routines, the more likely it will take hold. In many organizations, this means sending news summaries to people’s email addresses.

Technology:  Using blogs to record the information creates an easily searchable archive as a by-product. Also, blogs automatically create RSS feeds that enable people to subscribe to the research that interests them. See Tools for Learning.

Savings:  Replace three hours per week with thirty minutes of reading and digging deeper into topics. For a staff of 100 professionals, that’s a savings of $600,000 per year. It’s also less likely important discoveries will be overlooked.

Example: CGI


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Toolkit for Innovation

User Innovation a la Eric von Hippel

Learning by trial-and-error

It is important that the user is able to go through complete trial-and-error cycles when designing the product. This allows the users to see the consequences of the design choices they make, and thereby decide more precisely what they really want. Trial-and-error has been shown by research to be the way that most problem solving is done.

An appropriate solution space

A solution space is defined by the flexibility in which the producer can produce the desired result. Any production process has a set of limiting factors, and these factors define the solution space. If the solution space is small, the chance of user innovations are small.

A user friendly toolkit

The process must be available to the users so that they can use the skills and languages they already know. This frees the users from learning the different design-specific skills and languages associated with manufacturing.

Commonly used modules

Custom designs are seldom made up of unique parts, but instead share a set of standard modules. Therefore a library of standard modules should be available to the user. This allows the user to focus on the unique parts that are truly important.

Results easily created

The result from the process must be easily converted into the language needed for the production system, and be without error. If the result of the process must be manually translated much of the effect of the toolkit may be lost.


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Unschooling is good for adults as well as kids

Principles of Unschooling
By Pam Sorooshian

Learning happens all the time. The brain never stops working and it is not possible to divide time up into “learning periods” versus “non-learning periods.” Everything that goes on around a person, everything they hear, see, touch, smell, and taste, results in learning of some kind.

Learning does not require coercion. In fact, learning cannot really be forced against someone’s will. Coercion feels bad and creates resistance.

Learning feels good. It is satisfying and intrinsically rewarding. Irrelevant rewards can have unintended side effects that do not support learning.

Learning stops when a person is confused. All learning must build on what is already known.

Learning becomes difficult when a person is convinced that learning is difficult. Unfortunately, most teaching methods assume lea rning is difficult and that lesson is the one that is really “taught” to the students.

Learning must be meaningful. When a person doesn’t see the point, when they don’t know how the information relates or is useful in “the real world,” then the learning is superficial and temporary – not “real” learning.

Learning is often incidental. This means that we learn while engaged in activities that we enjoy for their own sakes and the learning happens as a sort of “side benefit.”

Learning is often a social activity, not something that happens in isolation from others. We learn from other people who have the skills and knowledge we’re interested in and who let us learn from them in a variety of ways.

We don’t have to be tested to find out what we’ve learned. The learning will be demonstrated as we use new skills and talk knowledgeably about a topic,

Feelings and intellect are not i n opposition and not even separate things. All learning involves the emotions, as well as the intellect.

Learning requires a sense of safety. Fear blocks learning. Shame and embarrassment, stress and anxiety – these block learning.



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Web 2.0 Overview

Tim O’Reilly says we are at a turning point in human history because web 2.0 is becoming the platform for everything. It turms the enterprise inside out. It is the platform beneath a new way of living. We face a huge change in the way the world works. Doug Engelbart’s vision of harnessing our collective intelligence is unfolding. We’ve only just begun. The turning tide is frightening or wonderful; that’s a matter of perspective.

If you hear a simple definition of web 2.0, disregard it, for web 2.0 means many things to many people at many levels.

  • Applications such as blogs, wikis, and mash-ups.
  • Concepts such as viral marketing, the long tail, virtuous circles, folksonomy, permalinks, co-development, and loose coupling.
  • Connections between millions of organizations and individuals.
  • Social web, social media, social software, social relationships
  • Free phone calls, free software, free news.
  • Organizational applications such as Software as a Service.
  • Technololgies such as HTTP, XML, PHP, and AJAX.
  • Structures such as LAMP and SLATES.
  • Conventions such as first-in/first-up on blogs, collaborative writing on wikis, and observe before participating in online communities.
  • Services such as Google, Technorati, Flickr, Yahoo!, Wikipedia, Amazon, eBay, Craigslist
  • Use-cases like Intellipedia, online project teams, CEO blogs, and user-driven customer service.

Web 2.0 is the participatory, two-way that replaced the one-way billboard that was web 1.0. Web 1.0 was passive, and web 2.0 is decidely active; web 1.0 was push and web 2.0 is pull. Web 2.0 is the read/write, collaborative, web as platform, and raison d’etre of hundreds of companies that assemble mash-ups and widgets.

Web 2.0 is small pieces, loosely joined. It is an attitude, not a technology.

The web is the carrier wave of civilization, and web 2.0 is an early snapshot. It’s a pity the web 2.0 name took. It’s better than yesterday and will make tomorrow better to; that will happen without web 1.95 or web 2.45.


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The Social Life of Information

The Social Life of Information by John Seely Brown & Paul Duguid argues that the medium is not the message. The world is not binary, things exist (and persist) for a reason, and you can’t separate content from its container without losing something in the process. “Generations of videoconferencing are still far from capturing the essence of a firm handshake or a straight look in the eye.” In 1938, the New York Times predicted that typewriters would make the pencil obsolete.

“Computer scientists have a tendency to count “1, 2, 3, one million,…,” as if scale were insignificant once the first steps were taken.”

“The more cavalier futurists sometimes appear to work with a magical brand of computer not available to the rest of us. It’s hard to believe that if they had to deal with the inexplicable crashed, data corruption, incompatibilities, buggy downloads, terrifying error messages, and power outages that are standard fare for most, they could remain quite so confident about the ease of hot desking and home working.”

“The desire to show that with a computer one person can do everything may look not forward, but back to the stage in social evolution before anyone noticed the advantages of the division of labor.”

First three chapters of Social Life… from First Monday

“Coming away with a degree is much better than wearing a T-shirt saying ‘college of the streets’ or ‘university of hard knocks.'”


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Summary of Learnscape Architecture

Learnscape Architecture:
Getting things done in organizations

Along this path are thoughts about getting things done in today’s volatile, unpredictable, accelerating world. The industrial age is over, and we are gradually shedding the rigid, dehumanizing practices that manufactured the goods that lifted us from subsistence to abundance. It’s jarring enough to give up a mindset that was so rewarding, but the challenge before us is even more daunting.

For most of history, humans were pawns of gods and spirits with scant identity of their own. Four centuries ago, Descartes declared himself independent of the spirits, saying “I think therefore I am.” Newton discovered “laws” that defined the physics of how the world works. For every action, there was an equal and opposite reaction. The Newtonian world is a machine, and god becomes a watchmaker. Descartes and Newton set the stage for the industrial revolution which is now coming to a close after a good quarter-millenium run.

Today people are in deep denial about the crumbling of their fundamental beliefs about time, matter, causality, logic, control, predictability, and knowledge, yet the evidence is pouring in:

  • Time is relative.
  • Matter is simultaneously a partical and wave.
  • Everything is connected; nothing is caused in isolation.
  • Asymetric results defy logic.
  • Control is in the imagination; probabilties rule.
  • The outcome of complex adaptive systems is forever unpredictable.
  • Knowledge is a shared reality, not something in our heads.

Growing into a new consciousness will require a whale of a lot of unlearning. Maybe de-programming is a more apt term. Such techniques as visualization, mindfulness, metaphor, and group activity will help. Decades.

In the meanwhile, organizations have missions to accomplish. We can’t sit on our hands until the new way of thinking is in place. That’s the core purpose of this un-book: helping organizations prosper during the transition. We focus on getting things done. Now


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Overview: Learnscapes

Corporate learning increasingly deals with groups instead of individuals, networks instead of silos, and impromptu instead of planned activities. Learning ecosystems create more value than learning programs. We need to shift our thinking from instructional design to environmental design.

Learning is about collaboration, coaching, and reflection, not just study and reading. Developing a platform to support learning is analogous to landscaping a garden. A major aspect of the corporate learning ecosystem is natural learning, the notion of treating people as organisms in nature. Workers are free-range learners. Our role is to protect their environment, provide nutrients for growth, and let nature take its course. Self-service learners are connected to one another, to ongoing flows of information and work, to their teams and organizations, to their customers and markets, not to mention their families and friends.

Because the design of informal learning ecosystems is analogous to landscape design, I call the environment of informal learning a learnscape.

A landscape designer’s goal is to conceptualize a harmonious, unified, pleasing garden that makes the most of the site at hand, an environment that increases the organization’s longevity and health, and the individual worker’s growth and well-being.

Learnscapes are holistic. “It’s not my department is no excuse for suboptimal results or stressed-out workers. Helping everyone be all that they can be is not charity; it’s good business.

Gardeners don’t control plants; managers don’t control people. Gardeners and managers have influence but not absolute authority. They can’t make a plant fit into the landscape or a person fit into a team.

A learnscape is where learning takes place. Don’t go looking for one; it’s a concept, not a physical place. A learnscape is the context of learning.

A learnscape is not a network or a campaign. It’s the whole enchilada.

Learning is a process, not an event. A Learnscape is where that process plays out.

A learnscape is a learning ecology. It’s learning without borders. You already have a learnscape. It’s probably not all that it could be.

The designer must work to satisfy aspirations and values, not precise outcomes. Man plans; God laughs. No learnscape survives when the levee breaks.

The late Peter Henschel, former head of the Institute for Research on Learning, said that “The manager’s core work in this new economy is to create and support a work environment that nurtures continuous learning. Doing this well moves us closer to having an advantage in the never-ending search for talent.” How else could it be? Neither nature nor the workplace will cooperate by going into suspended animation so we can tweak the details without things changing all the time. Everything flows. You go with the flow or you are out of it. Every learnscape has a history and a future, but the present is a moving target.

Courses end; learnscapes persist. Organizations and their members are living things, and the landscape/learnscape analogy invites us to consider nature, symbiosis, interconnections, genetic make-up, adaptation, the change of seasons, and life cycles. People are not plants, so the analogy doesn’t stretch into self-expression, thinking, identity, personality, and collaboration.

In the mechanical world, I’d wrap this up with a conclusion. In the natural world, this is but one step on a long journey. Nothing ever ends.

SoL’s tour of organizational learning concepts
Senge’s ladder of inference


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Universe in one year

Carl Sagan stuffed the history of the universe, from the big bang through today, into a 365-day calendar to show what a short time we humans have existed. Video.

Continue Reading »


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What’s wrong with this picture?

At the turn of the century, my vision of corporate learning put the learner at the center of resources that included the web, online learning activities, communities of practice, an intranet, and instructor-led training. My thinking has changed. Can you guess several ways I would re-draw the picture today?

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how people learn

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Corporate learning increasingly deals with groups instead of individuals, networks instead of silos, and impromptu instead of planned activities. Learning ecosystems create more value than learning programs. We need to shift our thinking from instructional design to environmental design.

The best metaphor I’ve yet found for being a learning ecologist comes from classic books on landscape design. That’s holistic, too. You design, climate happens, things evolve. When dealing with learning, I call this learnscaping.

A learnscape is not a network or a campaign. It’s the whole enchilada.

Continue Reading »


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Keeping the Mobile Sales Force Informed

What would you do if you had to keep 150 sales people around the world up to date on healthcare and IT?

Intel Digital Health had been posting cell phone recordings to a traditional website. Busy sales people couldn’t be counted on to check them out and the medium lacked pizzazz.

A general manager/VP knew that Cisco, IHOP, and others were distributing information via podcasts. He listened to a sample podcast put together by his staff and gave the project a green light.

Intel instructional designer Marc Porter took on the project. He purchased a video iPod for every member of the sales force. The iPods remain the property of Intel. When someone leaves the company, they return the iPod, just as they do with their cell phone and laptop.

On the content front, Marc began by converting the firm’s library into 20 QuickTime videos that were distributed with the machines. Employees were permitted to keep music on the iPods as well as the Intel videos.

Intel next produced an “The Expert Series” of customer interviews that highlight best practices. These were professionally produced, and the sales force loved them, especially the anecdotal information. 84% were satisfied.

To develop a podcast, Marc would meet with a subject matter expert to identify a topic, offer a method for producing it, and select the level of presentation.

Early on, Intel discovered that PowerPoint was the wrong medium for the iPod. They also determined that the iPod is not appropriate for restricted information: iPods have no passive security on board; a lost iPod causes no collateral damage.

Marc Porter won Intel’s 2007 innovation award for setting up and running the iPod program for Intel Digital Health’s community of practice.

case examples
Tools for Learning

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Innovation at Eaton

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

case examples

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Communities of practice

A Community of Practice (or CoP) doesn’t require computers. If you have a group with a shared identity who give back to the group, who uphold and refine its practices, and who nurture new people entering the group, you have a community of practice. Communities grow to advance the greater good of their members.

Continue Reading »

case examples
Organizations & community

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IBM Lotus Connections

…or you could do the same thing with free, open-source software.

case examples

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CEO Blog

You must do this. Go read Jonathan’s Blog.

Jonathan on the MySQL acquisition.

case examples

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Cisco Presence

Certain Cisco customers find meeting in person so vital that they pay $350,000 – $450,000 for the next best thing. 

case examples

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Company Command

Speak like a human. Don’t filter.

case examples

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Sofas, not cubes

case examples

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CGI Internet Inside

Three years ago, Knowledge Management at Canada’s CGI was the proverbial black hole that sucked in information and energy but never let it out. The staff who fed the beast were well-meaning but weren’t equipped to provide CGI’s 25,000 employees the up-to-the-moment technical savvy they needed. This is not sustainable in a firm that relies on its wits to outperform its competitors in a fast-moving global field. Executive management made raising staff satisfaction with KM a top priority.

Ross Button was tapped to head a project to raise collective intelligence. Ross and his staff of two, with in-sourced assistance from specialist groups within the firm, assembled what Ross and I have dubbed Internet Inside. Imagine having your own, custom version of the internet running behind your firewall.

Continue Reading »

case examples
Tools for Learning

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SAP Community Network

In 2003, Shai Agassi asked my pal Etay Gafni to help build a developer network to host the e-learning programs that Etay’s team, then based in Ra’anana, had developed. Initially called DevNet, SDN debuted at SAP TechEd 2003

Within three months, the community had more than 30,000 members. A year later, in the fall of 2004, SDN was 100,000 members strong.More importantly, says Etay, the community reached the “tipping point” for member contributions.

Now 650,000 members

Etay is happy to forge new ground with his family in Silicon Valley, and at SAP. “Web 2.0 is not about technologies – it’s about users treated as people, communication, self expression and content,” he says.

“We have a great opportunity to bring these values to SAP as well as into our ecosystem,” Etay continues. “A new generation is entering the work force, bringing with them new expectations, ideas, and new ways of doing things. I am pleased to be working on these topics and will continue working on bridging these worlds.”

Here are SAP’s current network guidelines

If you want to go deep inside how it’s done, this is the Rosetta Stone for setting up a strategically important $XX million development network.

Look at the amount of learning and connecting appear on the community home page.

Corporate karma. By the way, I hope we can start sharing discoveries like this with one other as a comment on whatever page we’re on. Imagine we’re partners in a learnscaping community. Give once and receive many times over.

case examples

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Intellipedia has begun to foster change within the organizational cultures of the intelligence community. It promotes greater information sharing, collaboration, and transparency. 

From October 2006 to January 2007, the site has continued to see substantial growth in users (now more than 5,000) and has seen a rapid increase in pages (60,000). To date, Intellipedia administrators have distributed nearly 100 “Intellipedia shovels” and numerous Exceptional Performance Awards to individuals for exceptionally strong contributions toward sharing good practices and furthering the business of the ODNI and broader USG government in protection and the pursuit of our national interests. 

The classified Intellipedia also contain a lot of information on projects, or even military operations, underway. The idea is not just to allow a lot of people to contribute to subjects of interest to a large audience, but to also get different opinions on intel subjects, and get them out in the open as well. The intelligence community has long been known for consisting of many different, and rather isolated, communities. Email, and classified Internet message boards, have broken down some of that isolation. “Intellipedia” not only breaks down the isolation further, but builds new relationships through shared work on subjects of common interest. So far, the classified version has 28,000 pages and 3,600 contributors. 

Two national, heart-wrenching events have cast the spotlight on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s dire need for an agile, networking-based, deftly coordinating, and flat (a la Thomas Friedman) operational structure. 

9/11 Commission’s July 2004 Public Statement:

“Our intelligence and law-enforcement agencies did not manage or share information, or effectively follow leads, to keep pace with a nimble enemy. …”

“The Intelligence Community needs a shift in mindset and organization, so that intelligence agencies operate under the principle of joint command, with information-sharing as the norm …”

“… ‘Need to share’ must replace ‘Need to know.’”


case examples

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Cisco virtual teams

CoP, trust, participation, experts on the line. virtual teams of systems engineers in a dozen strategically important technical specializations
593, 93% like vSearch. Less time searching, more time dealing with customers

“We traditionally delivered new product introduction training to our field sales and support staff through live classroom seminars conducted in various parts of the country and the world,” stated one training manager. “This was a logistical nightmare to organize and very expensive to conduct. It’s tough for our key product marketing and engineering staff to take time out of their crazy schedules to travel around to teach these seminars, and it’s equally inconvenient for our field staff to attend multi-day training events in person. We wanted a vendor who could streamline our new product introduction training with a fast, cost-effective web-delivered solution.”

. “We selected Altus Learning Systems to produce a pilot program in 1998 to help launch the AS5800 product. They did everything back then from video recording the presenters and synchronizing the encoded video with slides and transcripts to providing the user interface and setting up our streaming servers. That program was a big success, and we have used turn-key technology and production services from Altus to transfer knowledge to the field for every major product launch and product update ever since-which now totals hundreds of programs and thousands of hours of content.”
As this function grew in popularity, Cisco faced the difficult challenge of producing and delivering more than a thousand hours of content per year. So, working with Altus, the company introduced a dedicated on-site service center, reducing production costs, meeting Cisco’s demanding delivery deadlines and significantly reducing internal staff involvement.

Implementation of the initial service center worked so well that Cisco expanded its outsourcing contract to support the technical readiness of their large sales engineering group. Altus replaced three separate vendors, supplemented existing video equipment with its new production system and took complete control over the facility’s operation and maintenance. Altus now records, produces, broadcasts and webcasts more than 20 weeklong meetings each year for on-demand training and performance support.

case examples

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Intelpedia DIY

John G. Miner, a senior Intel product support engineer, stating: “Wouldn’t it be cool to have something like Wikipedia inside of Intel?” 

Initial reaction to the post was pessimistic, Bancroft said. A long project approval process and internal resistance was expected for such an undertaking. So Bancroft downloaded MediaWiki — the open-source application package that runs, and other internal wiki sites — and put the site up himself. 

By March ’07 5,000 pages of content and garnered 13.5 million page views.


case examples

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Manages $350 billion in assets

Hires 1,500 temporary workers during tax season

Group blog and wiki capture
rules of thumb

Savings = two minutes/call
at $20/minute

= $15,000,000 annual savings


case examples

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Both Sides Now
Joni Mitchell

Rows and floes of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

net, good, bad, beautiful, ugly

Moons and Junes and ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way

But now its just another show
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s loves illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

you see what you want to see, emotional, guessing what’s in the box

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say I love you right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day

in the now, authentic, people, virtual

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all


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Clay Shirky

Group action just got easier. Ridiculously easy group forming.
Social impact takes place when the technology gets boring.

Sharing, conversation, collaboration, collective action
In order of increasing coordination Continue Reading »

internet culture

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Digital Ethnography

The videos of Michael Wesch

Michael Wesch is a cultural anthropologist and media ecologist exploring the impacts of new media on human interaction. The Digital Ethnography Working Group is a team of undergraduates exploring human uses of digital technology. Coinciding with the launch of this group, Wesch created a short video, “Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us.” Released on YouTube on January 31st 2007, it quickly became the most popular video in the blogosphere and has now been viewed over 3 million times. You must watch this vide

For me, cultural anthropology is a continuous exercise in expanding my mind and my empathy, building primarily from one simple principle: everything is connected. This is true on many levels. First, everything including the environment, technology, economy, social structure, politics, religion, art and more are all interconnected. As I tried to illustrate in the video, this means that a change in one area (such as the way we communicate) can have a profound effect on everything else, including family, love, and our sense of being itself. Second, everything is connected throughout all time, and so as anthropologists we take a very broad view of human history, looking thousands or even millions of years into the past and into the future as well. And finally, all people on the planet are connected. This has always been true environmentally because we share the same planet. Today it is even more true with increasing economic and media globalization.”

Digital ethnography

Information R/evolution

A Vision of Students Today

Digital Ethnography YouTube Project

internet culture

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Organizational learning strategy

The Learning Organization Litmus Test

How do you know if your company is a learning organization? These simple litmus tests can help determine whether or not your company qualifies:

Does the organization have a defined learning agenda? Continue Reading »


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Learnscapes are where learning takes place. Don’t go looking for one; it’s a concept, not a physical place.

A learnscape is the context of learning.

Achieving the benefits of informal learning can’t be realized within the confines of training departments. Well, perhaps you can save a few dollars here and there, but the big payoff comes from changes in attitude and corporate culture. Informal learning is more a worldview than a specific intervention. Who’s in charge of ripping out cubicles and installing pool tables? Things like that undeniably increase informal learning but aren’t the responsibility of the chief learning officer.

Informal learning is about situated action, collaboration, coaching, and reflection, not study and reading. Developing a platform to support informal learning is analogous to landscaping a garden. A major component of informal learning is natural learning, the notion of treating people as organisms in nature. Workers are free-range learners. Our role is to protect their environment, provide nutrients for growth, and let nature take its course. Self-service learners are connected to one another, to ongoing flows of information and work, to their teams and organizations, to their customers and markets, not to mention their families and friends.

Because the design of informal learning ecosystems is analogous to landscape design, I will call the environment of informal learning a learnscape. A landscape designer’s goal is to conceptualize a harmonious, unified, pleasing garden that makes the most of the site at hand. A learnscape designer’s goal is to create a learning environment that increases the organization’s longevity and health, and the individual’s happiness and well-being.

Informal learning is holistic. “It’s not my department is no excuse for suboptimal results or stressed-out workers. Hence, learnscapes must address individuals. Helping everyone be all that they can be is not charity; it’s good business.

Gardeners don’t control plants; managers don’t control people. Gardeners and managers have influence but not absolute authority. They can’t make a plant fit into the landscape or a person fit into a team.

A learnscape is a learning ecology. It’s learning without borders. You already have a learnscape. It’s probably not all that it could be.

While groups are a great way to learn, helping them achieve success is more akin to organizational development than to developing training. In fact, training a group may well backfire.
An analogy. A corporation hires Frank Gehry to design its new headquarters building. Six months later, Frank returns with plans for the building’s street-level bistro. It’s an eye-catching design, great shards of twisted aluminum casting mysterious shadows onto a fieldstone patio. But it’s not an office building. It’s part of an office building.

Instructional design is a great concept. You can’t argue against creative planning to improve getting to a favorable outcome – unless you’re designing the wrong thing.

Academic instructional design has traditionally focuses on producing courses. Courses are sometimes just what are called for, sort of like bistros. More often, corporations really need something larger, the whole building. I call this a learnscape, a learning ecology, or an environment for learning.
Learnscapes are the infrastructure for knowledge work. Training is part of a learnscape, but a very, very small part. More prominent aspects are nurturing groups, installing internet-style internal networks, promoting productive conversation and storytelling, integrating learning and work, setting the climate for mentoring and coaching, helping workers learn to learn, and, sometimes, just rearranging the furniture.

Knowledge workers are fundamentally different from factory workers. Paid to think, knowledge workers resent being told what to do. They expect to be given goals, along with enough resources to figure things out and accomplish them. They want to connect the dots for themselves… or with the assistance of members of their group.

Preparing the soil and planting the seeds

organizational learning
individual mastery


SoL’s tour of organizational learning concepts
Senge’s ladder of inference


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Society for Organizational Learning

Peter Senge’s Five Disciplines of Organizational Learning

Milestones in Organizational Learning 1938 to present

Concise overview of Peter Senge’s Dance of Change

Links from SoL on organizational learning


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School’s out

In a world of Gustavo Esteva was an IBM executive and adviser to the president of Mexico before joining the guerrilla freedom fighters in Chiapas. Several years ago he had to bow out of a meeting with a group of us because the rebel leader Subcommandante Marcos was in town and needed Gustavo’s advice.

Reclaiming our freedom to learn

“We learn better when nobody is teaching us. We can observe this in every baby and in our own experience. Our vital competence comes from learning by doing, without any kind of teaching.”

The people in the villages know very well that school prevents their children from learning what they need to know to continue living in their communities, contributing to the common well-being and that of their soils, their places. And school does not prepare them for life or work outside the community.

After the exercise, a very practical question came to the table. We have learned, with the Zapatistas, that while changing the world is very difficult, perhaps impossible, it is possible to create a whole new world. That is exactly what the Zapatistas are doing in the south of Mexico. How can we create our own new world, at our own, small, human scale, in our little corner in Oaxaca? How can we deschool our lives and those of our children in this real world, where the school still dominates minds, hearts and institutions?

The most dramatic lesson we derived from the exercise was to discover what we were really missing in the urban setting: conditions for apprenticeship. When we all request education and institutions where our children and young people can stay and learn, we close our eyes to the tragic social desert in which we live. They have no access to real opportunities to learn in freedom. In many cases, they can no longer learn with parents, uncles, grandparents—just talking to them, listening to their stories or observing them in their daily trade. Everybody is busy, going from one place to another. No one seems to have the patience any more to share with the new generation the wisdom accumulated in a culture. Instead of education, what we really need is conditions for decent living, a community.

In Unitierra we have been fruitfully following a suggestion of Paul Goodman, a friend of, and source of inspiration for, Ivan Illich. Goodman once said: “Suppose you had the revolution you are talking and dreaming about. Suppose your side won, and you had the kind of society you wanted. How would you live, you personally, in that society? Start living that way now! Whatever you would do then, do it now. When you run up against obstacles, people, or things that won’t let you live that way, then begin to think about how to get over or around or under that obstacle, or how to push it out of the way, and your politics will be concrete and practical.”

cf John Taylor Gatto

internet culture

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The Weakness of Strong Ties

Steve and I were close friends at business school. Both married and living off campus, we commuted into Boston together every day. We studied together. We sat together in class. We learned from one another. In the second year of our MBA program, we lived in adjoining apartments over a dentist’s office in Waltham.

Half a dozen years later, I was living in San Francisco, selling training for commercial loan officers to large banks. The product was hot; my customers in New York included Chase, Chemical, Manufacturers Hanover, and European-American Bank.

Steve landed a job managing the training and development side of the Queens Region of Citibank’s middle market banking group. Perfecto! I had been in touch with his predecessor. The stars were aligned. My friend had moved into one of the six positions I viewed as good prospects at Citi for what I was selling. We met at his office the next month.

Steve and I caught up on family life, our erratic career paths, and life in NYC. I walked through the highlights of the pitch that had won over Bank of America, First Interstate, and numerous others. I suggested we set up a no-risk pilot. Steve agreed.

I never heard from Steve again.

If Steve had been a stranger, he would have become a customer, but Steve had not heard the benefits of what I had to offer. All he could see was his buddy from business school. My chats with senior loan officers at scores of major banks didn’t fit Steve’s preconceived profile of who I was. I considered myself a mover ad shaker in the commercial lending profession; my friend saw only the guy who lived across the hall.


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It’s not about the technology


Jay Cross argues that online collaboration is not just about the technology.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first article on online collaboration written explicitly for managers to focus on people and politics instead of buzzwords and technology.

The business press, executive conferences, and other leading voices can’t stop talking about Web 2.0 and collaboration. You’ve read the stories: The web is now Web 2.0, the read/write web. Wikipedia is a user-written encyclopaedia written entirely by volunteers. Facebook and YouTube are growing faster than the web in its meteoric growth phase. Google’s P/E ratio is astronomical.

This is all well and good, but it provides no guidance to the business manager who wants to take advantage of the new technology.

Managers need to know the opportunities and the pitfalls, applications and benefits, tricks of the trade and where to begin.

People working together are vastly more productive than people working in isolation.

Collaboration is about building relationships that foster ideas, intentions, and interests. Coworkers learn from one another. They inspire one another. They build on each another’s ideas. Small groups of them can move mountains. A collaborative enterprise with shared values and common purpose can change the world.

Workers innately know that when people work together they produce greater results and enjoy their work more, too. Until quite recently, collaboration was not easy, especially if distance was involved, people didn’t have access to the same information, or a worker couldn’t figure out who was the right person to contact.

Those barriers are fading fast. Software and networks that support collaboration are in place and cheap, too. Workers complain about silos; social networks enable them to walk through silo walls. Companies are losing customers disgusted with unhelpful help desks, phone labyrinths, and not understanding what’s going on. Transparency and self-service are the cure.

In business, collaboration is a means to an end, and that end is prosperity, longevity, and growth. I asked Harvard Business School’s Andrew McAfee, who coined the term Enterprise 2.0, why he thinks social software will transform the business world. He told me that today’s collaborative technologies can knit together an enterprise and facilitate knowledge work in ways that were simply not possible previously. They have the potential to usher in a new era by making both the practices of knowledge work and its outputs more visible.

What’s holding us back? It’s no longer the technology. It’s the people and their organisations. That’s what this article is all about. How are companies working with their people to take advantage of the power of the collaborative web? Why might you want your organisation to embrace web 2.0? To collaborate is to work jointly with others or together, especially in an intellectual endeavour (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary).

Business has already squeezed the big process improvements out of its industrial systems. For many companies, the benefits of collaboration and networking are virgin territory. The upside potential is staggering: people innovating, sharing, supporting one another, all naturally and without barriers.

The traditional approach has been to automate routine tasks in order to reduce cost; the new vision is to empower people to take advantage of their innate desire to share and learn.

Web 2.0, the ‘collaborative web,’ makes file cabinets and hard drives overflowing with email obsolete. Members of a group can share information and make improvements to one copy that’s virtually available to everyone. Workers learn to remix rather than re-invent, and having everyone read from the same page overcomes the danger of mistaking obsolete information for current. Distance no longer keeps workers apart. As we remove obstacles, the time required to do anything shrivels up.

Collaboration that does not increase revenue, improve relationships with customers, cut costs, grow employees, expand innovation, communicate values, streamline the work process, or help execute strategy should not be funded. As Eugene Kim has noted, “There is no such thing as collaboration without a goal.”

The Web is chock full of explanations of blogs, tags, and other social software. Little has been written about how managers can put these things to work. I interviewed scores of people to capture their thoughts on the human side of implementing and sustaining collaborative networks. As you would expect, people have different notions of what works. I’ve tried to capture these multiple perspectives in the checklists and vignettes that follow.

Following the suggestions here may improve your odds of success but there’s no guarantee. Successful collaboration requires dedication, continuous small improvements, and cultural support.

Companies are using social software to:

  • Speed up the flow of information through the organisation
  • Improve customer service
  • Streamline workflow and slash bureaucracy
  • Unleash the power of collective intelligence
  • Create a nerve centre for corporate news and market intelligence
  • Make all corporate know-how accessible 24/7
  • Recruit the best candidates for new positions and make them productive quickly
  • Replace training classes with informal, hands- on learning
  • Open the process of innovation to all employees
  • Help workers build strong, supportive relationships
  • Enable managers to assess the status and direction of projects
  • Empower all employees to contribute ideas and feel part of the team
  • Develop more productive relationships with customers, prospects, recruits, partners, supply chain, and other employees

Compared to old-style groupware such as Lotus Notes, social software is simple, unstructured, emergent, inherently transparent, and can scale.

The balance of this article tells what companies did to achieve these benefits and share their advice on being successful while avoiding the pitfalls. Changing the nature of how people relate to one another at work is not easy. People, organisations, and corporate cultures have different views on being open, taking risks, trying new things, realigning responsibilities, learning new technologies, and trusting one another. What works in one organisation may fail in the next.
The safe approach is to begin with a few small- scale experiments, score some successes, and replicate them in other areas of the company. As the technology takes hold, policies are drawn to enforce common standards and safe behaviour.

Once upon a time, there were three bears: Baby Bear, Mama Bear, and Papa Bear. Baby Bear was curious, enthusiastic, and a bit unruly. Mama Bear was practical, cautious, and experimented in the kitchen. Paper Bear spent most of his time hibernating but was a powerhouse once he woke up and smelled the coffee.

The bears mirror the stages of adoption of online collaborative environments. (We use a fairy tale because while the bears’ biographies are drawn from real life, their stories have been simplified, merged, and selectively edited here. The real world is never this simple). You’re about to get a bear’s eye view of collaboration, its business value, and potential pitfalls, at each stage.

Baby bear Mama bear Papa bear
Motivation Curiosity, immediate need Opportunistic application Leverage enterprise assets
Focus Prototyping Applying Exploiting
Level Individual, team Group, department Enterprise
Benefits realised Capture organisation-wide knowledge and keep it alive, save time, self-service information, non-controversial projects Increase innovation, cut bureaucracy, don’t re-invent the wheel, simplify project management Nimble, quick-response organisation, improve service
Sample project Coordinate supplier information across company Google searching inside the firewall Knowledge management that works

Originally the web resembled a brochure; you could read it but not much else. Now the web is morphing into a stage. The audience are becoming the actors. The set is flexible. Most of the acting/collaboration is improvisational. The platform does not determine what takes place on stage. It’s an environment.

Andy McAfee says “Enterprise 2.0 is the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.”

Figuring out the nuts and bolts of the technology is the easy part. If you want to find out more about the technologies underneath social software, check out Ross Dawson’s wonderful diagram of the collaborative web on the next page.

I’m going to use the terms social software, web 2.0, and collaborative online environment interchangeably. It’s all a mix of blogs, wikis, RSS, mash-ups, search engines, tags, widgets, and bots. The medium is not the message.


Baby Bear is intensely curious, driven to try new things just for the heck of it. Most collaboration projects begin at the bottom of the organisation and migrate upward. Typically, a young internet enthusiast who knows the web 2.0 environment joins the company. She sees an opportunity to improve local performance with a blog or wiki. She takes a proposal to her manager. One hopes that the manager asks “What’s the business case?” If they decide the proposal is worthy of consideration, the next step will be to create a prototype to try the idea on for size.

Happily, the costs of setting up a web 2.0 application are trivial. Furthermore, applications are simple to program. You no longer need to be a programmer to produce a prototype for show-and-tell. Many a prototype has been developed in a matter of hours.

Baby bear is the application champion. If he is low in the organisation, he probably begins with a simple, free, online wiki to deal with
a local problem and builds support by pointing people to the wiki. Baby bears come in all sizes. In addition to the local enthusiasts, social software projects have been initiated by:

  • CIO – fulfiling request from others
  • CIO – trial, seeing if it lives up to rumours
  • Line manager with specific problem to solve
  • Staff – exploring process improvements
  • HR – best practices, organisation development
  • Exec – read about it in airplane magazine
  • Exec – major push, organisational challenge.

The U.S. Department of Defence spends the most money on training of any organisation in the world, yet a simple web application started by two company commanders on their own has become the most important source of collaboration and knowledge sharing among officers in Iraq.

Two company commanders who had been classmates at West Point shared quarters. In the evening, they would talk over the day’s events and reflect on what they had learned. Sensing that other officers might want to join the conversation, they started a blog. Rather than go through channels, they didn’t ask for permission. (Anyone can set up a blog for free in less than five minutes.)

The blog spread virally among company commanders, becoming more valuable as more voices chimed in. Soon the blog, Company Command, was a must-read. Unlike material coming from the Pentagon, the conversations in the blog told what had happened only hours before; they were in everyday, conversational English, not bureaucratese; they focused on need-to-know information for survival, not something one might use next year.

In another case, a staffer in a large company thought an in-house Wikipedia would help employees find information and retain a corporate memory. A technology evangelist downloaded free software and implemented a wiki behind the firewall. It soon became the bridge among five divisional silos and the go-to place for finding things out. Volunteers populated the system with handy information from all corners. New hires get up to speed by spending a day exploring the in-house information centre.

Bottom-up collaborative environments all over the corporation tend to improve functions that are already in place. Criteria for selection: pick the low-hanging fruit.

When small projects gain enough attention to appear on the corporate radar, responsibility for selecting and implementing social software is delegated to the IT department, either to take the prototype forward or perhaps because the IT press and CIO community say it’s the thing to do. CIO magazine, once sceptical of the web as an intrusion onto IT’s turf, is now singing its praises, e.g.:

One of the driving forces behind Web 2.0 is the virtual office – teams of far-flung experts collaborating online to create a whole greater than the sum of its contributors

A KM system that’s ‘actually being used’ – this kind of language hints at the scepticism both users and CIOs have had about KM for years.

One final bit of good news: Users say the new, simpler KM tools make it easier to justify the investment to your fellow C-level executives. “It can be very difficult to make a pitch to senior management about why knowledge management is important, because it’s not real to them,” explains Northwestern Mutual’s Austin. Now, she just shows them blog users engaged in explaining their projects to coworkers.

Enterprise 2.0 tools make it easier to share and organise information. Tagging and rating provide a straightforward way to find content and make judgments about what to look at. Blogs and wikis are natural collaboration and communication platforms. Social network tools help staff find the right individual or group of people. Enterprise 2.0 has the potential to provide knowledge and content management in a surprisingly cheap and easy fashion using Web-based tools (ABC An Introduction to Web 2.0, CIO magazine, July 12, 2007).

Sometimes IT becomes involved because it controls everything to do with computers. This can have disastrous consequences if IT takes full control. Implementing online collaboration deals more with people issues than software decisions, but IT people solve IT issues.

A typical selection process may involve setting up a matrix of vendors and features, yet features are unimportant compared to ease of use and other factors. Social software is often lightweight, but inexpensive can translate as unimportant to IT. The upshot is that often the customer view is not taken into account.
Little bear needs IT’s help in enforcing the standards necessary for efficiency. IT should lend its expertise and influence in security, compliance, and building a foundation for growth.

If not an IT decision, a business user with a problem to solve probably initiates the inquiry. Sometimes the goal is meta, for example, increasing innovation. More often the issue is immediately practical, for example  onboarding 1,500 new staff or tracking plans for 75 customers. Criteria for selection: solve a burning business problem.

Sometimes executives mandate experiments with social software because they’ve read about it in the business press or hear success stories from colleagues. Their interest may be faster cycle times, unleashing corporate wisdom, consolidating an acquisition, or other over-arching need. Criteria for
project selection: focus on strategically important areas.

One of the driving forces behind Web 2.0 is the virtual office – teams of far-flung experts collaborating online to create a whole greater than the sum of its contributors.

At this stage, all we have is a prototype. Nonetheless it’s a good idea to test the water before jumping into the pool. At least that will keep you from diving into hot water.

Consultant, online advocate, and champion of NGOs Beth Kanter has lots of experience assessing whether an organisation is ready for online collaboration. Beth thinks you are not ready if:

  • Management is obsessively controlling
  • The organisation will not accept changes in how you work
  • Your employees are not online
  • Everything must be vetted by central authority

On the other hand, you may be prepared if you want to:

  • Make it easy for people to share knowledge
  • Are willing to share ideas in progress and let others join in
  • Want to enable many voices
  • Can deal with messiness

Your mileage may vary, but initial projects have a better chance of thriving if:

  • Participants have a shared need.
  • It’s easy for participants to see what’s in it for them.
  • The information involved is not controversial.
  • A sound business case can be made.
  • Stand-alone implementation is feasible (i.e. not requiring connection with other systems)
  • The project yields a good example to use when getting support for other projects.
  • You can open in New Haven.

New Haven? Sixty years ago, producers staged new plays at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, before taking them to Broadway. No critics were in the audience, so if a major overhaul was required before the official release, no one was the wiser. Similarly, if your first prototype bombs, it’s nice to be able to sweep it under the carpet and begin anew.

To maintain focus, the owner of a project should prepare a document in response to these questions:

  • What is the goal of the collaboration?
  • What’s the current situation?
  • What do you expect it to be after the project?
  • How will this be accomplished?
  • What is the business benefit? (In business terms).
  • How do you quantify the size of the benefit?
  • Who’s going to take part?
  • What might go wrong?
  • Is this a one-time project or an on-going process?
  • Do we have sponsorship higher up?
  • Who will participate on the team?
  • If it’s a one-timer, when will it be completed? What is the kill date?

Display your answers prominently on the wiki, blog, or whatever tool is involved.

It’s great to begin a long-term collaboration with a face-to-face meeting. Either in person or virtual, social bonding comes before business, for that’s the platform on which the work will be built. Begin with games and getting-to-know-you exercises. Give people time to talk and become familiar with one another.

Social connections remain vital throughout the collaboration. People work best with people they know. Encourage people to share information about themselves. Post photographs of participants. Pinpoint their locations on a map. It’s important that collaborators are working under the same set of assumptions. Discuss each of these areas and ask for individual commitment to them.

  • Respect the team, and do what is best to accomplish the objective. Be selfless, not selfish.
  • Members will be active. If a member spots something to improve the collaboration, she volunteers to do it.
  • Members freely share ideas and suggestions. They do not hoard information or keep secrets.
  • Members treat each other with respect. The team is committed to continuous improvement.
  • Members care for one another emotionally, helping one another over rough spots and fears.
  • Use whatever tools are appropriate to advance the project: phone calls, on-line meetings.
  • Members trust one another. They ‘make this marriage work.’

Be prepared for push-back. Workers who see collaboration as hindering their work rather than supporting it will be reluctant to join the effort. organisations that are accustomed to a single viewpoint (usually top management’s) can become rattled as other voices begin to speak. It’s useful to recruit a band of early supporters to help sell the value of the project.

You cannot learn to swim without getting in the water. You will not appreciate collaborative technology without writing entries in a blog, taking part in a wiki, and subscribing to an RSS feed.

If you haven’t experienced these things, don’t go into denial. Yes, you really need to do them. No, logic is insufficient for grasping what is going on. It needn’t take more than an hour or two, spread out over a week or two to experience these things. Find a private place to practice. Trust us, it’s painless. And you’ll be rewarded with not only your online collaboration license but also a big ah-ha of understanding.

To earn your automobile license, you have to demonstrate that you can drive the vehicle. Likewise, you don’t really qualify for a collaboration driver license until you’ve taken part in a successful collaboration.

Hints on what works with social software

  • Keep it simple
  • Keep it flexible
  • Do it yourself (blog/wiki) or you won’t understand it
  • Be innovative, ever alert to productivity improvements
  • Be open to new ways of doing things
  • Release early and release often. Just do it
  • Promotion is important. Remind people where to look
  • Focus on the function rather than on the tools
  • Provide step-by-step how-to guides
  • Provide the opportunity to celebrate small successes
  • Give people time to practice using the software – it is easy to forget how to do things, especially when you don’t use the software regularly.

Mama Bear is practical. She has little choice: raising a cub while holding down a full-time job is no picnic. Baby Bear was happy to conduct experiments. Mama Bear is hungry for major change. She is chasing after value. Baby Bear was a little scared; Mama is a fearless huntress. Baby Bear tried a few prototypes. Mama contemplates a network of networks that’s grows like a virus.

Metcalf’s Law posits that value of a network grows exponentially with the addition of connections. Left unfettered, network nodes reproduce like rabbits on espresso. Think, for example, of the hyper growth of the internet, the web, MySpace, YouTube, and FaceBook. Once social networks take hold, expect them to grow like topsy, too. Moreover, the denser the network, the faster its cycle time. More connections make it quicker to get from one node to another.

Imagine how this can happen in an organisation. The first nodes appear as the company experiments with a few small projects such as co-ordinating online project groups or making it easier to find information with a ‘Wikipedia inside.’ New hires are accustomed to going wherever they wish in a network; imagine that they begin communicating between silos.

HR realises that the company-pedia can accelerate onboarding new employees. Customer service improves as everyone gains access to corporate resources such as who does what and how to find them. Replacing multiple versions with a single source of information cuts bureaucracy and chops email volume back. The growth of corporate connections feeds on itself.

Baby Bear was looking for simple applications that showed the potential of online collaboration. Mama Bear is out for the biggest bang for the buck. She will have to explain her choices to the bears with more seniority. It’s sensitive.

Here’s a list of organisational dysfunctions and opportunities for improvement that others have solved using enterprise 2.0. Mama Bear will use the list to set her mind to work; she will share it with the other bears to get their insight. Which of these things will return the most value to the corporation?

Inefficiency and bureaucracy

  • Deluged by internal email
  • Can’t find the right person when you need to
  • People don’t know who knows what
  • Can’t find the right information when you need it
  • Project coordination is tedious and things fall through the cracks
  • Re-invent the same documents and processes over and over again
  • Departments squabble more often than they collaborate
  • Don’t learn from the people who join us from competitors
  • Execs can’t get a read of progress on projects
  • Documentation is dated, versions confuse Not learning
  • Not prepared for the onslaught of digital natives we’re recruiting
  • Training can’t keep pace with the business
  • Training administration, creation, and delivery cost too much
  • Managers hoard information
  • Not learning fast enough to keep up with the needs of our business

Unenthusiastic, sluggish staff

  • Recruiting is harder than ever
  • Some do the minimum to get by
  • People are not innovators and don’t keep up
  • Our know-how is walking out the door due to retirement and turnover
  • People are glum because of the economy, an industry slump, etc
  • Turnover is too high
  • When good people leave, we never see or hear from them again
  • No time for experimentation or prototyping Underdeveloped organisation
  • Difficult to collaborate inside the corporate firewall
  • Difficult to collaborate outside the corporate firewall
  • People prefer to work solo than on teams
  • Takes too long for new hires to become productive
  • Analysis paralysis
  • ‘Wait and see’ attitude = missed opportunities
  • Culture clash, as if we are two organisations with different priorities

Suboptimal execution

  • Not everyone is on the same page
  • Our people don’t know our history, values, culture
  • Set in our ways, reluctant to change
  • Not moving fast enough to stay ahead of competitors
  • Functional silos thwart process improvement
  • Still acting like two separate organisations long after the merger
  • Hard to find out where we are as an organisation
  • Teams don’t talk about the trends and forces that drive our business
  • Don’t reflect on the lessons of our successes and failures
  • Don’t take advantage of our collective intelligence

Substandard revenue

  • Sales are declining, customers are postponing decisions
  • Sales and marketing departments are on different planets
  • Sales force cannot express benefits of new products
  • Sellers unaware of industry conditions and competition
  • Friction in relationships with distributors
  • Partners are not well informed
  • Relationships with customers are arms-length Deficient service
  • Response time to customers is sub-par
  • After-sales enquiries are bogging down our call centres
  • 800 numbers and phone trees are driving customers away
  • Service is inconvenient for customers, not 24/7
  • We don’t learn from our customers
  • Not building customer loyalty
  • Customer and prospects are confused, frustrated

As the organisation’s use of collaborative software crosses the chasm from speciality item to important business process, focus shifts to keeping collaboration vibrant, disseminating lessons learned, and informally benchmarking performance.

Companies that have made the transition suggest these practices for maintaining momentum after initial enthusiasm wears thin:

  • Dismantle roadblocks to collaboration
  • Make the goal and ground rules clear at the outset
  • Structure the initial framework to fit the task
  • Make the online environment attracting and inviting
  • Pre-load templates, background info, defaults
  • Provide emotional support for newcomers
  • Delegate responsibility for keeping the ball rolling to the team
  • Rely on self-regulation
  • Don’t micro-manage
  • Market the service: publicity, seed with enthusiasts, contests
  • Incentives to get things ramped up
  • Report results at least quarterly
  • Conclude project teams with written evaluation
  • Participants suggest “How we can make this better”
  • Don’t skimp on investment. This is all cheap compared to the alternative.
  • Use bots to send periodic reminders about what’s going on
  • Encourage (or enforce!) tagging, making things searchable and thus easier to use

Many workers are drowning in information and info-clutter. Their lives are not their own because they feel they must deal with every incoming email or announcement.

Every day it’s as if an evil genie dumps boatloads of information, price increases, questions, recall notices, changes to plans, trade regulations, competitive threats, and email into our offices to greet us in the morning.

Most of what we receive is not relevant to our needs; it was the product of a thoughtless cc: or mass mailing. As with spam, the sender incurs no cost but the recipient pays dearly in time and distraction.

One way out of this quagmire is going after the information you need rather than taking all the information that is pushed on you. My first blog post on the first day of 2007 said “The tide will turn, saving humankind from drowning in diversions. At the point of being overwhelmed by repeated shotgun blasts of
infobits, people will turn the gun around and hunt down what they want.”

We’ll be able to select what mail, email, television programmes, phone calls, and reports we want in our lives. We’re accustomed to taking whatever is delivered; in the future, we’ll take what we choose. Media, software, training, and telephones will give us the ability to filter what gets past our personal firewalls.

I’m not predicting that pull will replace push everywhere we get information, just that the balance will shift more toward the pull end of the spectrum than the push.

As social networks become more visible in the organisation, they are certain to attract scrutiny by senior managers who never received their Online Collaboration Driver License. Giving every worker the ability to write things into documents that can be seen by all looks like a formula for chaos. And won’t some bad actors muck about, spraying the files with digital graffiti. Time and time again, the answer has turned out to be ‘no.’

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has addressed the issue of vandalism countless times. He draws an analogy to opening a new restaurant. This is America, so the restaurant is going to serve steak. Some steak is tough, so he will provide patrons with steak knives. People can stab one another with knives, so he will seat his guests in cages.

Whoa! Time out! You’ve got to trust the people to behave in a civilised manner or give up on the restaurant idea entirely.

And so it goes with open collaboration in the corporate world. Employees don’t turn into monsters just because they are online. Everything submitted carries the name of its author. What better way to lose your job than by acting foolishly in front of all to see.

Nonetheless, because this is a new medium and because you’ve got corporate attorneys assuming the worst, it’s wise to set expectations and post guidelines. Here’s one organisation’s policy for participating in the in-house wiki:

Assume good faith. Assume that most people who work on the project are trying to help it, not hurt it.

Civility. Being rude, insensitive or petty makes people upset and hinders collaboration. Try to discourage others from being uncivil, and be careful to avoid offending people unintentionally.

Common sense. Don’t do anything in the collaborative environment that you wouldn’t do face to face.

Editing policy. Improve pages wherever you can, and don’t worry about leaving them imperfect. (It’s all beta.)

No personal attacks. Do not make personal attacks. Comment on content, not on the contributor. Personal attacks damage the community and deter users. Nobody likes abuse.

Ownership of articles. You agreed to allow others to modify your work. So let them.

Papa Bear, sometimes known as executive management, has slept through Baby’s and Mama’s online collaborative campaigns. Sleep is good, he thinks to himself. Having been around long enough to be sporting an occasional grey hair, Papa’s nose tells him something important is going on.

Papa Bear’s primary concern is milking online collaboration and Enterprise 2.0 for all they are worth. He knows it’s important for workers, clients, and partners to connect and collaborate. Papa Bear wants to be certain he’s leaving no honey, oops money, on the table.

The rest of the business world was hardly standing still while Papa Bear hibernated, for this is the age of networks. Collaborative software will connect prospects and sales people, customers and service, partners and product information, and supply chain with operations.

The future world of business is evolving into plug-and-play, outsourcing functions that are not core. Internet technology provides a common language for connecting business functions and processing routine transactions. “I’ll have my computers talk with your computers.”

Papa Bear knows that without an online collaboration framework in-house, the company could be cut off from its customers and business partners. Also, it’s unlikely many of the people being hired right out of college would buy into the old lone worker with pencil and paper routine.

Papa Bear expects collaboration and network infrastructure to follow the trajectory of IT. At first, computing was relegated to the low- hanging fruit: routine tasks like accounting that were simple to automate with the same logic humans had already applied. In time, IT expanded to become enterprise software, an octopus hooked into sales, inventory, accounting, financial forecasting, HR, marketing, business intelligence, and vendor relations. Collaboration – relationships – give an organisation the agility to adapt to change and the speed to create value ahead of others.

Whenever a bottom-up phenomenon in business evolves into a strategically vital proposition, executive management steps in to insure the firm isn’t treading on thin ice and to track to make sure the return their investment is optimal, neither too risky nor too conservative.

For three hundred years, bears (and people) have revered efficiency, productivity, the accumulation of wealth, and things they could see and touch. This view of the world became second nature, so obvious that we didn’t question it. Until now. We are in transition from the industrial age to the network era. When it’s difficult for people to make connections, knowledge and power are scarce, and a few ‘haves’ control the ‘have-nots’. We see this top-down structure in feudalism, kingdoms, colonies, armies, and industrial organisations.

When it becomes easy for people to make connections, knowledge and power are distributed, and everyone has a say. The internet lives to make connections, millions of them daily. Connections beget connections, making the whole ever more value, and perhaps ending up a ‘singularity’ where things happen so fast that we no longer recognise what’s going on.

No organisation inhabits these extremes. Even the most command-and-control firm uses email and has internet access; the most networked still harbour unconnected nooks and crannies. Most knowledge organisations today find themselves in this in-between state. They have one foot in the command-and-control model. New hires, at this point twenty-somethings, are bringing the ways they have been doing projects at home with them.

New recruits are refusing to work with organisations that don’t permit them to post a personal profile, use instant messenger, and connect to friends when they encounter a question. Elliott Masie tells of his disappointment with a new hire who had the continual distraction of six friends always a click away on her desktop. How could she concentrate? Then he realised that instead of having one new person working for The Masie Centre, he had seven!

We’re not all Motorolas or Ciscos, ready to adopt new technology at the drop of a hat. Most companies are somewhere between being stuck in the past and embracing the future.

I think of organisations with the industrial-age beliefs as ice, because they are rigid. In addition to their orientation to control, ice organisations think business is a zero-sum game; for me to win, you must lose. They have a black-and-white view of the world; things are rigid; the fundamentals still apply. Secrecy is competition advantage; hoarding information is the norm.

Water companies are less sure of themselves or what the future will bring; Reality is the unpredictable result of complex adaptive forces. Nothing’s perfect; stuff happens. Cooperation is a win-win game. Relationships are all-important, and the more open you are, the easier it is to form them.

Where is your organisation? Ice or water? Your answers to a few questions will probably make it clear:

  • Can employees access the entire internet from their desktops?
  • Are People in our company not learning and growing fast enough to keep up with the needs of our business?
  • Does corporate policy forbid blogging outside our firewall.
  • Do our sales people share sales techniques and call reports online?
  • Following a major success or failure, do we take time to reflect on what we’ve learned?
  • Do people know how their work relates to our mission and vision?
  • Do employees in one department know what’s happening in other parts of the company?
  • Is it simple to set up an online meeting here?
  • Does my team frequently talk about the trends and forces that drive our business?
  • Are relationships between departments cooperative and effective?
  • Do we distribute information through podcasts?
  • Do we believe in transparency and openness whenever possible?

You don’t need an answer key to figure out where you are.

If your company is on the water side, you are a candidate for the transformation Andy McAfee describes.

In the interest of getting a lot of suggestions in front of you, I have focused on what has worked. One could write a longer paper on what has not gone well. Implementing collaboration online systems is not a day at the beach. Doing it right takes vision, persistence, and courage. Don’t give up; the rewards are worth the effort.

In your father’s time, workers prospered by knowing how to do their jobs and doing them. In our time, workers get along by connecting with others and staying in sync with ever- changing conditions. Increasingly, what they need to know is not in their heads; it’s a shared understanding held by lots of people. Having exceeded the limits of what any of us can understand on our own, we turn to our collective intelligence to survive.

Organisations at the top of the food chain are shucking off industrial-age thinking as best they can, but it is difficult. Since your great- great- great- great- great- great- great- greatgrandfather’s day, we’ve revered efficiency, productivity, the accumulation of wealth, and things we could see and touch. The game is changing. With one foot in the industrial age and the other in the evolving network age, our organisations are being ripped up the middle. The world is too volatile to wait for it to pass over.

Never before in history has progress raced along at such a rate that children lap their parents. If you’d like to brainstorm how to inject collaborative technology into your organisation, please call me or any thirteen-year old. Collaborate with them.

Organizations & community

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