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 Salesforce.com 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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