This past week I have been reading interview transcripts for a client. After reading several of these 20-page documents it became clear what was able to hold my attention — stories, especially first person accounts. I also remember the stories much better than the general discussions or advice given. One of the simplest definitions of storytelling is by Jonathan Gottschall in The Storytelling Animal — Story = Character + Predicament + Attempted Extrication.
Roger Schank has covered story telling and knowledge management in great detail. Here are some highlights from a 2010 DARPA presentation.
I had previously worked with stories on a client project to implement an ‘institutional memory’ system. This client was growing at a rapid rate and wanted employees in the future to understand the past of the organization. We learned that to be effective, institutional memory — especially the decisions taken over time — has to be part of the workflow of any knowledge worker doing complex work and making decisions.
Ewen Le Borgne writes that, “Institutional memory feeds off strong personal knowledge management among individual staff members”. Personal knowledge mastery is a set of processes, individually constructed, to help each of us make sense of our world and work more effectively. PKM is an ongoing process of filtering information from our networks, creating knowledge individually and with our teams, and then discerning with whom and when to share the artifacts of our knowledge. PKM helps to put our knowledge maps out there for others to see.
The field of knowledge management is nothing without people engaged in the process. Viola Spolin, creator of the ‘Theater Games’ actor training system, said that, “Information is a weak form of communication.” But, it can be improved, as Gary Schwartz notes, “Story becomes important in the ordering of all this information.” Stories are the glue, holding information together in some semblance of order, for our brains to process into knowledge.
But time and place for telling stories are also important. In Working the Past: Narrative and Institutional Memory Charlotte Linde discusses the importance of ‘occasions’ in sharing institutional memory. “Without the occasion, the story rarely or never gets told”. Linde concludes that, “A story not having a proper occasion on which it can or must be told exists in an archive if it exists at all. An institution not having a range of occasions for telling stories is not likely to be working its past very hard.” My own experience in the military reflects many different occasions, from formal to very relaxed, in which to share stories.
For example, while any company’s institutional memory should be what Linde refers to as an open canon, or one that has new stories added over time, there is also a place for an official version of certain stories. An example is the first authorized history of MidWest Insurance, published in 1955 and still printed for internal use. Linde at first wondered if the book was more for show than use.
I began to wonder whether the book was displayed as a talisman of loyalty or whether it really was read. When I mused on this question to a district manager I had come to know, she assured me that she used it all the time. I asked what she used it for. Her answer was that she “mined it for stories” for speeches, since she had come to the company relatively recently, and that she didn’t know the history “by blood”, that is, she did not come from a MidWest family, and had joined MidWest in the middle of her career.
We are hard-wired to tell and remember stories. It probably began when we started to sit around a fire. Early humans may have diverged from other primates when they began eating meat. This meat was likely burnt from frequent lightning strikes on the African savanna. They did not even have to know how start a fire, only how to keep one going. Eating cooked meat gave a much higher caloric intake and human brains grew significantly larger than their primate cousins.
As humans developed a taste for cooked meat and a source of constant fire at their campsites, they had to work together socially. Hunting or gathering during the day was very task-focused but in the evening groups of our ancestors sat around the fire for protection. This is where storytelling began. Modern day Ju/’hoansi of the Kalahari Desert reflect this in their daily routine — ‘daytime talk’ and ‘fireside talk’ are quite different. The vocabulary of the latter is much larger and evenings are much more engaged in storytelling. This is one of the initial premises of Edward O. Wilson’s book, The Origins of Creativity.
However, I will close with a word of caution. While storytelling skills may be important, a critical network era skill — as we get inundated with stories on social media — will be the ability to deconstruct stories, or story skepticism. Thinking critically about how a story affects us emotionally is important before hitting the Tweet or Post buttons that are now so handy on our smart devices. We need to become story skeptics so the many emerging and deceptive storytellers do not lead us astray.
|Image from safety.af.mil|
Every fortnight I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds.
“Leadership is a serious meddling in the lives of others. Managers/leaders with poor self-awareness and not knowing how their behaviour affects staff do not get the best out of their teams.” —@shauncoffey
No matter how stupid and powerless we have been led to think of ourselves, we have at our fingertips — in our pockets, even — access to the near-totality of human knowledge and capacity.
It’s not too late to rise to this occasion. Omniscience requires good filtering. We may have gotten access to every piece of real and fake information ever produced but without the ability to discriminate between them. We got the intimacy of universal connectivity but without social skills to navigate it. We got perfect memory but without the necessary corresponding compassion for one another’s past missteps and failures.
Much is made about Silicon Valley’s culture of “innovation.” But the model for startup venture financing, and the system of rewards driving this supposed innovation, isn’t creative — it’s masturbatory. It wastes potential. It’s uninspired. It leaves founders like us staring at the ceiling.
The problem is that the platform Zuckerberg created does more than “give people voice, and bring people together.” It is economically incentivized to drive people apart. In the process it shatters an underpinning of democracy … Social media has, indeed, changed the way people create information. But platforms such as Facebook have also changed how people consume content; corporate algorithms are now the “centralized power” in control of that consumption. Openness and transparency must come to social media. Targetcasting should not destroy foundational elements of our democracy.
Empathy, therefore, is the human capability of discovering the equivalence of one’s internal self-model with that of its observations of the world. Empathy is how we make sense of the world. Conventionally, we employ the word ‘understanding’ to this capability. The origin of the word ‘understanding’ comes from the Latin prehendere, to grasp. Understanding means to grasp an idea, to hold on to an idea. The problem with this metaphor is that it fails to express the notion that understanding of any new idea is possible only when it relates to one’s own internal mental models. One cannot grasp a new idea if one has not developed the cognitive roots to hang that idea on to that mental tree. That is why you cannot achieve ‘symbol grounding’ in a top-down manner.
So when we understand ideas, we don’t grab and take ideas and separate them from their original sources. It is more like we empathize with what is external. What this means is that we don’t internalize everything that is external. We only internalize the bits and pieces that we can attach to our existing cognitive models. The remainder remains in external form. So when we look out into the world with our eyes, we don’t internalize everything we see. We only internalize what is important to our self-models, the rest we discard. We discard the rest because there are limits to our cognition and that our cognition is very frugal. The key to understanding the uniqueness of human cognition is understanding how we recognize what is relevant and what is not.
I was asked today about my sensemaking routine. I try not to talk too much about how I do things because I believe that a practice — like personal knowledge mastery — has to be personal, or it will not last. But perhaps I can give some details to help others find there own way. The question was asked during the current PKM Workshop and the next one starts on 13 January 2020.
One of the things I’m trying to figure out is the most efficient workflow for moving from reading >> notes >> sensemaking >> drafts >> publishing articles. Right now, the pieces feel really disconnected for me, and I don’t see many people talking about their process in detail.
Nancy Dixon tells a wonderful story about ‘Researcher’s Square’ and the hallway of learning. The whole story is well-worth your time. It describes how a diverse group of mostly independent researchers who worked in their individual offices were able to cooperate and even collaborate due to a change in the built architecture. A central hallway was placed in the middle of 20 offices so that everyone had to 1) use the same café area, and 2) use the only available large table & whiteboard, which were visible to everyone, for group meetings. In addition, copies of everyone’s published research was on display in this central area. While most researchers felt this would not change their work behaviours, it did.
We see from this example that people, even very smart people, are unable to anticipate the benefits of in-depth interaction with colleagues until they have experienced it for themselves.
Before people can learn from each other or collaborate on issues, they need to build connections – that is, gain some understanding of who the other person is, including their skills, depth of knowledge, experience, and attitude toward others.
The researchers proved to be more interested in others’ projects than they thought they would be.
The learning that occurred in Researcher’s Square did not come from presentations, rather the knowledge gained was through conversation.
Selling cooperation is a hard job. Like complexity, the relationship between cause and effect is seen only after the fact. I find this with my PKM workshops — there is a lot of confusion until each participant has an ‘aha’ moment. We cannot know in advance what will trigger this moment or when it will happen. This is why small changes — Trojan mice — can be much more effective. There can be many experiments and a variety of experiences in different contexts. They do not have to be expensive or highly staffed either. The example given by Nancy Dixon took advantage of an already-scheduled move. A work culture that is open to this kind of experimentation is one that can keep learning.
One of the earliest stages of the De Beers Knowledge Management strategy was to try some simple KM processes on some of the key activities or projects within the organization; to see if they worked, to see if they generated value, to come up with some early wins, and to create some success stories which could be used for marketing.
De Beers Headquarters, Johannesburg;
Image from wikimedia commons
Ian Corbett, the De Beers Knowledge Management lead, had already identified one or two possibilities, and more had come up during the strategy workshop. There was one very interesting and challenging possibility though, which would be a real test of the power of Knowledge Management; the !Gariep project.
!Gariep had been a blue-sky technology project for De Beers Marine. The De Beers Marine team had planned to build a piece of mining technology beyond anything that currently existed. The project had been an ambitious challenge, and many many learnings had been generated; so many learnings that the organisation had been unsure how to harvest them for reuse. Some of the key players were still in the organisation, others had left.
Ian saw the possibility of using the Retrospect process as a powerful and non-confrontational way of harnessing some of that knowledge.
The !Gariep retrospect took place over two days in Cape Town, involving 25 members of the project team, with up to four years history with the project. We divided the project into four stages, and spent half a day on each stage. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that we invited too many managers and not enough "workers" to the retrospect, because many of the most valuable insights came from some of the more junior members of the project team.
However some very interesting and powerful lessons were captured, and we took the opportunity to record some video advice from the participants, as well as some feedback on the retrospect process itself. Although the lessons from !Gariep were extremely valuable, and have already been carried forward to future projects to great effect, those video clips were an even more powerful demonstration of the value of Knowledge Management.
Shortly after the retrospect had been completed, Ian attended a meeting of the senior management team of the De Beers group to talk to them about KM. He had recorded one of the engineers at the retrospect, a young credible and eloquent contributor with some excellent knowledge and advice to offer, and he embedded the video in his presentations.
This was the turning point for some of the senior managers; it transformed the whole presentation and got them on the edge of their seats. It was a real-life, highly relevant demonstration of what KM within the De Beers context, and from a complex and high-profile project as well. And then, when the senior managers asked "and how did the participants feel about the Retrospect process?" Ian was able to show them a second video clip of enthusiastic feedback.
"The embedded video was the best way to market how powerful this approach is. I recorded one of the engineers talking. He is young, credible and eloquent, and I put his video in a presentation for the senior management team. I gave the talks, and I showed Steve, and it transformed the presentation and got people on the edge of their seat. This was the turning point for the Director of operations, who became the high-level sponsor for Knowledge Management in De Beers”
Back in 2007 I suggested that the first step to take in online sensemaking is to free your bookmarks. Social bookmarks reside online, not in your browser, so they can be accessed from multiple devices and easily shared. My own journey went from Furl, to Magnolia, to Delicious, and most recently to Diigo. Today I decided it was time to make another move — to Pinboard. This is a paid service and adds to several others that I now pay for, such as 1Password, Fastmail, Zoom, and Tweetbot.
Paying for online services makes for a healthier web, in my opinion. It means that service providers are not motivated to sell advertising and/or user tracking. A recent thread on Twitter by the founder of Pinboard gave me the impetus for this move. It was about the flawed business model of Medium, a ‘free’ blog hosting site that I used for a short time and then left.
Censorship issues aside, Medium will eventually go under and you will be sad that you lost that 2012 article you forgot you wrote. The company has burned $132M with no hope of profitability. Mirror your stuff to a place you control, or there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. —@Pinboard
The dominant web business model of free access in return for tracking advertising is severely flawed. It has created powerful platform capitalists and their massive tracking and manipulation practices which are eroding democracy as we knew it. So if you are concerned by this Silicon Valley world order, and can afford to, then change your online practices. The more people pay for these services then the more companies will offer genuine online services that respect their customers.
|Image from eglin.af.mil|
U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr
Re-use of codified knowledge
Conversation with experienced staff (personal knowledge)
|Experienced team, standard context||Harmful||Harmful|
|Experienced team, non-standard context||Harmful||Helpful|
|Inexperienced team, standard context||Helpful||Helpful|
|Inexperienced team, non-standard context||Harmful||Helpful|
|Image from wikimedia commons|
This past year my wife and I have spent a fair bit of time in hospitals and doctors’ offices, helping friends navigate the healthcare system. One thing we have noticed is the siloed nature of medicine here. When you get limited time with a healthcare professional and they have limited time to get up to date on the patient, a lot of information and context slips through the cracks. Add in the fact that many of these professionals do not regularly communicate with each other, and the patient becomes responsible for closing these gaps. This is impossible with patients suffering from dementia or other cognitive challenges. In addition, many family members do not know what information is important and are not able to be effective patient advocates. For example, some information — such as the recent death of a spouse — does not get transmitted and the physician’s diagnosis is based only on the visible symptoms as presented at the time.
This example reminded me of a project we had done for a healthcare client in 2004. We conducted an elearning and community of practice initiative for a hospital system as part of the transition to a new nursing care model — from the Henderson to the McGill model. The Province of Québec (healthcare is the responsibility of each Province in Canada) was moving from a patient-centric to a learning-centric nursing framework. As part of our project, we developed software for visual mapping to support the standard patient charts and records. The software was used to create visual models of the patient’s family (genogram) and the patient’s community relationships (ecomap).
A genogram provides a quick view of what can be a complicated set of relationships.
An ecomap shows the communal influences in a person’s life.
Both of these visualizations can provide more consistent and better information than a quick interview with an often confused patient. In these times of staff shortages in healthcare, we need to improve communication and knowledge-sharing. These two proven tools should be used throughout the healthcare system. These visual references can be continuously updated with each interaction. Having worked with these tools 15 years ago I am shocked that they have not been widely adopted, especially as the technology is so much better now than what we had.
Every fortnight I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds.
When Francis Harwood, anthropologist, asked a Sioux elder why people tell stories, he answered, “In order to become human beings.” She asked, “Aren’t we human beings already? He smiled, “Not everyone makes it.” —Laura Simms, via @SophiaCycles1
“First they said they needed data about the children to find out what they’re learning. Then they said they needed data about the children to make sure they are learning. Then the children only learnt what could be turned into data. Then the children became data.“ —@MichaelRosenYes
“If you worked every single day, making $5000/day, from the time Columbus sailed to America, to the time you are reading this tweet, you would still not be a billionaire, and you would still have less money than Jeff Bezos makes in a week. No one works for a billion dollars.” —@_Floodlight
“The more I think about it, the more sure I am that the post-industrial revolution will be a moral revolution, or it will not be at all.“ —@EskoKilpi
In all spheres, catastrophic men and women are united by an imperviousness to the suffering they cause … Catastrophic men can determine the fate of armies, businesses and countries. Without fail, the catastrophes they bring are always someone else’s problem. I will grant Johnson this. There is every chance that history will say: “He and he alone made the difference.”
No democracy that used first past the post fell to dictatorship during the period [1918-1939].
During the inter-war period, many European democracies fell into a similar pattern of events. Politics exacerbated the divisions within society, coalition governments failed to effectively address the pressing issues of the day, and finally authoritarians stepped in to denounce democracy as a failure. Did proportional representation have a role to play in these outcomes?
We teach people that it’s impolite to discuss religion and politics in public. It’s wrong. We need to teach people how to discuss religion and politics. The first step is simple. “Get them to commit to be together,” says Rhonda Fitzgerald, managing director of the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network, “and tell them their job is to listen to each other. That’s what success is in this space.”
It doesn’t matter whether that space is a lecture hall, living room or negotiating table. Studies show that college graduates are more accepting of social differences, but the tolerance isn’t learned in a specific course, it’s a byproduct of encountering diversity …
Instead of concerning ourselves with ensuring safe spaces for students, we need to create more spaces in which constructive conflict can occur. Trust me, no one will get hurt. Even in a classroom with divergent points of view on hot-button political issues, no one at App said anything racist or bullying. In my entire career, I’ve never seen a classroom conversation degenerate into the kind of ad hominem attacks that are rampant on social media and cable news.
“Humble Inquiry maximizes my curiosity and interest in the other person and minimizes bias and preconceptions about the other person,” writes Schein. “I want to access my ignorance and ask for information in the least biased and threatening way.”
Among his broader instructions for cultivating a habit of honest inquiry: Travel to distant countries and unfamiliar cultures, develop your skills of observation through art classes or mindfulness, go to the theater, try your hand at journaling, use these opportunities to expand your powers of observation and exercise your innate ability to think creatively. Also, recognize how much you have to learn and practice, and how many impulses to “tell” (rather than ask) that you’ll need to repress to make room for humble inquiry to filter in.
I started my independent consulting practice in 2003 and one of the first books I purchased was — The Future of Knowledge: Increasing Prosperity through Value Networks by Verna Allee (2002) Butterworth-Heinemann (ISBN: 0750675918). The topic of value network analysis and the leading role that Verna Allee played came up in some recent discussions in one of my online communities of practice. So I decided to re-read the book that planted so many ideas in my mind. Here are some of the highlights, almost 20 years after Verna started writing The Future of Knowledge.
LESS COLLECTION, MORE CONNECTION
One of the primary requirements for supporting knowledge work is to ensure that people have the tools and information they need to complete their everyday tasks. But, another equally important goal is to provide appropriate technologies for collaborative work in a complex global environment. The more complex modes of knowledge cannot be turned over to databases and automation. They are accomplished by people through active and immediate conversation and interchanges. Connective technologies enable us to link up with our peers so that we may weave the threads of our understanding together into new synthesis and insights.
This excellent advice still needs to be promoted. Today, more time, money, and effort are put into automation, machine learning, and what passes for AI. Much less effort is put into helping people connect, in spite of collaboration technologies. In too many workplaces, people do not have time collaborate and share deep knowledge, much less cooperate across silos. Connecting people is the focus of personal knowledge mastery.
HOW COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE ARE DIFFERENT
Communities of practice emerge in the social space between project teams and knowledge networks … Communities of practice are also distinctly different from teams. Team skills cannot simply be transferred to communities of practice … In in work teams and projects, managers generally pre-determine major goals and the basic nature of the joint enterprise. In a real community of practice, these are negotiated among members. Further, a community life cycle is determined by the value it creates for its members, not by project deadlines.
“Sensing” Our World
We are in a constant, collective journey of storytelling, sense making, and creation. Knowledge is a conversation. It is not a static “thing,” but a continual process in motion, emerging in the shared communal learning space that arises between people. Every conversation reshapes our knowledge, modify it to fit new circumstances, expanding with new information or connections, pruning out ideas and expressions that are no longer useful.
Verna Allee also discusses intangible value, which is key to her value network analysis process. Intangible assets are important because — “The most critical factors of success — the intelligence of employees, the systems and processes in place to get the work done, and the quality of customer and supplier relationships — don’t show up anywhere on the balance sheet.” Three types of intangibles are described.
External Structure — Alliances and relationships with customers, strategic partners, suppliers, investors, and the community. Includes assets such as brand recognition and goodwill.
Human Competence — Individual and collective capabilities, knowledge, skills, experiences, and problem-solving abilities that reside in people in the organization.
Internal Structure — Systems and work processes that leverage competitiveness. Includes IT, communications, technologies, images, concepts and models of how the business operates as well as databases, documents, patents, copyrights, and other “codified” knowledge.
The Knowledge Complexity Framework puts together the work of Peter Senge, Stafford Beer, Russell Ackoff, Dorothy Leonard, and many others. “The more variables we are processing, the more complex the cognitive task. At greater levels of abstraction, knowledge work becomes more challenging, increasingly collaborative and social in nature.”
Immediate — Instinctual learning — Sensing — Gathering information
Very short term — Trial & Error — Action without learning — Doing something the most efficient way
Short term — Reflective — Self-conscious reflection — Doing it the best way
Medium term — Communal — Understanding context, relationships, & trends — What promotes or impedes effectiveness?
Long term — Integrative — Self-organizing — Seeing where an activity fits the whole picture
Very long term — Generative — Value driven — Finding or connecting with one’s purpose
Timeless — Synergistic — Connection & sustainability — Understanding values in greater context
[this is a summary of the more detailed framework]
After almost two decades, there is still a wealth of information in this book.
“In the agrarian age of the 19th century, when schools meant one-room rural schoolhouses, teaching morality and morals and character was all important. That’s because society needed, and so demanded, good moral character.”—Nineshift
Not so long ago “gee’ was an offensive word in the USA. It was considered to be short for Jesus. But a focus on morality shifted to a focus on responsibility, as we entered the factory era, where timeliness was necessary to keep the machines moving. We are nearing the end of this era, but its influence is still in our schools.
So today “responsibility” means:
* Being present, not absent.
* Showing up on time.
* Handing in your homework on time.
How important is responsibility today, compared to creativity or relationships? Barbara Ormsby commented here several years ago that, “Responsibility and creativity are two rather different qualities. This helps understand why the transition from clear responsibilities to practised creativity is such a huge challenge in organizations today.” I have observed that curiosity about ideas can yield creativity, while curiosity about people can develop empathy. I think the latter will be critical for this network era as our relationships will be the only way we can make sense of the complexity around us in a sea of digital noise.
Ross Dawson wrote that, “in a connected world, unless your skills are world-class, you are a commodity.” He suggests that there are three skill sets necessary to transcend commoditization — Expertise, Relationships, and Innovation.
RELATIONSHIPS. Expertise in isolation is not useful. The rich sets of relationships that form networks are at the heart of value creation. Those who can connect expertise and facilitate the co-creation of value in relationships will be at the heart of the economy.
Morality was for a bygone era, but will it return in a new form? Will it become the new orthodoxy? Responsibility seems more appropriate for machines and software than people. Is the network era retrieving relationships as the prime factor for success in the creative digital workplace?
I listened to a podcast recently where Steven Rogelberg was interviewed about his 2019 book — The Surprising Science of Meetings. I think that meetings are prime areas of opportunity for workplace performance improvement. For example, optimizing meetings can make time for learning. So I reviewed Rogelberg’s web page that provides links to podcasts, interviews, and references in various media. Here are some of the highlights.
“In many ways, meetings are the building blocks and core elements of our organizations. They are the venues where the organization comes to life for employees, teams, and leaders.” —Steven Rogelberg
“The people who love meetings are the managers who run them.” —Quartz 2019
“In 1973, Canadian business management expert Henry Mintzberg was among the first to examine the problem [frustrations with meetings]. His book ‘The Nature of Managerial Work’ found that more than half of managers’ time in his sample was spent in meetings.” —CNBC 2015
“He [Rogelberg] recommends circulating the agenda three to four days before the meeting to both alert people to the meeting’s content and to get their buy-in. (If there’s time, agendas can even be created at the end of the previous meeting.) The act of soliciting input communicates that the meeting is intended as a collective experience, he says.” —Animal Sheltering 2018
“Rather than waste precious air time, he [Rogelberg] recommends attendees write down suggestions anonymously to share with the group so ideas can be discussed without anyone fearing the wrath of negative commentary …” —Inc 2019
“Rogelberg suggests starting by reducing your projected meeting length by 5–10 percent. If it’s a standing meeting, and you still have time to spare, reduce it a little more.” —The Cut 2018
“Steven Rogelberg points to Parkinson’s Law, explaining that meetings take as long as you allot for them. Most people feel compelled to fill the 30 minute Google Calendar and Outlook intervals when they could be quicker or handle over email.”
So what can we do to break the meeting habit, or at least wean ourselves off slightly?
1. Ask yourself if a meeting is really necessary.
2. Invite fewer people and give everyone a role.
3. Establish ground rules.
4. Produce an action plan.
5. Get up, stand up.
Managers can also try a concept that Rogelberg calls “leading the meeting from behind.”
“This idea of ‘leading a meeting from behind’ is the Holy Grail of meeting effectiveness,” he said. “It means that my job as meeting leader is to promote engagement, facilitate interactions and manage time. I focus on those roles, rather than trying to actively insert myself into the discussion. I certainly speak at times at key junctures, but that is not my primary role. My job is to make sure the meeting is productive, active, and successful.” —SHRM 2013
Many of these observations align with what I have already posted in — meetings, bloody meetings. The recommendations also show the practicality of using liberating structures for meetings which provide 33 concrete methods for selecting the right format and rules to achieve an objective of — Revealing, Analyzing, Spreading, Planning, Strategizing, or Helping.
However, like most organizational changes, meetings will only get better when those in leadership positions decide to make them so.
For over a decade I have promoted the idea that work is learning & learning is the work. It seems the idea has now gone mainstream, as it’s even noted in Forbes that, “Work and learning will become analogous”. It is much easier to just say that workflow learning is essential rather than putting in the structures and practices that can enable it. There are many structural barriers to learning in the workplace that have been established and embedded over the past century.
Social and informal learning are key to increasing insights that can drive innovation. People at work need more than training — they need ongoing, real-time, constantly-changing, collaborative, support. Much of this they can get from themselves, their communities of practice, and their networks. But they can only work effectively if barriers to organizational learning are removed. In such an environment people at all levels are narrating their work in a transparent environment, the daily routine supports social learning, and time is made available for reflection and sharing stories. A key role of any manager is in holding the space so that teams can self-manage and learn for themselves.
So where can this time be found?
In our daily work, three types of activities can either help us get more time to do valued work, or take it away from us.
As shown on the image below, the objective is to optimize the blue (collaborative) activities in order to make time for the green (collaborative) activities. Working collaboratively plus learning cooperatively are essential for sensemaking at the individual and organizational level. Most organizations could start by reducing and redefining all those bloody meetings — I have never met anyone who says they don’t go to enough meetings.
An artisan is skilled in a craft and uses specialized tools or machinery. Artisans were the dominant producers of goods before the Industrial Revolution. Knowledge artisans are similar to their pre-industrial counterparts, especially when it comes to tools. Knowledge artisans not only design the work but they can do the work. It is not passed down an assembly line.
Augmented by technology, they rely on their networks and skills to solve complex problems and test new ideas. Small groups of highly productive knowledge artisans are capable of producing goods and services that used to take much larger teams and resources. Many integrate marketing, sales, and customer service with their creations.
It’s difficult to be a knowledge artisan today in a hierarchical organization that tells you what to do and which tools to use. More experienced and adventurous artisans are leaving companies and younger skilled artisans are not joining them. They have what Jane McConnell calls a ‘gig mindset‘.
The formula for the gig mindset emergence is clear:
High people capabilities + stagnating work cultures + rigid leadership = birth of the gig mindset.
Keeping knowledge artisans will be a major challenge for companies. They will have to change how they operate or lose their best workers.
“The first big obstacle to building a gig mindset culture is old-school leadership, anchored in hierarchy and command-and-control methods. A second, equally serious barrier which is in fact related to the first, is work practices. Although it is increasingly common today for people to self-manage their work, this has limited impact beyond the individual. They are not able to have a broader, change-inducing role because they are rarely solicited to give input to business goals and strategic plans. Above all, they are not encouraged to question status quo and propose radically new ideas.” —Jane McConnell
Knowledge intensive workplaces demand cooperative learning in addition to collaborative work. This will require structural changes in the hierarchy and control systems. It also means changing the employment relationship where becoming a successful knowledge artisan will take a lot more than just being a good employee. A gig mindset is a change in the status quo. But creating a status quo is more difficult than maintaining an existing one.
|This picture by unknown artist is licensed under CC BY_SA|
|This picture by unknown author is licensed under CC BY-SA|
It is NASA policy to: (1) Effectively manage the Agency's knowledge to cultivate, identify, retain, and share knowledge in order to continuously improve the performance of NASA in implementing its mission, in accordance with NPD 1000.0, Governance and Strategic Management Handbook. Individuals at all levels must take responsibility for retaining, appropriately sharing or protecting, and utilizing knowledge in order to meet future challenges, innovate successfully, and keep pace with the state of the art in rapidly changing times.
The Hong Kong Police Force attaches great importance to effectively managing the wisdom, experiences and knowledge accumulated, accrued and acquired over the years either at the individual or the Formation/Unit levels. Such organizational wealth which exists in the form of Major Formation / Formation databases or intangible (tacit) knowledge residing within an officer is highly valued. With a view to enhancing the performance of the Force and in turn to delivering a better service to the public, the Force is committed to developing and promoting KM which should at all times be aligned with the Force Vision and Mission.
Every fortnight I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds.
I just had the dumbest fight of my professional career, which I assure you is saying something, and there’s not a day we actually disagreed. We just hadn’t talked voice.
Oh. Well then.
Talk. No really. Actually talk. Don’t play telephone. Pick up the telephone. Lunch. TALK.
Text has enough bandwidth to escalate conflict between humans, but not enough bandwidth to de-escalate. Base assumptions — what people actually want — can get wrong and stay wrong really easily, without low latency, high metadata exchange.
Never fight over text. —@dankami
@johnrobb — “Incoherence makes group decision making impossible … Incoherence arises from a distrust of information (due to misinformation/bias), a distrust of messengers (due to a loss of fictive kinship), and a distrust of the medium (due to corporate interference).”
How I met Viola Spolin: My First Encounter with the Mother of Improvisation
Solving problems on your own with an experienced eye to support you develops your talent and personal genius. Viola knew this. Put your focus on simple things – like games. State the rules and play, and all life’s lessons can be learned.
The point of this story isn’t to get everyone to pay attention to me or professors in general – it’s that I want my students to learn that attention is a skill that must be learned, shaped, practiced; this skill must evolve if we are to evolve. The technological extension of our minds and brains by chips and nets has granted great power to billions of people, but even in the early years of always-on, it is clear to even technology enthusiasts like me that this power will certainly mislead, mesmerize and distract those who haven’t learned – were never taught – how to exert some degree of mental control over our use of laptop, handheld, earbudded media.
We can’t make arguments from authority if equally authoritative people disagree.
Part of the problem is that people who enter these arguments actually come at the problems with different assumptions and understandings about what constitutes evidence, and indeed, what it means to know something. That’s most obvious when we have had very different training. Cognitive psychologists and researchers in critical theory address aspects of education that are largely non-overlapping, and you’ll find some of each these folks in most schools of education, with similar credentials.
I’ve argued elsewhere that those of us in education research would do ourselves a favor if we would make our assumptions more explicit, as well as the limitations of the tools in our analytic toolbox—what problems are our methods well suited to answer and what can’t we answer?
“Electrical information devices for universal, tyrannical womb-to-tomb surveillance are causing a very serious dilemma between our claim to privacy and the community’s need to know. The older, traditional ideas of private, isolated thoughts and actions — the patterns of mechanistic technologies — are very seriously threatened by new methods of instantaneous electric information retrieval” —Marshall McLuhan, 1967
I got off Facebook about 10 years ago. I know that this has had no impact on the company or its business model. When I saw in 2007 that Facebook was selling user information, I knew I could not stay on the platform much longer. But the lure of network effects, where it takes almost no effort to connect with other people, is too powerful for most of us.
Facebook is convenient. For most businesses it is suicide not to be on Facebook. It is an extremely convenient way to connect all your online communication and most of your digital content consumption. It is so convenient that it is the only way some people connect online. In thinking about Facebook, I noted that we may be heading toward a platform-dominated global social network that will not only shape our behaviour but narrow the scope of our humanity.
“The REAL danger facing a world interconnected by social networking isn’t disruption … This danger is an all encompassing online orthodoxy. A sameness of thought and approach enforced by hundreds of millions of socially internetworked adherents. A global orthodoxy that ruthless narrows public thought down to a single, barren, ideological framework. A ruling network that prevents dissent and locks us into stagnation and inevitable failure as it runs afoul of reality and human nature.” —John Robb, Global Guerrillas 2017-09-22
Christopher Wylie blew the whistle on Cambridge Analytica, a company with initial defence roots that used Facebook data to profile voters and then use targeted advertising to influence the democratic process — namely the Brexit referendum and the last US presidential election.
A person’s online identity has now become an essential feature of their social and professional life. Opting out is tantamount to running away to live in the wilderness. It’s possible but self-destructive. “To exist in modern society,” he [Wylie] tells us, “you don’t really have a choice but to use these platforms.”
He then repeats his essential point: “The internet is part and parcel of democracy now, whether you like it or not … Do we need rules that we as a society agree on, with independent regulators who are on our side, not on shareholders’ side?” —Peter Isackson, Fair Observer 2019-10-16
We now live in a surveillance economy. That is not going to change in the short run. But unless we move beyond our tribal tendencies we will not be able counter populism (made more extreme by actors like Cambridge Analytica) nor improve democracy. In order to thrive in a networked world we will need a new form of democracy.
I would say that populism is the first refuge of a scoundrel and a literate, engaged, and networked citizenry gives no such refuge. But education alone is not the answer to the constant outrage we are witnessing as many societies polarize on political lines. Even highly educated people can be bigots, racists, and misogynists. Society’s answer to populism is not a return to the old ways, nor an ironic post-modern shrug, but rather a new meta-modernity — multi-layered, relational, and global.
“People are afraid of the unknown, of changes,” she said. “This fear is used by populists to come with very simple, very clear solutions.” But Caputova also noticed opinion polls showing that the politics of fear had another effect: “People are tired of conflict.” She resolved to “avoid heating up the discussions,” to offer not just her views but also the moral reasoning behind them. In televised debates, while the other candidates bickered, she came off as calm and measured … In the debate between those who argue “fight back and mobilize your supporters” and those who argue “use slogans that unite,” Caputova’s experience argues for the latter. —WaPo 2019-10-15
Marshall & Eric McLuhan’s laws of media can help us understand the potential effects of a new technology. Every medium — such as digital networks — 1. extends a human property (as the car extends the foot), 2. obsolesces the previous medium by turning it into a luxury (as the automobile horses and carriages unaffordable for most ), 3. retrieves a much older medium that was obsolesced before (as the automobile brings back the shining armour of the chevalier), and 4. flips or reverses its properties into the opposite effect when pushed to its limits (as does the automobile, which in large numbers creates gridlock).
The third quadrant — retrieval — is most interesting because we can see what is coming back from our history, but in a new form. The tribal affiliations being retrieved particularly via social media are what Caputova had to counter in order to get elected. She addressed these tribes not by creating a new tribe, but by discounting the tribal perspective and focusing on the population’s common humanity instead. In this case, it worked. Understanding retrieval gives us a tool to counter the negative effects — or potential reversal — of new technologies.
Clay Shirky’s statement — “It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure” — is an oft-quoted line when discussing online sensemaking. I was discussing filters last week during an interview on personal knowledge mastery which will be used to inform a program we are developing for a client organization, a large global corporation. The interview reminded me that it’s time to refine my work on knowledge filters because times have changed since I first wrote up the work of Tim Kastelle and his five forms of filtering in 2011. I slightly revised these knowledge filters in 2018 and recently discussed the importance of trusted filters.
One current challenge with machine filters (heuristic & algorithmic) is that in most cases the end-user does not know what logic or code is driving them. One machine filter that many of us use is Google Translate, which you could say is either the result of the wisdom of crowds, or the blind leading the blind — you choose.
“The main issue is the mechanism used by Google Translate itself. It does not actually translate anything, but it scours the web for similar or identical translations performed in the past, constantly learning and building upon what it has learned. This might sound great, but this also means that any time you plug your word, phrase or paragraph, or upload a document into Google Translate, it then becomes public domain.” —Robert Gebhardt
More and more I do not trust machine filters unless I know who created them and how. The other issue with public algorithmic filters is that they are open to being gamed. The search engine optimization field is basically designed to game Google search. The Amazon recommendation engine is constantly bombarded with fake reviews.
If we are to rely less on machines and more on fellow humans we will have to put more effort into our knowledge filtering. Inside large companies, human filters can be identified, promoted, and supported. The identification of knowledgeable people should be an important management function. The organization can also help people to codify some of their knowledge, especially through stories. I have noted before that stories connect knowledge. Stories can provide the contextual glue, holding information together in some semblance of order for our brains to process into knowledge. Stories also help to develop empathy and in the longer term, trust. Knowledge in trusted networks flows faster.
A good company knowledge management structure can address a lot of internal filtering needs. Developing external filters is more difficult. First, people need time to find and select knowledge filters. Again, the organization can support this internally, giving people time to seek external knowledge, and provide resources to curate it for internal needs. But in the final analysis, it is up to each knowledge worker to develop their own knowledge filters. Fifteen years ago Lilia Efimova identified this new work-learning contract. Today the need to take control of our own work and learning is only growing.
To a great extent PKM [personal knowledge management] is about shifting responsibility for learning and knowledge sharing from a company to individuals and this is the greatest challenge for both sides. Companies should recognise that their employees are not ‘human resources’, but investors who bring their expertise into a company. As any investors they want to participate in decision-making and can easily withdraw if their ‘return on investment’ is not compelling. Creativity, learning or desire to help others cannot be controlled, so knowledge workers need to be intrinsically motivated to deliver quality results. In this case ‘command and control’ management methods are not likely to work.
Taking responsibility for own work and learning is a challenge for knowledge workers as well. Taking these responsibilities requires attitude shift and initiative, as well as developing personal KM knowledge and skills. In a sense personal KM is very entrepreneurial, there are more rewards and more risks in taking responsibility for developing own expertise. —Lilia Efimova
External knowledge filters are available in our social networks and communities. These are not the same — a network is not a community. Social networks, especially online platforms, are excellent places to connect with people we do not know. We can follow experts in almost any professional field. We don’t need to have a personal relationship in order to learn from others. These social networks are also places where we can learn from others who are not like us. With an open mind, we can become more empathetic. In closer-knit communities with rules to govern our behaviour, we can have safer and deeper conversations. Communities can be seen as ‘knowledge-commons’.
Commoners must be willing to monitor how their resources are used (or abused) and must devise a system of sanctions to punish anyone who violates the rules, preferably through a gradation of increasingly serious sanctions. When disputes arise, commoners must have easy access to conflict-resolution mechanisms. —David Bollier in Evonomics
Effective sensemaking in our professions and our lives requires access to diverse and deep sources of knowledge. The key is to balance and complement our social networks, our communities, and if possible, with whom we work.
The principles to guide asset management planning and decision-making focus on:
- ensuring service delivery needs form the basis of asset management;
- integrating asset management with corporate, financial, business and budgetary planning;
- informed decision-making, incorporating a life-cycle approach to asset management;
- establishing accountability and responsibility for asset condition, use and performance; and
- sustainability, providing for present needs while sustaining resources for future generations.
Some 420,000 suggestions were received in 2017, for example, of which more than 360,000 were implemented. This not only resulted in savings of more than €136 million, but is also a testament to the active engagement of our employees with the company and its values.One of the things to note here is the rate of implementation - nearly 86%. This is at the high end of implementation rates for schemes such as this.
The idea that generalists and soft skills are needed in the modern workplace seems to be hitting the mainstream of HR, L&D, etc. I have written about these for the past decade or more, and I think it’s necessary to clarify some of the discussion.
Neo-generalists defy common understanding. They cross boundaries, and some break them. They see patterns before others do. They go against hundreds of years of cultural programming. I doubt this is what most employers in large organizations are looking for. But neo-generalists are necessary today — “It is through the hybridization of and cross-pollination between such disciplines [science & humanities] that we will arrive at solutions for our wicked problems.” Hiring and developing generalists will not be enough.
E.O. Wilson, in The Origins of Creativity, envisages a third enlightenment that will bring us closer to seeing humanity as one common group, uniting fields of knowledge. But how many in the humanities have deep science skills, and vice versa?
“Scientists and scholars in the humanities, working together, will, I believe serve as the leaders of a new philosophy, one that blends the best and most relevant from these two branches of learning.”
Recombining the sciences and the humanities will take some time. In the meantime, cross-disciplinary teams may be more practical.
What are often call soft skills are those that require time, mentoring, informal learning, and other environmental supports in order to develop. Courses and training are never enough. For example, training cannot address unconscious bias, yet it is frequently accepted as a ‘solution’. System 1 skills cannot be developed through education.
Some meta-competencies can be developed through conscious ongoing effort. Meta-competencies require ‘meta time’ which is often forgotten in organizations focused on short-term measurements. In a networked economy, work is learning and learning is the work. We cannot divorce learning from the work being done. Meta (learning) competencies take a long time. I have identified two learning competencies — Learning How to Learn & Adapting to Continuous Change.
In the book Range, David Epstein states that, “learning is most efficient in the long run when it is inefficient in the short run”. Most education and training courses, “produce misleadingly high levels of immediate mastery that will not survive the passage of substantial periods of time”. Whatever ‘solution’ is being offered is probably wrong and simplistic. What company is willing to invest in inefficient short-term training? What company will invest in a multi-year development program?
Before jumping on the next HR bandwagon, do some homework. A lot of the research has already been done. The bottom line is that these kinds of changes to workplace learning and development will take time and effort. I believe they are necessary but I have no illusions on how difficult they will be. There are centuries of structural issues to address. Ricardo Semler says that any company can change to an open learning organization, but it takes a leap of faith to not worry about losing control. Companies focused on quarterly results are not designed to make such a leap. Change takes time. Mastery takes time.
"If you look at the team more widely, rather than just the person leading it, far and away the most important things are the interpersonal skills, and we have said whoever we are recruiting anyone for the team, that's the most important thing. We can teach them the knowledge management skills, they bring their own network with them, but they have got to have the interpersonal skills, because so much of this is about persuasion. You cannot coerce people into sharing their knowledge, you have to be able to entice and cajole and persuade them to do it"
While social learning may be one the currently hot new trends in the education and training fields, we have known for a while “why tried-and-true training methods don’t work anymore”, as discussed by Brigitte Jordan (1937-2016) in the mid-1990’s while working at the Institute for Research on Learning. Here are the highlights — From Training to Learning in the New Economy.
Based on the idea that training consists of the transfer of authoritative knowledge from expert instructor to novice learner, it capitalized on the notion that knowledge can be packaged into units, modules and lectures, and delivered in standardized fashion to “the work force”.
Conventional training departments are set up to “cascade” training modules throughout the company but are, by and large, not prepared to assist large numbers of employees with the highly individualized career preparation many forward-looking employees now desire.
Whatever learning needs to happen for getting work done at the front line — on production floors, in sales, or in customer service — often is not generated, or even recognized as needed, by the training organizations.
We need to shift from an emphasis on training and all that implies, to an emphasis on learning (and all that implies).
- Learning is inherent in human nature
- Learning is fundamentally social
- Learning shapes identity
- Informal learning is crucial in the workplace
In a fundamental way, all work is about learning: it is about learning to fit in and to collaborate, about learning to take initiative when appropriate, it is about really understanding customers, about acquiring intimate knowledge of the products and services the company sells and how they can fit into customers’ lives.
If it is true that we need to erase the distinction between learning and work, if it is true that learning is work and work is learning, then our most challenging question becomes: how can we construct and organize work environments in such a way that they support the kinds of learning that are useful and productive for employees, for work groups and for companies.
We have found no easy recipe, no universal set of prescriptions for doing that. What we have collected is a motley set of insights, of pragmatic maxims and design recommendations that serve as reminders of what the important issues and pitfalls are in this kind of endeavor.
- View learning as work and work as learning.
- Foster a view of knowledge as socially constructed rather than “transferred”.
- Recognize and value informal communities of practice
- Foster peer-to-peer learning and co-construction of knowledge.
- Consider where person-to-person modeling and peer-learning are more powerful
- Identify and advertise local experts so help is more easily found when needed.
- Foster lateral communication between individuals and peer groups.
I came across this paper many years ago and it continues to inform my own practice. Jordan’s insights have aged very well.
|image from wikimedia commons|
Why do students often ask — will this be on the test? It’s because they have figured out the game called education. They are told what to study, what is important, and for how long. Each school year they play the game anew.
Why are some — a significant percentage — employees not motivated to work? They too have figured out the game. Venkatesh Rao, in The Gervais Principle describes this large base of most companies — the losers.
“The Losers are not social losers (as in the opposite of ‘cool’), but people who have struck bad bargains economically – giving up capitalist striving for steady paychecks. I am not making this connection up … The Losers like to feel good about their lives. They are the happiness seekers, rather than will-to-power players, and enter and exit reactively, in response to the meta-Darwinian trends in the economy. But they have no more loyalty to the firm than the Sociopaths. They do have a loyalty to individual people, and a commitment to finding fulfillment through work when they can, and coasting when they cannot.”
Standardized curriculum dulls curiosity. Subject-based curriculum sucks the complexity out of schooling, as do age-based classes. These promote conformity and teaching to the test.
Standardized work reduces creativity. Standardized communities have little empathy for those who are different. Lacking curiosity, students and workers can become susceptible to simple solutions and disinformation. Simplicity is the appeal of demagogues. But one way to counter populism is by being curious about others. “It’s about learning to be genuinely curious; to understand why someone is holding firm to their stance; to seek common ground”, says Trish Hennessy.
Curiosity about ideas can foster creativity, while curiosity about people can develop empathy. We get new ideas from new people, not the same people we see every day. We get new perspectives from people whose lives and experiences are different from ours.
While the industrial economy was based on finite resources, a creative economy is not. There is no limit to human creativity. We have to make a new social contract, not based on jobs, but enabling a learner’s mindset for life.
Social networks are made up of people and relationships. Curiosity and learning can create new connections between people and ideas. If we put our efforts into promoting learning — not schooling — for life, then we just might be able to create better ways of organizing our society. Constantly learning fractal beings can make for more resilient knowledge networks.
“A more fractal being will assimilate and unify all these elements in a better way: curiosity, rebellion, infinite dreams, awareness, responsibility, detachment, and wisdom at each moment of his or her life. The fractal being will preserve the curiosity of the child in adult life, the capacity for rebellion and indignation of youth, and always aspire for the greater wisdom that comes with ripeness.” —Chaos: A User’s Guide
If we want to change the world, be curious. If we want to make the world a better place, promote curiosity in all aspects of learning and work. There are still a good number of curious people of all ages working in creative spaces or building communities around common interests. We need to connect them. Finding ways to increase curiosity and make connections are part of the discipline of personal knowledge mastery.
@White_Owly — “Unconscious bias hangs out with plausible deniability. I’ve seen them together. They’ll deny it though.“
@EikeGS — “Today everything runs on bestseller lists. You rarely find good books there. But the less people can cook, the more cookbooks are sold.”
“Most executives, many scientists, and almost all business school graduates believe that if you analyze data, this will give you new ideas. Unfortunately, this belief is totally wrong. The mind can only see what it is prepared to see.” —Edward de Bono, via @hemppa
Each worker is taught that he or she can always be more, and employability becomes a tragic path whose travellers declare a constant war on themselves, questioning the suitability of their personalities and achievements, never quite satisfied that they are spending their time sensibly enough.
How did organisations adapt to change in the 18th and 19th century: Lessons from the Bank of England
The Bank adapted to the lack of a skilled workforce by operating an internal labour market, recruiting men at entry level only and training them on the job. Because work could be coordinated in the ways described above, workers could also be expected to undertake just one aspect of that work. They learned a set of skills and spent their days doing the same thing over and over again. The Bank also incentivised good behaviour by requiring men to take oaths to act well on their employer’s behalf and it enforced that good behaviour imposing fines on men whose mistakes cost the institution money.
But the Bank neglected one important aspect of creating an effective workforce. It paid poorly at the lower levels. By the mid-eighteenth century a starting salary of £50 per annum was barely enough to support a bachelor, let alone a man with a family. Clerks thus had high incentives to find other means of making money. These extended from taking second jobs, to pilfering candle stubs and used pens to sell in the second-hand market, to the taking of gratuities from customers and the propensity of men working in the stock transfer offices to supplement their incomes by working as jobbers and brokers.
It is now acknowledged by monetary authorities such as the IMF, US Federal Reserve and Bank of England, that banks are creating new money when they make loans. They don’t lend the money of other account holders to those who want to borrow.
Bank loans consist of money conjured out of thin air, whereby new money is credited to the borrower’s account with the agreement that the amount will eventually be repaid with interest.
The policy implications of the public currency being created out of nowhere and lent to borrowers on a purely commercial basis have still not been taken on board. Nor has basing a public currency on debt, as opposed to the sovereign power to create and directly circulate money free of debt.
Thi Nguyen, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Utah Valley University describes two related but distinct phenomena of collective human behaviour — bubbles and chambers.
An epistemic bubble is what happens when insiders aren’t exposed to people from the opposite side.
An echo chamber is what happens when insiders come to distrust everybody on the outside.
An epistemic bubble, for example, might form on one’s social media feed. When a person gets all their news and political arguments from Facebook and all their Facebook friends share their political views, they’re in an epistemic bubble. They hear arguments and evidence only from their side of the political spectrum. They’re never exposed to the other side’s views.
An echo chamber leads its members to distrust everybody on the outside of that chamber. And that means that an insider’s trust for other insiders can grow unchecked. —Big Think 2019-09-16
Nguyen believes that echo chambers are the real problem because members “are far more entrenched and far more resistant to outside voices than epistemic bubbles”. They do not trust people outside their chamber. These echo chambers can exist on all sides of any political spectrum. Nguyen concludes that, “To break somebody out of an echo chamber, you’d need to repair that broken trust”.
So what can be done?
In my post on constant outrage I outlined several methods to get out an echo chamber.
Nancy Dixon shared how Better Angels in the USA — “bring together 7 people from Red [Republican] and 7 people from Blue [Democrat] persuasion to listen to each other – not to change their minds or try to convince, but to hear each other. Participants from these 6 hour workshops come away seeing the other side as human beings rather than stereotypes.”
Would these methods work? Are they enough?
The Better Angels approach seems to be a good place to start. We do not trust people we do not know. We are not very willing to get to know people with whom we have strong differences of opinion. Making space for people to act like humans is what all levels of government and communities should be supporting. In 2015 we noted “a growing democratic deficit which has contributed to recent cynicism and societal distrust” in Identifying & Responding to Issues in Canada for the Department of Justice. Cities are well-suited to provide the physical infrastructure that enables and promotes diverse groups to rub elbows in open access civic spaces. Exposure can lead to conversations, and perhaps trust, if the environment is non-confrontational. It is in cities where we see the actual protests of citizens, such as climate strikes or the yellow vests.
A significant way to reduce epistemic bubbles and echo chambers would be to promote public social media, where advertising plays no role. This is an anti-capitalist approach but advertising thrives on constant outrage, from both sides of any divide. We have to first eliminate these negative feedback loops to promote civil discourse.
Grant Stern is a progressive who writes a column for Occupy Democrats and is the executive director of Photography Is Not A Crime. BuzzFeed News sent him American News LLC’s liberal and conservative sites and asked him to comment on the fact that they’re run by the same company.
“Those websites are marketing websites,” he said after looking at the content, “and the product they’re pitching is outrage.” —BuzzFeed 2017-02-27
If we design physical and virtual spaces for human-to-human conversations, we might start chipping away at the echo chambers.
|Image from wikimedia commons|
1. People outside your group don’t understand what you’re doing (a failure in communication);
2. You keep changing vendors/technologies/products (often a symptom that technology alone is not working, which also means that changing technology won't help);
3. You keep layering vendors/technologies/products on top of each other (this seems like a "sweetshop" approach to KM, rather than a strategic view of what technology is needed, as modelled by Schlumberger);
4. You find it difficult to explain what you’re trying to accomplish (because you do not have a business-led strategy);
5. You’re prescribing organizational change (by which Lucas means that change is prescribed, rather than delivered through solving a series of business problems);
6. You’re making big promises (I struggle with this one a bit - but Lucas means "don't overpromise").
7. All you are focusing on is vendors/technologies/products, rather than on a balanced framework of roles, processes, technologies and governance;
8. You are selling KM on its own merits, not on value to the business;
9. You still haven't an case studies of KM adding value;
10. Nobody outside your group has started doing KM yet.Some of these warning signs (2, 3 and 7) show that you are operating a model where vendors, technologies and products take centre stage. Others that you are not communicating, and in particular not communicating value) (1,4, 8). Than there is a third group, which suggests you are going for a top-down prescribed approach, rather than an agile approach (5, 8, 10).
Our networks are great places for serendipitous connections. But they are not safe places to have deeper conversations or to expose our points of view, I noted last year in coffee, communities, and condescension. The difference between an open social network (e.g. Twitter) and a private online community (e.g. Mattermost) is that the latter is often based on mutual trust. While community members may disagree, they respect each other. They are not shaming people in public, as happens frequently on Twitter with its loose social ties.
To make sense of our complex world and its often-veiled media sources, we need both open social networks and more closed communities of practice/interest. Sensemaking is an ongoing process and highly dependent on our human connections. Only collectively can we confront the post-truth machines of the network era.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect is the tendency of people who know less about a topic to think that they know more. This cognitive bias comes from people’s “inability to recognize their lack of ability”. The counter to this bias is metacognition — the ability to think about our own thinking processes — and is humanity’s secret weapon that too few of us use. Another counter is to connect to other people with diverging experiences and interests. The more diverse our social networks, the more diverse our thinking can be.
Sharing complex knowledge requires trusted professional relationships. People have to trust each other before sharing and only then can they work effectively on difficult problems.
“strong interpersonal relationships that allowed discussion, questions, and feedback were an essential aspect of the transfer of complex knowledge” —Hinds & Pfeffer (2003)
Being engaged with a diverse network of people who share their knowledge makes for more effective workers. Much of our performance at work is an emergent property of the sum of our human connections.
“We learned that individual expertise did not distinguish people as high performers. What distinguished high performers were larger and more diversified personal networks.” —Rob Cross, et al (2004)
It is not the size of our networks that matters, but the diversity of opinions and expertise that we can draw upon, in order to prevent group-think. In times of crisis, when information is critical, having a diversity of opinions can ensure that drastic measures are not taken for the wrong reasons, or that viable options are not ignored.
“We need input from people with a diversity of viewpoints to help generate innovative new ideas. If our circle of connections grow too small, or if everyone in it starts thinking the same way, we’ll stop generating new ideas.” —Tim Kastelle (2010)
We all need to balance strong and weak ties to ensure that we are effective as professionals and engaged citizens. Doing so is an art that can be mastered over time, with practice.
“Experts have long argued about the optimal structure of a person’s professional network. Some say that a dense, cohesive network brings more social capital, while others argue that a sparse, radial network, one that provides opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurial activity, equates to greater social capital. [Paul] Erdős’ network shows both patterns — a densely connected core along with loosely coupled radial branches reaching out from the core. The people in the core/center of your network probably know the same things you do, while the people along your network’s periphery probably know different things and different people than you know.” —Valdis Krebs (2015)
Here is some advice from David Dunning (via Jessica Stillman).
1. Lean on other people.
The most essential lesson of Dunning’s work isn’t that other people are bad at judging their own competence; it’s that we’re all terrible at our assessing our skills. The Dunning-Kruger effect “is a phenomenon that visits all of us sooner or later. Some of us are a little more flamboyant about it. Some of us aren’t. But not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition,” Dunning explains.
We’re all susceptible to stupidity and overconfidence. One way to start correcting for that is to lean more on other minds. Groups are less likely to be dumb than individuals.
“A lot of the issues or problems we get into, we get into because we’re doing it all by ourselves. We’re relying on ourselves. We’re making decisions as our own island,” Dunning says. “If we consult, chat, schmooze with other people, often we learn things or get different perspectives that can be quite helpful.”
Human systems thrive on variety and diversity and the Internet has created many more possible connection patterns. Human knowledge is socially created. Sensemaking in a networked world is the new social contract. We do not need heroes to save us, we all have to become better learners who seek, make sense of, and share our knowledge to help make our networks stronger.
The bad news is that we cannot do it alone.
The good news is that we do not have to do it alone.
Dave Pollard (2007) showed that in a ‘crooked broker society’, an Exploiter oppresses a Desperate Supplier. This unbalanced relationship is reinforced by a Procurer who in turn gouges an Addicted Buyer. It’s the underlying nature of unregulated capitalism that drives us toward such a society. For example, Peter Thiel, a platform capitalist, wrote that, “If you want to create and capture lasting value, look to build a monopoly.”
In platform capitalism, workers (labour) are the desperate suppliers, exploited by the platform (e.g. Über, Amazon, Google, AirBNB) once it has a monopoly as the medium of exchange. Various middle-men then become the procurers, gouging not just customers but also public services paid by citizens.
In 1881 Henry Demarest Lloyd wrote that, “When monopolies succeed, the people fail …“, in his piece denouncing the practices of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. In 1967, John Kenneth Galbraith warned of the dangers of blindly having faith in our corporate systems.
“The greater danger is in the subordination of belief to the needs of the modern industrial system … These are that technology is always good; that economic growth is always good; that firms must always expand; that consumption of goods is the principal source of happiness; that idleness is wicked; and that nothing should interfere with the priority we accord to technology, growth, and increased consumption.”
Platform capitalism is beginning to define the economy for the second Gilded Age we are entering. It requires four contributing factors, in my opinion, which when combined create a perfect opportunity for the ‘uberization’ of almost any industry.
Today, work that can be billed by the hour is becoming a commodity. Any work that can be standardized is a commodity in the eyes of platform capitalists. Any work that can be represented as a flowchart, and eventually put into a software program, is a commodity. The future of labour is in complex and creative human work that cannot be commodified. So what can we do?
Social learning can help us counter the negative effects of platform capitalism. Collectively we are smarter than any corporation. Learning through communities of practice and knowledge networks enables us to make collective sense. Over the years I have met many people in their 40’s or 50’s who suddenly find themselves without work. Most of them do not have a professional network beyond their organization where they may have worked for a decade or more. Once outside the company, they are adrift.
Being an active citizen-learner by connecting with others outside our everyday lives can expose us to a diversity of skills, knowledge, and perspectives. In a creative economy we are only as good as our networks. An effective network encourages us to keep learning. A good community of practice changes our practice. The more often we change, the better we get at it. For example, my Personal Knowledge Mastery framework was developed from the necessity to develop skills to be competitive in the consulting market. The practice of PKM is one way to push ourselves to keep on learning. Active learning in social networks is no longer a luxury.
We don’t need heroic leaders to create better ways of working. Anyone can exercise leadership by helping make the network smarter, more resilient, and able to make better decisions. Citizen-learners can create better ways of working. There are already several examples of liberated companies. We just need many more.
I read an article in New Republic entitled Crash Course by Maureen Tkacic, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, which describes how “Boeing’s managerial revolution created the 737 MAX disaster” — resulting in plane crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.
In the now infamous debacle of the Boeing 737 MAX, the company produced a plane outfitted with a half-assed bit of software programmed to override all pilot input and nosedive when a little vane on the side of the fuselage told it the nose was pitching up. The vane was also not terribly reliable, possibly due to assembly line lapses reported by a whistle-blower, and when the plane processed the bad data it received, it promptly dove into the sea.
In the article by Tkacic, all the blame is on Boeing.
The upshot was that Boeing had not only outfitted the MAX with a deadly piece of software; it had also taken the additional step of instructing pilots to respond to an erroneous activation of the software by literally attempting the impossible. MCAS alone had taken twelve minutes to down Lion Air 610; in the Ethiopian crash, the MCAS software, overridden by pilots hitting the cutout switches as per Boeing’s instructions, had cut that time line in half. Lemme had seen a lot of stupidity from his old employer over the years, but he found this whole mess “frankly stunning.”
When I shared this article on Twitter, Jim Hays referred me to another article in the New York Times by William Langewiesche, an experienced pilot and aviation journalist who has written technical reports on the flight characteristics of various airplanes. It is entitled — What really brought down the Boeing 737 Max?
Note: I am only comparing these two articles, not making my own uneducated investigation into this aircraft.
Langewiesche discusses a number of factors at play, and in my read of his article, Boeing is one of the least culpable, though still responsible, actors. The pilot training system outside North America and Europe played a significant role it seems.
Dave Carbaugh, the former Boeing test pilot, spent his first 10 years with the company traveling the globe to teach customers how to fly its airplanes. He mentioned the challenge of training pilots in Asia. “Those were the rote pilots,” he said, “the guys standing up in the back of a sim. They saw a runaway trim. They saw where and how it was handled in the curriculum — always on Sim Ride No. 3. And so on their Sim Ride No. 3, they handled it correctly, because they knew exactly when it was coming and what was going to happen. But did they get exposed anywhere else? Or did they discuss the issues involved? No. It was just a rote exercise. This is Step No. 25 of learning to fly a 737. Period.” I asked about China specifically. He said: “The Chinese? They were probably the worst.” He spent every other month in China for years. He said: “They saw flying from Beijing to Tianjin as 1,352 steps to do. Yet if they flew from Beijing to Guangzhou, it was 1,550 steps. And they didn’t connect the two. It would get so rote that they just wouldn’t deviate. I remember flying with a captain who would never divert no matter how many problems I gave him. I asked him, ‘How come?’ He said, ‘Because the checklist doesn’t say to divert.’
Pilots lacking ‘airmanship’ — “a visceral sense of navigation, an operational understanding of weather and weather information, the ability to form mental maps of traffic flows, fluency in the nuance of radio communications and, especially, a deep appreciation for the interplay between energy, inertia and wings” — are good for 98% of situations but useless in the critical 2%.
Boeing became the world’s pre-eminent commercial airplane manufacturer in part because it developed a coherent design philosophy that relied on pilots’ airmanship as the last line of defense. It made sense in an era when airplanes were vulnerable to weather and prone to failures and pilots intervened regularly to keep airplanes from crashing.
The automation of aircraft systems results in safer flights — most of the time.
The paradox is that the failures of the 737 Max were really the product of an incredible success: a decades-long transformation of the whole business of flying, in which airplanes became so automated and accidents so rare that a cheap air-travel boom was able to take root around the world. Along the way, though, this system never managed to fully account for the unexpected: for the moment when technology fails and humans — a growing population of more than 300,000 airline pilots of variable and largely unpredictable skills — are required to intervene. In the drama of the 737 Max, it was the decisions made by four of those pilots, more than the failure of a single obscure component, that led to 346 deaths and the worldwide grounding of the entire fleet.
My interest in these stories is how training can be either part of the problem or part of the solution. Obvious training oversight issues, such as allowing pilots to stand in the back of a simulator and have this time counted as time flying the simulator, should be addressed. But there is still little consensus, based on research, showing exactly how flight simulation should be employed. I know, I starting researching this in the mid-1990’s. This is definitely an area that requires more research by those who purport to be experts in human learning. Just checking-the-box continues to be all too prevalent in training systems.
As more of our work systems become automated, there is less need for vigilant human oversight. Most commercial aircraft fly most of the time on autopilot. What does this do to pilot concentration and skill degradation? Perhaps pilots need to spend even more time in simulators practicing for those 2% of situations. This of course will cost the airlines more.
Training advisors today need a comprehensive view of the performance systems they are supporting. Simulator training is only part of the issue. Classroom training that promotes rote learning results in rote pilots. Changes in aircraft design need an understanding of all the resulting effects and perhaps changes in the regulations for simulation time, checklists, or procedures. Automation, in all fields, will force learning and development out of the comfort zone of course development into the most complex aspects of human learning and performance — or face irrelevance.
“Because of what she represents. In an age when democracy is under assault, she hints at the emergence of a new kind of power, a convergence of youth, popular protest and irrefutable science. And for her loudest detractors, she also represents something else: the sight of their impending obsolescence hurtling towards them.”
The future is networked and feminine. Our market-dominated era is waning. A new network-dominated era is emerging. We need leadership that goes beyond capitalist, market-oriented thinking. This is a fundamental shift in our deeply held belief systems. It is going to hurt. Like the Protestant Reformation after the advent of print technology, it will likely be messy. Reactionary forces are already fighting the patriarchal market economy counter-reformation. They may win the battles but will lose the war — because every generation dies.
“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.” —Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018)
We can decide on what side of history we want to be. We can also do our small part. Each of us can make sense of some of the complexity around us — climate change, refugees, populism, surveillance, misogyny, etc. We do not need to do it alone. An aggressively engaged citizenry is the counter to the demagogues. Don’t hide. There is no escape. We are all in this together.
“Politics hates a vacuum. If it isn’t filled with hope, someone will fill it with fear.” —Naomi Klein
My small part in the revolution is helping people to think. Sensemaking, especially in a sea of misinformation, is a critical skill. I keep exploring and testing better ways to Seek > Sense > Share. I base these on what we have learned so far — such as the need for range & inefficiency — and where we need to go — such as retrieving gender balance.
As Greta Thunberg said, “You don’t need to spend two weeks on a boat to do your part to avert our climate emergency. You just need to do everything you can, with everyone you can, to change everything you can.” The same goes for every necessary change in society. Our hope for the future is that together we can make the network era smarter.