Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Becoming a Social Business -- Beyond Culture Change

A paradigm shift occurs when prevailing mental model has so many egregious anomalies that it “breaks” and a new mental model of the world is perceived to be a better explanation of how the world works. ~Steve Denning
Our words define our worldview. We use the vocabulary available to us to describe and analyze our experiences and perceptions. The founder of the idea that language and worldview are inextricable is William von Humboldt, the Prussian philologist. The German word Weltanschauung—used to represent the mode of apprehending reality of a community—was first used by Kant and later popularized by Hegel. Weltanschauung represents the collective consciousness of a community of a certain experience.  

In this context, I had a bit of an epiphany. Over the past few years, the need to become a social business and to promote enterprise-wide collaboration have taken hold in many organizations. The usual approach is to launch an enterprise collaboration platform (technology first being easy to do) and hope that people will engage and contribute with a bit of cajoling and coercing. But a majority of these endeavors fail leading to skepticism and finger pointing. The usual culprits are the hapless organizational culture closely followed by hierarchy and leadership lethargy. We have become accustomed to blaming the culture of an organization for the failure of any initiative, and more so when the change calls for redefining and re-imagining how people work and interact. Before I proceed further, let me clarify that these culprits are not blameless. A fair number of mistakes can be attributed to them. I only want to say these do not invoke the complete picture. We have to dive deeper to understand why organizations across the world – from the Americas to Asia – are apparently making the same mistakes.

We have to take a step back and examine the metaphors and the discourse that organizations abide by and are described by. The crux of the problem lies in our inability to see how the culture of organizations stem from and is shaped by the very discourse of management that we have collectively subscribed to ever since the Industrial Revolution and the manufacturing era. No matter how hard we try to change the culture – and I do believe that leaders and managers are trying – the discourse we use lets us down. The words become reality. Currently, our management discourse is permeated by the language of two metaphors – the military and the manufacturing. The business model and operating principles in today’s organizations hinge on “making” profit through the deft use of limited resources in an organized manner. The military metaphor dominates the world of business – right from “staff”, “line”, “chain of command”, to “war for talent”, “competitive strategy”, and “line of fire”. The assumption is that doing business is akin to waging war and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Organizations thus begin to behave with an almost “military” mindset – valuing planning over innovation, dwelling on constraints over opportunities, giving in to enforcing over enabling, compliance over collaboration…

Underlying this military and manufacturing discourse is an insidious and difficult to pin down aspect – the scarcity mindset – be it of money, skills, information, time, talent, and so on. A world defined by scarcity is driven by the ethos of competition, hoarding, survival of the fittest, suspicion, exclusion, elimination of the other, and fear. These concepts are fundamentally opposed to the principle and values that support cooperation and collaboration – the pillars of social business and authentic communities. As long as our organizations are operating under the principle of scarcity, we will continue to struggle to get people engaged and motivated enough to collaborate. The words we use not only reflect but also reinforce and reproduce the reality. The words become reality.

Now, let’s look at the words that come to mind when we thing “community” which has its root in the Latin word “communitas” meaning things held in common. Community elicits in my mind words like commune, abundance, love, wholeness, trust, belonging, authenticity, creation, safety, inclusion… and other similar words. As anyone who has ever been or aspires to be a community manager, we know that these are the emotions that we have to inspire in our users for them to become engaged and collaborative community members. However, the discourse that defines community within organizations get subsumed under the larger discourse of the organization itself which, as I have already mentioned, is defined by scarcity and competition. When the two discourses clash, the larger one signifying the organization as a whole inevitably wins. The words become reality.

Let me make a disclaimer. This clash is not the fault of managers or leaders taking the organization forward – in most cases, it is done in good faith. Controls are put in place to prevent information from going to competitors; non-compliance is punished; transparency is censored to prevent general dissent. And we simplistically club all of these under the umbrella of an amorphous and ambiguous culture and dismiss it by saying that “the culture of the organization is not conducive to collaboration”. We have to identify the words that run counter to authenticity, trust and transparency and replace them with a different set of words when speaking about organizations. Words carry their own denotation and connotation and define our consciousness. It might seem like a trivial matter, but it truly has deep implications for the kind of transformation organizations need to go through in order to become authentic communities.

The discourse of communities doesn’t and cannot hinge on and around scarcity. We need to redefine and reimagine the very description of an organization itself. What if we were to define an organization like a community: “Self-organized network of people with common agenda, cause, or interest, who collaborate by sharing ideas, information, and other resources...” (Wikipedia). We have to shift from the old ways of working that was driven by extrinsic motivation – bonus, salary hike, promotion, and other tangible rewards to one that is driven from the heart, that engages people intrinsically by giving them the autonomy, providing the purpose and creating a sense a belonging. Jeremy Scrivens writes in his post, The Future of Work is Social Business at Scale, “…authenticity is not only the foundation of collaboration and innovation, it is the very experience of being well - being who you really are - Being! not just doing.”

Tangible rewards are limited, and hence automatically lead to competition and fight for survival. In contrast, intrinsic motivation, authenticity, trust, and kindness stem from a deeper source of abundance. Organizations need to shift their paradigms and transform at a far deeper level than we are currently addressing. To see real impact, and deep and lasting transformation, we have to attack the root, and reimagine the organizational metaphor.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Inimitable Jay Cross

I had the good fortune to meet Jay in 2011 when he, along with Clark Quinn came down for EDGEx – The Disruptive Education conference. That was the first time I met him face to face, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Apart from the fact that I was totally in awe and had to muster the courage to go and speak with him, I think I was expecting a serious individual, the distinguished author of many books who had coined the term “e-learning” and led the thinking in the field of learning. An iconic figure in my mind… The individual I encountered was full of zest and spirit, fun-loving with a quirky sense of humor, and a warm, affectionate heart. I was bowled over. I think I behaved a bit like a star -truck teenager but that is understandable when you meet Jay Cross in person for the first time. 

My introduction to Jay had been through his book Informal Learning. Needless to say, it had become my bible to understand what social learning is and could be in the context of workplace learning. In those days, I was just a rookie instructional designer trying to write storyboards and grasp the basics of e-learning. I stumbled upon his book and him (virtually) on Twitter. I still remember the excitement I felt when I read Informal Learning and subsequently Working Smarter. Jay infused a new way of looking at how learning happens. For a learning-hungry person like me, it was like manna from heaven. I understood the concept of workscapes for the first time:   
A workscape is a platform where knowledge workers collaborate, solve problems, converse, share ideas, brainstorm, learn, relate to others, talk, explain, communicate, conceptualize, tell stories, help one another, teach, serve customers, keep up to date, meet one another, forge partnerships, build communities, and distribute information. ~ Jay Cross
There were so many Aha! moments as I journeyed through Jay’s books and thoughts. They are too innumerable to list down. I consider myself absolutely privileged to have been included as a part of the advisory board for his latest book – Real Learning! I don’t know what value I added, but I know I got a tremendous amount just by going through the draft of the book, interacting with Jay and other thought leaders in the group. I keep learning from him!

Jay’s excitement and enthusiasm was infectious. He had an almost indefatigable zest for learning, for enjoying life, and a childlike curiosity for exploring. As little as a fortnight ago, he was contemplating different platforms for hosting the Real Learning community. He never stopped thinking of new ways of looking at things, of learning and helping others learn better. We will go on learning from him and reaping the benefits of all that he has left us with – a veritable legacy in how we approach informal and self-directed learning!

Thank you Jay! Real learning will live on and continue to inspire…

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Top Six Things Organizations Must Do to Enable Emergent Learning

“…changes in mindset are more important than changes in hardware or software.”
~Steve Denning
What is common across the learning modes and methods mentioned? 
  • Social learning via an enterprise collaboration platform 
  • Mobile enabled learning accessible anytime, anywhere, on any device of the user’s choice 
  • MOOCs which straddle the line between social learning and e-learning with learner communities

While an organization can facilitate these, the onus lies with the users/learners. These are essentially “pull” and collaborative learning modes and cannot be imposed. These forms often intersect with one another, and are used in various combinations depending on the organization’s need, users’ comfort and the capabilities required to design the ecosystem. Having said that, a major percentage of organizations today are striving to put in place one or more of the above-mentioned modes and tools of learning. This is leading to a shift in the role of the L&D department – from managers and disseminators of formally designed programs to facilitators and enablers of collaboration and communities. I have written about the new skills that L&D and HR needs to make this transition in my posts here and here. In this post, I am going to explore six key requirements necessary from an organizational and leadership standpoints to make collaborative and emergent learning work. But first, 

What is emergent learning?

Emergent Learning is a condition and an outcome of organizational culture, strategy and purpose

It arises out of a combination of networked leadership, HR and L&D efforts, and meaningful work. It leverages the powers of networks and social platforms, and the affordances of mobile and cloud to build an interconnected and continuously learning organization. When fully realized and supported, emergent learning provides autonomy, mastery and purpose to learners and agility, adaptability and resilience to organizations. It empowers learners to build their personal learning networks (PLN) and personal knowledge management (PKM) by leveraging technology to connect a distributed and diverse workforce. Emergent learning by definition takes place in the workflow; it is always contextual, collaborative, and beyond the norms of formal learning. Emergent learning cuts across formal organizational structures and siloes and brings out the inherent tacit knowledge and ongoing collective experience building a shared journey for all concerned. In this context, it is important to remember that technology is an enabler, an amplifier and connector. It is there solely to serve the purpose of the users, to empower them to explore and engage.

Emergent learning = Nurturing Evolving Human Potential by giving individuals the power to learn the way they want to.

When any organization or institution shifts from a hierarchical, top-down mode to a horizontal, peer- and user-driven one – be it in management or learning – culture plays a huge role in the success or otherwise of the endeavor. “The DNA of “peer trust” is built on opposite characteristics – micro, bottom-up, decentralized, flowing and personal” (The Changing Rules of Trust in the Digital Age). This is perhaps the biggest mind shift that organizations have to make in the digital era and to facilitate an environment of continuous learning. While the pace of change and the need for constant re-skilling has adeptly shifted the onus of learning away from institutions to individuals, this comes with a new set of responsibility and change in mindset. IMHO, these are the six key changes organizations need to make to enable emergent learning. 
  1. Shift from networks to communities. The affordances of ubiquitous connectivity, pervasive mobility and cloud, and the prevalence of social media ensure that organizations today are connected. However, facilitating networks is not enough albeit it’s the necessary precursor to building communities. As Henry Mintzberg points out in the HBR article, We Need Both Networks and Communities. “At the organizational level, … effective companies function as communities of human beings, not collections of human resources.” The article resonates with my belief that organizations today must foster trust-based peer communities to encourage collaboration and cooperation. It is in communities that knowledge is exchanged and challenges solved. 
  2. Give up hierarchical, command and control mindset. While we are wont to blame the management models of the Industrial Era and their continuing prevalence today for the lack of trust and transparency we see in many/most organizations, we have to understand that this model served its purpose when scalable efficiency and productivity were the desired outcome. Today in the face of rapid change and technological evolution, this same model is failing us; it’s becoming a roadblock to seamless collaboration and flow of information. Managers schooled in the hierarchical system find it difficult to give up control. Even the physical design of organizations (although many are changing) with its corner offices, and other visible symbols of hierarchy reinforce the order. It’s not enough to espouse a belief in an open culture; it requires redefining the way leadership functions and their external manifestations. 
  3. Make employee engagement an outcome, not the goal. IMHO, it’s an organization fallacy to make employee engagement the goal. Employee engagement is not a set of isolated and random activities. It is an outcome of a number of collective activities, organization culture and overall employee experience. These experiences begin even before an employee joins an organization and continues till the time they leave, and even thereafter in the firm of alumni communities. Every step of an employee’s journey wrt the organization from the interview process to project allocation to interactions with management and peers adds up to define the culture which in turn drives employee engagement or lack thereof. Emergent learning is a key outcome of employee engagement. Engaged employees feel valued and respected; this leads them to collaborate and cooperate in the interest of the organization as well as their own development. Disengaged employees neither learn nor share. 
  4. Make the purpose bigger than shareholder value creation. In the new world, shareholders’ value will continue to exist but not as a primary driver for organizations that seek to attract, retain and build a community of talented individuals or make an impact on the world. An authentic and purpose-driven organization that is seen to give back to society is more likely to attract and retain employees. Purpose and shared value creation are strong drivers of learning inspiring people to share and collaborate towards the achievement of a bigger vision. 
  5. Stop viewing individuals as replaceable resources. Even today, well into the second decade of the knowledge era and the creative economy, organizations still treat individuals as resources. While no one would clear an interview if they said, “I am just like everyone else, and have no unique qualities,” it is precisely what organizations strive to do once you are in. Kill the uniqueness and make one fit a mold. And then perversely complain that people are not creative, innovative, or using their brains. Basically, it’s a dichotomy! What organizations need and want are being fundamentally curbed by their very systems and processes created to uphold uniformity, predictability, and homogeneity. The leaders and managers are as much a victim of the system as the employees. The systems and processes established 200 years ago were created to augment human brawn with machines. They are ill-equipped to support a world that revolves around the uniqueness of the human brain. It calls for transformational leadership and cultural mind-shift. Individuals treated like replaceable cogs will behave like cogs; not self-driven learners
  6. Celebrate diversity in all aspects – cognitive and otherwise. Learning and insight take place when diverse thoughts and ideas collide. “I have never in my life learned anything from any man who agreed with me,” Dudley Malone had famously said. And it is partially at least true. Diversity and inclusion cannot only be a part of HR policy anymore; it is necessary for the very survival of organizations as we enter the VUCA world. Emergent learning cannot happen unless diverse ideas and experiences find a place to converge and come together. Hence, the communities that organizations facilitate – online or offline -- should consciously enable the coming together of diverse individuals.  
All of these feel like massive changes and they are. I’ll go a step further and say that collectively put together, these moves lead to transformation. Change is primarily tactical, process-driven with a known outcome that one drives toward. Transformation is revolutionary! It takes us from the known to the unknown in the nature of an explorer embarking on a journey of discovery in a bid to find a new world. Here’s a telling excerpt from an HBR article that I’ll end with:

“Change management” means implementing finite initiatives, which may or may not cut across the organization. The focus is on executing a well-defined shift in the way things work.
Transformation is another animal altogether. Unlike change management, it doesn’t focus on a few discrete, well-defined shifts, but rather on a portfolio of initiatives, which are interdependent or intersecting. More importantly, the overall goal of transformation is not just to execute a defined change — but to reinvent the organization and discover a new or revised business model based on a vision for the future. It’s much more unpredictable, iterative, and experimental. It entails much higher risk. And even if successful change management leads to the execution of certain initiatives within the transformation portfolio, the overall transformation could still fail.” We Still Don’t Know the Different between Change and Transformation

Monday, November 2, 2015

#BNLF - 7 Key Takeaways and Other Impressions from Day 1

#BNLF I've learned means Blog Now, Live Forever. Pretty cool I thought! 

This weekend—31st Oct and 1st November -- was spent at the #BNLF conference held at The Lalit, Mumbai. Intrigued by the name and impressed by the lineup of speakers consisting of people like Purba Ray of the A-Musing fame (I have always been intrigued by that hyphen), Arnab Ray, the author of May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss, better known as the @greatbong, Anshul Tiwari, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Youth ki Awaaz, Christoph Trappe, the writer of The Authentic Storytelling Project blog, Jeff Bullas whose blog I have been following from years, Preeti Shenoy and none other than Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden – decided how I would spend my weekend. This post is a summary of my impression of Day 1.

This was my first BNLF, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the blogging fraternity. I had somehow assumed that a hundred odd people would turn up and most would be fans of writers like Arnab Ray and Purba Ray… . I turned up at The Lalit well-ahead of time as I’m wont to do, and was ready to meander in the lobby when I encountered at least 300+ people generally hanging around – some in clusters, some alone and some evidently #BNLF organizers wearing the hashtag T-shirt. Hmm! Not quite what I had envisaged for sure. Within a span of 15~20 mins, the 300 swelled to 500+ with more coming. And registration was yet to start. I learned that this amorphous bunch of people consisted of #BNLF regulars as well as the uninitiated like me. “Welcome to the tribe,” someone said. “Are you’ll all bloggers,” I asked? “Yes, of course,” was the somewhat astonished response. That shut me up for sure!

Purba Ray on Stage

There were bloggers from all over India—from Delhi, Chandigarh, Pune, Kolkata, Banglaore… There were bloggers writing on every kind of topic imaginable—from gardening to lifestyle, urban yoga to urban homes, from quilling to political spoofs – if you can think of a topic, there was probably a blogger there writing on it. There were bloggers ranging from 21 year olds to folks in their 50’s. I couldn’t have been more mistaken in my assumptions. And everyone had come to learn, to improve their blogging skills, to pick-up techniques and methodologies to take their blogging to the next level. I was impressed and a little bit awed.

Being used to conferences like #SHRM, #HRTech, and other corporate affairs, I was in for another dose of shock when we entered the main venue post registration. It looked nothing like a conference room. It resembled a rock-show arena with a brightly lit, kaleidoscopic stage, laser lights doing their thing and various musical instruments (I don’t know all the names so won’t get into the details) casually strewn about. The long hall held rows and rows and rows of white chairs – at least a 1000 it seemed -- and looked somewhat surreal to me. I quickly grabbed one in the first row and settled down. The day began with rock music—yes! no corporate affair this one! 700+ people were on their feet rocking and swaying and clapping to “We don’t need no Education” and other favorites. What a start!

The day maintained the momentum and the speakers didn’t let us down either. Each had their unique story and perspectives to share. I’ve made a holistic list of my key takeaways from the day that I felt would be worth sharing for other bloggers like me. 
  1. Bring Constancy and Commitment: This theme cropped up in everyone’s talk and the masterclasses that followed on Sunday. More about these in my next post. Without exception everyone spoke about being committed and regular with one’s blogging schedule, to post on a specific day of the week, and even at a specific time. The trick is to have a set of posts ready and scheduled to publish. This not only helps loyal readers keep track of your writing but also helps in search engine rankings. While I theoretically knew all this, I had not gotten around to being this disciplined. Coming from some of the most respected bloggers and writers, it was a hard-hitting message for me. 
  2. Keep it Conversational: Apparently, while we all like to sound erudite and believe that obfuscating points make them more interesting, it is not true. I pondered a while and realized that the blogs I like in my domain are all written in the simplest language without any loss of depth or impact. The first example that came to my mind was @AbhijitBhaduri ‘s blog! So, keeping it simple, using short words, and writing as if we were explaining a concept to a friend is a good approach to follow. 
  3. Make it Authentic: In their various ways, each of the speakers emphasized this with Christoph Trappe making it the core of his piece. Of course to be authentic, it is essential to feel deeply and passionately about our domain of blogging. It is impossible to be authentic without being passionate. It also implies being vulnerable and open, considering readers as friends. A stilted and fake voice will neither get us loyal readers nor make us feel satisfied with our writing. 
  4. Re-purpose Content: I often forget that I can use my blog post to create a SlideShare presentation, craft unique tweets or use the images for Pinterest boards. Re-purposing content across different social media channels in different forms not only ensures a wider and more constant reach but also addresses varied audience preferences and needs. 
  5. Keep an Eye on the Headline: According to research, listicles are a great way to get attention for primarily three reasons -- 1) provide a container around content pieces; 2) make it easy for the readers to keep track, and go back and forth; and 3) make it easy to recall. While definitely not all my posts can have a title beginning “7 ways to…” and “9 things to keep in mind…”, it is an advice worth remembering. Headlines are very critical, especially in this era of content abundance and attention deficit. Headlines should clearly tell readers what they can expect from the post. 
  6. Remember the 60-30-10 Rule: This specifically struck a chord with me. Christoph Trappe mentioned that successful blogging is defined by this rule of time and effort breakup – where 60% is devoted to creating authentic and original content; 30% should be given to listening and conversation because blogging is not a siloed activity; and 10% effort can be spent on sharing and linking on different social platforms. This is a good rule of thumb I intend to practice more consciously. 
  7. Don’t be Over-Dependent on Social Media: Jeff Bullas emphasized the importance of focusing on search and doing keyword research for those serious about growing their readership. Good content is of course a must and a given. According to him, the power of headlines, images and email lists should not be ignored. I’m going to explore these one at a time and test for impact.

All in all, Day 1 gave me plenty of food for thought and action. I know consistency is going to be my key issue, with procrastination my Achilles’ heel. Look out for posts on the Day 2 Workshops and other unique moments. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Demystifying Working Out Loud

“When people leverage collaboration platforms to contribute and to build relationships, that appeals to their intrinsic motivators of autonomy, mastery, and relatedness.” ~ Working Out Loud-Better for You; Better for the Firm
Working out loud has been steadily gaining popularity and has become a topic of conversation on many forums including the Facebook community of the same name. In the post 5 Gifts for the HR Department, John Stepper describes working out loud as a “different kind of talent program” writing, “as more employees work out loud, more of their work is visible along with public feedback on it”. Dion Hinchcliffe in What Are the Required Skills for Today’s Digital Workforce?, mentions working out loud as one of the “genuinely transformative new digital skills”, and as seen in the diagram below, it heads the list of critical skills for a digital workforce.
I have been writing about working out loud as a practice for some time now. Here are some of my older posts: Working Out Loud 101, 7 Strategies to Facilitate Working Out Loud, and Working Out Loud: Using the Tools We Already Have. In this post, I want to demystify working out loud and highlight the organizational as well as personal growth that accrues from the practice. I am a huge believer of the practice because I have experienced the effect first hand. It has helped me to develop my personal learning network (PLN) and enabled my PKM. However, individuals for whom it’s a seemingly new way of working are still beset by doubts, and some may even express outright skepticism. Given this context, I have tried to explain what #wol entails for those like me who might be trying to spread the approach, believe in the fundamental philosophy of transparency and open work, and wish to empower everyone with a simple yet powerful learning tool for self-driven learning.

First let me clarify what working out loud is NOT… It is not any of the descriptors given below:

  • A tool/methodology to boast about oneself
  •  A mindset that can stem from selfish interests
  • An approach that implies networking for personal benefits
  •  A methodology that can flourish under very controlling and hierarchical organizations
  • A process to be mandated by management/supervisors/organizations with defined rules
I’m going to take a step back and examine the world we live in today and how the notion of work has changed. 

  1. Work has become location agnostic; workplace is no longer defined by a brick and mortar building 
  2. The 9:00 am to 5:00 pm notion of work is all but vanishing, at least for the knowledge workers 
  3. The workforce today is not only globally distributed but also contingent giving rise to the notion of the extended enterprise 
  4. The workforce is ubiquitously connected, networked, and mobile 
  5. The ecosystem we operate in is volatile with rising complexity & ambiguity – the quintessential VUCA world 
  6. Five generations are working side-by-side (often virtually) 
  7. The baby boomers are retiring taking their tacit knowledge and experience with them 
  8. We live in an age of information abundance but lacking in insight and wisdom; it is almost impossible to make sense of it as an individual 
  9. Exceptions are the norms; making sense of exceptions require a coming together of cognitively diverse individuals 
  10. Disruptive business models are upending traditional org structures

Demystifying #WOL: Some questions I have encountered when discussing working out loud in forums & conferences or with colleagues:

Q. Does working out loud need digital technology in the form of an online platform or tool?
Fundamentally, one doesn’t need any tool to practice working out loud. However, in an era of distributed, dispersed and global workforce, an online platform becomes a necessary connector and amplifier. It is perfectly possible to share one’s experience over a “lunch & learn” session; however, if that session can also be aired on Hangout, the impact is amplified tenfold. I would say that a platform that facilitates easy and seamless interaction, forming of groups and threads, a powerful search mechanism and a way to aggregate conversations across topics (#) would be ideal for working out loud effectively.

Q. Why should I work out loud when my immediate team sits right next to me?
Organizational silos form because we don’t know what the teams across the hallway are working on leave alone being aware of what other business units and divisions are doing. Thus not only do we lose out on diverse inputs and knowledge, we also proverbially reinvent the wheel many times over and feed into systemic inefficiency. An organization that shares openly –successes and failures, learnings and insights, explicit and tacit knowledge – learns faster, builds an ambient awareness and paves the road for serendipity. The practice of working out loud across and beyond the borders of a conventional org chart leads to a much higher probability of expertise location, talent discovery, innovation, cross-pollination of ideas, and a resilient and constantly learning organization. It is an excellent method for bridging those very gaps and silos – the white spaces – between the defined boxes of the org chart. To illustrate this, I have slightly modified Dion Hinchcliffe’s diagram (see below) to show how the process of #wol can benefit all of us – employees as well as the organization.

Q. It’s not natural for me to post whatever I want to say or think online. What are some of the compelling reasons that will make me do so?

Given this VUCA world, it is imperative for and incumbent on all of us to remain learning agile and relevant. A distributed workforce requires a digital platform for connect. When we refuse to acknowledge that the fundamental paradigms that defined organizations of yore have changed, we kill our chances of personal development and growth by continuing to operate in silos and with people who are cognitively aligned. We run the risk of suffering from a “frog in the well” syndrome and fail to see signs and symptoms of change. Today’s work requires us to collaborate with folks we have never met, often from the other side of the world. These call for an adoption of some fundamental digital skills of which #wol is one.

However, it is not all gloom and doom! While the practice may seem novel, it actually taps into the basic human nature of sharing, learning and collaborating – aspects of humanity that traditional organizations suppressed in the name of efficiency, economy of scale and productivity. What working out loud requires is for us to collectively go back to the days when we swapped stories sitting around a fire, the only difference being that the fire has been replaced by a participative medium like a social collaboration platform, communities of diverse individuals and a global mindshare. Just as we would not have survived as a species had our ancestors not swapped those early stories, our survival and relevancy as individuals and organizations today may well be threatened if we fail to tap into the wider network of diverse and global intelligence. A complex world requires collaborative and cooperative problem solving.

Q. I deal with sensitive information and data. Why should I post it for all to see?
First of all, the definition of sensitive information is changing as organizations morph from complete control and hierarchy into more flatter and networked organizations. Having said that, there may well be data like employees personal information that must be protected. Working out loud does not imply exposing sensitive information. #WOL is a lightweight way of doing open work, i.e., sharing one’s learning, asking questions, sharing resources you may have found useful and hope others will too. It is based on the fundamental principles of generosity, a growth mindset, leadership and a desire to build a purposeful network. The latter is one of the most profound and meaningful outcome of generously working out loud. Consistent practice leads to a network that is open, diverse and deep. The image below (came across it via the Facebook Working Out Loud community) captures these core characteristics succinctly and beautifully.

Q. I barely have time to finish my tasks; when will I share and work out loud?
Working out loud is not an extra activity we do over and above our regular work. It is how work will get done as digitization and globalization become driving forces. On an average we send out more than 30 mails in a day and receive ten times that number. If we pause to think, how many of those mails are in search of that elusive information, that particular PowerPoint presentation or that one person we know who has experience in the current problem scenario. The same ask posted on an open network is ten times more likely to throw up more relevant information at a much faster pace, reduce all the back and forth, and also help us to locate that expertise much more quickly. This reduced time and cost of coordination that #wol facilitates is one of the key drivers to practice the approach. We need it more than ever now – because we don’t have time. It is one of the ways to save us those precious hours while also building our network and meta-learning skills for the digital world.

Q. How will working out loud impact my professional development?
Working out loud enables us to practice and hone skills like reflection, synthesis, evaluation, online collaboration, co-creation and so on. No one will argue that these are invaluable meta-learning skills – especially in an era characterized by complexity and exceptions. Working out loud not only helps us to make our work visible to others in a way that they can find useful, it also helps us to build crucial skills. By sharing openly, we demonstrate generosity that invites others to share with us thus building a virtual cycle of giving and learning together. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say the practice of #wol lays the foundation for other skills depicted in the diagram on top – skills like building one’s PLN, becoming adept at digital collaboration and letting the network do the work. The diagram below summarizes the different ways that working out loud manifests itself.


Saturday, August 8, 2015

"Digital Mindset": What is it All About?

"Digital mindset" seems to have become another buzzword--rather buzz-phrase to be grammatically precise--whenever the conversation (online or offline) veers toward social business, social learning, collaboration, and other 21st Century phenomenon in general. One of the oft-repeated reasons for the failure of Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) in organizations is often attributed to a lack of "digital mindset" in the employees or leadership or both. It has become a specter looming over everyone's head. This post is an attempt to distill some of the skills/attitude/knowledge that possibly make up the "digital mindset". In an attempt to crystallize the skill sets, some of the finer nuances have been lost. It is also important to remember that there is no black and white distinction between digital and non-digital mindsets. It's a spectrum, and we need to move along the spectrum to make the best of the world we are in. The trigger for this post comes from a tweet-chat hosted by @WiproLPS with @bill_fischer sharing his insights on this topic. Unfortunately, I couldn't participate as I'd have wanted to but was lurking and following the stream. For those who missed it, here's the compiled chat in Storify. Thanks to @nidhisand for putting it together. 

As a precursor to my description of the defining characteristics of a digital mindset, here's a diagram created by Jacob Morgan--author of The Future of Work--encapsulating 14 Principles of the Future Organization
This diagram, by putting in perspective the characteristics of a workplace of the 21st Century, acts as a trigger to define certain qualities that everyone (employees, leaders, managers, partners, customers, and all other stakeholders) need to inculcate today. And these characteristics are what we term as "digital mindset". It's a way of being, an evolving philosophy. One of @bill_fischer tweets encapsulates the spirit of an organization that embodies the "digital mindset":
To substantiate my understanding, I also spoke to my daughter--a quintessential 23 year old--who juggles her education, projects and social life with apparent ease. Some of the insights gleaned from her adds depth to my analysis. I have noted down my cumulative understanding here. 

A "digital mindset" is not about using technology alone although that is a large part of it. While heralded by the growth and evolution of disruptive tech, it is characterized by a different perspective of the world. An individual with a "digital mindset" understands the power of technology to democratize, scale and speed up every form of interaction and action. Technology is playing a transformative role in virtually every domain today-- from IT and Telecom to Retail and Manufacturing. To cite an example: a 3D printer can reduce the design to prototype time dramatically while also allowing the flexibility to tweak the design as the model evolves (created). Technology is thus an amplifier. Having a digital mindset is the ability to grasp this spectrum of impact that the Network Era has on us and thus truly appreciate the futility of actions like knowledge hoarding for power, enforcing hierarchy, building siloed work environments, following old world processes, and such. The tweets by +Abhijit Bhaduri from the tweet chat synthesize the core qualities. 
I have tried to contrast the characteristics of the Industrial Era with the Digital. While it is obviously not always black and white, it's an attempt to delineate what differentiates this era from the ones gone by.
  • Agile and adaptable - Agility here is more than just adapting to change. In the age of disruptive tech, we must be able to foresee and change before the need to change arises. Agility in this context encompasses the skill of being able to scan the landscape and ecosystem of one's domain of work, keep pace with what is happening at the edges, and evolve to remain relevant. In the digital era, this would mean being comfortable with technology, seeing change as an opportunity, and accepting the new ways of working without feeling threatened. It means a comfort with ambiguity that would have been undreamed of in the process-driven era of assembly line production. 
  • Flexible about time and space: In a connected world where we are very often working, learning, and interacting with individuals across the globe as a normal course of life, time takes on a different meaning. We have to let go off a rigid definition of "work time" versus "personal time". We often complete personal work during the nine-to-five slot and collaborate with global colleagues post dinner to co-create proposals for clients. While many organizations still insist on office presence, it is becoming a thing of the past and anytime, anywhere work is becoming the mantra. What this means for IT, Cyber-security and other infrastructure-related challenges is a vast topic of debate and exploration. The emerging reality is that work and life are becoming one. Does this mean work will take over every bit of our time? It might if we let it. It also means we have to be excellent managers of time, have a clear vision of our life's purpose and devote time to what is important to us accordingly. It means taking full responsibility for all aspects of our life...
  • Comfortable with ambiguity: In today's landscape, we are more often than not operating in the Complex zone of the Cynefin framework. I often refer to this sense-making model because it provides a simple yet powerful heuristic for evaluating where we stand in relation to other contexts. I have included the diagram below for reference:

When we operate in the Complex zone, we can only connect cause and effect in hindsight. Exceptions, unusual business models disrupting traditional ways of operating, disruptive tech with their emergent nature, all fall in the Complex category. One needs to be agile, adaptive, and vigilant to operate in this zone. 
  • Taking risks and exploring: A digital mindset includes using technology as a tool for exploration. Possessing a traveler's exploratory nature and an innate curiosity to go beyond one's defined work role is a critical skill to have today. Complex, unknown work and exceptions cannot be captured by pre-defined Job Descriptions. Those who can seize the opportunity to explore and learn beyond the call of duty will be the ones who remain relevant, fearless in the face of change and bring value to themselves and the organizations they work for. The doors that a networked world have opened for us can be the playground. 
  • Open to learning and collaboration: "Collaboration" seems to be the mantra of the era. Whether it is about remaining agile and connected to the edges or about completing a project, collaboration gets called upon. And along with it comes "collaborative learning". In the Complex zone, past experiences and expertise are not necessarily reliable predictors of the future. And an individual with a handful of frameworks and heuristics cannot make sense of the immensely complex and rapidly changing ecosystem. Innovating and creating value in this context require a coming together of cognitively diverse individuals who come with varied experiences and different ways of seeing. Collaboration is the only way to make sense in a complex world and define emergent practices that work. 
  • Respectful of diverse perspectives: Collaboration alone won't suffice unless it is inclusive. Cognitive diversity is what helps us to make sense in the Complex zone. People thinking alike are unlikely to come up with innovative ideas when faced with an exception or an unknown challenge. It requires people with different mental models and holding divergent worldviews to do so effectively. Hence, a digital mindset has to be essentially open, respectful, and inclusive. This is perhaps one of the most critical ones and difficult to inculcate. We as humans are naturally prone to homophily and confirmation bias. Any person, idea or situation that threatens our preconceived and pre-held notions are usually met with defensiveness or evasion. A digital mindset essentially means going beyond the obvious and engaging in dialogues with different minds. 
  • Connecting the global with the local: This generation has grown up with a uniquely global perspective. They didn't have to wait to acquire global experience through travel. It was all around them, brought to them by the power of technology in a uber-connected world. Thus, there is an innately greater tolerance, acceptance of diversity, and an overall inclusive attitude. And those still unable to grasp the implications of a global world find themselves left behind made unfit for a more open world. The digital era requires the ability to switch context between the global and the local and to understand how each impact the other. 
  • Connecting through ideas: A critical digital is also the ability to build trusted connections with colleagues, communities and networks without necessarily any face-to-face connect. We often have a wide network of professionals and colleagues with whom we share a deep connect without having ever seen them. This is the era of connected ideas. We voluntarily come together and form communities and Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) because of our aligned passions, worldviews even though geographically we may well be worlds apart and mindsets. I have never met 70% of my most trusted and respected members of the PLN community and yet do not feel the distance. 
Hence, IMHO, digital mindset is not only about using technology but it is much more about changing the way we operate in the world, in our community and in our lives. It comes with its drawbacks but that is inevitable in a period of deep and hitherto unimaginable transition. The key is to remember that these characteristics do not exist in isolation. They are all interlinked and feed into each other. Someone who is open and collaborative is also likely to welcome diverse perspectives. It is a set of behavioral patterns that signify a digital mindset. It is about changing the lenses through which we view the world.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

"Working Out Loud": Using the Tools We Already Have

While the concept of "working out loud" has been gaining popularity, thanks to the work done by thought-leaders like Jane Bozarth (Show Your Work), John Stepper (Working Out Loud), Austin Kleon (Show Your Work) and such, I still encounter bemused looks when I bring up this topic. I wrote about the strategies and benefits of working out loud earlier here and here. In this post, I want to break down the activities based on the tools/platforms we already have at our disposal, and often access on a daily basis. These tools are free, easy to use and accessible to all as long as we have a device (smartphone, tablet, computer) and an Internet connection. A bit more conscious thinking behind why, when and how we use these platforms can transform our daily meandering interactions into purposeful habits around learning, sharing and community building. This thought was triggered by David Kelly's presentation - Social Media, Social Learning, and Curation where he highlights the role each of the social tools/platform can play in our sharing and learning. 

Before I get into how each of the tools facilitate and inspire #wol, I want to highlight that the process of working out loud is not only restricted to synchronous sharing of what one is doing at the moment with a closed group or team. Working out loud ranges from specific, objective-driven collaboration (as in the case within project teams) to just sharing of thoughts and ideas with the wider social networks. The former leads to focused learning and the latter leads to serendipitous discoveries. These wider implications are brilliantly captured in the diagram by Harold Jarche below. 

The different elements of working out loud from sharing with purpose and leading with generosity to building relationships, engaging in visible work and learning are all achieved through thoughtful and generous use of the different tools. I have discussed each platform based on my usage pattern and preference; the order in which they are listed is not a reflection of the  tool's inherent quality or characteristics. 

Twitter: The trigger question, "What's Happening"? that Twitter greets you with is a great initiator to begin "working out loud". Summarizing what you are doing, learning, or being challenged by in 4~5 tweets of 140 characters each can be very useful in sharing it with the outer world and in putting one's work process and learning in perspective. Articulating a dilemma or a question or a learning adds clarity and often brings insight. These kinds of summation comes out of reflection - a key component in the learning cycle. Adding relevant (#) hashtags make the tweets easy to find later. In effect, it can act as a set of notes of one's day's learning aggregated and filtered via hashtags and shared with the broader world. Any response to the tweets brings additional insights and new  perception. The additional advantage is the ability to @mention individuals and thus share with definite folks or direct questions at specific individuals. Working out loud on Twitter therefore has dual advantage of collaboration & cooperation as well as the ability to seek direct help. Small working out loud circles can use Twitter effectively through facilitated tweet chats as well. It may require a facilitator to add cohesion and keep the live conversation on track. 

When is it most useful to use Twitter?
Sharing and #wol on Twitter is most useful when one is engaged in the activity -- it can be a project, a subject/skill/topic one is trying to master, a client challenge or any other activity. Sharing on Twitter encourages synthesizing the work in micro-chunks, reflection and collaboration. Because of it's byte sized updates, Twitter encourages live conversations and exchanges -- a hugely advantageous aspect of #wol. 

LinkedIn: It's a professional networking platform that offers various collaboration and sharing features like "Share an Update", "Upload a Photo" or "Publish a Post". While it's not a platform where one may be comfortable sharing updates regarding semi-complete work-in-progress projects or the day's challenge, it still offers possibilities of reaching out to a wide network of experts and professionals across different domains. LinkedIn's Group feature offers interesting #wol possibilities since these can be kept Open or Private as per the group's objectives. Creating private groups can help to eliminate inhibitions around sharing and create a safe environment. A group facilitator can channel discussions and encourage participation. Since LinkedIn is a professional network, trolling is likely to be controlled. The "Publish a Post" feature encourages thoughtful sharing around one's area(s) of expertise and passion. Since it's primarily a professional network, this also builds credibility, enhances your brand, and becomes a one point of reference to showcase skills and experience. Other professionals in the same field stand to gain from your sharing and you can come to be perceived as a thought-leader in the space. 

When is it most useful to use LinkedIn?
LinkedIn is most useful when #wol has been given some time to crystallize such that the sharing is more cohesive and holistic. It might encompass the entire process one followed when managing client expectation or the approach one took to learn about sketch-noting and implement the learning. Abhijit Bhaduri's post, Want To Improve Listening Skills? Try Sketchnotes is a great example of the latter. After reading the post, I have a better sense of how to approach sketchnoting, a skill I've been trying to pick up for some time. 

Facebook: While the platform gained traction as a social networking site where individuals find and stay in touch with lost friends and far-flung family members, I see it increasingly being used as a learning and sharing platform by various groups including passionate photographers, wildlife lovers, travellers, artists and such. Facebook invites its users to "Update Status", "Add a Photo/Video" or "Create an Album". Any or all of these features can be used to share what you are doing, seek other's help or just be a good community member and share one's learning. Facebook Groups are large communities where people are already working out loud in their varied areas of interests and sharing tips ranging from which lens to use when doing macro photography to where one might buy/hire such a lens. The group features encourage #wol in various ways as highlighted in the image below. 
The ease with which a group can be set up and content shared and discussed is a key to attracting users. As is evident, this #wol group set up by John Stepper is not only encouraging everyone to discuss what they think but is also helping to build a community around the concept and build it into a practice. It is therefore quite easy to see how #wol can have far-reaching impact beyond just sharing what one is doing at the moment - it enables skills like reflection, articulation of ideas, building of a personal learning network (PLN), managing one's learning (PKM), and connecting with similarly passionate people across the globe and thus build a learning community of cognitively diverse individuals.  

When is it most useful to use Facebook?
This is a platform that is perhaps most often used by the majority. Because it allows easy uploading of videos, images and text updates, Facebook can be used for any kind of #wol. For team level sharing, there can be private groups. For broader community building, one can have open groups. It is easy to add other interested individuals to the groups and thus build a community gradually. 

SlideShare: Presentations are a great medium for visually capturing complex thoughts and ideas. Synthesizing abstract concepts or showing a process via a presentation and posting it on SlideShare can be a very powerful means of sharing. Designing a presentation calls for multiple skills: visual representation, content design, pattern making and story telling. These skills are advanced meta learning skills that require consistent practice and effort. Crafting a presentation to share on SlideShare once a month or so can be an effective #wol habit that not only communicates your ideas to a wider audience but enhances your processing and meta-cognitive skills. I have tried to combine a couple of blog posts into these presentations: L&D Re-imagines - 21st Century Workplace Learning and Community Management - Towards a Learning Organization

When is it most useful to use SlideShare?
It is most useful when you want to capture your ideas in a cohesive flow and make it easy to assimilate at a glance. While it is possible to add comments to presentations on SlideShare, it is not a platform for conversation. It is more suited for sharing of well-thought out ideas in an engaging format. Since SlideShare users can Like, Share and download the presentations, it is best to make each presentation complete in itself. Thus, in contrast to the fast-paced, real time, informal sharing on Twitter, SlideShare requires a more thorough output. 

Pinterest: This can be a unique #wol space which uses the visual medium in powerful ways. Pinterest allows one to create Boards around topics. Within each topic, a user can collate images as Pins which can be shared with a broader network. You can also pin images from other people's boards to your boards, thus creating a rich network of images created/curated around specific topics. I find various boards on topics as disparate as social business to visual thinking very useful. Boards by Sunni Brown or Abhijit Bhaduri on sketchnoting and visual thinking are great learning tools for me. While on immediate thought Pinterest may not seem like a #wol tool, it can be used very effectively as one. It is primarily a curation and aggregation tool that lets you curate images/photogrpahs, infographic, diagrams and models around a topic. It is easy to share the link to your boards or specific pins. Here are the links to a couple of my boards: Future of Work and Content Curation

When is it most useful to use Pinterest?
When you have a collection of images (either created or curated) that can be grouped into topics, Pinterest comes in handy. Here is a Pinterest board on using Pinterest effectively

Finally, for those keen to begin working out loud, here is a You Tube video by Helen Blunden (@ActivateLearn) called Have I been Working Out Loud? that provides a practitioners' take on the topic. 



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