Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell: All about Spaghetti Sauce and Dosas

As I listened and watched Malcolm Gladwell's video, the truth of what he was saying hit me with an almost blinding flash. I suddenly saw all those ubiquitous "dosawallas" in their small stalls inside large malls or with handcarts on the roadside selling dosas that ranged from the traditional masala, sada, mysore masala, mysore rava to the absolutely innovative Chinese dosa stuffed with noodles, chilly masala dosa ladened with chilly sauce, spring roll dosa, cheese masala dosa, chilly cheese delight, and on and on...

Now, I am certain none of these dosawallas have heard Gladwell speak or know about the history of Howard and the Spaghetti sauce. But they have tapped into the essential lessons on choice and on delivering customer delight--stuff that we pay lakhs to learn in MBA schools. They have not gone around asking customers what they want...they have offered varieties and created the "want"...they have probably observed the rising trend in people to visit exotic Chinese and Continental restaurants as the malls came up...

My hypothesis:

The smarter ones, maybe in a bid to survive, experimented and tried to club some of the dishes offered in these exotic outlets with the "dosas"...and the rest is history today. Wikipedia lists 27 varieties. If you know about more, please add...

Whenever I go out and want to eat a dosa, I usually opt for the "Spring Roll Dosa", a variety I would not have dreamed could come under the dosa umbrella a few years back.

Malcolm Gladwell, as always, helped me to see/realize the truth of something that I had taken so much for granted that I had not given it a second thought.

Vivek Kundra on Democratizing Data

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Business Impact of Learning in the Real World

Also refer to the associated post from Jay Cross: Business Impact of Learning...

In response to The importance of being synchronous

My response to The Importance of being synchronous from Onlignment.

It's a great discussion topic and there is already a very thoughtful comment posted.

I will reiterate the focus of the post here just to keep myself on track:

...asynchronous communication is not the focus of this blog, so we’d better find some equivalent arguments to justify communicating in real-time, when we don’t usually have a record of what is said and done, when all participants have to be available at the same time, when communication has to be spontaneous, when the pacing is inflexible and when there is no rewind button. So what are these arguments? Why do we phone rather than text? Why do we talk to someone in person rather than send an email? Why do we hold a discussion using web conferencing rather than using a discussion forum?

Even in this age of technology (deliberately using this flogged-to-death phrase), why do we prefer a f2f meeting? What makes us more comfortable saying something (especially if these are sensitive issues--personal or professional)when we can observe the reaction of the person opposite rather than drop an e-mail and wait anxiously for the response?

Some of my thoughts:

1. No matter how well-crafted and thoughtful an e-mail may be, we can never be 100% sure of the reaction of the recipient (we are dealing with the human mind and emotions). If the issue is a sensitive or critical one, it may also require quick damage control actions/strategies. This is possible in an f2f meeting or even on the phone where the instantaneous reaction of both parties are evident. This gives each side an opportunity to mold the conversation as per context. And also to correct understanding and perception.

2. Sometimes, the opportunity/time to think through everything we are writing can lead to some amount of hypocrisy/hiding of true feelings/putting off saying something because its going to be on records for various reasons. This may be unintentional but does happen. However, the syndrome, "I didn't mean this when I wrote that" arises later putting a spanner in a lot of plans and schedule. While mails are wonderful records of incidents and decisions, they should not be the drivers of decisions.

3. Brainstorming, adding to ideas, just randomly throwing ideas around such that one blends with another, and then thrashing them all out to come up with that gold nugget cannot happen if everyone involved is not in the same room. The vibe and synchronized energy have to be there. We've got to see the glow in another face when a brilliant thought has been floated to feel inspired and invigorated. We have to be able to thump each other on the back and shake hands and show the victory sign and all the other gestures that motivate, move and make us feel a part of a group.

4. It's just the most basic human need to be in physical touch and use all the five senses when communicating. Remember how good we feel when our boss personally comes and tells us we have done a good job compared to an e-mail we see in our inbox. In the latter case, we may even have a niggling doubt as to whether s/he sent or was it the secretary...Thus, trust builds up when we can see each other with all the moles and warts. We see the human side. We might say, "His mails are so curt and to the point; but he's quite a jolly fellow when you speak to him...I was pleasantly surprised."

5. Finally, f2f communication brings out the earnestness in us. It's very difficult to completely hide from people when they are in front of you. If we say what we don't mean, our body language or expression will give us away. Unless of course we are very adept at acting. To build trust and credibility, the importance of being earnest cannot be overlooked...

These are from my experiences...Do you feel the same?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Do people need training on how to learn?

Scenario: Of late, my friend and colleague J has been frequently asking me how I use Twitter to learn. This is post a tweet I had put up saying "I have learned more from Twitter in the past three months than I did through formal training sessions in the past three years."

"Huh!" he says,"...that's all very well. But how?" I showed him the Twitter site, asked him to create an account and explore. He created an account, tinkered around for a bit and came back to ask, "What next?"

"Follow people who interest you..." was my somewhat brusque response. I wanted him to explore on his own and figure it out. Also, having recently finished reading Sugata Mitra's Hole in the Wall, I was full of minimally invasive learning.

Being more of a friend than colleague, he shamelessly came back a third time--this time with a solution to his problem.

Settling himself down back to front on the chair next to my workstation, he gave me the following suggestion. "Create a flow chart of the steps we need to follow to use social networking sites like Twitter to not only socialize but also to learn." His matter-of-fact tone left me somewhat speechless. Next words I spoke were, "There are half a zillion "How to use Twitter" videos, pdfs, sites, posts, articles on the web. Check those out."

"Don't you see, they are all about How to use Twitter, not about how to learn from it. And they are too scattered for a beginner like me to hunt down, read, assimilate and apply..."

I shooed him away, got myself a cup of coffee and got back to the Needs Analysis questionnaire I was creating for a project, the deadline pressing down on me.

But something he had said nagged me, set me thinking.

My dilemma: Do we need to "train" people how to "learn"? As dichotomous as that sounds, I couldn't get rid of the niggling voice that said, "Yes."

I would love to hear responses, feedback, comments.

Education v. Training: My response

bozarthzone: Education v. Training

I like one of the comments to this post which says, "Maybe it's time we stop thinking about training and education as two ends of a heirarchy and begin to think of them as equally valid parts of a nonlinear process called "learning"."

I think so too. Training is outward performance focussed with measurable outcome and immediate applicability.

Training programs are typically created for some or all of the following "well-known" reasons:(using some typical corporate training needs analysis jargon here)

My top five reasons as to why corporate organizations invest in training programs:

1. To bridge performance gap
2. To achieve business goal
3. To maintain a competitive edge
4. To retain and grow inhouse talent (cheaper in recessionary times than hiring experts)
5. Sometimes, to be seen as an organization that focuses on its people

Most often, the reasons for creating/implementing training programs are a blend of all the points above in varying degrees of proportion.

In my next post, I will attempt to put down the attributes of a training program vs. education (learning).

Saturday, June 6, 2009


eLearning on Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Informal Learning Part 3 from Jay Cross

Informal Learning Part 2 from Jay Cross: Informal learning is like a bicycle ride

Jay Cross compares formal learning to a bus ride--where everyone is travelling together, in almost the same direction, and will, on an average, reach the same destination at around the same time. This is great for novice learners.

Informal learnign, on the other hand, is like a solo bicycle ride. I can change my own direction, go where I want, stop when I want to and take a break.

A great simile...

Informal Learning Part 1 from Jay Cross

Informal Learning: People can train you but they can't "learn" you...

As always, Jay Cross gets his points across in a langugae all can understand, identify with, apply.

Some key points:

Informal learning vs. formal learning

1. Informal learning is never over. Its going on all the time.
2. Formal learning has a fixed goal, syllabus and usually ends with some recognition. You know when its over.
3. More than 80% of learning in the workplace is informal learning.
4. Social networks are vital to informal learning.
5. The most powerful educational technology ever invented is human conversation.
6. Social networks are bringing people together; that's why learning takes place.

Organizations and Informal Learning:

1. Four to five times more learning happens in informal training within organizations when compared to formal training.
2. Some steps to take: Legitimizing conversations, make it easy to find one another, read blogs, receive RSS feeds, connect
3. Change the layout of organizations--from individualized cubicles to open sofas where people can gather and talk

The web can bring more experienced and knowledgeable people to contribute and share their knowledge with the youngsters.
The web can bridge and help to transfer the knowledge from the Baby boomers gen (who may soon be retiring from the workforce and take away a tremendous amount of knowhow with them) to the Gamers gen.

Friday, June 5, 2009

What would Dr. Seuss say about online communities...

An excellent presentation that drives home the point using "nonsense rhymes." The appeal of nonsense rhymes dates back to our childhood, and this creates an instant feeling of identificaiton, thus keeping us hooked to the slides. This also increases the recall factor manifold. The rhymes reminded me strongly of Edward Lear's "Owl and Pussy cat" in their pea green boat...

Coupled with the "translation," we are not likely to forget the points about online communities mentioned here in a hurry. By themselves, the points would sound mundane and oft quoted. But now with a rhyme accompanying each one, the message has suddenly come alive.

Enjoy the slideshow...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

We participate and therefore we are

As John Seely Brown says, ~Instead of “I think therefore I am”, it is “We participate and therefore we are”~

Social learning has always been around. And has probably been one of the most effective means of learning as Bandura and Vygotsky had said long back. We turned toward our colleague or friend to ask for help when stuck. We have built communities of practices to facilitate and construct our own understanding. Today, this is being facilitated by technology--making the reach and spread of our learning "groups" wider, more diverse and therefore richer.
Refer to:
Storytelling: Scientist's Perspective: John Seely Brown

We as individuals know very little of most things--only from our individual perspective. Thus, we are often like the blind men feeling an elephant and describing the parts they encounter--but never quite arriving at the whole. In discussion with others, the whole is gradually formed thus enabling us to view the entirety, and arrive at a "holistic understanding"--a much bandied about term.

What is new are the technology and the applications that have evolved and are evolving to support social learning and sharing of knowledge and understanding. These applications, I believe, came into existence because the need was always there. Thus, our natural urge to share, discuss, construct knowledge make us use applications like Twitter to share information thus building our own microcosm of similarly interested people.

Here is a simple analysis that I have done--very simplistic, just highlighting the main drivers, as I see them, of technology being increasingly used to actively support social learning. What has probably made us realize the importance of social learning today and so optimally use the technology available are a combination/juxtaposition of several factors--a very simplistic analysis:

1. Recession
2. Decreased training budget
3. Lack of formal training because of point 2
4. Ever-decreasing shelf life of knowledge
5. Ever-increasing need to be on top of things to survive in this market
6. Sheer struggle for survival--both individual and at an organization level
7. A knowledge-driven economy
8. Need to be innovative, to be cost and time effective
9. Survival instinct making us turn to tools and features available for free that can help us to keep ahead
10. Twitter, Facebook, Ning, etc., answering this need in different ways
11. Features of Web 2.0 no longer seen as technological innovations but as tools of survival
12. Collective knowledge evolving as a strong weapon to counteract recession

Social learning thus coming out this crucible because it is free and available and powerful...

The tools are now helping to trim redundancy and "structure" this initial unstructured flow of information.

Organizations as Communities — Part 2

Yesterday, in a Twitter conversation with Rachel Happe regarding the need for organizations to function as communities, I wrote the follow...