Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Sawyer Effect: Turning Work into Play

I have just completed Drive and was reminded of Tom Sawyer (quoted by Dan Pink in the book) and my own childhood. 

I was never a very docile child and have been sent out of the classroom on more than one occasion. Mainly for asking too many questions or talking to my neighbour. While the first two minutes or so of standing outside the classroom saw me repentant and subdued, I would soon be engrossed by the black and white marble flooring of the long corridor. This would then turn into a game of hopscotch. I had thus effectively turned the 30 minutes of punishment into play drawing covetous glances from my friends inside caught in the trap of world history or whatever else happened to be going on.

This is what Tom does when Aunt Polly, as a punishment, orders Tom to whitewash her 810 square-foot fence. He's not exactly thrilled.

Excerpts from: The Adventures of  Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed the fence, and all gladness left him and a deep melancholy settled down upon his spirit. Thirty yards of board fence nine feet high. Life to him seemed hollow, and existence but a burden. 
Till a sudden burst of inspiration hits him. When his friend Ben appears, he makes the job seem like a fantastic privilege.

He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it — namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to obtain.
Tom soon turns the act of whitewashing the fence into a game with more and more of his friends joining him.

Thus, Mark Twain drives home the great motivational force that works with all human beings...

Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.
And, Dan Pink arrives at the following:

"Drawing on four decades of scientific research on human motivation, Pink exposes the mismatch between what science knows and what business does—and how that affects every aspect of life. He demonstrates that while carrots and sticks worked successfully in the twentieth century, that’s precisely the wrong way to motivate people for today’s challenges. In Drive, he examines the three elements of true motivation—autonomy, mastery, and purpose—and offers smart and surprising techniques for putting these into action."
Once Tom takes control of the task and behaves autonomously, he is able to arrive at a purpose for performing it too...

Can we similarly find a purpose in our daily, mundane tasks and turn work into play?

This book is a must read in this age of concept workers, where intrinsic motivation will play a much greater role than extrinsic ones in deriving the best from the work force.  

Also read:
The secret to great work is great play
Effortless Success – How to turn work into play and succeed on a massive scale

Listen to: 
Tim Brown on creativity and play

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Knowledge and the DIKW Pyramid

I have just been reading the following post from HBR: The Problem with the Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom Hierarchy

This reminded me of one of my earlier posts on KM: Data, Information, Insight...A Fine Balance!

In that, I had mentioned what Luis Suarez says about knowledge and included a YouTube video by Nick Milton on data, information and knowledge.

I had arrived at the conclusion then that to make sense of data/information and translate that to knowledge, we need to ask the right questions--not the quantitative W's of Who, When, Where, and What but the two Qualitative W's of How and Why. And the context surrounding the information is of utmost importance, as the Japanese truly know.

What fine-tuned my understanding was the following paragraph from The Problem with the Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom Hierarchy:

But knowledge is not a result merely of filtering or algorithms. It results from a far more complex process that is social, goal-driven, contextual, and culturally-bound. We get to knowledge — especially "actionable" knowledge — by having desires and curiosity, through plotting and play, by being wrong more often than right, by talking with others and forming social bonds, by applying methods and then backing away from them, by calculation and serendipity, by rationality and intuition, by institutional processes and social roles. Most important in this regard, where the decisions are tough and knowledge is hard to come by, knowledge is not determined by information, for it is the knowing process that first decides which information is relevant, and how it is to be used.

(Highlight is mine)

The linear view of Data>Information>Knowledge>Decision Making Power was probably true of the Information Age. But it is no longer valid.

Importance of Questions in the Concept Age


Powerful questions are viral. 

A powerful question also has the capacity to “travel well”—to spread beyond the place where it began into larger networks of conversation throughout an organization or a community. Questions that travel well are often the key to large-scale change.
I was reading the white paper “The Art of Powerful Questions: Catalyzing Insight, Innovation and Action by Eric E Vogt, Juanita Brown, and David Isaac. I came across this paper via the World Cafe site: Conversation as a Co-evolutionary Force. I have quoted liberally from the paper below to substantiate my analysis of why this age demands that we develop the art of asking questions. 

The irony and the truth is that we are so busy coming up with what we fondly believe are the right answers that we forget to ask the right questions.If asking good questions is so critical, why don’t most of us spend more of our time and energy on discovering and framing them? 

One reason may be that throughout our educational life, the focus on having the “right answer” rather than discovering the “right question” has been emphasized. “Talking” in class was discouraged; discussing was not the norm; individual excellence was stressed; there was always one right answer. Questions were uni-directional—from the teacher to the student, from a source of power to the subjugated. Questions came to be seen as a means of wielding authority or, in rare cases of order reversal, as a sign of rebellion or disrespect. 

Thus, right from our school days, we are “trained” to provide the right answers else our grades suffered, entry to sought-after colleges/institutions were blocked.After that, once you enter the “jobosphere” of the corporate world and start your work life, the likelihood is that you will come across managers and bosses, 99% of whom:

  1. Hate to be approached with problems

  2. Are extremely wary of questions and deem that as a threat to authority (ask too many questions and the chances are you will be thought of as a rebel, maybe even a negative influence)

  3. Expect you to approach them with questions as well as the answers (solutions)
How often have you heard a manager say: “Don't come to me with a problem (most managers hate to use the word problem thinking that existence of a problem is a slur on their management skills instead of embracing each problem as an opportunity to probe and explore and make better); come with the solution as well.” Unfortunately, that has become one of the tenets of traditional, authoritative style of management. 

OTOH, how often have you heard a manager say: “Hmmm...that seems to be a “problem with possibilities”. Let's thrash it out, frame all the critical questions we can ask to get to the root of all the possibilities; then we'll try to see what can be the solution(s).” 

The aversion in our culture to asking creative questions is also linked to an emphasis on finding quick fixes and an attachment to black/white, either/or thinking. This approach worked well enough in the Industrial Age and the process-driven work culture (where there was a clear relationship between cause and effect) set in place by Frederick W Taylor with his Efficiency Movement and, subsequently, in the Information Age dominated by lawyers, programmers, MBAs, MTechs, and CAs. 

However, it no longer answers the needs of this age of right brain driven, conceptual, creative thinkers. It is no longer a viable option in a culture that requires innovation, conversation and collaboration to move ahead, to make sense of the chaos, to see the emerging patterns in the change. 

The black and white approach worked when work processes were simple, linear, could be standardized, and yesterday’s best practices still worked just as fine today. Today, according to Dan Pink, Automation, Asia, Abundance have forced creative thinking out in the open. The ability to ask the right question has become more important than the ability to come up with quick fix, short-term solutions.

Asking questions indicates a desire to listen, to probe and understand, to share and converse. All of these are pre-requisites for success in the Concept Age, where organization have moved from simple to complex and approaching the chaotic, where yesterday’s rules cannot solve today’s problems.  

Refer to the Cynefin Framework developed by David Snowden for an understanding of the increasing complexity of today’s environment. The following two posts by Shawn Callahan are an excellent introductions to the dynamics that drive today’s work culture.

  1. A simple explanation of the Cynefin Framework
  2. When should we collaborate?

Thus, the importance of conversations cannot be over-emphasized in this age of high concept and high touch, where effective “knowledge work” consists of asking profound questions and hosting wide-ranging strategic conversations on issues of substance. 
Conversations start with the right question, which brings me back to the topic of my post.  
Suggested readings to understand today’s world…
2.      A Whole New Mind
3.      Informal Learning
4.      Drive
5.      Switch      

The most fascinating find in the white paper was the following bit of information: 

Are there organizations that do place a high value on questions? Consider this: In Germany, the job title Direktor Grundsatzfragen translates as “Director of Fundamental Questions.”As a German colleague aid: “Yes, there’s a job title of Direktor Grundsatzfragen. Some of the larger German companies have an entire department of Grundsatzfragen. These are the people who are always thinking about what the next questions will be. Of course, these people are only in the German companies headquartered in Germany, such as Daimler, Bayer, Siemens, or SAP. If the German company is acquired by a U.S. company, they usually eliminate the Grundsatzfragen positions.”
It is small wonder given the culture that gave birth to some of the most profound philosophers and poets of our time like, Nietzsche, Kant, Goethe, Rilke…

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Let go to move on...

Have you ever felt free? Really really free? Unfettered, unbounded, untethered?

If you have stretched yourself to your limit and beyond to get a really really important project, and then finally gotten it, you are left with a feeling of exhilaration mixed with a sudden emptiness...

Do you know what I mean? It's a bit like the race is over, you are down on your knees on the tracks, you have won the gold but you are too tired to appreciate its worth! You hear the sound of rejoicing around you but you are disconnected from it all...

And then the project execution starts. And once again you are up-to-your eyes in work...designing, thinking, coordinating--all the tasks involved in delivery. You are one of those key people on the project who probably has the most knowledge of the client's requirements. You are important!

Then, one fine day, you wake up feeling miserable...feverish, achy all over, irritable and weak. And in your gut you know that you are really ill, more ill than you have been in many years...

Suddenly, by virtue of being ill, you are out of it all...
  1. Mails you were sending are now being sent by someone else. 
  2. Tasks that you thought only you could do are still being done, without any help from you.
  3. Everything is moving on just as it used to. 
You suddenly realize that you are dispensable. I realized too! And like all humans, felt sad, nostalgic, a bit pained--all the gamut of normal emotions. 

Till something clicked, and I was free!

I realized I had done a number of things right and therefore I was dispensable. 

  1. I had effectively transferred explicit and tacit knowledge that enabled my peers to take on where I left off.
  2. I had created self-standing documents (course design templates and design specs) that anyone could pick up and use--even non IDs--making the process person independent.
  3. I had reduced all dependencies on me.
  4. I had effectively pushed everything off my plate. My plate was clean to take on new things, new challenges...

This realization brought with it a sense of release, of freedom, of knowing that I could move beyond to follow my passion...

If you want freedom to pursue your passion, let go! Let go to move on.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Metaphor of Personal Space

Personal space is a metaphor of our existence! 

Here's a little story before I get to the crux of my post.

A few years’ back, in an earlier organization where I used to work, I was sent onsite for about 8~9 weeks. When I came back, I found someone else sitting at my workstation. Initially thinking this to be a temporary arrangement, I was deeply hurt to find out that the arrangement was permanent. However, chiding myself for being childish, I wandered around in search of an empty workstation. Feeling as I had felt on my first day in office—lost, confused, rootless—I wondered why it affected me so.

In retrospect, I realized how that incident had almost symbolically marked the beginning of my disconnect from that team. Till the end of my stay there, I could never regain my sense of belonging.

The incident came back to me today as I sat leafing through one of my favorite books, Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind during one of the fever recession periods normal in Typhoid.

In the book, he talks about the importance of Design and the value that titans such as Karim Rashid and Philippe Starck add to human life. They have moved beyond the merely utilitarian and have added significance to the daily, mundane articles of human existence. Imagine this: “Target and other retailers have sold nearly three million units of Rashid’s Garbo molded polypropylene wastebasket. A designer wastebasket!”

Does it mean people with ample money are throwing their money around? No! Those who bought this item are quintessentially middle-class, and Target is a quintessentially middle-class, middlebrow store.

This need for beauty and elegance, of leaving a mark of our individuality is an essential part of being human. Think of the cave dwellers who painted their tales of valour and passion on the walls of their caves. Think of the remote Warli tribes who simply narrate their lifestyle on mud, charcoal and cow dung based surface. 

People project their identity on to the space they occupy—be it their home or their workspace. Many are willing to pay shocking amount of money to interior designers to create spaces reflective of their uniqueness and individuality. In this way, the space surrounding us becomes the metaphor of our existence.

How often have you walked around your office and on encountering empty workstations of friends or colleagues, commented: “Look at all those Dilbert artifacts! Only L would have a workstation like that.” OR “Those crazy post cards are so typical of A.” The workstations are redolent of a person’s distinctiveness, identity, and sense of belonging.

When we visit a friend’s home, we associate the place with his/her uniqueness. I have a friend whose washbasin is a designer piece with a flower in the middle that acts as the water outlet, and who prefers a wine cooler over a refrigerator in his kitchen. Coming from anyone else, this would have seemed an extremely odd behavior but coming from S it reflects his personality to a T.

Anyone familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy will immediately note that these are directly linked to the Social Need for Belonging and the next level of need, that of Identity.

This brings us back to the importance of Design as the metaphor maker. The design of the space surrounding us is who we are because we fill it with personal metaphors. “A large part of self-understanding,” says George Lakoff, “is the search for appropriate personal metaphors that make sense of our lives.”

Going back to my little tale, since I was moved from workstation to workstation, I could not personalize any of them. I never stayed in one place long enough to build a connection. I used these workstations merely to keep my laptop and complete my day’s tasks, sometimes preferring to work from the privacy and peace of my home.

And each time I passed my original workstation and saw my key chain dangling from the drawer, I felt a small ache. My daughter had bought that key chain for me on one of our trips to Crosswords.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Adaptive Project Framework in Celebration of Change...

A colleague pointed out the article from which I have pasted the excerpt below. Since my primary job is that of a learning solutions consultant and designer of training to corporate organizations, I tend to  apply my learnings to today's training design scenario...

The traditional world of project management belongs to yesterday. There will continue to be applications for which the traditional linear models we grew up with are appropriate, but as our profession matures we have discovered a whole new set of applications for which traditional project management (TPM) models are totally inappropriate. The majority of contemporary projects do not meet the conditions needed for using TPM models. The primary reason is the difficulty in specifying complete requirements at the beginning of the project. That difficulty arises from constant change, unclear business objectives, actions of competitors, and other factors.

While the article is targeted at project managers, anyone who is involved with designing training for a product that is being developed in tandem will understand the challenges such a scenario poses. Trying to pin down the overall scope at the initial stage is like trying to hold on to a handful of sand...You cannot prevent the grains from trickling out no matter how tightly you close your fist. And waiting for clarity on scope and all other "changeable" aspects of a project at the outset will be akin to Waiting for Godot...

The only constant will be the change and change can no longer be perceived as a challenge...

Change will now be a constant parameter in all projects and how we deliver the end solution while embracing change is what will distinguish today's project management from yesteryear's TPM.

What this also means is being comfortable with less-than-perfect information, being able to envision the end without knowing each and every step in-between, being able to ADAPT as the project moves without going off-track, having a finger on the pulse and thinking innovatively...

"From its very beginning to its very end, APF is designed to continuously adapt to the changing situation of a project. A change in the understanding of the solution might prompt a change in the way the project is managed, or in the very approach being used. Learning and discovery in the early cycles may lead to a change in the approach taken...Nothing in APF is fixed. Every part of it is variable, and it constantly adjusts to the characteristics of the project."

I think such dynamic projects have three key requirements for successful delivery:
  1. Collaboration
  2. Communication 
  3. Creativity

I urge all concerned with project management or designing training solutions that the client can use to read this report...Personally, I look forward to such dynamic projects. I will share my recent experience on one such project in my next post.

Introduction to the Adaptive Project Framework

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Unbooks, Informal Learning, and Collaboration: The Age of Questions

In an earlier post,The Meaning is the Message, I quoted from Stephen Downes' presentation:  
Knowledge has many authors, knowledge has many facets, it looks different to each different person, and it changes moment to moment...
Today, while reading Working Smarter by Jay Cross, I came across the reference to "unbooks", books that are in a permanent state of Beta.
Unbooks are never finished (because there’s always room for improvement). Unbooks make room for readers as well as authors. Unbooks put the author back in control.
The definition of "unbooks" is similar to that of Informal Learning
  1. Informal learning is never finished.
  2. It puts the learner back in control.
  3. Informal learning has room for multiple perceptions, sources of knowledge, collaboration.
These are three distinct areas that I have mentioned above.
  1. The first lies in the realm of Knowledge Management.
  2. The second talks about unbooks and the changing nature of information.
  3. The third is about learning and learners.
But the root of all three is the same.

They usher in:
  1. Co-creation of knowledge
  2. Collaboration and sharing
  3. Change and the ability to keep up with it
  4. Comfort with the "less than perfect"
  5. "Un-closure" vs. neatly closed, boxed in pieces of information
  6. Fluidity vs. rigidity; dynamic vs .static
  7. The age of the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy (Blooms is not dead; just undergoing an order reversal)
  8. Celebration of "unlearning" and "relearning"
  9. The Age of Questions instead of Answers
  10. The age of WE vs Me
Another interesting post in this context: Social OS and Collective Construction of Knowledge

    In response to: "Motivation is not what you think" by Jay Cross

    People need free reign in making their work what they want to do; that’s what works with intrinsically motivated workers. The big payoff arrives when companies are doing the sort of greater good that makes a team proud.

    This is an excerpt from Motivation is not what you think from the Internet Time Blog. In Informal Learning, Jay writes about knowledge workers as:

    I like to work on things I  help create. I'm always building for the long term while getting today's work out the door. And if I don't feel good about doing something, I probably won't do it well. I work for me first and my organization second.
    The two passages talk about motivation in a manner that I completely identify with. Today's workforce need to be kept motivated to deliver their best which culminates in value for the customer. Today's managers and team leads need to be aware of more than just the "facts and figures" and "deadlines and schedules" of a project.

    Such knowledge workers who are intrinsically passionate about their work are notoriously difficult to find and keep, writes Jay. And I can understand why! Such people do not work for money, power, position, or credit. They work because they love what they do. They work to be involved in areas they can contribute best. However, when the work environment ceases to reward this passion , they fast lose interest. Such innovative knowledge worker is a "different beast" to use Jay's words.
    1. They are on the constant lookout for knowledge.  
    2. They network to learn.
    3. They collaborate and share.
    4. They are open to change.
    5. They love what they do.

    They seek sincerity, honesty, transparency and a free hand to shape the work the way they want to...

    What do such workers seek in their managers?
    To ensure involvement of such workers, I think managers need to develop some intrinsic skills as well. Some of these, according to me, are:
      1. Ability to listen with an open mind
      2. Probe and question and never cease till a satisfactory answer is found
      3. Constantly seek answers and not take incidents/events at face value
      4. Have the power of empathy (means being able to step into the other person's shoes and put on different lenses)
      5. Be comfortable with laying things out in the open 
      6. Be able to synthesize information from diverse sources and see the larger pattern that emerge
      7. Be appreciative of the fact that for such workers "work is learning"
      8. Realize that involvement motivates them
      9. Appreciate analytical as well as synthesizing abilities
      10. Try to understand instead of trying to convince
    What do such workers seek in their work ?
    1. Opportunity to learn
    2. Challenges
    3. An atmosphere of collaboration and sharing
    4. Openness and transparency in communication
    5. Involvement vs. instructions

    I am soon going to start reading Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. There will be a part II of this post once I am done with it...

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010

    The Meaning is the Message

    This slideshare presentation by Stephen Downes talks about the signifier and the signified, and how the truth is not encoded in the message. How each of us interpret it becomes our individual truth.

    We often forget that the "user is the content." This leads to failed communication. Unless the perception is managed, interpretation of content cannot be controlled or directed. 

    As Stephen Downes says in slide 22, Knowledge has many authors, knowledge has many facets, it looks different to each different person, and it changes moment to moment..."

    If we, as designers of "learning solutions" can keep this in mind, we will realize that static content does not enable learning. Learning is enabled through networks, connection, pattern recognition, reflection and has to facilitate incorporation of the change and the only way to do this is through:
    • Collaboration
    • Sharing of stories
    • Discussions

    These facilitate Synthesis!

    Monday, March 8, 2010

    Virtual Team Management

    I was going through the Demonstrations and Case Studies on the Enspire Learning website when I came across a marvelous simulation on Virtual Team Management.
    You can access the demos by registering.

    I recommend this simulation to all those who either are handling a globally distributed team or a project, and to all managers who feel that effective communication is one of the keys to business success. As a part of a project team that is globally distributed at the moment, I realized how important the parameters mentioned in the simulation are for the success of such projects.

    The simulation is built to solve the following problem:
    Problem: This software company's business continues to grow worldwide, and with that growth new challenges arise. The company sought a way to teach virtual team management skills to a multicultural, transglobal audience of project managers.
    The simulation covers some key points that can help to avoid miscommunication, especially for a distributed team:
    1. Important principals of virtual project management like,
      •  Sending the meeting agenda ahead of time
      • Inviting the right people 
      • Following up on decisions
    2. Key stages of a successful meeting--local or global
      •  Preparation
      • Facilitation
      • Follow-up
    3. Criteria for planning virtual meetings:
      • Agenda
      • Communication media
      • Different time zones
    4. Most critical to a project
      • Invite the right people
    I will highlight my takeaway from this; I personally found the choice of communication media and inviting the right people two very critical components of successful meetings.
    Choice of communication media: Some meetings demand more high context communication than others. High context communication tools like video conference communicate more than just words. These communicate body language and gestures and are best for decision making and addressing problems. Most requirements fall in between and can be addressed by using WebEx or net meetings or phone conferences.

    The image below from the demo shows the spectrum of context and the corresponding meeting options.

    Inviting the right people: Sending out meeting invites seem to be a fairly easy task; but a failure to do this right can "weaken team trust and rapport". Assuming that someone is busy and hence would not attend or wish to be involved is one of the fundamental mistakes that is often made. Never assume! While, notes the simulation, people on your project team may not be able to refuse to perform, they can give less than their best if they believe they have been slighted.

    Do view the simulation for a better understanding of how:
    1. A well-designed simulation can drive the point home
    2. A choice of communication medium impacts meetings
    3. Selecting meeting attendees requires forethought and clarity about the purpose of the meeting

    The Anatomy of Bad Communication

    "It's the communication, stupid!" as Terry Holley aptly said in the comment.

    I found the following post from Quit List #997-Quit thinking you are a great communicator. You ain’t! 
    The post seemed particularly relevant to me in this age of information overload where SYNTHESIS and not only ANALYSIS is the key to success.

    The anatomy of bad communication...
    There are 4 reasons we unknowingly communicate poorly.
    1. We don’t realize the listener does not have access to the other thoughts and images in our head which have contributed to a particular thought or idea we have just shared .

    2.  We are biased to our own communication
    We assume that because we know what we want, and we say the words of what we want, that people will simply understand what we want. 

    3.  The picture  in our mind that we are trying to communicate is most likely not the same picture generated in the minds of our listener.

    4.  Assuming someone understands simply because they say they understand.

    As I mulled over the points, I realized how these parameters can impact all relationships. Taking care of these can help:
    1. Ensure you get what you expect from a job (at least your boss may understands what you want even if unable to provide it)
    2. Prevent employees/team members from being demotivated
    3. Set the right expectations with a client
    4. Prevent "I don't think you understand what I meant" moments
    5. Motivate people to take the desired actions
    6. And most importantly, ask the right questions

    Increasingly, in today's complex, information-loaded, globally-scattered work environment, effective communication is the key to business success, team bonding, a unified workforce. Effective communication is the key to successful decisions.
    1. Effective communication enables information to be distributed to the right sources. 
    2. This information through discussions, brainstorming sessions, collective sharing of inputs become knowledge.
    3. This knowledge drives the decision-making process.

    Books like Made to Stick, Switch, Naked Conversations, etc., that have become chart-busters are all about effective communication. The need for this is becoming acute as the output demanded to excel require greater innovative skills, creativity, and above all, SYNTHESIS.

    Monday, March 1, 2010

    A perfectly executed project is but a flawlessly directed play…

    To briefly set the scenario, I had been involved in a project where an organization was rolling out e-learning for the first time, making a shift from pure instructor-led training (for the formal learning bit) to a web-based environment. The key people involved—the trainers, the business clients, managers, target learner groups—were all folks in their late forties and early fifties, and their average tenure in the organization was 15+ years.

    It is easy to imagine the radical shift this move to an e-learning environment meant for them. Most of them had no idea what it entailed except that the training would now be available on their desktops—click and access. The whole experience was wonderful for me because I got an opportunity to consult, guide and handhold an organization into taking the steps necessary to make the transition.

    What ensued:
    The actual development and delivery of the e-Learning Program started. However, I soon realized that although things appeared to be moving smoothly with deliveries, deadlines, SME calls, and all the other stuff common to an e-learning project, there was something radically wrong.

    For some time, I just could not isolate the problem. It was a nagging ache that I could not articulate. Eventually, I stopped thinking about it telling myself that I was being over-analytical, a navel gazer.

    Probably because I had stopped thinking, a very small incident led me to the answer. It was one of those innocuous comments that suddenly made everything crystal clear. I was onsite along with another colleague. We were in a meeting discussing process flows and project-related tasks when a comment from my colleague startled me.

    The comment was innocuous enough. “I will complete the Course Design Document before I return,” she was telling the client. I was too startled to react (and good I didn’t since we were with the client)…At the face of it, there is nothing startling about this comment.

    However, to the best of my knowledge, a Course Design Document is a high-level instructional design work that instructional designers with quite a few years of experience in organization and learner analysis, mapping of performance to business outcome, and understanding of learner levels and content can effectively perform. It requires rigor, analysis, and experience. I won't even go into what Dr. Karl Kapp would say.

    Hence, the casual comment coming from someone who is not an ID caught me off guard. Furthermore, the client’s acceptance of it set my brain spinning. The following thoughts raced through my mind in quick succession:

    • My colleague doesn’t know what she’s talking about
    • The client doesn’t know what course design entails
    • My understanding of my task was seriously flawed
    • We don’t have clarity on our roles and responsibilities

    The moment the last point occurred to me, I realized I had hit bull’s eye. To me, this confusion of roles and responsibilities, however inadvertent, seemed like an ominous portent, and I realized where the void lay.

    There was no one sitting the client-side stakeholders and the project team down and setting expectations and goals. Each individual was doing his/her bit with sincerity, but no one was gluing it together. There were too many disconnects and parallel tracks; too much of "ad hocism", which led to constantly shifting expectations and a sense of confusion.
    The project lacked a leader. The project had a project team and a project manager, but there was no project leader. This play was running without a director.

    The role of a project leader was all the more important since the client was transitioning to a medium of training that was new to them. Just as someone had to handhold them through the transition, they also had to be introduced to the functions and roles of the project team. Similarly, the project team internally needed to know who was responsible for what.

    To me, a project resembles a finely scripted play where each individual has a unique role to fulfill. The cohesiveness of the play comes from the melding of individual performances into a unified act. Just as the success of a play depends on picking up the right cues, perfect timing, collaboration, and following the right sequence of events, the same applies to a project. And this is what a director enables.

    This project was lacking a director. The players were all set to act but the script was not distributed. No one really knew which script to master and which role to adopt. The actors were present but no one knew when to enter the stage or exit, and when they did enter, exactly what their dialogue should be.

    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...