Friday, April 30, 2010

In response to: Why “Talk” Culture Ruins Everything

I was reading Why “Talk” Culture Ruins Everything by Hugh McGuire this morning. And the scary part of "cherry picking" ideas and creating mash-ups from these were driven home once again.

We do it all the casual conversations, on social networking sites, during water cooler gossips, in one-on-one conversations with friends...We de-contextualize snippets of conversations, texts, dialogues heard, reassemble the various bits and pieces, add our thoughts and pass on the new "mash-up" till it has lost all resemblance to the source.
We are wired to share our thoughts. It's almost impossible for a human being to not talk, not converse, not share. We are also wired to listen to and pick up those bits and pieces that are in synch with our ideas. We suffer from Homophily . Hence, we hear what we want to hear. There's no greater truth than that.

Take me for example: I can hang around with friends w/o speaking a word and just listening to their banters. Most of it does not register. I tend to be lost in my own dreamworld. But should anyone mention any of the following words in the course of their conversation, I am completely on my "mental toes". Words that can jolt me out of my dreamstate are typically social media, training, books, collaboration, instructional design, marketing, movies, Pink Floyd, Phil Collins, Jazz, Elvis, etc. My take away from the entire conversation will be purely mine--nothing to do with the conversation in its entirety.

And not being so egoistic as to think of myself as unique, I know this is a normal phenomenon. Unless we are attending official meetings that are followed by documented minutes, we hear only what we want to hear. Hence, there is never an absolute, single truth for all. Our takeaways depend on our worldviews, our social context, our gender, age, and all the rest that we lump under the term demographics. A popular word with designers of learning solutions. Our demographics drive and filter what we perceive as the truth. And from this emerges our personal mash-ups of all we see, hear, read, feel, experience…

There are two sides to this:
1. We hear, read, see and assimilate all of that such that it becomes a part of our own internal knowledge schema. It is then ours and no longer mash-ups.
2. The dangerous bit is when we cherry pick and create mash-ups without the assimilation process, and pass on that patchwork of information with citation.

I have seen such conversation mash-ups create endless mis-communication, misunderstanding, mis-representation and mis-interpretation.

And Hugh McGuire puts it brilliantly when he writes:

"It always surprises me that there aren’t more articles about the dangers of one-on-one conversations: after all – shouldn’t we be worried about, “the fragmentation of data that the conversations produce, as news articles, novels and record albums are broken down into verbal words and sentences shared between people at cafes everywhere; the growing emphasis on immediacy and real-time responses of the person in front of you; the rising tide of data and information that permeates our discussions; and the emphasis that conversation places on subjectivity."

And such dangers are on the rise with the Social Networking sites permeating the very fabric of our lives. It has become so very easy to pick a line from here, a sentence from there, a tweet from people I follow, throw in a link from a blog, and my case is made. Each of the instances stand de-contextualized, maybe even mis-represented, but there is no stopping this phenomenon any more. The deluge has already started and the world has become one vast water cooler.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Delivery: The Wait, the Pain, the Pleasure

As the very first delivery sign-off mails for the project I have been working on started flowing in this morning, I was reminded of my initial days on this project. When I was the sole individual sent as a consultant to the client site to ideate and…well…consult.

And I realized that it has been exactly 9 months—almost to the day—that we are delivering the baby. The baby called Online Training Program.

Literally and metaphorically, this has been a delivery. Beginning with the conceiving and nurturing of the idea to going through the ups and downs, the moments of self-doubt and conviction, the pains and pleasures, the highs and the lows, the good days and bad, the excitement of the new as well as the dull monotony of the daily executions that are integral to all deliveries. I could see the baby taking shape, waiting to be born, the parts coming together one by one to form the whole, and yet the waiting was excruciating at times. The regular health checkups (read status meetings :)) were painful.

But, as the first sign-off mail appeared in my inbox, my heart did a flip. The pleasure of this delivery is equally intense. I can see the fruit conceived from a seed planted nine long months ago. A seed brought to fruition by the collective effort of a team that has worked together, argued, fought, laughed, blamed, shared the blame, passed the buck and taken the onus, cribbed, encouraged, joked when things got tough, laughed when exhausted--in short, a team of warm individuals who will always be very dear to me, very close to my heart.

This post is a shout out for the team, for the project, for the time we shared together...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

SkillSoft's inGenius: About adding meaningful context...

SkillSoft recently (about 3 weeks back) announced the launch of inGenius. This social learning layer will integrate with SkillSoft's Book 24X7, a vast repository of technical and IT-related literature that many organizations use as off-the-shelf content to enable their employees.

inGenius will allow users of Books 24X7 to post comments on the books, add notes, start discussions, rate content and perform other similar activities that will enable the addition of CONTEXT to make the generic Books 24X7 content organization specific. Learners/users, by rating the content in order of specificity for their organization can point other users in the right direction. All of these undoubtedly can improve the overall efficacy of the content in question.

For organizations that have already invested in licenses for access to Books 24X7, inGenius could be an added benefit that would allow users to collaborate and add context. John Ambrose in his post Social Learning Will Fill Enterprise 2.0’s Empty Drums, Part II points out the advantage of "leveraging the amplification benefits of social technology" tools like inGenius.

Tony Karrer, in his post, Social Learning Tools Should Not be Separate from Enterprise 2.0: eLearning Technology, while applauding the effort SkillSoft is making to integrate Social Learning, does criticize the fact that they are tying this to SkillSoft and to books as learning resources.

But he adds the most valuable point about social learning that drives adoption and increases the perceived ease of use manifold: Same tools as your work tools.

To summarize, what could be the advantages of inGenius for organizations already using Books 24X7?

1. It is integrated into a platform that already has content
2. Users are thus free to add context by co-creating, sharing, commenting, rating, discussing...
3. Because it is a part of SkillSoft, it will be perceived as a more secure way of collaborating and is likely to get more buy in from enterprises
4. It will also be seen as a safe and secure launching pad for organizations wishing to introduce the concepts of and explore the benefits of collaborative learning, user generated context and content, community building, etc.
5. Most importantly, it does not require familiarization with a new set of tools as users would already be accessing SkillSoft in the course of their daily work

On the downside, inGenius is very SkillSoft centric and will not give a true sense of collaboration and networking. But, it indeed is a good start...

One more point that could make organizations happy: it seems that future releases of inGenius will extend support to SkillSoft's SkillPort LMS and other e-learning modules. (Source: SkillSoft Raises the Bar for e-Learning with its inGenius Social Learning Layer)

However, there seems to be a dichotomy here. LMS' are top down management tools used for tracking and has really nothing to do with "learning." Collaborative features/informal learning features and are essentially bottom up. How the two would be integrated in spirit depends on the philosophy of trust practiced by organizations.

It should be interesting to see how inGenius gets adopted in organizations and how it evolves to be the bridge between formal and informal learning...

Note: The Books24x7 library includes more than 25,000 titles, on-demand resources comprising digitized IT and business books, book summaries and videos on a wide range of relevant information technology, business skills, computer desktop skills and compliance subjects. (Source: SkillSoft Raises the Bar for e-Learning with its inGenius Social Learning Layer)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

An Incisive Report: Social Marketing Analytics

Social Marketing Analytics: A New Framework for Measuring Results in Social Media talks about marketing analytic, the need for standardized measures, and most importantly, about different measurement framework.

If you are foraying into the social marketing arena or want to understand how social marketing impacts CRM, or wish to make a case for it, this is a highly recommended read.

You can read the report here:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Agile, Lego and Training: The common factors...

Harold Jarche’s posts as always hits the nail on the head and this one is no exception. Before I launch into my thoughts, here's what Sara Ford (Program Manager of CodePlex) has to say about Agile:

1. Design and plan for the very next step, instead of designing and planning for the very next feature.
2. Break down work into smallest possible sets. Adding work is fun and rewarding; removing work is painful and risky.
3. Design and plan 80% of the way as the very next step. Use feedback to solve the remaining 20% in the very next step after that.

What does Agile have to do with Informal Learning and Instructional Design? A lot! It's all about the mindset. It’s about effective communication. It’s about collaboration.

Agile means the willingness to be in a perpetual state of Beta, accepting that there is no closure, can be no closure with information, requirements, needs, business opportunities changing at lightning speed.

This mindset plays a critical role in understanding the business goals of a training program. As Harold Jarche writes, trying to pin down everything at the outset and expecting nothing will change is arrogance. This in most cases stem from the traditional program management mentality that was more suited to a manufacturing setup following the Waterfall Method, where scope was well-defined, there was one and only one way of doing something, processes ruled. Deviation was firmly discouraged; innovation was probably a dirty word.

But that was then; this is now!

With training being developed in tandem with product development today, scope of work can only be planned for in phases. In byte sizes. Quick and dirty is the rule. Fast feedback and successive approximation are the keys. And acceptance that there is never "an end" is paramount.

Thus, designing training or facilitating learning in today's business environment means accepting that formal training cannot be the ONLY solution. It means creating opportunities for self learning, exploration and collaboration. It means creating space for conversations to take place. It means building more water coolers. The rest will take care of itself.

Once we accept this, we will not be restricted by traditional program management attitude of defining the scope of a training program and the building to meet the scope. Aaarghhh! The scope will change ten times over even as the product development moves from iteration to iteration. The pre-defined scope would not be worth the paper it was written on.

Sara Ford uses a wonderful, visual analogy for Agile that is a brilliant fit for scoping of training needs in today’s business organizations. Legos! Think of a training program as a Lego set. Break it down into movable pieces. Of one hour each. Estimate, plan, scope for that one hour only. Move the pieces around. The rest is easy multiplication depending on the evolving training needs.

As assumptions and requirements change for software development, so do they change for training design as well. It’s time to embrace this change; time to say no to a process that acts like a straightjacket and becomes more of a hindrance than help; time to say “let’s think Lego!”

List of related readings:
1. Agility and Autonomy (Harold Jarche)
2. How I Learned to Program Manage an Agile Team after 6 years of Waterfall (Sue Ford)
3. Other PKM processes (Harold Jarche)
4. Social Learning in the Workplace = New Toolset + New Mindset + New Skillset (Jane Hart)
5. The Future of Software Development (
6. Networking = Learning? (Sue Schnorr)
7. Esko Kilpi
8. Making Your L&D Department Meaningful & Relevant (Charles Jennings)
9. Social Media for Knowledge Workers: eLearning Technology (Tony Karrer)
10. Informal and Formal Learning Tool (Clark Quinn)
11. The Future Business of Learning for Suppliers (Charles Jennings)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Quality or Quantity: What matters in the learning business...

Fast Good Cheap! Pick any two!

We are all familiar with this...Gradually my years of experience has taught me that the first thing to be sacrificed at the altar of business is "good". Good is a subjective, an often intangible measure. Fast is measurable; so is cheap.

Quality, in spite of all the parameters, remains largely unmeasurable. It takes years to develop design sense; years to understand why a certain sentence just sounds more right than another; years to design a learning experience as opposed to slides full of chunks of text...

But Quality, that indefinable something, remains for most part undervalued. Numbers count...quality is often shrugged off as an additional "something" or a ploy to gain more time...

But in this business of learning that we are in, quality has to be of paramount importance. Creating one effective learning experience is infinitely better than delivering ten mediocre modules...But who do you convince?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Trust--The Cornerstone of Collaboration

This started with a conversation on Facebook, that went to Buzz and came back to FB again. This was a conversation between Paul (Twitter name: @simbeckhampson) and me. The conversation started with his comment to my link/post on Collaboration in a complex business environment, which incidentally I had put up on Amplify.

I will begin this post with Paul's comment on FB and then track the conversation we had. The post is an attempt to begin an analysis of what is required to build and maintain trust and thus facilitate collaboration.

Paul on FB: Just made a comment back on Buzz - interesting conversation developing about trust, collaboration et al... :-)

Paul on Buzz via Twitter: simbeckhampson: Question... What is the recipe for success when you need people to implicitly trust each other? #lrnchat #edchat #collaboration #trust

Me: This really is a difficult qs. Even as we talk of collaboration and sharing, trust is fast becoming a scarce "commodity". It seems to be vanishing. I would really like to know if there is a recipe for it.

I believe communication is the basis, cornerstone of building trust. But then, what makes for good communication? Listening skills, ability to ask the right questions...seems to be a spiraling set of needs...

Paul on Buzz: In order to face head-on the challenges of enterprise collaboration, informal learning and other change related terms, this question needs thoroughly investigating from a variety of perspectives with the desired outcome a mutual acceptance of the challenges that will invariably lie ahead.

I'm following the Dalai Lama on FB & Twitter and love reading his wisdom. In relation to this topic the phrase 'compassionate attitude' sprung to mind; these are the words of the Dalai Lama some six hours ago...

"If people have compassion, naturally that's something they can count on; even if they have economic problems and their fortune declines, they still have something to share with fellow human beings. World economies are always so tenuous and we are subject to so many losses in life, but a compassionate attitude is something that we can always carry with us."

A compassionate attitude helps to create the environment where trust can be nurtured.

At this point, I picked up the last line and posted it on Twitter because it resonated with what I believe too. This led to further conversation, this time on FB.

Me: Read the comment and picked up the quote on compassion and posted on Twitter. Compassion is so important in trust. There are so many emotions involved in the building of trust and trust itself is so important in collaboration...In the complex business environment today, collaboration i.e., trust becomes a necessary recipe for success. Don't you think so? No one can go all the way alone. But you cannot walk with someone w/o trust.

As the Cluetrain says quoting Elvis: "We can't go on together with suspicious minds..." Manifesto #29

Paul on FB: Love the Elvis quote... I often wonder how it would be if you could start a brand new company with 'like-minded' (@Scott Gould) people who understand instinctively what we are talking about here. Whether we were selling ice-cream or insurance policies I reckon we would be very successful and have a lot of fun along the way... something to bear in mind - at some point theory should enter the practice phase ;-) i.e. practice what you preach.

End of conversation yesterday...

But this set me thinking as usual about what is needed to facilitate Collaboration. And the tools come last in the list. Unless, to use the garden analogy from 5 Tips for Knowledge Gardeners: How to Grow a Collaborative Learning Community the garden is prepared lovingly and carefully, flowers won't bloom even when the season arrives.

And as I reflected on the conversation pasted above, a conversation started most randomly, I realized the importance of building TRUST.

Quoting from 5 Tips for Knowledge Gardeners: How to Grow a Collaborative Learning Community:

Imagine your workplace as an award-winning garden — a place where you nurture knowledge and success. A place where people grow and learn from one another by sharing best practices. A place where training content expands and improves through crowdsourcing. A place that’s self-sustaining, dynamic, and always fresh.

Trust is the bedrock of such a garden, the fertile soil needed to make it grow. How do we ensure we build it, retain it, grow it, nurture it? How can we make people think in terms of WE and not ME? How do eliminate the weeds? How do we remove the insecurities that beset people in this crazy rat-race age where everyone is trying to climb up the corporate ladder? How can we show that no one can go all the way alone? How do we make people realize it is ok to ask for help, to not know, to learn, to feel like an expert at one point and like a novice at another, to alternate between being a teacher and a learner?

And the solution is definitely not only tools. Collaboration tools come last in the list. Tools are the ship that will facilitate the sailing but the desire to set sail must already have been born...

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...