Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Changing Face of Work and Workplace Learning

I am not the kind to crystal gaze. I lay no claim to being able to predict the future. Now that my disclaimers are in place, let me explain the premise of the post title and what I intend to discuss in this post. 

I am trying to re-imagine how my work will shape up five years from now. Five years seem like a pretty short time but in today's context, it can be a very long time. Anything can happen in five years. Companies take birth and vanish; business models come and go; technology appear, evolve and transform everything.

I am not doing (at least trying not to) today what I did five years back--not only in terms of professional and personal growth but with respect to the demands of the time. Technology has brought about unprecedented changes at a pace that is challenging all notions of flexibility and adaptability. Here are five things/phenomenon that did not exist five years back (at least not in the way we know them today):
  1. IBM's Watson, the AI driven robot that interacts with humans on human terms (in natural language). "You don't program Watson; you work with Watson". Here is a fascinating video on what Watson can do. Watson incidentally won on Jeopardy against former winners Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings. (And as weird as it sounds, I am finding it difficult to write Watson with a lower case "w").
  2. Siri, the quirky and intelligent personal assistant has been an integral part of the Apple iOS since October, 2011. Here is a heart warming story of how interacting with Siri helped an autistic child make sense of the world at his pace -- How One Boy with Autism Became BFF with Apple's Siri
  3. 3D printing or Additive Manufacturing is evolving rapidly and we don't yet know of all the emerging possibilities. However, it is in the news with events like NASA completing first successful 3-D printing project in space. The power of 3D printing to impact domains as diverse as medicine to manufacturing is mind-boggling. Here is an article on Medical implants and printable body parts. 3D-printed, low cost prosthetic limbs will bring the smile back on many faces. 
  4. Cloud computing, while it has been around for a long time, is showing huge impact today. "In July 2010, Rackspace Hosting and NASA jointly launched an open-source cloud-software initiative known as OpenStack. The OpenStack project intended to help organizations offer cloud-computing services running on standard hardware. On March 1, 2011, IBM announced the IBM SmartCloud framework to support Smarter Planet." - Wikipedia
  5. The rise of mobile computing in the form smartphones, tablets, and wearable devices accompanied by ubiquitous Internet connection is creating unforeseen change--in how we work, learn, communicate, do business, conduct personal tasks, and myriad other aspects. 

As working professionals and L&D personnel concerned with training and organizational learning, capability building and talent development, we cannot ignore the implications of this changing landscape. While Watson and Siri may seem far removed from our task of designing learning programs, the reality is they are not. Anything and everything that impact how the future of work will get redefined are matters of concern to us. 

This brings me back to the point I started my post with. How do I see workplace learning shaping up five years from now? To be very honest, I don't know. But here are five things I envisage will be different...
  1. The need for creating meticulously designed training programs will be gone -- (Some compliance programs may still be around.) Communities of professionals collaborating and cooperating to learn together will be on the rise. Content will be continuously co-created and co-owned by the community members (much like the evolution of Wikipedia). Each member will bring their expertise to bear and share their knowledge and experiences. Learning will happen through conversations and participation. What will emerge is a network of diverse and connected workers skilled at PKM learning together to develop skills they can apply to their work. L&D will have to don the hat of community managers and become learners.  It will be a participative ecosystem with knowledge and skills being freely shared. Utopian? Maybe. But I see this as an emerging trend. 
  2. Workplaces will become communities -- This change is likely to be more subtle. The nature of organizations with their hierarchical structure is already giving way to more networked and democratic workplaces. Smaller organizations are emerging along with a movement toward generative business models where businesses build an ecosystem of mutually supportive relationships. Collaboration will replace competition. Sustainability and purpose will drive the ethos. Workers will move from "jobs for life" to a "life of jobs". Talent will exist in pools and not necessarily belong to one specific organization. Individuals in the pool will increasingly take greater ownership of their professional development to stay on the cutting edge and in demand. How will L&D be of service to such a workforce? Again, I go back to the notion of L&D becoming community managers. They will play a strategic role in helping organizations collaborate with such talent pools for the mutual benefit of all.
  3. Mobile devices will be ubiquitous and play a critical role in professional development -- We still have the luxury of debating whether workers will access the learning program via a laptop or a tablet. Very soon, that luxury will be gone. Workers will use mobile devices including wearables to learn at the point of need, access their network and communities of practices to solve challenges, share user-generated content in response to the community needs or just to share their learning. Social media and open resources like MOOCs will foster an era of self-driven learners who know what they need, where to find it and take their pick. The learners will come with a consumer mindset--valuing what they need, and not what is thrust on them. L&D will have to ensure that we have the requisite skills to facilitate this move or risk becoming redundant. 
  4. The talent pool will go global -- Ubiquitous connectivity, technological advancement and economic drivers brought about off-shoring which gave way to outsourcing. Then came automation taking over simple and complicated tasks that concerned processes and routine thinking. We are now in the age of creative economy with "no location jobs" and borderless workplaces. Talent can exist anywhere, work from anywhere as long as organizations are capable of attracting such talent. Yes, the balance has tilted in favour of the talented, the capable and those willing to continuously learn. L&D will have to cater to a global talent pool of diverse individuals with very specific and unique learning needs. L&D will need to work very very closely with HR to design a holistic ecosystem that participates and collaborates with prospective and existing employees for professional development. Moreover, a global talent pool will require cultural sensitivity and an inclusive mindset from L&D, HR and the organization. 
  5. Work will require multiple skills and diverse perspectives -- Most work will pan different domains. Teams of similarly skilled individuals will not be the greatest and the best when it comes to such complex problem solving. Diverse perspectives and subject matter expertise will have to come together to solve problems in the future. Projects with specific purpose and outcome will draw individuals together. The best-fit team will work on the project, bringing to bear expertise and experiences from their different domains, and disperse once the project is complete. This fluid and dynamic working model will be replicated in pockets across an organization. The teams may or may not be co-located thus requiring the organization and the individuals to have technological infrastructure in place. L&D will be faced with the need to support this dynamic and fluid ecosystem in different ways--designing collaboration spaces where project teams can collaborate to enabling communities of practices to evolve on the larger enterprise social networks. 
All of these are tectonic shifts and are already taking place. L&D and HR will have to evolve to meet this shift. L&D teams operating on old paradigms and processes will be ill equipped to keep pace with the change. The role of the CLO will be to drive this change NOW! @joyandlife writes about The Changing Role of L&D and CLO where he mentions adaptiveness, rapid reaction times, learning agility and flexibility as key requirements. The CLO today has to be able to scan the emerging landscape and build her/his team in a way that will enable them to meet the future. In fact, L&D teams should ideally be the initiator of the change before the deluge hits the org. 

L&D teams of the future will also require diverse individuals with different skills encompassing areas like strategic business thinking, analytics and cloud computing, mobile computing, community building and management, instructional design, content strategic and knowledge management, social and informal learning, and experience design.  

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Learned Vs. Learners - Revised

The classic quotation summarizes in a sentence what takes scholars and academicians reams of paper to theorize and prove. And this is the trigger for today’s post. The difference between the terms “learners” and “learned” and what it implies when applied to the experts in our organizations is crucial in today’s environment of constant change.
I have recently been reading Building Expertise: Cognitive Methods for Training and Performance Improvement. This is a must read books for trainers/learning and development professionals/anyone interested in the phenomenon called learning.
Building Expertise deals with learning and training as it needs to be. However, before I ramble on, I want to clarify that this is not a book review. I want to highlight a few concepts from the book that impact how we think of learning and expertise.
It is understood that an organization’s ability to innovate and creatively solve problems are its competitive edge in today’s economy. In troubled times and when faced with critical challenges, organizations have always leaned on the experts to step in and guide others, and take charge. In this post, I want to examine a few aspects of expertise and what that means for the workers of the 21st Century.
Can we always depend on the experts to provide the best solution?
According to Wikipedia (2007) “…an expert, more generally, is a person with extensive knowledge or ability in a particular area of study.” ~ Building Expertise, Ruth Clark
Today, we need “experts” in more diverse and unknown areas than we can predict now. However, building expertise is becoming a challenge—an almost insurmountable one in today’s rapidly changing work context. In the earlier days, expertise came from experience. Often, years of it; 10,000 hours of it. This experience was then made explicit and codified into best practices. The next generations of workers were trained to follow the best practices and get the desired results. Predictable, measurable, trainable! This worked wonderfully (when the world was stable and work was routine) till it didn’t anymore.
We all know that we have reached a point where codified best practices have almost ceased to exist. Almost, because there are some routine tasks that still need to be done, but do human agents need to do those? It is very likely that whatever can be put into a flowchart and turned into a process will be automated. And it’s already happening. The future is here but just not evenly distributed. However, while various parts of the world are going through this “futurization” at different speeds, it is happening. And it will eventually reach our part of the world too.
Human beings will be left to do work that is creative, purposeful and adds value to themselves and to the larger community. To do this, we will encounter challenges that we can't begin to comprehend. Where does the question of expertise as we know it come in? With everything changing at an unprecedented pace, there is no time to undergo the same experience repeatedly for the building of expertise. Exceptions have become the norm, and old rules don’t apply. In such context, it is worth noting the 7 aspects of expertise that Ruth Clark points out:
  1. Expertise requires extensive practice
  2. Expertise is domain specific
  3. Expertise requires deliberate practice
  4. Experts see with different eyes
  5. Experts CAN get stuck
  6. Expertise grows from TWO intelligences
  7. Challenging problems require diverse expertise (this ties in with what Scott Page says in The Differencebut that is for another post)
I am going to focus on the last two - #6 and #7. My Aha! moment happened when I read about the concept of two intelligences. In the book, she talks about routine expertise vs. adaptive expertise and crystallized vs. fluid intelligences.
Quoting from the book below:
Routine experts are very effective at solving problems that are representative of problems in their domains. They are adept at “seeing” and solving the problem based on their domain-specific mental models.
In contrast, adaptive experts evolve their core competencies by venturing into areas that require them to function as “intelligent” novices.
Fluid intelligence is the basis for reasoning on novel tasks or within unfamiliar contexts; in other words, it gives rise to adaptive expertise. In contrast, crystallized intelligence is predicated on learned skills…and is the basis for routine expertise.
Routine experts are the learned ones who have deep domain-specific knowledge; however, often this deep knowledge becomes a hindrance in viewing the world through fresh eyes. The curse of the expert! They tend to see everything through the lenses of their domain. Adaptive experts, on the other hand, are able to take on the role of inquiring novices when required and are thus able to view a problem from different perspectives. They are the learners. Adaptive expertise requires a curious mind—a valuable quality to survive today.
Fluid intelligence gives rise to adaptive expertise. We have reached a point in time where most of what we encounter – at a professional or at a personal level – will be very different from anything known before. We won’t have the comfort of drawing from past experiences. Our way forward and success will depend on how quickly and intelligently we mold ourselves.
Point #7 is about diverse expertise. Learners welcome diverse perspectives since it gives them an opportunity to deepen their own learning. Today’s challenges and work context span the globe as well as domains. Bringing singular perspectives and viewpoints to bear on such problems is not likely to yield results. Complex problems require diverse heuristics and frames of references to solve. Hence, diversity is going to be of paramount importance to organizations looking to survive and thrive. The basis of Crowdsourcing operate on the principle of bringing together diverse sets of individuals to provide their perspectives on a problem, topic or task. It is defined thus:
Crowdsourcing is distributed problem solving. By distributing tasks to a large group of people, you are able to mine collective intelligence, assess quality and process work in parallel.
Based on the philosophy of diverse expertise, Innocentive offers InnoCentive@Work -- a collaborative SaaS-based innovation management software -- that enables an org to engage diverse innovation communities such as employees, partners, or customers to rapidly generate novel ideas and solve your most pressing problems.
In summary, organizations have to inculcate adaptive expertise and bring in individuals with diverse cognitive abilities to deal with the evolving and unknown future. The biggest threat to the survival of organizations could be “this is the way we do things here” syndrome coupled with a pool of learned experts unwilling to change and adapt.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Role of Community Management in Workplace Learning Today

When I read Rachel Happe’s (@rhappe) post, The Emerging Career Path of Community Professionals, I was reminded of my older posts on community management and the skills required. I wrote about the tenets of community management based on my experience. In this post, I want to highlight the importance of community management as a discipline that can enable organizations to take on the challenges and complexities of the future of work.

Organizations investing in enterprise social platforms (IMHO, more and more organizations are doing it and will continue to do so) require community managers who can facilitate activities on the platform. This requires anyone playing the role to wear multiple hats. In my post, I want to explore some of the "hats" a community manager needs to wear to execute her role. The premise of this post is that when an organization makes a conscious effort to bring in social collaboration and support their formal learning endeavors with more informal and collaborative sharing, it usually begins with the introduction of an enterprise collaboration platform. This shift calls for some intense community management and community building, and the post focuses on the different roles a community manager needs to play during this time.

The hat of a Change Agent
Just because an enterprise collaboration platform is in place doesn’t mean that everyone will take to it like duck takes to water. The natural adoption curve will set with some being early adopters and others trailing behind. However, the enthusiasm of the even the early adopters will rapidly wane if the platform doesn’t offer engaging content and meaningful conversations. This of course is easier said than done and requires well thought out change management plans.
As shown in the diagram, change management includes onboarding users onto the platform, enabling them to use it with ease and supporting them throughout. Onboarding typically covers conducting training, socializing the platform and defining different ways of contribution. Defining clear guidelines and directives go a long way toward user adoption. The table below summarizes some of the ways that users can contribute.

As change agents, we have to make two things very simple for them -- the act of making the shift and the reason behind the shift. As community managers, we have to remove obstacles from the path of change. We have to be obsessed with making the shift to the new collaboration platform easy.

There will be umpteenth obstacles beyond the control of a community manager ranging from the constraints posed by the platform itself to enterprise security policies that impact how users access the platform. Moreover, the steps needed to be taken to make the shift have to be crystal clear including what the expected outcome will be. Dan and Chip Heath says in Switch, "What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity." Ambiguity will doom any change effort.

The hat of a Trainer
All new platforms-- no matter how intuitive it may seem--require some training as mentioned above. This can be in the form of simple how-to documents, screencasts, videos, webex sessions, and any other form that works. What is important to remember perhaps is that designing and creating these training materials is not enough. We need to ensure they reach the users. This could mean creating a Training/Help Center on the platform that can be a one-stop shop for users. Reaching out to users proactively to find out if they need help makes adoption easier. Mapping the training to typical use cases is also important. Providing generic, platform related information is not too useful. Instead, the training material needs to focus on what are the typical ways users are likely to interact on the platform and why would they need to do so. Shaping the guidelines, screencasts and videos around these use cases can help onboard users quickly to the platform.

The hat of a Content Curator
Good content is one of the key pull factors behind why people would choose to engage on the platform. As people begin to access the platform, they expect to see meaningful content – these could be short capsules of learning, curated articles, links to interesting resources, discussions on the forum, blogs and micro-content from other users, and so on. It is the job of the community manager to ensure that the content is appropriately tagged and curated and thus findable. Each platform will have its own functionalities and features that allow a community manager to curate and aggregate. However, to be a trustworthy and respected content curator, it is important to know the interests, needs and passions of the community. This requires constant engagement with the community, listening to the community and having an eye for detail. It also means enlisting the help of community ambassadors who are likely to be experts regarding the interests of that community.

The bottom line is to never launch an empty platform. It must be populated with meaningful content prior to launch.

Here are some practical tips to make a community engaging for its users.
The hat of a Connector
Collaboration platforms are all about connections--between content and people, between expertise and need, between skill-sets and projects, between people and people. As community managers, it is important to set in place a system that enables findability and accessibility. This could mean anything from inculcating practices like tagging for searchability, helping users to fill out their profiles for findabilty, to manually connecting the nodes. Since community managers have a bird's eye view of their community, they are often best placed to spot a need and a corresponding solution--be it for a certain expertise, content or skillset. The role of a connector is crucial in creating business value for the organization and is a skill all community managers need to hone.

The hat of a Brand Ambassador 
Needless to say, we need to be cheerleaders for our community. There is no replacement for enthusiasm and passion. Marketing the platform--albeit subtly--is one of the tasks of a community manager. Telling stories of successful use cases, collecting examples of how collaboration is positively impacting workflow, business and innovation and narrating these stories-- all help in branding the community as well as in getting the skeptics on-board. It is important to find the evangelists and believers and encourage them to share their stories.

The hat of a Consultant
This is perhaps the most frequently donned hat and covers a gamut of skills including needs analysis, solution designing, influencing, facilitating, and negotiating. This calls for a post by itself but I will touch upon the key points here. Typically, in an organization/enterprise, a single community of all employees will not be an effective means of collaboration. They will split into teams and groups driven by many factors from functional areas and interests to roles and projects. These teams will form their own communities with their specific and unique goals and objectives. It's our job to help the teams articulate their objectives and enable them to design their community experience in a manner that supports their objectives. It also entails sharing best practices around collaboration--where collaboration implies fruitful comings together to achieve common objectives.  

Friday, November 21, 2014

Working out Loud and Serendipity

I started my day reading a post by Rawn Shah called Work Out Loud because Everyone is Figuring Out Their Job. The post of course struck a chord and reminded me that this is #wol week. It is serendipity that I also happen to be reading Austin Kleon's Show Your Work! at this time. All of this made me think I should write a post on working out loud and its place in workplace learning.

As is my wont, I tend to look at everything mostly through my L&D lens, especially when it comes to learning and sharing at the workplace. I have been thinking for a long time about what we, as L&D, need to and can do to foster a culture of sharing and collaborative learning to meet the challenges of a distributed workplace with dispersed expertise and complex work situations. In my mind, working out loud can be one of the means to strengthen organizational learning. 

Working out loud not only helps people to share their "work-in-progress" but also enables sense-making by building a keen awareness of the processes being followed, decisions taken, mistakes made, and learnings thus gleaned. When we choose to "work out loud" as a sharing mechanism, we tend to do some of the following:
  1. Analyse our own work more critically
  2. Evaluate what we are doing and why we are doing it 
  3. Break down the constituent parts so that we can share meaningfully
  4. Make our work "narratable" so that it becomes a living document of our competencies and capabilities
  5. Begin to take greater pride in our work -- not only in the finished product but also in the ongoing process, the struggles and the wins
As John Stepper has aptly described:
"Working out loud is working in an open, generous, connected way so you can build a purposeful network, become more effective, and access more opportunities."
His post on the 5 elements of working out loud has good practical suggestions on getting started. The key word is "purposeful". Here, sharing takes on a different flavour from beating one's own trumpet. Sharing purposefully implies making my work visible as not only an end outcome but also the messy processes and thinking that goes behind it. Thus, working out loud is intrinsically linked to two critical aspects of becoming a good learner -- Personal knowledge Management (PKM) and building one's Personal Learning Network (PLN). Austin Kleon points out in his deceptively simply written book mentioned above, "Share something small everyday." He goes on to explain this: 
"Once a day, after you've done your day's work, go back to your documentation and find one little piece of your process that you can share."
I find this simple advice very powerful. As an L&D person, if we can inspire and motivate everyone to share one little piece everyday--be it a method for project execution or an insight gathered from the day, over a period of time this can build up to be an immensely rich repository of knowledge and tacit experiences. More than that, the individuals thus sharing acquire the skills of sense-making through narration of their work. 

Sharing invites sharing. When we create a space and expose our vulnerabilities and challenges, we invite others to do the same. Such sharing can trigger serendipity and meaningful conversation -- two of the critical factors that can shape organizational learning. Sharing brings each one's unique strengths and perspectives to the surface. It is a great way to encourage the coming together of diverse minds thereby creating a space and opportunity for innovation. Only when perspectives and processes are out in the open can the combinatorial aspect of innovation and creative thinking come into play. Organizations that invest time in coaching people how to work out loud and do it consistently can reap huge benefits. 

Serendipity is another by-product of working out loud. We serendipitously encounter others who are similarly passionate, have overcome similar failures and taken similar learning journeys. Working out loud shapes serendipity. Finally, as Austin Kleon says in his book, sharing can "take people behind the scenes." 
"A lot of people are so used to just seeing the outcome of work. They never see the side of the work you go through to produce the outcome." ~ Michael Jackson.
Coming back to the role of L&D, and the need for collaboration and continuous learning, and engaging workers on the ESN--working out loud could be a good beginning. It takes practice and initial support. But I believe this could be achieved through modelling the desired behaviour. If senior leaders, members of the L&D team and other influencers (experts, senior and respected workers) engage in sharing their work by practising #wol, it would foster similar behaviour in the org. By inculcating and encouraging a culture of working out loud, organizations can gradually begin to see greater engagement on their enterprise social networks as well. Meaningful engagement! 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Changing Face of ID: An Experiment

I am trying to experiment with different ways of putting out bits and snippets of my work, thoughts and ideas. I thought I would try to put out my modern workplace learning presentation as a Pinterest board. I am not sure how good or bad the idea is but thought it would be interesting to have each slide as an individual image and see how much sense they make as a single, standalone image. The rationale being: Should anyone find any of the images useful, they can--in the spirit of share and share alike and combinatorial nature of creative work--freely use the images. 

Here is the result of my experiment...

Follow Sahana's board Changing Face of ID on Pinterest.

You can see the entire presentation on SlideShare:

All inputs and feedback are welcome!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

L&D's Role in the VUCA World: Part 1

Josh Bersin's presentation on 21st Century Talent Management: Imperatives for 2014 and 2015 highlights some of the following as the key areas where the biggest capability gaps exist: Leadership, Re-skilling HR, Talent Acquisition and Access, Talent and HR Analytics, Reinventing L&D, and so on. Each area is critical today in building an organization and an organizational culture that will not only attract the best employees but will also provide them with the necessary platform to give their best. An organization may attract the best and then lose them due to an overly repressive culture, a hierarchical structure or a closed environment. Today's employees are more focused on the three qualities of work defined by Daniel Pink in Drive: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.   

In this post, I am going to discuss the point on Reinventing L&D, one of the key capability requirements mentioned in the presentation. I have written about this here and here. And another related post on the Evolution of L&D... Here, I will explore the role of L&D in the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world. 

While we (L&D) keep talking about complexity and ambiguity and enabling learners to acquire the skills of "learning how to learn", we know that we need to transform and redefine ourselves and our role in the organization to add value to business. 

I am going to probe each of the aspects of VUCA and share my thoughts on what L&D needs to do. This is more of a #wol and thinking-aloud post. My thinking around this is not yet concretized. And I know it can't be. It's thinking in beta and only time and repeated experiments will tell what works in the VUCA world. However, one thing I am sure of is that we have to experiment, fail fast and learn from failures. The external conditions and environment are not going to stabilize enough for us to take a step back and come up with a solid plan and blue print of organizational learning. We'll have to become deft at designing as we go while keeping an eye on the big picture. This is where an understanding of what we need to bring to the table from on organizational and individual perspective keeping VUCA in mind may be useful.

Volatility: Lack of stability is a given. Things will suddenly change. As L&D, we need to build in capabilities like agility, resilience and creativity. Not only in ourselves, but also in the organization. While some aspect of L&D will still be focused on skills training, we have to realize that skills training is the bare minimum required to get someone started or move to the next level. Knowledge and skills today have a diminishing shelf life and require constant rebuilding. Training is essentially past focused. People are trained to do certain tasks in ways that worked in the past; but there is no guarantee that it will continue to work in the future. Training is thus giving diminishing returns as days go by. 

One of the ways out of this is to focus on re-generating skills like learning agility, resilience, and creativity. Can these be taught? I think yes. L&D can enable organizations to have conversations around these areas. Sessions on learning agility can be built into "training plans" to initiate such conversations. "Learning how to learn" is a skill not everyone has. And it can be fostered. Coursera is coming up with a MOOC on Learning How to Learn starting January 2015. L&D can help foster learning agility mindset. The diagram below highlights some of the characteristics of a learning agile person:
These are mindsets, skills and attitudes that can be inculcated. I won't delve into the organizational culture required for these qualities to take root. That is a topic for another pots. However, by bringing awareness to the forefront, L&D can enable people to make wise choices.

Uncertainty: We live amidst uncertainty on all fronts. And there is precious little we can do about it. As I mulled over what L&D can do to enable an organization in an uncertain world of business and economy, I could think of a few things. An uncertain world requires some of the following skills:

L&D can help build the skills at an organizational and an individual level. We can use an enterprise collaboration platform to facilitate working out loud, foster conversations, and encourage user-generated content. Working out loud facilitate sharing and making sense of the emerging patterns thus helping orgs and individuals to solve problems faster and more creatively. Working out loud is also a great sense-making mechanism--one of the key skills required today. The activities of sharing and connecting in turn help individuals learn from each other and move toward a self-driven, continuous learning mode. Of course, all of these not only take time but also commitment. Commitment from the organization, the necessary skill-sets within L&D and a culture based on transparency and trust. But the reality is that unless organizations move towards this kind of culture, there is little chance of survival. 

Complexity: I have written about complexity here (Adaptive Thinking, Deliberate Practice, and Complexity) and here (Wicked Problems, Complexity and Learning) and here. Ever since I stumbled across the Cynefin framework, complexity and emergence have fascinated me. But coming back to the point, what does L&D need to do in a complex world? Dealing with complexity requires Adaptive Thinking. 
In military parlance, the term Adaptive Thinking has been used to describe the cognitive behaviour of an officer who is confronted by unanticipated circumstances during the execution of a planned military operation. It refers to the thinking a leader must do to adapt operations to the requirements of unfolding events and is thus a key component of competency in battle command. Adaptive Thinking is a behaviour. ~ (Source: Think Like a Commander.PDF 
The military have an Adaptive Thinking Training Methodology (ATTM). It has the following characteristics: 

  • Adaptive Thinking focuses on training how to think rather than what to think. 
  • Adaptive Thinking is different from lateral, creative or out-of-the box thinking. It is defined by the conditions under which it occurs. The conditions or constraints need to be taken into account and a solution sought within that. This is also the hallmark of a creative problem-solver, one who is unfazed by constraints but adapts herself/himself to get the maximum benefit out of the situation. 
  • Adaptive Thinking, as the term implies, indicates thinking while performing. This is different from thinking in an environment of calm reflection. This is why it becomes important to develop Adaptive Thinking skills through deliberation. Under conditions of stress, it is human nature to react automatically, using approaches that come most naturally and effortlessly.

L&D and orgs might do well to take a leaf out of this and implement a few things...

Ambiguity: Ambiguity can be scary and exhilarating depending on how we look at it. This quote sums it up beautifully! 
Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity! ~ Gilda Radner

Ambiguity is important because: 
  • It gives rise to questions
  • It makes you probe deeper
  • It makes you suspecting of surface reality 
  • It makes you uncomfortable and forces you to find a way out

All of these can be great learning triggers if the skills of learning how to learn and self-driven learning have been fostered. Dealing with ambiguity also requires a natural curiosity and a questing attitude. In ambiguous situations, one is faced with "unknown unknowns" and has to be able come up with a solution. Here is a simple but quite effective matrix I found when researching ambiguity (

L&D has quite a few tasks to do and hats to don as we go about making sense of the VUCA world. 

I would love to know what you think. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Myth of the "Relevant Experience"

During my daily twitter stream reading, I came across this snippet from Stowe Boyd:

"A formal hierarchy overweights experience and underweights new thinking, and in doing so perpetuates the past. It misallocates power, since promotions often go to the most politically astute rather than to the most prescient or productive."~ By Gary Hamel, Bureaucracy Must Die (The bold highlights are mine.)

The snippet succinctly puts forth the challenges of being a hierarchical organization set to operate in a stable world but hurled into the new world of complexity, change and disruptive tech. The impact of formal hierarchy on organizational culture can be far-reaching. From over-weighing of experience to "this-is-the-way-things-are-done-here" syndrome, it has an effect on all areas of organizational function. As long as experience makes one resilient, quick to adapt and learn, a good leader and empathetic manager, and increases one's ability to connect the dots and see the pattern, the experience is relevant. When experience makes one rigid, unable to accept change, arrogant about the efficacy of what worked in the past and hence concluding that the same will continue to work today, and deafens one to new thinking, that experience lacks relevance and becomes a hindrance to the growth of the organization. 

The unfortunate truth is that most organizations cling to past experience and glory almost as an armor against new thinking. The unwillingness to meet change, accept the new world of work, and be adaptive can actually tip an organization into a downward spiral. Kodak and Borders are glaring examples. Organizational agility is also reflective of the mindset of the organization’s leadership. Whether they pay homage to experience and “relevant experience” or embrace new thinking and keep adapting and growing shape the culture and impacts how things get done.

This is not to imply that experience doesn’t have value. It does. However, what matters is how organizations view experience. When “relevant experience” implying the number of years an individual has worked in the same field and the knowledge thus accumulated comes to be viewed as sacrosanct, this is a danger signal. This kind of thinking is the enemy of innovation and creativity. In today's rapidly changing context, the value of "relevant experience" has a very short shelf-life. Often, with roles that have evolved/emerged in the last 5 years, like those of Enterprise Community Manager, Social Media Marketing, Digital Officer, etc., asking for relevant experience makes no sense. And with roles that we know nothing about except that these will emerge over the next few years, the criteria needs to be very different. Standardized JDs with well-defined roles pose a hindrance to an organization’s ability to adapt and thrive.

IMHO, everything that I have done so far is relevant. Hence, I find it very difficult to answer this question. The question demands that we fragment our experiences into buckets and silos when the reality is that each experience ties together to form a story. In an era where we are moving out of "jobs for life" into a "life of different and varied jobs", every bit of experience gathered along the way counts--nothing is irrelevant. Thus, the myth of relevant experience needs to be closely scrutinized. It is often a roadblock to organizational and individual growth--all the more so if tied to a fixed mindset.  

As Harold Jarche points out in his post on An Update on Jobs, "We need to skill-up jobs for emergent and novel practices which requires a completely different mindset about work." In an earlier post, Harold had written: "I think that the construct of the job, with its defined skills, effort, responsibilities and working conditions, is a key limiting organizational factor for the creative economy..." I completely agree! Once jobs were slotted and packaged to enable the Industrial Era to function smoothly. The JDs defined the role, training provided the required skill sets, and then one was put to work. Over the years, experience added efficiency and the ability to deal with emergencies. Experienced, dependable, obedient workers got promoted. Dissenters were usually perceived as nuisance and sacked. 

Today, obedience and dependability don't go far. As Gary Hamel pointed out in 2009, the Knowledge Economy requires Creativity, Initiative and Passion. It also requires learning agility, a willingness to try and fail, and a growth mindset. Every walk of life--from healthcare to education, from the print media to learning design--is facing technological disruption. Well established organizations like Kodak and Borders went out of business in spite of their years of experience. The disruptive power of technology will have far-reaching effects that we have not even started to conceive. And this will only multiply exponentially. Organizations will have to transform the way they operate -- in all aspects. This includes recruitment, talent management, workplace design, employee policies, articulation of values, and much more. 

Going back to the snippet I started the post with, formal hierarchy doesn’t only impede free flow of knowledge and sharing but it also makes an organization rigid, unable to adapt and siloed. Well-crafted job descriptions belonged to an era of stable, predictable work with exact and known outcomes, and a belief in skill accumulation. There is no relevant experience any more. Only experience. And the more diverse and varied they are, the better!

The post Ten Skills for the Future Workforce is a good summary of some of the core skills organizations should look out for in their prospective employees and seek to grow in the existing workforce—at all levels. 

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...