Thursday, July 9, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 6, 2015

Social Technology, Community Management and Organizational Development

I have been reading a spate of articles and posts related to the need for a change in the way organizations function. The diagram below by Dion Hinchcliffe is a succinct illustration of how digital technology has been and will continue to play a key role in bringing about this change.

The diagram traces the evolution of different social technology and their potential to enforce and enable a deep change in how organizations function and their structure. With digital technology growing exponentially, the speed of change is going to be faster than any we have encountered before. And there will be no escaping this digital onslaught. A bid to ignore or sidestep it will only result in a quicker path to redundancy as is evident from cases like Kodak. The safest path is to embrace the change and assess its impact on the specific industry. It's also worthwhile noting that digital evolution is not only for the IT department to worry about. This evolution is heralding far-reaching and yet-unimagined impact in all spheres of life. Organizations and the corporate world will require deep and fundamental transformations in business practices including leadership, governance, processes, customer orientation, etc. Read the post, How Social Technology has Emerged as an Enterprise Management Model, for an in-depth understanding. I am not going to tread into management theory or organizational structures in this post. I wanted to set the premise for what is to come in the months and years ahead...and where do we come in as learning and organizational development specialists. 

Given that the shifts and turmoil will continue to exponentially increase as digital technology evolves at an hitherto unimagined pace, organizations will be left with no choice but to transform themselves. Superficial tweaks and process re-engineering will no longer serve the purpose. It is time for deep and fundamental transformation of all organizational and management principles practised with such astounding success over the past many decades. Standardization, efficiency, processes, supervisory management, planning, etc., were the tools and levers of the Industrial Age that brought us comfort, wealth and urbanization. The advent of digital technology has suddenly and with remarkable speed turned the world upside down in more ways than one. The diagram below taken from The Second Machine Age (a must read book) by Andrew McAfee, et al., shows the inflection point when the gradual pace of change shows a sudden shift, and the graph becomes almost perpendicular. And this happened around 2000.

Against this backdrop, we have organizations struggling with outdated platforms, old management practices, fossilized bureaucracy, dissatisfied customers and ever shifting market needs while the evolution is wreaking havoc in the old order of things. The solution is literally to begin from scratch. Transform and reinvent the organizational practices. Create organizations that are nimble, constantly learning, conversing and listening. 

For OD and L&D practitioners, this is a time of intense challenge as well as exhilarating possibilities. The digital world requires a set of digital skills and mindsets that most organizations are struggling with. The leaders at the helm of most organizations (start-ups are exceptions) come from B-schools that taught the skills predominantly required by the Industrial Era. The entire landscape of communication is changing with social technology, instantaneous chats, and forms like videos and podcasts entering the scene. Today's mobile phone has more computing and processing power than a laptop had 5 years ago. And one cannot ignore the power of SoLoMo, i.e., social, local and mobile coming together. However, these are not just technology changes but require uprooting of fundamental beliefs and behaviours that spelled success and power in the past. 

Hence, a plug-on social platform used to conduct business the old way will only yield frustration and cynicism. Individuals looking to follow processes and predefined rules to conduct their work will find themselves replaced by machines and robots. Organizations will find that only complex and creative work requiring skills like problem solving, pattern sensing, analysing, and such are left for the human workforce - the same workforce that through years of command and control has been reduced to order-following machines. And those individuals will suddenly find themselves facing the threat of redundancy. Scary? Yes! The same individuals now have to get back to using those faculties that humans are best at - analysing, empathising, collaborating. The "human" will perhaps finally come back to the corporate world! Today's landscape will require organizations to think beyond automation when designing workflow and business processes.And it's time for L&D and OD practitioners to play a key role in envisioning the strategy and laying the roadmap in collaboration with business heads. IMHO, its finally time for L&D to become integrated with business and take a seat at the table. 

While I cannot profess that L&D/OD specialists can change the nature of management, I can say that well-informed and skilled professionals from this field can enable an organization to empower its employees and management to acquire those skills that will get them to use the social technologies with greater efficacy. Sometimes, small actions repeated over a period of time can bring about behavioural change. Fogg's Behavioural Change method of instilling Tiny Habits could be a way, which I'll explore in a later post. Manifested behaviour-no matter how small-thoughtfully supported and encouraged over a period of time can bring about long term change. This primarily happens because individuals begin to see the impact of their repeated actions and the organization begins to reap the benefits. However, it takes time, commitment, skilled facilitators and a clear direction at a strategic level. 

And this is where L&D and OD professionals can intervene with support from the organizational leaders. This support is of paramount importance if the organization wishes to transform itself and become a truly "digital enterprise". Certain management practices which have become conflated with how the corporate world functions have to be dismantled and possibly discarded. Steve Denning quoting Hamel in this brilliant article "Why Bureaucracy Must Die" calls out the ills of bureaucracy, one of the detractors of social business: 
Bureaucracy is gripped by “the ideology of controlism” and “worships at the altar of conformance.” It’s hostile to “the irregular people with irregular ideas who create the irregular business models that generate the irregular returns,” and so “cripples organizational vitality.”  It “shrinks our incentive to dream, imagine and contribute.” It causes our organizations to “remain incompetent at their core.” 
I brought this up primarily to highlight that a truly digital organization enabled by social technologies and empowered employees and management are at the golden cusp of listening to those "irregular ideas". It is in these ideas that leap over processes and old ways of doing things that the salvation of organizations and the future of the corporate world lie. I have written before about the perils of having social as a bolt on strategy and of automation taking over complicated, process-based work. What will be left will be the complex challenges in need of creative solutions from "irregular people" unafraid to try their irregular ideas. 

To facilitate this exchange of "irregular conversations," organizations have to think like communities, to think of Workplace Learning in a World "Beyond Automation". Community Directors/Managers/Facilitators will become a key role in developing a successful social business. In an earlier post, I had emphasized the importance of L&D to don the mantle of community management. It's still not widely understood skill and traditional L&D departments used to conducting training needs analysis, skill-competency mapping, intervention design and delivery, and such are hard pressed to wrap their head around this critical skill. 

What role will communities play in transforming the way an organization functions? 

It is important to attempt an answer to this question if we are to fully comprehend the importance of community management. An organization does not become a social business or a digital enterprise just by installing a few social collaboration platforms and subscribing to an app marketplace. It requires a fundamental behavioural change at all levels and shifts in mindset. I have discussed this in earlier posts here and here. A community manager's role is to help the organization to cut across the hierarchies and foster open conversations. It's a strategic role requiring a rigorous understanding of various fields including organizational analysis and development, change management, management theories and practices, and human psychology and social behaviour. S/he may have other community facilitators to actively manage the online and offline activities that are so crucial to the success of social business. But the key role lies at a strategic and business level. IMHO, an organizational community manager--Chief Collaboration Officer??--will be as important as a CFO or CMO and of equal strategic importance in a digital enterprise. It's a role that is yet to be delineated and recognized but it's time has come. I have jotted down some thoughts around what this role could do to help an organization become a digital enterprise. 

The role will have to:
  1. Study the current organizational culture (this requires an OD background)
  2. Analyse the existing gaps/silos as well as the formal and informal channels of communication 
  3. Understand the broad business goals, processes and nature of the business
  4. Evaluate the current digital skills of employees, managers and leaders
  5. Create a framework and roadmap for the organization to help them:
    • Understand the social business journey and it's maturity model (Ref: Community Round-table report)
    • Acquire the necessary digital skills to participate in a collaborative environment with ease 
    • Build trust-based relationships to facilitate sharing of tacit knowledge, co-creation of new knowledge and innovate
    • Enable diverse kinds of communication from informing and sharing content to connecting, soliciting input, collaborating, and solving problems  
The individual will not only require a solid understanding of business processes but also of human behaviour. They will have to be the kind of individual who can demonstrate digital leadership in both words and deeds. They'll not only work with business heads across different verticals and product lines but will liaise with the executive team to define the strategy that will bring about the change. Their most important task may be to change the way an organization communicates - internally as well as externally. Today's L&D team may need to evolve into a Enterprise Collaboration and Workplace Learning team and report into the Chief Collaboration Officer.  

I will explore this role in greater detail in subsequent posts. I feel the time has come for organizations to move beyond implementing collaboration platforms to integrating a collaborative and cooperative mindset at the strategic level. It's a move that calls for a shift from the tactical to the strategic and must be supported at the highest level for any organization to reap the benefits of the digital evolution. Else, the same evolution will continue to wreak havoc. 

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...