Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

5 February 2016

Leverage points for organizational agility

Clark @ 8:19 am

I received some feedback on my post on Organizational Knowledge Mastery.  The claim was that if you trusted to human sensing, you’d be only able to track what’s become common knowledge, and that doesn’t provide the necessary competitive advantage. The extension was that you needed market analytics to see new trends. And it caused me to think a little deeper.

I’m thinking that the individuals in the organization, in their sensing/sharing, are tracking things before it becomes common knowledge. If people are actively practicing  ongoing sensemaking and sharing internally and finding resonance, that can develop understanding before it becomes common knowledge.  They’ve expertise in the area, and so that shared sense making should precede what emerges as common knowledge.  Another way to think about it is to ask where the knowledge comes from that ​becomes the common knowledge?

And I’m thinking that market analytics aren’t going to find the new, because by definition no one knows that to look for yet.  Or at least part of the new.  To put it another way, the qualitative (e.g. semantic) changes aren’t going to be as visible to machine sensing as to human (Watson notwithstanding).  The emerging reality is human-machine hybrids are more powerful than either alone, but each alone finds different things.  So there were things in protein-folding that machines found, but other things that humans playing protein-folding games found.   I have no problem with market data also, but I definitely think that the organization benefits to the extent that it supports human sense-making as well.  Different insights from different mechanisms.

And I also think a culture for agility comes from a different ‘space’ than does a rabid focus on numerics.  A mindset that accommodates both is needed.  I don’t think they’re incommensurate.  I’m kind of suspicious of dual operating systems versus a podular approach, as I suspect that the hierarchical activities will be automated and/or outsourced, but I’m willing to suspend my criticism until shown otherwise.

So, still pondering this, and welcome your feedback.

2 February 2016

Organizational Knowledge Mastery?

Clark @ 8:05 am

I was pointed to a report from MIT Sloan Management talking about how big data was critical to shorten ‘time to insight’. And I think that’s a ‘good thing’ in the sense that knowing what’s happening faster is clearly going to be part of agility.  But I  must be missing something, because unless I’m mistaken, big data can’t give you the type of insights you really need.

Ok, I get it. By the ‘test and learn’ process of doing experiments and reading reactions, you can gather data quickly. And I’m all for this.  But this is largely internal, and I think the insights needed are external. And yes, the experiments can be outside the firewall, trying new things with customers and visitors and reading reactions, but that’s still in the realms of the understood or expected. How can such a process detect the disruptive influences?

Years ago, with friend and colleague Eileen Clegg, we wrote a chapter based upon her biologist husband’s work in extremophiles, looking for insight into how to survive in tough times.  We made analogies from a number of the biological phenomena, and one was the need to be more integrated with the environment, sensing changes and bringing them in. Which of course, triggered an association.

If we adapt Harold Jarche’s Personal Knowledge Mastery (or PKM), which is about Seek-Sense-Share as a mechanism to grow our own abilities, to organizations, we can see a different model.  Perhaps an OKM?  Here’s organizations seek knowledge sources, sense via experiments and reflection, and share internally (and externally, as appropriate ;).

This is partly at the core of the Coherent Organization model as well, where communities are seeking and sharing outside as ways to continue to evolve and feed the teams whose work is driving the organization forward. It’s about flows of information, which can’t happen if you’re in a Miranda Organization. And so while big data is a powerful tool, I think there’s something more required.

I think the practices and the culture of the organization are more important.  If you don’t have those right, big data won’t give big insights, and if you do, big data is just one of your tools.  Even if you’re doing experiments, it might be small data, carefully instrumented experiments targeted at getting specific outcomes, rather than big data, that will give you what you need.  But more importantly, sensing what’s going on outside, having diverse interests and a culture of curiosity is going to be the driver for the unexpected opportunities.

So yes, use the tools to hand and leverage the power of technology, but focus on motivations and culture so that the tools will be used in the important ways.  At least that was my reaction.  What’s yours?

28 January 2016

Getting pragmatic on what L&D can do

Clark @ 8:07 am

I was inspired by a diagram that my ITA colleague Harold Jarche included in a post, where he puts some concepts into their 70:20:20 role as either people, skills, or tools. And I obviously believe the role of L&D should be shifting (as in a full revolution :), but I realize that putting it together can seem confusing, and so it led me to think a little bit about what’s the role for L&D versus what’s the role of the community.  As a first cut, as usual.

721Learning Development & CultureMy breakout starts with the 10 (though you should start your solution thinking with the 70, as my colleague Charles Jennings suggests).  Here I’m seeing what L&D can do, and what should be expected to come from a vibrant learning culture (which is also the role of L&D.

And it’s true that we see the traditional work of courses here (no, we’re not coming for your courses), though of course ones that meet the minimum daily standard of Serious learning, now set by your learning quality evangelists.  And reactivating the learning, to make it stick.

Another task for L&D building in meta-learning opportunities and deliberately developing them in addition to whatever domain skills matter. Also, curating (and, occasionally) creating resources for self-study.  If someone wants to learn something, resources before courses may be a more practical approach, particularly if it’s relatively unique.  And, of course, curation trumps creation. And on the Culture side, the community should also be curating and creating resources.

Then we segue to the social. Here, the community is taking the role of coaching and mentoring, and the individual is engaging with the community.  However, assuming good coaching and mentoring skills would be a mistake, so there’s a real for L&D to provide explicit development of coaching and mentoring, as well as ensuring that those relationships are established and occur. There’s also a role for facilitating meta-learning, helping folks learn to work out loud and reflect. These are essential components of my colleague Jane Hart’s Modern Workplace Learning. There’s also a role to ensure people can find others with useful expertise to tap into, within or across communities.

Finally, out at the personal end (and don’t think that it really transitions like this, there’s lots of overlap), individual practices are of working out loud and reflecting. The individual and the community should be building, as well as using, performance support like job aids. L&D can assist by helping ensure that there’s a ‘stretch assignment’ plan, and good rubrics about what constitutes a good stretch assignment, whether training or job aid.  And, of course, L&D should be looking at what’s happening and looking for opportunities to tune and improve, as well as any emergent phenomena.

Finally, of course, one final role for L&D is to ensure that there is a learning culture.  This is an important process. Recognize that it’s about a performance ecosystem organized to facilitate organizational learning at the individual and community level. It’s about having the individual have the tools ‘to hand‘ to continue to develop and perform.  The goal is a coherent organization.

20 January 2016

A bit more detail

Clark @ 8:08 am

In the Coherent Organization model that we (the ITA) came up with, it talks about how work teams are fed by and feed up to communities as they too feed up to and are fed from social networks.  And while this is all good, it may not be completely clear.  So I tried to take a pass at representing it another way.

OrgStructureSo, at the center are people, the individuals who constitute the organization.  They are the ones who form teams. Ideally, for the most powerful outcomes, they come with different backgrounds, as we know diversity helps.  And they’ll work together in those teams, for short term needs or on an ongoing basis.

Those background are tied into the Communities of Improvement that they are members of.  A good team member will bring  their community expertise into the team, and likewise feedback their learning from their team work.  Note that most folks are usually members of several communities.

Those communities span both internal to the organization (if it is big enough), but also across the firewall out to other practitioners that are in other organizations.  There are obviously things you can, and can’t, share across the boundaries, but the communities should be continuing to evolve across boundaries.  Proprietary approaches may not, but general learning should be.

And the individuals are, or should be, learning on their own as well, tapping into personal searches inside and outside the organization for immediate needs and ongoing development. Similarly, communities should be looking for ideas and practices from other communities that can be absorbed, and sharing out to other communities as well.

The main change here is showing how people are members of different teams and diverse communities, and how the links are to communities and to one’s own development.  Not enough, I know (should I show links between people as well), and certainly I’ve got a sparse representation of interconnections here to be indicative, not representative.  Does this help?


14 January 2016

10 years!?!?

Clark @ 8:08 am

A comment on my earliest blog post (thanks, Henrik), made me realize that this post will mark 10 years of blogging. Yes, my first post came out on January 14th, 2006.  This will be my 1,200th post (I forced one in yesterday to be the 1199th so I could say that ;), yow!  That’s 120 a year, or just under every 3rd day.  And, I am happy to add, 2,542 comments (just more than 2 per post), so thanks to you for weighing in.

It’s funny, when I started I can’t really say it was more than an experiment.  I had no idea where it would lead, or how.  It’s  had some challenges, to continue to find topics, but it’s been helpful.  It’s forced me to deliberately consider things I otherwise might not have, just to try to keep up the momentum.

I confess I originally had a goal of 5 a week (one per business day), but even then I was happy if I got 2-3. I’m gobsmacked at my colleague Harold who seems to put out a post every day.  I can’t quite do that. My goal has moderated to be 2 a week (very occasionally I live with 1 per week, but other weeks like when I’m at conferences I might have 3 if there are lots of keynotes to mind map).  Typically it’s Tuesday and Wednesday, for no good reason.

I also try to have something new to say every time. It’s hard, but forcing myself to find something to talk about has led to me thinking about lots of things and therefore ready to bring them to bear on behalf of clients.  I think out loud relatively freely (particularly with the popularity of Work and Learn Out Loud and Show Your Work).  And it’s a way to share my diagrams, another way to ‘think out loud’.  And I admit that I don’t share some things that are either proprietary (until I can anonymize them) or something I’m planning on doing something with.

And I’ve also resisted commercializing this.  Obviously I’ve avoided the offers to exchange links or blog posts that include links for SEO stuff, but I’ve even, rightly or wrongly, not allowed ads.  While it is the official Quinnovation blog, it’s been my belief that sharing my thinking is the best way to help me get interest in what I have to offer (extensive experience mapping a wide variety of concepts onto specific client contexts to yield innovative yet practical and successful solutions).  I haven’t (yet) followed a formula to drive business traffic, and only occasionally mention my upcoming events (though hopefully that’s a public service :).  There’re other places to track that.

I’m also pretty lax about looking at the metrics. I do weekly pop by Google Analytics to see what sort of traffic I get (pretty steady), but I haven’t tried to see what might improve it.  This is, largely, for me.  And for you if your interests run this way. So welcome, and here’s to another 10 years!  Who knows what there will be to talk about then…or even next week!

31 December 2015

2015 Reflections

Clark @ 8:02 am

It’s the end of the year, and given that I’m an advocate for the benefits of reflection, I suppose I better practice what I preach. So what am I thinking I learned as a consequence of this past year?  Several things come to mind (and I reserve the right for more things to percolate out, but those will be my 2016 posts, right? :):

  1. The Revolution is real: the evidence mounts that there is a need for change in L&D, and when those steps are taken, good things happen. The latest Towards Maturity report shows that the steps taken by their top-performing organizations are very much about aligning with business, focusing on performance, and more.  Similarly, Chief Learning Officer‘s Learning Elite Survey similarly point out to making links across the organization and measuring outcomes.  The data supports the principled observation.
  2. The barriers are real: there is continuing resistance to the most obvious changes. 70:20:10, for instance, continues to get challenged on nonsensical issues like the exactness of the numbers!?!?  The fact that a Learning Management System is not a strategy still doesn’t seem to have penetrated.  And so we’re similarly seeing that other business units are taking on the needs for performance support, social media, and ongoing learning. Which is bad news for L&D, I reckon.
  3. Learning design is rocket science: (or should be). The perpetration of so much bad elearning continues to be demonstrated at exhibition halls around the globe.  It’s demonstrably true that tarted up information presentation and knowledge test isn’t going to lead to meaningful behavior change, but we still are thrusting people into positions without background and giving them tools that are oriented at content presentation.  Somehow we need to do better. Still pushing the Serious eLearning Manifesto.
  4. Mobile is well on it’s way: we’re seeing mobile becoming mainstream, and this is a good thing. While we still hear the drum beating to put courses on a phone, we’re also seeing that call being ignored. We’re instead seeing real needs being met, and new opportunities being explored.  There’s still a ways to go, but here’s to a continuing awareness of good mobile design.
  5. Gamification is still being confounded: people aren’t really making clear conceptual differences around games. We’re still seeing linear scenarios confounded with branching, we’re seeing gamification confounded with serious games, and more.  Some of these are because the concepts are complex, and some because of vested interests.
  6. Games  seem to be reemerging: while the interest in games became mainstream circa 2010 or so, there hasn’t been a real sea change in their use.  However, it’s quietly feeling like folks are beginning to get their minds around Immersive Learning Simulations, aka Serious Games.   There’s still ways to go in really understanding the critical design elements, but the tools are getting better and making them more accessible in at least some formats.
  7. Design is becoming a ‘thing’: all the hype around Design Thinking is leading to a greater concern about design, and this is a good thing. Unfortunately there will probably be some hype and clarity to be discerned, but at least the overall awareness raising is a good step.
  8. Learning to learn seems to have emerged: years ago the late great Jay Cross and I and some colleagues put together the Meta-Learning Lab, and it was way too early (like so much I touch :p). However, his passing has raised the term again, and there’s much more resonance. I don’t think it’s necessarily a thing yet, but it’s far greater resonance than we had at the time.
  9. Systems are coming: I’ve been arguing for the underpinnings, e.g. content systems.  And I’m (finally) beginning to see more interest in that, and other components are advancing as well: data (e.g. the great work Ellen Wagner and team have been doing on Predictive Analytics), algorithms (all the new adaptive learning systems), etc. I’m keen to think what tags are necessary to support the ability to leverage open educational resources as part of such systems.
  10. Greater inputs into learning: we’ve seen learning folks get interested in behavior change, habits, and more.  I’m thinking we’re going to go further. Areas I’m interested in include myth and ritual, powerful shapers of culture and behavior. And we’re drawing on greater inputs into the processes as well (see 7, above).  I hope this continues, as part of learning to learn is to look to related areas and models.

Obviously, these are things I care about.  I’m fortunate to be able to work in a field that I enjoy and believe has real potential to contribute.  And just fair warning, I’m working on a few areas in several ways.  You’ll see more about learning design and the future of work sometime in the near future. And rather than generally agitate, I’m putting together two specific programs – one on (e)learning quality and one on L&D strategy – that are intended to be comprehensive approaches.  Stay tuned.

That’s my short list, I’m sure more will emerge.  In the meantime, I hope you had a great 2015, and that your 2016 is your best year yet.

30 December 2015

Work with purpose

Clark @ 8:06 am

As another component of the Future of Work thinking I’ve been doing, one thing that strikes me is the question of what helps people want to work, which I think pretty clearly will be important.  And I was reminded by my ITA colleague Jane Hart of the work of Dan Pink in his book Drive, where he isolates three components of what makes people engaged: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  And I think this is a good list.

The idea is fairly straightforward: people want work that actually does something important, they want to be free to pursue that work, and they want to be developed in their ability to accomplish that work.   What work is appropriate for different people is part of the task of deciding who to hire, and who to assign to what.

And while I think autonomy and mastery are part of the picture, for sure, I want to focus on making work meaningful. OK, freeing up people from micromanaging is going to be a necessity going forward, but that’s part of the necessary move to agile organizations, and while that’s challenging, it has to happen for organizations to survive. And supporting people by giving them assignments that stretch their abilities, and coaching them through it is absolutely important, but flows out of the 70:20:10 model. Jane, in her valuable book Modern Workplace Learning, gives very specific guidance about managers developing individual potential as part of the larger picture. But the area that strikes me as something I haven’t developed my thoughts about before is finding ways to characterize work so that it connects to people.

I think work has to be meaningful (just as I argue learning has to be meaningful). Here I mean something specific, in that people see the connection between what they’re doing and the impact on the world.  And that’s not always done, and certainly not systematically or well.  And yet I think it’s a service to the employees and part of a thriving organization.  Heck, it probably even leads to better employee engagement ;).

Seriously, it first takes an organization that has a clear focus on what it’s doing. There’re the old stories about ice companies losing out when refrigerators came in, and I think that’s part of it: a very clear focus on what purpose they serve. And this is important to align an organization, and make the strategy easier to focus on.  A secondary desirable component, to me, is to understand what contribution the organization is making to the world. I think the ‘b corp‘ notion is a great one here. (I may be an idealist, but that’s the world I want to live in. ;).

Then, there needs to be a clear alignment between what the employee is doing and the overall organizational goal. I think that if there’s a clear purpose for the work, you have a greater likelihood for employees to be engaged.  No one likes busywork, after all, but even some drudge work that’s part of a bigger picture can be shouldered. And it also means that rote work, work that can be automated, should be automated, leaving people free to do the important work.   Very much like learning needs to see how the learning connects to their work and the bigger picture, so too should their work connect to the bigger picture, within and outside the org.

Not to say this is easy. It requires clear communication (queue the Coherent Org), and a clear vision, but these are steps organizations need to do.  The recognition that this alignment, coupled with a ‘safe’ culture (i.e. not the Miranda Organization), is the necessity for going beyond survival to ‘thrival’ I think is the catalyst for change in meaningful work. And that’s a good place to go.


29 December 2015

Starting a revolution?

Clark @ 8:03 am

In thinking a bit about the Future of Work, one of the issues is where to start.  If we take the implications of the Coherent Organization to heart, we realize that the components include the work teams, the communities of practice (increasingly I think of it as a community of improvement), and the broader network.  But where to begin?

A couple of principles fall into place for me.  The first is the notion of  ‘trojan mice’, e.g. small steps rather than a epic change. That, coupled with the notion of scaling up from the small, leads me to believe that the best place to start is to start small. This follows on the advice about change in general that changes should be strategic and leveraged.

So, a natural place to start small is the team itself.  The goal would be to draw upon a diverse team meeting a real need, but facilitating their tool use. I remember an engagement with a Scandinavian oil company that I was brought in on, where they started out establishing teams for new projects that crossed geographies (and, implicitly, cultures), scaffolded them using collaboration and communication tools, and then released them back to other projects. The goal was to skill up teams and have the team members become viral influences.

Another approach, as there are already likely communities in existence, would be to migrate and facilitate communities online. I recall that the Defense Acquisition University took this approach.  However, I might like to get some project teams going with tools and then migrate out to the communities, where those team members that had participated were familiar with the tools and could be drawn upon by the community.

In fact, after the initial team work, I might facilitate a team not only working together, but working out  loud back to their respective communities.  And while it makes practical sense to be sequential, at some point it might make sense to go parallel, and be having the working out loud from the teams being worked on at the same time as the community development. But for resource reasons, I might make it sequential. Ultimately, you want to be facilitating the communities participating in and outside the organizations, and looking to other communities both inside and outside for inspiration.

The point is to be finding a small way to begin, and maybe take several tries until you work out how to do it well, then start scaling up and out.  You want to build need, awareness, and ability steadily.  It can effect a change in culture too, if the principles that make this work in teams and communities begins to be made aware as well.

And this is not independent of work on going to more performance consulting and performance support in the organization, but instead is a complement.  In previous exercises, different organizations have prioritized different elements, where you begin will be dependent on your context.

So, in the social space, this is my instinct and experience, but welcome hearing alternate viewpoints.


23 December 2015

Making constructive conversations

Clark @ 8:06 am

As part of my thinking about the Future of Work, I’ve been thinking about how to make it safe to share, in the sense of an innovation culture (ala the Learning Organization). My ITA colleague, Charles Jennings, shared a very useful format to facilitate this, and I wanted to think out loud about it in terms of actionable items.

So, Charles advocates an approach to be taken in conversations with employees that involves a set of specific questions.  He’s developed even a little job aid (aka the ‘3 Questions’ card). What’s nice is that the questions are open ended, positive, and facilitate reflection. It’s modeled after the After Action Reviews conducted in military situations, and has the following 3 questions:

1.Describe some of your recent challenges and successes

2.How would you respond differently to achieve better outcomes in the future?

3.What learning can you take away from these experiences?

The first one is designed to open discussion.  Of course, it has to be ‘safe’ to share these challenges and successes, but making a habit of asking about them and of course an individual’s assignments or projects should be known and shared.  It’s the followup questions that can help establish the safety to share.

Thus, the second question, doesn’t focus on mistakes, it focuses on alternatives.  I might even be inclined to ask, instead: “what other ways could you have responded and what ways might you try to achieve better outcomes in the future”, exploring the space of possibilities a bit (to avoid being trapped in local maxima).  The point here is to consider a broad swath of possible approaches and focus on improvement.

Finally, the third questions focuses in on lessons.  What did an experience teach you, and how might you act differently on the basis of this.   The point is to look for the lesson.  I’d add that as part of learning out loud, sharing the lesson learned can be shared.

Charles noted to me that evidence suggests that 70% of manager/managed meetings is taken by the manager speaking. That’s not necessarily a good ratio; it would likely be better 50/50 or even less!

You don’t want to celebrate mistakes, but you do want to make it safe to share.  In fact, a lovely story I heard once was from a small company that rang a bell in the middle of the office, not when the mistake was made, but when the lesson was learned. That way everyone else could learn not to make the same mistake!  It celebrated learning, and validated experimentation.

So while a good culture is the result of actions, scaffolding good actions through structure can help drive the culture forward.  Do you have tools you use to help make things productive?


22 December 2015

Working and learning out loud

Clark @ 8:11 am

I’ve been thinking about some of the talk around the Future of Work, and in addition to the free flow of information I recently posted about from the Coherent Organization, I think working out loud is another component.  Inspired by a post from my colleague ITA Harold Jarche, this is how I see it, in actionable terms.  (And I expect this is also part of Jane Bozarth’s Show Your Work, but I’ve yet to get my mitts on a copy, mea culpa.)

The point is to make your work visible.  There’re two points: showing the actual goals, progress and status of your work, and showing the thinking that’s going on behind it.  And there are two dimensions: within the organization, and outside the organization.  Pragmatically, this yields some concrete and actionable elements.

First, there have to be mechanisms to share.  Ideally, you don’t have to work and then separately post it, but instead your tools automatically share.  This really means collaborative work tools, because you want people to be able to engage: at least commenting, and of course sometimes (maybe most of the time) you’ll be working in a team. Also tools that track contributions and changes.  And there may have to be permissions: so some people can edit, some can only comment, etc.

And I wouldn’t assume folks know what it means to ‘narrate your work‘ (aka learn out loud).  Here, I mean exposing the underlying elements.  This includes the context, assumptions, considerations, experiments, and reflections.  In User Interface Design, it was called Design Rationale, and it’s showing not only the current state, but how you got there.  Benefits include others’ experiences, not revising early decisions when new team members are added, and more.  The typical techniques of being explicit, modeling, evangelizing, promoting, etc, play a role here.

Then of course it has to be ‘safe’ to share, you can’t be working in a Miranda organization.  If your work will be held against  you in any way, you won’t want to share.  This means culture and policies and more. Basically, you need to be working in a Learning Organization, where the elements are aligned to facilitate optimal engagement.  This includes the practices about how to work out loud and learn out loud.

Another  issue is how far to share.  What can you share outside the organization?  Harold talks about the essential requirement of sharing outside the workplace, and that can be a big concern.  Obviously, proprietary work needs to be protected until it’s not business vulnerable. This means policies about what’s safe to share, and when.  Certainly, ‘sanitized’ work, where critical details are obscured but the thinking is shown should be supported in going out to communities of practice.  And the end result, when the business advantage isn’t threatened, could and should be shared through articles or webinars or conference presentations.

At the end, it’s a risk/reward tradeoff for any project at any time. What’s the benefit of getting feedback to improve versus what’s the downside of information getting out to competitors or exposing regulated data?  At any point, with any particular version of ‘anonymizing’, the balance may tip one way or another.   But the point is to be open to the benefit, and take advantage of it when and where you can.  Getting systematic at making it a regular part of any project is likely to be key.

It’s what I do here, and I encourage you to work out loud as much as you can.  So, any feedback so far?


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