you are only as good as your network

I’ve worked as an organizational learning & performance consultant since 1998. Every year I get new challenges but usually I have something in my toolbox that fits the requirement. Then one day in 2012 I was asked to solve a problem for a client that I did not have a clue how to even begin looking at. This involved complex knowledge about information technology, organizational behaviour, knowledge management, and social media. The client required a model to determine how their suite of IT platforms aligned with a newly developed learning & performance model that was being implemented across the enterprise. In short, they asked me to “simplify the complexity”.

I was a bit nervous, not knowing where to begin. But I put my faith in my knowledge networks and communities of practice where I had been involved for the past 14 years. I went out to my networks, looking for as wide and diverse opinions as possible. I also checked my collections of social bookmarks and blog posts to see if I had come across anything useful in the past few years. As I found a few models and ideas, I tested them out with some trusted colleagues, including the client team who were keen on solving the problem. Over several weeks, many conversations, and a lot of searching and probing, I developed a working model that the client accepted. It was only through working out loud, learning out loud, and engaging the networks and communities that I had already developed, that I was able to accomplish the objective. In the end, I realized I was only as good as my network. This is the new world of work today. It requires us to not solely focus on our jobs doing regular work and projects. The network era rewards people who can bring their communities of practice and professional networks to bear on complex problems. Nobody’s individual toolbox is big enough.

If you want to hear more about what I learned from this project, watch the 30 minute video.

This new world of work means that we all have to constantly dance between our work teams, communities, and networks. But when we are faced with a complex problem it’s too late to start engaging in a community of practice or building a knowledge network. These have to be in place beforehand. This approach is a challenge for many people who are too busy in their own workplace to look outside. But it is essential, and this is becoming clear to many business leaders. They just don’t know how and where to start.

Developing individual skills, like PKM, is a good start. Then changing daily habits, like working out loud, shows that the organization values knowledge sharing. Finally, many of our organizational practices have to be removed or changed, in order to shift away from the still dominant scientific management framework to a networked management approach.

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