the random organization

“Post-industrial work is learning. Work is figuring out how to define and solve a particular problem and then scaling up the solution in a reflective and iterative way – with technology and alongside other people.”
“The future of work has to be based on willing participation by all parties, and the ability of all parties to protect their interests by contractual means.” —Esko Kilpi

This week I had the privilege of co-presenting a session on the future of work and the role of learning to the EMBA students at the Berlin School of Creative Leadership. Esko Kilpi told a story of visiting an Amazon warehouse and how tubes of toothpaste would arrive in a large crate and then individual tubes would be placed randomly throughout the warehouse, wherever there was room. Using RFID, the computer system knew where each tube was located. This random network of objects, instead of all similar types being grouped together, reduced order fulfilment time by about 70%. Esko explained that random networks are actually more effective at making connections. This reminded me of Dave Weinberger’s book, Everything is Miscellaneous. (more…)

right thinking

Every fortnight I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds.

@ActivateLearn: “I see the internet as one massive table with different people talking, sharing, learning, laughing, connecting, engaging. Unfortunately, my mum can’t cook for them all …”

“Experience by itself teaches nothing. Without theory, experience has no meaning. Without theory, one has no questions to ask. Hence, without theory, there is no learning.” —W. Edwards Deming, via @StudioRed42

“Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs … This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking …” —Leo Tolstoy, via @DailyZen (more…)

continuous learning to hack uncertainty

This week I will be speaking at the Landing Festival in Berlin. It is described as Europe’s biggest tech careers event: “two days of intensive learning and networking featuring talks, panels, expert sessions, workshops, a job fair, entertainment activities and a massive boat party to wrap up all the craziness”. My keynote will discuss the need for every professional to develop diverse knowledge networks and engage in communities of practice. The following day I will run a short workshop on personal knowledge mastery and how this discipline can specifically help to engage with social networks and communities. It is the ‘How’, following the ‘Why’ of my keynote. I am assuming this will be a younger audience than I usually present to, so I’m looking forward to possible different perspectives on work and learning. (more…)

retrieving gender balance

Power & Media

The TIMN model, developed by David Ronfeldt describes how human societies have organized: first in Tribes, later with Institutions added (T+I), and in our current society where Markets dominate (T+I+M). As we enter an era where the Network form (T+I+M+N) gains dominance, most of the previous organizational forms will evolve to adapt to the new form. The Network form puts into question our current market dominated forms, including our institutions and our families. Consider that the nuclear family is no longer the dominant Tribal form in many developed countries. Fewer people have faith in our existing institutions and our capitalist markets are seen as inadequate in distributing wealth. One example is the move to establish a universal basic income in many countries because our markets are unable to effectively distribute wealth.

The TIMN model aligns with changes in how we communicate: Tribes were mostly Oral, Institutions developed with the Written word, Markets were enabled by Print, and Networks communicate Electrically, fragmenting linear literacy. One potential aspect of the Network era is that it will retrieve a more Oral form of discourse, albeit in a new, electric manner. After thousands of years where Writing and Print have dominated, we may be retrieving some aspects of a Tribal society. (more…)

vanity fare

There are many rankings and listings published for most industries and fields. There are also industry prizes, like the Academy Awards or the BAFTA film awards. With some you even have to pay to submit your application. I work in several fields and from time to time get listed as an influencer in some category. Too often these awards and rankings have no published criteria so they appear from the outside to be nothing more than a popularity contest.

If there are no criteria, then these lists or rankings are similar to vanity metrics. They feel good but tell you little.

I have only appeared on two listings that include selection criteria. (more…)

if you are the smartest person in the room …

There is a saying that if you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room. But there is likely a smart person who is knowledgeable about something in every room. Should they all leave?

Looking for people who are smarter than you is a good way to learn. At the same time you should be giving back to your networks and communities. Leadership, especially in networks, is helping others get smarter. It is also helping others make better decisions. The personal knowledge mastery model (PKM) is comprised of three interrelated activities: Seek > Sense > Share. Good leaders not only learn, but share their knowledge at the right time and place. As Kenneth Mikkelsen and I wrote in our HBR article: the best leaders are constant learners, and sharers. By seeking, sensing, and sharing, everyone in an organization can become part of a learning organism, listening at different frequencies, scanning the horizon, recognizing patterns and making better decisions on an informed basis. (more…)

a foundation for the future of work

So what is the future of work and how can we best learn how to adapt to a post-industrial, network economy? There is no shortage of future skills prescribed by various think-tanks and organizations. The World Economic Forum (2016) identified 10 work skills for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. McKinsey & Company (2017) stated that, “We will all need creative visions for how our lives are organized and valued in the future, in a world where the role and meaning of work start to shift”. PwC concluded (2017) that the nature of future jobs is unknown.

“It’s impossible to predict exactly the skills that will be needed even five years from now, so workers and organisations need to be ready to adapt – in each of the worlds we envisage. Inevitably, much of the responsibility will be on the individual. They will need not only to adapt to organisational change, but be willing to acquire new skills and experiences throughout their lifetime, to try new tasks and even to rethink and retrain mid‐career.” —PwC Workforce of the Future (PDF)


sensemaking is not efficient

Every fortnight or so I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds.

“There is no reality except the one contained within us. That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside of them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself.” —Hermann Hesse, via @johnkellden

@johncutlefish: “Teams are often too busy, too highly utilized, too reactive, and too pressured to do the deep work required for sensemaking. Building shared understanding is messy, difficult, and time-consuming. It’s not ‘efficient’.”

@smakelainen: “Code by even a great programmer has ~4 bugs per 1,000 lines of code. Cars today have 150M lines of code. So, even if all of the automotive industry coders were great (they’re not), we’d be talking over half a million bugs on wheels. Isn’t that comforting? (no, it’s not).”

‘A beginner’s guide to critical thinking:
1. Start with a thought
2. Ask “Is this true?”
3. Ask “What makes this true?”
4. Ask “What’s another way to look at this?”
5. Ask “Why?” at each step
6. Reassemble first thought’ —@markpollard


metrics, thy name is vanity

About a year ago I deleted Google Analytics from this website. I no longer know where visitors come from, what they find interesting, or what they click on. This has liberated my thinking and I believe has made my writing a bit better. I always wrote for myself but I would regularly peek at my statistics. Was my viewership going up? What did people read? How did they get there? What search terms were people using? — Who cares?

There are a lot of numbers that ‘social media experts’ will tell you to maximize. But there are few that make any difference. For instance, I put out the word on social media about my social learning workshop: on LinkedIn it had 79 likes and 4,630 views. One of my tweets received 22 link clicks and 5,611 views. But only one metric mattered: registrations. That number was 1. If I kept looking at how often these were shared on social media I might think there was interest in taking my workshop, especially since feedback from participants has been very good. But by focusing on the only real metric, it is obvious that the audience for this workshop is not there. As a result, it is offered less frequently, and is now part of my overall services to companies and organizations. (more…)

leadership is enabling

I have often said that the essence of leadership or management in organizations is helping make your network smarter, more resilient, and able to make better decisions. It is not telling people what to do, or managing how they get things done, especially in an age where more work is unique and non-routine. Those doing the work are often the only ones who really understand the context.

John Wenger says that empowerment is a term that we should avoid when it comes to management of organizations. He says it is better to focus on enablement.

“Empower seems limited to the granting of authority, which can be rescinded when it suits the holder of power, while enable seems much broader to me. It encompasses what someone does to ensure that others have the requisite capabilities and skills to carry out a job well, to take up their own power (potency) and when necessary, showing them the door to gaining new capabilities and skills. It seems to be more akin to equipping and supplying than conferring power. Once equipped, the enabler can then get out of the way and let the person access their own power to get on with it.” —John Wenger