understanding our tools

“We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”Father John Culkin (1967) in  ‘A Schoolman’s Guide to Marshall McLuhan’.

If every medium influences communication, then what effect does that have on our own learning as well as how we help others to learn? We choose our tools, and then they take is in a certain direction, of which we may not be conscious.  Knowing which tool to select becomes critical, especially in communications. Email can be terse, while Twitter is short and lacks nuance. The printed word does not have the emotion of the spoken word. Video can be all emotion and little substance. Consider the power of Riefenstahl’s 1934 film, Triumph of the Will for Nazi Germany. It was all about emotion and imagery, with almost no narration. (more…)

working to learn

This is an extract from Learning to work and working to learn by Ronald Barnett, published in 1999. It is even more relevant seventeen years later.

“In this chapter, I shall suggest that, in understanding their relationships in the contemporary era, work and learning can profitably be placed against the background of wider societal and even global shifts. I shall suggest that we live in an age of supercomplexity. That is to say, we live in an age in which our very frameworks for comprehending the world, for acting in it and for relating to each other are entirely problematic. We live in a world characterised by contestability, challengeability, uncertainty and unpredictability.

My argument is that, under conditions of supercomplexity, work has to become learning and learning has to become work. These imperatives – as they have now become – arise out of the fragility of the supercomplex environment in which we are all placed. We cannot escape the conditions of supercomplexity which face us in ‘the global age’ (Albrow 1996). As a result, learning in work takes on a new urgency. Equally, learning has itself to be seen as work, as a set of activities which stand, to some extent, outside of individuals and which yields value beyond that of the individuals’ efforts. Only through taking work and learning seriously in these ways can we begin to address the age of supercomplexity in which we find ourselves.”


friday’s factual finds

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

“Purposeful play. Play equals trust. A space where we can take risks. Only by taking risks do we get to learn about ourselves & each other.”@ImSporticus

“Most metrics ignore: Collaboration, Relationship-building, Capacity-building, Knowledge generation, and Kindness”@4KM

“Remember when people thought the Internet, social media, twitter, etc. would strengthen democracy & undermine authoritarians? Oh well.”@StephenWalt

“You know it is a tribe when it only learns to protect itself or profit, not to civilise.”@gpetriglieri

“‘Fake news’ is lazy language. Be specific. Do you mean: A) Propaganda B) Disinformation C) Conspiracy theory D) Clickbait”@7im (more…)

closing the learning-knowledge loop

For 10 years Jane McConnell has been researching organizations in the digital age. The latest report surveyed 311 people from 27 countries, representing a variety of global companies from 18 market sectors. Participants responded to an in-depth online survey of over 100 questions. I was a member of the Advisory Board.

I would like to focus on one finding that Jane discussed recently on LinkedIn Pulse.

11. Learning is easier than remembering.

Learning in the natural flow of work is becoming easier. E-learning, real-time access to experts and communities of practice facilitate learning while working. 56% now say it is easy, compared to 23% three years ago. Responsibility for learning lies primarily with people themselves, rather than their manager or the HR department.

Remembering, or retaining knowledge and know-how when people leave the organization is extremely difficult. In the last three editions of the report, fewer than 15% of organizations expressed confidence in retaining knowledge and know-how when people leave. These organizations differ from the others in several ways, but two primary distinctions are that people tend to work out loud and leadership styles in the organization are open and participatory.

Learning in organizations seems to be easy, while remembering and using knowledge is hard. This highlights the difference between the disciplines of ‘Organizational Learning’ and ‘Knowledge Management’. (more…)

designing the emergent organization

In The Rise of Emergent Organizations, Beth Comstock, Vice Chair at GE, provides some rules of thumb to guide organizational design for the emerging network era. It is wonderful to see a large corporation putting into practice the recommendations I, and many others, have been making on organizational design for more than a decade. I have taken five of these rules of thumb and annotated them with images from my last book in the perpetual beta series: Working in Perpetual Beta. With such an example set by GE, more organizations should be able to convince their executives that a serious redesign of how they work is essential. The alternative does not look good.

“The Elephant in the Room: Our current approach to business and employment (two crucial drivers of the economy) are designed to screw and take advantage of far too many people in the workforce. Extensive changes are required to fix this, much faster than most leaders are willing to admit, talk about, or address.

The elephant in the room is the future of work and every person’s place in that future.”

Bill Jensen


no shortcuts to mastery

“Teaching and coaching are fundamentally about helping making other people better. Learning to do this can’t be done via shortcuts. It requires a willingness to be patient, to take your time and have a deep desire to develop your craft.” —@IamSporticus

This has been my challenge with personal knowledge mastery. I learned about PKM on my own and through practice, reflection, and connecting with others. I have developed and modified the Seek > Sense > Share model over twelve years. Through this process I have achieved some level of mastery, but I have more to learn.

When I ran my first PKM workshop it was a day-long event through the University of Toronto’s iSchool. But I soon realized that one day was not enough time. Without time to follow-up and reflect, I was merely exposing people to some ideas, and few were able to take any action on them. Later, I developed the online 40 day program and this was well received but many people asked to do it again as they had not been able to do all of the activities. This year I extended the 40 day program to 60 days. Some people excelled with this format. Others still did not have enough time. (more…)

taking back our society

Monopolies & the Human Condition

When monopolies succeed, the people fail …”, Henry Demarest Lloyd wrote in March 1881, denouncing the practices of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. Almost a century later, John Kenneth Galbraith warned of the dangers of blindly having faith in our capital market system and the organizations and institutions that support it.

“The greater danger is in the subordination of belief to the needs of the modern industrial system … These are that technology is always good; that economic growth is always good; that firms must always expand; that consumption of goods is the principal source of happiness; that idleness is wicked; and that nothing should interfere with the priority we accord to technology, growth, and increased consumption.” —The Atlantic 1967-06-01

Both Demarist Lloyd and Galbraith saw the flaws in the capitalist system, especially the tendency to think of people as mere replaceable human capital. In 1994, Peter Drucker discussed the rise of the knowledge worker, a term Drucker coined in 1959. This had the potential to shift the focus of our production systems from capital to labour. But Drucker saw that the shift to a society of knowledge workers would not be easy, as we are still struggling with it today.

“It is also the first society in which not everybody does the same work, as was the case when the huge majority were farmers or, as seemed likely only forty or fifty years ago, were going to be machine operators.

This is far more than a social change. It is a change in the human condition.” —The Atlantic 1994-11-01

Today, we deal with some of the same struggles against monopolies as Demarist Lloyd, but we are several billion more people, facing climate change and environmental degradation. At the same time, our democracies are under attack from the abuse of surveillance technologies by corporations and governments.

The political tide is shifting to embrace tribalism. The change in the human condition identified by Drucker requires new thinking and putting new models in practice. Our existing institutions do not offer these. Our markets, especially our labour markets, are not designed for this change in the human condition. Automation, coupled with non-routine work as the norm, fundamentally changes our concepts of labour and earning a living. (more…)

custom pkm workshops

Do you need to develop and support a digitally savvy workforce that can continuously learn? Personal knowledge mastery develops four critical future work skills, as identified by the Institute for the Future: sense-making, social intelligence, new media literacy, and cognitive load management. PKM feeds working out loud and organizational knowledge management. (more…)

perpetual beta working model

The perpetual beta working model is just that: a working model about working. I have developed several models that inform my professional practice, such as the network learning model that shows how work and learning have to be connected. The triple operating system describes how organizations can connect three types of networks. All of these models are founded on individuals taking control of their learning and professional development while actively engaging in social networks and communities of practice. This is the personal knowledge mastery (PKM) framework and the Seek > Sense > Share model. (more…)

open, transparent & diverse

There is a lot of talk about being in a post-truth (lying) era and the amount of fake news displayed on social media. Because of this, many well-known people have left social media platforms, with public announcements of course. Paul Prinsloo shows the disconnect we face when engaging with these platform monopolies: “Yes, I know Facebook uses my clicks and ‘likes’ to profile me. Yes I know the space is increasingly becoming creepy … Yes, I am increasingly aware of those watching. But for now, Twitter and Facebook are my oxygen that allows me to breathe.”

If you are already famous you don’t need social media. If you have a well-paying secure job, you do not need social media: yet. If you (still) have tenure, you do not need social media. Most of the rest of us need it: to stay current, to learn, to find work, to escape our geographical limitations.

“In other words, while being a privileged white guy working in a reasonably-prestigious university might mean that he can avoid the 21st century for a while, for the rest of us social tools enable us to make important connections, do innovation work, and increase our serendipity surface.” —Doug Belshaw