simplifying the complexity

Complex Problems

I like complex problem-solving. Perhaps my most interesting project was when a client gave me a statement of work to ‘simplify the complexity’. I did not have a solution but felt that with my extended network I would be able to solve their problem. I have explained this project in detail (video) and how I was able to make connections with people in my network as well as access the materials I had curated over the years and saved to my blog and other retrievable media. In this case, ‘chance favoured the connected mind‘, as Stephen B. Johnson would say.

In the end I was able to develop a simple lens to evaluate current and future tools against the learning and performance requirements of the company. One advantage of this project was that I had worked with the company previously and understood the context of the work. The image below is an example of how we evaluated each tool in the enterprise.

This lens enabled the company to implement a suite of tools so that each component was a primary capability of at least one tool and that there was not too much overlap. Later I used this tool to evaluate the entire Microsoft suite of enterprise tools, as part of a paid writing project for the company’s Office 365 initiative. The lens has since been revised and adapted as 7 facets for knowledge sharing. My work is in perpetual beta.

Social Learning

Another project that started as research on best practices for the implementation of action-based learning (e.g. the 70-20-10 model), turned into the development of an implementation framework. This informed the overall learning strategy for a new national public service school. The resulting framework is the structure of my social learning workshop, covering nine modern workplace learning strategies that align with the 70:20:10 principle: 70% Experience, 20% Exposure, 10% Education.

Three components need to be addressed for a modern workplace learning strategy: Tools, Skills, and People. We are dependent on the right tools to do our work. Workers need the independence of being self-directed in their work, selecting appropriate tools based on their skills. But most work today is interdependent, requiring us to work with others.

  1. Tools: required to do the work or learn how to do it. This is the focus of the fields of performance improvement and performance support.
  2. Skills: individuals need the skills to be able to learn for themselves and make sense of their work and their lives. Personal Knowledge Mastery is one framework that supports self-directed learning.
  3. People: all workers have to be able to work with, and learn from, others. This is social learning, which can be enabled through policies, practices, and social media. Action-based learning is how learning at work can be supported, formally and informally.

While multiple good practices and methods could have been recommended, I suggested that it was best to master a few and implement them vigorously. Therefore, there are only nine components that made up the structure of this continuous, action-based learning strategy that goes from the classroom, to the workplace, into the community, and beyond.

Co-solving Problems

The focus in all of my work is co-creation as a service. While I offer my public workshops, like PKM and Social Learning, I can help clients create their own programs. For example, Carlsberg uses the PKM framework in its leadership development, and Bangor University uses it to inform the undergraduate Psychology curriculum. My experience has helped a number of organizations, from the inside and outside, to coach and guide them in creating professional development programs or transition projects.

Buying ‘off-the-shelf’ will not address the unique requirements for learning and working in any complex organizational environment. Co-creation is a better option.

2 Responses to “simplifying the complexity”

  1. Shaun Browne

    I am a big fan of Jefferey Kruger’s book “Simplexity – Why Simple Things Become Complex (and How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple)” The concepts in his 2008 book outline how systems and processes become more complex over time, and these over-complicated systems lead people away from mastery, replacing it with complexity, exclusivity and expert-ism.

    You work in PKM and social learning, as well as building democratized co-creation are excellent ways of building knowledge, skills, and process mastery.

    Shaun Browne


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