Looking back on my blog posts from 10 years ago — March 2013 — here are some that remain valid [in my opinion anyway].
perpetual beta is the new reality
Work in networks requires different skills than in directed hierarchies. Cooperation is a foundational behaviour for effectively working in networks, and it’s in networks where most of us will be working. Cooperation presumes the freedom of individuals to join and participate so that people in the network cannot be told what to do, only influenced. If they don’t like you, they won’t connect. In a hierarchy you only have to please your boss. In a network you have to be seen as having some value, though not the same value, by many others.
we need to learn how to connect
Increasing connections should be a primary business focus. It should also be the aim of HR and learning & development departments. Connections increase as people cooperate in networks (not focused on any direct benefits for helping others). Diverse networks can emerge from cooperation that is supported by transparency and openness in getting work done. Basically, better external connections also make a worker more valuable internally. Fostering this perspective will be a huge change from the way many organizations work today.
“Ideas lead technology. Technology leads organizations. Organizations lead institutions. Then ideology brings up the rear, lagging all the rest—that’s when things really get set in concrete.” —Charles Green (2009)
So basically, ideas are enabled by new technology around which new organizations are created. Only then do new institutions get built in order to support the new dominant ideology.
first structure the work system
The tension I see in workplaces today is a direct result of two (almost) opposing principles for organizational design that are necessary in workplaces that deal with complex environments, networks, emergent practices, and cooperative work. First, complex work requires strong ties and high levels of trust to enable work teams to function. On the other hand, innovation needs loose ties and a wide network to get diverse points of view. In these loose networks, cooperation (sharing freely without any quid pro quo) is the order of the day, not collaboration (working together toward a common objective).
Work and learning are in dynamic tension at all times. Some action and coordination in the workplace can be automated with performance support systems, however collaboration and cooperation are still intensely human and require continuous learning.
I liken our dominant educational structure as the offspring of a shotgun wedding between industrialists who needed literate workers to operate their machinery, and progressives who wanted to lift up the common person from poverty and drudgery. It wasn’t an easy marriage, and the children are a tad dysfunctional now. The union was never able to clearly identify the guiding principle of education.
We have not yet been able to effectively integrate democracy and business. Our current education systems, while flawed, still have some democratic oversight. In a networked world, our society needs to be more democratic, not less. Just as some business leaders are beginning to realize the potential of democracy in the enterprise, now is not the time to remove democracy from education. If work is learning, and learning is the work, there is little hope for democratic business if education becomes a business. For our future to remain democratic, both education and business need to be based on its fundamental principles. We are at a crossroads. Let’s cancel this wedding.
The major problem with the ‘gamification’ of professional learning is that work is already a game. It is an artificial construct that society has created, and many of us have to play. Adding badges, or other extrinsic motivators, to professional learning only detracts from the real game. It also creates incentives that, when removed, may result in going back to previous behaviours.
open as in commons, not garden
This week Google announced that it will close down Google Reader, an RSS aggregator that I have found useful, after Bloglines went offline and then changed its operating model. Reader is a very important part of my PKM process, especially the “Seek” part. I have just switched to Feedly and will see how it works. At this stage I am more inclined to find paid services than free ones. As they say on the web, if you’re not paying for it, you are the product.
People will freely share their knowledge only if they remain in control of it. Knowledge is a very personal thing. Most workers do not care about organizational knowledge bases. They care about what they need to get work done. However, if we are going to build organizational knowledge from individual knowledge-sharing, we have to connect the two.
The knowledge sharing paradox is that enterprise social tools constrain what they are supposed to enhance. Why would someone share everything they know on an enterprise network, knowing that on the inevitable day that they leave, their knowledge artifacts will remain behind?
The elephant in the room is human nature. Enterprise knowledge sharing will never be as good as what networked individuals can do. Individuals who own their knowledge networks will invest more in them.
no cookie cutters for complexity
Case studies abound in business and many sell for a significant amount. But other than for general education, they’re rather useless. Each organization’s situation is not only different, it’s changing. Case studies and best practices in business are like the arbitrary subjects in our schools. They’re easy to package but don’t transfer well into real life.
Few managers ask the tough questions, like what are the underlying assumptions of how we do business and do they make sense? Are any of our practices self-defeating?
Many best practices are self-evident. They’ve worked for years and address relatively simple systems. But the business issues that consume us are most likely complex. Instead of looking for best practices, take that time and money to invest in an experiment.