Learning is the work week

It’s Learn @ Work week in Canada. A related article in the HuffPo states that, “Simply put, a culture of learning is nothing more than workplace leaders providing opportunities for learning in a supportive environment.” Is that really it?

learning is the workFor me, it’s never “Learn @ Work” week. It’s always, “Learning is the Work” week.

Thinking of learning as something additional to work is plain wrong in a knowledge-based, creative, networked society and economy.

It is not enough for workplace leaders to merely “provide opportunities for learning”. They need to model learning themselves. But it’s not just about those in leadership positions, as networked organizations need everyone to think and learn for themselves.

Organizational resilience is strengthened when those in leadership roles let go of control, because leadership in networks does not come from above, as there is no top. Leadership is an emergent property of a network in balance and not some special property available to only the select few. As networks become the dominant organizational principle, networked learning is essential to do any work of value. A real learning organization requires leadership from everyone – an aggressively intelligent and engaged workforce, understanding that:

Networked Professional Development

It can sometimes be difficult to see oneself as a node in multiple networks, as opposed to a more conventional position within an organizational hierarchy. We have become used to titles, job descriptions, and other institutional trappings. But network thinking can fundamentally change our view of hierarchical relationships.

For example, I once used value network analysis to help a steering group see their community of practice in a new light. For the first time, they saw it mapped as a network. They immediately realized that they were pushing solutions instead of listening to their community. As a result, they decided to change their Charter and develop more network-centric practices. Thinking in terms of networks can enable us see with new eyes.

effective networks are open

Managing in Networks:

Here are some recommendations for organizations moving to more networked and creative work.

  • Abolish the organization chart and replace it with a network diagram (some new tech companies have done this).
  • Move away from counting hours, to a results only work environment.
  • Encourage outside work that doesn’t directly interfere with paid work, as it will strengthen the network.
  • Provide options for workers to come and go and give them ways to stay connected when they’re not employed (like Ericsson’s Stay Connected Facebook group). Build an ecosystem, not a monolith.
  • Organizations should promote connected leadership.

Learning in Networks:

As we learn in digital networks, stock (content) loses significance, while flow (conversation) becomes more important – the challenge becomes how to continuously weave the many bits of information and knowledge that pass by us each day. Conversations help us make sense. But we need diversity in our conversations or we become insular. We cannot predict what will emerge from continuous learning, co-creating & sharing at the individual, organizational and market level, but we do know it will make for more resilient organizations.

Networked Professional Development:

A professional learning network, with its redundant connections, repetition of information and indirect communications, is a much more resilient system than any designed development program can be. Redundancy is also a good principal for supporting social learning diffusion. There is always more than one way to communicate or find something and just because something was blogged, tweeted or posted does not mean it will be understood and eventually internalized as actionable knowledge. The more complex or novel the idea, the more time it will take to be understood.

Programmers often say that you are only as good as your code. Credentials and certifications often act as blinders and stop us from recognizing the complexity of a situation. As Henry Mencken wrote, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

One approach to working smarter starts by organizing to embrace diversity and manage complexity.  Diversity is a key factor in innovation and there are few organizations that do not want to improve innovation.

At the Connected Knowledge Lab, we offer a place and time to develop network skills. Our next event will focus on building a professional network, providing resources and feedback for anyone interested in getting started. Our workshops are designed to give just enough structure, without constraining personal and social learning, all at a reasonable price.

An organizational knowledge-sharing framework

There is a lot of knowledge in an organization, some of it easy to codify (capture), and much (most) of it difficult to do so. Understanding how best to commit resources for knowledge-sharing should be in some kind of a decision-making framework that is easy for anyone to understand. This is a first attempt to do that.

[This post is a follow-up from my building institutional memory post].

Brian Gongol made an interesting observation on three categories of institutional memory. Decision memories are probably the most important, and likely the most open to rationalization in hindsight. The good decisions always seem obvious after the fact.

  • event memories, which are things like the construction of new facilities or the arrival of new employees

  • process memories, which note how things are done in order to save time and ensure their reliable repetition in the future

  • decision memories, which explain how the institution chose one path or policy or course of action over another

We can expand these three categories with Ewen La Borgne’s observation on the types of artifacts left by work projects. Outputs are quite explicit, while expertise is mostly implicit knowledge. Networks can be mapped, and are therefore explicit, but interpreting them requires implicit knowledge.

  • Information and outputs produced

  • Expertise (knowledge and know-how)

  • A network of connections

Put all of these together in order of difficulty in codifying memories/artifacts and the following graphic is my working interpretation. Explicit knowledge is easier to codify and more suitable for enterprise-wide initiatives, while implicit knowledge requires personal interpretation and engagement to make sense of it. Note that these six categories only serve as examples and are not a complete spectrum of knowledge representations.

codifying knowledge

So what types of knowledge management (KM) frameworks could help us support the codification of these knowledge artifacts? One way to look at it would be from a perspective discussed by Patti Anklam a few years back. Patti explained the differences between Big KM, Little KM and Personal KM and this distinction could be useful. Big KM is good for knowledge that can be easily codified, and Little KM can provide a structure for teams & groups to try out new things (in a Probe-Sense-Respond way). PKM puts individuals in control of their sense-making, but the organization can benefit from this by making it easier for workers to share knowledge.

structuring knowledge

Finally, there are certain types of tools and and platforms that would be more suitable for sharing of each type of knowledge artifact. I describe only a few in this image, but it gives an idea of how one could structure a full spectrum of knowledge-sharing in order to support institutional memory.

knowledge sharing

From here, one can now ask what types of platforms would help to codify and share the knowledge that is important to any organization. For larger organizations, all three types of KM are most likely necessary. Too often, Big KM is seen as sufficient, but in complex work environments, Little KM and Personal KM are also needed and should work in conjunction with Big KM. These are three important pieces, that should remain loosely joined in order for each to do what it does best.

Building institutional memory, one story at a time

Institutional memory, which I wrote about recently, is a mixture of explicit and implicit knowledge sharing. It can be as explicit as Harvard Business School’s Institutional Memory site, or as implicit as the feeling one gets from a well-known local legend. A lot depends on what the organization wants to preserve. Is it how-to knowledge, like a trade secret formula, or is it certain practices and norms that define the culture? Or is it both? Each institution has to define this for itself.

Implicit knowledge is difficult to share and is usually complex. We know that this type of knowledge cannot easily be codified. However, it’s often what gives institutions sustainability and even competitive advantage. Finding ways to collect and share both types of knowledge is important for institutional memory. Stories can be an effective medium for these exchanges. The Ritz-Carlton provides an excellent example with Stories that Stay with You. Stories do not have to be exceptional to be effective, and simple anecdotes may be better on a large scale, rather than sweeping epics, or one can wind up in the uncanny valley of business storytelling.


Institutional memory is a close cousin of knowledge management. Both can be strengthened with a firm foundation of personal knowledge management (Seek-Sense-Share). While seeking and sense-making are mostly individual activities and people should be allowed to use what’s best for them, the organization can overtly support knowledge sharing. One suggestion is to create more opportunities for “people to have coffee together”. Though it’s not the coffee that’s important, the act of gathering, combined with an environment that encourages capturing and sharing knowledge artifacts, serves to build institutional memory.


The Storytelling Animal

storytelling-animalIn The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gottschall tells us how stories make us human. The book looks at gender differences in weaving our own stories, the cultural significance of stories, and some of the science and pseudo-science on story, narration and memory. It boils down to a simple formula, says Gottschall.

Story = Character + Predicament + Attempted Extrication

This made me consider how this could be important for institutional memory. Would this be a good formula to try to capture past events from those who have experienced them? It could be, but it might be highly dependent on how much time has passed and how important accuracy is, as we are not very good at remembering, especially critical, or ‘flashbulb’, events. “Memory isn’t an outright fiction; it is merely a fictionalization“, says Gottschall.

“The signature flashbulb event of our age is 9/11, which led to a bonanza of false-memory research. The research shows two things: that people are extremely sure of their 9/11 memories and that upward of 70% of us misremember key aspects of the attacks … In one study, 73 percent of research subjects misremembered watching, horrified, as the first plane plowed into the North Tower on the morning of September 11.

The research shows that our memories get worse over time, but our stories, as we remember them, become much clearer. We have a propensity for self-delusion, something every jury member should always keep in mind. But fiction (story) is much more powerful than non-fiction. Gottschall discusses the power of Wagner’s mythology on Hitler, as well as how the book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, influenced the 19th century anti-slavery movement.

“When we read nonfiction, we read with our shields up. We are critical and skeptical. But when we are absorbed in a story, we drop our intellectual guard. We are moved emotionally, and this seems to leave us defenseless.”

Consider the above statement and think about training. Would it not be more effective if content was developed as stories? How about knowledge management? I think stories would be most effective for new hire training. Perhaps we should focus less on instructional design or knowledge repositories. Instead, organizations could engage good story tellers. We hear a lot about the importance of curation in the digital workplace today. The best curators are also story tellers.

I enjoyed this book and learned a fair bit from it, but it is not a book that deals much with how stories can be used for KM or other organizational purposes.

Institutional Memory

Roger Schank has several interesting articles posted on his site in the Corporate Memory section, which I decided to dive into recently.

In The Future of Knowledge Management, he says that the main problem with KM systems is that they do not copy how real people think and that unlike a person, a “KM system simply gets slower as a result of more information”. He proposes creating software scripts to organize information, but these must be capable of self-modification. I have not seen any systems that really do this well, yet. Schank concludes:

There is a lot of knowledge in an enterprise that can be used to organize new knowledge that is coming in. People understand new knowledge in terms of what they already know. A smart KM system must know a lot of about an industry and a particular enterprise before it starts up. This is hard but by no means impossible. And it is the future of software – namely software that really knows a great deal about your business.

Until these types of systems are available though, I would encourage individuals to practice personal knowledge management and use enterprise social networks to share within the organization. It may not be as elegant, but I know it can be implemented today, with existing technologies and skills that can be developed by anyone.

Algorithmic search filters that can push things out, based on certain criteria are what Schank calls “Information that Finds You”. Add geo-location and you can get immediate feedback on things around you. These exist, but take time to setup and maintain. In organizations, providing coaching and support on how to optimize our software & hardware tools (our outboard brains) is often lacking. Not only is there a need for a learning concierge but also a basic digital concierge, so that we can use our tools optimally. For instance, even doing an advanced online search query is beyond the grasp of most people on the Net.

Schank also writes about the need for a Reminding Machine, which is based on the premise that knowledge is best communicated just in time.

A reminding machine has thousands of stories from experts in various areas of life telling about important aspects of their lives that have lessons about life in them, the kind of stories you might tell to colleagues or to students … In order to build this machine it is necessary to collect people’s stories and index them according to the goals and plans that a story instantiates.

In his keynote at DARPA in 2010, Schank discusses story telling and KM in great detail. Here are some highlights

  • Stories: should be full of details but short
  • Lecture: people cannot think about what they are thinking and listen to the speaker at the same time
  • Stories, to be effective, must not be too abstract for the person listening. Listeners must be able to absorb the stories.
  • Comprehension means “mapping your stories onto my stories”. It’s difficult to communicate with someone who has different stories.
  • In good stories, we do not give answers.

There are 12 Fundamental Cognitive Processes, according to Schank:

  1. Prediction
  2. Modelling
  3. Experimentation
  4. Evaluation
  5. Diagnosis*
  6. Planning*
  7. Causation
  8. Judgement
  9. Influence
  10. Teamwork
  11. Negotiation
  12. Describing*

* These processes are what Schank calls “The Big Three”.

Several examples of the 12 processes are presented as stories in the second video of the keynote.

For anyone interested in institutional memory, story telling, or knowledge management, all four videos are well worth watching. Roger Schank concludes that the most difficult part in all of this is actually collecting the stories. The best people to collect stories from are those who are able to admit that they mismanaged, botched, or bungled something. This can be a real challenge in organizations that do not discuss failure.

The network is the solution

Our future needs to be focused on learning, not instruction. The key to a flourishing civilization in the network era is sense-making. We have to move from what David Warlick describes as individualized instruction to personalized learning. In the latter, “Literacy becomes a wide range of evolving information skills developed around the activities of learning – the ability to acquire knowledge and skills through the resourceful and responsible utilization of information.” Self-instruction, the basis of personal knowledge mastery, is a necessity in effective peer-to-peer networks, as networks are how we will govern ourselves more and more. David Ronfeldt articulates this with his TIMN [Tribes-Institutions-Markets-Networks] framework.

TIMN has long maintained that, beyond today’s common claims that government or market is the solution, we are entering a new era in which it will be said that the network is the solution (e.g., here and here). Aging contentions that turning to “the government” or “the market” is the way to address particular public-policy issues will eventually give way to innovative ideas that “the network” is the optimal solution.

We all need to understand how to become contributing members of networks, for work and for life. This should be the primary focus of all education.

“Reed’s Law” posits that value in networks increases exponentially as interactions move from a broadcasting model that offers “best content” (in which value is described by n, the number of consumers) to a network of peer-to-peer transactions (where the network’s value is based on “most members” and mathematically described by n2).  But by far the most valuable networks are based on those that facilitate group affiliations, Reed concluded. – David Bollier

Without sense-making skills, the citizenry cannot understand complex issues, such as individual privacy versus national security. These issues require networked, human intelligence, not broadcast sound bites nor ‘learning objects’.

Sensemaking should drive policy. Policy drives decisions. Decisions, of course, need to be informed. If the People don’t know what makes their world go ‘round, the folks on the Hill sure won’t. Globalized governments can’t. – What the Snowden Case Teaches Us

As David Bollier concludes, “Legitimate authority is ultimately vested in a community’s ongoing, evolving social life, and not in ritualistic forms of citizenship.” Should not education move beyond ritualistic forms of subjects, classes, and certifications and toward ongoing, evolving social learning? How else will we be able to deal with the complexities of this networked, connected sphere that we inhabit?

Jon Husband writes that we are all in this together:

The interconnected Information Age is beginning to show us that we’re all linked together – and that the whole system matters.

This principle applies to organizations, to networks of customers, suppliers, employees and communities, to our societies and to the planet.

New language for this principle is popping up everywhere – knowledge networks, intranets, communities of practice, systems thinking, swarming, social software, social networks, tipping points.

Awareness is the key.  Maintain an “open focus”.

Being aware of yourself, others and the effects of your actions and ways of being in relation to others is a fundamental requirement in these conditions.

Note: This post was written in order to put a number of ideas together into an initial narrative, mostly for myself. To me, it makes sense, as I have read and tried to unpack the many linked articles. For the casual reader, this may not be so clear. – Harold

Create conversation spaces

Curation is more than integration, writes Rick Segal in Forbes [via Robin Good]. Segal discusses how marketing is about curating all the conversations around a subject.

In truth, curation has more to do with the multi-participant communications flowing in the stream of social media conversation …

Now, marketing communications must be framed by the conversation, and not just by the marketer, but by all the parties to the conversation …

A conversation is not like an exhibit hall. It’s physical boundaries are potentially limitless, though most can and will exhaust in time. The membership of a conversation is certainly not always well-controlled. A new meme or raconteur can abscond with it, if we’re not careful. Not everything that shows up belongs. But the great curator, like the great raconteur, is always two or three stories or anecdotes ahead of the rest of the table.

Now think of this from a workplace performance perspective. Solving complex problems also requires “multi-participant communications”. In the network age, learning is conversation. But aren’t training courses more like “exhibit halls”? They are prepared in advance, checked for quality control, and delivered with the best look & feel. Conversations are messier with ill-defined boundaries; just like work and just like life.

Informal Learning Conversations

Personal knowledge management is akin to pre-curation. If we look at workplace performance support as curation, then creating spaces for conversation would be an obvious component. Getting all the necessary parties involved in workplace conversations can enhance knowledge-sharing and contribute to greater diversity of ideas, a necessity for innovation. I think training & organizational development can learn a lot from marketing, but of course I’ve said that before.

networked unlearning

Our nature – our bias towards an inward focus based on tradition and the past, or an external focus on what we’re seeing around us – cuts across age. Those of us who are willing to question our assumptions will find that we can unlearn (and relearn) at any age. Those who put more weight on what they already know will struggle to change at any age. Today’s digital native will be tomorrow’s digital dinosaur if they are unable to unlearn. That bleeding edge agile practitioner who dogmatically insists that they won’t work with unless you follow these four (in their view) essential agile practices has more in common with their older colleagues still clinging to waterfall methodologies than they are comfortable admitting. —Peter Evans-Greenwood

How can we avoid becoming dogmatic? I think social media can help a lot. Today, we can easily connect to networks that offer diverse views. Inge de Waard uses the example of research tribes: “When joining forces with people that have a common language – but different viewing angles – everyone learns as there is some kind of zone of proximal development there, or it can be created based on mutual conversation and dialogue.” Social media are tools that can help us develop emergent practices. They enable conversations between people separated by distance or time. Social media can facilitate the sharing of tacit knowledge through conversations to inform the collaborative development of emergent work practices. Conversations that push our limits enable critical thinking, which boils down to questioning assumptions, including our own.

One way to build a cognitive web toolbox would be to start with each of the four critical thinking categories shown in the image above. Each sub-category is just an example, and includes many different tools. One can start unlearning by finding and mastering tools that allow you to critically observe and study your field, participate in conversations that  push your understanding, challenge your assumptions, evaluate others’ arguments, and make tentative opinions that in turn will be challenged.

Unlearning takes practice. Living in a state of perpetual Beta can also be uncomfortable. The key is to be engaged in your learning. It requires strong opinions, loosely held. That means going out on a limb knowing you may be criticized. It also means putting forth half-baked ideas, which over time and exposure may develop into something more solid.

But finding and weaving our knowledge networks is getting easier with over two billion of us connected by the Internet. This scale and diversity is an advantage, not something to be concerned about. There is no such thing as information overload. I have yet to see someone completely filled with information. The real challenge is finding the right information. The more I learn, the more I realize I have to learn even more.

As Peter says in the article quoted above, “… it’s not learning that is the challenge, it’s our ability to unlearn that’s holding many of us back.” But we don’t need to unlearn alone. Our networks can help us unlearn; if they are are open, transparent, and most importantly, diverse. A more descriptive term for Personal Knowledge Mastery might just be Networked Unlearning or connected critical thinking.

Taking Charge of your own Development

I was interviewed by Rob Paterson (podcast at link) this week and we talked about work, jobs and taking charge of your own professional development. Rob summarized our half-hour together with these points. It is a real pleasure to have someone else encapsulate what you think.

  • The Change in Work – It’s not just factory workers but even Doctors that are going to be automated or outsourced. So how will you make a living? Only truly creative work will pay.
  • So what is Creative Work? – It is not just design etc but will include making valuable things and even growing food – and new sites such as Etsy enable you to find a market
  • The Industrial World Deskilled work – It all became assembly – Anything like this can be automated and will be
  • The jobs cannot come back
  • Training works well when you want to learn how to drive a car – you can train to be a carpenter but making the shift to be creative or to stand for themseleves – you cannot train for that

What is the new?

  • So what helps you be this new person?
  • Apprenticing – complex things cannot be learned except by shared experience
  • The crafts communities have never lost this – learn the rules and then learn how to break them – look at studios – very little teaching – mainly doing
  • Then you have to get connected to your community
  • All sorts of studios will emerge that will help you where clusters of people who know aggregate
  • The Knowledge Artisans have to take charge of themselves

What about advice for you?

  • Learn REAL skills – not just how to make it in an organization
  • Learn how to have a network – in the job world we don’t have them – many of us don’t know anything about this if we have had a job – so start now
  • This must be diverse and be about your interests
  • Put yourself OUT THERE
  • You are as good as your network
  • Think of yourself as a Freelancer for Life – and so always nuture your network  no matter what – avoid getting lulled into a sense of false security

His [my] advice to his [our] kids

  • Find the sweet spot (Dave Pollard) Find out your passion, what you are good at and what people will pay you for
  • You have to have all three

Rob just wrote a book, the first in a series, called You Don’t Need a Job. If you could spend an evening with Rob, I am sure he would share much of what he has written here. But for less than the price of buying him a glass of red wine [his preference I would guess] you can purchase this e-book for only $2.99. Rob provides an interesting way to look at the changing nature of work, and how people are reacting to the fact that the economy and society have fundamentally shifted.

We can see the world now dividing into three camps. There is a camp in Phase I [childhood]. They want simple answers. They want the good old days where women know their place and God rules the natural world. All who are not with them are against them. There is a camp in phase II [teenager]. They want to belong. Status is granted to them by belonging to the system. They want structures that can be predicted. The natural world is only a resource. They want control. And finally there is phase III [adulthood]. Here people need to express themselves. They need to be part of what is going on. They feel connected to all people and to all things.

There is lots of good advice in this first manual for the network era. You may not need a job, but we all need to work together in creating better structures for exchanging value. This book can help. Rob’s next book, You don’t need a Banker, will be out soon. Rob is also an ex investment banker, and has seen the inside of the beast, so I am sure we will learn much from him on this subject.