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When learning is the work …

Posted on February 5th, 2012 by Harold Jarche

What if your organization got rid of the Learning & Development function? What would the average manager or department head do? What would workers do?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while. When work is learning, and learning is the work, training that is pushed from outside has less relevance. The L&D department is supposed to ensure that training is appropriate for the job, but with jobs constantly morphing into something else, a major disconnect is developing between the doers and the trainers. How many people take courses that are not relevant to their current work or are provided at the wrong time?

Let me propose some things managers and knowledge workers can do without a Learning & Development department.

Observe how people are learning to do their work already. Find these natural pathways and reinforce them.

Connect any “how-to” learning to the actual task. Show and tell only works if it can be put into practice. The forgetting curve is steep when there is no practice.

Make it everyone’s job to share what they learn. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to find “how-to” videos and explanations on the Web? That’s because someone has taken the time to post them. Everyone in the organization should do this, whether it’s a short text, a photo, a post, an article, a presentation with notes, or a full-blown video.

Make space to talk about things and capture what is passed on. Get these conversations in the open where they can be shared. Provide time and space for reflection and reading. There is more knowledge outside any organization than inside.

Break down barriers. Establish transparency as the default mode, so that anyone can know what others are doing. Unblock communication bottlenecks, like supervisors who control information flow. If supervisors can’t handle an open environment, get rid of them, because they are impeding organizational learning and it’s now mission critical.

If you do have an L&D department, share what you doing and perhaps they will help you become more self-sufficient for your organizational learning. If they don’t, ignore them, as they will be going away anyway.



Filed under: 21C_Leader, Informal Learning, SocialLearning | 3 Comments »

Friday’s finds in February

Posted on February 3rd, 2012 by Harold Jarche

Here are some of the observations and insights that were shared via Twitter this past week.

@JaneBozarth – “Setting up only private internal social media platforms is like having phones that won’t call outside the building.”

On perpetual Beta & Social Learning: Are You Learning as Fast as the World Is Changing? – via @TimKastelle

Finally, and most personally, successful learners work hard not to be loners. These days, the most powerful insights often come from the most unexpected places — the hidden genius locked inside your company, the collective genius of customers, suppliers, and other smart people who would be eager to teach you what they know if you simply asked for their insights. But tapping this learning resource requires a new leadership mindset — enough ambition to address tough problems, enough humility to be willing to learn from everyone you encounter. Nobody alone learns as quickly as everybody together.

Clueless in Davos – “A very interesting article in the Foreign Policy magazine about the relevance of Davos – via @AdrianCheok”

… the forum’s two major flaws. The first is that the Davos meeting is a gathering of the global establishment. By definition, establishments are slow and even unable to see and understand developments that run contrary to the orthodoxy of the establishment. One should never expect the unexpected from an establishment institution. The second flaw is even more serious. It is that the theory of globalization underlying the Davos concept is false. That theory holds that globalization is a win-win economic movement that will enrich the whole world and thereby lead the nations to democracy and eternal peace.

Going Mainstream by @reubentozman via @quinnovator

The next change required is to stop talking about “performance support” as though it were a job aid or a little something you use to support a training effort. We need to start talking about performance support as though it were the very essence of what we do and look at training as something that may be used when required. We also tend to use performance support to talk about “just-in-time” training. In the world of business process mapping and systems thinking, everything is “just in time.” All of our interventions need to come when required as dictated by the system. The questions we need to continually ask ourselves are how do we strengthen the system? What interventions and when will lead to better performance of the system?

QR Codes: bad idea or terrible idea? – via @KevinMarks

The only place you should use QR codes is if you have a dedicated reader for them, like a classic barcode scanner, and a workflow that is designed for this that actually saves time. If you do empirical research on using QR codes for the public, you’ll likely see 80% worse performance than text, like this museum did. By all means try the experiment and report your results. Put up a QR code and a printed URL and see which gets the most usage.


Photo by Scott Blake

Filed under: Friday's Finds | No Comments »

Enabling Innovation – Book

Posted on February 2nd, 2012 by Harold Jarche

spacer I had the pleasure of writing an article for the book, Enabling Innovation: Innovative Capability – German and International Views as a follow-up to some work I did with the EU’s International Monitoring Organisation. An interesting aspect of this book is that major articles are written by German researchers and then shorter comments or additions are presented from an international perspective. My article was in response to a weighty paper by Sibylle Peters, entitled, New Forms of Project Organisation and Project Management – Dynamic and Open.


The increasing structuring of work and organizational processes by forming project involves new challenges to the handling of knowledge work and expands the scope to generate innovations. The classic project management alone is less and less able to manage complex, uncertain, knowledge-based processes. Through alternative approaches social, actor-oriented topics of management will be adressed.

If all you want to read is my short article, then let me save you the $189.00 list price for this book.

Managing in Complexity

In New Forms of Project Organisation and Project Management – Dynamic and Open a key theme discussed is the lack of flexibility of traditional project management methods in dealing with complexity.

With increasing requirements for complex and creative work we need new models to get things done. Many of our practices are still premised on work being simple or complicated. Simple systems are easily knowable, whereas complicated systems, while not not simple, are still knowable through analysis. These can be easily managed. However, complex systems are not fully knowable though they can be partially understood through interaction with them. This is antithetical to many of the control protocols of traditional project management.

In the developed world, simple work is constantly getting automated (e.g. automatic bank tellers) while complicated work is outsourced to the cheapest labour market (e.g. off-shore call centres). If companies want to remain competitive in the global market, they need to focus on complex and creative work. Much of complex work is in exception-handling and when exceptions are the rule, rigid rules must become the exception.

We have to understand complex adaptive systems and develop work structures that let us focus our efforts on learning as we work in order to continuously develop next practices. In a knowledge-intensive and creative workplace the role of leadership becomes supportive and inspirational rather than directive. Artificial boundaries that limit collaboration and communication only serve to drag projects (and companies) down and create opportunities for more agile competitors.

While agile methods for project management are discussed in New Forms of Project Organisation and Project Management, an overall agile mindset is also required. This can be fostered in a culture of perpetual Beta. Perpetual Beta means we never get to the final release of our work and that our learning will never stop. Agile organisations realize they will never reach some future point where everything stabilizes and they don’t need to learn or do anything new.

In additional to a mindset of agility, workers need a skillset of autonomy. However, we are trained early in life to look to authority for direction in learning and work. The idea that there is a right answer or an expert with the right answer begins in our schools. Too often, the message from the workplace continues to be that good employees wait for their supervisor to tell them what to do. This is counter-productive in dealing with complexity and working in perpetual Beta. It destroys creativity.

When we move away from a “design it first, then build it” mindset, we can then engage everyone in critical and systems thinking. Workers in agile workplaces must be passionate, adaptive, innovative, and collaborative. Autonomy is the beginning.

Fostering autonomy and agility means that we talk about work differently. For example, dropping the notion of being paid for time is one way to start this change. An hourly wage implies that people are interchangeable, but no two minds are the same. Being paid for time fosters neither autonomy nor agility. There are many other human resource practices should be questioned and dropped, such as job competencies.

The new networked workplace requires collaboration and cooperation. Complex problems cannot be solved alone. Tacit knowledge flows in networks through social learning. Learner autonomy is a foundation for effective social learning. It is the lubricant for an agile organisation. Agility becomes a necessity as we deal with increasing complexity. In order to develop the necessary emergent practices to deal with complexity we therefore need to cultivate the diversity and autonomy of each worker. We also must foster richer and deeper connections which can be built through meaningful conversations. This is social learning in the workplace.

Even in project management, learning is the work.

One example of encouraging social learning is the government of British Columbia, Canada which developed an interactive intranet in order to foster collaboration and communication.

The success of a social intranet ultimately has less to do with technology than with planning, governing and managing change. Walsh [B.C.’s Manager of Creative Strategies] had these lessons to share.

Ditch perfectionism [perpetual Beta]

Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! [social learning]

Trust your team [Autonomy]

Not your government’s voice

As traditional core activities get automated or outsourced, almost all high value work will be done at the outer edge of organisations. At the fuzzy edge of the organisation life is complex and even chaotic. On this periphery, where things are less homogenous, there is more diversity and more opportunities for innovation. Individuals, project teams and organisations have to move operations to the edge to continue learning and developing. In agile organisations, a greater percentage of workers will be on the edge. The core will be managed by very few internal staff. What does this mean for project management? No matter what model one prefers, it will have to be more open, networked and cooperative.

Change and complexity are becoming the norm in our work. We already see this with increasing numbers of freelancers and contractors. Any work where complexity is not the norm will be of diminishing value.

Embracing complexity and chaos is where the future of work lies.

Filed under: Books, complexity, Work | 2 Comments »

MSF Lessons Learned

Posted on February 1st, 2012 by Harold Jarche

Medecins sans frontières [MSF], or Doctors Without Borders, is marking its 40th anniversary with a collection of stories exposing what it’s like to confront those difficult decisions. The book is called Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed: The MSF Experience and it comes out later this month.

spacer CBC’s program The Current covers the uncomfortable compromises that humanitarian aid workers regularly face. As The Guardian reports:

Marie Noelle Rodrigue, operations director of MSF in Paris, said: “The time has come to explain the fragile equilibrium between the price it is necessary for an organisation to pay so that you are helping the victims.

“Often that means making a compromise to a degree where you are helping the authorities. This is a question that no-one has wanted to examine and it is good that MSF have looked into it and I think we are happy that we’ve done it honestly.”

MSF is keenly focused on learning from its mistakes and this book is part of that process. Some of those lessons:

Everything is political and influences medical assistance.

Gut feeling is very important to assess complex situations.

Finding common ground between parties in conflict is very difficult and too often simple, but ineffective, solutions are chosen.

The situation is always changing and there is a need for constant reflection, as individuals and at an organizational level.

Impartiality [trust] is the “red line” that cannot be crossed.

Every action is a compromise.

Conflicts are messy & dirty – therefore the humanitarian assistance is messy & dirty.

Learning through constant discussions is critical for all members of the organization.

MSF has a culture of debate and exposing the truth and this lets the organization move forward.

MSF follows the principles of narration and transparency to ensure it stays a viable organization facing complex, messy situations. Many organizations who are trying to adapt to the network era could learn from MSF.

Filed under: complexity, NetworkedLearning | No Comments »

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