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12.31.2009

My best year of blogging yet!

Thanks to all you subscribers, bloggers and readers, 2009 broke all records for visits to this blog. Here's some of the highlights from my year end Google Analytics Reports for growing changing learning creating

  • Total Number of your Page Views: 25,552
  • Total Number of your Visits: 16,662
  • Total Number of you as Unique Visitors: 13,330

The 16,662 of your visits came from 140 countries/territories including:
  • USA 8,859
  • Great Britain 1,195
  • Canada 1,171
  • Australia 850
  • Philippines 628
  • India 423
  • New Zealand 319
  • Japan 268
  • Germany 190
  • Singapore 155

You found this blog via:
  • Direct connections  2,176 (13.06%)
  • Referring Sites 4,181 (25.09%) Thanks for the links!
  • Search Engines 10,017 (60.12%) Thanks for searching!

You read 854 different pages I have written including:

Thanks for a great 2009! Lets have another breakthrough together in 2010!!

12.30.2009

Getting help from collaborators

Collaborative endeavors are looking more like ecosystems to me as I grasp their highly interdependent linkages. Here's a glimpse at how tied together "getting help from collaborators" can be.

All help is not the same. We can get help that is no help at all, takes more time than its worth, takes rework to clean up the mess it made or takes lots of hand holding to get the help to be helpful. We can get help that makes a show of being helpful, tries to help out with good intentions and makes a respectable start at being helpful without producing the results.We can also get help that proves to be really helpful, makes the difference we were seeking and makes collaborating seem genuinely valuable. 

The kind of help we get gives us impressions about the chances of getting helped in the future, predictions about what to expect, and recognizable patterns in who helps us. We learn to draw a distinction between the quantity and quality of help, becoming wary consumers of false promises, over-eager helpers, and burdensome obligations to collaborate when it's not helpful. We also learn to recognize valuable collaborators, effective work processes and beneficial outcomes from working together.

When the help is no help at all, we get implicitly rewarded for getting things done heroically. We develop workarounds to avoid the expectations of collaborating. We see collaboration as a sham that is given lip service but no real commitment to get results. People lose heart in trying to be helpful and rely on their being less than helpful to discourage others from seeking their help. Participants get the idea that they don't have what it takes to be helpful, don't understand others well enough to offer help and don't get support from the system to be more helpful. Collaboration goes into remission.

When the help is really helpful, the opposite dynamics play out vibrantly. Everyone gets rewarded for collaborating in ways that produce desired  results, They seek out opportunities to be helpful by better understanding each other's situations, challenges and shortcomings. They see collaboration as 'the real deal" that is really working and delivering results. Each gains more commitment, conviction and motivation to contribute whole heartedly. They get the idea that are sufficiently competent, informed and supported in ways that makes it perfectly natural to work together effectively. Collaboration kicks into high gear. 

When we can appreciate complex dynamics like these, collaboration appears as an emergent outcome. It's not something we can make happen or administrate with policy requirements. It either catches on or it does not, depending on the kind of help that is received from others. 

12.29.2009

Benefiting from paradoxes

Everything in the world has advantages and disadvantages. When we combine any two things, we may realize the "best of both, the "worst of both" or some mixture in between. Our left brains deals with this logically, as if we cannot have both set of advantages without the disadvantages. It favors going to one extreme and paying the price for that positional stance. Paradoxes can be grasped by our right brains that process information synthetically, rather than analytically. It can handle realizing the winning combinations that defy logic and linear reasoning.

This morning, I've been exploring ways to design collaborative endeavors to be more resilient and sustainable. Benefiting from paradoxes seems like viable strategy to me. The book Built to Last suggested this approach as "escaping from the tyranny of either/or". The benefits of ten different paradoxes seem essential to the collaborative enterprises I have in mind. They include the paradoxes of:
  1. big & small
  2. abundance & scarcity
  3. appreciation & evaluation
  4. open & closed
  5. structure & process
  6. external & internal
  7. local & non-local
  8. delivering & discovering
  9. interdependent & independent
  10. top-down authority & bottom-up democracy

Taking the first paradox as an example, the benefits of big & small include:
  • taking advantage of being big to handle the volume, accumulate reserves, establish a visible presence etc.
  • taking advantage of being small to respond to individual requests, adapt quickly to changing situations, relate personally to neighbors, etc.
  • being big in a small way that provides the intimacy, responsiveness and adaptability without losing the advantages of being big
  • being small in a big way that handles a high volume, coverage and visibility without losing the personal touch from being small
When the benefits of any paradox like this gets realized, it seems like "we can have it both ways". We keep either extreme in a continuing balancing act that accommodates both positions. This results in far fewer debilitating conflicts, political skirmishes and divisive factions within the endeavor. There is more harmony in the day-to-day operations and better responses to crises. The ongoing collaborations become more feasible, strategic, adaptive and efficient

12.28.2009

Questioning a collaborative endeavor

New collaborations are no sure thing. The more we question them in advance, the more likely they are to succeed, deliver on their promises and resolve whatever interferes along the way. Here are many of the questions that deserve to be considered when formulating or joining a collaborative endeavor:

Questions of feasibility: What are the odds of this endeavor succeeding, enduring and rebooting (if it crashes)? What changes those odds in favor of its success? What interference, opposition and conflicts is it likely to encounter? What momentum, consensus and prior experiences among participants are increasing the odds of success?

Questions of strategy: How does endeavor compare to other competing collaborations? What intrinsic value does this endeavor offer distinct from others? What differences will it make to participate in this endeavor that gives it advantages over others or leverage to attract essential participants? What approach does this endeavor take toward its rivals who could be provoked to become more competitive, to spend more on rivalries or to propagate false rumors?

Questions of adaptation: How many feedback loops are built in to report on a need for change? How much use will be made of the indicators of missed targets, undesirable outcomes or unexpected results? How much is likely to be learned from what happens and does not happen? How flexible, open and responsive are the internal process of listening, dialogue and rethinking previous assumptions?

Questions of efficiency: How much will get done by the endeavor? How quickly will it get done? How much involvement by how many people will it take to meet those targets? How vulnerable are the collaborative processes to breakdowns, rework and schedule slippage? How many resources need to be tied up and for how long -- by the work getting done?

    Fragile collaborative endeavors cannot withstand this barrage of questions. This "thorough interview" could come across as disparaging, cynical and contrarian. Rather than being seen as supportive of more resilience and success, it could get framed as threatening to desired outcomes. However, when an endeavor is well-conceived, it would welcome this "cross examination" to uncover its blind spots, challenges its premises and refine it's approach before committing time, money and other resources.

    12.23.2009

    Cultivating better collaborators

    When we're looking to increase the quantity and quality of collaborations within an enterprise, there are two dimensions that take time and grow slowly. I touched upon the first facet yesterday: "process maturity". How we work together evolves as we:
    • spend more time relating, listening, recognizing patterns and experimenting with ideas
    • come to better know each other's interests, motivations, beliefs and biases
    • realize what resources and value each brings to the collaboration
    • discover which ways of interacting bring out of the best in each other

    The second "slow growth" dimension is the ability of each participant to collaborate. Whether we call this a skill set, aptitude, competency, trait or talent, it's something that can be cultivated. However, like plants in our gardens and on our window ledges, this ability can also be destroyed by taking the wrong approach. When we realize we can "kill the collaboration", we can catch ourselves neglecting or overdoing something, assuming incorrectly, or insisting in something that worsens the relationship. We improve our chances of success when we presume the collaboration takes its own time to improve.

    These two facets can be mutually reinforcing. The more individuals bring to the collaboration, the better they will work together. The more mature the collaborative process becomes, the more the individuals will evolve their abilities to collaborate. The reverse is also true: the worse the process of collaboration, the worse the collaborators will become individually which will further deteriorate how they work together.

    The way I am recommending here it realize the best of both facets is to:
    • regard both the ways of working together and the individual abilities as "slow growth" processes
    • render the potential pitfalls conscious and topics of mutual discussion
    • expect the two dimensions to feed each other for better or for worse
    • call timeouts to review how individuals and the collaboration are evolving

    I'll return here next Monday. Happy Holidays everyone!

    12.22.2009

    Collaboration vanishes chronic conflicts


    According to Paul S. Adler's Chapter Five in The Firm as a Collaborative Community, work processes gradually mature. The way work gets done migrates from informal to formalized and externalized. Others can then move out the learning curves for those processes more quickly. The quality of the work improves as individual conduct becomes more consistent with everyone else involved. When these processes mature into formalized procedures and standards, a surprising thing occurs: collaboration emerges!

    This emergent collaboration reveals a pattern of vanishing three kinds of chronic management conflicts:
    1. staff/line conflicts over authority and compliance issues
    2. horizontal conflicts over expertise and access to special knowledge
    3. vertical conflicts between managing up to please higher ups and managing down to protect underlings
    When collaboration emerges from mature work processes, those involved with production then work together with those who look after quality measures, schedule slippage and budget overruns. They benefit more from colleagues in other disciplines who bring different viewpoints to undefined problems. They realize more of both what they don't yet know and what they need to learn from "inhabitants of other silos" who attend different conferences, meetings and trainings. They also find fewer incidents of higher ups reverting to authoritarian supervision styles. This means they need to protect their brood less from mismanagement raining down from above. There is far more listening to, trusting and respecting each other up and down the levels of the hierarchy.

    This suggests to me that it is possible to realize the best of both kinds of efficiency by investing in the maturity of work processes.

    12.21.2009

    Collaborations within hierarchies


    My further reading of The Firm as a Collaborative Community offered up some more insights I have previously rejected. I have assumed that bureaucratic hierarchies could only put on a show of collaboration, claim to be collaborating, but then not actually collaborate. This assumption of mine is based on decades of experience with observing bureaucrats who go through the motions of the latest management fad without realizing any of the benefits and who are forced to join teams that function "as a team in name only".

    Chapter Five challenged this assumption. In Beyond Hacker Idiocy - The Changing Nature of Software Community and Identity, Paul S. Adler reveals how huge software development projects evolve into collaborative dynamics. Bureaucracies don't necessarily rule out the inefficient and serendipitous process of innovative collaborations.

    In my own language, there is a process of acculturation of the "cowboy coders" to do both the "work and the paperwork". Once they see value of leaving a paper trail of their own thinking, work and changes to the project, they begin to value the required reporting process. They switch from complaining about so many "rules and regs" and think instead about how to improve them.

    When collaborative dynamics emerge among the software coders, they work together to improve the processes, policies and design standards they work under. They get more buy-in to the imposed constraints because they have participated in their formulation and final selection. The outcomes of collaborative efforts yield less rework, cost overruns and schedule slippages. They realize some "best of both systems combined": top down controls and bottom up innovations.

    12.18.2009

    Rethinking peer learning


    Chapter Three in The Firm as a Collaborative Community shot down my business plan for disrupting higher education. This is a good thing. Anytime we are formulating an innovation, value proposition or business model, we're making assumptions. We have blind spots we cannot admit to or identify for ourselves. We're trapped by the ways we justify our ideas, plans and intentions as being good for others. We need an outsider to throw a monkey wrench (spanner) into our self-enclosed reasoning. Michael Maccoby did exactly that in this book.

    I've been assuming that P2P learning would link together learners who are close in their level of current comprehension and curiosity for furthering their mutual development. Maccoby is a psychoanalyst who has given us great insights into workforce motivations in previous books: Why Work and The Gamesman. He suggests that this latest generation has developed an interactive social character that contrasts with previous bureaucratic predispositions. He makes psychological connections to the widespread texting, tweeting and accumulating of fans, followers and friends online. He's related behavior patterns I call "approval seeking" and "people pleasing" to their feeling abandoned by both working parents. He connects their absence of longer communications and deeper relationships to the the pressure-cooker nature of their own jobs as well as the emotional disconnect from both parents. 

    Maccoby cast Gen Y's predisposition toward collaborative endeavors as a weakness. He implicated some of my assumptions about peer learning as a set-up to fail, infect others with incompetence and get stuck easily. He thankfully provoked me to rethink peer learning immediately.

    As I wrestled with these new insights yesterday, I realized the peers could come together with very different levels of expertise, background experience and comprehension under development. Yet, they could have the following in common:
    • discovering ways to be valuable to each other
    • learning how each other already thinks about the issues getting explored
    • finding how each other's models for "how learning happens" skews their shared experience
    • collaborating to make the interactions more useful in their own contexts
    • co-creating experiences that energize their commitments to develop further
    In other words, the peers would both be fulfilling roles as value providers, instructional designers or customer service professionals. They would be working with the same premises and keeping the same mission in mind. Bringing disparate levels of expertise would not contradict that or undermine its efficacy. A new model for peer learning is emerging from my integration of Michael Maccoby's insights.

    12.17.2009

    The paradox of collaborative efficiency


    Yesterday, I finally started reading The Firm as a Collaborative Community - Reconstructing Trust in the Knowledge Economy / Charles Hecksher & Paul S. Adler. I've already found an idea worth sharing with you. In the second chapter, Charles F. Sabel contrasts the efficiency of bureaucratic hierarchies with the efficiency of collaborative communities.

    In my view, bureaucracies efficiently employ enormous workforces to execute the same routines everyday. The staggering amounts of conformity successfully avoids both the high cost of deviant conduct and the expensive impacts of high maintenance personalities. Sabel shows us how these efficient organizations function inefficiently when faced with crises. The conformity to foregone routines need to be dropped while new problems get defined, new solutions get proposed, new evaluations get completed and new changes get fully implemented. Collaborative enterprises handle crises much more efficiently. He calls this "A Real Time Revolution in Routines".

    Collaborative enterprises cannot be efficient in the bureaucratic sense. Their functioning involve extra efforts, unforeseen expenses and necessary duplications to arrive at different "path dependent" outcomes. Collaboration is more improvisation than routine. What collaborations can do efficiently is explore options, decide on the least-worst alternative and make changes. Collaborations are inherently resourceful, enterprising and responsive to unfamiliar situations.

    When we've adopted a collaborative outlook, efficient bureaucracies appear stagnant, slow and unresponsive. When we're chasing after cost efficiencies and economies of scale, collaborations appear costly, unmanageable and plagued by exceptions to the rule. Because these two mindsets are incompatible, "skunk camps" were created in the eighties to launch new products within big corporations. The team that developed the Macintosh computer stayed away from the rest of Apple. More recently Clay Christensen has advised us to "apply tools of separation" to any disruptive innovation developed internally, rather than seek consensus or majority vote in favor of the disruption.

    Bureaucracies and collaborations are both efficient in their own way and strike a good balance between them both. We we can see that, efficiency is a paradox that transcends logical pursuit of a single conclusion.

    12.16.2009

    When collaboration becomes bureaucratized

    It seems likely to me that "collaboration" will become the next buzzword and management fad. When that happens, some enterprises will realize the many benefits of collaboration both internally and externally. If past history is any indication, those beneficiaries will be the exception. The majority of enterprises will "conform to the letter of the law while missing the original intent". They will pay for the formal apparatus without getting it to function. They'll put on a show of joining the herd while getting no return on their investment.

    As this scenario played out in my imagination this morning, it occurred to me there would be mountains of digitized paperwork to fill out and file appropriately. Here's some of the lines I expect to see on the reporting forms:
    • Please list the names of departments and/or individuals with whom you've collaborated in the last period.
    • Indicate how you've developed rapport and common objectives with your collaborators.
    • Note how much time have you spent on collaborations and on isolated efforts.
    • Submit verifications from your collaborators of how much time you've spent collaborating with each of them.
    • Estimate how your work has benefited from your particular collaborations.
    • Rate your collaborators on the following criteria (1 low, 10 high):
    1. ease of understanding their intentions, outlooks, concerns, etc
    2. accessibility for getting advice, alternative perspectives, F2F time together
    3. creativity applied to ways of seeing problems, innovative solutions, etc.
    4. transparency of their thought processes, self evaluations, problem formulations, etc.
    5. commitment to the process of collaboration when differences arise
    6. trustworthiness and reliability when expected to take initiative
    7. openness and receptivity to feedback, guidance, criticism from you
    • Collect the ratings of yourself from each of your collaborators and summarize the results.

    Once it becomes standard practice to "coerce collaboration" this way, we can expect to see it in most classrooms. All those little "bureaucrats in training" will no longer receive the same grade as the other members of their group projects. Half the time on the project will get spent, back at their desks, completing forms that take collaboration literally. The students will learn to think of collaboration as procedures and miss the point.

    12.15.2009

    Consequences of disconnects or collaborations

    Today I've been pondering the inevitable consequences of disconnects and collaborations. I've been focusing on business innovations and value propositions, though the parallels to education are easily drawn. Here's how I've been contrasting the impacts of disconnects and collaborations.

    When an enterprise disconnects it's sales teams from production, it's likely
    • to lose customers by overselling and under-delivering
    • to continue producing the same configurations that customers have complained about
    • to give customers the impression they are neither listened to or respected
    When an enterprise sets up the ongoing collaboration between sales and production, sales gains the insights to thrill the customers by under-selling and over-delivering,  make changes in products that cause customers to become fans, as well as giving customers the experience of being responded to and perceived as valuable.

    When an enterprise disconnects it's sales teams from the customers' contexts, it's likely
    • to give customers reasons to walk away
    • to become too pushy with sales tactics
    • to presume the product is good for everyone regardless of their situations, uses and past experiences
    When an enterprise nurtures the ongoing collaboration between sales and the customers' contexts, sales informs product development how to improve functionality, usability or economies, listens to customers about how the product works for them and learns how to customize service, component configurations or product selections to best serve individual users.

    When an enterprise disconnects its product development from it's rivals, it's likely
    • to copy what the rivals have done in violation of their copyrights
    • to fail to differentiate it's offer from theirs
    • to lose out in direct comparisons when quality appears inferior.
    When an enterprise regards it's rivals as essential collaborators with its own product development, it will learn from advances made by rivals, get inspired to meet or beat the standards they set, as well as find more ways overlooked by rivals to better attract and serve new customers.

    When an enterprise disconnects its production from the customers' contexts, it's likely
    • to crank out flawed products,
    • to feed a high rate of complaints, returns and refunds
    • to imagine the customers are fools to spend money on junk that comes off the production line.
    When an enterprise structures the ongoing collaboration between production and the customers, production cleans up its act, increases the rate of satisfaction, repeat business and word of mouth advertising, as well as imagining customers spending their money wisely to get high quality goods they use effectively in their unique situations.

    Obviously it pays in many ways to collaborate. It costs in as many ways to disconnect the parties to a potentially valuable collaboration. But as I explored previously in Collaboration comes and goes, it takes a particular state of mind to see the advantages to collaborating. When a sense of safety has vanished, collaborators look like dangerous enemies or traitors.  The safety issues need to be handled before setting up collaborations.

    12.14.2009

    Collaboration seen thru many lenses

    This morning I've been making connections in my mind (cognitive network) between the many different ways that increased collaboration is emerging globally. I then pondered the possibility that each of these different ways of collaborating are the same thing, looked at though different lenses. Here's how that possibility played out for me.
    1. When we think about labor and production, we see peers who are sharing files, contributing to projects, responding to requests. We worry about exploitation of workers and the capitalization of labor.
    2. When we think about property and ownership, we see commons getting shared, maintained and protected, We worry about any encroachment on, enclosure of or privatization of the commons.
    3. When we think about archives, creative works and publications, we see open source and open access models of dissemination. We worry about destroying incentives to continue creating and investing in the infrastructure for advanced research and productions.
    4. When we think about gatherings benefiting from inclusiveness, diversity and mutual support systems, we see communities and cooperatives. We worry about debilitating conflicts, ego trips and abuses of power.
    5. When we think about individuals expressing themselves through writing, pics, recordings, video, tags, comments, tweets, and texts, we see social networking platforms. We worry about echo chambers and evil spammers.
    6. When we think about the authority to administer governance over collectives, we see collaborative networks comprised of constituencies. We worry about over-representing special interests and charismatic leaders abusing their power.
    7. When we think about innovative services and breakout value propositions, we see customers co-creating value with providers. We worry about hackers and inventors selling out to corporate greed.
    8. When we think about how individuals mediate the messages they receive and uniquely transform common information into subjective comprehension, we see connections being formed, maintained and strengthened. We worry about isolation and disconnects missing out on the available complexity.
    9. When we think about social evolution and disruptive changes in the status quo, we see incumbents getting replaced by new entrants. We worry about the startups building a following, generating revenue and enduring the lull after the initial excitement.

    With so many ways to see collaborating occurring with so many pitfalls to avoid, it's small wonder these are exciting times to follow.

    12.12.2009

    Collaborative training departments



    It's likely that new start-ups in the coming decade will be intensely collaborative, but initially small and without training departments. Established organizations, large enough to have training departments, will become more collaborative or fall behind the changing times. The training departments may feel pressure to become more collaborative or to join an internal resistance movement that clings to legacy practices. In this contribution to the Entreprise Collaboration Blog Carnival, I explore four major innovations that collaborative training departments will likely adapt and adopt. I contrast these developments with conflicted training departments' reactions to any change and to these changes in particular. I make no predictions whether the progressive or regressive vectors will overcome the other. I merely anticipate the bounty of benefits to be realized by training departments that find their way to become more collaborative.


    1. Utilized abundance of SMEs
    We're in the midst of a paradigm shift. We relied on credentialed experts until we discovered folksonomies, user comments, wisdom-of-the-crowd rankings and Google Analytics hits counters. We tolerated how little content fit through the narrow slots of primetime TV, pages in the print edition and volumes on the shelf. Now were basking in the long tail of narrowcasting cultural creatives who every day upload "user generated" content, responses to requests, and contributions to projects. Countless books, like Groundswell and Crowdsourcing, have made it clear that a lot of very good work can get done by lots of outsiders who have been set up to take pride in their contribution, enhance their reputation and make new connections. We're beginning to privilege the willing contributions of creative participants whom ivory towers and corporate bastions typically reject.

    Training Departments need outsiders to contribute to the Analysis, Design and Evaluation phases of the ADDIE process. The internal professionals can handle the Development and Implementation phases more proficiently than others because of the vast complexity and steep learning curves in using authoring software, multimedia resources, updated training facilities, LMS providers and departmental reporting protocols. While the training departments are usually well supplied with conventional subject mater experts (SMEs), they could benefit dramatically from several other kinds of contributions that "training topic" SME's cannot provide. There are experts scattered throughout most organizations with widely applicable expertise in cost containment, quality improvement, problem solving, brand management, strategy reformulation, product innovation and conflict resolution. All these could enhance the internal functioning of the training department within the enterprise. There is tacit expertise that could only come out by getting a community of practice to convene or gathering SME's together from diverse disciplines. There are also experts in how to get on the same page with particular higher ups and how to effectively argue a case for more funds, access, support or resources. There are even experts among the trainees with the know how to realize better effects on the attendees, to make the material more relevant to the trainees' situations and to build on what the participants already know first hand. All these outsiders could make a training department far more effective if they were regarded as potential collaborators.

    Conflicted training departments view outsiders with disdain. They think like obsolete broadcasters, print publishers, Hollywood moguls, and music business executives. They assume the only way to control quality, to protect their reputation and to derive an income from their enterprise -- is to keep everything that gets done by qualified hires and contractors. They imagine the unpaid outsiders could only compromise the legacy standards, trash the fragile image of respectability and end up costing more in the long run.

    When training departments take advantage of this broad range of SMEs, their internal functioning improves significantly. A greater number of individuals within the enterprise become fans, advocates, promoters and advisors to the department. The department gains credibility as a resource for other departments looking to improve their internal functioning and outreach. These collaborations effectively enhance the sharing of internal expertise that CIO's and knowledge management consultants chase after.


    2. Transparent post mortems
    Collaboration thrives on transparency. When we can see what questions others are pondering, what decisions they're wrestling with, what criticisms they have of themselves or what problems they're solving, we're far more inclined to jump in and lend a hand. Books, like Naked Conversations and The Whuffie Factor, have shown us how trust, engagement, volunteer effort and positive buzz all increase when a provider reveals internal processes to the public.

    Training Departments need to Evaluate the ADDI phases of their process as well as the eventual outcomes they produce. The setbacks and failures of training materials, presentations and online offerings all need to be diagnosed for underlying causes that can be remedied. Surprising successes need to be characterized so they can get repeated deliberately. When these reviews get done throughly, their programs become more effective, the department earns more credibility, others want the department to succeed more than before and fewer conflicts with training objectives crop up.

    Conflicted training departments usually dread doing post mortems at all, much less in public view. They assume it is safer and wiser to appear insular, aloof and conspiratorial to outsiders. They keep review processes internal to avoid getting blamed unfairly by those who refuse to take any responsibility for their part in the outcomes. The conflicted departments imagine their already tarnished image could be ruined by "washing their dirty laundry in public". They assume any transparent review of successes would get taken by hostile adversaries as boasting or dismissing valid criticisms.

    When collaborative training departments solicit diverse inputs, their post mortems can exceed all expectations. Participants take responsibility for their share in the outcome. Insights into hidden dynamics come to light. Contexts that indirectly influenced participation get factored in. Attendees volunteer their read of mixed messages and distressing dilemmas that were completely off the radars of the instructional designers and trainers. Coworkers, back on the job, can sort out how much the undesired outcomes are due to the lack of follow-up by the team, lack of initiative by the trainee or lack of resources that should support the changed conduct. Everyone is then aware of the complexity of contributing factors and disinclined to blame any individual after that. Subsequent training cohorts seem more congenial and collaborative as if everyone expects to work together to realize the desired outcomes.

    3. Co-created experience designs
    Businesses ahead of the curve have been learning to stop thinking that they are selling products and to start thinking they are creating customer experiences. They are beginning to design the long series of sales and service interactions like an unfolding story or theatrical performance. Books, like Change By Design and The Experience Economy, give us clues for thinking about the experiences customers have when they are relating to product/service offerings. Customers who feel understood, respected, inspired and/or enchanted are far more likely to help co-create the experience designs for subsequent customers.

    Training Departments could benefit from their trainees assistance in designing educational experiences together. Problems with 'talking to a wall" or "preaching to the choir' could be alleviated. Fine tuning the pace, scope and depth of a program could utilize trainees' insights, perceptions and suggestions. Their anonymous feedback that complains about programs could be put to better use by redesigning the course completion experience.

    Conflicted training departments believe it's almost always a struggle to get people to learn. When the program becomes too fun and entertaining, the education value gets sacrificed. . They are wary of weakening the resolve, discipline and endurance of the workforce by indulging trainees' whims. They assume that most employees get sent to training as a reward or a much needed break from hard work on the job, rather than to learn anything memorable, essential or useful. These training departments are torn between being strict and "going easy" on their trainees.

    When educational experience designs get co-created with trainees, the resulting experiences are on their wavelength. Rapport develops easily in discussion, interaction and participation formats. The quality of contributions during educational gatherings also increases when the experiences have been designed collaboratively. The feedback and suggestions following a program are more constructive, useful and insightful.

    4. Training Department's brand
    Every product and service has a brand in the minds of those who consider using it. The brand may include the user's image of owning it and the reputation it has for reliability, value or convenience. Prior to the current paradigm shift, it was assumed brands were created by advertising, packaging and warranty expense. Focus groups merely tested which efforts at "managing the brand" had the most favorable impacts on a select group of potential users. However, as online social networking has taken hold, brands are no longer under the control of the brand managers. Books like Accidental Branding and Brand Hijack teach us how to work with consumers transforming brands on their own.

    Every training department could benefit from improving its brand image in the eyes of its beholders. Getting framed as more reliable, valuable and convenient than before could enhance the trainee's and supervisor's motivation to pursue, commitment to get results from, and satisfaction with -- the training experience. It's possible to inspire the trainees to spread the word about the benefits they obtained, the value they perceive and the respect they now show the training department. Stories will take on a life of their own about what happened during a training experience, what difference a training made and what trainees are looking forward to next. The training department that collaborates with "brand hijackers" will get told "yes" more often when they propose how they could deliver another training.

    Conflicted training departments typically suffer from negative reputations. They may be known for providing training programs that are boring, useless, unresponsive, out of date, repetitive, and otherwise ill-conceived. Built on methods of mass production for mass consumption, conventional training "delivers content at unteachable moments". It's assumed nothing can be done about individual differences, timing issues or changing situations outside the training context. This robust negative brand can escalate into stereotypes of incompetent and clueless instructional designers, trainers and departmental managers. Negative brands seem "made to stick" because they tell a trainee's "victim story" that then evokes instinctual vigilance about imminent dangers, tribal solidarity to gang up against the common enemy and unquestionable labeling to blame those in a position of authority. In these situations, brand management takes on the look of "damage control" where the "brand hijackers" are seen as troublemakers, saboteurs and traitors.

    When the training departments brand gets co-created with other members of the organization, a self fulfilling prophesy plays out beneficially. The fans of the training department find more to rave about to their social network. The advocates of more training acquire more justifications for their stance in favor of the departments continued success. Informal prophets, who foretell what to expect from training programs, get proven right as trainees find their experiences match the widespread reputation. Experienced collaborators with the training department makes themselves look good by telling others how well the training department works with outsiders.

    Conclusion
    Each of these innovations pose choices to training departments in collaborative enterprises. These choices may appear between:
    • living fearfully the past and living optimistically in the future
    • neglecting technological advances or fully utilizing them
    • rejecting the younger generations or embracing them wholeheartedly
    • facing the future with self-absorbed resignation or creating a future by caring for common interests with many others

    These choices disrupt the status quo. They pull people out of the comfort zones, habitual routines and reliable expectations. They bring out people's insecurities, apprehensions and paranoid imaginations. They multiply the number of conflicts with the transition to increased collaboration, no matter how good the idea of learning and working together seems. The success of any change to more collaborative approaches depends on how well these conflicts get anticipated, understood and resolved.

    Related Posts
    Ecologies of opposition to collaboration
    Two ways to be strong
    Collaboration comes and goes
    Collaborating with the C level
    Creating the future by collaboration
    Driven to collaborate
    Benefits of collaborating
    Designing the transition into collaborating


    12.11.2009

    Designing the transition into collaborating

    Transitions are often perilous undertakings which fail to get to a new place and stay there. Like infamous New Year's Resolutions and flamboyant attempts at weight loss, the sought-after change does not endure. A transition into collaborations is equally vulnerable to regressive tendencies, old habits and avoidance strategies. An effective transition process needs to be designed for the difficulties involved.

    A. Unfamiliar experiences with collaborating can make newbies feel vulnerable, insecure and awkward. Their resilience, confidence and competence may elude them when they are not working alone, complying with commands or competing against others. A successful transition would provide these people with early successes to convince themselves "I can do this" and "this works for me". Leaving them to "sink or swim" or "get the hang of this on their own" does not improve the success rate.

    B. New experiences with collaborating can be easily misread by inexperienced participants. Indications of mutual respect, valued diversity and trust in the shared process can give them the wrong impression. Frames of reference from legacy practices can distort what is actually occurring. Collaborations can look like "getting controlled by others", "failing to stand up for what is right" or "letting others win for no good reason". A transition is helped by learning a new "viewers guide" and practicing "calling the plays from the sideline" to gain experience with collaborative frames of reference.

    C. Unfamiliar experiences with collaborating can arouse doubts, suspicious and gloomy predictions. Newbies may begin to expect the worst, fear the consequences of this mistake and regret their decision to give it a "go". Those who defend themselves from new experiences with negative questions will succeed at finding answers that make themselves right. They can ask themselves "how futile is this?" or "when will people realize this is not working?" and effectively sabotage their involvement. A well designed transition acknowledges the habitual use of negative questions and explores the use of appreciative inquiry to engage and empower each person's involvement. Letting everyone question the collaboration however they please sets up the working together to fail in the end.

    D. New experiences with collaborating can induce a lot of cognitive dissonance. The so-called "change for the better" can evoke experiences of loss, injustice or sacrifice. The transition can appear to the people making the adjustment that their hot buttons are getting pushed, their values are getting invalidated and their confidence is getting shattered. An effective transition design anticipates this interference from previous identification with successful past practices, idolized roles models and heroics without anyone's assistance. It occasionally works to simply acknowledge these cognitive dynamics as if people merely need to feel understood, validated and respected as is. More often, a more strategic intervention is required where these alarmist reactions are "prescribed as appropriate", "given permission to persist" and "framed as solutions to be fully utilized until new responses come to mind".

    Each of these four design responses make the transition more complex. The designed system is capable of responding to a wider variety of disruptive factors without crashing. The transition is prepared for more of what can go wrong so the overall process goes right. The effective design keeps the "troublemakers from making trouble". The experience gives those in transition a sense of orientation and safety rather than a feeling of being lost and abandoned. The process of becoming an insider builds their trust in collaborating. They feel cared for, valued as participants and included in what was expected.

    12.10.2009

    Benefits of collaborating

    Working with others can be a very different experience from working for others. The more we appreciate these differences, the more benefits we'll realize from our collaborating with others. Here's lots of those differences to get you thinking about how cool it is to migrate to more and better collaborating.

    Once we've gotten the hang of working with others:
    • It feels like we've moved onto a level playing field where we see "eye to eye"
    • It brings out our better nature where we feel like being kind, considerate and compassionate.
    • It shows us areas where we've taken our uniqueness for granted until we perceive how we differ from other contributors
    • It teaches us about other ways to perceive the shared situation and common objectives
    • It changes our story about our past as we act differently than before and find freedoms to be more of who we really are
    • It revises definitions of problems we've endured by getting help from others who've outgrown them, see them differently or bring other resources to the issue
    • It updates our goals, objectives and plans with better ideas about the differences we can make and the satisfactions we can co-create
    • It transforms the ground we're standing on from shaky grounds that maintain our insecurities to common ground where our confidence builds naturally
    • It grows our ability to understand others, empathize with their feelings and share their experiences with fascination
    • It allows sacred cows, hot button issues and guilt trips to come to light where they can be regarded as developmental experiences
    • It frames mistakes as essential to learn from, part of the collaborative process and necessary to refine shared intentions
    • It provides us with high quality feedback from people who truly get: what we're trying to do, where we're coming from and what impact we want to have
    • It helps us discover what we want to learn next, how our intrinsic motivation is changing direction and where our own curiosity is leading us
    • It makes learning seem far more serendipitous, unforeseen and flowing from one good thing to another
    • It confirms our suspicions that we really do want to help others, to contribute to their projects and to make the world the a better place

    Once we grasp this extensive "benefit package" from our own personal experiences with collaborating, it's tough to go back to working for, against or without others.

    12.09.2009

    Driven to collaborate

    When any change needs to occur, there is always a question of what will drive the change. Usually the need for change does not drive the initiatives, transitions and follow through efforts. If that's all it took to realize the change, the need for it would have already been eliminated. It's helpful to consider other drivers.

    A change to collaborative approaches can easily meet with lots of resistance. Portions of an enterprise may have walled itself off in isolation to avoid scrutiny, interference or compromises. Individuals may have amassed a lot of power, staff, or discretionary budgets which could get diminished by a transition to collaborative approaches. Others may have evolved into "prima donnas" who insist on being right, experience a crisis when made wrong and reject any feedback as invalid. A collaborative culture would induce chronic anxiety in these traumatized people. For these reasons and many others, proposals and pilot efforts to increase collaboration could encounter a wall of resistance.

    Change drivers need to be stronger and more clever than the resistance. Rather that picturing the opposition getting overcome, subdued or backed into a corner, a better approach will emerge from a more collaborative approach. Resistors have lots of experience, deep investments and good reasons to oppose increased collaboration. When their thinking gets acknowledged, respected and understood by proponents, a change comes over their outlook. Their closed minds open, their guard gets lowered and their receptivity to new information increases. Whenever this change of heart and mind occurs, other change drivers may prove to be effective.

    Here are the four change drivers I consider when formulating a strategy:
    • Getting on a bandwagon - Early adopters of a change can infect others with their enthusiasm. They give off the impression the change is beneficial, enjoyable and the right thing to do. Conformity pressure emerges for others to not miss out, get left behind or get set in their ways.
    • Defend against an common enemy - Alarmists can rally the troops to change so as to not fall victim to impending threats. The dangers get magnified to fuel the anxieties, reactions and convictions that the change is necessary at any cost. When the change can then be implemented at a "cost savings", it looks like bargain rather than a burden.
    • Follow the leader to a better place - Leaders of a change effort can create a shared vision of where they are taking people. They paint a word picture of the better situation that lies on the other side of a difficult transition. They inspire others to look forward to the same improvements that soften the sacrifices involved.
    • Find it within yourself - Facilitators can bring out the best in people, invoke their consciences and inspire them to serve a greater purpose. They remind people of their potential to make a difference, impact others in their lives and leave a legacy others will admire.

    None of these drivers produce needed changes when minds are closed, opposing stances have been taken and thinking has been polarized. They take effect superbly when minds are open, stances have been combined and thinking has become creative.

    12.08.2009

    Creating the future by collaboration


    When we keep collaborating to a minimum, it has become clear to me that we create the future by default. The things we do to change what occurs fail to take effect. The momentum of the status quo seems overwhelming and unstoppable. Isolated change efforts are insignificant in the context of complex adaptive systems with vast interdependencies seeking continued stability.

    The failure of ambitious change efforts, to create better futures, results in several dysfunctional cognitive dynamics:
    • Vicious cycles where unresolved conflicts tempt us to work against others and work without their insights, diverse outlooks and creative contributions.
    • Paranoid imaginations where we feel safer envisioning what can go wrong, can go from bad to worse and can blow up in our faces.
    • Relying on proven predictions about what always happens, never occurs and needs to be accepted as facts of life.
    • Escaping from this dreariness with inflated bubbles of optimism which get burst by encounters with unchanging reality.
    From a systems view, these cognitive dynamics are closed circuits. They mere oscillate or go "round and round" ad infinitum. They give "recycling" a bad name as they reuse the same old experiences endlessly. They fuel over-consumption and excess materialism rather than sustainable lifestyles.  The chart on the right shows how we talk to ourselves when the ways our minds are functioning are self-perpetuating, self replicating, self fulfilling and self justifying. 

    By defining the problem systemically like this, the switch to collaborative enterprises becomes easier. For starters we can catch ourselves falling into dysfunctional cognitive dynamics and choosing an opposite approach. Here's a brief look at how those turnarounds might occur:
    • Upon recognizing a vicious cycle, switching to virtuous cycles of working for others' interests and working with their resourcefulness to co-create a better future.
    • After identifying paranoia in each others' imaginations, switching to what-if questions that can together generate visionary scenarios of shared ambitions.
    • Rather than confirming tired predictions, entering possibility space together calls off predictions in favor of unknowns, mysteries, unforeseen possibilities and serendipitous occurrences.
    • In lieu of inflated bubbles, collaborators can "hold the tension of opposites" which combines pragmatism with innovations to come up with advances that function in better ways.
    Working together makes all these turnarounds easier, more likely and more productive. The closed circuits get opened and the momentum of legacy dynamics gets broken. A better future emerges from the combined efforts and transformed cognitive dynamics.

    12.07.2009

    Collaborating with the C level

    In hierarchies, the highest level includes the CEO, CFO, COO and often nowadays, the CMO, CIO and CLO. At first glance, the presence of such "high ranking officials" connotes the absence of a collaborative enterprise. Within corporate and bureaucratic hierarchies, the top level is often in conflict with lower ranking leadership, divisions and departments. The person in the position functions as a charismatic leader who's personality plays a large part in their impact. While subordinates manage up with servility, compliance and gratuitous respect, there is a notable neglect of power sharing. The underlings feel routinely threatened, unfairly criticized, viciously misunderstood and deliberately invalidated by the C level frames of reference. These enterprises pay a huge price for their lack of internal collaboration.

    Within collaborative enterprises, a very different dynamic would get protected and nurtured. The C-level would graciously provide frames of reference used throughout the enterprise. The people in the "top positions" would facilitate others' exploration of those frames in their own contexts. The emphasis would be placed on the conversations in progress, rather than the people in the positions. The individuals would play roles of facilitative servant leaders rather than charismatic kingpins. The distribution and democratization of their "high ranking outlook" would empower the "rank and file" to act more responsibly, to take more initiative, to use better judgment, and to nip problems in the bud. "Collaborating with the C level" would get turned around to expect "the C level to collaborate with the collaborators".  The structure of the enterprise could be flattened, eliminating layers of middle management, as top-down power became effectively decentralized.

    Frames of reference can be used to respect someone's efforts, value their contribution to collective endeavors, define unfamiliar problems that result from ineffective conduct. Here's a brief look at how the C level could be embraced as frames of reference in use throughout a collaborative enterprise:

    • CEO: Chief Executive Officers admire alignment with the overall mission. People get valued for their emphasis on mission critical components which override non-essential distractions. Problems fall out of "losing sight of the mission" by dwelling on tactical maneuvers, unrelated tasks or meaningless obsessions.
    • CFO: Chief Financial Officers admire productive assets and cost-effective solutions. People get valued for realizing greater efficiencies and for "getting more bang for the buck". Problems result from wasteful spending, throwing money at problems and stockpiling "new toys and tools" that end up underutilized.
    • COO: Chief Operating Officers admire skills, tools and performance aids that get a job done right. People get valued for results they produce, solutions they formulate and changes they implement. Problems follow from "merely going through the motions", "spinning your wheels in a rut" or "looking busy for show".
    • CMO: Chief Marketing Officers admire efforts to protect and extend the brand. People get valued for creating exceptional customer experiences and resolving satisfaction issues promptly. Problems result from "over-promising and under-delivering", acting without the customer in mind or pushing what the customers don't need or want.
    • CIO: Chief Information Officers admire sharing information, resources and competencies. People get valued for curtailing duplicated efforts, mentoring proteges and revealing their expertise where it's needed. Problems fallout of hoarding knowledge, distancing oneself from colleagues and barging ahead at "reinventing the wheel".
    • CLO: Chief Learning Officers admire learning from setbacks, feedback and unexpected successes. People get valued for turning crises into lessons, extracting value from incidents and encouraging continual improvement. Problems follow on the heels of arrested development, closed minds and shortages of questions.
    Each of the frames of reference set-up fruitful collaborations. They define new questions to ask, better possibilities to explore, different situations to look into and greater insights into the complexity of interdependent subsystems. The collaborative enterprise making daily use of these frames could easily outperform rivals on every metric of a balanced scorecard.

    12.04.2009

    Collaboration comes and goes

    Our state of mind supports collaboration with others when we're feeling safe. We can feel safe when there is an absence of danger, threats and enemies. We can alternatively feel safe by ganging up together against opponents which then achieves "safety in numbers". I suspect the collaborations that emerge from feeling safe are not the same between these two conditions. When there is no danger present, it's likely we can get creative, compassionate, caring and capable of serving others' interests effectively. When we're establishing safety against others, it's more likely the collaboration would be more accurately described as collusion, conspiracy, conformity and cohesion. When we're anxiety-ridden, we lose our tolerance for deviance, our trust in others and our willingness to let go of preconceptions.

    The ups and downs of business cycles impact the state of mind of nearly everyone within an enterprise. Anytime the economy, market, rivals or internal mismanagement poses some danger, a collaborative enterprise under siege could easily regress to collusion, conspiracy, conformity and cohesion. This would fail to protect the brand, win back customers, or attract essential talent when hiring again. The loss of genuine collaboration could put an enterprise into a downward spiral without the resourcefulness to pull itself out.

    This outlook on collaboration gives me a picture of a socio-technical system. The state of mind that gets creative, compassionate, caring and capable of serving others' interests effectively is the system's core technology. The system crashes when these collaborative dynamics get disrupted by external turbulence. The failure to buffer the core and respond capably to the turbulence exposes deep flaws in the system design. Besides the obvious failures in the industry segment, customers' perceptions and job market, internal failures would multiply. I would expect to see:
    • a loss of sustaining innovations, extensions of successful products and upgrades of services
    • an inability to learn from what's occurring, get the message in all this feedback and change directions
    • a series of leadership failures, bad decisions and flawed policy changes
    • an excess of committee meetings, upbeat conferences and enforcement of positive attitudes

    When collaboration is protected by a viable socio-technical system, this spiral of potential setbacks gets averted. The potential disaster gets foreseen and forestalled. The state of mind which supports genuine collaboration gets regarded as the "goose that lays the golden eggs". Leadership acts quickly to create safety, provide buffers from turbulence, protect essentials with added resources and nurture the collaborations that then come about.

    12.03.2009

    Two ways to be strong

    When people are strongly opposed to collaborations for any of the reasons I explored yesterday, they only have one way to be strong. One way I've facilitated others' migration to effective collaborations gives them a second way to be strong. I simply tell them my version of an old Rudyard Kipling story about a stick in the mud. Here's how it goes:

    Once there was a stick in the mud on the banks of a gently flowing stream. In it's vicinity were numerous tall blades of grass rooted in the same mud. Obviously the stick was much stronger than any wimpy blade of grass. The stick expected to come out the winner in any test of strength, size or endurance.

    Later that day, a cloud burst filled the stream with a torrent of water that came raging along to where the stick was stuck in the mud. The water overflowed the banks of the stream and submerged everything nearby. The force of the water broke the stick in two and carried what remained downstream. The blades of grass yielded to the flow while remaining rooted in the mud. When the water subsided and the sunshine returned, the blades of grass stood upright again. As they waved in the breeze and deepened their roots, they each grew a little stronger too.

    When we're proud of being strong, we have no idea our strength is rigid, brittle and vulnerable to getting broken. We assume we have nothing to lose by getting even stronger in the only way there is to be strong. We become more confident, determined and convicted in our self righteous stance. We become a stick in the mud.

    Once we've been broken, we find a different strength within. We realize we're not totally destroyed by having our confidence shattered, pride humbled and superiority knocked down a peg or two. We stop trying to become stronger and let go of our ambitions to win contests of strength. We discover the rooted strength that blades of grass teach us to emulate. We let go of our rigid stance and yield to others validity, dignity and value. We give ourselves the same new-found respect regardless of comparisons to others. We transform our mind to be suitable for collaborating.

    12.02.2009

    Ecologies of opposition to collaboration

    Many of my favorite life experiences have involved collaboration. I enjoy many fond memories of working together on architectural projects, theater productions, management consulting interventions, convention exhibit displays, video shoots, software development projects and corporate training designs. I naively assumed everyone would favor collaboration over working in isolation. I realized that collaboration was an acquired taste of mine, given decades of getting graded in school for my individual efforts. But I assumed that the rewards of collaboration would become obvious to everyone exposed to the possibility.

    Throughout those collaborations I enjoyed personally and facilitated for my clients, I noticed some people were better at the interactive, mutually-dependent processes than others. Some people appeared to be driven by high needs to be right, in control and more powerful than the rest of us. They seemed more easily threatened, disconcerted and put off by those of us collaborating effectively. Often there would be no attempt to transform them into effective collaborators or collaborate with their misgivings. Instead they got labeled as "prima donnas", "ego maniacs", "power trippers" or "control freaks". We didn't collaborate with them on what to label them. They were 'them" and we were "us" who were pointing fingers at "them" as if acting like team players was not an option for us or them. We got to be right rather than effective.

    Since then, I learned a lot more psychology, cognitive neuroscience and behavioral economics. Over the past year in the U.S., the news has been filled with oppositions to collaboration during the presidential campaign, financial bailouts and debates over health care reform. My view of those situations is now much more systemic, complex and ecological. Here are four anti-patterns I see inter-relating the collaborators and their less collaborative cohorts .

    Abandoning stability
    The introduction of collaboration can form a vicious cycle in contexts of well established isolated efforts. Collaboration can be a change that is opposed to the status quo. Proponents of change and stability get locked into a power struggle over who gets to be right. There is no way both can be part of the solution or essential to keeping things in balance. Advocates of stability and the status quo experience change as threatening to their comfort zone of familiar routines and reliable predictions. Their need for lots of stability gets heightened by the evidence of others trying to make them wrong, destabilize their familiar situations and frame them as incompetent.

    Changing the rules
    Collaboration can revise the unwritten rules of the game being played in ways that give advantage to the presumed losers. It's assumed this is a zero sum game that is dividing a fixed pie where the winner takes all. There no possibility of win/win outcomes, a non-zero expansion of possibilities or sharing the victory to keep the game going infinitely. Letting the enemy  win before the game even begins -- defeats the competitive spirit of those opposed to collaboration. The value of playing the game gets dismantled if the usual victors value those who are supposed to get conquered, subdued and humiliated. The need to put down the collaborators and keep them in their place gets heightened whenever they get the upper hand and change the rules of the game in their favor.

    Losing touch with reality
    Reliance on collaboration can appear as a delusional construct that lacks realism. Collaboration can put the "decidedly" incompetent and inferior slackers in a position to dominate the competent and superior performers. There's no question that someone ends up on top of the others. The realistic appraisal gets turned upside down. The presumed facts about who really knows their stuff and who actually gets results gets upended. There appears to be no advantage to "letting the inmates run the asylum" or "putting the children in charge of the adults". An endless argument about facts, appraisals of performance and realism gets escalated as the reliance on collaboration appears increasingly delusional.

    Asking for trouble
    The adoption of collaborative approaches may appear to open a can of worms. Efforts are being made to keep a lid on the chaos, impose some order on the confusion and keep crises to a minimum. There are only safeguards against irrational hysterics, passionate troublemakers and high maintenance characters. There are no patterns in use for calming the furious, reassuring the compatriots or restoring the combined resourcefulness. The lid is either on or it flies off. Collaboration apparently does nothing to silence, squelch, dismiss, downplay or steer clear of eruptions. The crazier things get, the more it appears collaboration has to be counteracted to maintain a semblance of order.

    In every one of these anti-patterns, the collaborators "get into it" with those opposed to collaboration. The underlying perceptions, fears and cycles do not get addressed. Exploration of the anti-pattern itself gets avoided. Work on the migration from the anti-pattern to an effective, resilient pattern gets deferred. Living with the problem appears preferable to co-creating a solution.

    12.01.2009

    Forthcoming blog carnival


    Entreprise Collaborative recently announced a monthly series of blog carnivals dealing with facets of social learning and networked enterprises. This dovetails superbly with all those issues and active projects of mine I tied together yesterday. You can visit the Ecollab Blog Carnival web page to get the details on adding to the festivities yourself. Their first topic is one where I take a rogue approach: the future of the training department in the Collaborative Enterprise. The participating blog posts will get published on Saturday, December 12th and get announced on Twitter with the tag: #ecollab.

    I view the training function as emergent from the complexity of interdependent relationships internal and external to the enterprise. The training function reflects the level of conflicts within the collaborative environment as well as the amount of turbulence disturbing the enterprise as a whole. How the training department functions depends, not only on the culture of P2P learning and collaboration, but on the nature of the market, product/service mix and size of the enterprise. There are usually many vectors within an organization that oppose the training function becoming more effective, responsive and techno-savvy. Collaboration may be given more lip service than actual implementations by those who need to make a show of keeping up with the changing times. The driving influences for the training function to "wise up" are often "low on the totem pole", external consultants or those visionaries out on the fringes of the organization where power and influence over the center are minimal. The switch to collaborative modes of learning often proves to be a disruptive innovation that the organization's immune response extinguishes in a big hurry.

    I expect to explore all these issues in my contribution to the first of these intriguing blog carnivals on December 12th.

    12/6/09 J'ai corrigĂ© juste l'orthographe de l' « entreprise » de mot. 

    11.30.2009

    P2P learning ties in with everything


    This morning my internal cognitive network has a "small world" feel to it. There are very few degrees of separation between the nodes in my cognitive network. It's clear to me I have tons to share with you in the coming months but I don't know where to begin. That may be due to the fact that robust networks don't have a beginning.

    Over the extended holiday weekend, I captured a lot of inspirations for how peer-to-peer (P2P) learning could occur. After taking time out to prepare "baked yams and apples in a sherry butter sauce" for 20 friends and relations, I got to explore how P2P learning ties into so many other possibilities I'm exploring. Each of these explorations seem like hubs enjoying power law scalability. The well connected nodes are becoming increasingly connected to each other and vast arrays of other ideas, books and bloggers.

    P2P learning functions superbly within one of the disruptive innovations I've proposed will impact higher education in the near future. It appears to alleviate many of the adversities playing into the chronic 50% college dropout rate. P2P learning provides wonderful preparation for contributing to P2P production, property and governance practices that Michel Bauwens and many others are advancing. P2P learning also prepares people to function in a "world without Wall Street" that David Korten defines in his latest book, which I read last week, Agenda for a New Economy. P2P learning appears to be compliant with John Medina's Brain Rules which exposed the counter productive cognitive impacts of classroom and curriculum based learning. P2P learning is highly congruent with all I've written about as PLE 2.0 that combines DIY with DIT (do it together) serendipitous learning.

    P2P learning links to another major cognitive hub I have not yet written about here: conflicts with and within collaborative networks. P2P learning functions as a collaboration that is vulnerable to external turbulence and internal dissensions. Formulating response capabilities to "buffer the core technologies of collaboration" serves many other purposes. It shows promise for resolving emotional baggage that individual collaborators bring to the interactions. It makes the collaborative networks more resilient, sustainable and supportive of disruptive diversity. It transforms a single-minded endeavor into a total solution which is much more likely to scale into widespread adoption.

    P2P learning also solves some technical issues I've been wrestling with while preparing a business plan entry for the contest at the University of Pennsylvania. It reframes the business model as a support system for curiosity and creativity. It defines the value proposition as something that gets crowd sourced, rather than delivered with a factory model of production. It sets up the startup to launch "off radar" of rival incumbents by not serving the consumers of what could be called "anti-P2P learning". It defines the challenge of making P2P learning seem very appealing, accessible and easy to adopt by refining the "customer experience design".

    11.24.2009

    Freedom from too much information

    The abundance of free content gave me another idea for a possible scarcity to spawn a freemium business model. What if the abundance of free content gets old? What if we begin to experience the negative side of all that abundance? What if we begin to throw up red flags when we're feeling overwhelmed by the abundance like:
    • I didn't ask for this information!
    • This is too much information!
    • I'm not ready for all this content!
    • This comes at a bad time for me!

    To throw up red flags like this is a healthy sign. We are exhibiting a sense of an independent self with healthy boundaries from recurring abuse. We've disentangled ourselves from entrapments that fail to honor, respect and value us. We are standing up for what represents who we intend to be and how we want to relate to the world. We are acting on choices found within rather than reacting with fear, guilt or obligatory limitations to what gets imposed on us.

    Within this possibility, freedom from "too much information" is a new scarcity created by the abundance of content. The abundance is easy to come by, the freedom from it is not. It's no problem to drink from the fire hose. It's a big problem to shut it off or distance ourselves from getting blasted.

    Within this possibility, the abundance of content is free. It then will be worth some added expense to:
    • get information only when we request it
    • get the right amount of information for our immediate purposes
    • get the content when we're ready for it
    • get to postpone receiving or inventory content for later use when the timing is right

    This business model would then function as a disruptive innovation for enterprises that:
    deliver content on it's own broadcasting schedule in formats that cannot be time-shifted
    publish content in bound volumes that cannot be searched, tagged or bookmarked
    aggregate large quantities of digital resources that do not support searches for personal uses
    push too much content onto audiences that wanted "just a little for now"

    The goal posts would then be moved. The game would be changed to providing answers to questions, responses to requests and possibilities to generate further questions. Free content would remain free, but freedom from it's timing, excesses and lack of selection options would be costly.

    11.23.2009

    Free answers - costly questions

    When we're formulating a "freemium" business model, we need to become well travelled along the boundary between abundance and scarcity. Any new abundance creates new scarcities while rendering previous scarcities as obsolete, contrived or controlling. The new abundance also heightens our appreciation of the potential value, benefits and uses of a new scarcity. We recognize how some of the new scarcity is cheap, over-priced or useless.

    This morning I've been exploring how "quality questions" might become the new scarcity amidst the abundance of free content, answers, finds, resources and solutions. It initially occurred to me that there are plenty of cheap questions, throwaway questions and unrewarding questions. We don't need "consumer education" to recognize questions that create value while satisfying our love our mysteries, adventures and ongoing explorations.

    I then realized that most of my best questions have dawned on me in the midst of intense thought processes. Questions seem to arise like emergent outcomes of complex adaptive systems. When I'm describing this process I say things like:
    Reflecting on all those recent developments that I'm seeing suddenly gave me a new question to explore.
    Changing my point of view revealed a new question I was not previously considering.
    Making use of that new concept raised a whole new set of questions for me to get answered.
    Comparing these alternatives uncovered many deeper questions to ponder.
    When I'm saying things like this, I'm expressing a profound appreciation for quality questions. I regard them as relatively scarce compared to the abundance of further explorations. I value them as gifts, treasures and gems. The value of these questions seems genuine to me, not artificial, contrived or hyped. I'm using the questions to support processes that I trust while get me where I want to go.

    I then entertained a new question: could the right kind of question change our minds? I thought of several different ways to ask the question:
    • How can challenging questions open closed minds that have adopted a stance of "no further questions your Honor"?
    • How could an insightful question shatter long-held assumptions which have denied the reality of the situation?
    • How can penetrating questions revise reasoning that has relied on "either/or" binary explanations?
    • How could several disturbing questions transform a draining vicious cycle into an energizing virtuous cycle?
    I then noticed how I was framing valuable questions as challenging, insightful, penetrating and disturbing. I was setting myself up to appreciate scarce questions, discriminate between different qualities of questions, and regard the right questions for the job as inherently useful. By seeking valued outcomes from my use of questions, I was both open to benefiting from the abundance of answers and guarded against cheap, throwaway and unrewarding questions.

    This seems to me like the start of a freemium business model that works with "content wanting to be free".

    11.20.2009

    Forecasting the flip

    Another way to assess the likelihood of scaling an innovation eluded my searching yesterday. This morning I found it in Chapter Four of the book: Disrupting Class - How disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns by Clayton Christensen, Michael  B. Horn and Curtis W. Johnson. In the words of the authors:
    It turns out there is a way to forecast the flip. ... one must plot on the vertical axis the ratio of market shares held by the new, divided by the old (if each has 50 percent, this ratio will be 1.0). Second, the vertical axis needs to be arrayed on a logarithmic scale—so that .0001, .001, .01, .1, 1.0, and 10.0 are all equidistant. When plotted in this way, the data always fall on a straight line. If the first four or five points do not lie in a line, it is a signal that there is no compelling driver for substitution. But the line is always straight if a disruption is occurring. Sometimes the line slopes upward steeply, and sometimes it is more gradual. The reason the line is straight is that the mathematics "linearizes" the S‑curve. When the substitution pace is plotted in this way, one can tell what the slope of the line is even when the new approach accounts for only 2 to 3 percent of the total. That makes it easy to extend the line into the future to get a sense of when the innovation will account for 25 percent,50 percent, and 90 percent of the total. We call this line a "substitution curve." (pages 97-98)
    The compelling driver for "the innovation replacing the incumbent" is evident in the early market share data. Scaling of the innovation is simply the accumulation of the ongoing logarithmic increases. The S curve flips from "curving up" to "bending over". That turning point has been compared to "taking swings at beach balls where you can't miss", "getting caught up in a tornado" and "hitting the first bowling pin that knocks over all the others".

    11.19.2009

    Will your innovation scale?

    Yesterday I was thrilled to discover, via LinkedIn, the announcement of a competition for business plans in the education space. So much of what I've explored in this blog could be restated as a business plan. I spent most of yesterday contemplating how I could reformulate my writings about disrupting higher ed into a scalable solution to the college dropout problem. The First Annual Milken-PennGSE Education Business Plan Competition defines it's parameters as:
    Educational entrepreneurship business plans should outline the problem they address, offer a solution, and discuss scaling possibilities for bringing the proposed innovation to additional settings ...... In evaluating business plan submissions, our judges will consider the importance of the educational problem, the creativity and feasibility of the proposed solution, and the potential for widespread impact.
    This morning I did a Google search of "scaling innovations" to refine my thinking about the third parameter in the competition. While I found an abundance of content that addresses the scaling of innovations in education, none of it aligned with the model in my mind about scaling. Most of it sought to get incumbents to disrupt themselves, as if educators are being asked to pull the rug out from under their own feet Thus I'm feeling compelled to spell out how I answer the question: "Will my innovation scale up into widespread use?"
    1. Innovations have a chance of scaling if they are "off the radar of the incumbents". This may occur by serving non-consumers of the market leaders, offering lower cost alternatives down market or appearing too weird to pose any obvious threat to those incumbents. Innovations are imperiled by competing directly with, stealing customers from or generating negative press for the incumbents with the resources to annihilate the innovation.
    2. Innovations may scale if they evolve into a total solution. They they offer a "package deal" that handles lots more issues besides the innovation itself. Innovations will not take off if they cannot answer the misgivings and exploratory questions of potential customers.
    3. Innovations are likely to scale if the inventors have "let go of their baby". The process of developing a viable innovation is deeply immersive and intensely engaging. The design issues demand so much attention, the inventors assume "everyone will want this". The innovation only gains widespread adoption when it serves other perspectives, functions in other contexts and solve other problems besides the inventor's original conception.
    4. Innovations improve their chances of scaling when they rebound from the dip (Godin), chasm (Moore) or hype cycle (Gartner). The second launch then appeals to pragmatists who want to use the innovation as a tool, shortcut or solution to their particular situation. They are relying on it's reputation and will spread the word if it works for them. Otherwise, innovations lose out when once the thrill is gone, the early adopters have gotten bored with it and the high churn press coverage has moved on to the next new thing.
    When all four of these issues get handled by the ways of bringing the innovation to market, the odds are in its favor to scale to widespread adoption. Each neglected issue weakens the chances significantly. Failing all four concerns reduces the possibility of scaling to nil.

    11.17.2009

    Formulating a total solution

    When we've developed an innovative product or service, the marketplace may not want it yet, understand it on their own terms or see any use for it in their personal contexts. They may be asking:
    • What good is this to me?
    • Why should I want to acquire this?
    • How can I be the judge of the quality of this?
    • Why should I trust what the sales pitch says about this?

    Those adventurous types that buy something before the herd has a clue that it exists, may be disappointed with their purchase of the innovative product or service. It may not work as promised, not function in the way they had hoped, or took more effort than they expected. Those early adopters may be asking:
    • Why wasn't I told about these disadvantages and difficulties before I bought this?
    • How could I be so gullible, unsuspecting and naive to fall for this?
    • What was I thinking when I found this offer to be appealing?
    • Why was I so impulsive as to leap before I looked?

    Once the innovation gets debugged and refined, some of that buyer's remorse will vanish. Once the disconnects between marketing and actual functionality get cleaned up, more customers will be satisfied with their purchases. Then there will be a new crowd of customers who want to do more with the innovation, who wonder how to get the most out of it and who are considering ways to apply the innovation in other situations. These pragmatists may be asking:
    • Where else can this be applied?
    • How else can this be made to function for me?
    • What can this do when applied to some of my other problems?
    • Why does the innovation limit itself to those prescribed applications?

    All three sets of questions are opportunities to formulate a total solution for the customers. The original innovation gets contained in a larger package. The potential buyers with problems encounter the total solution that says to them: "bring it on, we get this all the time". The potential buyers experience "customer service before the sale". They're then sold on how they were treated, served and respected by the total solution. Their trust in the innovation is deepened by how they got their questions answered, misgivings resolved and remorse prevented. The established customers get service after the sale. They become "brand hijackers" who spread the word of the "great innovation they've been using". They get into the spirit of how they we're treated as they serve their strong and weak social network links with answers to their questions. The total solution takes on a life of its own.