Learning new questions socially

I've known about Facebook for a long while without being curious about it. When I read last month that outside developers could now create new widgets/API's for Facebook subscribers, I still had no questions. When I read recently that nearly all college students are now on Facebook, I got a sense I would be looking into this soon. Then some of the bloggers I subscribe to started exploring Facebook last week. Now I have new questions to explore. Particular people were investigating personal questions. I learned my new questions socially.

First, Cammie Bean wrote Getting Psyched for Facebook which got me wondering about the differences between Facebook and blogging for professional development. Then Michele Martin wrote Facebook, MySpace and Class Divisions. She gave me questions about the harm of the digital divide, depriving others of access and benefits, and elitism inherent in the enrollment. Dan Roddy added to my questions with Facebook How? Why?. Dan's satisfaction and amazement with connecting to his established friends in this new way -- made me more curious about the value of Facebook to those who are getting into it without hesitation. Dan also asked some fabulous questions about "so-net" software getting applied to the development and dissemination of training. Dan linked to a zdnet article which clarified some questions in my mind about the entrepreneurs launching ventures through widgets in Facebook. 

Wendy Wickham then shared her anxieties in Fiddling with Facebook. Wendy helped me question how Facebook serves those in college, and recently graduated, differently from mid career professionals. She also raised questions in my mind about the differences with LinkedIn and the concept of "friends" that Facebook is based upon. Yesterday Jon at Education Revolution posted  SLDS: An Acronym this time which exuded his excitement about the viral potential of Facebook to disseminate education, to equalize access and to make educators scalable. Cammie then posted links to her podcast interview with Kineo's Stephen Walsh.

All this is an example of "life is my PLE". Not much value occurs to me by learning about announcements of products, changes and data. Lots comes from people who are pondering personal questions. I'm thrilled that the questions I'm using are changing, improving, and evolving from this process. I'm not focused on the sources of expertise in my PLE, I'm dwelling on the benefits that emerge from them. I'm not locked into a long term exploration of "Facebook" that would set up subscribed searches, a wiki of resources or even a blog category. I'm exploring Facebook provisionally. The impromptu nature of this is as appealing to me as the learning that's emerging from the social fabric of us.

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Dealing with the unconscious

My further reading in cognitive neuroscience gave me a picture last night of two ways to relate to our unconscious minds. We can work against or work with the mind we cannot know. Both approaches are valuable. There is no problem to solve here -- only cognitive dynamics and learning curves to comprehend.

Our unconscious minds are sources of uncontrollable urges. We act out our baggage of unresolved issues. We throw tantrums and make outrageous demands. We pout and give others the silent treatment. We erupt with out-of-character outbursts. We may become aggressive or self destructive. We are indulging in patterns that overtake us in order to survive amidst danger or succeed at other's expense.

At this stage in our development, it's time to work against the unconscious. We put a lid on our childish urges. We get a grip on our out-of-control passions. We gain the ability to look before we leap. As we work against the unconscious, we form an identity. We strengthen our ego to rise above our primitive urges and irrational energies. We begin to think rationally about what happened, to deliberate about our options and to decide on a best course of action.

We pay a high price as we go through this phase. We lose our spontaneity and playfulness. We suppress our creativity and intuition. We become rigid, intolerant and judgmental. We point fingers at others who remind us of our suppressed urges. We blame others for upsetting us when we're being our own worst enemy. We project our insecurities onto others and bully them. We fall for the intimidation tactics of those who can push our hot buttons. We live in danger of getting abused again.

To outgrow this phase, we get off our high horse, bite the dust and eat some humble pie. We realize others can be right too without making us wrong. We allow for many valid points of view and ways to see the same evidence. We see commonality in our enemies and trouble in too much agreement. We stop controlling others and find things work out for the better when we let go. This transition enables us to begin to work with the unconscious.

Our unconscious works with us when we work with it. When we stop being a know-it-all and ask it questions, wonderful answers come to mind. When we don't know what to do about a problem, enchanting solutions will come when we least expect them. When a dilemma has us befuddled, a paradox will dawn on our unsuspecting thought process. When our rational mind get overwhelmed by the complexity of the situation, our unconscious mind will serve up a simple path to follow.

When we're overwhelmed by the unconscious, we are a nobody. We become a somebody and work against the unconscious. We then lose our identity to join with everybody. The unconscious then works with our awakened sense of who we are together.


Learning with two minds

I'm currently reading a couple of books in cognitive neuroscience that I discovered in the bibliography of a wonderful book that I read last month: U-Turn What if you woke up one morning and realized you were living the wrong life? These books are adding insights about brain functioning that relate to the problems we see everyday with learners. They suggest that most of our conduct is unconscious and conflicted with our intentions. It's looking like we are hard wired to be hypocrites.

Coincidentally, Ray Sims just wrote about Presence (Peter Senge, et al.). Senge's work builds on Chris Argyris's model of single and double loop learning with led to Donald Schon's writing about reflective practitioners. All this relates to the two, separate minds that are getting clarified by cognitive neuroscience. Here's a primer on some of the effects of learning with two minds.

The unconscious mind maintains a goal of replication without conscious awareness, choice or interference. The conscious mind innovates, reasons, chooses and rethinks.

The unconscious mind resolves two issues: survival and success. It learns to stay out of trouble and perpetuates those avoidance tactics. It learns to succeed in ways that increase power and control of situations. The conscious mind learns to relate to others, understand other viewpoints, and consider long term effects of actions. The conscious mind can choose to fail in order to learn more and explore danger that is ordinarily avoided.

The unconscious mind takes evidence literally. It learns to react to the facts and maintain stances based on that obsolete data. It conforms the contradictory information to established categories. The conscious mind learns to handle increasing complexity of meaning, interpretation and framing of facts. The conscious mind changes with new information and hypothetical reasoning.

The unconscious mind learns effortlessly with very little energy spent. The conscious mind learns laboriously with a significant drain on the body's energy resources.

The unconscious mind jumps to conclusions and then revises it's fixations slowly. Assessments are habitual, closed circuits that cannot question themselves (single loop). The conscious mind learns from contradictions, feedback and consequences to take different approaches and utilize other patterns (double loop, reflective practice).

This suggests we naturally pick up habits, examples, routines without conscious awareness. All we need is immersion in situations that challenge us to come up with new fixations to replicate ad infinitum. We can then execute these resources without thinking, slowing down or trying.

This unconscious learning relates to autotelic experiences that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described in Flow The Psychology of Optimal Experience. The learning is done for its own sake (replication) not external goal attainment (innovation). The flow experience occurs because thinking is unnecessary. We lose our self in the process of executing unconscious resources.


Go to your happy places

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I think this is a conference. It's a far better conference than any I've attended in person. Blogging among us offers more:

  • take-away value from the content presented
  • quality interactions and connections among us,
  • "sanctioned stalking" (thanks Cammie) of professionals I hope to relate to,
  • ability to find others available for comments and async conversations

Everything is Miscellaneous predicts that meeting in one place will fade away. When print was transmitted on paper, everything had a place. We knew where to find things by the way they were catalogued and cross referenced by experts. If something was out of place, the system broke down. It had to be kept where it belongs in order to find it.

Now that print is on screen, everything has places. We don't know where to find things and don't need for them to be any place in particular. So long as we can successfully search with our own criteria, hook-up in real time or subscribe to feeds, the thing we're looking for can be anywhere. The cataloguing has gone miscellaneous. The complexity of the meta-order allows us to follow links until we get what we want. The importance of place is getting replaced by places.

Mark Oehlert recently shared how WIFI connections at conferences backfired:

The grand ballroom is Wi-Fi enabled, and the speaker is using the Web for his presentation. Laptops are open, fingers are flying. But the audience is not listening.

For me, this signals the end of meeting in one place. Digital natives are everywhere when they are online. The feeling, freedom, access and possibilities are valuable. It makes sense to stay tethered to the web. In the near future we will have Meetings of the Mind where each of us is going to our broadband-enabled happy place. A gathering will be everywhere when accounting for the places of the participants. The gathering will seem to be in one place, like sitting on a single screen to read this.

BTW: If you can walk to your happy place, eat from your own garden and print nothing out of the proceedings, you will win the "smallest carbon footprint" prize at some future everyplace conference. You need not be present to win in the old, meet-in-one-place sense, but you will be present from your happy place -- in a sync and async sense.


Reversing conventional instruction

Yesterday I read this PDF and then reflected on how that relates to immersion and unconscious learning. I quickly made connections to the empowerment of learners and the desirable effects of instruction on learners. The metaphor of "reversing" conventional instruction came to mind soon after.

Conventional instruction disempowers the learner. When conventional instruction is reversed, the learner is empowered, the outcomes improve and the long term effects are beneficial. The learners are shown respect, put in the driver's seat and given final say in what they understand.

Reversed instruction starts with "the links, not the nodes". Never mind what is going to be learned. Forget learning objectives clearly stated at the start. Assume no content is going to be delivered that could create in a new node in the learners' cognitive networks. Simply start with each learner's current understanding. Make the "uneducated grasp" the topic of study. Explore how that understanding is already linked to the ways the learner handles situations. Discover the context where the learner uses the understanding to explain, diagnose, solve or take action. Come across as pulling for the learners.

Reversed instruction then fails each learner. Never mind waiting until after the test. Forget basing the failure on some objective grading system. Give the learner an experience of their current understanding failing to function adequately. Set the learners up to realize their explanation excludes significant discrepancies, their diagnosis mistakes symptoms for a different cause, their solutions backfire or the actions do more harm than good. Give their current understanding "a bad name"

Reversed instruction then threatens to abandon the learners. Forget giving them something for their money. Never mind keeping up your half the bargain. Suggest that each learner is far more likely to keep using their current understanding than to make any change. Predict that no change in understanding will happen by delivering to them more content, expertise or scientifically validated findings.

Reversed instruction follows this "takeaway" with the presentation of the "educated understanding" that will likely be rejected. Show how it functions. Run through the different ways it explains phenomena, diagnoses symptoms, solves problems and guides actions.

Reversed instruction then puts the "educated understanding" to the test. Never mind testing the students. Forget testing for comprehension. Give the learners the power to test this new "educated understanding". Set them up to evaluate it's worth, utility and functionality. Let them find out if it works for them. Put the understanding to the test to see if they can succeed with it in use.

Reversed instruction then clarifies the learners' choice. Forget reviewing the material that has been covered. Never mind formulating an action plan to implement the advice in the field. Simply handoff the final choice. Show how the educated understanding will only be adopted if it keeps the learners out of trouble and makes them more likely to succeed. If it's useless information, they'll forget it. If it's too difficult to apply, it's gone. If it's misleading and easily bungled, their established understanding will get relied upon until further notice.

Reversed learning works with the unconscious mind. It creates an immersion in danger where something has got to change. The issue is their understanding in use, not new information. The change is set up to occur within the learners. Nothing will be adopted that fails to contribute to personal survival and success. If it works personally, the unconscious will take it on as a new habit. Unconscious competence will be the result.


Immersion learning

Over the weekend, I helped a friend finalize a 3 minute video "Kids and Kites" on helping learners soar. It will be shown at the Aero Conference (Alternative Education Resource Organization) this week. You can view the video here and the web page I created for him here.

As I watched the rough cut and got ideas for changes in edits, I was amazed at how I was functioning better than ever. I could feel where the video was engaging me and where that enchantment disappeared. I could notice where the music felt right and where it did not. I repeatedly had a strong sense of what was "perfect as is" and what needed tweaking. This is new for me to work this way!

I've edited countless videos for my management consulting work. Since the last time I edited videos (circa 1991), my abilities have grown tremendously. Without any practice or instruction, I've become more competent, quick to respond, insightful and tuned into several subtle levels of digital storytelling. I wondered how this occurred?

After the work was completed yesterday, I realized that I probably had learned better editing skills unconsciously. In the past fifteen years, I have immersed myself in movies. There's a movie on the TV "with the mute on" when I'm reading books. I have rented countless videotapes and DVDs of films. I watched a second time with the "directory commentary" to get a sense of the process and chemistry which created the finished work. I've built a library of my favorite films and now watch them for the third or fourth time.

All this exposure to film making and viewing is immersion learning. I did not study video editing formally in these years. I did not receive content or practice new skills. I was not taught or shown how to edit better than I was. I picked these new abilities up without a structured PLE to get them. I effortlessly acquired new habits of sight, feeling, sensitivity and response. I simply immersed myself in a lot of video with great appreciation, fascination and self direction.

Perhaps the difficulties we're having with clarifying the essence PLE's, eLearning and School 2.0 relate to excluding immersion learning. What if most learning occurs effortlessly? What if formal instruction is so often ineffective because it assumes learning only happens when we make it happen? What if the kind of learning we do without trying or conscious effort is better? What if our skills, conduct, and performance measures are exceptional when we acquired our abilities by immersion? What if this is the kind of learning the digital natives are experiencing? What if the only way to learn from gaming, social networking and self expression is immersion?


Meetings of the mind

Blogging is a precursor of intensely collaborative "meetings of the mind". The ways our minds are getting provoked and evolved by writing, commenting and following links -- foretells of ways our minds can come together more creatively. This is a different formulation of the value proposition assumed by holding conversations and interactive sessions at conferences. The value presumed by "being in the same place literally" will be replaced by "coming from the same place metaphorically". Meetings of the mind will emerge like the butterfly from a cocoon. This is one way to replace the strange persistence of conferences and to introduce a profitable business model for "live blogging".

Show me what you're thinking. When we can visualize each other's thinking, we can contribute in new ways beyond the value we provide with our words. As thoughts get translated into imagery, there are many other ways to join in, play around and morph the visualization into a different picture. Thinkers at a meetings of the mind can say "I see what you're picturing" or "here's some interconnections that might help you see what you're trying to get at". We can jump into someone else's "multi-player ideation map" and exclaim "that picture gives me an idea for a different solution" or "seeing it that way is showing me what I'm missing in my concept of this". We will be vividly picturing how each of us thinks through an issue. We will watch how our thinking evolves together.

Come face this design challenge together. Blogging immerses us in resolving conceptual issues. Meetings of the mind will get down to the business of creating innovative solutions to actual problems. Mark Oehlert recently had a taste of this:

... the Game Design Challenge session at the Game Developers Conference. Man! This session is just just people pushing each other to new levels of creativity and innovation...I desperately want that kind of passion and excitement in this field and at our conferences.

Having just finished reading The Ten Faces of Innovation, I think IDEO already has has a viable model for collaborative innovation processes. A meeting of our minds would be launched with video observations, interviews and timelines of people's experiences at work. We'd want to get to the nitty gritty details from the lives of learners, instructional designers, Chief Learning Officers -- you name it. Their issues, problems, conflicts, obstacles and limitations would become apparent to us. We would then consider different metaphors and definitions of the problem. After quickly prototyping possible solutions, we'd learn from each other's impressions of the tentative solution. Another iteration would quickly follow. The intensity and fulfillment that Mark describes is inherent in this process. Meetings of the mind will generate innovations that take the ideas we've been blogging about into trial implementations and then viral adoption.

Post your confusion for us. We all have other long term questions and vague possibilities in mind that are still incubating. Meetings of the mind will publish these messes long before they are presentable. Others can contribute to our considerations while we're still formulating, rethinking, complicating, and dismissing ideas. People will discover similar, useful, parallel or contradictory approaches in our meanderings and misgivings. In addition to getting an organized presentation from us that's easy to follow, they'll be thriving on a mess they can tag, annotate and link from other contexts. We will collectively support each other's evolution from publishing confused possibilities to clear concepts and solutions.

Say how that's valuable to you. When we blog or add comments, we may know our writing was good, but we don't know how it was good for others. In meetings of the mind, we will become increasingly clear about how we helped, what difference we made and which ways we are valuable in other contexts. Because the focus is on changing our minds (instead of presentations and conversations) we will be clear how another's input contributed to those changes. We will each develop brands and value propositions like entrepreneurial start-ups. We'll become articulate, sophisticated consumers of each other's contributions. We'll be known and relied upon for the ways we make differences to meetings of the mind.

Once meetings of the mind are occurring, we may have mini conferences, weekly conferences, combined conferences, and extended conferences. The value of these confabs will get compared to other forms of meeting, sharing information, conversing and presenting. Established modes of conferencing will be questioned for how effectively they achieve innovative solutions, productive collaborations and rapid evolution of thought processes. The standard may eventually evolve so we always ask: how much of "a meeting of the minds" came from that session?


The strange persistence of conferences

I've just been reading the comments that Tony Karrer has been getting on his post: Better Conferences - Response Needed. All the wonderful ideas show ways to make conferences more useful to those of us who are already swimming in useful information. We don't need to be told what we can find for ourselves online. The premise of many comments is that we need to interact, watch demos, disagree, synergize, and collaborate on deeper explorations.

Attending conferences was an "eighties thing" for me. I was the keynote speaker at the last conference I attended. That gave me the privilege of drifting around between all the breakout sessions to get a feel for the entire gathering. I made notes of quotes from different sessions that I wove into my closing remarks. I had already become a voracious reader. While there, I was having the experience of getting almost no new information. The printed summation of all the sessions was practically useless. This was a precursor to our current experiences of not needing to be spoon-fed info now that we have online access to phenomenal resources.

I suspect we are in the middle of a transition stage, like the cocoon that transforms a caterpillar into a butterfly. Transitional forms include unconference, Future Search, Appreciative Inquiry, World Cafe, and Open Space technology models of gathering. These structures are open-ended. The outcomes are unpredictable. The process is fluid and emergent from the interactions among the particular participants.

These transition forms move beyond getting information to what we do with information, how we're trying to make better use of it and ways we change in the process of interacting with information. In this, we are seeing added functionality prior to a breakthrough product: like

  • tape or CD players (Walkman) that surpassed phonographs,
  • but still played replaceable media, (prerecorded tapes & CD's)
  • unlike the MP3 players (iPod & iTunes)
  • that transformed portable music listening, shopping and sharing

This raises the question: "why are conferences for the presentation of information so persistent?" There are several factors at play here:

  1. It makes sense to present information formally when lots of the sources are unreliable. Experts are relied upon to sort out the accurate and verifiable sources from the distorted and conjectural. Citizen participation has increased the need for expert filters or collaborative processes (ranking, voting, commenting, tagging, etc) to get to the good stuff.
  2. Presenting information seems valuable when information is scarce or hard to come by. While digital information resources are growing daily and seem highly accessible, several artificial scarcities exist. Information put on paper is not free or searchable. It's artificially scarce because there are page limits for a publication, storage limits for a physical archive, indexing limitations for cataloguing the contents and spending limits for the purchase of hard copies.
  3. Professionals in the trenches have no time to read, reflect and research outside the scope of their pressing obligations. "Digital information overload" shifts the scarcity from information access to time available. We need presenters who had time to read those PDF files, listen to those podcasts, look through those slides or watch those videos. We have access to the information, but no time to absorb it, tie it together or apply it to practical situations.

The persistence of conferences raises another question. What are likely replacements to the transition forms that are creeping into conference schedules? Said another way: what will the butterfly look like once it exits our current cocoon?


Changing an epistemological system

An epistemological system dictates what a situation calls for. It interprets people's actions and intentions to remain consistently right. An epistemological system provides the meaning for every incident and a diagnosis for every problem.

Changing an epistemological system seems like changing the ground we stand on. We are coming from a different place when we change systems. We are on top of a situation we felt put down by. We are free to move where we felt confined. We are on an adventure where we felt stuck.

This diagram colors the two systems as red and blue. This follows a favorite book of mine: Blue Ocean Strategy where red and blue oceans are compared. Red oceans are bloodied by rivalries. The epistemological system in an industry dictates competition and costly battles to prove superiority. There is no free market space where an enterprise can "let its guard down" or "operate free of fear".

A blue ocean is uncontested market space -- providing access to untapped demand. It seems impossible to miss at revenue growth, market penetration, customer loyalty, brand development and continued innovations. It's like taking a swing at beach balls pitched over home plate. The epistemological system dictates listening and learning. Threats are seen as opportunities to make changes. Rivals are framed as valuable teachers or bad examples to learn from. Disconnects are situations that call for connecting.

Changing ground, or epistemological systems, occurs one situation at a time. Whenever it is automatically assumed what the situation calls for, a time out is called to reconsider that. What does this situation call for? When the conclusion is changed, the system is revised. Chronic people problems will go into remission.

Systems that produce chronic problems

Timothy Johnson is a keen observer of workplace hostilities. His latest book, GUST The "Tale" Wind of Office Politics, chronicles a toxic level of obstructionism, antagonistic purposes and deceitful communications inside a corporate setting. He introduces several overt and covert strategies that disrupt the cruel games being played out. His wonderful use of analogies and metaphors turns the onslaught of intimidating tactics into manageable situations. His book provides useful ammunition and insightful outlooks for the battles that breakout between power-trippers in every kind of organization.

In the ongoing comments on Michele Martin's: When We're Faced with Change, We Can Either Fence Ourselves in or Make Ourselves More Resilient, we're exploring another "office politics problem": the neglect of people's hidden talents, under-utilized strengths and potential to handle new challenges. The emphasis on fixing people's shortcomings and correcting their mistakes precludes a developmental approach.

All mismanagement of people is systemic. It does not make sense to blame individuals once the whole system is accounted for and recognized as the source of the drama. The system that produces chronic problems uses people as pawns to perpetuate it's existence. The interpersonal problems persist because the underlying dynamics are robust and resilient. There's no end to the obvious dysfunctions until this epistemological system is revised.

This system remains hidden below the drama. It goes unquestioned because their is so much pain and fuss erupting on the surface. The system lurks behind "this is a cost of doing business", "it's always been this way", or "we're already facing the facts of the situation here". This system defines all the problems, frames every incident, assigns blame or causality and maintains the same experiences for all participants.

Changing an epistemological system simply changes the unquestioned facts of life. Everything gets different meanings. Problems are redefined and seen in a different light. The obvious symptoms reveal underlying issues. The established facts become obsolete interpretations and opportunities to reconsider the basis for making sense.

to be continued ....


The dream of your customer

As I mentioned in Learning from what happens, every customer has an unfulfilled  dream. When that dream is understood by the seller, the customer feels powerful and can act decisively. The value the customers experience runs deep and overrides their hesitation. They are sold on the purchase in ways they cannot explain.

Henry Ford didn't ask "what do you want?" because people would have said "faster horses". Customers cannot want what has not yet been invented. Their options preclude innovative, futuristic and breakthrough possibilities.

We also get into trouble "asking for the dream of our customers" because we all harbor conflicting desires. We say we want things that get us approval, appease our critics and justify our preferences. We really want experiences that contradict those desires and come from a deeper place. We don't really know who we are, where we come from or what our destiny might be. We really want things on that unknown basis. We cannot be deeply satisfied with what will "keep up appearances of respectability".

Some real estate brokers operate on the premise that "buyers are liars". These brokers have learned the hard way from dissatisfied home buyers. What the clients say they want is not what they really want. Selling works with both the conscious reasoning and unconscious mind of the customers. They ask the clients what kind of house and which kind of neighborhood they want. They then tour houses that are the same as those desires, the complete opposite and several in-between options.

Usually the customers show no interest in the kind of house they said they want. Their conscious mind does not know it's own unconscious desires. (That's what "unconscious" means) The opposite house to their stated desires thrills the customer on inspection. The home and neighborhood provides decades of satisfaction if they have the wisdom to trust their feelings and buy it.

Asking learners what they want poses this same challenge.  What they say they want is very misleading. Their actions speak louder than words. Their true desires are revealed through their outbursts, objections, reactions and initiatives. When learners are obviously unhappy with what or how they are being taught, they are experiencing some deep seated satisfaction. When learners are complaining and reacting to instruction, they really want the battle game they are playing. When learners are filled with curiosity and gratitude, their conscious desires and deep ambitions are congruent.

When we learn to read the signs, we can stop taking customers at their word. Instead of pandering to their stated preferences, we can see what they really want as it's revealed in their actions. We can serve the deeper dream of the customer  and create enduring value.


Learning from what happens

Last week Michele Martin experienced how Enterprise Car Rental provides exceptional customer service. She then learned that Enterprise provides NO formal training in customer service. Their exceptional approach to service is learned on the job, learned by doing it, and learned from what happens.

This is also true for the entrepreneurs I mentor. They have no formal training in their endeavors. All it takes for them to learn from what happens is some clean structure. With a framework for making sense of setbacks and successes, we all quickly learn to be more effective. What happens to us provides the feedback we need to refine our approach, change our mind or switch intentions.

One entrepreneur deals with many customers who cannot make up their minds. Their indecisiveness is fueled by his giving them more options and choices to consider. The freedom he provides mixes with the customers' powerlessness to create an irresolvable situation. This appears as a set-up for him to dominate the conversation, to tell the customer what to decide and to "dish out some dirty structure".

Last week he realized that each customer shows up initially with a dream. Their wishful thinking has created a picture of what they want. It's usually unrealistic, but it provides the basis for the customer to feel powerful and decisive. When the customers' dream is accepted and understood, the indecisiveness disappears. So this entrepreneur has learned from what happens to initially support the customers' fantasy of what will be useful and satisfying.

This lesson functions as clean structure. In the future, he can assess what happened to the customer's decisiveness in terms of what he did with their dream. He can make "midcourse corrections" when he sees indecisiveness creeping into the conversation. Rather than madly searching for the option they really want, he can simply restore his understanding of what they wanted in the first place. He can get back to the place where they feel powerful and decisive.

There was no class he took on customer decisiveness. This is something he learned on the job, learned by doing it, and learned from what happens.


Providing clean structure

In a comment on Good coercion, constraints & focus, Stephen Downes said:

Education needs something like a Hippocratic Oath. Some sort of equivalent to the 'no harm' principle. As in, "First of all, do no harm..."
Coercion can sometimes produce good results. But just as often, and often concurrently, it produces harm. People who are coerced lose their sense of autonomy, lose their sense of self-value, begin to live in fear of consequences.

I totally agree with what Stephen says here. For coercion to be good, it needs to be harmless. This has been a big issue for one the entrepreneurs I'm mentoring. We have wrestled with how to create initial expectations for customers, employees and temps. We've sought to steer away from manipulation, domination and insensitivity. As we discussed this issue in depth, we came to rely on a distinction between "dirty and clean structure".

Dirty structure sends a message that "you don't have a choice here". It sets up controlling the other people as if they are trapped, caged or kept on a short leash. It works against the others as if "buyers are liars", "give an inch and they'll take a mile" or "no act of kindness will go unpunished". Dirty structure puts distance into the relationship as if there is no common ground, mutual respect or future cooperation to cultivate. It delivers an ultimatum: "follow these orders or else". The implicit threat in dirty structure escalates the adversarial context, raises their defenses and produces chronic anxiety.

Clean structure creates the space of the others to make up their own minds. It supports other people's decision-making as if they are intelligent, solving their own problems and capable of meeting their own objectives. It works with others as if "buyers spread good reputations", "caring comes back around" and "people soften when they feel understood". Clean structure establishes common ground, mutual respect and future cooperation. It provides permission to "say no", "take their time" and "do what they think is best". The implicit cooperation in clean structure de-escalates the adversarial context, lowers their defenses and puts their minds at ease.

When clean structure is being provided, people are told things like:

  • This is how this situation is handled routinely and why it's approached this way
  • These are the stages we will go through at first before you will be expected to take charge of this responsibility
  • We have a few questions to help you sort out your options to pick what's best for you
  • Here are the choices you need to make before we begin and some things to consider before you decide
Our experiences with providing clean structure have discovered that it does work. It affects people like we intended and seems to be a form of harmless coercion.

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Indie professional development

Last week Tony Karrer became more convinced of the intangible value of blogging. We are all experiencing higher quality professional development. All we have to do is take the time to reflectively read, write, comment and link to blogs. Blogging among fellow professionals is free of out-of-pocket expenses, like all those free downloads on indie band sites.

This morning Harold Jarche explored ways to sidestep the business models of incumbents by developing innovative offerings they cannot and do not want to pursue. This brought to mind a post by Chris Anderson last February about the growing success of indie bands: Give away the music and sell the show.

Don't these bands want to make money from their art? Many do, but they're just smarter than most music industry execs. They understand the difference between abundance and scarcity economics. Music as a digital product enjoys near-zero costs of production and distribution--classic abundance economics. When costs are near zero, you might as well make the price zero, too, something thousands of bands have figured out.

Meanwhile, the one thing that you can't digitize and distribute with full fidelity is a live show. That's scarcity economics. No wonder the average price for a ticket was $61 last year, up 8%--in an era when digital products are commodities, there's a premium on experience. No surprise that bands are increasingly giving away their recorded music as marketing for their concerts, which offer something no MP3 can match.

This may be a new business model that applies to our use of blogging for indie professional development. Perhaps we're missing the "Live Blogging" piece of the puzzle. We've got the abundance economics working great and are benefiting from it. We're missing the premium charged at the door for live, in person, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. There's no tickets taken at the door, no way to come inside, and no venue for a live version of the digital freebie.

It's easy to "kill the goose that lays the golden egg". Turning freebies into paid subscriptions is usually lethal. As Chris Anderson says, near zero costs implies free offerings. David Weinberger mentioned how digital information "wants to be free or dirt cheap".

Indie bands have invented a best-of-both business model. Free offerings feed the revenue stream. Blogs are pre-recorded. We bloggers are "in the recording studio". I wonder how we'll take blogging live?

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Good coercion, constraints & focus

Yesterday, my sister described to me several people in her life as "bringing out the best or worst in her". Michelle Martin then added to this thinking about "bringing out the best in others" with her: More People Isn't Always the Answer -- which linked to her Can Limitations Actually Free Your Organization. That brought to mind a comment Roger von Oech added to my post Home Free at Last about design constraints several months back:

Typically, when we play with an idea we allow ourselves to try a lot of different approaches. Often, that means eliminating constraints. However, I think that a very liberating form of play is to add a constraint or two to the situation. As Frank Lloyd Wright repeatedly told his students: "Limits are an artist's best friend."

I then wrote a follow up post: Playing with the problem which further expanded on the value of design constraints. This week, I explored valuable constraints in the context of the arduous transitions facing digital immigrants who are left out of our changing culture: Baptism by fire. Being trapped in a psychological crucible with no exits induces unconscious learning at a deep level. The solution is found in the problem. The freedom is discovered within the prison of constraints.

After exploring with dark side of coercion with Tony Karrer in the comments section of his recent post: PLE-PWLE discussion continues, yesterday I began to see ways that coercion is not all bad. It's possible for coercion to bring out the best in learners, as well as the worst. Coercion can work like the constraints that fuel creativity and personal transformation.

In the ongoing comments on Empowered Entrepreneurs, Adele Lim recently asked me about:

the role(s) of 'focus' and/or control in this instance, for they can either be barriers or allies (again opposite ends)

Like coercion and constraints, focus can be dysfunctional. In those instances it's called premature convergence, thinking inside the box, tunnel vision, over-limiting oneself and passing up opportunities. However, focus can also be very beneficial. In those situations, it's called shutting out distractions, staying on-task, concentrating one's efforts and gaining momentum in the chosen direction.

All this raises a new question in my mind: When coercion, constraints and focus are dysfunctional, is it enough to see the potentially functional use of each? Does seeing it can be good induce it become good? Is it enought to "be the change"? Can we transform bad situations into good with our outlook -- as I suggested yesterday with my use of recursive epistemologies and quantum theory's observer-dependence principle in Experts are telling us lies?


Experts are telling us lies

Andrew Keen's book, The Cult of the Amateur is stimulating a lot of reflective thought about the nature of valued expertise. I previously used Andrew Keen as an example of an unfortunate learner. Will Richardson, Tony Karrer, George Siemens and Wendy Wickham are all thinking about Web 2.0's impact on experts -- with their recent posts.

In my view, experts are defensive because they are under siege on several, simultaneous fronts:
Observer-dependence: In quantum physics and the Santiago school in cognition theory: we see what we're looking for. Every observation has a perceptual bias that alters the findings. A self-fulfilling prophesy takes effect. There is no valid objectivity, only influential projections of our selective consciousness.

Post-modernism: Objectivity is a dominant narrative that subjugates and marginalizes the diversity of other valid narratives. "That's not a fact, it's your story that you use to control the situation in your favor". The way you label this gives you feedback on where you're coming from. It's not an indication of what is out there.

Chaos theory: A slight change (Butterfly Effect) in one location can disturb the interconnectedness in a way that yields a massive change elsewhere. System-wide repercussions discredit explanations of consistent causal links, isolated dependent variables or empirical validity.

Recursive epistemology: Events occur in cycles that are acausal (chicken-egg questions, vicious cycles, self-reinforcing loops, closed systems). This mutual interdependence enables both sides to support the continuity of each other. Isolated, compartmentalized and labeled things are misperceptions of "what goes around comes around" processes. Linear models misrepresent non-linear dynamics.

In this context, "being an expert" requires telling us a pack of lies:

This has nothing to do with me. I'm pointing my finger at an objective problem that is unrelated to my outlook, assumptions or unresolved issues. My other three fingers do not point back at me.

This is the truth. This is the one right answer that proves that other versions are wrong or inadequate explanations. The nature of this truth does not allow for idle conjectures, spin doctoring, deviant explanations or metaphorical allusions to other interpretations.

This has a known cause. This happened for an identifiable reason. This will happen again for the same reasons. This can be solved, fixed or prevented by knowing what caused it and eliminating that variable.

This can be stopped. This is not the effect of wanting to stop it. This is not persisting because of resisting it. This cannot come back to haunt us. We are not perpetually interconnected. There are no significant, unintended consequences.
Experts are losing credibility. It's becoming clear to our collective wisdom that they are liars or delusional. The more we generate our own content, conversations and subjective interpretations, the less use we will have for the distortions subscribed to by experts. The content of Web 2.0 seems more valuable to us because it's freeing us from these lies.


Baptism by fire

Jerrell Jobe raised some wonderful questions about the personal transitions I have implicated in Learning the Landscape.

Are there ways of acclimating the Immigrants to not only the landscape, but also the Natives who live there?

As I've explored numerous transition processes in the past few months, I've come to the understanding that many digital immigrants will be left behind as this digital transformation evolves. Why won't they get on board, evolve with the changing times and join the revised culture?

Our unconscious minds figure out how to survive and thrive in dangerous situations. We then get "locked into a loop", "sold on our success routine", or "sentenced as a prisoner of our habit". We don't change our mind, patterns or premises easily. The new situation looks like more of the same dangers that we're already prepared to face.

It takes an existential crisis to change our unconscious minds. We become "reprogrammed" when our survival strategies are not working -- no matter how we try. We need to feel like we are in a sealed chamber with no exits. We cannot escape using our established gambits, outlooks and rules to play by. It's time to make a change at a deeper level than our conscious reasoning goes.

The most popular genre of movie involves this transformation of the protagonist's character. The existing personality traits are good to go off on some heroic adventure. An initial success comes easily and turns the protagonist's confidence to arrogance. A series of setbacks give victory to all those creepy antagonists. The situation becomes inescapable without a change in the protagonist's character. The plot thickens and the hero reaches deep into his/herself to come up with a new way to act.

This is a "baptism by fire". The initiation is terrifying. The possibility of psychological annihilation is great. The penalties for getting it wrong are "total reject -- game over". The escape routes are barricaded. The issue is being forced so that the unconscious mind goes into spontaneous reorganization.

These crises occur frequently in committed relationships. Misunderstandings erupt that can only be resolved by a deep change in character. Conflicts between digital natives and immigrants may become the staging ground where discovery learning gets initiated and book-learners switch to learning from the landscape.


Learning the landscape

Discovery learners go on adventures, find paths to explore and come across memorable lessons in their travels. The ground covered and finds along the way are the lesson. The terrain is the teacher.

Educators who take "terrain" literally limit what students can learn to field trips, school gardens, nature hikes and classroom terrariums. They assume it's not possible to learn "textbook topics" by adventuring. They see no landscape to explore that would come across technical topics.

School dropouts have always known better. The "kid on the street" quickly learns how to survive, who to trust and what counts in that world. The young apprentice finds out how the craftsperson performs his/her trade by observing and experimenting. The shop keeper reveals the tricks of the trade to keep a customer satisfied and coming back for more. All this occurs without books, quizzes and grades.

Digital landscapes are emerging. It's now possible to travel networked terrains in search of answers and better questions. It's easy to come across exactly what we were looking for. It's likely we will encounter online some like-minded denizens who think like us, want the same things and have their own finds to share with us.

Instead of traveling dirt paths or city sidewalks, we are following links, visiting sites, and exploring 3D realms. These terrains are available 24/7. We can log on or off anytime we please. We can go where we want to go for our own reasons. We are gaining satisfaction by pursuing our own aims at a pace we choose. We are free to learn naturally, like our unconscious mind does so well.

This "return to the land" looks to me like a McLuhanesque reversal. Harold Jarche has explored similar reversals with cars, LMS servers and social networking technologies. The increasing use of digital terrains will transform classrooms into quaint reminders of a bygone era. Sitting still to learn will become an entertaining contrast to the vast movement in digital learning terrains. Tourists will visit the few remaining schools to sit in desks, be told what to think and take tests on textbooks. What a kick!

Meanwhile the current technological advances will restore an antiquated mode of learning from hunter-gatherer cultures. We will return to learning the landscape.


Helping the learners

One of the issues in the PLE conversation is "helping the learners: learn and become better learners". There's an approach I'm gaining clarity about to provide this help: simply stop interfering.

There's a Native American tradition I learned of this year that starts from the premise that: "teaching interferes with learning". When learners seek to be taught, they are redirected with a new question, subtle hints or a puzzling story. It's assumed that teaching them directly would undermine their natural ability to discover answers on their own. If learners grow to rely on teachers, they will be unable to learn from their actions, consequences and social experiences. Teaching is cheating someone of their right to "figure it out on their own". Getting taught is not as fun, fulfilling and empowering as getting directed back into a continuing exploration.

I believe we are coming around to this tradition throughout the world. Formal education is failing to meet the needs of our changing technologies and cultures. The costs are soaring, the value is declining and the disenchantment is growing.

Gaming, handhelds and online activities are all learned by self-discovery, experiments and feedback (with a little help from our friends). We are gaining confidence from how much we've learned to do that's new without getting taught how to do it. We found out how, figured out how, or realized how to do it -- one way or another.

There is an underlying psychological reason to stop interfering with learning. Our unconscious mind demonstrates amazing learning abilities that our conscious mind cannot replicate. We assimilate our native language, social graces and motor skills by imitation and experimentation. If we are given a complex puzzle about making the right tradeoffs, our conscious mind is baffled and our unconscious mind gets it right. Once we start succeeding, the conscious mind assumes "it was dumb luck".

This also makes sense in terms of the abundance and scarcity framework that Michele Martin and Pete Reilly have both raised in the past week. If we assume a learner lacks the ability to learn, we are all too eager to make them dependent on us, disable their curiosity, and dismiss their own power. If we assume (as Native Americans do) that the learner has an abundance of resources for discovering, exploring and learning, we carefully avoid interfering by our teaching, delivering content or push models of education. Switching from a scarcity to an abundance framework will really help the learners.

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Regulated learning environments

James Ryan left an extensive comment on Enterprises that love PLE's. He reveals the thinking about PLE's inside the financial services industry:

(A PLE/Education Portfolio owned by the learner) also requires a means for the learner to accept updates to their PLE, made by people providing training, so the student has a verified training record, verified qualifications and ce points/hours or other measurement.

Wherever a portion of an economy acquires concentrated power, a regulatory environment is created. Financial services, public utilities, health care, transportation safety, law enforcement, governmental services and the military -- all operate in regulatory environments.

The oversight by a regulatory commission prevents the abuse of that highly centralized power. The protection of citizen rights is accomplished by regulations, enforcement and penalties. This defense against abuses involves mandatory training, refresher courses and compliance verification. The training industry gets most of its revenue serving this sector of the economy. Regulatory environments use an LMS to monitor the completion of SCORM compliant modules developed in accordance with ADDIE protocol to support internal KM.

Regulatory environments are deeply dualistic. There are based on clear lines being drawn between right and wrong, truth and falsehood, compliance and non-compliance. Policy enforcement mandates the delivery of content. Regulatory environments can only give lipservice to informal learning, PLE's and empowerment. A PLE in this environment is a glorified in-box, made to look like discretionary choices and self-controlled explorations.

Creativity in these contexts is called embezzlement, insubordination, deviation, cooking the books or fraud. There is no room for the kinds of innovations that play with paradoxes and non-compliant possibilities. Regulatory learning environments must oppose free range learning, authentically personal learning environments and self-motivated conduct. In this context, PLE is an oxymoron.


Traits for creating PLE's at work

In a comment on "Enterprises that love PLE's": Mark Prasatik said:

Tom, it seems to me that companies who value learning seek out the types of people who create their own PLEs rather then trying to create a standardized version for them behind the firewall. Google comes to mind here.

Mark's comment brings to mind the connections between the kinds of work being done and the traits of new hires/valued employees to do the work. He also raises the issue of the work of setting up a PLE in the first place.

When work is highly repetitious and boring, powerlessness is an attractive trait in employees. Their thinking "I cannot" keeps them from having a problem with the mind-numbing nature of the work. PLE's or any kind of workplace learning is unnecessary. The work is defined by a closed spec that calls for compliance and conformity. PLE's in this context would be "company issued" to impose uniformity and be inherently pointless. Setting them up would occur top-down to avoid the "training cost" of teaching every underling how to do it.

When work is well defined and challenging, ambition is an attractive trait in new hires and the cream of the crop. The work is defined by open spec (what we want done but not how to do it; results without a mandatory process). These environments generate lots of interest in best practices, effective short cuts and "tricks of the trade". Wiki and CoP thrive here. PLE's could be set up from a "customize your own PLE" wiki of rated alternatives and recommended workflows. The emphasis would be on "getting the job done", not on "free ranging personal development".

When work is in the process of getting defined, self-directed learning is an attractive trait. The ill-defined challenges cannot be specified. The situation calls for self-starters who learn from everything like empowered entrepreneurs do. Employees would go beyond creating their own PLE. They would change their PLE often as they learned from their experiences. Their learning would help define what work to do, which problems to solve, which strategies to pursue and which issues to ignore.

When work is innovative and constantly changing, creativity is an attractive trait in employees. The continually unusual challenges call for intrinsic motivations that are easily disrupted. The nurturing of individual passions, freedoms and explorations is essential. The learning would be deep and fortunate. Employees would see fuzzy boundaries between work and play, company and personal time, structure and freedom or productive and exploratory efforts. Their PLE would be paradoxical. They would say crazy things like "life is my PLE".


The P in PLE

Contentions are the by-product of dualistic thinking: "I can't be both" and "there's no two ways about it". Resolutions are the result of holistic thinking: "It takes both" and "They are two sides of one coin". Personal learning environments are not a contentious issue, but the dichotomous thinking about them is. Every positional stance looks valuable, reasonable and insightful to me. What do I know?

We all appear to be on guard against pointless learning environments. Like learning organizations, teams and knowledge management, PLE's can be co-opted. This is most likely in those cultures that thrive on acronyms: LMS, ADDIE, KM, CLO and PLE. It's done for show without substance. The enterprises are tall with layers of hierarchy, thick with restrictive policies, and fat with bureaucratic controls. As I proposed in PLE's in context, A personal learning environment would appear "out of control" in this context -- like a license to surf, shop and socialize online during company time.

Professional learning environments are possible in enterprises that are flat with delegated authority, expansive with distributed power to solve problems and thin with imposed controls. Individuals are vested with the responsibility to learn from strategic setbacks, empathize with customers, create better solutions and cooperate with diverse constituencies. This calls for learning from colleagues, rivals, journalists, industry analysts, suppliers and consultants. It involves making sense of new information, contradictory stances and opposing viewpoints. The learning is shared within the enterprise and is useful beyond the tenure of the professional who brought it into the community. These PLE's are appropriately inside the firewall.

Personal learning environments belong outside the firewall. They contribute to the professional development of the individual. In terms that Stephen Downes uses: they are outside the walled garden, free of group norms and immersed in an authentic ecological network. These PLE's do not depend on the culture of the employer. They succeed by the emergent community of links, subscribers and conversations on the outside.

Paradoxical learning environments defy dualistic thinking. They only make sense as vanishing distinctions. They serve both personal and professional interests. They may bridge across the firewall without compromising the integrity of either side's content. They make valuable connections between an individual professional development and improvements in the employer's practices. They realize the best of both professional and personal learning environments without getting co-opted, compromised or corrupted. They come about when all four P's in PLE are understood and accepted.

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Enterprises that love PLE's

When Peter Senge introduced the practice of learning organizations in his book, The Fifth Discipline, he encountered a lot of lipservice from his consulting clients. Plenty of organizations wanted to be seen as actively learning, while they did not want to commit the resources. Learning results in significant changes and that's considered a de-stabilizing threat to enterprises stuck in their ways.

It's occurred to me (while reading Tony Karrer's and Michele Martin's posts) that PLE's are less vulnerable to lipservice. An enterprise would only commit to "inside the firewall" PLE's if it wanted the learning that comes from them. I doubt there is much glamour or window dressing to having PLE's throughout an organization. Why would the detached constituencies (stockholders, foundations or voters) be impressed with an enterprise unleashing a tide of highly individualized learning?

Scobel and Israel's Naked Conversations, suggested there was much "high visibility" and "good press" garnered from transparent corporate blogs. That positive attention comes from blogging customers and industry journalists who are also writing about the company. PLE's could earn some of this same respect, credibility and exposure. PLE's could also use their tags and subscriptions to be more transparent. However, customers and journalists are a different constituency than the shareholders who jump for joy at budget cutbacks, downsizing and upturns in efficiency metrics -- when quarterly earnings growth is flat.

There is a kind of enterprise that would value PLE's for internal use. These enterprises would naturally commit to "inside the firewall" PLE's wholeheartedly. They would have successes with bottom-up innovations and changes in strategy. They would value the employees who are close to the customers and full of "bad news" about products, follow-through, changes, etc. These enterprises would commit considerable resources to responding to complaints, problem solving breakdowns and changing procedures that malfunction.

Enterprises that love PLE's would frequently debrief the lower ranking members for their insights, perspectives and advice. They would occasionally cannibalize their own products, abandon past successes and dismantle their own departments. Being this fluid and open to transformation would require the far reaches of the organization learning as much as possible every day from every relevant source. PLE's would make perfect sense and get used intensely.

Clearly this is a different use of PLE's than those outside the firewall, for free rangers, and for learning from everything of personal interest.

Making good guesses

I spent yesterday repairing the sprinkler system in my mother's front lawn. One section has been steadily losing water pressure over the past year. I did some exploratory digging last summer, but could not find the problem. I made a guess of what would fix the problem. I spent yesterday running a new supply line to that section that bypassed the adjacent tree roots. It worked. Good guess!

It occurred to me that "making good guesses" is an essential component of fortunate learning. We are continually making guesses about which book to read, blog feed to subscribe to, link to follow, or comment to make. We have no idea if we are right. We can proceed with informed judgment, but no certainty. We can only make good guesses.

Unfortunate learners are making bad guesses. Their minds are interfering with making good guesses. They don't happen upon the serendipitous sequence of delightful next steps and fortunate discoveries.

In my experience, I "get it right" when I've reflected upon the situation serenely. When I give a challenge my fearless consideration, it dawns on my mind what to see, say and do. It feels like I am clear of obstructions to receiving those insights and intuitions.

My experience suggests how unfortunate learners make bad guesses. They reflect on their situation in an agitated state of mind. They give the challenge their fearful consideration. Their minds are filled with anxieties, frustrations and dreadful forecasts. They "get it wrong" by starting out in a state of mind that overrides their inspirations. They are trying too hard, thinking too much and mistrusting their serene approach to the problem.

Whenever we are calming learners down, we help them make good guesses. It helps to give them permission to "do their thing". That shows them ways to defy the social pressures to conform, struggle, comply and submit to authorities. Relieving their anxieties, easing their minds, accepting their condition -- all support their shifting into a receptive frame of mind.


Practicing reflection

Communities of practice are practicing reflection. They are sensemaking the facts of their practical experiences. They are considering questions of lessons to be learned, take-away value, and changes to make as a result of what occurred. Our blogging shows signs of functioning like communities of practice.
Patrick Higgins has recently added posts to his blog that are a wonderful example of practicing reflection. Patrick is helping K-12 teachers integrate Web 2.0 technologies into their classrooms. The titles of his posts indicate how much reflecting he's doing reading: Something akin to sensemaking, Year-end evaluation, Framework for planning.

Those of us who search for, link to and tag digital content are practicing reflection. David Weinberger calls this a "third order of order". We are externalizing meaning. We are connecting our dots for others to consider how to connect their dots.

A second order of order deals with "one right answer". There are no two ways about it. We call it what it is. We label it the way it is commonly accepted. An expert has final say. We are simply cataloguing the nodes according to proper protocols. One link is enough. We can put the dots into file folders and consider the mess organized. We find them again by knowing what to call it or where we put it in the first place.

A third order of order expects meaning to be messy. We call it like we see it and that differs from everyone else. There are many right answers. There are thousands of ways to see it, frame it and use it. We have final say over our idiosyncratic consideration. We are free to tag it as we please, link to it within our own context, and search for it differently each time.

This is a very deep change. We are losing interest in newspapers and finding uses in "meaning papers" like our blogs. We are finding less relevance in experts and more significance in experiences. We are outgrowing the ways we get framed by others and are framing our experiences in our favor. We are dismissing claims of final say and having our own say as we reflect on our practice.


Fortunate learners and PLE's

I experience myself as a fortunate learner. I've been on a roll since I started reading two books a week around 1990. I continually find something that answers a question I've been carrying or shows me a better question to be asking. When I lose interest in what I'm reading, I'll happen to pick up or come across something that follows on what I was reading. When I come back days later to the reading I abandoned, I discover that I left off in a place with fits perfectly with what I'm thinking about days later. All this good fortune has "gone on steroids" since I've subscribed to blog feeds and followed links in blog postings.

I'm also fortunate in the realm of creativity and innovation. Inspirations come to my mind at perfect times. It makes sense that new ideas occur to me when I have a "prepared mind". Stewing about something and then letting it go works great for me. The process of inventing serendipitously seems very similar to my process of fortunate learning. Both are open-ended and fluid enough to change directions, intentions and timing. Both are intuitive and getting guidance from within. Both are intrinsically motivated and done for their own reward. Both are full of contradictory combinations of structure & process, requirements & freedom, or practicality & visionary possibilities.

I'm very aware of the ways I can undermine this process. Books on creativity confirm what I've "learned the hard way" about the fragile nature of my relentless good fortune. Extrinsic rewards and imposed structures defeat the inspired flow. Kathy Sierra said this beautifully in Don't ask employees to be passionate about the company. Harold Jarche recently blogged about 3M's loss of innovativeness that resulted from becoming more efficient. David Weinberger offers a similar point also made in The Starfish and The Spider: Messy, leaderless, multi-faceted approaches bring out amazing talents, contributions and initiatives from everyone. Organized, controlled, and catalogued approaches undermine all that.

This means there are also unfortunate learners. Clive Shepherd's wonderful critique of Andrew Keen's new book, The Cult of the Amateur portrays the author as unfortunate. Powerless employees in need of PLE's as power tools are also unfortunate learners. Learning becomes a struggle like studying textbooks we don't want to read for tests we don't want to take for grades that are meaningless beyond the stupid course requirement.

This distinction between fortunate and unfortunate learners gives me a way to provide context to our ongoing exploration of PLE's.

When PLE's are productivity tools to facilitate research work, learning is most likely going to be an unfortunate struggle. The good intentions behind providing better tools will backfire -- like the process improvements at 3M or asking employees to be passionate about the company. The emphasis on tools puts a damper on the necessary messiness. Think "playing beach volleyball in three piece suits". Improvisation is possible but not easy.

When PLE's are created from workflows and use cases to support informal learning, the process is more open-ended, self structured and individualized. I equate this with my own subscribing to blog feeds and acquiring books to read -- prior to jumping around among my resources serendipitously. This approach to PLE's can set up fortunate learning, but does not constitute the learning itself.

When PLE's are intended for learning empathy and other advanced capabilities, the learning is freed from imposed structures and controls. If and when the learning happens, it will seem fortunate and similar to innovation. The structure is very open-ended and supportive of free ranging, like the library systems I use and the blogosphere we search successfully.

When PLE's seem unnecessary, we are learning from everything that: happens, comes along unexpectedly or occurs to our minds. Learning is non-stop and delightful.

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