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Social BPM and Social Learning

September 1, 2011 Leave a comment
A number of companies, ranging from IBM to IbisSoft are working to integrate Business Process Modelling with Social Media. More specifically they are making their BPM tools collaborative, allowing multiple remote users to work on one model at the same time. Max Pucher wrote about these tools in his insightful blog post, Social BPM Methodology: The Triple Oxymoron. My post is a response to his expressed concern over the viability of social media in the context of formalized methodology.

Talking about social BPM is tough because shared meaning about such new topics has not settled yet. Social media, for instance, is still struggling to define itself. While many of us hope for something meaningful, others seem intent on subverting its value by whoring after large numbers of friends and followers at the expense of creating and capturing genuine value in real connections. Real value in social media comes from shared passion in facing a shared challenge.

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Disruptive Innovation and ‘Lazy Meat’

In my last post I took a shot at executive complacency. Granted, it was a bit of a shock-jock tactic to grab attention but the sentiment is worthy. Change and innovation are being stymied by complacency. If we are going to discuss ways of improving innovation at the national level, we must start at the personal level. The buck must stop with someone and in most challenges in a democracy, it must stop with the individual. As Pogo said of our environmental challenges, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Complacency is about being satisfied with myself or the way things are. If I’ve got a nice job, steady income, a supportive team and I’m rewarded to align with corporate objectives, then why rock the boat? Besides, I’m too busy and stressed with execution in my domain to worry about things that are “not my job.” On top of that, I can point to activities that prove I am helping to change things for the better.

So when hints of disruption (disruptive innovation) arise from any corner, I don’t want to deal with it until I have no other choice. I linger in denial of both the crisis and the opportunity.

IconoclastThat denial is largely unconscious. It is also a matter of genetic predisposition as described by Dr. Gregory Berns in his book Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently. Berns describes the brain as a “lazy piece of meat” because it draws on past experiences to make perception easier. Such “patterned thinking”, often distorted by the fear of repeating painful experiences, impedes innovation. You could say humans are naturally complacent, lazy and apathetic. It’s not hard to imagine that survival in human prehistory was often dependent on not rocking the boat or challenging the alpha males. Today, winners are those that overcome their fears (mostly of rejection) and do it anyway.

A colleague, discussing resistance to adoption of Cloud storage and applications, recently expressed the thought that IT departments generally resist such innovation because they usually take the fall when things go badly. Well, what does that say about the management of such companies? They nurture a culture of fear? They’re more afraid of errors of commission than errors of omission? Such thinking does have painful results. Companies slow to move to the Cloud are losing fortunes in lost operational savings and market share to competitors.

The truth about their thinking is probably closer to ‘they didn’t really think about it much at all’. Their lazy piece of meat simply remembered a pattern – people get fired for errors of commission immediately; if they get fired at all for errors of omission, it will be in the distant future.

Real thinking is, in fact, hard work requiring time and energy for learning. Long before money and other resources are invested in innovation, the first investment must be personal time and energy. In a culture biased towards action, how many executives will actually give themselves or their delegates serious time to think and learn?

Executives today cost their companies too much money to let them think too much. If someone is making hundreds of dollars an hour, we certainly don’t want to see them learning on the job.

But I’m thinking that this is the heart of the innovation gap problem. We really need quantitatively more thinking and learning. And two $100,000 a year executives can certainly think and learn a lot more than one $200,000 a year executive. Perhaps that is a good place to start if we really want to improve innovation. It would certainly help improve the problems we have with both national employment figures and the growing income gap. And it would dilute a lot of the fear hobbling significant innovation.

Innovation today invariably raises issues of great complexity that require solutions that can come only from deep learning across disciplines and domains. If you want the fantastic rewards of operational disruption, which requires systemic or radical innovation, then you need more people with the time to fearlessly study ideas that high-priced lazy meat dismisses as cockamamie.

Web ghettos

December 2, 2009 Leave a comment

I was born and raised in a small town. Most of the time, I was anxious to get away from that small town with its small town ideas, small town attitudes and small town culture. So, when I was finally able to make the break to university, I was gone like a shot. Ever since, I’ve lived in large cosmopolitan cities that have offered myriad opportunities to experience and enjoy many ideas, attitudes and cultures.

I’ve come to realize since, however, that with something gained, something has been lost. While I no longer have to endure small town people, they no longer have to endure me either. And isn’t that the conundrum of antipathy? With the mobility offered by wealth and the car, we have created self-imposed cultural ghettos for ourselves. And, in the process, we have created “anonymous others” that we can disdain as either effete city-slickers or ignorant hillbillies. If we shared the intimacies of our daily lives with each other, as happens in a small community, there would be more opportunity for cross-pollination of ideas and attitudes. Or at least more effort to come to terms with those we bump into every day.

The same thinking is at the core of much city planning today thanks to Jane Jacobs. She advocated building communities of mixed incomes and races within cities. Such engineered community diversity has virtually eliminated the ghettos that perpetuated negative attitudes within and without.

That is a formidable success in the realm of civic geography but I`m seeing a new kind of self-imposed ghetto beginning to appear. This time, though, it`s virtual. It`s on the web in Facebook groups, in Twitter lists and in many other kinds of virtual tribes. Take a look, for example, at your Twitter friends.

  • Are you following anyone with opinions you don’t share – other religions, other politics?
  • Are you following only topics important to you and ignoring topics important to your neighbors, parents or children?
  • Do you shy away from people younger or older than you?

Of course it`s helpful to engage with like-minded people for sharing and support but, as with biodiversity in nature, we need cultural diversity in our communication. Sometimes, we need to engage with others not like us – we need to argue so they can learn from us and us from them. Roger Walsh, in the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, put it this way.

Elective Segregation: Failure to Engage the Mainstream. One of the gifts of our mobile technological culture is the ability to be and communicate with like-minded people. It is also one of the contemporary cultural traps. The danger is that in being able to find like-minded people, we can fall into a kind of elective segregation, in which we communicate almost exclusively with those who share our views. What sociologists find is that this selective communication tends to reinforce people’s more extreme viewpoints, whereas mixing and communicating with more diverse populations tends to moderate extreme views.

In fact, I would say the need to engage with those not like us is modeled by the most successful biological breakthrough in nature: sex. Organisms that learn (genetically) from others are much more robust that those that reproduce asexually. Perhaps it`s time to take a hint and start building web applications and communities that bring opposites together instead of the same old same. We can only learn so much from people just like us; we also need to find the courage to mix it up.

A quotation came to mind. It seems very appropriate at the moment since we’re also struggling with the issue of Net Neutrality.  John Milton delivered this 400 years ago in a speech for the liberty of unlicensed printing to the parliament of England.

I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat.

Learntrends 2009

November 22, 2009 Leave a comment

I am very grateful to the volunteers and sponsors (Elluminate, Jay Cross, George Siemens, Tony Karrer and Harold Jarche, to name just a few) who made the Learntrends 2009 online conference such a success. For three days, the number of participants never dipped much below 150 and the amount of side-chatter in Elluminate and Twitter was overwhelming. In fact, a lot of the learning occurred in the side chatter so participants deserve a round of applause for their sharing too.

The Learntrends online conference wrapped up three days ago but, already, I’m having a hard time remembering anything specific that I learned. It’s my own fault – I didn’t take notes and I multitasked my way through many of the discussions.

Well, okay, maybe I did learn that learning is impeded by not taking notes and by multitasking. Seriously, though, I’m sure that I did learn a lot. It’s just that the learning is not readily accessible for regurgitation on demand. Instead it takes the form of notions that I will test later for corroboration at the proverbial water cooler or cocktail party.

For instance, I will take my key notion from Learntrends – “Corporate learning is moving toward collaborative and self-directed education” – and I will promote it to a personal opinion in discussions with associates who have little orientation to workplace learning. How that opinion is received will direct my next steps in learning about the subject.

  • Indifference will dampen my enthusiasm for further proselytizing with that particular audience or application
  • Challenges to my opinion will send me back to sources for support.
  • Interest and enthusiasm will spur me to focus more sharply on specific aspects and applications, and to learn more deeply.

Such is the nature of informal learning. And social media marketing – the lines are blurring.