Friday, 29 July 2011

If you’re not Part of the Solution - an Introvert’s Perspective on the Shift to Social Working Practices

Following my posts about the behaviours needed to create and maintain effective Learning Communities and Communities of Practice, this post from Steve Gardener gives an illuminating perspective on the battle that introverts constantly fight to be able to contribute to communities in the fullest way.  Thanks Steve for your insight and honesty.


Posted on 21 Jul, 2011 by Stephen Gardener
As Henry J. Tillman said, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the precipitate”. Geeky chemistry humour aside, there is an analogy to be had here. For any system, there always seems to be some fallout. A group that gets left by the wayside. If our goal is to set up a system or environment for learning or working together, some will cope very well, and others will get left behind. This is not due to their lack of intelligence, talent or ability, but simply because we all have our strengths and weaknesses, and particular systems will tend to favour certain strengths, and under-appreciate others.
Introversion is one of those strengths that tends to get forgotten about. My post here today is about this group, the one to which I feel I belong.To have a tendency towards introversion is almost a given for a software developer. But I have recently moved from my pleasantly lonely (I prefer the Norwegian word ‘ensom’ here, having less negative connotations, being more of an actively chosen state than the English word ‘lonely’) chair in front of my computer, into the very social world of business. My wife Ollie, coming from a Learning and Development strategy background, has always thrived working with others. When we started our own business last year, I was the programmer, but necessity has meant my moving more and more into the business and people side of things.

Noddlepod and the new social learning

We decided to build a tool to encourage the informal side of learning in learning networks. With the help and advice of many people in the industry, it evolved into Noddlepod, a tool for parallel working and learning. The idea comes from the fact that people rarely work or learn in isolation, but tend to be part of a bigger picture. That bigger picture might be a specific process that you and others are working through - it might be the class you are taking at university, or the training programme you are working through at work. It could be a project your team is working on, or even your department in relation to others. Innovation, discovery and learning tend to arise at the intersection between different disciplines, interests and ideas. Parallel working brings these different disciplines, interests and ideas together.
The more I have worked on developing our application, the more I have come to learn about and understand the ideas behind employee/student engagement and the advantages of more social and informal approaches to work and learning. Much of what we promote focuses on the idea that ‘the network is the future’. Traditional hierarchical approaches to learning and working just aren’t suited to many of today's businesses and universities. Information changes too quickly. Hierarchies slow down the decision making process, and by only allowing a small number of individuals the final say, they also greatly restrict the outcomes.
If people can be brought together in their work and learning, seemingly unrelated areas of expertise could trigger an explosion of learning and discovery. It works equally well looking at it from the other angle - the varied backgrounds and points of view of the individuals in the network make it much more likely that problems are spotted before they become issues.
So how does this shift to more social work practices affect someone like me, who is much more comfortable and productive working quietly alone? Am I to be the precipitate of the new system that I am working so hard to promote?
I see three issues that might cause some people difficulties (and not only the introverted among us).
  • Communication - how we can encourage the quieter amongst us to work comfortably and to contribute in a more social environment?
  • There are differences between formal and informal approaches, and people have a preference towards one or the other.
  • In order to fully benefit from this approach, we all have to be more comfortable sharing unfinished ideas.

Encouraging communication

Encouraging communication, is possibly the easiest to solve. I find am better at communication when I have time to formulate what I want to say. The current trend towards online communication is perfect for this - forums, blogs and other social media allow the more introverted among us to ‘lurk’, getting a feel for the network and the people in it before contributing. In addition, they give the individual time to consider how they might want to word their contribution. Chances are there will still be a strong extrovert bias, but the playing field is definitely levelled. Of course, our ‘precipitates’ now are those that are not comfortable with computers, those who would rather just pick up the phone or chat face to face. How we might balance the technical and the human approach to communication will have to be discussed in another post. Let’s stick with the introverts for now.

Formal vs. Informal

The idea behind more informal approaches to work and learning is to encourage a more relaxed environment where people feel more able to contribute, resulting from the tempering of bureaucracy and a shift from rigid, hierarchical leadership structures to a flatter, more democratic approach. Informal approaches often involve removing structure and putting more of a focus on social interaction. This can cause minor panic attacks for the more retiring of us! Many introverts struggle with open-ended social activities. However, we don’t need to, and in fact we should strive not to abandon all structure in our quest for the informal.
It’s all about balance - too much structure restricts, but not enough leaves people floating aimlessly, with no direction. We need clarity around our roles and our tasks, and we need to understand where we fit in to the overall scheme of things. But we also need freedom - freedom to step outside of and away from our roles and tasks. We need opportunities to interact with others sharing those same freedoms.
This balance suits the introvert well. Working with others can provide a welcome opportunity for social interaction that might not come very often, or very easily, to the introvert. Doing so in a relaxed and positive environment, with enough structure that people are not feeling uncomfortable or directionless, but at the same time encouraging social exchange, I suspect would suit most people well, not just the introverted.

Making a fool of yourself

To get the most benefits from social learning in a network, the participants need to be comfortable sharing unfinished ideas and making mistakes in front of each other. I think this is the biggest hurdle, and not just for the quieter among us.
As Ollie discussed in a recent post, most of us seem to be genetically programmed to try to avoid making fools of ourselves in public. But while I’m sure genetics are involved, culture also plays a big part in this. Of course, we all want to make a good impression and only show our good side, and many of us are afraid of being ridiculed or put down for saying something daft. So how do we encourage people to share not only their polished, finished end product, but also the process they went through, the mistakes they made and the dead ends they came to? (see Ollie’s post for more about why we should be encouraging this).
It’s all about culture. Others need to be seen to be able to voice their opinions and thoughts without repercussions. Encourage those that are comfortable to do so to contribute and share thoughts and ideas, regardless of the state of completion, or the correctness of their contribution. It doesn’t matter if it’s only a handful of people initially. The more people see others openly exploring and experimenting, and (perhaps more importantly) the more people see the community responding positively to those contributions, the more likely they are to contribute themselves. It is bound to take some time, but then most worthwhile things do.

Introverts and the new social workplace

I was worried when I started writing this post that it would be all too easy to come to the conclusion that this is simply the way of the world - that it is the people who thrive in social situations, people who are unintimidated by others who will dominate, when even the most intelligent and mindful, introverted individual struggles to make themselves heard above the often loudly spoken opinions of the extrovert.
However, at least in the field of parallel working and learning, this certainly doesn’t have to be the case. We can appreciate diversity in all its forms, actively listening to what everyone has to contribute, even if (maybe especially if) they don’t seem to have anything to contribute. It seems we all have an inate need to understand and to be understood. The hard part is actually trying to understand other people and what our ideas might mean for them, when they are probably living in very different mental worlds to our own.
New opportunities for communication mean that the more introverted among us have a fresh opportunity to contribute and be heard, and hopefully to be listened to. With understanding and a bit of planning by the people responsible for our networks, as well as caring attitudes from those within them, we can produce richer, more productive and more representative communities.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

E-learning – E is for Ellie!

Elephant that is! 

1997 in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania and our guide pulls our Land Rover up close to a small group of elephants.  Sheltered in the middle of them, his mum and Aunties, is a tiny baby – all 200 and some pounds of him. We are warned that we are too close and may need to pull out quickly, but can stay and watch until Mummy and the Aunties show signs of restiveness. They watch carefully and protectively as we sit still, admiring their size and the bizarre sight of the little one, so young he has no real control over the un-coordinated tube will one day be his incredible, sensitive trunk.  

The group seem to relax, able to cope with newcomers lurking on the edge of their circle. Emboldened, the little guy suddenly scutters out from under his Mum and between his aunties, makes a noise that in years to come will become the terrifying sound of an angry giant trumpeting a warning – but today sounds a comic and inconsequential squawk – then rushes back to the security of the family and the guidance of his elders. Secure in the knowledge of the caring adult community around him, the little fellow had made one of his first forays into the world of being the herd male (a mantle he would not assume for maybe 20 years)– and had clearly established a distance between us.  

Do our learning communities offer that same security for people within them to experiment, secure, supported, and with other more experienced members ready to share their knowledge, encourage the learning and above all provide a safe environment for experimentation? 

2009, Thula Thula Gme Reserve, Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa, and on my wife’s and my very last trip to the bush before we returned to England after 17 wonderful years in Africa, we sit on another Land Rover watching a small family of elephants that have been brought back from the threat of culling by Lawrence Anthony, a remarkable man known as the Elephant Whisperer (The Elephant Whisperer - Lawrence Anthony ISBN 978-0-330-50668-7).  Rogue, violent, unpredictable and dangerous, Lawrence patience over nearly a decade had given Nan the matriarch and the group a confidence and a security to lead a natural and peaceful life.  Again we were warned about needing to move quickly if Mabula, the dominant bull, still scarred by his early life where he had seen his parents and siblings shot, decided we were too close or threatened him in some way.  The fact that we were there at all was a consequence of the Elephant Whisperer’s patience in learning about his client, winning their confidence, providing a supportive environment and being involved in their lives as the tiny herd learned that there was a life beyond trauma and abuse. 

What lessons are there for our L&D practitioners in Lawrence Anthony’s remarkable success?  He learned to “read” them as a group and as individuals – spending countless hours with them, observing, listening, interpreting, and eventually being able to respond by his actions to what he came to understand of their language.  It was at that point he became able to truly help them to become a new, secure and strong breeding unit. How able are we as learning practitioners, using the new languages and environments of our technology enabled world, to get close to our clients and to interpret to them and give them security in the new networked and collaborative world so that they can take advantage of the opportunities for learning that it offers? 

March 2011, Pilanesburg National Park, South Africa, and I stand early on a cold morning with Jane Hart, clutching a cup of hot coffee,  looking out over the waterhole at our lodge, captivated by a large herd of elephants coming to have a drink.  On the fringe is a young bull, already becoming some kind of threat to the group, so distanced but allowed to remain close for his own security.  He jousts with one of his erstwhile playmates, entwining trunks, jabbing with his forming tusks, butting heads, until the matriarch of the herd decides he is getting too familiar and gently but firmly intervenes and pushes him again to the fringes. One day, in years to come he will return to the herd as its dominant bull, responsible for the succession of the herd. 

In the middle of the group a youngster is having difficulty climbing over the dam wall that contains the waterhole.  Both front feet on the top, he raises one back foot but then cannot get up completely.  Mum gently puts a supportive trunk behind him and gives him an encouraging heave – he still does not make it.  He calls, she tries again but success eludes the little one.  Mum moves a few metres away and the little guy struggles once more, secure in the knowledge that his experimentation is only going to meet with encouragement and that when the herd leaves he will not be left behind. Next time he will receive the same support as he gathers strength and seeks to learn. 

Is that a characteristic of our online learning communities that we care enough for the fringe members to give them security while they find their strength to eventually participate fully – perhaps as thought leaders one day? Are we aware enough of those in our communities who are struggling a bit – maybe it’s the technology, maybe it’s that they just don’t get it yet, maybe they are being blocked by something or someone in another circle about which we know nothing? 

A fellow guest on that occasion, on her first trip to the bush and after a drive during which we had seen little, asked me when was a good time to come to the bush?  As we stood entranced watching the herd and their learning community in action - my response was “now is a good time”.  Are we interested and excited enough by our businesses and the people who work in them to watch, listen, learn and then give back through our encouragement, knowledge of the technology and desire for the strength of everyone in the community?  The elephant herd depends on it – it is the way of learning! 

Social learning is about giving and receiving – building a strength of community at which others will gaze in awe at its power – but will not be afraid to seek to participate themselves 

(Thanks to Jane Hart – who later that day said to me “e” is for ellie-learning!)

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Supporting one another in Online Communities - Encouraging the right Behaviour

My reading and thinking and my experience over the last few days stimulates this post.  It’s about online behaviour which sounded a discord either for me or for others.  I may even have unwittingly been the cause of one or more difficulty for you in my enthusiasm to explore and to learn.  If I have, I apologise. The occurrences lead me to discuss how we use our online learning communities. 

I have written before about the fact that every community in every sphere of life has some kind of boundaries and a set of norms (spoken or unspoken) for what’s “OK” in that community.  So how does this work out in practice? 

I’ve mentioned before that I live in a small but very inclusive and welcoming rural community.  In that community there are unwritten norms that one is expected to adhere to in order to be seen to be a “member in good standing”.  They stem from values of respect, politeness and a recognition that the community needs to be mutually supportive.  However it is not as simple as that! Someone in the village said to us that even in a small and caring community like this great care needs to be taken about what is said and done in order to maintain the unity and the supportive environment “It’s like treading on eggshells!”  If you have lived in a village you will know what I mean! 

So how is this relevant to our online communities – often far bigger than our little village, faster moving, impersonal, limited mostly to our work lives, frequently transient, invisible to one another and so on? 

The principles of social learning are based in an open culture of mutual support, transparency and a willingness to give in order to receive.  It’s one to which we all sign up almost unconsciously by registering in or joining our communities in expectation and excitement. Harold Jarche quotes the helpful metaphor of the rules and norms of dancing (  We have all experienced the huge benefits that accrue when we are in this kind of environment.  

But with the instant and sometimes fleeting nature of the communication in an online community it is very easy for that atmosphere to be broken down and for it to become fractious, dysfunctional and hurtful to the point that participants are put off and withdraw (“I didn’t come here to be talked to like that – I came to share and to receive).  A perceived snub, a careless word, a treading on toes to continue Harold’s metaphor, (probably nearly always an accidental omission) through not attributing a contribution that is quoted, a failure to separate the substance of a disagreement from the person so that the matter becomes personal, a breaking of the unwritten community rules by doing something which is not fair or transparent, a hidden conversation (via another platform or a back channel)  which crosses the boundaries of our “circles” within the community – all of these are behaviours that can inhibit, damage or destroy that which we are all striving so hard to achieve. 

The moment we take each other for granted and fail to consider the reactions of all those who will read our messages and posts we risk alienating and causing discords that will distract both from our own message and the usefulness of the community.  It will become a more dangerous place to be. 

As L&D and Performance Support professionals seeking to understand and exploit “working smarter” we have a wonderful opportunity through our various “places” of contact to learn for ourselves. In them we can identify and practice in the virtual environment  the behaviours that need to be nurtured in the communities we seek to foster in the workplace. 

As our journeys in our communities progress and our understanding develops, so will we each gain insights that may differ from what was initially a commonly held belief.  It is then that sensitivity, respect and a care for the language we use in our Tweets, posts and other messages becomes important if we are to continue to have the confidence in one another to share what we are learning and to be able to comment honestly on each other’s work. 

I have written this in the context of “I” and “we” because I am aware that I am a member of a number of communities – some consciously, some by association and some of which I am unaware, taken into them by people even whose names I do not know.  This blog has an expanding readership of several hundred  for each post – which means its potential reach is many thousands.  My language and sensitivity may influence many. 

My desire is for this blog to become an enduring forum where the issues of living in virtual communities that have real value and meaning in our lives can be discussed, argued about and the results shared so that the inexorable and rapid move to the wirearchy, the networked environment, the collaborative workplace is one which is as comfortable for those we seek to help as it can be. You, the reader, like me the writer, can do your part by fostering in your communities those behaviours you value in working with others.  

Only if we can provide an environment that is attractive to the newbie and the shy, the reticent, the uncertain, the technophobe will we succeed in helping them to participate and to share the value that is in all of us from our experience and range of thinking skills. Encouragement, support, patience in explaining, getting “legs” under another’s practical problems to help find solutions, recognition and praise will go a long way in helping one another. If we can live together like this in our cyber space we will be able to begin to unleash for our organisations the enormous and currently hidden potential that lies within them – the ability to work smarter.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Being Careful and Caring with our Learning Communities

“Is everyone loving Google+ or are you still limping along like me?” @ChelleRobertson – 19 July on Twitter 

I’ve found myself getting personally involved in the “Is G+ a good development?” discussion. I made some comments on Twitter and received a deluge of responses, some of which were very much less than helpful in leading me towards either exploration or involvement in what may in the end turn out to be “a new social backbone” (Edd Dumbill ). Others were supportive and empathetic. 

The spectrum of responses has caused me to think about some issues we face as promoters of technology supported learning – and especially that which we know to be so richly enhanced by the social media.  Even Clive Shephard, in his flawed refutation of the fact that traditional L&D will diminish as the true power of the SoMe in enhancing social learning becomes apparent ( ), acknowledges that the playing field of learning has now changed.  That change brings with it a challenge that is uncomfortable for the enthusiastic pioneers (evangelists) for new tools and technologies. 

Francine Hardaway says

. The best use of social media for business isn’t really marketing, it’s learning.” ( ) 

In the same post Dave Larson goes on to assert that “People new to social media, and Twitter in particular, have trouble conceptualizing what it is and how to best use it” 

He is picking up a specific of an issue that requires some exploration.  We need to put ourselves in the position of the individual who, as Performance Support professionals, (having made the transition ourselves from L&D), we are seeking to assist.  Most have grown up with a view of learning as a face to face classroom based activity. More and more have not – they have been educated using to some extent a variety of technology based methods.  They have a firm concept that learning is something that is provided to them, mostly from a top-down corporate model. 

With our bright, shiny, new toys, we convince them that there is a more effective way to learn (many of them knew that already) and we introduce them to the wonders of e-learning.  Having struggled their way to a level of comfort with operating the plethora of techniques we love so much, we now tell them that, actually, their best learning will come from social collaboration and networking – enabled through the various platforms of the SoMe. In many cases it won’t be the ones they use at home – Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter etc – because these are frowned upon as “trivial” by the organisational powers that be.  Instead they are “respectable” lookalikes such as LinkedIn or Yammer. 

We provide lots of help to people to get them to see and be comfortable with Tweets, Streams, Threads, Walls and the rest and we help them to use them to learn from peers and anyone else they can access through the ever-increasing range of devices – PC/laptop, Windows/Mac, mobiles (on one OS or another), tablets, using apps, clients, service providers and the like.  Then we tell them about the cloud and how that is going to revolutionise again the way they will do their work and learn from everyone in whose circle (I deliberately use a small “c”)  they happen to find themselves.   

Small wonder that we get glassy eyed looks of confusion, despair and disbelief about what we are doing.  

Jane Hart, in her great new post ( ) says 

“L&D will need to "practise what they preach", and for those who are resistant to change in the organisation, show the value of new approaches in their own professional practice.” 

We preach making learning easy and accessible to people. If, in our enthusiasm we confuse, scare and deter people then we will have found another route to send L&D into oblivion. Changing what only recently was scary but has now become familiar may be a fast route backwards. 

Our embracing of new things, which laudably characterises many people who are working for the transformation of learning, must not spill over into headlong evangelism that destroys the very trust in the function that is being so carefully built as learning moves from being an overhead to a key business activity. 

We need to take our people with us at the speed they can go – it’s an old maxim that things move at the speed of the slowest component – so true as we seek to foster organisation and culture change to enable learning to make the business impact we know it can. Our reaction to peoples understanding, acceptance of concepts and appetite to change will be a major determinant in whether they move forward or become the resisters we so much want them not to be. Support is everything, criticism will slow things down and create negative reactions. 

“We don’t all have to keep changing ships every time a new platform or application comes along, It's OK for us to investigate new tools, but we shouldn’t make others feel bad if they don’t want to get involved or make changes.  If the new arrival adds value then of course use and promote it - but don’t make others feel like they are not keeping up!” (Jane Hart) 

“There’s too much going on to join in with everything and so I have to pick and mix what I will respond to based upon my own interests and preferences” (Steve Batchelder – Confessions of a Lurker ) 

We have two aspects to our work in Performance Support as L&D professionals. The first is to help others and our employing organisations exploit the individual and collective potential that exists.  The second is to research and evaluate our rapidly changing discipline so that we bring the best to bear to improve outcomes and to encourage people to enter the social learning world.  We must carefully balance those roles.  

So, just a caution – rushing headlong into new platforms that are as yet unproven and ill-defined in their effect may damage achievement of the goal we so passionately desire. 

When choosing or purchasing a social learning platform to support collaborative learning – keep it simple!!!  

Michael Rose ( put this rather nicely 

"The tools and platforms that you choose should be fast enough, and easy enough to use that people will embrace the technology and start using it. Creating content, uploading content, sharing content, making it searchable, adding assessments and comments, viewing reports and bundling content together should all be easy to do.”

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Community choices – dealing with overload

Tom Forenski has recently posted “Never mind Information Overload; We live in an age of Conversation Overload ( He says

“But trying to keep up is a killer. It will kill people. Especially affected will be the people who don’t realise they can’t keep up with all their conversations but will try to do it anyway.
My attitude has been that I will do as much as I can and be fine with unfinished conversations. If I don’t reply to emails, or comments, or if I lose the thread on conversations, I’m hoping that people will understand and that if it’s important, they will try to engage with me again. I’m hoping that people understand that it’s not personal.
And on the whole that’s worked for me so far.
And as more people start to deal with these issues there will be an even greater understanding of the immensity of this problem and each of us will develop their own ways of dealing with the stress of conversation overload.”

It is an issue that I also face and I guess you, reading this blog, face as well.  But haven’t we forgotten something?

We don’t respond to every other human being we meet in life and in each ecology in which we exist – as we walk down the street we don’t stop and chat to everyone who walks past.  We don’t respond to all the junk mail that is destroying the rain forests.  We don’t immediately act on the TV advertisement.  We don’t even speak to all of the neighbours just because we happen to be neighbours.  So why do we feel we have to do it just because we are in a SoMe ecology.

It is something to do with us losing track of being in community – and forgetting how community works – when get into electronic ecologies.  Every community I have ever been part of or experienced has had rules, written or unwritten, and even if the rules are that there are “no rules”.  Within those rules people either choose to stay or to go – and if they stay they learn to live within those rules.

I live in a small rural community, but one that is splendidly active, mutually caring and very involving.  I have come to understand the rules – I need to participate in some things to be seen as a member of the community, but it is not expected that I will be involved in everything.  My own rules also say that I will belong to and participate in other communities and ecologies associated with my work, leisure, beliefs and interests.

It is OK to choose and to include or exclude.  We don’t have to read all the papers every day just because they are there.

We need to apply those same filters to our electronic and SoMe enabled lives in order not to experience what Tom writes about so honestly.  If we can do that we are long way towards knowing how to leverage the SoMe for learning purposes and to being able to help others on their learning journeys.  For those of us engaged in the transformation of learning into a key business tool, we need to help others past the blockage of “too much – it’s overwhelming” that is such a common reaction to discovering the potential of social networking and collaboration at work as powerful means to greater learning.

“Filter, filter, filter” and “Organise, organise, organise”, using all the tools available to us are part of the answer – and yes, we do need to assemble our own toolboxes that work for us.  The other part of the answer is to use our inborn skills of making choices about who we listen to and interact with for what.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Culture and Technology - Synergistic in creating valuable Communities of Practice

It is my pleasure to post this guest contribution from Ollie Gardener - thank you, Ollie:

Ollie Gardener is a Norwegian entrepreneur and a Learning and Development specialist. She is madly passionate about the potential in emerging technologies to inspire, enable and empower.


Ollie and her husband, Stephen, co-founded and recently launched NoddlePod – a community flavoured collaboration tool specifically designed for people working and learning in parallel.

(More information about NoddlePod can be found at

"How do we educate when we don't know what our world will look like tomorrow?", Sir Ken Robinson asks. The problem facing education is equally true for businesses.

If the goal is to predict and deliver what information will be relevant in the future, we are fighting a losing battle.
That is not to say that the past and the information we gathered "back then" cannot inform the future - but knowing which bit will be valuable and in what context is mostly guess work. 
Realizing this, many individuals and businesses alike are turning to communities as an alternative source of performance support.
The rise of social media has simplified the process of knowledge sharing and the formation of Communities of Practice. Social media have in effect enabled us to go back to the original approach to performance support, learning and development- conversation!
There is still an enormous amount of untapped potential in using emerging technologies to;
- integrate participation in communities with members workflows
- identify valuable connections between participants' work and learning
- preserve the context in which information originates
- enable members of a community to repurpose available information to new situations
But tapping into this potential relies on more than just technological advancements. It demands a new way of thinking about our work and how it is interconnected ( It demands a new approach to how we share, what we share and what we value in a community of practice. 
As Nic Laycock so beautifully stated; "we all have needs, experience and ideas. Some have more in one area than in another - and therein lies the power of community, but the trick is how to get that power released in order to optimize the learning available".
The traditional approach to knowledge management encourages the sharing of the end product - our matured opinions, lessons learned and polished summaries of a much richer (and in my view much more valuable) decision process. This has rubbed off on our expectations of what is to be shared and what is valuable in a community of practice.
The context in which we are working, and the process that led up to that "polished result" is often forgotten, devalued or lost. Yet there is gold in these unpolished nuggets of contextual information; what influenced our decision, the 'dead ends' we steered away from, the advice we received underway and even in the information we discarded. 
The thing is, what was right in the past is not necessarily right in the future. And of course what was wrong in the past is not necessarily wrong in the future. By sharing the entire decision process "in context", we multiply its value to people working and learning in parallel with us and increase the chance of our insights informing the contexts of the future.
Lessons learned by failures are also under-represented in this environment, as is work in progress - the stories without endings. 
Paradoxically, our social nature also works against us in fully utilizing the potential of social media for learning and performance support. Our need to belong, for approval and status among our peers is often what prevents us sharing the full picture, rather than selected highlights. The social risk of sharing lessons learned from failure (read: add value to the community) is often seen as too great.
On the receiving end - we would also rather learn from those who have succeeded, whether by good judgement, happy accident or circumstance, than those who failed. 
"We have become addicted to experts, we've become addictive their certainty, their 'assuredness' and their definitiveness  trading our discomfort of uncertainty with the illusion of certainty". Noreena Hertz
I couldn't agree more with Noreena ( - if we can learn to value nuance, uncertainty and doubt, and value advice expressed in these terms, we will set ourselves up much better for the challenges of the 21st century. 
The biggest obstacle for learning, performance and development is seldom the result of lack of direction or certainty, but a lack of mutual involvement and understanding.
I believe technology has a big role to play in facilitating, connecting and enabling a much richer community of practice than what we tend to see today. But as Clay Shirky ( said in US Now, “a revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new tools, it happens when society adopts new behaviors”

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Communities - The Engine of Transformation

Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation argues in his blog of 12 July 2011 ( ) that all three main organs of society (civil, private and state) are profoundly challenged by the SoMe driven networked society into which we have moved. Some examples from the post:

"civil society is the locus of the shared abundance of value creation, and the place for the continual dialogue regarding the necessities of common life"

"we participate in the value creation, either as free voluntary contributors, or as members of a new type of private sector organisation,"

"Under conditions of peer production, design and innovation moves to commons-based communitiies, which lack the incentive for unsustainable design; products are inherently designed for sustainability, and the production process itself is designed for openness and distribution."

"communities should create new entrepreneurial forms.......and themselves should create mission-oriented, community supportive, sustainability-oriented corporate forms, that operate in the marketplace but do not themselves reproduce capitalism."

What I understand Michel to be saying is that in the new networked world, community is fundamental to every aspect of our lives. The post talks about the characteristics he believes each of the traditional sectors of society will have as the new order develops.

I would raise a different suggestion - that in our emerging new world, fuelled by wirearchies and the proliferation of tools and platfoprms all opearting from the "let's get connected" assumption, the traditional societal sectors will become blurred and in the end will be a sub-set of a re-emergence of community - but in a much less structured more fluid, more instant form than we have so far known.

I have been struck by the Arab Spring, in which a new sense of community was born almost overnight at national level.  I was struck by the assertion of a young Ghanaian delegate at e-Learning Africa in May that the power of SoMe will ensure that universities, reluctant to engage in Open Educational Resources (OER), will be forced to open themselves and become transparent. In UK this very day, the outrage felt by ordinary people and gathered together partly at least through the SoMe has resulted in the Murdoch empire's being forced to revise its business plan for media domination.  There are many more large and small examples that could be quoted.

Maybe one that should be highlighted to end this post is that of the organisation that refused to open the SoMe to its employees - and found itself with a virtual community of those same employees empowering themsleves to do their work - but outside of the organisations' direct sphere of influence.  There was only one solution - to embrace the change and develop the new sense of community to the benefit of business and the individual.

The sooner our enterprises cease to resist a change that has happened in global society, and begin to draw upon the strength of social learning, the sooner our world will become more integrated and mutually supportive

Monday, 11 July 2011

Being in a Learning Community - It's more than signing up!

Dennis Callahan (@denniscallahan) has posted a series on about the need for learners to take charge of their own learning process.  He draws similarities between joining a gym and our learning - the need not just to watch (lurk?), but also the need to get involved and gain experience.  All that is undoubtedly true.

Also true is his assertion that when we enter the social media assisted learning space "we have identity,,,,,,we have space...... and (to a degree) we have commitment".  However what is not true is that belonging and participating means that we are growing the communities which we have voluntarily joined.

Committed and even organised we may be in our approach to learning, but the best will only come when we make the effort to get the best out of our new community friends.

Yes, we need to have the courage to take the first steps and to share, even to make ourselves vulnerable by asking the question that is real to us but which we suspect may seem very innocent or naive to others. how many times have I heard people say "I had that question too but was scared to ask it in case I looked stupid"?  there are no such things as stupid questions - only silly answers!

I believe that there is one more step we need to take.  In community, there is no difference between us as human beings - we all have needs, experience and ideas.  Some have more in one area than in another and therein lies the power of community - but the trick is how to get that power released in order to optimise the learning available.

If we see  our virtual and social media driven learning communities as composed of anonymous addresses that might respond in some way to a post or a question, then that is all they will remain.  The quality of response will match the question - and no more.  However if we begin to see the address as a warm caring human sharing our interests and treat them as such then we stand a chance of them warming to us and going the extra mile in sharing.  If we are able to share a little of ourselves (and I do not mean the meaningless drivel that gets the SoMe such a bad name in some places) and if we take a moment to shape our posts, Tweets etc in ways that acknowledge each others humanity, then we are subtly inviting others to go the extra mile.  Many will do so, sadly, some will not.

Is this kind of respect and human care and warmth the answer to the Subject Matter Expert (SME) who will not involve themselves in a learning community (virtual or F2F) because they "do not feel valued for their contribution"?  There are very few parents who will not give everything they can to help their children. We need to tap into the same emotional energy in working in our communities.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Towards Maturity - Benchmarking our Communities in Learning

My brief examination of Community as a fundamental aspect of our humanity and at the root of any collaboration that succeeds, together with my forward look at the opportunity for discovery of community in the workplace as a result of platforms and tools provided by technology, leads to a need to strategise - and to do do that there is a need to reflect on plans, progress, and future direction.

Towards Maturity, an independent and supplier neutral organisation, has for a numbr of years been active in providing an easy to use benchmarking tool which provides a dispassionate and third party means of generating information to service that reflection need.  As well as providing organisations with a confidential and specific report, generated in comparison to over 1200 other enterprises, participants are provided with a "state of learning" report on an annual basis.

I have participated in Towards Maturity over the past 2 years on behalf of clients.  The time spent completeing the survey, a mere 40 mins, answering questions to address a 6-point model of Learning Maturity, has been well spent.  The reports I have received have highlighted successes, areas for attention, dissonances, and ideas for future improvement.  Comparing the organisations with which I have been involved with other learning organisations has provided stimulus to learn from the best and to address areas of weakness.  Laura Overton and her team are additionally available to explain and help with any aspect of the report or its implications.

This year's Towards Maturity survey is still open until 31 July and can be accessed at

If you haven't done it before - it's worth the effort!

If you have participated - you know what I am talking about!!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Community - an important component of performance support

The growing understanding that L&D's prime role in the second decade of the century is as a highly specialised and potent performance support function makes it important for us to undertsand how that support happens.  Don Taylor has written quite brillinatly about this in the Training Zone (  However is there something missing?  What is the factor that will power the move of L&D into its true role in the business? Allison Rossett writes about the convergence of learning and work at

Improving performance always means implementing change, and with change always comes risk, insecurity and some degree of resistance.  The means to overcoming the inevitable lack of confidence, hesitancy, and unwillingness to take initiative that ensue is well documented as helping people find a new and comfortable place to be, supporting them with answers to questions, providing information, enabling new skills, encouraging experimentation, allowing failure and other points on a check-list.  It is only when people begin to regain confidence that performance will improve and individuals will reach out for new and challenging targets.

So what is the role of community in performance support?

  • A place where people are able to find comfort - whether out of common need, fear, or interest, or whether out of a sense of adventure, or even an understanding of the need to carry the whole along and thus help one another
  • A place to retreat to and share feelings, needs, anxieties and to ask questions of others experience,
  • A place into which to adventure to express ideas, share and validate insights
  • A place where those who "can" help others with knowledge, experience and affirmation
  • A place of discovery, where energy is gained to push and cross boundaries
And how is this relevant to our technology enabled learning world, powered by the Social Media and full of new and sophisticated tools?

  • Our quest for performance support in our connected world of wierarchies means that almst anywhere we look (for help, experience, ideas, experience) we interface with and join (even if only sign up and gain access!) to networks.  In many cases these are groupings of people who don't know one another and who only come together out of common context or content. 
  • In joining networks we become unconsciously part of communities - in which we readily empathise with others we find there, where we are able to explore ideas dispassionately and maybe even to disagree vehemently
  • In our quest for that essential comfort zone we experience another kind of discomfort in joining an unfamiliar technology, new and anonymous people, an unwritten code of practice about the rules of the community.
I could continue, the point is that in seeking to position L&D as a performnce support lever in our enterprises we need also to recognise that the media we are now so proudly using to fuel that leverage is one that requires as much attention to its human aspects as any other process we use in doing our work.  Our networks are actually living and evolving communities which if developed with good human vlaues in mind become powerful and treasured palces for seeking improvement.  If not they will sooner or later fall into disuse - and rescuing something virtual will always be a difficult task. People turn away when they see no benefit.

Monday, 4 July 2011

The meaning of "I"

When I spoke recently at the E-Learning Network Conference in Bristol (#elnil) about Enhancing Informal Learning through Communities of Practice, I began with a teaser about "the Meaning of I".

I stands for
  • Inspiration - that comes from exploring through communities
  • Information - that we absorb, interpret and apply
  • Inductive - as we learn by doing not by being told
  • Involvement - with others in learning that is of mutual interest - engaging with them on a common journey
  • Infection - that enthusiasm which maintains our presence in communities - because we see benefit from them - and which draws others in
  • Intensity - which motivates and energises
  • Instilling - the will to improve performance as we see and share others successes
All of those meanings come from within oursleves.  They are about our willingness to find and join communities where we feel at home and comfortable, where there is value, and where there is a welcome and a mutual desire to achieve.

Do we need to be constantly involved? No, but we do need to keep in touch!  A Community depends on its members each doing their bit to ensure its health and prosperity.  In our learning world that means people asking questions to stimulate others thoughts and to draw out experience.  It means sharing with others what we know and what we have experienced.  And it means indicating by our presence and our activity that the community is a live and valuable place to be - the encouragement, the word of thanks for an idea or a piece of help, the critique, the question, the sharing of an insight.  All of these things help a community to grow, develop and become self-sustaining.

We are not all able to be energetically active in our communities all the time - but we do need to do more than just be members.  All of us have something to give and a mutual responsibility to do so.  That collective is fundamental to the meaning of community