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”

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