Keeping Your Hands Dirty

One thing that I greatly appreciate about working for the Guild is their strong desire to stay close to organizational learning and the learning industry. Many of us engage in side opportunities in design, elearning development, consulting and speaking in an effort to stay close to our roots. This is pretty progressive considering that often those who rise to management levels lose touch with the work they once did and as such can lose the faith and trust of those under them.

Staying in the game is important.

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Organization, Heal Thyself

I hurt my back pretty bad back in February. Shortly after the injury I reluctantly went to a Chiropractor. I say reluctantly as it’s not something I completely understood or believed in as I have always been conditioned to accept traditional medicine; surgery, medications, etc. What I learned from the experience is that Chiropractic medicine is about the body’s ability to heal itself. Generally speaking (and likely oversimplifying it) when the body is in alignment, effective communication happens through nerves and blood flow and the body maintains health. This got me wondering about how poorly organizations are designed today, they are misaligned resulting in:

  • cultures that need to be changed,
  • the creation of blanket HR policies to address small, singular problems
  • structures that support star chamber-like decision making in times of crisis,
  • procedures developed to secure consistency and conformity but stifled innovation and creativity
  • training being overused to address performance issues
  • a default to meritless, inflexible hierarchy

Everything is out of alignment (with the way the world works today).

So, similar to the chiropractic view of the body if an organization is aligned correctly, when the systems and the people can effectively and efficiently communicate, won’t it to function properly?

Gwynne Dyer wrote an exceptional article a few years ago about Democracy, nation building and the Middle East. From it I caught a quote that really resonated:

Tyranny was the solution to what was essentially a communication problem.

With a slight adjustment; replacing the word tyranny with hierarchy the remainder of the message holds true. Hierarchy was the answer to what was essentially a communication problem… in the industrial era. As organizations grew a top down systems of communication and power was need to keep every part of the organization informed.

Today we no longer have an excuse for communication problems or at least we shouldn’t. Psychology, sociology and technology are opening our eyes to new, better ways of organizing people. Hierarchy should be being transformed because of the emerging obviousness of Wirearchy, yet this isn’t really happening. And in learning, the principle of 70:20:10 is real but oft ignored as training continues to hold a tight grip.

What then if organizations just focused on improving communication, putting “social” first so to speak? Aligning all, making ideas, initiatives, information more obvious. Would unnecessary training, procedures, and policy diminish? And isn’t this what every small company has by default (albeit unconsciously)? With a small numbers of people, they are in tune, open, connected and transparent – then unfortunately lose it as they grow. This doesn’t have to happen today, as I said, we have the knowledge and technology to ensure this if we could just let go to our traditional beliefs as I did about medicine.

In the 21st century how the organization needs to communicate should determine it’s design and being and remaining aligned is the key to a responsive organization.

The Unintended Consequences of 70:20:10

I’ve always struggled with the 70:20:10 principle. Not that it exists, and certainly not that it isn’t something that should be supported by organizations. No, my issue has always been with the idea that it’s primarily about learning.

The 70 and the 20 (+/-90%) are simply about pulling; pulling information for work, pulling insights out of our own work, pulling ideas from the rich flows of the Internet and pulling on others’ knowledge to influence our thinking in the work we do.

So it’s about work. But not just in getting learning closer to work. 70:20:10 is potentially much more subversive. It’s an agent of organizational change for those leaders interested in that sort of thing.

At its core 70:20:10 emphasizes autonomy and interdependence over control and dependence and this is where 70:20:10 shifts from being just about supporting leaning to something more transformational. A 70:20:10 Framework encourages people to be reflective of their work. This is far from a traditional practice. In doing so, it presents opportunity to improve the work product/process but also invites the opportunity to fundamentally change the job itself, time to pause and reflect can do that. 70:20:10 also inspires people to seek, to step out of the traditional channels of organizational information flows (hierarchy) and find new answers. The 20 is social. When people are supported by technology that enables them to more openly share and collaborate, networks are revealed, new ones form and knowledge is released from the most unlikely of sources.

Each of these are openings that go beyond simply learning to do better or do more or do faster. Each can lead to a change in how we view authority, knowledge, leadership, and power in an organization.

Organization’s are complex; many parts, systems and structures working – sometimes with and sometimes against each other. In complexity, a small change can have dramatic effects across systems and we need to be conscious of this if we desire change.

A 70:20:10 Framework is a small change. It sets out to change organizational learning yet has the very real potential to change the organization itself.

How Do We Navigate Complexity within Complexity?

Technology has created disruption outside and inside organizations today. Ignoring it as a passing phase leads an organization to the risk of being made obsolete and trying to reverse the trends, to fight the momentum is futile, the walls have been breached. But this complexity that’s transforming business isn’t the only one and frankly isn’t the most disruptive. The very platform all organizations and organisms are on is being disrupted; Climate change – a passing phase? Reverse the trends? Is it too late?

I recently sat in a presentation on global sustainability where this graphic and the details of a scientific study were shared.

Source: Oxfam. The 11 dimensions of the social foundation are illustrative and are based on governments’ priorities for Rio+20. Based on the planetary boundaries set out by Rockström et al (2009b)

The graphic, a 2D rendering of a 3D model reveals that already 3 of the ecological boundaries that we should not breach… have been breached; climate change, loss of biodiversity, and the altering of the natural nitrogen cycle. Some scientists like James Lovelock have stated that we’re past the tipping point. There is no hope. Game over. No going back. If true, there is no time to waste in hoping and praying. Even activities like recycling and lowering greenhouse gas emissions, although beneficial, won’t stop what has begun; climate change is now a self reinforcing loop.

According to Lovelock we must now prepare for, rather than try to prevent, a world of continual and unpredictable change. This is not merely a complex problem it’s a state of perpetual complexity, our new habitat?

Dave Snowden developed the Cynefin framework to help in understanding 4 habitats (Obvious, Complicated, Complex, and Chaotic). In complexity, “the agents and the system constrain one another, especially over time. This means that we cannot forecast or predict what will happen.” Sounds about as right for climate change as it does for disruption in business.

Dave Snowden further points out, that in complexity we only really know what right looks like in hindsight. Therefore to navigate complexity he says we must take a probe-sense-respond approach. Many interpret this as the new business mentality but if our world becomes increasingly unstable it’s a mentality we must all have; Business, Government, workers, and citizen. We must all play collective roles beyond decision-making around ecological choices now and take similar action in observing and reporting thought various channels and networks the change we see happening in order to respond accordingly.

Maybe then all this disruptive technology and the principles it is awakening are coincidentally appearing at the same time we reach the most disruptive time in human history?

  • Social technology fueling focused global information sharing (see the work done where Twitter is used to sense earthquakes before seismologists can)
  • Trusted networks aid in the open analysis of data and sense-making
  • Personal Knowledge Management and Curation become the key skills to be learned
  • The 70:20:10 principle guides better decisions in organizational learning in order to remain agile
  • Big Data keeps the pulse on more than the business climate

Much of this is happening of course but probably not at the scale it needs to or needs to be shared to become the default skills and approaches. If the stage is set and the new normal is global complexity, then it will now require us to step back, patiently allow the patterns to unfold, and with greater connectivity of people and data I’m optimistic solutions will emerge.






70:20:10’s Identity Crisis

Since my last post, “What’s the Problem with 70:20:10?” I have been fortunate enough to engage on Twitter, in face-to-face conversations and responded to a slew of comments on my blog. Additionally #LrnChat featured the topic last night which further helped me see what people are thinking about 70:20:10. All have led me to believe how and to whom we present 70:20:10 can help or hurt it’s opportunity to impact organizations.

Last night’s chat asked the important question – is 70:20:10 a Model? Framework? Concept? Approach? Other?

I am left thinking that 70:20:10 is not suitable as a model, a model can be defined as a “simplified version of something“. So yes, one could accurately say 70:20:10 is a model of organizational learning but the connotation that we can’t control creeps in and too many, “model” implies something we build, something we scale, a representation to emulate. This is where things go wrong as 70:20:10 becomes something applied or an approach. It’s also my opinion it’s not inherently a framework (although that’s the best way to support it).

At my last employer I was asked to create a Corporate University. I chose to work within the concept of how learning happens at institutions as opposed to creating the traditional “training center.” I presented 70:20:10 to the organization as a fact and supported this through an internal survey that confirmed the raw percentages. I put forth the assertion that learning at University happens in classes, the commons, and the library (as well through ones creative work). I then worked to reframe my role to be more a performance consultant, working with managers and changing mindsets around training first beliefs. And then put social at the center of our organizational learning. You can read about it more here and in Clark Quinn‘s book Revolutionize Learning & Development: Performance and Innovation Strategy for the Information Age.

For me then I think 70:20:10 is best presented as a principle. More specifically as an organizing principle like that of Wirearchy, it’s foundational relation which 70:20:10 compliments. A principle is a basic truth, and Jon Husband, the man behind Wirearchy, describes an organizing principle as:

“…something that holds true across a system, and is defined to address the essence of the system; not a solution or method or best practice.”

Why is this important?

Wirearchy, as an organizing principle “informs the ways that purposeful human activities and the structures in which they are contained is evolving from top-down direction and supervision (hierarchy’s command-and-control) to champion-and-channel.” Similarly 70:20:10 informs the ways we can and should support today’s work-learning structures. With the vast majority of our learning in organizations directly tied to our work (70) and the interactions we have with others around and about our work (20) a shift to champions and channels is needed.

If 70:20:10 is presented as a model to L&D, then you are at best going to get blended learning and at worst an argument. However, when presented to the right audience as a principle it is positioned as a natural law, something that can’t be dismissed as much as it must be dealt with. Organizational leaders and managers (the right audience)  can approach the 70:20:10 principle like an archaeologist and not an engineer; 70:20:10 needs to be unearthed not created.



Disclaimer, I am not a 70:20:10 expert, just a curious practitioner having engaged in organizational design efforts emphasizing 70:20:10. It’s my assertion that a new business, those on the long tail, cannot lose sight of this principle and if looking to transform a traditional organization around work-learning then a Re-Image should be considered. For 70:20:10 expertise I strongly suggest you look at the seminal work of Charles Jennings who consults with organizational leaders on 70:20:10 strategies and also see The 70:20:10 Forum, an organization that provides detailed pathways and resources to help individuals advance organizational change.