My PKM approach: People, Simplicity, and Discipline

What I’ve learned about Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) I have learned socially, informally and “non-formally” too (See Harold Jarche’s @hjarche PKM Workshop opportunity in @C4LPT‘s Social Media Centre). Mostly I’ve pulled my understanding from a knowledgeable network of people of my choosing. Recommendations of people have been presented but not in a traditional formal method. My network has grown through the unconscious actions of those I’ve deemed as influencers. They, by their acknowledgement of others as providing value, have surfaced new voices and I then welcome them into my Personal Learning Network (PLN). 

PKM to me is about  having a plurality of voices and ideas; driving the knowledge, pushing it ever forward through additions, subtractions, and modifications. Knowledge is fluid. The personal decisions we make by selecting those we listen to and interact with have the potential to change our understanding constantly, as it should, for today change happens more quickly than ever; we are on Internet time now and have been for some time.

The tools we use must align to our own comforts and match the flexibility of our very human processes of connecting, collecting, and sharing of this information. For me, they must be simple so as to not siphon much needed mental energy away from what is most important, the new ideas that impact my work. Some tools offer more robust capabilities but do they add value?

PKM must happen constantly… it should become subconscious, an involuntary action. Today there are no longer barriers to when and where your PKM efforts happen. Mobile devices,  access to a PLN on which the sun never sets, and a plethora of tools allow knowledge management efforts to be continuous. There are no excuses. 

As powerful as PKM is, it can also quickly become overwhelming. The keys to success are, in my opinion, simple and internal (as Harold reminds – personal) –  Identify what you want to know, find and connect with those who will help you know it and stay diligent.

Won’t you open up your eyes?

Beatles songs have always given me pause. Some of my favorites include “Yesterday”, “Hey Jude”, “Across the Universe” and “Let it Be.” The Beatles were ahead of their time musically and lyrically.
Recently, yet unfortunately, while running up a pretty steep hill the song “Dear Prudence” began playing on my iPhone. I say unfortunately because when you’re climbing a hill you need Metallica or something.

Outside of the hills, running is meditative for me. My mind, wanders between work, life, calf pain, back to work, life …etc and at the moment the song began, I was pondering the difficulties of convincing others of the changing nature of work and learning I see around me everyday. Most struggle to see what I view as obvious; the need for a connected workforce that shares and collaborates openly in networks enhanced through technology.
Dear Prudence hit me like lightening (probably the only thing worse than running up a steep hill). A warm song immediately took on new meaning, a bit if divergent thinking if you will, and one that will now serve as an anthem, playing in my mind when I engage those who just don’t see it… yet. 
My new look at select lines in the song follows each verse.
Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?
Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day
The sun is up, the sky is blue
It’s beautiful and so are you
Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?
Start with “Prudence.” Sure, as the story goes, John and the boys were teasing Mia Farrow’s sister, Prudence, who was held up in a tent working hard on meditation and missing out on the fun. But for my lucid, endorphin filled, running moment it is more the dictionary definition for those who show caution with regard to practical matters; discretion. What’s more prudent than connecting people to communicate and share – it’s what people do! In my experience those who show caution see only the status quo, stuck in old laws and paradigms of learning. These are the workers and leaders resting on ideas that led to “success” in the 20th century.  They hold back, or move slowly while the world changes rapidly around them.
“won’t you come out to play?” “greet the brand new day” – The ideas and tools “breaching the hull” our organizations are worth exploring, trying, feeling. We have entered a new era of connection that is transforming society, business and learning; it is a brand new day.
Dear Prudence, open up your eyes 
Dear Prudence, see the sunny skies 
The wind is low, the birds will sing 
That you are part of everything 
Dear Prudence, won’t you open up your eyes? 
“The wind is low, the birds will sing” “That you are part of everything” -The barriers, the headwind that slows down innovation, can be reduced when we encourage social learning, encourage networks which level the hierarchies that lock progress in political chains. People are truly at the center of this communication, knowledge, innovation, and technology, even the naysayers are “part of everything” and can greatly improve and contribute once they accept this reality. 
Look around round, Look around round round, Look around

“Look around” – See what is naturally happening already, what has been happening. Look at the technology but more importantly how that technology is being used. Mere tools, yes but pause and re-think their immediate applications. Look how community has changed, how networking has changed, how knowledge flows within these networks. See how hierarchies hold surface strength only and the nodes really do rule the day.
Dear Prudence, let me see you smile
Dear Prudence, like a little child
The clouds will be a daisy chain
So let me see you smile again
“Dear Prudence, let me see you smile.” – Smile, the universal human symbol of happiness. “Happiness is the precursor to success—not really the result of it” says Shawn Anchor in his book The Happiness Advantage (see brief article/video here).   He goes on to explain the three main predictors of happiness are:
1. having an optimistic mindset, 
2. having the ability to see stress as a challenge and not a threat, and 
3. social support.  
The first two organizations can hire for but the third is what your organization’s culture presents and encourages. Good social support systems enable community. Within community people share and collaborate. When employees share and collaborate they improve processes and products; they get work done. When employees get work done (socially) they are rewarded intrinsically and extrinsically. When employees are rewarded, they are happy. When happy, Shawn argues, employees are smarter, more energetic, and more creative.
“The clouds will be a daisy chain” – Wow, really?? was Lennon so deep into meditation that he had an out of body, time travel experience and saw Cloud Computing?? OK, a stretch but “daisy chain” today is a term that most can understand beyond the counter-culture reference (which I have to assume was a Flower Power ideal). As the definition in the link explains, a Daisy Chain is: 

an interconnection of computer devices, peripherals, or network nodes in series, one after another. It is the computer equivalent of a series electrical circuit.”  

The keyword here; interconnection.  Networks are made up of nodes and people are the knowledge nodes. Through these connections they are learning, collaborating, and sharing …improving.
Dear Prudence, won’t you let me see you smile?
Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?
Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day
The sun is up, the sky is blue
It’s beautiful and so are you
Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?
“It’s beautiful and so are you” – Next time you are presented with resistance or outright mocking reaction to building the connected work force rather than spout off about 70-20-10, Social Learning Theory, Collaborative tools, etc…. speak to the reluctant ones of their own value, skills, knowledge and motivations and how this “beauty” works perfectly within the “new systems.” 
Whistle or hum Dear Prudence…it may be all you need to give yourself that pause. 
Dear Prudence – Composed by The Beatles. Author: Lennon; Lead vocals: Lennon, McCartney

Real Learning is in the Real Work

Many discussions about learning lead to the very accurate point that we have been learning socially (and informally) for thousands of years. Images of early people gathering around fires, writing on walls or in the sand with a stick have been used to help people better understand social learning and that like then it is happening today in our lives, classrooms and in our organizations.

However, sitting around the fire, early people shared, discussed, and processed but around the fire wasn’t the only place that this would have happened or for that matter was it arguably the most impactful “place” of learning.

I believe learning is most powerful when done in the doing; the 70 of 70-20-10.  In this doing, in the past, they also communicated; on hunts, while tanning animal skins, preparing meat, and forging for berries … they likely used different mediums too; song and rhythm, other audible sounds (clicks, grunts?), they watched each other, they mimicked each other; the 20 of the 70-20-10. Simply put, they learned socially in the work flow where mind and body were engaged and the context was dripping with emotion.  I imagine the hunts were exciting, dangerous and exhausting. Tanning and forging were equally emotion rich as socialization was omnipresent when new techniques were employed, observed, analyzed, and tweaked by the group creating “ah-ha” moments as well as “ha-ha” moments where peers bonded and ideas were promoted in a very communal, casual, comfortable, yet equally important for survival environment.

This emotion is a key component to deeper learning. Classrooms, course ware and virtual worlds today try to simulate emotional responses but they rarely match the personal connections to content and context that is at the heart of deeper learning because they are just that… “simulated.” The human brain knows that the formally designed “learning” activities, be it simple drag-n-drop flash animations or simulated environments with character interactions are not really do or die events. These products do the best they can to “reward” the user with kudos, scores and a check mark but its only when we are truly immersed in a real situation with real needs, real business impact, real problems, real opportunity, real rewards, and of course real people that we become more emotionally charged. Similar was early man’s real need to find food, water and shelter. These needs must have made them more receptive to observe, mimic, listen to and connect with peers…in their work flows.

Therefore our ability to learn is not and cannot be confined to a place, an approved platform, device  or application, elearning module, or a face-to-face course; the 10 of 70-20-10. Look and learn from our past; I suppose early man didn’t carry fire, paints, sand and a stick with them on the hunts any more than we should expect to wait to login to a “social intranet” or LMS to solve problems with peers, learn the best principles, or collaborate. Deeper learning happens in our emotion rich contexts with interactions with real people, facing real problems.

So it was then, is today, and ever shall be.

If you answered No…

I was asked recently to help build the case for Social Media use in our organization (social business). Of course I have been making the case by living it personally and for some time with the use of collaborative tools for new hires and various projects. But alas this has been quite a skunks-works effort, so rather than flying under the radar I have a unique opportunity to make social media use more strategic.

Like many, I set out on my task to surface research and case studies. I located similar business model reports and articles and I tapped my PLN for assistance. As I began fleshing it all out I realized my undertaking was looking more like a sales pitch – sure to be seen that way too and likely to be met with instant skepticism; as what salesman isn’t’ instantly met with hesitancy… I started to view each slide in the presentation as a nail in a coffin. 

So rather than be armed with a series of answers to unknown questions I have decided to flip the approach and come with questions that require answers. No presentation filled with stats and examples, I am simplifying the effort. When the call comes, I’ll be ready with this:

  • Do you believe that average employees can generate creative solutions to business problems?
  • Do you agree that bad practices are being conducted daily by unknowing staff?
  • Do you believe employees often struggle to get the information they need, when they need it?
  • Do you think that people who are part of a community are happier?
  • Do you think happier workers are more engaged?
  • Do you believe engaged employees are less likely to leave?
  • Do you think training employees is expensive?
  • Do you believe there are other ways to learn besides training?
  • Do you agree that people and not just resources hold the answers to common problems?

If you answered no to any if these questions then let’s discuss. If not, then let’s get to work!

Launching SoMe for Learning? – Think L before M

Are you struggling to get Social Media for learning started in your organization?  You might just be going about it all in the wrong order. In the effort to establish a social media empowered workforce, just remember as in the alphabet “L before M” as in “Learning” before “Media”. As my friend and colleague Jane Bozarth has said numerous times – we’ve been learning well before social media for ooooh about 5,000 years! So how come when presented with technology we seem to have forgotten this?

I know it’s hard. Technology changes almost hourly, information comes at us at light speed, knowledge can no longer be seen as within people but between them. The world is being transformed at the speed of the Internet. However, don’t despair this simple order- L before M is undeniable. Like Gravity or Murphy’s Law, the order of the alphabet is pretty much a given (However if you recall, efforts have been made as recent as the ‘70s to change this to the decibet).

I’ve written before about Working within the System to Change It where I propose that rather than a full on attack of training only solutions for performance improvement (where you will typically find resistance from both a well entrenched Training Department and quite possible from key executives who may be suffering from a form of Learned Helplessness) you focus on the fundamental elements of networked learning sans the technology first to build your case. Remembering to put Learning before Media may be your best approach to getting the tools you ultimately want to maximum performance in your organization.

It’s working for me thus far as my initial efforts have reaped some big rewards: 1. I was able to launch an official small-scale Yammer pilot 2. I now head up an internal social media subcommittee and 3. I have been asked to build and present the business case for social media use in our organization.

So what elements am I referring to? The basic elements within all social media: collaboration, sharing and community. That’s really it.  Note that these are also the fundamentals of learning socially too, no technology required. Just visualize what Jane said about how long we have been learning socially –picture the scene about 5000 years ago of a cave painting in progress; a small group of hominids huddled around a fire, painting, contributing, problem solving and leaving a record for others to review, apply, and/or edit then or in the future… collaboration …sharing…community.
So stop pushing the Media for now. Put Learning first and look closely at your organization’s current efforts to improve performance. Find those opportunities to rework them into a platform for social learning or create new ones. In the past I leveraged a Thiagi frame game to be a large scale collaborative problem solving effort with meaningful, impactful results. Yes it was mostly formal in its structure but definitely not training, because training was not the answer.

Today I am once again promoting a social learning initiative by transforming an upcoming training event.  In the past, one full day of our quarterly management meeting has been tagged as a training event. Within the currently defined parameters (space and time) a non-tech social learning platform for learning is in the works. So rather than a blanket training approach, a self-selecting learning conference will be hosted.

Our 60+ member management team will register for and attend several 45 minute concurrent sessions over a period of 5 hours. Each is to be focused on identified business needs with 15 minutes of reflection time between. The sessions will be hosted by field experts (their peers who happen to be regularly exceeding in key metric areas) sharing their keys to success and innovative approaches. Outstanding performance is typically recognized with a certificate, monetary reward and a round of applause but that leaves the attendees wondering “what did they ACTUALLY do to get that recognition?”

What’s the role of L&D then if we are not going to train? We will serve as consultants and organizers not designers and deliverers. Our IDs will help the presenters establish goals, outline their speaking agenda and help craft exercises. And our trainers will serve as coaches offering tips and demonstrating effective techniques in delivery, flow, and transitions.

This approach reinforces the principles of social learning; sharing knowledge and improving performance. It also serves to truly engage our employees; giving exceptional employees an opportunity to share and be recognized by their peers and leaders.

Finally the approach helps lay the foundation for change:

  • making it easier to introduce social media for learning as a means to expand and extend the social learning that was witnessed first-hand.
  • employees seen not as only appliers of knowledge and skill but providers of it;
  • L&D professionals are not just trainers and designers but performance specialist;
  • Organizational learning not as a result of top down, formal training but learning as a result of community, collaboration and sharing.