It’s the little things

Hey! What are you doing?!”

That was my reaction after seeing my kids and their cousins poking at a spider web.
The children, all under age 8, were intrigued by a very large and fierce looking spider on a web among flower garden daisies. The gut reaction by one of the kids on this oddly humid fall evening was of course to squash it. All the kids, creeped out or in awe, were in silent agreement until I said let’s look it up.
In a matter of seconds I pulled out my smartphone, snapped pic, studied it (as the spider itself was getting a bit antsy by the continual poking). As the desire to smash it grew, I quickly “Googled” it’s general description and VIOLA!

If there is one thing these kids hated more than ugly bugs it was stinging and biting ones.  This Common Garden spider was quickly determined to be our friend. A steady diet of wasps, mosquitoes and bees made him an ugly ally in the war on those who ruin outdoor fun.  The spider had a stay of execution! Furthermore the “eeews” turned to “ahhs” when it was noted that each night the spider eats its web and builds a new one! How efficient.

I couldn’t help but think of all the big campaigns, films, and curriculum aimed today at educating our youth on helping slow the destruction of ecosystems. Frankly I’m not sure how successful it all has been but I do know a lot of time, money and resources has been spent on all of these efforts. 
But this is the real power of our technology today. In a matter of seconds a small group learned something valuable about their world while in their world. A myth dispelled, an answer know, maybe a broader lesson learned for future application of this new knowledge. A smartphone, a camera, a browser (and a level head). All combined, these increasingly common tools just might make a difference for a world at risk.
In my last post I touched on how social tools have the ability to make the big smaller. It’s hard to really to measure the impact of these small spontaneous events, rife with emotion. But if little actions like these (Trojan mice) are released frequently, everywhere maybe a real difference will be seen in our ecosystems.

“Unleash Trojan Mice. Don’t do big things or spend loads of money. Set small, nimble things running and see where they head.” – Euan Semple (see full post here)


If this spider lives and reproduces > thousands of offspring are born > the mosquito population in check > pesticide spraying is reduced, etc, etc. Hard to trace back to 5 kids in a Syracuse, New York flower garden but who knows.

In our organizations we have the same social and informal learning opportunities on an equally small scale.  In the littler moments, not in the classroom or through a curriculum, we can reach for performance support within our peers and in our tools. We no longer have the excuse “I didn’t know” for most information. At our fingertips we have what can help us make better decisions and our reactive nature can put in check. 
And yet even with all the tools available to connect us and our knowledge, someone still needs to ask…

 “Hey what are you doing!?”

Too Small To Fail

I’m seeing L&D/T&D or rather the compartmentalization of “learning”as a lame duck practice. It’s one of those 20th century institutions that people cling to maybe for nostalgia.  Like bookstores and those that still speak of their need because some just like the feel of a book.  Is it time to throw this, and possibly other functional departments, on the trash heap of history? Segmenting “learning” as a function away from the rest of the business just can’t remain viable. Yes, training will always be needed but can we justify an entire department devoted to it?

We know learning is happening all the time with or without an L&D function. Can you imagine a company today having no L&D department? No training function? Sure, if the company is 25 people then doubtful they are having a formal department.  What about 250 or maybe even 2500? Now that seems more likely – but is it necessary?

The reason a L&D or T&D department didn’t exist when a company was small (25 people) was because a new worker was hired expecting to having great skill already, the company was very flexible in regards to tools, processes and policies because priority one was survival. And learning the ways of the organization happened through peer-to-peer interactions.

Today the agility often found in start-ups is not a result of trying to survive, rather survival is a result of being agile. Information and expertise is a click (or tap) away. Web 2.0 and the various tools available to help us share knowledge, collaborate and build relationships have the ability to make a 2500 employee company move like one that has only 25.

And what was the need again for L&D when a company is that small?

The wind or the sun?

The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveler coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveler to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.” So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveler. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveler wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveler, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on. – Aesop

Many workers approach collaborative tools with skepticism,  fear, or as a burden; “something else I have to check.” Others bring to the workplace their personal use bias and see them as frivolous time wasters. How are you addressing people’s cloaks of resistance? Are you slowly and gently radiating the opportunities and advantages or are you just pushing hard for rapid adoption?

Supporting the Extended Workforce with a 70-20-10 Framework

Photo by ionushi,
CC by-sa-nc

Recently I felt I needed to do a better job of practicing what I preach and narrate my work. OK, less narration than say a summation of my work. Or maybe more appropriately, formation? Regardless, when Charles Jennings reached out to me from the 70:20:10 Forum for a guest post, I figured this was the perfect opportunity as the 70-20-10 framework is exactly what I subscribe to and promote in the work I do.

If you want to read my post, click here to access it at the 70:20:10 Forum and while there, take a look around. Charles and team have created a comprehensive site, rich with focused ideas and resources to aid you in your evolution to supporting formal, informal and social in your organization.

Link fail?  Copy this into your browser:

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback – the very reason I blog to begin with.

Cynefin Supported Campaigns vs. Courses

Businesses seek markets. Without these opportunities no service or product matters no matter how effective or unique.  I feel that today employees ultimately control access to these markets and this is no more true than in working in government contracts.

In my space a major barrier to opportunity can be Organizational Conflict of Interest (OCI) and in government contracts it can happen like a bursting brain aneurysm; sudden, barely detectable and often deadly.

In simple terms, if an employee or contractor violates the rules and has access or exposure to non-public information; an unfair advantage regarding future work, their organization can be “OCI’d” out of  future related work.

For example:

“An employee of the contracting organization is in a client (government) meeting. The agenda is clear but as meeting sometimes go, a stakeholder expands the conversation into other areas i.e future development, pricing models, etc. The employee should not be privy to this information and frankly may not even know its significance.  Too late.  Later on, meeting minutes show the conversation and attendees, and the organization is not allowed to bid on a related project; in effect losing a multi-million dollar opportunity.”
There are just too many roles and too many situations where an organization is in jeopardy. Furthermore employees walk a fine line with clients in this space.  If one hesitates in assisting on a project for fear of OCI, they could be deemed difficult.  It’s a rare but precarious situation that no employee or organization wants to be in.

Complicated & Complex

Cynefin Sense-Making Framework

When seen through the lens of Dave Snowden‘s Cynefin the sense-making framework OCI straddles the complicated and complex. One can be “oriented” to the dangers and provided some (but not all) examples of when and where these risks can happen – making the issue complicated. However, one can often only see the right course of action in retrospect, thus making it more complex in nature.

Knowledge and proper action must then permeate the culture of an organization. It must be on the forefront of people’s minds but not consume them and it can’t simply be treated as a problem that training alone can solve. The solution lies in raising organizational awareness.  And although it is a performance issue, it is not something that should or can be solely owned by T&D. This needs to be a company-wide effort.

A multifaceted approach involving formal, informal, and of course social learning is key as it’s mostly about tacit knowledge sharing. Explicit, although having merit, is black and white and unfortunately OCI is many shades of gray.

Campaign vs. Course

Craig Taylor tuned me into the concept of a campaign as he explored it himself on a considerably grander scale.  An apparent influence for him was in the article Think “Campaign” not “Course” by Lars Hyland (Tip 16) From the eLearning Network:

“…Shorter, sharper, more varied learning experiences deliberately spread over a longer elapsed time period, demonstrably improve learning effectiveness. There are more opportunities for reinforcement of key knowledge, more prompts to practice skills in the field and the ability to adapt to the pace and personal needs of each individual. At long last our efforts can be focused on providing learning support interwoven into life and work, rather than artificially abstracted.”With this concept in mind the approach then is more to immerse people in OCI awareness. To begin, Cynefin not only serves to help identify the “habitat” of OCI but it can also serve as a performance support model for a communication procedure; Sense the potential situation, Analyze the severity, Respond according to organizational procedure.

The initial part of the campaign grounds people in a common understanding of OCI, and the response procedures identified in the job aid. For this a short scenario-based elearning module can serve to show the value of the communication procedure and practical application of the job aid in a scenario. Additionally, to improve access to a job aid (post completion), a QR code can be used within to allow the learner to place the support tool on their mobile device and be easily accessible in a potential OCI situation.

Next, leverage traditional communication channels such as an organization’s periodical. L&D can partner with them to maintain a long running series of compelling examples, statistics, factoids and industry news regarding OCI. A series of “insider” podcast bring a human face (voice) to the issue through interviews with internal experts and possible “victims” of OCI which will be made available for employees to pull; HR to promote at new hire orientation, and managers to leverage when needed. The use of a social media platform is fertile ground for sharing industry news, and war stories. And finally email, the default communication platform of the moment, can easily serve to launch short scenario-based “quizzes” to reinforce understanding and application of the procedure.

The approach is really one of an all hands on deck. People should not to be subjected to repeated formal (out of workflow) interventions but rather be surrounded by relevant information, expertise, conversation and resources to help them navigate a complex and potentially costly issue.