Real learning is a part of the work, not apart from it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Goodbye from the Learning Zealot

Sunrise or sunset? Each day we are blessed to receive both. Brilliant moments in time. This blog has been a brilliant moment in time for me. Blogger made life very easy, it was my space to write and reflect and start or add to conversations. Those conversations changed me over the years. My journey as an ISD, then as manager of L&D has taken another step. This time putting learning in it's place, its rightful more limited place. This blog, it's title, was first and foremost about organizational learning which is still very important to me. But over the past several years I have grown and have come to see things differently. This blog name limited me and the fact that it's Google's concerned me. So I have moved on and will continue to ponder the complexity around us on my own domain, my space on the Web. I hope you will drop by where all these posts have moved and new ones are in the works if not already released.  

As the sun sets here it rises elsewhere. You can now find me for the foreseeable future at The Simple Shift ( I'm excited to have you stop by and see the new space!

Thanks for reading. Mark

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Changing Words. Changing Practices. Changing Culture. Part II

Several months ago I wrote the first post of this title. In it I shared how through continual conversation and examples I was able to help some key stakeholders stop calling everything training when it came to a performance solution. The idea being that change happens one conversation at a time and that maybe to shift a culture we need to begin by changing the words we use. Words are powerful in that they set expectation and have a connotation.  Take "Social" for example. Early on many saw "social" as a being the same as goofing around. Who wants THAT in their organization?  Today, and equally unfortunate, "social" equates to Social Media which diminishes it's value around the verb it is - being human.

Another word that I suspect if we can change in organizations would begin the dominoes falling is the word "learners".  This term is pretty exclusively an L&D word that lumps people together. And although learner isn't earmarked as a formal learning only term, it has that connotation, for "learner" is not that far removed from "student" for most hearing it, it generates a context.  If one is a learner it puts them in a learning exclusive situation and a learner needs learning which is typically to be supplied by, you guessed it, L&D.

Most people in organizations see themselves at workers or employees, not learners. They were not hired to learn, they were hired to do.  What happens then if L&D joins everyone else in the organization? What if they drop the name "learner" from their vocabulary and uses words like worker and employee?  I suspect (hope?) the process of changing of words, changes the practices, changes the culture begins.

The L&D practice would become more about helping workers do their jobs. It becomes a bigger focus on the employees needs and their context not L&D's traditional delivery approach and systems. Workflow solutions, performance support, informal learning opportunities and coaching and mentoring rise, while classrooms, training and courses fall.

What then? 

Culture shift.  L&D decompartmentalizes; they become more free agent-like, moving into the workflow as a partner in performance. Work and learning truly begin to merge and employees, with change agents amongst them see a greater personal, professional and organizational value in sharing their work, sharing resources, and collaborating. The inside moves out and a more empowered, autonomous workforce becomes the face of the organization. Improving morale builds greater loyalty and loyalty leads to greater trust across levels. The organization builds a reputation as an employer of choice and the best and brightest gravitate towards it.

Idealistic? Simple? Maybe. But L&D has a lot of potential energy for change, it just needs to get out of it's own way. Words are one place to start.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Social Media Is Like a Light

Social media is often criticized for bringing out the ugliness of society. But isn't that what we want!? What we need?! Racism, sexism, ageism, the "isms" have been able to hide for far to long and social media works to ferret them out for everyone to see. The latest example was brought to light by the posting of a quote by Engineer, Isis Wegner of OneLogin along with her image in a recruitment advertisement. The post, reaction and commentary leads one to examine their own actions and words. Being brought into the light, the average person perpetuates the discussion online, traditional media picks it up, hashtags invite participation, and the conversation reverberates across the globe. 

Imagine if we didn't have social media? This story goes away in a day, maybe it doesn't happen at all and are we any better as a society? Without social media, it, like all it's related isms, sits and festers for years, periodically popping up in small disconnected pockets and quickly dissipating like puddles after a summer shower... only to return again and again. 

Social media gets none of the credit, nor does it seek it. It's a mere tool extending and expanding our humanity where I suspect ultimately good will triumph over evil with it's unrecognized help.

"Using social media and networking is like a light. It spreads and illuminates that which it is focused on and all objects around it. The spread breathes life into new forms of learning and growing and being and connecting."    - Kevin Jones

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Social Tools: Organizational Learning's Uber

I had my first Uber service recently in Austin, TX.  It was nothing short of remarkable.  A few glitches (mostly self caused) but a far better experience than I have ever had in a cab. It was during this ride, and conversation with my driver William, that I made a few connections between business, learning and needs. It's got me to thinking that if content, context and connection is king, queen or some other type of royalty, then the Platform is God.

Uber, a platform, connects wants with resources. Nothing new.  But it is probably the most understandable idea of a platform for people who don't understand or think about platforms all that much. A service that connects a driver and their car with a passenger and a need. Simple.  The success of Uber (and other share platforms) is all predicated on the idea that 1. resources are plentiful (cars and drivers) 2. demand is greater than the current model of supply can support and 3. convenience and simplicity reigns supreme. It is also a great example of a modern paradigm shift for people who don't understand or think about paradigm shifts. For the better part of a century city dwellers couldn't see it any other way. This monopoly, like all monopolies, had some stress, like:

  • If you needed a ride, you had to hail a cab
  • hoping the driver speaks your language,
  • hoping the vehicle doesn't stink 
  • hoping you get to your destination safely,
  • hoping you get to your destination quickly,
  • hoping the cost was fair.

Sound familiar? Just swap out the word taxi for L&D or HR. 

These same criticisms have been levied against each for years but never so loudly as today. L&D and HR have long been the organizational learning taxi service, monopolizing organizational learning for far too long and supported by organizational leaders themselves like cities support taxi services; establishing a Learning Department has been default.  For the better part of a century employees couldn't see it any other way. This monopoly, like all monopolies, had some stress, like:

  • If you needed to learn something, you had to hail L&D.
  • hoping they speak your (business) language,
  • hoping the (learning) vehicle doesn't stink, 
  • hoping you get to your (learning) destination,
  • hoping you get to your learning destination quickly,
  • hoping the cost (your time and attention?) was fair.

But technology, and specifically the same technology concept (sharing) that launched Uber and others is changing this paradigm of the learning taxi service. People in organizations, through technology, are not waiting for the next course to be developed, instead they are using social platforms to building networks upon and connect with people and content regularly, and just-in-time as both are plentiful. Employees are not standing by waiting for the next resource to appear hoping it will meet their needs, they are actively seeking them out - rating them and their content as easily they do an Uber ride experience (for the benefit of others). The learning vehicles, like Uber's cars, vary in size and type. The drivers of the content, like Uber drivers, are not specialized but are knowledgeable and can offer quick value.

People are discovering the power of social tools to get just the information they need at the moment they need it. The power is in their hands to build strong networks and choose their own hassle free vehicle. In a recent Washington Post article about how Taxi services were uniting against Uber and other ride sharing services was this statement: "[Uber] threatens a taxi industry that critics say has been slow to modernize and keep up in a technology-driven era.

Sounds familiar? So when people question the power of social technology to change the paradigm of learning, just ask them to look at Uber and the paradigm of transportation. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Lead Social By Leading With Social

A colleague and friend who I regularly chat with, where we bounce ideas and thoughts off each other, is at the cusp of where many folks leading the social charge in organizations are; helping key leaders and stakeholder to build awareness and better understanding of the value of being more social themselves.

Meetings are being set, slides developed, activities, agendas, use cases identified and industry examples to share. This is the expectation. And that is a problem. It's the same old story, employee comes to executive's office or board room for a scheduled meeting, agenda set in advance, pitch is made and the executive takes it in, asks a few questions and applauds the effort. Maybe there is change, likely not, and it's back to business as usual.

This isn't a new sales approach or marketing campaign. And if it's also social supported by technology it is also not a new CMS or bug tracking tool. Yes, software it needs electricity and it is built on code but that's where the similarities end. Social is different. Social tools work to surface and amplify ideas, answers, and content but mostly they serve to extend and expand conversations, allowing the normally invisible interactions to be visible and this is exponentially more powerful for an organization. Conversation is the undercurrent of all business interaction. It's omnipresent and eternal. It is also the least understood or nurtured of business elements. 

We have essentially buried conversation, the epitome of humanity, under layers of politics, hierarchy, processes, protocols, and technology and my colleague is in the unfortunate position of having to encourage social in the most unsocial situation. How ironic. 

Not only is social about transparency and openness it also needs this openness and transparency in order to step out from underneath the weight of traditional business mindsets and gain a foothold. 

After initially falling into the trap of business as usual, I collected myself and suggest we lead with social. The alternative, the antithesis of social, is like planting a seed in concrete!  This is not traditional business, it's social business. So rearrange locations with the executive and meet in a neutral settings, a cafe perhaps. Set no calendar defaulted time limit, this is far too important for artificial restraint. Hell, wear jeans and ask that they dress comfortably too, social is casual. Scrap the agenda and see that they leave their title at the door, it will certainly be there when the conversation ends. And that's really the point of it - Have a conversation, everything else is pomp. You each know why you are there, it's no mystery. Set aside your presumptions, your status or lack of it and be humans engaging in the most fundamental, historical part of being human; a conversation... and see where it goes. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Embraceable Me

Yesterday Tracy Parish challenged me to do a #Blimage. If you are unfamiliar, this is an interesting and fun approach to inspiring a blog post. It was introduced by Steve Wheeler and friends and the original post can be found here. Tracy wrote an excellent post based on an image of a cemetery titled Learning While Wandering. I enjoyed that she looked at learning very personally versus professionally and focused on the importance of reflection. Like all #Blimage challenges the object is to relate the image to learning and so she provided me this Star Wars snap from Flickr. 

First, let me begin by saying I am not a big Star Wars guy and fortunately I was able to immediately move past that part and look a bit deeper into the image (as if Star Wars Lego people can really be looked at deeply). Maybe the intent of the image is a Father-Son relationship or maybe it is to portray the comfort of hugging of a doll? For me, with the challenge of "learning" in mind, I see the "importance of the smaller self".

The world around us seems to be all about The Big. Big announcements (watch how products are rolled out), Big technology (The LMS and Enterprise Social Network platforms to name a few), and Big data (analytics, measurement). Yet at an individual level we long to get smaller. Our personal lives merge with our professional ones as humility and being real is how we make sincere connections. Social technology puts the the large planet in our pocket. We find personal satisfaction in tighter, more focused networks where the work gets done. And real power is in being a node in these networks not in being the know it all. 

This picture reminds me that our smaller, less imposing persona is what breaks down barriers between people and putting our smaller selves front and center is what matters most today.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Choices, Choices

When I was a kid we had about 7 maybe 8 television channels (I grew up somewhere between rabbit ears and cable). It was easy then to decide what to watch or if to watch at all. Today though I can have options of up to 650 channels. Do I need that many? No. Are most worth my time? No. But I will experiment and give some a chance. If I find value, they stay in my line up. If not they are quickly removed. I learn which channels present the best content, consistently and some I just visit from time to time. Some I've never selected based on title alone; just not of interest to me. New channels appear and others disappear, I make room when I can. This is not difficult even with hundreds of channels to choose from. To me that number could be 60,000 and I feel no stress in the fact that I can't watch them all or that I'll miss something important.

We know what moves us. We know what we need or want. We learn and can separate the good from the bad. We find something we treasure and we tune in. We talk to our friends, those people who's opinions we trust, and get their take on different programs and make choices from that. Who have you ever heard say TV is information overload or that they were suffering from a form of TV filter failure? Online time is the new TV time and yes, it's all the time but we have choices. And yet people speak of too much information, unreliable content, and going down rabbit holes online but not of television. I find it interesting that the technology parallels of broadcasting ideas and opinions are eerily similar, yet the societal complaints aren't at all.