Archive for October 2006

socialnetworks1Rosanna Tarsiero noted that John Smith, in his Yahoo group on communities of practice, posted a link to Guide And Toolkit For Communities Of Practice. I’ve been reading it over, and think it’s really worth taking an hour or so to peruse if you are a community manager or facilitator for a CoP. Parts 1 through 3 discuss the context within which a CoP operates, provides an overview of what CoPs are, and describes the process for developing a CoP using a 7-stage model. Part 4 discusses a number of very practical and creative tools and techniques that the CoP can use, including appreciative inquiry, brainstorming, circle of concern and circle of influence, concept analysis, force field analysis, and more. Thanks to John and Rosanna for pointing this great information out!

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POEVPine and Gilmore (The Experience Economy) talk about the Progression of Economic Value – POEV – as a key to understanding what it is you offer. At strategichorizons.com, they say: One way to determine what business you’re in is to consider what you charge for: If you charge for raw materials, you’re in commodities; if you charge for physical things, you’re in goods; if you charge for activities you perform on behalf of another, you’re in services; but if you charge for the time people spend with you, then you’re in experiences. Today, consumers seek to spend less time and money on goods and services, but they want to spend more time and money on compelling experiences. The canonical example is coffee. Coffee sold by wholesalers is a commodity. Folgers v. Maxwell House is goods. Coffee sold by the cup in a restaurant is a service, but Starbucks is an experience. How does this map to organizational learning?

Here’s one initial thought:

  1. Content Object = Commodity. The content object is a collection of information about a topic, often stored in a document management system, LCMS, or even LMS. It might be a PowerPoint presentation, Word document, or even a rapid e-learning module consisting of a PowerPoint converted to flash. The attribute that makes it essentially into a commodity is that it is simply content. There is no instructional design inherent in the object. It is simply packaged information. It is judged primarily on quantity (how much of the domain do we have captured) and somewhat less but increasingly on quality (via reputation management or other means).
  2. Off-the-shelf Courses = Goods. Off-the-shelf courses may be ILT courseware or e-learning modules. In either case, they are designed to teach to a pre-determined set of learning objectives using principles of instructional design. One might choose one course (on leadership or sales) based on (a) price, (b) quality of instruction, and (c) goodness of fit of the pre-determined learning objectives, examples, etc. with one’s needs. These “goods” may be lower-end (a Dell library of 400 courses for $80) or high end (leadership e-learning courses packed with videos and simulations for $200 each) – but both are goods in this sense.
  3. Custom Courseware = Services. Custom courses may again be ILT or e-learning. They are intended to teach to your specific learning objectives, using examples pulled from your organization. They are truly a service, and usually you pay based on the number of hours required to develop them. Again, the cost rises exponentially, as one can pay from $20k to $50k per hour-long course.
  4. Blended Learning Programs  = Experience. By blended learning programs I mean learning programs that weave together individual and group, synchronous and asynchronous, self-directed and assigned learning activities in a planned way to teach new knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are beneficial to the organization and/or learner. They almost always balance individual content acquisition with collaborative activities, and “classroom learning” with application on the job. Unlike the others, learning becomes a process over time, rather than a one-time event.

And the key value differentiator is that this latter type of learning drives proficiency and even mastery.

What do you think of this notion?

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antsI’m a toolophile and I have *tremendous* latitude to try new stuff and see if it works for me, and might work for you other guys,  but y’know, I have all this stuff that has to get done on time and under budget and it’s costly to try a new tool, find out it doesn’t really work the way I thought it might to make my job easier, and redo whatever I’m doing in the old-fashioned way…even when the tool itself is “free”. I’ve groused about this before, but I think there’s a pathological level of self-centeredness around much of the Web 2.0 stuff which absolutely does not translate to spaces designed to forward the efforts of a group of people working on a joint project.

The capacity to consider group needs alongside individual ones is basic to any shared enterprise.  Companies need to consider support and administrative costs for the tools they make available to employees. So I basically see the effective organization as one which carefully chooses the tools which are used for shared work, and which also allows some freedom for the “mountain people” to do some skunkworks stuff on the side.

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antsThere’s a huge unseen cost to Enterprise 2.0 within organizations which rely on the power of groups to produce results. Some of them include:

  • Training: Who gets the average worker-bee who isn’t the self-motivated learner up to speed on the variety of new tools that then start seeding throughout the enterprise?
  • Succession: People change jobs. Their knowledge should stay. How is that knowledge effectively transferred when it is stored in “personal knowledge management systems” that may use different tools and employ different organizational schema?
  • Administration: How can anyone hope to ensure the security of proprietary information, create systems for weeding out the wheat from the chaff, or simply provide necessary access as tools and systems proliferate at the behest of individual workers?
  • Access: With all the RSS readers and other attempts to collate information, when multiple open source tools are mashed together, there is still no single simple search on the variety of dynamic pages or unified profiles.

The bottom line for us is that we believe deeply in the power of online collaboration. But within the the corporate environment, we believe that part of collaboration is not just sharing ideas, but agreeing on working norms, guidelines, and tools that make working together possible for groups of people. It often seems that writers about Enterprise 2.0 are more self-employed consultants or academicians who work in environments where individual creativity is the stock in trade, and that some of the loftier ideals may not play out in the average corporation.

My conclusion is simple: Collaboration tools must be chosen and used collaboratively; and that such tools can best be used when they exist (collaboratively) together in a robust platform.

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Who are the “knowledge workers” in Enterprise 2.0? Is it the 1,500 claim adjusters who make critical judgments that earn or cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars each year, or the 12 policy writers who develop new guidelines for the corporation? I believe in many cases we’ve been cherry picking – looking from our own enlightened perspective at the people in the most creative jobs, and forgetting the “hidden middle” – the folks who need to follow and thinkingly apply guidelines, not create new ones: procurement officers, underwriters, financial analysts, and the like. Define it as you will – think of them as knowledge workers and much of enterprise 2.0 falls away; think of them as information workers and much of enterprise 2.0 may apply to a very small number of folks in the organization.

In discussing Enterprise 2.0, John Darling on our team suggests:  From a philosophical hypothesis perspective, for years the supposed “thought leaders” have been expousing that self-forming, self-directed working and learning is the natural order of things and all organizations have to do is get out of people’s way.   All in all, the hypothesis only holds true when applied to people who are self-motivated and truly care and are somewhat passionate about their work.  Unfortunately it is my belief, that for a variety of reasons, many of which are the organizations fault, the bulk of people don’t truly care enough about their employer or the work they are doing to take it upon themselves to put out the effort required take on new ways of thinking and doing.   However, for the passionate few you can always count on that they will be embracing whatever new tools will help them be successful.

I think that there will always be the “mountain men” in organizations who will be blazing their own trails into the unknown. The next wave is the “pioneers” or early adopters. These folks, while adventurous, still need a trail, a map and a wagon master. It is my belief that it is this group that our product/services are best suited for.  And, it is also my belief that there are far more organizations out there that are much more comfortable with a certain degree of structure and control than they are with the “set them free” model.

So who are we talking about in Enterprise 2.0?

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Oct/06

18

Ants & Enterprise 2.0: I-The Dream

antsWith no central plan, and no ant in charge (the queen never orders anyone to do anything), ants bump into each other randomly. But they have standards of interaction. Ants sample the other ants they meet to see what they are doing. They use pheromones as a standard way of communicating. If an ant meets too many Ants on Midden Duty (ie clean up), and that ant is on Midden Duty, it will switch over to Scavenger Duty. Out of this system, the optimal number of ants are always working on the right thing for the colony, so writes Rod Boothby in Enterprise 2.0 = Emergence Software, quoting Steven Johnson in “Emergence: the connected lives of ants, brains, cities and software“.

Further Rod says, In McAfee’s article, Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration, McAfee says “When I use ‘Enterprise 2.0’ as an adjective, I mean “supporting of emergent collaboration.” It takes only three simple notions:

1. Many self motivated individual agents
2. Standards for interaction
3. New robust small scale technology used by the agents

There is something very interesting happening in the field of enterprise technology. I called part of it Web Office. Ismael Ghalimi called it Office 2.0. Ross Mayfield calls it Social Software in the Enterprise. Dion Hichtcliff calls it Enterprise Web 2.0.

Most famously, Dr. Andrew McAfee of the Harvard Business School called it Enterprise 2.0 in an article published in MIT-Sloan.

Collections of many Davids triumphing over a few Goliaths

In the free market economy, those individual agents are entrepreneurs, companies and consumers. In a democracy, those agents are voters…It is decentralization: Niel Robertson‘s quick summary of Enterprise 2.0 is “IT without the CIO“.

I believe what McAfee is saying is that everything new and interesting in the Enterprise isn’t necessarily emergent. If IT builds an AJAX application that must be used by end users to account for their time, there is nothing emergent about that system. Therefore it isn’t Enterprise 2.0.

Enterprise 2.0 is about decentralization of responsibility. This requires a completely different way of managing people. That is also why a Harvard Business School professor is so interested in it.

If you want bottom up corporate intelligence, you also have to give people new types of technology. Most importantly, that technology has to help them build their own solutions. You need to expect your knowledge workers to be creative. You need to expect them to be Innovation Creators.

Some of our internal discussions have focused on some of the less glamorous aspects of this

With no central plan, and no ant in charge (the queen never orders anyone to do anything), ants bump into each other randomly. But they have standards of interaction. Ants sample the other ants they meet to see what they are doing. They use pheromones as a standard way of communicating. If an ant meets too many Ants on Midden Duty (ie clean up), and that ant is on Midden Duty, it will switch over to Scavenger Duty. Out of this system, the optimal number of ants are always working on the right thing for the colony, so writes Rod Boothby in Enterprise 2.0 = Emergence Software, quoting Steven Johnson in “Emergence: the connected lives of ants, brains, cities and software“.

Further Rod says, In McAfee’s article, Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration, McAfee says “When I use ‘Enterprise 2.0’ as an adjective, I mean “supporting of emergent collaboration.” It takes only three simple notions:

1. Many self motivated individual agents
2. Standards for interaction
3. New robust small scale technology used by the agents

There is something very interesting happening in the field of enterprise technology. I called part of it Web Office. Ismael Ghalimi called it Office 2.0. Ross Mayfield calls it Social Software in the Enterprise. Dion Hichtcliff calls it Enterprise Web 2.0.

Most famously, Dr. Andrew McAfee of the Harvard Business School called it Enterprise 2.0 in an article published in MIT-Sloan.

Collections of many Davids triumphing over a few Goliaths

In the free market economy, those individual agents are entrepreneurs, companies and consumers. In a democracy, those agents are voters…It is decentralization: Niel Robertson‘s quick summary of Enterprise 2.0 is “IT without the CIO“.

I believe what McAfee is saying is that everything new and interesting in the Enterprise isn’t necessarily emergent. If IT builds an AJAX application that must be used by end users to account for their time, there is nothing emergent about that system. Therefore it isn’t Enterprise 2.0.

Enterprise 2.0 is about decentralization of responsibility. This requires a completely different way of managing people. That is also why a Harvard Business School professor is so interested in it.

If you want bottom up corporate intelligence, you also have to give people new types of technology. Most importantly, that technology has to help them build their own solutions. You need to expect your knowledge workers to be creative. You need to expect them to be Innovation Creators.

Sounds great! But I wonder how appropriate this is in the real-life organizations which we support?

(Next II – Knowledge workers?)

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complianceWhen I talk to proponents of collaboration spaces in organizational settings, I frequently hear the same lament, “this would make everybody’s life so much easier if they’d just use the space!

Having sung several bars of that song myself, I started thinking about some of the things that turned the tide and got teams to actively participate in online communities. Sure, there are many, many factors that enter into the success of a site, and a lot of events and activities you can plan that will help drive collaboration (star attractions, event wraparounds, etc.), but there are also some very basic things you can to do get folks in to your collaboration space, and get them doing things:

  • Orient themWhile a lot of CoP software has very user-friendly interfaces, it’s a mistake to assume how to use it will be obvious to all participants. And because it’s a semi-public forum, people may be afraid to try things because they believe their mistakes will be obvious.
  • Give them something to doPutting people into a CoP with a series of discussions isn’t all that different from the old Saturday Night Live skit that gave participants a topic and told them to discuss amongst themselves. A lot of people are great at participating in conversations, but not so good at starting them. Having information in your community for them to react to, or a task (even a simple one) to complete, can get people acclimated to doing things in an online space.
  • Set a good exampleThis one might sound obvious, but I’ve fallen into the trap of starting a new community only to realize a week later that MY picture and biographical information isn’t uploaded. I’ve learned the hard way sometimes that “do as I say, not as I do” is recipe for a rocky start.
  • Don’t co-conspire

    I worked on a big, complex project with a team of instructional designers new to online collaboration. For the first couple of weeks I felt like I was herding cats answering the phone, responding to email and keeping track of what I said to whom. And then I realized that our project space was getting seriously underused. So I started saying “no,” to my team when they would call or email and began answering questions in the space itself – and only there. The project space took off pretty quickly after that, and my time was freed up because I could answer the questions one time for everyone to see (and I didn’t have to wonder if I was losing my mind – all of my decisions were there for ME to see as well).

If you’re an online collaboration enthusiast it can be frustrating to have folks who don’t flock to the technology in the same way you do, but with a little determination and some small interventions, you’ll start to create your own users – who can in turn be your collaboration evangelists themselves.compliance

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Oct/06

13

Social Interaction v. Social Networking

socialnetworks1The Denver Post (my hometown paper) printed an article this weekend about social networking and its relationship to true social interaction. One quote from a former MySpace user, in particular, caught my attention, “The superficial emptiness clouded the excitement I once felt.” I’m pretty sure there’s a significant lesson here for online community managers, but hopefully not the superficial one of “communities don’t work.” Rather, I think the lesson here is that the simple existence of a community isn’t enough to guarantee it’s success – it takes concern, planned interaction, and a mix of “give-get” opportunities.

Iowa State journalism profession Michael Bugeja talks in the article about the importance of “interpersonal intelligence” – knowing when, where and for what purpose technology is appropriate. To my mind, that speaks to multiple needs within the “online community” community:

  • knowing who the audience is for the technology
  • knowing what the audience wishes to achieve
  • understanding how multiple tools work so as to pick the most appropriate tool for the task at hand and, most importantly
  • demonstrating how the tool can be used to meet the “people” needs of the audience

One more argument against the “build it and they will come” philosophy – they might come, but they might not stay, and worse yet, they might not take anything away with them…

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I was mulling over the blog archives of Tony Karrer, and thinking once again about the conundrum of “rapid e-learning.” In one Rapid eLearning: More Definition, Tony was discussing what constitutes rapid e-learning. No real surprises – can be developed in less than 21 days; can be developed by SMEs, doesn’t require specialist (instructional designer?) knowledge or support… In Is Gagne Relevant for eLearning Courseware Design, Tony refuted a critique of Gagne and gave a great example of how one could gain attention, stimulate recall, present content, follow up – basic elements of instructional design – using scenarios and engaging learner-centered activities. The problem for me is that the tools and processes for rapid eLearning just don’t support good instructional design.

In Rapid eLearning Tools, Tony discusses tools like Articulate, Captivate, Camtasia Studio, and PowerConverter. He points out that “Most of these fit into the PowerPoint + Audio and most convert to Flash for delivery.” Well, here’s a news flash: 99% of PowerPoint slides, narrated by SMEs, are not “learning objects”. They are content objects. Why?

  • These tools don’t provide easy support for some of the basic elements one might want in creating an eLearning module – like building scenarios, followed by branching based on learner decisions.
  • In my experience, SMEs often provide content at, well, the SME level. Instructional designers provide the translation service to translate high level SME content to what learners need.
  • No surprise – since the rapid eLearning process doesn’t include things like gap analyses that might suggest what learners need to know, and most SMEs aren’t trained to perform one.
  • Similarly, while the presentation of content may familiarize learners with concepts, it often does not address higher order learning objectives, such as providing activities which will teach learners how to apply the concepts, or to analyze underlying principles in order to act appropriately for “edge” cases where procedures fail.

In our haste to get folks trained, we seem to be replicating the worst practices of education electronically. Take an expert, give him the tools to lecture electronically, and hope that something will stick. Oh – and throw in a few multiple choice quizzes or flashy mix & match counterparts – they’re easy to make using the rapid eLearning products – and they claim that we’ve even evaluated learing! Heavens! We’ve critiqued this approach to education for years – why are we taking what is demonstrably a horrid approach to educating young people and using it in corporate environments?

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Shawn Callahan summarizes a point that Steve Denning makes in The Leaders Guide to Storytelling. Steve distinguishes between CoPs and [Knowledge] Networks where the latter consists of a group of people who link together for mutual benefit, such as an alumni. While a community of practice is a group with formed for the purpose of improving member practice. Shawn goes on to suggest that the way we perceive the group type as either a network or a CoP depends on whether people have heard and retell the group’s foundational stories. I think this is a very interesting insight, and I would suggest that it applies to blogging ‘communities.’

I have believed for quite a while that the term “network” is a much better fit than the term “community” for the collection of blogs that focus on a certain arena. The primary reason I believe this has to do with the nature of conversation and dialog in these blogs, but this is another great thought. Sitting around the fire, exchanging stories of the history of the community – the stories that help shape the communities self-definition. I’ve experienced this in face-to-face communities, and in online forum-based communities; I don’t see the Hyde-park-like medium of blogs as really optimized for the creation of this type of community. That’s not to de-value the knowledge networks that are created in the blogosphere, but merely to make a distinction between them and communities.

What are your thoughts?

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