May 31, 2004

ASTD International Conference & Exposition 2004

This is the first of several reports on the 2004 ASTD Conference.

"How was the ASTD Conference?" There are thousands upon thousands of answers to that question, for the event is a nine-ring circus, and it's highly unlikely any two people take part in the same mix of activities.

This year I attended only half a dozen formal sessions but I found myself in constant conversation with friends, vendors, attendees, reporters, and my fellow speakers for five days solid.

The Conference took place at the new Washington Conference Center. It's a mammoth space, chock full of eye-catching art. Unfortunately, the layout is confusing and the signage terrible; I got lost four times. It was 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside; mercifully, the entrance to the Metro is right next to the building.

Cicadas

Unbeknownst to those who hung out in the non-pastoral, concrete neighborhoods of the District of Columbia, the Virginia and Maryland suburbs have been invaded by cicadas (AKA 17-year locusts). In the mornings, the air was filled with an ever-present whir, a dead ringer for the sound of the extraterrestials in The Day the Earth Stood Still.

These scary-looking little bugs are completely harmless. They don't sting or bite. They also have no fear or defense mechanisms because they don't live long enough to need them.

Note the orange eyes. Princeton celebrates cicadas because they are (usually) the school colors, orange and black. One in a hundred has blue eyes.

Here's the lifecycle of the cicada:

  1. Live deep (2' or more) underground for 17 years.
  2. As randy teenagers, bore up to the surface.
  3. Have sex in the tree tops.
  4. Lay eggs (which hatch, drop to the ground, and burrow back into the ground to suck on tree roots).
  5. Die.

In my cousin Becky's neighborhood, you can no longer see the sidewalks for all the cicada bodies.

I know this is a great metaphor for something, but I haven't figured out what.


Tony

Regime Change

ASTD appears to be turning the corner after a bumpy ride for the last several years. The staff has rallied behind new president Tony Bingham and exhibits more spirit than I've seen in years. Membership is growing. ASTD reported a profit last year after two years of losses, digging itself out of a hole created by the recression, SARS, and lack of direction. Selling its headquarters building in Alexandria brought ASTD's cash position to a ten-year high.

At the Annual Membership Meeting, Tony said ASTD had put webinars on hold. People flocked to free webinars, but when there was a price tag associated with them, nobody came. I suggested that quality may be a factor in this. Elearing Guild has a successful webinar series that people pay for. However, they plan their events rather than throw things over the wall, expecting a consultant to put together a quality program for free.

Expo

The Expo Hall was filled with vendors. More importantly, there foot traffic was heavy, and many vendors were happy with the quality of the contacts they were making.


 

In the eLearning space, most of the big players showed up. The smaller eLearning specialities like LCMS vendors, specialized content, or small LMS vendors were MIA.

Accenture wins this year's award for Dorkiest Booth. "Don't you guys have deep pockets?" I asked. A fellow replied that their booth was in New Orleans. "What are you selling?" He told me outsourcing was the hot item. Accenture will do a little piece, perhaps designing a course, or take on the entire training function. I asked how many organizations had signed up for the full soup-to-nuts option. He told me Avaya. "And?" I asked. He said the market was young. Avaya is it. I'd gathered from this article in Learning Circuits that a lot more was going on. Perhaps I was misinformed.

 

DDI had the most talked-about booth. When you walked by, this large-screen cartoon character would engage you in conversation. "Like that red shirt!" or "Sounds like you're from Australia." He could pass the Turing Test (not being able to tell a computer from a human -- because he was animated by a man behind the curtain.

Before the big conferences, I advise vendors on how to present themselves, and one thing that struck me as particularly clever was the ability of the cartoon figure to qualify prospects. Imagine if this had been carried through to desktops in the booth, an apparently machine intelligence giving prospects a personalized sales pitch.

This sort of thing once made me laugh out loud. Now I'm more tolerant. If the manager who authorizes your budget is one of the millions who loved the book, you'd be a fool to pass this up.

Yes, those are antlers. His company gets the point across with zany theater. Lettuce entertain you.

The government of Taiwan brought out half a dozen vendors. Having produced many of the chips inside the computer you're reading this from, they'd like to put some software in there, too.

(Hello, Andy and Carrie!)

Ensemble Collaboration launched on Monday. From the Press Release:

WASHINGTON, DC, May 25 /CNW/ - Ensemble Collaboration announced the official launch of the world's first Collaboration Management Framework at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. last night at a private reception attended by over 350 learning experts. The company is launching the product in conjunction with its attendance at the American Society for Training and Development's International Conference and Exposition.

Ensemble introduced C-Change(TM), a revolutionary process that enables effective collaboration to occur across all courses, whether custom or generic. To do so Ensemble has created a hosted technology framework that encapsulates existing 3rd party collaboration technologies into 'collaboration learning objects' that can then be assembled and centrally managed, similar to how online courses are built from content learning objects.

(Disclosure: I am a director of Ensemble.)

From ASTD reports:

  1. 70% of the Fortune 1000 cite lack of training as the biggest barrier to sustaining growth. (PwC)
  2. Half of the Federal workforce of nearly 3 million will be eligible for retirement in 2005.
 
Norm Kamikow, president and editor-in-chief of Chief Learning Officer magazine.

CLO is thriving. Every other month it contains a spectacular column. (Disclosure: I write CLO's column on Effectiveness every other month.) The price is right; CLO is free.

More to come.

Posted by Jay Cross at 07:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Knowledge Tips

It's Memorial Day. I arrived back in California from ASTD a few minutes before midnight yesterday and am digging my way through hundreds of emails. Most of my inbox is filled with inane spam. I also received dozens of notices of obscene graffiti vandals had posted to my blogs. Animals, incest, and loose women promising to do anything imaginable. Yuck.

It's uplifting to receive something genuinely useful, and the Gurteen Knowledge-Letter hit the spot for me. Consider these links from the current issue:

  • Peter Drucker, My Life as a Knowledge Worker

  • Scott Peck, The Stages of Spiritual Growth

  • Via a pointer from Ross McDonald, this awesome image of the "Metaweb" from Peter Drucker's grandson, Nova Spivak.

  • Two sites dedicated to exploring conversation

  • John Holt

      "The child is curious. He wants to make sense out of things, find out how things work, gain competence and control over himself and his environment, and do what he can see other people doing. He is open, perceptive, and experimental. He does not merely observe the world around him, He does not shut himself off from the strange, complicated world around him, but tastes it, touches it, hefts it, bends it, breaks it. To find out how reality works, he works on it.

      He is bold. He is not afraid of making mistakes. And he is patient.

      He can tolerate an extraordinary amount of uncertainty, confusion, ignorance, and suspense ... School is not a place that gives much time, or opportunity, or reward, for this kind of thinking and learning."

(This is "Copyright 2004, David Gurteen, All rights reserved.")


Posted by Jay Cross at 03:08 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 29, 2004

What is Workflow Learning?

In this article that appeared today in eLearn Magazine, I attempt to explain the concept of workflow learning.
<

What is Workflow Learning?

By Jay Cross, Managing Director, Workflow Institute

A buff venture capitalist in a designer suit steps into my elevator. Soon she asks, “Workflow learning? What’s that?”

I reply: “That’s something you won’t have to ask five years from now, for by then Web Services and the integrated, real-time enterprise will be commonplace. Learning will have become a core business process. It’s what will connect humans to their work.

Now, we call it workflow learning because it’s a different animal from the workshops, reference manuals, computer-based training, and courses that have been the staple of corporate training departments. The goal of workflow learning is to optimize business performance. It employs “smart” software to guide, inform, and assist workers to do their jobs better. When appropriate, it will put the worker in touch with the right expert or mentor or help desk, someone who’s both knowledgeable and available.

You've heard about the promise of Service-Oriented Architecture? XML? It's finally happening. Intelligent software agents tackle the Mickey Mouse work, freeing workers to serve customers, make judgment calls, generate innovations, and accelerate the pace of the business. IBM calls it “on demand;” at HP it’s the Adaptive Enterprise. This will spark a sea change in the way the world conducts business.

Finally, we’re shrugging off the practices we inherited from the industrial era and entering the knowledge economy. Workflow learning is the people part of that.”

Describing workflow learning invokes the corollary to Murphy’s Law: “You can never do just one thing.” In this case, you can’t appreciate workflow learning without understanding its context. Critics and reactionaries write off the workflow vision as futuristic and not yet relevant. To me, it’s more what William Gibson meant when he said, “The future has already arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” Companies are modeling workflow now. Workflow engines are at the heart of IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, BEA, SAP, and PeopleSoft.

Competition is driving business cycles to occur faster and faster until “soon” is replaced by “right now.” In a zero-latency enterprise, planning collapses into action. Successful organizations identify and demolish obstacles in the path of slack-free workflow. Frills and inefficiencies such as studying for the test instead of the job, going through the motions thoughtlessly, and fighting the last war largely disappear.

Rigidity, discipline, narrow focus, and top-down control improve efficiency when change is rare. This logical formula worked so well in producing physical goods that it became gospel, seared into our thinking as the one best way to do things no matter what. But the world that created the Industrial Age is long gone. The vestigial worldview of the old era is wholly inappropriate for our current situation.

Today the goods are largely intangible; innovation trumps obedience; flexibility is the only way to survive; and control is being delegated to the workers themselves. In fact, in a business ecology, the workers are in charge, and most organizations are bossless.

Technology, communication, information, world population, and interconnectedness are advancing exponentially. In the face of such volatility, long-range planners are on permanent leave of absence. In some quarters, “long-range” means “next month.”

Christopher Meyer and Stan Davis (2003) support the notion of workers being in control in their book It's Alive: The Coming Convergence of Information, Biology, and Business. They point out that “The past fifty years have shown conclusively that distributed decision-making does a better job of satisfying demand than a centralized approach. Nonetheless, many of our businesses retain a surprisingly ‘Soviet’ management style, using approaches developed in an assembly-line era that have more in common with a top-down mentality than with a bottom-up one.”

In a workflow learning ecology, each worker has an instant picture of his or her slice of the workflow on the screen 24/7. Assuming the right permissions, the worker can also realign the process, correct error situations, receive a chunk of simulation-based learning, or be connected with another person. The “dashboard” has become the “cockpit.” As network computing becomes pervasive, the cockpit may reside on a handheld, a head mounted display, or a wi-fi bodysuit.

Skeptical? You’re witnessing bottom-up decision-making in the swift turn of a school of fish but we’re not used to seeing it in business. MIT Professor Tom Malone equipped an audience with hand-held paddles whose position could be read by a computer. On the screen up front, he projected a flight simulator. A hundred people jointly took the controls of the plane and, against all expectation, flew the plane without a pilot and without a crash

When I attended business school—admittedly that was soon after the Dark Ages—I took separate courses in marketing, accounting, finance, organizational behavior, international business, and so forth. Then I joined a corporation that had a marketing department, an accounting department, a finance department, etc. These separate entities competed for senior management attention when they should have been optimizing corporate performance. Had this outfit lived in nature, it would not have survived its first day. A business ecosystem must adapt to fit its circumstances; the elements of a business ecology communicate through Web Standards. In addition, a business ecology doesn’t have a boss; it grows through the collective effort of its workers.

In the past, if a business wanted to automate, it had to pretend its organization operated like a machine. Now however—for the first time—IT is sufficiently flexible to conform to the shape of the business it serves. Under the hood of the future computer you’ll find a bevy of snippets of agent software working out solutions—without the heavy hand of a programmer to hardwire them together. Since the software agents are “loosely coupled,” they enjoy the flexibility to reconfigure themselves for best fit.

Another integral factor in business is intangibles. Forty-percent of the workers in America are knowledge workers, and their numbers are growing. They don’t make anything that classic accounting considers an asset, yet corporations keep paying them high salaries. One definition of intangible is “assets that are saleable but not material.” A second definition is: “lacking substance or reality; incapable of being touched or seen.” Finally, another definition is “not having physical substance or intrinsic productive value.” Whoa. That sounds close to worthless. More than 25 percent of the net worth of American public companies is intangible. Don’t tell me that it’s worthless.

The Coca-Cola Company has a market value of $164 billion. Its tangible assets are worth $7 billion. The other $157 billion is intangible. It’s the brand, the social capital, and know-how that Coke has built up over the years that are really valuable. Similarly, all but $20 billion of IBM’s value is intangible; reputation is intangible. Microsoft has only $1 in tangible assets for every $3.75 reflected in its capitalization; code is intangible. This is not just some financial anomaly. Clearly, intangibles have a tangible impact.

The discipline of Business Process Management (BPM) provided a dominant gene in the DNA of workflow learning. BPM is all about manipulating intangibles. It is inevitably a cohort of workflow learning. Paul Harmon, author of Business Process Change: A Manager's Guide to Improving, Redesigning, and Automating Processes, defines BPM as “aligning processes with the organization's strategic goals, designing and implementing process architectures, establishing process measurement systems that align with organizational goals, and educating and organizing managers so that they will manage processes effectively.” In other words, you draw a chart of the flow of work though the organization. Now for the magic: Resequence or redraw something on the diagram, and the system rewrites the underlying code. Thus, you manipulate the symbols and you change the process on the factory floor. At the same time, you can imbed information for the worker who later gets stuck at this point. Or you can ask the software to generate a simulation of the ways things should operate.

For some, the work of the future will resemble an elaborate, personalized video game front-end that’s connected to the physical operations of their company.

Life will be simpler five years from now. We’ll be comfortable living in a world of organizations without bosses, computing without programmers, and webs without weavers.

Next time, if a corporate titan comes into my elevator and asks me about workflow learning, I’ll simply tell her that workflow learning is how workers improve performance in a business ecosystem.

Jay Cross is Managing Director of Workflow Institute, CEO of Emergent Learning Forum, and founder of Internet Time Group LLC. He co-authored the book, Implementing eLearning. You may reach him at [email protected]

Posted by Jay Cross at 03:49 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

ASTD msg 1 of n

I'm spending several days with my parents in Northern Virginia and will be flying back to the West Coast tomorrow.

Why the blog break? I lost my nationwide Internet connection, so I've been unable to post photos. Email is spotty, too. Thanks to everyone who expect me to be more consistent and wrote to see if I were okay.

The official word on ASTD is:

    (Alexandria, VA) May 28, 2004 - Over 8,900 training, learning, and performance professionals from 78 countries attended the American Society for Training & Development's (ASTD) 2004 International Conference & Exposition, the workplace learning and performance industry's most comprehensive annual event. The ASTD Conference took place May 23-27 at the new Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. The EXPO drew 342 vendors.

The Jay-version of what went on, scheduled to appear here next week, will feature coverage of the chirping cicadas, the Who Moved My Cheese booth, my annual award for the worst expo booth, coverage of the bash at the Smithsonian, and tidbits of corporate espionage.

Posted by Jay Cross at 01:12 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 20, 2004

Look out, it's Outlook

Tomorrow I'm off to DC for a week, so I want to transfer my email and address files to my laptop. I couldn't remember where Outlook has put my .pst file, so I asked Outlook Help. Microsoft offered me a course. In only 45 minutes, I could learn how to find a file!

Do you know where Microsoft Outlook keeps your e-mail? Find out where your messages are stored, and then learn how to move, copy, or back them up to suit your needs.

Length: 40–50 minutes

It's not a good sign when you're offered a 45 minute course to learn something that should be either intuitively obvious or one click away.

Posted by Jay Cross at 11:14 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Collaboration at ASTD Next Week

Next week at the ASTD International Conference & Exhibition, I'll be describing how Collaborative Technologies Supercharge Informal Learning.

    Thursday, May 27th 9:00 am to 10:15 am
SESSION ABSTRACT: Corporations typically invest very little in informal learning, even though that’s where most corporate learning takes place! First-generation eLearning took the people out of learning. New collaborative tools and techniques bring the people back. Join us to see how learning networks, knowledge-blogs and wikis, outsourced mentoring, and emergent communities accelerate and deepen learning. Find out how thought-leaders are redefining collaboration to improve customer satisfaction, foster teamwork, cut time-to-proficiency, and create continuous learning. See demonstrations of collaborative technologies, often open-source solutions available for free.

Bear in mind that I wrote that description nine months ago. I'm writing the presentation this week. Any resemblance between what I talk about and what's printed in the brochure will be purly coincidental. Most of what I talk about will be relatively new stuff.

I'll also be saying a few words at the reception at the Canadian Embassy on Monday evening.


Heard today in conversation: "Strategy is a luxury now."

Posted by Jay Cross at 04:01 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 18, 2004

Tell me a story

The Digital Storytelling Center offers a digital storytelling cookbook, examples, articles, and more. The cookbook gives a step-by-step recipe for telling your own stories. The touchstones to success are to keep in mind:

  1. Point of View
  2. Dramatic Question
  3. Emotional Content
  4. The Gift of your Voice
  5. The Power of the Soundtrack
  6. Eoonomy (= Don't talk too much)
  7. Pacing

The only downside I see is a reliance on Adobe Premier to capture the show. Since I have a copy, that's not a problem for me, but it might hold others back. Abbe Don, who put together a great family story/scrapbook while a student intern at Apple, is putting together a simpler framework for assembling digital stories.

I definitely plan to do this.

Posted by Jay Cross at 10:05 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 16, 2004

User indifference

Notice anything odd about this ad for the Microsoft watch?

It's upsidedown. Who wears a watch that only others can read?

I'm trying to synchronize three lists of contacts. There's a contact list in Outlook 2003 but all the entries in mine are duplicates (and I have no clue how to weed out the redundent ones). There's an Address Book available via Accessories that contains another list entirely. And there's a list that Card Scan maintains. And I almost forgot the names and email addresses that Outlook is capturing as I send mail; I can't find where these are. And some fragments left over from Outlook Express. And a list trapped in Eudora. And another in Mozilla Mail.

Communicating with contacts is one of my prime functions on the net, but if Microsoft has information to help out, I've yet to find it. There's no apparent automatic backup. Synchronization is a nightmare. What I really need is a secure web-based way to maintain one list of contacts info that's accessible wherever I am.

I'd prefer to have to read my watch upsidedown than to continue struggling with hidden .wad and .pst files. Am I alone in my confusion?

Posted by Jay Cross at 01:06 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

May 15, 2004

Interdependence


Gum arabic. Where have you heard that before? Perhaps on the list of ingredients in Coca-Cola. According to a story in today's New York Times, gum arabic is a clear, odorless tree sap...

used as an emulsifier, the sap keeps ingredients in carbonated beverages from settling at the bottom. It ensures that shampoo has the right consistency, and is used to coat pills to keep them fresh. It gives buns a perfect glaze and beer a thicker foam.

Sudan's gum arabic is premiere cru, so the U.S. has exempted it from the seven-year-old restrictions against exports from Sudan imposed because of its terrorist activity. Nervous American business people are tracking the internal situation in Sudan closely.

Prices are shooting through the roof because harvests are half of what they once were. Violence has recently displaced a million people, mainly farmers. Many of the five million subsistence farmers who once harvested gum arabic are afraid to venture into the fields due to killings. In desperation, others are cutting down the acacia trees for firewood.

The Times article is accompanies by a photo of forlorn acacia stumps.

What can we learn from this?

Posted by Jay Cross at 12:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 14, 2004

The shortest presentation on metrics you will ever hear

If you're concerned about demonstrating the value of learning, I suggest you check out the Learning Economics Group. This is hot. HP's Tom Hill reports that 70 people have signed up in the past six weeks.

Yesterday morning's meeting featured a presentation by HP Senior Human Performance Consultant Daniel Blair. It was a good session, with several dozen of us paying homage to informal learning, ambient learning, taking a portfolio view, causal chain analysis, intangibles, and more.

The group is to be applauded in their search for the value of learning. I found myself agreeing with a lot of what was being said. In my usual style, I noted that my thinking was not clouded by a PhD in Economics, which appeared to be the dominant degree in the group.

The toughest nut we'll have to crack is the impact of outside events. So many efforts at measuring intangibles oversimplify the environment, suggesting models like this:

That's not the world I live in. Mine's a little more unruly:

I volunteered to speak at a future meeting, prompting Tom Hill to inquire about my presentation last week in Canada. I plucked out the prime slides, recorded an overview, and posted it on the web. At twelve minutes, this is the shrotest presentation on metrics you'll ever hear.

Posted by Jay Cross at 05:55 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Back to Blogger

At the beginning of May, Blogger introduced its first upgrade since being acquired by Google. The new features include a slick dashboard, a spiffy look, dozens of new templates, comments (bravo!) and a switch to cut comments on or off for each post, and posting via email or bookmarklet.


Yesterday Moveable Type released MT 3.0. It's a developer's edition, e.g. it's for us tinkerers. If you just want to go online and write, Moveable Type will steer you to TypePad, their hosted service.

The free version of MT is limited to 3 weblogs and 1 author. This is not enough for my needs. The Learning Circuits blog has many authors. I've also been using MT to run InternetTime.com, Workflow Instititute. www.jaycross, Meta-Learning Lab, a blog for the Berekley Path Wanderers, and five internal blogs. It may be time to go shopping. I have quite a bit of time invested in these blogs. On the other hand, I don't intend to write the Trotts a check for more than $1000 to convert to version 3.0. One wonders what version 4.0 will cost.

I'm seriously considering a return to the Blogger fold, which is where I used to maintain eight blogs (and where I fell in love with the blog-form.)

Last night I attended the Blogger Party in San Francisco (photos). The upbeat spirit of Ev, Jason, the other Blogger folks, and we Blogger groupies is ineffectious.

Driving over the Bay Bridge on my way to the event, I listened to Teri Gross interviewing Bill Moyers on Fresh Air. Bill went over the enormous list of magazines he reads to keep up with things. Then he said he reads a lot of blogs. "Blogging is the closest we have come to, in a long time, to the history of the American media in the beginning."' In the old days, if you wanted to run a newspaper, you plunked down $250 and bought a press. Editors were always covered with ink. Blogging is bringing back the independent voice.


Blogger founder Ev Williams



Life's Been Good
(J. Walsh)

I have a mansion forget the price
Ain't never been there they tell me it's nice
I live in hotels tear out the walls
I have accountants pay for it all

They say I'm crazy but I have a good time
(Everybody say oh, yeah.....OH,YEAH)
I'm just looking for clues at the scene of the crime
Life's been good to me so far

My Maserati does 185
I lost my license now I don't drive
I have a limo ride in the back
I lock the doors in case I'm attacked

I'm making records my fans they can't wait
They write me letters tell me I'm great
So I got me an office gold records on the wall
Just leave a message maybe I'll call

Lucky I'm sane after all I've been through
Everybody says I'm cool (He's cool)
I can't complain but sometimes I still do
Life's been good to me so far

I go to parties sometimes until four
It's hard to leave when you can't find the door
It's tough to handle this fortune and fame
Everybody's so different I haven't changed

They say I'm lazy but it takes all my time
Everybody says Oh yeah (Oh yeah)
I keep on going guess I'll never know why
Life's been good to me so far

I hadn't seen Ev and Jason since the party right after the announcement that Google was acquiring Blogger. Just reading about the Google IPO can make one giddy. I asked Jason if he'd bought his Maserati yet. No, he and Allison assured me that little had changed. They won't have to worry about funding their son's education, but they're still the same people. Ev seems the same as ever, too, still driven by creating cool stuff for his customers.

Google has wisely let the Blogger team make its own way. Most large companies would have screwed things up by now, but Google's too smart to stifle the Bloggers team with a heavy-handed approach.

I'm off to see about switching back to Blogger.

Posted by Jay Cross at 12:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 13, 2004

Windows fixes

Hints on making Windows work, from Dave Farber's Interesting People mail list.

Dave's list provides an awesome array of opinions. It's one fo the few daily mailings I pay attention to. To subscribe, go here.

Archives

Posted by Jay Cross at 05:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Alchemy of Growth

McKinsey & Company, The Alchemy of Growth -- What is the formula?, 1999

An oldie but a goodie about things to consider when growing an organization.

The transformative power of growth is akin to the alchemy of old. Always a mystery, alchemy’s magical blend of science, philosophy, art, and spirituality held secrets that even its practitioners found difficult to penetrate. Still, they were all drawn to its alluring aim: To transform the everyday into the exalted.

The pursuit of corporate growth seems to prompt a similar reaction. Managers
are excited by growth’s promise, by the generous rewards it offers. But unlike
the alchemists, they often hesitate to act, feeling under pressure to take care of
today’s business problems and sometimes uncertain about where to begin. This
was the starting point for The Alchemy of Growth, a special research initiative by
McKinsey & Company, aimed at helping our clients in their search for growth.

Over the course of three years, we attempted to find a pattern that could explain
the success of fast-growing companies. Analyzing over 600 recent growthrelated
engagements in the firm and digging deeply into the workings of 30 fastgrowing
companies willing to participate in the research, we arrived at some
very interesting conclusions. There is no magic formula, of course, but there is a
formula.

The problem? Companies tend to be so preoccupied with managing the crises of
their current businesses that they neglect to keep the pipeline full of businessbuilding initiatives. The result is that when existing growth engines begin to falter, as they invariably do, there are not enough new ones ready to roll out to take their place.

What complicates management’s task when it comes to growth is that the risks
and opportunities change as a business progresses through the development
pipeline. For this reason, we broke down the growth process into three more
manageable phases, or horizons, each of which represents a different period in
the creation and development of a business – i.e., embryonic, emergent, and mature.

Searching for opportunities


Creating a real growth strategy is only possible when managers are able to see
businesses in new ways and evaluate opportunities with their hearts as well as
their minds.

Expand the mind: "What is possible?"

  • Every organization has its orthodoxy, which dictates what is and
    what is not possible.
  • Challenging the orthodoxy helps people see and evaluate ingrained
    beliefs, opening the door to more expansive thinking.
  • Thinking too broadly about growth, however, can “blur
    uniqueness” in a company. Some caution must therefore
    be exercised in expanding strategic options.

    Legitimize passion!

  • Passion must be a part of any search for opportunities.
  • People devote energy to ideas they believe in and care about.
  • Don’t waste precious time on projects that arouse little enthusiasm.

    If you can’t generate excitement about it, shelve it.

    Where's the growth to come from?

    And at what level of abstraction?



    I'm contemplating the future of Emergent Learning Forum and Workflow Institute; hence my casting about for useful frameworks.

    Posted by Jay Cross at 02:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
  • May 11, 2004

    Grab bag

    The Gurteen Knowledge Website is a fascinating collection of books, articles, pointers, people, documents, blogs, and more on the topics of knowledge management, learning, creativity, innovation & personal development. David Gurteen has woven everything together to create a labyrinth I could wander around in for hours.

    There's a newsletter, too. Handy tips from the April 6 edition:

      ************* RAY OZZIE ON COLLABORATIVE TECHNOLOGY *************

      Ray Ozzie, the creator of Lotus Notes and founder of Groove Networks is always a guy whose thoughts and ideas are worth keeping in touch with ...

      White paper from Ray and Peter O'Kelly on collaborative technology http://www.groove.net/contact/b2f-download/

      Voice interview with Ray by Robin Good
      http://www.kolabora.com/news/2004/03/17/robin_good_interviews_ray_ozzie.htm

      Ray's weblog
      http://www.ozzie.net/blog/

      Ray Ozzie:
      http://www.gurteen.com/gurteen/gurteen.nsf/ID/X000358FA?open&r=3&p=0

    These are headed straight into my private links page:

      ********************** ONLINE DICTIONARIES **********************

      I usually use the online Meriam-Webster dictionary when looking-up words on the web but increasingly I use Hyper Dictionary. I prefer the results and get a set of Thesaurus results as well without having to conduct a separate search.

      http://www.hyperdictionary.com

      Compare this:

      http://www.hyperdictionary.com/search.aspx?define=knowledge

      with this:

      http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=knowledge

      which do you prefer?

      Another fascinating dictionary is Urban Dictionary which is a slang dictionary where you can actually submit your own words and vote on words submitted by others:

      http://www.urbandictionary.com

      but I'll warn you now if you are easily offended don't look up 'knowledge' ... I thought I had come across most definitions but not this one - as they say in a footnote "Urban Dictionary is not appropriate for all audiences" :-)


    A week ago today I was making final preparations for a trip to Kingston, Ontario, for a conference. Forwarding the phone to my cell was going to be one of the final steps. Five minutes before we were due to leave the house, I lifted the handset and heard nothing. No dial tone. Dead air. Zilch.

    I scrambled around on the floor under my desk wiggling the connections to our four incoming phone lines. I tried other equipment. Nothing worked. Uta called Pacific Bell. They said they could come out to check on Friday morning, a mere three days away.

    On Thursday, the dial tone magically appeared. Uta called. What had happened? PacBell said a line had been cut. Where? Telling that would involving violating somebody's privacy rights. When was service restored? They had no idea.

    She said she'd like to cancel the Friday service appointment. Pacific Bell said there was no appointment to cancel. She said she'd talked with someone on Tuesday and set an appointment. Pacific Bell said she did not have an appointment. Never did.



    Will wonders never cease?


    I told you so.

    What can I say, but "duh"?

    Posted by Jay Cross at 11:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 10, 2004

    Very loosely coupled

    In 1934, LEGO founder Ole Kirk Christiansen created the name LEGO by combining the first letters of the Danish words “LEG" and "GODT”, which mean “play well” – unaware that in Latin one meaning of the word LEGO is “I put together.”

    Why are learning objects like LEGOs? In 1958, the LEGO brick was launched, with its new socketing system. Children could snap together the bricks to construct different things, limited only by their imagination. LEGO bricks have become the archetype of interchangeable, universal parts.

    Similarly, learning objects were supposed to be reconfigurable. String 'em together to build individualized learning paths. Make 'em small enough and they become like wet plaster you can shape by pouring into a mold. Instructional designers wouldn't need to reinvent (or repurchase) the wheel. Learners would get just what they needed.

    While learning objects have taken hold in limited applications, their recombinant capabilities have not exactly set the learning world on fire. You can have a boatload of LEGOs but they're not going to assemble themselves. Making something requires intelligence -- the child. Likewise, learning objects need an active component in order to self-organize.

    Objects are things. Content can be a thing, but content is not learning. Learning requires context, too. Content + context = a learning process. Processes don't snap together as seamlessly as LEGOs. Processes join with one another in unpredictable ways, with many more variations than one can represent by coupling the male and female aspects of little plastic bricks.

    Real-world applications require flexibility. Those of us who are too impatient to await the arrival of nano-objects that conform to the shape of a contrainer can find a better model in intelligent software agents. Agents are always on the make, looking for optimal connections.

    Their standards of connection evolve over time. Intelligent agents adapt. Unlike LEGOs with their single way to connect, software agents are like sticky candy. They can come together in any number of configurations.

    The learning processes of the future must be responsive, self-maintaining, ever-improving, cost-effective, and malleable.

    I'll suggest we start thinking about learning agents instead of learning objects.



    Posted by Jay Cross at 12:05 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    May 07, 2004

    E-Learning from Practice to Profit



    Slides from this morning's presentation. If you weren't in Kingston, Ontario, with us, most of these will be totally unintelligible. More to come.

    Kingston, Ontario, was capital of Canada 1841-44. The older buildings are built of local limestone.
    Limestone was so common, many buildings hide it behind red-brick veneer.

    Gun emplacements protect the harbor where the St. Lawrence meets the Cataraqui River at the head of Lake Ontario.

    J.P., Lynette, confused participant, and windblown Al

    City Hall, the last locomotive built in town, hand in fire, and great place to eat

    Posted by Jay Cross at 06:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 03, 2004

    Robin Good kicks off Competitive Edge

    Last Friday, David Woolley and I took part in the kick-off of Robin Good's Competitive Edge series on collaborative tools, trends, and practices. Robin has the full rundown and will soon have recordings available. I extracted Robin's transcript of my comments, edited his editing a little bit to restore my original meaning, and post the results below. (I'm not comfortable revising David's words.) For the full impact of the event, visit Robin's informative Kolabora website.


    Where are we?

    Question: How does the future of conferencing and collaboration look? What are people doing in elearning that is different than before?

    JayCross: The future is here! It is just not evenly distributed.

    There are some very advanced things going on but there are also some people still finding elearning brand new.

    "Traditional" elearning courses are dead. Those types of courses where you have to do course preparation work in advance, where you have to spend a lot of time to read and study stuff on your own, stuff you may never use, or that you may forget long before it is actually useful to you. Those courses are history.

    It used to be that..., all the world is a stage and people used to memorize their roles. Well now people do improvisation. They try out new roles and solutions by simulating "what if" scenarios and sophisticated role-playing.

    So if people need to improvise while they are meeting online, we need easy access more than anything else.

    Simple, intuitive, stupid-proof access to these technologies.

    This is where you need to look if you want to see the future of these technologies as well as the future of learning:
    learning and work = same same. No difference.

    Learning and working meet and melt into each other, to a point where learning is an integral and ongoing part of work. It is work in fact that will need to be changed the most to be able to accept without unneeded restrain those open-ended collaboration traits so essential to the growth of an effective learning culture. (italics mine)



    Who is driving?

    Question: Who do you think has a bigger say in how tools are developed by collaboration, conferencing and live presentation companies today? The end users or the companies creating the technologies?

    Jay Cross: Well, in overall terms the workers have a bigger say in what they are going to use and what tools get developed.

    We had a history and tradition that has accustomed us to listen to an instructor who is often not even a practitioner. A person who is trying to explain things as if people are missing something rather than taking this coming-together as a unique opportunity to discuss issues, solve problems and share knowledge.

    Collaborative software that puts someone on a podium is being replaced by virtual offices and meeting rooms where people share knowledge, ideas, documents and tools as equals..

    The companies that don't listen to their customers will be toast. There will be so many options that nobody will go with a vendor that doesn't keep up with what customers really want.




    Organizational changes and acceptance of new tools

    Question: How are these tools changing the way in which organizations operate?

    Jay Cross: As I was saying before, we are really in the midst of a powerful paradigm shift.

    If you look at instant messaging you can see that it has sneaked its way into the mainstream. The corporate world was not paying attention to its benefits and potential for a long time.

    I remember telling Cisco five years ago that "IM is going to be part of learning because it is easy,it's informal, it's immediate, it's kind of fun and it makes for nstant communication between people." Nobody bought it at the time.
    Now Cisco and many others are large adopters of IM, and they leverage much of its potential to their benefit.

    If someone comes up in the IM arena with something free or low-cost that encourages more of the legitimate stuff, it will win rapid acceptance..

    I deal with a company which is one of the leaders in global communications, butI talk to them using Skype.



    Organizational challenges

    Question: How do academic organizations and commercial companies meet the challenges created by collaboration tools who disrupt the barriers of command and control and strict hierarchical line of command that exist in most such institutions?

    Jay Cross: I follow the corporate sector a lot more than the academic market these days, in part because academics are slow to change. And even slower and less open to change when it comes to changing their professional roles.

    We have all heard the griping of faculty members about being bothered by students! Often that is ironic... the students still want to learn something by openly adopting these new technologies but when the faculty needs to learn something new then they prefer to go back to research or to some other safe activity. Except for some leading-edge institutions, academia's use of collaboration technologies has not been directed so much at collaboration so much as replicating traditional lectures, office hours, and workshops.

     

    New Applications

    Question: How are organizations adapting these new technologies to improve their traditional means of communication?

    Jay Cross: The coupling of the power of information systems with communication channels is where the real potential really sits.

    If I call somebody at IBM and want to get referred to someone else, they tap into something called Blue Notes and search for the expertise I need. In a matter of seconds they can connect automatically to the right people (further knowing through presence awareness if these people they are looking for are actually there). And then you can set up a meeting immediately instead of wasting weeks trying to get everybody together.

    It is these technology combinations that will drive a lot of the future change.



    Where To Use Them?


    Question (from event attendee): Where should be these real-time collaboration technologies be used? Pre or post an event? Do you know of any examples of companies that have benefited by the adoption of these?

    Jay Cross: There are thousands of them!

    Here is a philosophical point from Jay:
    I made up the word elearning because I wanted to highlight learning, but I don't think learning is at the head of the train.

    It is performance that is at the head of the train and only a fool would expect to get results from the technology alone.

    It is the technology in support of key organizational goals that is key, and that involves incentives, leadership, innovation, esprit de corps....and this is all mixed in together.

    As a matter of fact I'd be somewhat sceptical of any company that would highlight their intense of collaboration technologies if they left out "What is important to us is to serve our customers and this ishow we go about it".


    Video

    Question: What do you think of the use of video in collaboration and conferencing technologies? Is this a critical component or is this something that in most business and training sessions we can do away with?

    Jay Cross: It all depends on context.

    Yes, sometimes there is something that you don't want everyone to see but the addition of video to a collaboration session is nearly always a positive and useful addition. Video adds a visual dimension that can be quite important in many events.

    There was a famous study at Stanford about a dozen years ago that resulted in a book called "The Media Equation". In this study researchers Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass found that people treat computers like other people, not like inanimate objects.

    Our brains are not wired to deal with devices, so we treat them like other people.

    To me this is an indication thatyou don't need high-fidelity, full-color, full-screen, full-motion video to make things work. Often a black and white caricature is just enough to enhance the quality level of a conversation and to provide body language feedback which is so essential in direct interpersonal communications.

    Video has certainly a role to play.

    Plus, let me add if I don't have video, how could I, who enjoy much showing objects during my lectures/presentations, show you something live rather than having to describe it?

    It is so much easier to show things instead of having to talk about them.

     


    Jay Cross: One week ago the Emergent Learning Forum met in South San Francisco where we had at least 50 people in our meeting room. At that time we were using Macromedia Breeze to run some live presentations as well as some simulations.

    But at all times we displayed a postage stamp view of the actual speaker in one corner of the screen. At one point we switched from the local speaker to a presenter sitting in Philadelphia. WIthout the video, it would have been confusing to tell who was speaking.

    And this was just a simple and easy video add-on, that showcases the usefulness under different circumstances of video in conferencing and collaboration events.



    Open standards, interoperability. How important are they?

    Jay Cross: I have been working with a global communication company in Canada, which I could define as a collaboration company offering mentoring on steroids.

    Their software is aware of the device, connection speed and whatever else is needed to allow the end user to access the information he or she needs. The user is shielded from having to know which tools, setup, and requirements need to be met to access learning and knowledge that is needed "just-in-time". She goes after it and the system takes care of finding the best way to deliver the message given the tools, technologies, and Internet connection available at that moment. Their technology is all based on interoperability, open standards, and user-centered design.

    I am in favor of open source and open standards but one major thing is truly missing here: We do not have standards for human interactions.

    If I call you to give you on the phone because your sister died that is a lot different than calling a help desk to get instructions on some item I have just purchased. Our IT systems can't tell the difference.

    We really need to do work that is parallel to what is being done in Web Standards efforts, and as of now, on this front, we are really just at the beginning.


    Future trends

    Jay Cross: The divergence that David has been referring to is just a sign that there are many opportunities in this field and that there is ample space for experimentation.

    This collaboration market is ready to be approached in a multitude of ways and the truly important things that are going to be critical to those who operate in these spaces and industries is the fact that "we live in an unpredictable world".

    Since we are here in a more intimate setting than large conferences usually offer let me give you a definition what complexity science means: Shit happens.

    A lot of unpredictable things will come to pass in the near future. Count on it. Organizations must be flexible to cope. Rigid hierarchies are not going to function in these circumstances.

    For such times we need flexible tools, interoperability, universal access.

    Posted by Jay Cross at 07:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    May 02, 2004

    China Bloggers

    The Department of Journalism at U.C. Berkeley hosted China's Digital Future, Advancing the Understanding of China's Digital Future, a two-day conference on the impact of information and communications technologies on Chinese society, yesterday and the day before.

      Over 78 million Chinese now utilize the communication power of the Internet, and over 257 million have wireless phones. How will China’s rapidly expanding high tech industry and market affect global technological development and the world market? How does the Chinese government maintain a balance between control and growth of the Internet? How does the flexibility and pervasiveness of the new media alter the traditional information landscape? And what are the expansion, control and transformative effects of these technologies on China and its future?

    78 million net-connected Chinese? That's a big number. For the sake of comparison,
    Pew Internet & American Life Project estimates there are 128 million Internet users in America.

    Speakers and panelists included Lawrence Lessig, Fons Tuinstra, John Gage, Orville Schell, Fang Xingdong, Jonathan Zittrain, Bill Xia, Hal Varian, Isaac Mao, Liang Lu, Fang Xingdong, Mao Xianghui, and many other notables.

    There's a cateogry in the Berkeley Conference on The Well titled "Berkeley and Cambridge: Separated at Birth?" Many of us have lived in both towns, which hold the #1 and #2 spots for the most Nobel Laureates and probably for smoking ganja, too.

    In the blogging realm, Birkman and Berkeley are taking different tacks. As you'd expect, the West Coasters feel "We don't need no stinking echo chamber." In that spirit, Patrick Delaney organized a dinner for China bloggers last night in a French restaurant in Berkeley. He made a reservation for a dozen but twice that many showed up, which meant an hour of blog-geek-speak on the sidewalk outside before we were seated. In Cambridge, "international" means listing overseas blogs; in Berkeley, it means Chinese bloggers outnumbering Americans four-to-one.

    A few feelings derived from dozens of conversation snippets throughout the evening:

      • Just as free-flowing media raised awareness behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe to the point that the entire Soviet system came crashing down, so now is the Internet raising consciousness in mainland China.

      • While admittedly it will be a wrenching struggle, these Chinese are optmistic that China will change, incrementally and not through revolution.

      • The infectious entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. At the dinner, the leaders of Blogdriver.com performed the ritual distribution of logo t-shirts.

      • If you thought the Howard Dean bubble was spectacular, you ain't seen nothing yet.

      • Bejing's decision last week to disenfranchise Hong Kong was no surprise to those who know China. Disappointing, yes, but unexpected, no.

      • As in America, some people are blogging true believers while others can't understand what the fuss is about. I'm convinced that the only way to appreciate blogging is to read blogs. Instead of trying to explain what's going on, I now just hand over my business card and encourage people to come here and read.

    Photos follow.















    Hello to my readers in China and thanks to Isaac Mao for translating the signal!

    Posted by Jay Cross at 01:07 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack