Category Archives: The Future

Mobile is inevitable

You don’t have to be a futurist to see the way some things are headed. Take the Volkswagen as an example. As anyone who has driven an early Volkswagen can attest, the rear windows were very difficult to see out of.

 

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Volkswagen printed one of their wonderful, sarcastic ads when they bowed to the inevitable and enlarged the back window in 1958: “The famous Italian designer suggested one change.”

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We Volkswagen drivers saw the change coming before the Italian designer. We also foresaw a functional defroster and headlights that lit the road.

Now turn to mobile. mLearncom is just around the corner, so mobile learning is on the mind, but this applies to smartphones replacing laptops in all forms.

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Some people believe laptops will live forever. With mobile, they say, the screen is too small to read, the keys too tiny to type on, and photos too small to see. That may be true of today’s smartphones, but it won’t be the case tomorrow.

Just as Volkswagons were destined to have rear windows a driver could see through, smartphones will soon incorporate:

  • direct-to-retina, immersive displays a la Google Glass
  • projection capabilities for displaying images
  • reliable voice input (or virtual air keyboards for vestigial typists)

Add in the benefits of geo-location and miniaturization.

Mobile is inevitable. Make your plans accordingly.

 

 

 

IT Doesn’t Matter. Business processes do

itdoesntmatterTen years ago this May a journalist named Nick Carr stirred up a ruckus with an article in Harvard Business Review claiming that IT Doesn’t Matter. Using the telephone and shipping by rail were great sources of competitive advantage – until every business could afford them. Then they no longer differentiated those who used them. Carr argued that IT is a mature industry, its presence is assumed, and such things as standards will make it even more of a commodity in the future.

Consultants Howard Smith and Peter Fingar shot back a month later with a paperback retort entitled IT Doesn’t Matter – Business Processes Do. I ordered a copy the day I met Peter last week, and I read the booklet yesterday evening. In 120 pages, Smith and Fingar skewer Carr, show why IT will matter more than ever, and explain how business process management creates riches.

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Peter Fingar

The big argument is that “Business process management (BPM) systems can, for the first time in the history of business automation, let companies deal directly with business processes: their discovery, design, deployment, change, and optimization.” As long as there’s innovation, there’s room for making processes better. BPM promises to obliterate the “Business-IT Divide.

To optimize a process, the right hand must know what the left is doing. Enterprise Application Integration (EAI), the melding of ERP, SCM, CRM, PLM, and what-not into one all-encompassing application, is a major step forward, but it doesn’t link the organization with those outside the firewall such as partners and suppliers. Web Services integrate the enterprise with the outside world, connecting business to business, just as the Web connected consumers to businesses in the last decade.

Does this mean all business is going to be carried out using common processes that embed best practices? Not on your life. “BPM will be used both to differentiate (best-in-class) and to standardize (best-practice).” Count on Amazon, for example, to use best-practice standards for email and credit-checking, and FedEx will deliver your order. Don’t expect Amazon to let you peak into proprietary systems such as One-Click Ordering, for that’s where their competitive advantage lies.

Nick Carr’s screed in HBR attacked data processing as we’ve known it. Indeed, that’s not where to look for big value in the future. Business organizations are moving up the ladder a notch to MetaIT. Instead of one-time automation to save labor, they are establishing structures to continuously improve the way they do things.

Authors Smith and Fingar tell us it’s time for the IT tail to stop wagging the Business dog. In their vision of the future, business people will define and own business processes. Instead of doing what-if analyses with numbers on spreadsheets, decision-makers will do what-if analyses of how their business operates or might operate.

As I recently wrote here, it’s as if builders could move walls by shifting them on blueprints displayed on their laptops. With a comprehensive business blueprint, an executive can hand off an entire bundle of processes, say payroll, with minimal fuss (and with knowledge of precisely what savings will result.) A manager can experiment with different ways of getting a job done and chose the one with the most profit potential. A worker can fix a glitch in the system that has been irritating customers for once and for all. In the BPM world, business runs the show.

The authors propose a daunting laundry list of other functions the new paradigm can help accomplish, among them “accountability, activity-based costing, business process outsourcing, competitive intelligence, concurrent engineering, crisis management, inter-organizational systems, just-in-time (JIT), key performance indicators, lifetime customer value, pay-for-performance, resource-based strategy, security audit, scenario planning, and supply chain optimization.” (Whew.)

My interest in all this is how it improves learning and human performance. Process-oriented environments will impact traditional training just as word processing and social change eliminated most of the nation’s secretaries. Process innovation empowers us to create jobs that provide more throughput and greater worker satisfaction, although not through traditional training departments. Imagine the potential of:

  • Workflow learning
  • Transparent human development
  • Grid learning
  • Accountable training
  • Activity-based certification
  • Training value analysis
  • Learning performance management
  • Concurrent knowledge capture
  • Customer learning alignment
  • Personal flow monitoring
  • Psychological stress alerts
  • Individual performance indicators
  • Team competency management
  • Lifetime worker contribution
  • Individualized learning paths
  • Tailored management development
  • On the fly simulations

For training directors and CLOs, the future holds good news or bad news. It depends on where you’re coming from. Training administrators who fail to understand the new dynamics of business as likely to find themselves stripped bare, evaluated by metrics they do not understand, and looking for another line of work. Those who adopt the process mindset take on significant new responsibilities, for everyone knows that the people in the organization are more important than the technology.

After fifty years of waiting for instructions in its corporate cocoon, training is ready to unfold its wings and be recognized as a full-fledged business process.

I wrote this post nearly ten years ago. The wheels of innovation turn slowly.

Technical Knowledge and Practical Knowledge

In a New York Times Op-Ed, David Brooks poses the ultimate higher-ed question: What is a university for?

Brooks separates knowledge into technical knowledge and practical knowledge.

Technical Knowledge enables us to understand a field. These are basics like statistics or fundamentals of biology. You can find it in books. The faculty teaches it. In many cases, a MOOC or a robot could teach it. It’s the mainstay on campus.

Practical Knowledge is about being rather than knowing. It can’t be taught in the classrooms or books. You learn it through experience. You absorb it from your environment. You can pick it up from your communities of practice.

Examples of Practice Knowledge abound in Sheryl Sandberg’s recent book, “Lean In.” Says Brooks,

… tasks she describes as being important for anybody who wants to rise in this economy: the ability to be assertive in a meeting; to disagree pleasantly; to know when to interrupt and when not to; to understand the flow of discussion and how to change people’s minds; to attract mentors; to understand situations; to discern what can change and what can’t.

 

Brooks would have students master Practical Knowledge by leading the band or joining the debate club, something on campus. I think he’s off. Back to his “What is a university?” For most of us, the answer is “Not the best place to master Practical Knowledge for the workplace.”

What if we think of Technical Knowledge as explicit and Practical Knowledge as tacit?

  • Technical Knowledge lays bare the intricacies of complicated concepts. It’s the facts. It’s clockwork models and the results they gin out time after time. Technical Knowledge deals with certainties and absolutes. In other words, it’s often theoretical and “not found in nature.”
  • Practical Knowledge deals with complex, unpredictable, unruly patterns that emerge in real life. It is nature.

Caveat emptor. This next part is speculation on my part. I’m looking for corroboration.

The world is growing more complex. Outsourcing and automation have eliminated work that is merely complicated. The more interconnections in network, the greater the complexity, and the tendrils of networks everywhere are intertwining at a surreal pace. 

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Things kicked into high gear in the last twenty years of the twentieth century. Between 1980 and 2000, the value of the publicly traded companies flip-flopped from 80% tangible assets to 80% intangible assets. 

This is an astounding change. Think about it. Most of a company’s worth had been in hard assets: plant, equipment, and cash. Two decades later, most of a company’s worth was in relationships, know-how, and secret sauce — things you can’t even see.

Many managers haven’t seen the light yet. Look at their allegiance to accounting measures that have less and less meaning in the real world. They righteously demand “hard numbers.” Those are the numbers that don’t mean to much any more.

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As the world becomes more complex, are we not in the midst of another phase change? Might it be that the university heyday when explicit knowledge was king, is giving way to a new world where skills for navigating complexity rule?

If you can’t increase your social intelligence at college, isn’t it time to go somewhere else to get it?

The Times also reported that Essay-Grading Software Offers Professors a Break. Seems that elite MOOC consortium EdX is experimenting with automated essay grading. Skeptics of course came out of the woodwork. Anant Agarwal, the EdX chief, points out that the grading software begins by learning how professors would grade; then it gives students instant grades and an opportunity to improve.

That latter bit — instant feedback and opportunity to resubmit a stronger essay — has lots of promise.

The skeptics are fighting a pitched battle. Traditional grades, having to do only with Technical Knowledge, are not correlated to any measure of success outside of schools. A system can’t do much worse than that.

There’s also the myth of the learnèd professor working away into the wee hours marking papers. I’m sure this happens some places but it wasn’t the way things worked at Harvard Business School when I went there. I have reason to know.

Several of my papers were rejected. These were WACs, Written Assessment of Cases. When I explained my logic to my professors, they said my arguments were brilliant and original. In fact, my ideas were so original that they didn’t appear on the grading checklists given to the Radcliffe students who actually graded the papers. I’m not saying every prof did this nor do I know how it works today, but an automated system might be an improvement. #justsayin

The Churchill Club

The Churchill Club is the real deal. Movers and shakers and enterpreneurs. A nexus. I’m always blown away.

cclubSome of my notes from tonight’s session, mainly Alan Kay’s observations.

“The revolution is old but it feels like it’s just taking off.”

Kay and a bunch of his pals back in ARPA and PARC days remembered Licklider, who wanted ARPA to develop and intellectual amplifier. In those cold war days, money was not a problem. The influential were out to change the world, not to amass fortunes. Licklider called for developing an intergalactic network. Missing the mark created the internet.

Unfortunately, business people are rewarded for making money, not for improving the world. Imagine how business would look at marketing bicycles if starting from scratch. These things have one hell of a steep learning curve. And they are dangerous. Kids are going to ride them in traffic. Our lawyers will be in fits. Forget it.

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Appropriately, Kay shared a Churchill anecdote with a great message: The future is cooperation, not competition.

The hostess at the manor party tells Sir Winston she’s just seen a senior peer pocket a solid silver salt cellar. Should she confront him?

Winston walked over to the earl, pocketing a salt shaker along the way. As he pulled the shaker from his pocket, he told the earl, “it looks like we’ve been discovered. Better put them back.”

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Kay set a hurdle for software. It should be like the human body, which replaces every molecule in the course of seven years; it doesn’t have to die for maintenance and then reboot. Software should accommodate improvement without shutting down.

The typical Silicon Valley has a little angel on her shoulder, saying “Change the world.” On the other should sits a little devil saying “Get rich quick.”

Why is the movie industry in Hollywood? It’s not just the light. It was as far as they could get away from New York. Similarly, Xerox put PARC in Palo Alto, far from the executive offices in Stamford, CT.

Kay hasn’t seen much true innovation beyond mere scaling.

Business people seem to feel as if God had given them this verdant valley, and they figure it’s their right to strip it bare.

MOOCs? The amazing thing is their popularity. The underbelly is Backlash.

Maxwell (or maybe it was Faraday) gave Disraeli a demo of two small motors. “What are they good for?” The reply: “What are human babies good for?”

Most managers are more concerned about maintaining control than with doing the job well.

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Free-form responses on MOOCs+Business

Free-form responses. n=20, Business+MOOCS Survey 2/25-26/2103

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What is positive about MOOCs?

Remote access to material/course heretofore unavailable

2/26/2013 3:48 PMView Responses

I had access to professionally presented information that I otherwise would not.

2/26/2013 3:16 PMView Responses

Available anytime and free. Ability to move at own pace.

2/26/2013 7:36 AM

Access to content, arranged logically

2/26/2013 5:22 AMView Responses

danah boyd on teens and 21st century work

danah boyd opened ASTD TechKnowledge 2013 with a keynote on teenagers, networks, and work in the 21st century.

danah spells her name in lower case, but everything else about her is upper case: Master’s in Sociable Media with Judith Donath at the MIT Media Lab, PhD at UC Berkeley School of Information advised by Peter Lyman and Mimi Ito, fellow at the Annenberg Center for Communication, fellow at the Berkman Center at Harvard, work at Yahoo, Intel, Google, and now Microsoft.

danah has been Continue reading danah boyd on teens and 21st century work

Internet Time Alliance Predictions for 2013

Here is what the Principals of the Internet Time Alliance see ahead in 2013:

Harold Jarche
People who know nothing about connectivism or collaborative learning will profit from MOOC’s. Academics and instructional designers will tell anyone who wants to listen just how important formal training is, as it fades in relevance to both learners and businesses.The ITA will keep on questioning the status quo and show how work is learning and learning is the work in the network era – some will Continue reading Internet Time Alliance Predictions for 2013

Don’t you see it?

cd nysiNow You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century by Cathy N. Davison, a polymath professor at Duke. 2011. 292 pages. $11.68 (paperback) on Amazon.

Her blog.

 

 

 

 

 

I finished reading Cathy Davidson’s Now You See It yesterday afternoon. It is brilliant. Extremely well-written. Nearly impossible to put down. I love the way this woman thinks. This is a beautiful book.

Have you ever watched Continue reading Don’t you see it?