Future of Education 2020 Summit

mastheadcollegesiloAt a Stanford education conference this morning, speakers made presentation after presentation without once involving the audience, not even asking for questions. For the first couple of hours there was zero audience participation. Finally, following a panel session, we were invited to stand at a microphone if we had questions. Naturally, I was first in line.

I explained that I came to this event as an outsider. I am not an academic. In fact, my corporate title is “Chief Unlearning Officer.” A speaker had mentioned silos, referring to departments at schools. I said I felt like I was in a college silo. It’s as if the world outside didn’t exist.

Take STEM (Science, tech, engineering, math). All of these folks are vitally interested in STEM. After all, that’s what the Gates Foundation, the NSF, and the other benefactors are paying them hundreds of millions to produce. I said I don’t get it. The shelf life of STEM knowledge is about the same as for French mustard, several years. After that, the mustard begins to smell funny and the STEM knowledge is obsolete.

I didn’t mention my suspicion that STEM dumbs down education. It’s explicit knowledge. Life’s grand lessons are largely tacit. Besides, isn’t STEM often the algorithmic knowledge that robots are going to being doing in a few years? When that happens, lots of STEM grads may find themselves in the position of John Henry, the steel-drivin’ man. Nobody here was talking about liberal arts and continuing the culture.

Consider the role of STEM education in someone’s career arc. A career is a marathon. College teaches people to run the first 100 yards. Running the rest of the race is the individual’s problem.

“But we are working with industry,” replied the panel. Oh yeah? People have been touting big data as the ultimate quality control and planning tool in education. Are any of you looking at big data on people outside your walls? Correlating education with what happens after graduation? No; it’s a closed system.

Big data can help Arizona State University refine their algebra course to near perfection, but unless they go off campus to look at the world of work, no data will tell them whether algebra is worth studying at all. (I love Roger Schank’s putdown of the quadratic equation. When’s the last time you had to solve for AX2 + BX +C = 0?)

How’s the water?

It was troubling to hear one person after another lecture about learning more about how people learn whlle violating most of the principles we already know. Aside from the Push format, problems included no hashtag, no Tweeting, no backchannel, no power outlets, inoperable wi-fi (for me, at least), slow wi-fi at the podium cut several presentations short, weak visuals overall, and no encouragement to network online (although many probably already know one another). I don’t know how someone as astute at Peter Norvig could sit through an entire day of this stuff.

A few highlights. The president of Capella talked of converting their curriculum to competencies. Competencies can be counted up after the fact to give credit for courses. I suggested he wasn’t going for enough. Who needs courses? He wisely pointed out that accrediting bodies have a fixed mindset on this one.

Arizona State has put an entire first year curriculum on line. For free. Pass a course, no matter how many tries it takes, and you can pay a fee for credits. He sees no reason the entire four years shouldn’t go online this way. (And the guy from Capella suggested that as in the UK, we could probably have three-year bachelor degrees without losing that much.)

True to form, the LMS vendor supporting the show twisted the definition of “informal learning” so it could claim to have some:

informal

What’s informal about purpose-built content? Most people probably missed this because next up was a hip-hop singer who claimed to be a customer of the LMS (he lists his tracks there). Naturally, he had put together a song for us. As he began his incomprehensible lyric, the batteries on my hearing aids ran out and I bailed out from the event.

The other attendees seemed quite satisfied, even impressed. “Brilliant presentations.” I guess events like this are de rigueur.

The Stanford campus is beautiful, the weather cooperated perfectly, and nobody was keeping score.

stanfoo

Through the Workscape Looking Glass

Your Workscape is everything in your organization except the training department. It’s where work is done and where people hone the skills they need to add value. It’s the biggest frame of the big picture. It’s relationships and culture and secret sauce. It’s the organization as organism. To prosper, you need to nurture it, plant seeds, pamper the ground. It’s your job to help the system thrive.

Learning Ecosystem, Learning Ecology, and Learnscape mean the same thing as Workscape. I don’t use the word learn with executives, who inevitably think back to the awfulness of school and close their ears. “Let’s talk about performance.” 

ecology

The Workscape is a systems-eye view of the workplace. Everything is connected. Rather than try to control nature, we do what it takes to keep the environment thriving.

In the same vein, I talk about Working Smarter instead of informal learning, social learning, and so forth. Some people denigrate informal learning but nobody’s against Working Smarter.

Your organization already has a workscape where people are learning to work smarter. That’s where all the informal and social learning we hear about is taking place. The problem is that the learning processes are haphazard, often a paving of the cow paths. Many employees and stakeholders miss out—and stumble. Most companies’ systems fail to get the job done. Our Workscape ecologies are entering a do-or-die phase like global warming. Management is demanding that the workforce be more effective. “What got us here will not get us there.” We must nurture the Workscape or face corporate meltdown.

Global warming signals in Workscapes

clarkWe hear that if “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” yet most corporate learning and development is broken. 77% of the senior managers surveyed by the Corporate Leadership Council reported they were dissatisfied with L&D. 76% said L&D was not critical to business outcomes. Only 14% would recommend working with L&D. Clark Quinn’s recent book, Revolutionizing Learning and Development, slams L&D, which should be named Performance and Development, for seriously underperforming.    

Time is speeding up. More happens in a day than your grandmother experienced in a week. Keeping sharp and up to date is now a continuing part of everyone’s job. Corporate learning must expand from focusing on the classroom, which provides at best 10% of learning, to the entire organization  where learning while doing is the rule. Training a novice may lead to  productivity gains in the future. Helping an experienced person impacts the bottom line immediately. Little wonder that the training department is underperforming: they only touch a minority of employees, most of them newcomers.

transformationAs many as four out of five large multinationals report they are undergoing a digital transformation. It goes by many names, from Enterprise 2.0 to Radical Management or simply Going Paperless. Altimeter Group defines digital transformation as: “the realignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital customers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle.”* The digital transformation of workplace learning involves moving from the limited training department to the holistic Workscape framework view of the world.

The input may be establishing social learning networks; the output is improvement in the business overall.

Scope of the habitat

Put on your ecologist hat. Let’s examine the diversity of species among those people in your Workscape drawing paychecks:

Novices and newbies have been the main focus of training. This includes new hire on-boarding and provision of basic and technical skills (we’re all novices at something). This minority uses a disproportionate share of the training department’s resources and mindshare.

Experienced producers bring home the bacon yet training departments overlook them. Training departments have single-shot solutions: courses. Courses are rarely appropriate for experienced workers. Many old hands will not tolerate them nor learn from them if they do. They know that experience is a better teacher. Tuning the learning environment to make systemic changes for this underserved population has fantastic upside potential, perhaps enough to get CLOs a real seat at table in the C-Suite.

Top performers are the 20% of the team that generate 80% of the results. A 1% improvement at this level makes waves. This species needs special handling, sometimes including personal service.

Compliance is a red herring that people point to when discussing how deep “training” goes into the organization. However, compliance is not learning. Sure, it’s required, but no body’s expecting much performance improvement in the area, particularly in its present primitive form.

Alumni are an overlooked opportunity in many organizations. IBM invested in keeping former IBMers abreast of what was going on back at Big Blue. The alumni connected over social media and saw demos in Second Life. The result? An on-going flow of leads from true-believers and those who contract with IBM.

Subspecies. L&D has traditionally focused on the needs of employees on the payroll exclusively, disregarding the fact that partners, customers, subcontractors, temps, service agencies, outsourcers, suppliers, and others are equally part of the value chain. Take the Workscape view. Let’s go up to a balcony overlooking a model of your business. Look at the flow of business. You can see that the product is only as good as the weakest link in the chain. Think carefully about who you want to be co-learning with.

extendedenterprise

The Workscape should address the needs of learners throughout the extended enterprise.

Theoretically, your Workscape — the realm where you’ll be wielding your influence on performance and learning — could stretch way beyond your firewall to include nearly everyone the organization interacts with. Imagine how much cooperation will improve if they all read from the same page.

Reading the temperature

The climate for Workscapes is changing, forcing a re-think of how things are connected.

Decision-making is migrating from institution to individual, from training to pull learning, and shifts “power to the people.” This is how digital transformation works: digital democracy first. Digital citizens exploit connections and take power. Making the shift is an enormous change management task.

Informal, experiential work is three times more effective than formal, top-down training. Experiential earning is migrating into the workflow at a very fast rate. Spread the footprint of the Workscape to the optimal size.

Workscapes are complex and unpredictable, in perpetual beta. Experiments are cheap. Plant lots (hundreds, thousands) of Workscape experiments and nurture those that catch on. Watch out for monoculture (using only one solution) and the echo effect (making judgments from a narrow spectrum of reality).

Nurturing the Workscape requires competencies such as business problem analysis, collaboration experts, community managers, and moxie. I foresee learning process SWAT teams attacking connection gaps. You don’t have these people on board now.

Forget about the traditional way you’ve trained people. Unlearn your assumptions about courses and top-down learning. Break with the present by looking ahead five years. Start with a blank piece of paper. Take a Workscape perspective. Assess the organizational benefits of:

  • embedding learning in work, covering a much larger audience
  • setting up learning as a continuous activity, not an event
  • leveraging self-sustaining processes instead of one-time courses
  • pinpointing high-return activities such as manager coaching
  • embracing social and experiential learning
  • changing the learning philosophy from push to pull
  • employing business metrics to gauge success
  • canvasing the organization for opportunities instead of waiting for requests
  • focusing on overall business outcomes
  • building self-sufficient teams
  • extending the Workscape to cover partners, customers, and outsourced services
  • making learning a driver with business impact

The learning conservationist toolkit

L&D’s collaboration experts and SWAT teams are digital MacGyvers who weave techniques like these into Workscapes:

Make Management responsible for development

  • Issue stretch assignments to grow staff
  • Mentors, coaching
  • Action learning

Personal Learning Network

  • Collaboration and cooperation
  • Friends and colleagues provide answers
  • Peer learning

Performance support

  • Job aids, bookmarks,
  • FAQs, aggregation, curation

Access to information

  • Wiki, inhouse YouTube, internet
  • Self-study catalog, portals

Enterprise social network

  • Activity stream keeps one up to date
  • Platform for conversation
  • Opportunity to share knowledge

Communities of Practice

  • Professional growth
  • Knowledge repository
  • Create knowledge

Blogs

  • Individual publishing (Learn out loud!)
  • Follow thinking of others

Social learning

  • Make conversation easy
  • Collaboration

Mobile

  • DIY

Performance feedback

  • Is it working? How can we do better?

Microlearning

  • Learning in tiny bites

Instead of taking requests, the traditional role of training departments, learning conservationists actively seek out opportunities where learning will have the most impact.

One group of L&D special agents posted this set of beliefs to explain how it worked to its internal clients:

  • We are open and transparent.
  • We narrate our work. Need to share.
  • We support continuous learning, not events.
  • We value conversation as a learning vehicle.
  • We drink our own champagne (or mimosas).
  • Business success is our bottom line.
  • We are not a training organization.
  • We value time for self-development and reflection.
  • We establish business metrics for every engagement and report back publicly on outcomes.

workscape

Changing the physical environment can improve learning.

The staff will use any tool available to improve learning, right down to moving the furniture. A computer manufacturer discovered that its chip designers learned from overhearing conversations among their peers. They replaced a cube farm with comfortable sofas, rolling white boards, and espresso machines — and watched the production of innovative ideas skyrocket.

Environmental impact report

In a 2011 book, A New Culture of Learning, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown described the kind of learning necessary in this new environment as “whitewater learning”—the ability to acquire useful knowledge and skills while at the same time practicing them in an environment that is constantly evolving and presenting new challenges. They argue that our learning environments need to match the speed and degree of change happening in the world around us.**

The emancipation of both nature and the human imagination depends first on the capacity to ‘unsay’ the world and, second, on the ability to image it differently so that wonder might be brought into appearance.***

Over a hundred CLOs told us what they were currently doing was insufficient to prepare them to deal with the future needs of the business. Obviously it’s time to do something different.

Our People Growing Fast Enough

One way to accelerate people’s development is to optimize learning by looking at the organization as an organic, unpredictable, complex system. It’s time to fix the big picture by working on the level of the Workscape.

________________

*Digital transformation by any other name, Jason Bloomberg in Forbes

**Aspen Institute, The Learning Ecosystem

*** James Corner, “Ecology and Landscape as Agents of Creativity,” in Ecological design and planning, George F. Thompson and Frederick R. Steiner, editors, (New York: John Wiley, 1997), p.99. quoted in Design Education and Innovation Ecotones by Ann Pendleton-Julian

________________

Research funded by Litmos

Notes from the Spargel Tour

The last two days, the GPS in our rental car has taken us on to obscure farm roads and “the long way around” time after time. We don’t know whether we should take advice from the GPS’s calm English voice or say to hell with it and follow the signs. We’ve traveled farm roads so narrow that we had to stop to let cars come the other way. The GPS will tell us it’s planning another route because of traffic conditions and then take us directly into roadblocks and construction projects. I fear it’s possessed.

mapDistances are so short in Europe compared to the United States. We left Lindau, the German island on Lake Constance, at 11:30 this morning. Fifteen minutes later, we were whizzing through Austria. And fifteen minutes after that we were in Switzerland, headed to Appenzell, our destination for a 1:00 lunch.

Asparagus is still on the menu even though we’re at the southern tip of Germany. spargelEveryplace seems to have a Spargelkarte, a special asparagus menu. A Spargelkarte typically offers asparagus soup, a pound of asparagus with hollendaise or butter, asparagus with a schnitzel or perhaps a fish filet or ham. Uta never tires of the stuff. A few stalks is about all I can handle at one sitting.

neuTomorrow we’re headed to Schwangau, home of crazy Kind Ludwig II’s castles. It’s schmaltzy and I’ve visited three or four times before, but I can’t resist something that looks so damned cool. Ludwig may have been nuts, but he left behind beautiful, iconic symbols.

On the remembrance of things past

For satisfaction, experiences trump possessions.

Savoring past experiences is a matter of remembering them, and it so happens that I’ve been studying memory as part of the research for my book. Benedict Carey’s How We Learn says that our brains record everything. Not that you can recall them, but all your experiences are in there. You just can’t reach them.

At lunch today, Uta recalled having asparagus Bismarck at a delightful lunch in Como forty years ago. What was the name of that long-closed restaurant? I don’t recall. But I do remember that I ate the guinea fowl, bresaola in Italian. We were the only party in the little restaurant except for the chef’s wine merchant, who kindly gave us a bottle of wine to imbibe with lunch. The wine was a Dolcetto d’Alba; it was a delight, not at all sweet. I’m still blanking on the name of the restaurant but I remember its stiff white table cloths. I’ve reclaimed a memory that had gone underground for decades — and added to the bank of experiences that make for a happy life.

What if you could always remember more of your experiences so you could enjoy them after the fact?

You can. You don’t have to forget so many experiences if you revisit them — because reflection keeps memories alive. A good routine for reinforcing memory is to review and reflect half an hour after learning something, reflect again the next day, again in a week, and again at month-end. Return visits require less and less time; a brief recall charges up the neuron connections memories are made of.

sequence

In my case, the reinforcement comes from posting photos on Flickr. I just cropped and tweaked today’s photographs. Then I checked to make sure I’d uploaded them properly to Flickr. I may add a description or two. In a few weeks, I’ll look back at the photos to savor the high points of the vacation. I expect I retain more memories than someone who doesn’t stop to reflect.

I wouldn’t be likely to forget staying in an 11th century castle overlooking the Rhine without the photos, but with them, I’ll remember the colors and the nuances of the experience.

Oversimplifying the way memory works in the extreme, the hippocampus stores a map to the interconnected neurons that make a particular memory. If the map is destroyed, the memory vanishes. Neurologists had trauma victims recall their bad memories. Then they injected them with drugs that block protein synthesis, i.e. the ability to form memories. Their brains couldn’t create revised maps to where the memories were stored. They couldn’t replace the maps with updated versions. Astoundingly, the memories vanished entirely!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if science could find a way for us to restore the neuron maps to memories of good experiences that we’ve forgotten? I’ve forgotten thousands of wonderful experiences and it would be a delight to get them back.

 

New Book from Jay. Almost.

IMG_4604The draft of my new book, Aha!, 21 Ways to Work Smarter and Become Who You Are, is on sale for $12.

I don’t write books the way I used to. I have Lean Fever. Now I write the best I can rapidly and make it available for pioneering readers who provide feedback. Given enough iterations, this will be one fantastic book. I slipstream new content into the book continuously.

In Informal Learning, I told the story of a dog who would scatter his dinner all over the room so he’d have the thrill of hunting it down. If you’re that puppy, you might enjoy reading a book in progress.

My topic is learning for yourself. DIY learning. If you’re struggling to learn with social and informal learning, this book was made for you. Someone will say they didn’t see this: this book is in beta. It is unfinished. You’re welcome to provide suggestions. The book improves week by week.

Come to the Aha! website for more information, sample graphics, and a substantial excerpt. Or just spend your $12 and get a surprise.

books

Jay Changes Direction

fallsMy book Aha! Learn for Yourself challenges readers to consider where they’ve been in their careers and where they’re headed. I feel obligated to practice what I preach.

My career in the learning business is at a turning point. My history by type of learning is below. I have one foot in retirement now; I’ve been at this for nearly fifty years!

Reflection on Career by Decade

Sixties and into Seventies.

Student. AB Social Science, MBA. Army Officer, Mainframe computer salesman. Coder. Sales training. Lots (>1000) of case studies, now long forgotten. Lived abroad. Market research executive.

Seventies.

EDU. Discovered that learning was a field. Designed the first business curriculum for what became the University of Phoenix, the largest business school in the world. Worked with founder. Experienced power of having the rIght product for the market, in this case thirty-year-old business people. Learned to speak with audiences because I had to sell, sell, sell.

Eighties and nineties.

Formal Training. Sold instructional systems that taught a million bankers how to make decisions and sell bank services. More than half of the 100 largest banks in the U.S. became customers. Picture a young San Francisco start-up showing the way for Citi, Chase, BofA, and more. Don’t get me going about banks. Learned every aspect of the training business, from marketing to design to models to costs, from ISA to ISPI.

Entrepreneurial. Interspersed with this, spent seven years trying to make something of five under-financed start-ups (medical records, advertising sales training, massive overnight loans, corporate histories, and tracking software) that never made it over the first hump. My dreams are bigger than my abilities but now I have a better idea of what not to do.

1999-2003. Turn of the century.

impllearninge-Learning. I saw the web and fell in love. The web and knowledge were made for one another. I became a fanatic. First to use term eLearning on the web. Chief cheerleader for concept. CEO, eLearning Forum. Early conceptualizer. Wrote Implementing eLearning.

2005-2015.

informalinformal learning. Thought leader and chief proponent of informal learning. Book (2008). Presentations worldwide. More than 50 articles. In ten years, took an object of derision and made it the #1 or #2 priority of virtually every Chief Learning Officer in America. Largely a labor of love, I’m proud to have called this one early and paved the way to accelerate its adoption and appreciation. It’s good business and great for people.

Happiness. And with it compassion, gratitude, fulfillment, authenticity, peace. Mindful people are incredibly productive. Vitally important.

Next up

DIY learning. It’s a confusing world out there. Millions of knowledge workers and their bosses can prosper by adopting modern practices for working smarter and remembering things. Improving their learning efficiency will provide billions of hours over the long term to redeploy on activities with a higher return.

We learning professionals have a bag of tricks most people have never been introduced to. I want to empower workers to be intuitive instructional designers as well as self-directed learners by sharing what we know. Project is taking shape at internettimealliance.netmegaphone

 

FamilarLand

My professional interest is shifting to helping knowledge workers learn and flourish without training. There are millions of harried people out there who don’t appreciate that learning is a skill that you can get better at. It’s the underground passageway to success. I’d rather work with them directly.

Thinking about learning from the learner’s point of view is different from looking on it as a learning executive or instructional designer. Well, most knowledge workers don’t know they have an CLO and certainly never heard of instructional design.

Anyway, I am on the lookout for useful metaphors to propel the new book on DIY learning and intelligence.

Experiential learning is the biggest lever in the learning toolbox, so let’s start there.

familarLand2

Picture two territories, FamilarLand, where you already know everything and the Unfamiliar Territory which is loaded with people doing things you don’t know how to do.

The Unfamiliar Territory is where you can grow. Staying in FamilarLand all the time is stagnating. There’s no excitement when there are no surprises.

Since you have all your predetermined opinions, ways of doing things, and beliefs along for the ride, you’re happy when lazing around FamiliarLand. Many will be stuck in place there, non-learners who couldn’t keep up with the flow. They are slouches; we’ve got to hang out with the others.

Go-getters will continuously rewire their brains with dashing adventures in the Unknown Territory. With perseverance, they will grow into the roles they’re shooting for.

Increasing border crossings will boost organizational knowledge.

Is the metaphor of a journey from FamilarLand to the Unknown Territories and back a useful way to look at things?

Why Content Curation Should be in Your Skillset

girlCuration can boost your profit and help your people grow. It can save millions, reduce frustration, and boost the velocity of information in your organization. It starts in a gallery.

You expect the curator of an art gallery to know the collection and to:

  • search out the best items
  • select for the collection
  • authenticate and preserve items
  • add interpretation, descriptions, and meaning
  • publicize viewings

Picture a digital curator in your company. They have the same job but instead of paintings, deal with digital artifacts such as:

  • blog posts and Tweets
  • articles
  • meeting summaries
  • presentations
  • competitive analysis
  • video
  • conversations
  • images
  • infographics
  • TED talks
  • sales pitches

Curating these items — selecting, organizing, evaluating, and sharing them widely — multiplies an organization’s return on information many times over. It makes sense to recruit curators from within; the primary job prerequisite is a burning curiosity.

Instead of satisfying art lovers, corporate curation saves enormous amounts of time, keeps teams on the same page, and equips everyone with the latest insights. In a minute I’ll give you the story of a company that saved over fifty million dollars with a low-budget curation program. And, as Clay Shirky has said: “Curation comes up when people realize that it isn’t just about information seeking, it’s also about synchronizing a community.”

Curation helps individuals keep professional skills sharp, improve critical thinking, earn professional recognition, build reputation, grow personal networks, and “work out loud.” Anyone can be a curator; it’s a great way to learn. Curation helps workers help their peers as they help themselves..

An example: How Jay Cross Curates Content

Here’s an example of a no-cost, one-person curation project. It’s one of mine.

When I started studying the future of conferences, I began with research. I set up a Google Search for daily news on the topic. I opened a free account on the curation platform scoop.it and put in search terms and authorities to listen to.  I scoured the web and paid particular attention to curation champions like Robin Good and Howard Rheingold.

Every day I would sift through a hundred or more items suggested by my social networks or the search engines. Perhaps one item in fifty seemed worth commenting on. Sorting through posts made me think critically and see patterns. It’s an excellent way to get a bead on a subject.

I voiced my opinion on nearly every item. Wise interpretation is what adds value to the content. The human touch is required. In my case, the review of thousands of items taught me a whale of a lot about the future of conferences. In order to write my opinion, I needed to pin down and say why this item made any difference. Like the pitch of the docent in front of  a painting in the gallery, I sold an item — or panned it — and tried to win you to my way of seeing things.

When I select an item, it shows up immediately on my scoop.it site:

Jays-scoopit

Jay’s scoop.it site on the future of conferences

…and gets reposted to my Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter feeds. All on automatic.

Curation shows off your repertoire or interests. Four out of the five conference owners I spoke with over the next two weeks told me they’d heard about my work on the future of conferences and were excited to talk. Google for “Future of Conferences” and my work comes up #2. (Marketing departments love curation.)

The basic process I followed is the standard for curation.

  1. Research the field. Find and pour over the feeds. Scour.
  2. Make sense out of the item, explain why it matters. Grok.
  3. Publish on social sites, blog, mail list, and social media. Share.

That’s all there is to it.

IDEA: Entering new markets? Recruit someone to curate news to share with everyone on the team.

IDEA: Entire team researching a subject? Curate the topic collaboratively.

IDEA: New person joining the team? Curate a topic to gain exposure and build reputation.

We used to be inthralled with the idea that everyone now had a personal printing press. Curation tools make it easy for any of us to be publishers of glossy online magazines!

That’s the exhilaration that comes with curation. Imagine the web as millions of pages. To make your magazine, you tear out any of those pages you fancy, explain why they matter, and push the button. Bingo! You’ve shared a link to the content and your take on it.

Several companies offer inexpensive or free curation tools. The best known are scoop.it, pearltrees.com, andstorify.com. Pinterest enables you to curate photos. Diigo facilitates curating bookmarks; here are my Diigo pointerson the topic of Curation.

Jays-conference-pinterest

Jay’s Pinterest Page on Conferences

Millions Saved 

A multinational software and e-business consulting firm (If I told you the name, I’d have to shoot you) set up dozens of communities of a hundred or so like-minded professionals. Admission is invitation-only; the communities are like guilds.

Groups formed around topics such as Java, enterprise architecture, banking, insurance, dot-net and businessintelligence. Management made sure each community had at least one person planting seeds.

Each community elected trusted authorities to spot developments and research worth sharing with the group. Colleagues fed them leads from the field so they wouldn’t miss any important developments. Two topics per week were chosen for curation. The curators feared tackling more topics would wear out their welcome.

Since engineers are generally lousy writers, the firm hired professional authors to interview the authorities and write a couple of posts with links every week. Removing the noise of mediocre posts increases the fidelity of results. Applying one person’s time at the front end saves the time of hundreds at the receiving end.

The initial attempt to offer the curated news as RSS feeds and on blogs bombed. Workers will not tolerate breaking out of their workflow. Curated items began arriving by email and everyone was delighted.

Before the community news program, engineers or scientists spent 10% of their time sifting through lots of dead ends and time wasters, and perhaps still not catching the most important news.

About 4,000 people belong to communities. If the curation program cuts everyone’s research time from 10% to 5%, and the average engineer bills $300,000/year, that’s $60 million in additional billing capacity.

Personal Knowledge Mastery

The most sophisticated approach to individual and small-group curation is Personal Knowledge Mastery, a concept pioneered by Harold Jarche. (Disclaimer: Harold is chairman of Internet Time Alliance, the think tank with which I am affiliated.)

Harold’s workshops teach the mechanics of curation but take it to a higher plane. Harold’s PKM is a set of individually constructed processes to help each of us make sense of our world and work more efficiently. Continuously seeking, sense-making, and sharing become the process of work, not some activity on the side. This takes place on the local team level, in communities of practice, and on the internet at large.

PKM provides a framework for becoming knowledgeable. Sometimes it becomes an organizational priority. Says Harold,

PKM may be an individual activity but it is social as well. It is the process by which we can connect what we learn outside the organization with what need to do inside. Research shows that work teams that need to share complex knowledge need tighter social bonds. Work teams often share a unique language or vocabulary. However, they can become myopic and may lack a diversity of opinions. Social networks, on the other hand, encourage diversity and can sow the seeds of innovation. But it is almost impossible to get work done in social networks due to their lack of structure. PKM is the active process of connecting the innovative ideas that can arise in our social networks with the deadline-driven work inside organizations.

Just Do It

You may well be a curator already, posting items to Twitter, your blog, FAQs, or a wiki. When you look at the entire curation process top-to-bottom, you’re likely to find ways to do it with more impact.

Curation enriches the commons by saving people time in finding what they need. It’s also a marvelous means of professional development. The question is if you’re not curating, why not?

Curate your gallery of corporate and personal knowledge as part of your own personal development plan.


Research for this post sponsored by Litmos.