Jay Cross helps people work and live smarter. Jay is the Johnny Appleseed of informal learning. He wrote the book on it. He was the first person to use the term eLearning on the web. He has challenged conventional wisdom about how adults learn since designing the first business degree program offered by the University of Phoenix.
Jay’s column on Effectiveness, CLO magazine, February 2009
The dawn of a new age
If you’re looking for a way to weather the economic downturn, the first thing you need to do is realize that it’s a permanent climate change, not a passing storm.
What we are experiencing today is fundamental. The industrial age is in its death throes, making way for the unfolding of the network age. This is akin to when the Industrial Revolution overwhelmed the agrarian age. During that time, people moved from farms to cities. Clock watching replaced working to the rhythm of the sun.
Repetitive, mindless factory labor replaced working holistically with nature. Taking orders replaced thinking for one’s self. Slums were born; society unraveled.
One hopes this economic revolution will be more positive than the last. Nonetheless, it’s time to get ready for massive change. Industry won’t disappear, but about a third of all industrial companies probably will. The ranks of the permanently unemployed will swell. New categories of work will pop up to address network optimization, making connections, reconfiguring functions, real-time enterprise design, constructive destruction, virtual mentoring and so on. Hallowed laws, regulations, standards and memes will evaporate.
Management itself, the art of planning, organizing, deciding and controlling, will fall by the wayside. After all, planning is suspect in an unpredictable world. Organizing takes on new meaning when things self-organize. Deciding is everybody’s business when networks rule. Control is a nonstarter in a bottom-up, peer-powered society.
As networks continue to subvert hierarchy, successful organizations will embrace respect for the individual, flexibility and adaptation, openness and transparency, sharing and collaboration, honesty and authenticity, and immediacy. Training is obsolete because it deals with a past that won’t be repeated. Learning will be redefined as problem-solving, achieving fit with one’s environment and having the connections to deal with novel situations.
Impending doom unfreezes organizational structure to make room for reorganizing, rearranging and replacing the status quo. Survivors will develop and present agendas for change while things are in flux. Here’s the pitch I’d offer the most senior person I could get a hearing with:
“Next week, we will close the training department. We are shifting our focus from training to performance. Any remaining training staff will become mentors, coaches and facilitators who work on improving core business processes, strengthening relationships with customers and cutting costs.
“I’m changing my title from VP of training to VP of core capabilities. My assistants will become the director of sales readiness and the director of competitive advantage, respectively. The measure of our contributions will be results, not training measures. We’re scrapping the LMS posthaste. Wherever possible, we’re replacing proprietary software with open source.
“All of our energies will go into peer-to-peer, self-service learning. If something doesn’t dramatically improve the capabilities of our people, we won’t do it. We are scrapping lengthy program development projects in favor of quick-and-dirty rapid development. We are abandoning classrooms.
“We are eliminating all travel and helping others do the same by introducing Skype and free real-time conferencing. We’re setting up a corporate FAQ on a wiki to capture and distribute the information we once received from people who are no longer with us. In this and all of our efforts, we intend to work smarter, not lower our standards or quality of service.
“Recognizing that informed customers make better customers, we are opening up most of our platforms for learning to them, as well as our employees and former employees. To the extent that we help them cut costs, improve performance and implement better methods, we both win.
“Everything has a price tag. When we wring out costs, I want commitment from senior management to allocate time for people to help one another, exploit the benefits of social networks and converse with one another freely. This is a multiyear program. It will not work if we try to implement it while still doing business as usual. Burning people out is not a survival strategy.
“That is my plan for this week. If I have your support, I’ll be happy to come back with a few more things next week.”
I was walking through the exhibit hall two floors below the Learning Technologies 2009 conference just at the moment Clive Shepherd was bringing up something I’d written. A member of the audience, Jeroen Van Eeghem, snapped this surreal photo of me seeing myself on screen.
Track 1 Session 1
Learning technologies: the road ahead
Under the radar: great technologies that you could be using
This is the jump page for a presentation January 28. That’s why the syntax is choppy — and why I keep changing it.
Poll: Jane’s Top 100 List
Learner redefined. Prospering in community with others. Becoming who you are. Getting good at what you do. Figuring out how to do a good job. Preparing for an uncertain future. More.
Jay’s learning ecosystem
jaycross.com is Jay’s home page. It maps to lots of things we’ll talk about.
Research page is a starting point for feeds, searches, and proven destinations.
interface is my personal launch page, and it includes links to many of the technologies we’ll cover today.
blogs, one of which is home to this page.
Community, where you can add comments and ask questions after this session.
overview of these pages on Jing
Mimeo on-demand publishing for training
Lulu on-demand publishing for books
Scribd “social publishing” for documents
Google for an ever-greater array of services. Docs.
Delicious tools for shared bookmarks
MindMeister for collaborative mind-mapping
The New York Times recently ran an article on making lifestyle changes. It’s hard. Most people who have heart attacks go right back to unhealthy routines within two years. Even Oprah, who undoubtedly has more self-discipline than most of us, fell off her diet regimen and once again tips the scales at 200 lbs. What’s a body to do? The Times offered four suggestions:
These strike me as universal principles that work for almost any sort of major change.
The November 2008 issue of Harvard Business Review contains an article by Nick Morgan entitled How to Become an Authentic Speaker. In brief:
Instead of rehearsing gestures to make a speech feel authentic, you should tap into four fundamental aims, or “intents,” of a good presentation: to be open with your listeners, to connect with them, to be passionate about your topic, and to listen to messages from your audience, whether spoken or unspoken.
In practicing a speech, work to get into the mind-set of each of these aims and you’ll achieve the perceived and actual authenticity that creates a powerful bond with audiences
“Note the paradox here. This method is designed to achieve authenticity through the mastery of a calculated process. But authenticity arises from the four aims, or what I call ‘intents,’ that I have mentioned. If you can physically and emotionally embody all four, you’ll achieve the perceived and real authenticity that creates a powerful bond with listeners.”
This is the same paradox that arises when people talk about “formalizing informal learning.”
Yesterday I spent the day at Cisco talking with old friends and new about what Fast Company recently described as an “unprecedented forward-looking strategy to unleash what it’s calling a ‘human network effect’ both on and off the Cisco campus.” Despite the over-the-top hype, the new approach is very real. Key business initiatives are managed by councils and boards. Leaderless groups receive support from facilitators. The exercise is not optional: this is the way things are done for projects and nearly thirty top-level priorities.
Major transformations take time, even in a go-go outfit like Cisco. Managers were already accustomed to sharing information to get the job done. However, it’s still a little sticky when you get to the middle level of the organization, where people have to support the new way of doing things while still performing their old jobs. Collaboration figures in everyone’s job description, but people are use different definitions to describe it. All-in-all, I give Cisco high marks for innovation and consider the company’s structure an exemplar for others to follow.
That said, many companies would not be successful taking Cisco’s leaderless, social approach. Cisco people are driven, dedicated, and intensely curious. Motivation is not a big issue, because Cisco hires only gung-ho people to begin with.
In six hours of conversation, we talked about all manner of things, some overlapping and some not, so I’m going to share the links and follow-up I promised various folks right here:
The Meteoric Rise of Social Media. Social media: terrible name for “let’s get together.” Yes, folks, this is important. Social media — Facebook, Twitter, and other things you thought were for kids — are the way to stay connected and keep up with the world. They create “ambient awareness,” the feeling that you’re close to someone even when you are not.
Enterprise Twitter. A corporate Twitter network puts power in the hands of the troops, and that’s threatening to an old-timey officer corps. Not that this will stop young workers from bringing it into the workplace with them.
Activity Streams are going to be wildly important for social learning. Few people have time to traipse around looking into all the nooks and crannies where a netizen or company is streaming content. The thought leaders in the activity streams space are thinking about standards for interoperability, how people can grant access to their feeds selectively, stream searching, de-duping, and security concerns. Last week, Google, Facebook, Nokia, Yahoo!, MySpace, Comcast, and other players huddled around a conference table in the offices of Six Apart in San Francisco to discuss activity streams.
Action Notebook, Digital habitats: stewarding technology for communities by Etienne Wenger, Nancy White, and John D. Smith refines the role of technology steward, an essential supporting role in digital communities.
Seminal documents by Ivan Illich, George Siemens, Steven Downes, Eric Raymond, Tim O’Reilly, and others provide the foundation for a lot of my thinking.
The two books I’m taking on my upcoming trip to the Continent are:
Informal by Cecil Balmond. “Balmond is one of the most important structural engineers working in architecture today. His structural thinking differs from that of other engineers in his field in its completely new conception of the engineer’s contribution to architecture. The plasticity of architectural plans is enhanced through a decisive development of their structural designs. The borderline between structure and architecture thus becomes increasingly blurred. This process is explained in detail in Informal by reference to eight exemplary projects. Balmond elucidates the theoretical basis of his engineering solutions and his sketches transcend purely technical illustration–they are the key to his approach. Informal invites readers to rethink their understanding of the relationship between architecture and engineering.” (I figure this will be good preparation for touring the Guggenheim in Bilbao.)
Driving Results Through Social Networks by Rob Cross and Robert J. Thomas. I’m looking forward to this one, because Rob Cross is one of the few people to look at the quality of connections in human networks, not just volume. “Driving Results Through Social Networks shows executives and managers how to obtain substantial performance and innovation impact by better leveraging these traditionally invisible assets. For the past decade, Rob Cross and Robert J. Thomas have worked closely with executives from over a hundred top-level companies and government agencies. In this groundbreaking book, they describe in-depth how these leaders are using network thinking to increase revenues, lower costs, and accelerate innovation.”
Learning Irregulars is in formation. We are committed to making the world a better place by accelerating innovation in organizational learning. We are open, inquisitive, non-profit, impatient, and feisty.
Luis Suarez is the IBMer who is documenting his efforts to give up work email. Visiting Luis’s blog right now, I note that there’s a new “Did you know?” video out. This lacks the punch of the original but is a fantastic eye-opener nonetheless.
The end of email: discover new ways to stay in touch is one of many articles explaining how an investment bank eliminated most internal email and improved quality of work life by replacing email with a shared wiki.
Tools for Social Capitalists links technologies to learning needs. This version is a couple of years old but still has legs.
Connectivism, a learning theory for the digital age (2004) is an overview of George Siemens’ work that locates knowledge not in our heads, but in a shared space among us all. George’s thoughts on this are so right-on that rather than explain them to people, I simply say “What he said.”
New hires balked at the lack of social space at Cisco.
One outcome was collaboration nooks like this one.
Every company needs collaboration spaces. This one
is in an open area alongside a massive coffee room.
It was an exhilarating day.
The United States is finding itself again.
Prompted by an article in the New York Times, we drove an hour north to Santa Rosa to take in an exhibit entitled Schulz’s Beethoven: Schroeder’s Music.
In a “Peanuts” strip from the mid-1950s, Charlie Brown walks through the first panel and finds Schroeder sitting in front of an adult-size hi-fi, his ear to the speaker. “Shh,” Schroeder says, “I’m listening to Beethoven’s Ninth.” Charlie Brown inspects Schroeder’s outfit. “In an overcoat?” he asks. Schroeder leans even closer to the speaker and responds, “The first movement was so beautiful it gave me the chills!”
Beethoven’s birthday was celebrated in more than half of the 49 years Peanuts was in circulation.
The museum, ice rink, and gallery are a very pleasant complex. I had a root beer float in the Warm Puppy Cafe although I was still stuffed from a great lunch at Willy’s Wine Bar.
Professional learning is increasingly driven by demand, not supply. You decide what you need or want to learn and you go get it when you feel like it. Since you chose your topic rather than being told, you’re more likely to retain information you find.
To keep from drowning in the gusher of discoveries, news, and insight on the net, astute foragers use services to filter the noise and present headlines worthy of further investigation. For generalized answers to “What’s happening?”, they visit sites like Original Signal, Digg, PopURLs, or Buzzfeed, where poplar items rise to the top.
Keeping one’s finger on the pulse professionally is a tougher nut to crack. In the realm of informal learning, I learn from David Weinberger, George Siemens, Nancy White, Ross Dawson, Mark Oehlert, Marcia Conner, and dozens of others. I follow people on blogs, Twitter and Friendfeed. I rapidly tire of any single format, so I have been using a variety of tools to keep up with my favorite feeds: a river of news or Google reader or Pageflakes. (FYI, these links and more adorn the top of my personal search & re-search page.) When someone asked where to get up to speed on informal learning, I haven’t had an ideal place to send them. Until today.
For the past couple of days, I’ve been consuming knowledge from a site that better fits how I learn. Called Informal Learning Flow, the site pulls together the feeds of the people I read and topics that I care about. You’ve got to see this in action to understand its power. Go to the site and click on a concept, say, informal learning. Then click on another concept, say, formal learning. You’ll call up entries that use both terms. Experiment a little; there’s more going on under the hood here than meets the eye.
This information engine is the brain child of my pal Tony Karrer whom you know from the eLearning Technology blog, enthusiastic conference presentations, the recent Corporate Learning Trends Event with George Siemens and me, and TechEmpower.
This is still beta.* The site grows richer every day. Help us make it better. Give your suggestions as comments to this post. Need more information? Tony just mentioned some new features that help show a weekly Hot List . Play with the widget-maker at the bottom of the page.
This sort of lightweight, custom-tailored information gatherer has a future. You can experience the same technology at the eLearning Learning content community. Selfishly, I’m happy to help Tech Empower find other homes for this technology, for it can only make the Informal Learning Flow more useful. Overall, I see a big future for technology like this, for it exemplifies the sort of self-service, pull, get-it-when-you-need-it learning style of learning I champion. It makes me life easier.
Oh course, everything in life is beta. We all have, or will have, room for improving how well we fit with the environments we inhabit. (Return)
Jay’s search and re-search page