Monthly Archives: April 2010

Workscaping, 4 of n

Professional Development

Long-term professional development often involves working and growing with peers.

The book Kitchen Confidential (Harper, 2001) by Anthony Bourdain describes how he become a professional chef and how he continues to support the community of professional chefs. No one issues membership cards to professional chefs but they are not difficult to recognize. They wear funny looking hats and white tunics. They carry a set of knives that no one else is allowed to touch. Their fingers bear scars from calling it too close with those knives

When chefs travel, they meet with other chefs. They eat together. They share techniques. Were it not for this Sharing, we would not enjoy the broad, international array of foods on our tables (because chefs turned one another on to sources of exotic ingredients). When a top chef wants to move to a new job in a particular location, he tells a few chefs, the grapevine spreads the word, and within a week he has several job offers.

In the book, Bourdain describes starting out as a dishwasher in a restaurant on Cape Cod. Then he lands a job as a fry cook. From that point on, the chef running the kitchen he’s working in is looking out for his career. When will the kitchen worker be prepared to advance from washing lettuce to making salads? What does she need to know to advance to pastry chef? How can the chef help the dessert chef advance to sous chef? Good chefs take developing their staff very seriously. They see that their apprentices learn to create satisfying yet economical food.

Anthony Bourdain decided he needed to accelerate his development so he attended the Culinary Institute of America for formal training. This enabled him to understand the interrelationships of ingredients and cooking and customers. The curriculum at CIA taught him frameworks for various cuisines; he learned practices that would have taken years to learn on the job. And indeed, when Bourdain went back to cooking, he rapidly advanced up the ladder to become a chef.

Chefs are a community of like-minded individuals who identify with one another, advance the practice of their profession, and help new entrants join the profession.

Ten years ago, the common wisdom was that you could not establish a community of practice. If you found one that was working, the best you could do was to nurture it. It was like truffles. They grow wild. You want truffles, you put a pig or well-trained dog on a leash and encourage it to dig around the roots of oak trees in southern France or northern Italy.

The authorities were wrong on both counts. Half the world’s truffles are cultivated on truffle plantations in Spain. Thousands of corporations have established thriving communities of practice that advance both their members and their shared body of knowledge.

Knowing the tricks of a trade does not make you a professional.

Beyond acquiring know-how, a professional hangs out with other professionals, builds relationships with others in the profession, and contributes to the collective wisdom of the profession. Most importantly, the professional knows deep inside that she has joined the profession.

A cook becomes a chef when she feels she’s a chef. Professional firefighters, insurance salespeople, plumbers, accountants, and architects don’t just master subject matter; they become members of their profession.

Experience is the best teacher. You can’t become a chef without working and learning in a kitchen.

Many professionals accelerate the rate at which they gain experience by enrolling in formal courses. Formal learning, where an outside authority chooses the subject matter, is a great way to see the big picture of a new field, master its concepts, get to know the ropes, and learn to talk the talk. Mind you, formal learning doesn’t teach everything. No chef has every recipe in her head; that’s why she has cookbooks.

Workscaping, part 1

iPad jobs

Probably the first iPad in Switzerland:

High unemployment? Bah!

The iPad has created these new job categories, according to Jennifer Jacobson, the witty publicist at Retrovo.

The iPad au pair or “iPair”
Are you tired of “baby sitting” your iPad? After all, it does require a significant amount of attention. You can’t just set it down on the counter at Starbucks while you put creamer in your coffee, and you certainly can’t throw it into a handbag or “man-bag” as the case may be. You need a 24/7 iPad attendee, so why not consider an iPad Au Pair? Similar to traditional au pairs who serve as domestic child-care assistants living with host families, the iPad au pair or “iPair” is a technologically skilled Mac enthusiast who is invited to live with an iPad owning family, so long as they have their own room, a reasonable allowance in iTunes credits, and at least two full days a week off. The iPair’s duties include holding your iPad while you eat greasy foods like french fries or pizza, holding your iPad while you talk on your iPhone, holding your iPad while you’re driving, and holding your iPad while you take your kids to the park.

iPad Smudge Station Attendant
If you’ve used your iPad for more than two minutes, you’ve quickly realized the importance of clean hands. But inevitably, you’re bound to build up natural oils, apply moisturizer, or perhaps eat something with your hands, and when you do, your iPad will go from sparkling to smudged. Not to worry. Simply drive your iPad to your local “iPad smudge station,” usually found at gas stations and car washes. Once there, simply hand your iPad to a trained smudge station attendant, and watch them make your iPad look like new. Remember, it is customary to tip them, which can either be done in cash or the purchase of an app for their own mobile device.

The iPad Addiction Counselor
As with the introduction of all new technologies, there are bound to be people who “overdo it,” and the iPad is no exception. Whether you’re playing AirCoaster, telling your Facebook friends that you’re updating your Facebook status, tweeting what you ate for breakfast, or making a poster for your yard sale in Pages, if you’re spending “too much” time with your new and shiny iPad or spending your rent money on iPad apps, it may be time for an intervention. You’ll need the services of an iPad Addiction Counselor. These people are trained to recognize the signs of iPad addiction, like expecting non-electronic objects like doors to open, with the flick of a finger, or talking to your kids with your thumbs. A good iPad Addiction Councilor can help you regain your connection to the people, not the things, that matter in your life. Once you’ve come to terms with your iPad addiction and completed iPad addiction program, then you’re free to tweet to everyone how far you’ve come.

Workscaping, part 3 of n

Sources of knowhow

My class at Harvard Business School has the distinction of being the last not allowed to bring portable calculators to exams. (A Bomar 4-function calculator cost $99, a sum that kept many of us from acquiring one.) I got through by doing discounted cash now with a slide rule.

Everyone has several calculators today. They are giveaways. There’s probably one in your phone. All of which makes it irrelevant to learn long division, how to take cube roots, or logarithms. Why bother? That’s yesterday’s knowledge.

Robert Kelley at Carnegie Mellon discovered that whereas in 1986 we carried 75% of what we need to know to do our jobs in our heads, by 2006 our brains contained only about 8-10% of what we needed to know.

The rest is stored in our “outboard brains” — our laptops or, increasingly, our smart phones.

Once I had to learn most of the things required to do my job; now I need to know where to retrieve them. I search or ask people when I need to know. If I have a good network of savvy colleagues, I can ask them for advice (“social search”). “I store knowledge in my friends.” (6)

Instructional designers once only designed instruction. Now they must assess the tradeoff of putting knowledge in the worker’s head (learning) or putting it in an outboard brain (performance support). Among the options available to them:

Searching and asking questions work best with explicit information, things that could be written down.

The subtle information that cannot be pinned down in simple sentences, for example, the emotions and nuances that make or break a sale, is tougher to transfer because “’wisdom can’t be told.” (7) People acquire this implicit knowledge through observing others, collaboration, and lengthy trial and error. Like blindfolded zen archery, mastery sometimes takes years. (8)

Or course, many times we have already learned a skill through experience. Today experiential learning can be accelerated through simulation, virtual worlds, and role play.

In the increasingly complex world we inhabit, we often confront novel situations. This requires innovation, a new way of doing things. Innovation is often the result of a mash-up of ideas, for example a rule of thumb from one discipline being applied in a new context

So far, we’ve addressed motivation and content. Longer term, there’s more to it than that. In addition to learning about things, we need to become professionals.

More on the way

6 Karen Stephenson, as quoted by Downes post-44607

7 Harvard professor Charles I. Gregg. 1970. http://www.aacu.orgipeerreviewlpr-wiOSlprwi05realitycheck.cfm

8 Herrigel, E and Suzuki, D. 1953. Zen and the Art of Archery

Workscaping, part 1 of n

Workscaping, part 2 of n


People are motivated to do things because they want to make progress. As Dan Pink* says, “It’s about satisfying workers’ desire for autonomy, which stimulates their ‘innate capacity for self direction’**.” Some want to increase the scope of their repertoire to gain personal power. The best motivation is intrinsic. People do things for their own satisfaction, not external rewards.

The carrot-and-stick method no longer works. In fact, external reward initiatives often backfire. Withdraw the reward and the desired behavior may stop. Also, rewards tied to performance have the potential to change play into work.

If you set high expectations of people, they usually live up to them. if you have low expectations of people, they live down to them. A person not trusted with the authority to do something can’t take responsibility for doing it. “It’s not my department.” A person authorized and trusted to take responsibility cannot help but do so.

As Will Herzberg***, ”the father of motivation theory,” pointed out years ago, workers are motivated by achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, promotion, and growth. This innate desire to do well can be hindered by obstacles that reduce motivation: lack of respect, poor working conditions, perceived unfairness, low pay, lack of job security, and poor relationship with supervisor.

Instructional design pioneer Robert Mager**** proposed a manner of determining whether a roadblock was lack of knowledge or of motivation. Hold a gun to her head. If she does what you ask, you’re grappling with a motivation problem.


* Pink, D. 2010. Drive, the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

** O’Connel, A. 2010. Daniel Pink’s Drive. Harvard Business Review

*** Herzberg, W. 1968. One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees? Harvard Business Review

**** Mager, R. 1970. Analyzing Performance Problems. Or You Real/yOughta Wanna. Fearon Publishers


Workscaping, part 1

Workscaping, part 1 of n

Today CLO magazine’s Deanne Hartley interviewed me for an upcoming story about micro-learning. Is it a fad? No. Is it new? No. People naturally learn in small chunks. The only thing new is the label.

On the way home from the Swiss eLearning Conference, my mind was racing after three days of talking with interesting people and spreading the informal learning gospel. I jotted down ideas until my battery ran out. Now I have a 14-page paper. I plan to post it in short installments. Not quite micro-learning, but a step in that direction. Maybe then you’ll read some of it. In time, the words will migrate into the Working Smarter unbook.


Introducing Workscapes

Working smarter is the key to sustainability and perpetual improvement. Knowledge work and learning to work smarter are becoming indistinguishable. The accelerating rate of change in business forces everyone in every organization to make a choice: learn while you work or become obsolete.

The infrastructure for working smarter is called a workscape. Itʼs not a separate function so much as another way of looking at how we organize work. Workscaping helps people grow so that their organizations may prosper. Workscapes are pervasive. They are certainly not lodged in a training department. In fact, they make the training department obsolete.

Organizations must stop thinking of learning as something separate from work. The further we get into the Knowledge Age, the greater the convergence of working and learning. In many cases, they are already one and the same. Both must keep workers abreast of an onslaught of change and mountains of information.

Workers in a workscape learn by solving problems, coming up with fresh thinking, and collaborating with colleagues. They donʼt learn about these things; they learn by doing them. Deep learning is experiential.

The workscape is the part of an organization where learning and development becomes never-ending processes rather than one-time events. A workscape is a learning ecology. The workscaping viewpoint helps knowledge workers become more effective professionally and fulfilled personally. A sound workscape environment empowers workers to be all that they can be.

Workscapes match flows of know-how with workers solving problems and getting things done. They are the aspect of workplace infrastructure that provide multiple means of solving problems, tapping collective wisdom, and collaborating with others

Workscapes are not a new structure but rather a holistic way of looking at and reformulating existing business infrastructure. They use the same networks and social media as the business itself.

Technology is never the most important part of this. Foremost are people, their motivations, emotions, attitudes, roles, their enthusiasm or lack thereof, and their innate desire to excel. Technology, be it web 2.0 or instructional design, social psychology, marketing, or intelligent systems, only supports what weʼre helping people to accomplish.

Got the idea? Okay, Iʼm going to stop putting workscape in italics. Think of it as an inevitable part of the evolution of every organization.

Making progress requires know-how and the motivation.. We’ll take up motivation in the next installment.

In a course on Learning about Learning at SpacedEd, people are taking away a lot from the comments as well as from the questions on the main path. If you agree or disagree with what I’m saying, please leave a comment.