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.
Last night I finished reading Eats Shoots & Leaves, “The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation,” a humorous romp through the full stop, the round bracket, and their punctuation pals: they make the written word understandable. “Full stop” is what Brits call a period; “round brackets” are parentheses. I hope you’re noticing the tricky punctuation in this post — the book is chock-full of this sort of nonsense.
Don’t get me wrong; I thoroughly enjoy the author’s wit, which is considerable. And I feel okay starting a sentence with and. But I fear this one’s going to fade from memory: I didn’t highlight a single sentence.
To work with the big picture, you’ve got to rise above the day-to-day to the process level.
Remember Charles and Ray Eames famous documentary, Powers of Ten? Starting from a top-down photograph of a couple on a blanket next to Chicagos Lake Michigan, subsequent photos take you up and out. You see the scene from 10 meters, then 100 meters, then 1,000, and so forth, until finally youre looking at a fuzzy dot in the sky a billion light-years from earth. You can also journey in the other direction, getting under the skin, into the capillaries, through the DNA, down to atoms, and finally into a proton that fills the entire page.
Similarly, as we back away from our organizations and as business evolves, our vision of the territory broadens. Our frame expands from the individual worker (e.g., the clerk) to the team (e.g., accounts receivable) to the department (e.g., finance) to the business unit (e.g., light-bulb manufacturing) to the corporation (e.g., General Electric). As we back away, we see that the functional silos of finance, marketing, sales, personnel, etc., are all part of one big operation. We see raw materials going in one door and finished goods coming out the other, with everyone touching it along the way, a process of adding value we call workflow.
Business Process Reengineering sought to tighten things up at this level. BPR claims to make end-to-end improvements. BPR often failed. On the one hand, BPR oversimplified how organizations really work; you cant do without the grapevine, workarounds, the shadow organization, social networks, and other intangibles. On the other, BPR mistook the old wall surrounding the corporation for the limits of the value creation process. The wall is an artificial barrier. Thats why Jack Welch told GE to be a boundaryless organization. Why mess with only the inside stuff when you can leverage the assets of the entire world?
As we backed away, a bigger picture came into focus, a Value Chain. We recognized that our organization is but a link in a chain that stretches from digging raw materials out of the ground to putting a smile on a customers face. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If the company that supplies our raw materials is an inefficient, high-cost producer, our customer is eventually going to pay for it. Hence, its in our interest to select, train, inform, and motivate every link in our chain. A majority of the people who work for Cisco dont draw a Cisco paycheck. They are suppliers, assemblers, shippers, channel partners, consultants, and integrators.
Stepping back once more, the frame captures immense ecosystems interacting on myriad levels. Organizations dont have a relationship with their partners and customers; they have thousands upon thousands of them. Ill never forget my surprise, when I popped open the console cover of the first mainframe computer I sold, an NCR 315. There in the heart of the beast was an IBM typewriter mechanism. It was better for NCR to sell the competitions typewriter than to make their own. Were all in this together.
Zoom out one more time, and you see a globe where everything is connected to everything else, and the outcome of interaction is unpredictable. Large investments sometimes yield nothing but frustration; tiny actions sometimes yield immense results. A butterfly flaps its wings in Tokyo and a hurricane forms in the Caribbean. A worker talks with a customer on the phone and a entire new industry pops up in Abu Dhabi. The photograph is getting fuzzy. In Powers of Ten, images turn into random spots at a trillion kilometers from earth. Weve zoomed out of focus; we dont understand what we see.
The boxes model the evolution of a business organization as time passes and we see the entity is a larger context.
What you see depends on where you stand. Companies in the vanguard are forever deciding how to optimize a bigger picture. This process view is at the heart of Workflow Learning. This is Business Process, melded directly into work. “Give me a place to stand, and I will move the earth.”
Marcel Proust ate a cookie, and three volumes of Remembrance of Things Past spewed out of his pen. I read a piece by Esther Dyson this morning, and what you’ve just read came out of my keyboard. Esther wrote,
Indeed, data is relatively easy, and we have good tools for it: the calculator, the spreadsheet, and the giant financial number-crunching application. The spreadsheet gave users a tool not just to calculate, but to build complex models and, in fact, to do many things that previously could be done only by IT high priests. Better yet, the spreadsheet allowed them to build models that were intelligible to normal people. So-called power users could build the models, while other users could reuse or modify them, plugging in their own data and coefficients. Complementary graphing and other tools made the data more visible and meaningful to ordinary people who could not pick trends out of a sea of numbers. We also have the database, which acts as a back-end to those corporate applications and to the spreadsheets, allowing for easier sharing of data across applications and even among enterprises.
The first successful spreadsheet was called VisiCalc; where is VisiProcess?”
Connecting workers to the work is what Workflow Learning is all about.
This is the first of what I expect to grow into a collection of personal reflections on the workflow learning revolution that will be stashed in the Workflow Institute’s Vault.
Mo-working is on the rise. More and more consultants and corporate types work at client sites or from home offices. The economic downturn and the trend toward outsourcing have created legions of free agents. Knowledge workers are no longer tethered to buildings.
Unless you like noise and sweet, overpriced coffee, Starbucks is not a workable substitute office. If a new baby just moved into your home office, good luck concentrating on work. Besides, lots of people enjoy the social aspects of work; for comaraderie, a friendly break room beats an empty kitchen.
This afternoon I met with someone who’s going with the trends rather than fighting them. Neil Goldberg is the founder of Gate3 Workclub. Imagine a workplace with sunlight streaming in, lots of conference rooms, modular office set-ups, a learning center, a cafe, oodles of Herman Miller furniture, T-1 access for all, a sunny rooftop, and lots of friendly people scurrying around, but no boss. That’s the Workclub.
Still undergoing some finishing touches, the club should be up and running within a month. I can imagine this set-up appealing to a wide range of the dispossessed. For example, if you’re getting your own business off the ground, Gate3 could be the address on your letterhead. More importantly, it’s where you’d talk to colleagues. I bet a barter system crops up, e.g. I know marketing and you understand taxation; let’s swap some expert advice.
Gate3 has a lot more appeal than the rent-an-office suites I’ve visited. Those seem to fill up with ersatz financial planners, multi-level marketing schemers, and other undesirables. The “offices” provided by outplacement firms are worse. (“Oh, boy, a chance to use the phone and hang out with the jobless.”) At Gate3, you can order a latte or have a massage. The ambiance is very California.
Gate3 is in the happening town of Emeryville, home of Pixar, Chiron, GBN, and innumerable artists’ lofts and software start-ups.
Will individuals pay the fees for something like this? I think so. We talked about implementing social networking software to enable Workclubbers to leverage one another’s contacts. Make the link, meet in the networking room at the Workclub. I wouldn’t be surprised if some corporations didn’t buy some memberships, too, for it would be a good way to keep workers who don’t enjoy working from home from bolting.
I’ve just started reading Christopher Alexander’s The Nature of Order. It’s a little slow getting started, and you have to get used to CA’s view that architects are applying their theory of the cosmos to inject life into buildings. Nonetheless, I’m confident Chris would like the Gate3 Workclub. It’s a beautiful idea in a tasteful yet functional building.
I’ll blog more about Gate3 after my next visit. Neil’s accepting applications now. If you call Gate3 (1.510.868.8180), tell them I sent you. I may want to hold some classes in the big room downstairs or perhaps take advantage of the usability lab.
“Make no little plans. They fail to stir the blood of men,” said architect Daniel Burnham. Indeed, life’s too short for mediocrity. When I hear someone say they wish their online learning were as effective as their instructor-led workshops, I wonder why they’re shooting so low. They should be aiming to make their technology-enabled learning much better than the passive classroom experience. Let’s face it, the classroom is often a mediocre learning environment.
Twenty years ago, Benjamin Bloom found that individually-tutored students performed as well as the top 2% of classroom students. Equalling this record in automated fashion has become eLearning’s Holy Grail. The Department of Defense has achieved it, but cost is rarely a constraint there. The Advanced Computer Tutoring Project at Carnegie Mellon University claims even higher performance gains among Pittsburgh high-school students studying math. Did the students like it? One swore at a teacher so she’d get kicked out of school for a couple of days — during which she learned geometry with her unrestricted time online.
Today I’ve seen the future, not once, but twice, and I can hardly wait to get there.
First, Robin Good whisked me away to visit his persistent meeting room on smartMeeting. I outfitted my avatar with natty blue sweater, gray slacks, and a beard, and joined Robin in his online space.
Slick, eh? We were talking VOIP. I could see his avatar hopping about.
Things weren’t perfect. I’m running an older machine, and my video card is less than this software’s looking for. Also, I lost contact with Robin while I was switching PCs. But I could see the potential and it is awesome.
Imagine having your own virtual space where you can call up presentations, briefings, video, and whiteboards for your guests. All with sound. Private or public. Works over a low-band connection.
I’ve lusted for something like this for some time. I can envision Emergent Learning Forum using it for small meetings and mentoring sessions. This is much more friendly than video conferencing. At long last, collaborative technology is becoming less geeky.
Keeping one’s demos and presentations at the ready 24/7 makes so much sense. Got a laptop? “Come into my parlor…”
You can stake out your own room on the web for a monthly rental payment. Software imitates life. Here’s my new room:
All of which raises the issue of what’s better to keep on the web and what’s better on your own (probably not adequately backed-up) hard drive. Your mobility and your attitude to being tethered to a single machine are major factors here. Operating systems slop back and forth from local to remote these days. Applications are promiscuous at this. Data is wherever you want it to be.
This was on my mind today when I talked with a tiny start-up that has the potential to save big companies big bucks on IT maintenance and upgrades, and to eventually open the door for small business to buy software capability by the month
That’s my desktop. (The background color pumps up my adenalin.) It’s remote. I can tap into it from anywhere. I don’t have to fiddle around with updates from the guys in Redmond. It’s always there, whenever and wherever I connect from. The apps run really fast. It feels like a screaming Pentium even when I’m jacking in with a pokey machine running Win 98. The host can afford to run on machines faster than I can dream of.
This evening I escaped the office while it was still light out and drove over to Tilden Park for a walk in the woods. Tromping alongside a little stream for 40 minutes was just enough time for me to listen to Doug Kaye interview Doc Searls on my tiny mp3 player.
Doc talked about the genesis of the Cluetrain Manifesto, how he got the name “Doc,” his early marketing career, and his most recent campaign, DIYIT or “Do It Yourself IT.”
The most visible action in the IT marketspace is what Doc calls “vendor sports.” These are the supply-side vendors like IBM or HP duking it out in full-color magazine ads.
The underappreciated part is the demand side, where programmers scratch their own itches. They most often use Open Source software but they’re not necessarily part of that culture, with its emphasis on licensing, development protocols, and so forth.
The DIY crowd just want to build things. The closest analogy is to the construction industry. They share a common language (“builds,””tools,””builders”). Linux is the DIYers’ lumber, a raw material for virtually any job. Neither software construction nor building houses locks you in to a particular supplier. The housebuilder doesn’t say, “We’re building this house on a Weyerhauser platform….”
Doc set up IT Garage as a home for DIYIT. He’d like it to grow and morph into a magazine (since it’s usally the other way around).
The fact that Open Source code is free delegates decision-making lower in the organization. You don’t need a purchase order — or official approval — to use it.
If you want to follow what’s going on in IT, I recommend downloading some of Doug Kaye’s marvellous IT Conversations.
Robin Good is the go-to guy for collaborative technology, so I was delighted to happen upon this post this morning.
Should your department be outsourced?
I’m not asking about development and I’m not necessarily talking about India. Accenture and IBM are aggressively seeking to run entire training departments. Boeing has outsources training to Intrepid. The outsourcing argument has financial merit. Wouldn’t you expect CFOs to be receptive?
Join Emergent Learning Forum this Thursday, July 22, from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm at SRI in Menlo Park to discuss these issues. It promises to be an exciting program, featuring recent SRI research, the experience of Autodesk, and a presentation from outsourcer Intrepid Learning Solutions.
Threats, Opportunities and Challenges in Silicon Valley and Beyond>
Please sign up if you intend to join us. Do so at the Emergent Learning Forum website.
Did you hear the one about the fellow who outsourced his own job? He hired a chap in India to do his job for $12,000 a year. He spends 10% of his time giving instructions and checking the other guy’s work. He has done this three times now. He is holding down three $80,000/year jobs, clears $200,000 after expenses, and has 70% of his time free to relax on his yacht.
Yesterday afternoon and early evening, I attended the announcement of a partnership between Oracle and Macromedia at Oracle’s futuristic headquarters in Redwood Shores. I’ll be a little more reserved than usual in my reflections on the event because I like both these companies and because I was officially invited as a stringer for CLO magazine. Also, I know the people on both sides of this deal, both companies have been generous to Emergent Learning Forum, and I’ll undoubtedly be hitting both up for business in the future.
In a nutshell, the news is this: Compliance with AICC, IMS, and SCORM is no assurance of interoperability. The standards are subject to interpretation, and legal extensions can lead to one-off code. Macromedia is king of the mountain in web development tools; just about all of Oracle’s 300 LMS customers use Macromedia products. By having their engineers bang their heads together, the two firms will make it easier for shared customers to build, publish, and consume training. They’ll support best practices for learning content development and publishing with a Content Resource Center that’s free to all.
More than a hundred of us convened in Oracle’s conference center. I’d been here once before, when Oracle VP Chris Pirie hosted a meeting of Emergent Learning Forum last year. At the time, one of our members remarked, "Wow. This is really nice." His companion responded, "Yeah, well, this is a profitable company." Oracle is a class act. The opening speaker explained that this was once the site of Marine World, which is now esconced in Vallejo. The builders left the lake so the boss would have a place to walk. (Book title = The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison *God Doesn’t Think He’s Larry Ellison.)
"We’re going to have a raffle after the presentations. Someone is going to win some free software — PeopleSoft, Siebel, BEA… Of course, you may have to wait a while to receive your prizes."
Chris Pirie and Kevin Lynch gave a mercifully short presentation before yielding the floor to Josh Bersin, who led a panel of users in discussion. (Ever see Warren Beatty’s wonderful movie, Reds? Fantastic film. Anyway, the panel were the "witnesses".)
Cisco’s Peg Maddocks advised that for next generation eLearning, "Stop doing what you’re doing." After eight years of "free range learning" where everyone did their own thing, her team has chopped the 31,000 offerings on their LMS back to 4,000, and she figures half of those can go, too. In the early days, Cisco would pay $300,000 to $800,000 for a custom program on products that were changing monthly — and couldn’t be updated. Quick-and-dirty development is a better way to go.
Brocade’s Linda Moss is focused on customer learning. A mere handful of the audience are there yet. Linda has limited resources, so instructors have been recuited as developers and are now becoming web developers.
Mary Kay Russell, director of Enterprise eLearning for Kaiser Permanente, is using the 80/20 rule as she centralizes what started out as in-house, ad hoc page turners. Kaiser is implementing an automated medical record system. In the early nineties, I hawked clinical record software for a while. The various regions of Kaiser Permanente considered themselves separate companies. Mary Kay has her work cut out for her.
America West’s Tony Willis was the eLearning virgin on the panel. While the airline has 12,000 employees, just about all training has been instructor-led. They’re implementing eLearning first with the reservations group, then other airport personnel, and eventually hope to add in the "absentee workforce," i.e. pilots and flight attendants who may live just about anywhere. America West has been an Oracle customer, and that figured heavily in their choice of Oracle’s LMS. Tony’s caveat: Don’t oversell eLearning. His boss now thinks it’s a silver bullet and wants everything to go "e."
Genentech’s Harry Wittenberg has previous eLearning experience with IBM, Cisco, Apple, Chas Schwab, and…was it Andersen? Harry told lots of "blended" learning stories.
As with so many events, you really had to be there. How else could one savor the sushi, satay, stuffed mushrooms, and wine? As I said, Oracle is a class act. The reception had the feel of a college reunion. So many people I hadn’t seen for a year or two.
Is this technology partnership a big deal? It’s good for Oracle customers. I’m disappointed we don’t see more industry cooperation. Wouldn’t it be great if Macromedia had this sort of pact with IBM and Sun and Microsoft?
Given the skepticism that greets me when I talk with many people about blogs, I was delighted to come across this item from Buzz Machine:
People who are not acquainted with blogs don’t get it. Why would so many people want to keep on-line diaries and snapshots of their cats? Moreover, who has time to read this stuff?
Every medium has its amateurs and its pros. Some people are exciting to read; others are a snooze. When blogs are good, they are very, very good, and when they are bad, they are awful.
Yesterday I read a post by Mena Trott, the former CEO of SixApart, about handing over the reins to an older guy. Outside the blogosphere, a news release on a transition of power would have been obscured by so many layers of corporate baffle-gab that you’d never know what was going on. Mena’s post was different. It was personal. It came from the heart. She writes:
So, for all you out there who’ve read up to this point, I hope that I have proven that it’s possible for a CEO to stop being CEO but still be content in a company. Additionally, I hope that this weblog influences others in my position to share their experiences.