Category Archives: Unmanagement



The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order. Alfred North Whitehead.

Before you try to change something, increase your awareness of it. Tim Galwey

For the first twenty-five years of my life, I wanted freedom. For the next twenty-five, I wanted order. For the next twenty-five years, I realized that order is freedom. Winston Churchill.

The world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation. The hand is more important than the eye… The hand is the cutting edge of the mind. Jacob Bronowski (ACT)

The world isn’t interested in the storms you encountered, but whether or not you brought in the ship. Raul Armesto

Those who face that which is actually before them, unburdened by the past, undistracted by the future, those are they who live, who make the best use of their lives, those are those who have found the secret of contentment. Alban Goodier


“99 percent of success is built on failure.” – Charles Kettering

“The ultimate creative thinking technique is to think like God. If you’re an atheist, pretend how God would do it.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

“The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away.” – Linus Pauling

“One of the illusions of life is that the present hour is not the critical, decisive one.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Innovation opportunities do not come with the tempest but with the rustling of the breeze.” – Peter Drucker

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Albert Einstein

“Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer injury to our self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their self-importance, learn so easily; and why older people, especially if vain or arrogant, cannot learn at all.” ~ Thomas Szasz

“One must learn by doing the thing. For though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try.” ~ Sophocles 

“If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need.” ~ William McKnight, CEO of 3M 

Consider the frog and the scorpion. Give me a ride across the stream. But you will sting me and I will die, replies the frog. But then I would drown, argues the scorpion. The frog swims, carrying his passenger, feels an ominous sting. Why, he asks. Because it is my nature, replies the scorpion.

Learning is not compulsory… neither is survival. W. Edwards Deming

In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists. Eric Hoffer

Sixty years ago I knew everything; now I know nothing; education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance. Will Durant

“Formal education will make you a living. Self-education will make you a fortune.” Jim Rohn

You learn more quickly under the guidance of experienced teachers. You waste a lot of time going down blind alleys if you have no one to lead you. W. Somerset Maugham 

“Education is the acquisition of the art of the utilization of knowledge. This an art very difficult to impart. We must beware of what I will call “inert ideas” that is to say, ideas that are merely received into the mind without being utilized or tested or thrown into fresh combinations.” Alfred North Whitehead

“Learning is not so much an additive process, with new learning simply piling up on top of existing knowledge, as it is an active, dynamic process in which the connections are constantly changing and the structure reformatted.” K. Patricia Cross

It is what we think we know already that often prevents us from learning. Claude Bernard

Sometimes the last thing learners need is for their preferred learning style to be affirmed. Agreeing to let people learn only in a way that feels comfortable and familiar can restrict seriously their chance for development. Steven Brookfield

A little learning is a dangerous thing. Alexander Pope

Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance learn so easily; and why older persons, especially if vain or important, cannot learn at all.
Thomas Szasz

“Students learn what they care about . . .,” Stanford Ericksen has said, but Goethe knew something else: “In all things we learn only from those we love.” Add to that Emerson’s declaration: “the secret of education lies in respecting the pupil.” and we have a formula something like this: “Students learn what they care about, from people they care about and who, they know, care about them…” Barbara Harrell Carson

Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one. Malcolm S. Forbes

The great end of education is to discipline rather than to furnish the mind; To train it to the use of its own powers rather than to fill it with the accumulation of others. Tryon Edwards

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. John Dewey

“We learn something every day, and lots of times it’s that what we learned the day before was wrong.” Bill Vaughn

“Knowledge is not a commodity to be traded between expert and novice. Rather, it is a construction of ideas negotiated by the learner in a social setting.” Rosamar Garcia

“Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.” Samuel Johnson  (Performance support 101)

“There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge… observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the result of that combination.” Denis Diderot

“The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.” Albert Einstein

“He who asks a question may be a fool for five minutes. But he who never asks a question remains a fool forever.” Tom J. Connelly

“The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who does not know how to learn.” Alvin Toffler

What we must decide is perhaps how we are valuable, rather than how valuable we are. F. Scott Fitzgerald

Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago. Bernard Berenson

Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.  Oliver Wendell Holmesquotes2



Informal learning and Stoos management in four slides (Netflix)

Harold Jarche posted this to the internal Internet Time Alliance network yesterday: “Check out slides 115-118″ I did. I was blown away.

Here ’tis:

Culture (Original 2009 version) from Reed Hastings

I’m writing the sequel to Informal Learning. Yet here, the CEO of Netflix gave most of my message four years ago in four slides. Continue reading

Reinventing management, the Stoos movement

Full house (10) for today’s Hangout on Air. I don’t know how many watched on YouTube.

We had a good discussion of the Stoos Movement and combining agile with management. Or replacing management with agile.


Slides from Hangout:

Transcript from Hangout:

You invited people into the hangout.

Peter Isackson

9:49 AM

Hi Jay

You invited people into the hangout.

Loretta Donovan

10:37 Continue reading

World Stoos Day

Stoos (rhymes with close or dose) is a mountain village of 100 inhabitants at 1,300 metres in the center of Switzerland. People come to ski.



A year ago, twenty of us met on the mountaintop in Stoos to imagine management and business anew. Peter Stevens sent invitations:

Steve Denning, Jurgen Appelo, Franz Röösli and Peter Stevens are pleased to personally invite you to a spontaneous weekend Continue reading

Management 3.0 from Jurgen Appelo

Jurgen Appelo plays with more models of how things ought to work than anyone I else I know. His book Management 3.0 presents, assesses, and sometimes interconnects with agile, people-oriented processes relentlessly. I’m a fan. See his blog. And this presentation:

Jurgen and I met at the Stoos gathering. I just bought his latest, How to Change the World, to read on vacation.
Here’s the Stoos bookshelf. This is about as close to a definition of the spirit of Stoos as you’re going to get.

Now is the Time for India to Democratize Learning

A synopsis of my remarks to Emerging Directions in Global Education 2011, Delhi, India

For the first 60 seconds, we listened to Yoyo Ma playing Bach’s Cello Suite #1 in G as the flowers unfolded.


As time speeds up, we perceive that what once appeared rigid is actually fluid.

Progress is unfolding at an unprecedented rate. More happens in one of your minutes than in one of your grandfather’s hours. More information has been created in the three days I have been in Delhi than in the sweep of human history from the dawn of civilization until 2004. Futurists tell us the 21st century will not contain a mere one hundred 20th century style years but tens of thousands of them.

As the years speed by, we can appreciate that educational systems that once appeared rigid are actually fluid. We can nurture them to grow this way or that. We can “flip” them, that is, reconfigure the pieces. I’ll suggest that we can, and should, rearrange the components of schooling to democratize learning.

By democratize, I don’t mean giving students the vote. Rather, democratizing learning means giving students the knowledge and permission to realize their full potential. Democratization gives students a voice in their own learning.

Be forewarned: I am an alien in your midst. I am an American, a Californian, with scant knowledge of India. My specialty is corporate learning, not higher education. And I tend to live in 2016, not the present.

Nonetheless, I’d like to share a few stories with you. Perhaps they can serve as catalysts as you consider how to reshape India’s educational systems and policies to meet the demands of the future.


Hewlett Packard Engineers

Let me tell you a story that predates the internet. In 1974, a group of Hewlett Packard engineers who had been watching lectures on electrical engineering on the Stanford Instructional Television Network were reassigned to an HP facility in Santa Rosa, California, two hours to the north and out of television broadcasting range.  An instructor, Jim Gibbons, sent videotapes of the lectures to Santa Rosa. It didn’t work; the engineers weren’t learning. Accompanying the tapes with a graduate assistant didn’t work either.

Next the engineers tried something that did work. Whenever anyone did not understand a concept in a lecture, he would raise his hand. This stopped the tape. Most of the time, someone else in the group had the answer. They proceeded this way, learning without a teacher, until the end of the semester. Then Jim Gibbons carted the engineers to the Stanford campus to take the final exam.

Mind you, these engineers lacked the test scores to become Stanford students, yet they scored significantly higher grades   on the exam than the resident students. Why? I think it’s because they took charge of their own learning. They learned from one another, in the course of conversation. Furthermore, they were learning in order to become better engineers, not to earn a credential.

The HP engineers had flipped the educational process. They did away with face-to-face lectures. They set their own pace and answered their own questions. They took charge of the way they learned. In other words, they democratized their learning.



Western corporations are broken. Workers hate their jobs; customers complain of lousy service; investors receive meager returns. There has to be a better way.

In January 2012, two dozen authors, managers, and agile software developers met on a mountain top in Stoos, Switzerland, to try to reverse the situation. How could the practice of management be updated to work in a complex, unpredictable world?

The organization-as-machine, the model that served us from the dawn of the industrial age until the beginning of the 21st century, leads to a quest for efficiency. That works in stable, unchanging times, but it’s a formula for disaster amid incessant, disruptive change. The living network is a better model for today. Organizations need to conceptualize themselves as networks of individuals and teams who perpetually strive to create more value for customers.

This flips the corporation into an organization that respects people for their contributions rather than seeing them as cogs in the machine. The new order democratizes the workplace.


Corporate Learning

In America and Europe, the corporate learning function is dead or dying. A 2011 study by the Corporate Leadership Council reported that 76% of managers are dissatisfied with their corporate training function; 85% deem training ineffective; and a mere 14% would recommend training to their fellow managers. Workers and managers learn their work though conversation, collaboration, and on-the-job experience. My colleague Jane Hart calls this “learning without training.”

Enlightened corporations trust their people to pull in the resources they need. They’ve flipped corporate learning by putting the learners in charge of defining the curriculum. These corporations concentrate on building self-sustaining learning ecosystems, what I’ve called workscapes, instead of individual programs.


Education in India

India needs to train 500 million people in the next ten years. Some have proposed building thousands of new schools and challenges. Yet if the building program began in earnest tomorrow, there still wouldn’t be enough time to build the required  classrooms — some six times what India has today.

What would those schools teach? The half-life of a professional skill is down to five years and is shrinking fast. It makes no sense to train people on skills that will become obsolete in short order. I’ll suggest that people need to learn meta-skills, such things as:

  • learning how to learn
  • critical thinking and conceptualization
  • pattern recognition
  • design thinking
  • working with one another
  • navigating complex environments
  • software literacy

India has neither time nor resources to prepare teachers to transfer these skills to hundreds of millions of people. The answer? Flip Indian education. Delegate the delivery of content to electronic means, and focus teachers on coaching, leading discussions, helping people over hurdles, and relating lessons to real life. Also, teach students and workers to help teach themselves.

The time is ripe for India to democratize education, to help students to think for themselves and realize their potential.



A couple of days after my talk, nine of us piled into a van to visit the Taj Mahal.

Hour after hour, we honked and careened our way through chaotic traffic. We passed numerous private schools and academies. Mostly, we saw tens of thousands of abjectly poor people passing the time of day in hole in the wall kitchens and shops, wandering around in rubble, or defecating in fields. I wondered what comes first, educating the millions or giving them toilets.

By 2030, India’s population will outnumber China’s. The people we talked with at EDGE are entrepreneurial and optimistic. They are accustomed to thinking things over on an enormous scale. Never before in human history has a democracy of 1.3 billion people tried to reform education. Such transformation is mind-boggling.

Where is this headed, I wondered. By this time, our discussions about educational systems were over. I tossed about in bed in anticipation of an early morning flight home and reflecting on India.

What change does India want to see? Do we expect education to flatten a highly stratified society? Will the boys and girls playing in the dirt lead more productive, fulfilling lives because they can read and write? Will they have the patience to put up with the conservatism and cronyism of the Government of India? How will India create the jobs to challenge their young minds? Might not educating the masses be akin to showing the people of the former Soviet Union the riches of the west on television?

The more I learn about India, the less I understand India. I wish my new friends and their country well. They face the largest challenge I have ever seen.

The Agile Learning Train is Leaving the Station

I’d planned to begin posting my thoughts about how this Unmanagement/Stoos business impacts the administration and operation of corporate training. My friend Dawn Paulos at Xyleme beat me to the punch.

Today, the expectations of learners are much different than they were only a few years ago. Much of what is currently rolled up monolithic, one-size-fits-all courses must give way to small but relevant content updated and delivered continuously to learners based on their individual profiles or needs. In other words, learning needs to go Agile.

What’s in it for us?

Agile Development is an approach where vendors deliver very fast, iterative product development through close collaboration with its user base (i.e. training organizations).

Dawn describes the basic Agile Development process and promises to come back with implications in a subsequent post.

Dawn references Josh Bersin’s insightful post last fall which goes beyond the training function to examine the benefits of agile in HR.

The Agile Model comes to Management, Learning, and Human Resources

Over the last five years the business of software development has been totally transformed by the concepts of agile development So is the business of Management and Human Resources.


Josh lists the benefits of embracing agile:
  • Traditional annual performance appraisals use an older “waterfall” method – continuous feedback and recognition is an “agile” approach.
  • Traditional formal training and certification is a “waterfall” model –  rapid e-learning and informal learning is an “agile” approach.
  • Top down cascading goals are a “waterfall” approach – rapidly updated “objectives and key results” (sometimes called OKR – widely used at Google) is an “agile” model.
  • Traditional annual rewards and bonuses are a “waterfall” model – continuous recognition and social recognition systems are an “agile” model.
  • The annual employee engagement survey is a “waterfall” model – continuous online idea factories and open blogs are an “agile” model for employee engagement.
  • The annual development planning process is a “waterfall” model – an ongoing coaching relationship is an “agile” model for leadership.
  • The traditional recruiting process is a “waterfall” model – this is being replaced by a continuous process of social recruiting and referral-based recruiting which can be rolled out in a few hours.

Social Business is becoming the new normal
2012 is the year of Social Business. My Internet Time Alliance colleague Jane Hart aptly describes the coming environment:

Predictions for an upcoming new year are inevitably based on the “flow” from the current year, so if you have taken a look at my Top 100 articles of 2011 (or even my complete 2011 Reading List), you will not be surprised to hear that many predict that 2012 will be the “Year of Social Business“.

Up to now, for many organisations, Social Business has been about social media marketing and engaging customers, but as IBM explains …

“A Social Business isn’t just a company that has a Facebook page and a Twitter account. A Social Business is one that embraces and cultivates a spirit of collaboration and community throughout its organization—both internally and externally.”

And as Amin points out in Thriving as an HR professional in a social business era,

“With a 10-year delay, the social media revolution is finally entering the workplace and its influence is going to be comparable to the consumer social media revolution.”

As many others explain, social business will change the way we do everything, as organisations move from being traditional hierarchical businesses to networked organisations.”Social” will not just be something that is bolted-on to traditional processes but will underpin a fundamental new approach to working – and learning.

Paul Adams summed this up nicely in Stop talking about “social”.

Social is not a feature. Social is not an application. Social is a deep human motivation that drives our behavior almost every second that we’re awake … The leading businesses are recognizing that the web is moving away from being centered around content, to being centered around people.That is the biggest social thunderstorm, and all of us are going to have to understand it to succeed. So stop talking about social as a distinct entity. Assume it in everything you do.

Leveraging Learning in Social Business
Installing social network software and encouraging people to exploit their connections is not enough. The fabric of a social business, its workscape, must incorporate structures and guidance to help people learn. After all, learning underpins continuous improvement and that’s what this is all about.

A sustainable workscape must provide the means and motivation for corporate citizens to learn what they need: the know-how, know-who, and know-what to get things done and get better at doing them. This takes more than access to social networking tools, blogs, and wikis. Self-organization helps but L&D professionals need to supplement social systems with scaffolding that focuses on learning. Without that, many organizations will descend into an aimless world of social noise and meaningless chit-chat.

I take chief learning officers’ abysmal track record with informal learning to-date as a warning shot. In today’s fast-paced world, people who do not learn continuously, on the job, rapidly fall behind. Yet CLOs continue to focus on formal classes, as if they’re running schools instead of creating business value. Formal classes and workshops are necessary, but they constitute a tiny slice of the overall learning pie.

Several years ago, L&D professionals began to accept the fact that learning by experience and informally, with others, has many times the impact of traditional training.

What did CLOs do with the insight that informal learning matters? Next to nothing. They left informal learning to chance. Even now, with the cost-effectiveness and responsiveness of informal learning pushing it to the top of CLO’s priority lists, most are taking baby steps if any steps at all. This is extremely disappointing. We who understand how people learn need to be at the vanguard of establishing social networks, expertise location, online communities, information streams, agile instructional design, help desks, federated content management, continuing reinforcement, peer development, and so on.

CLOs who do not make it easier for social business people to learn are toast.

Making the transition from command-and-control training operations to vibrant social learning workscapes is where I think Internet Time Alliance is going to make a major contribution. I envision us providing hand-holding, models, and advice to help Chief Learning Officers and HR executives make the journey from pushing curriculum and instructor-led events to nurturing systems for co-creating knowledge and competence with workers. Time will tell.
It would be irresponsible for chief learning officers and HR executives to leave learning to happenstance.


Working Smarter
Agile Development is but a piece of the practice of making social business work. The entire environment is morphing into something new and different. As I wrote in my reflections on the Stoos Gathering,


These days it’s more productive to think of organizations as organisms. Managers become stewards of the living. Their role is to energize people, empower teams, foster continuous improvement, develop competence, leverage collective knowledge, coach workers, encourage collaboration, remove barriers to progress, and get rid of obsolete practices.


Living systems thrive on values that go far beyond the machine era’s dogged pursuit of efficiency through control. Living systems are networks. Optimal networks run on such values as respect for people, trust, continuous learning, transparency, openness, engagement, integrity, and meaning.


When an enterprise commits to becoming an organic, value-creating network of diverse individuals, the training department has to join the fray.