Category Archives: Working Smarter

Top Ten Articles on Working Smarter

Ten important posts on working smarter. Our algorithms highlighted them as the most popular this year. Find the most important articles daily at


Half a dozen years of journals and notebooks are migrating from my shelves to recycling. I need the space — and I don’t have much use for yesterday’s thinking.


I had to save a few memorable entries. Here’s The Great Divide (from the age of material to the age of relationships).


How people learn…

Basics of working smarter…

Synopsis of The Halo Effect

I thumbed through the journals as I took them from the shelves. As I dropped each volume into the stack, I tried to let go of its ideas. I want to make room for the next wave or thoughts worth jotting down.


Learning out loud

workscapeGo ahead. Peak into my brain. New thoughts are percolating but the outcomes are still fuzzy.

I’m soundly convinced that Learning Platforms are crowding out Learning Programs. This is an inevitable part of moving from Stocks to Flows, from Push to Pull, from institutional control to personal freedom, and from rigid industrialism to flexible, more human work environments. Focus on improving the learning ecology rather than tackle one event at a time.

“Learning in advance” doesn’t work in a realtime world, so learning and work have converged. Learning is simply an aspect of getting the job done. Learning new things — sometimes by inventing them — is an obligation of corporate citizens. Most of this learning takes place in the workplace. The learning platform is the organization itself, not some separate entity.

I call these learning aspects of an organization its Workscape. A Workscape is a metaphorical space. The Workscape can include the water cooler, the Friday beer bust, the conversation nook at the office, wi-fi in the cafeteria, the enterprise culture, in-house communications, access to information, cultural norms around sharing and disclosure, tolerance for nonconformity, risk aversion, organizational structure, worker autonomy, and virtually any aspect of the company that can be tweaked to enable people to Work Smarter.

This afternoon I’ve been trying to come up with next practices for Workscapes in general. What are the design principles for optimal workscapes? What aspects of good learning should migrate into the Workscape. A starter list:

  • All learning is self-directed. Give people the freedom to chart their own course. “I like to learn but I hate to be taught.” Set high expectations and people live up to them. Help people make sense of and prosper in the world and the workplace.
  • Conversations are the stem-cells of learning. Foster open, frequent, frank conversation both virtually and in person.
  • Experiential learning is magic. People learn by doing. Encourage experimentation. Insure that managers and mentors understand the impact of “stretch assignments.” JDI. Broadcast opportunities and projects.
  • Teach people the least they need know to tackle things on their own.
  • Make it drop-dead simple to access people in the know, the lessons of experience, how-to information, and performance support.
  • Learning is social. Encourage participation in communities. Narrate your work and share with others. Communities and guilds create knowledge as well as consume it.
  • We want what we want, no more. Whenever possible, provide choices. Give me the pieces to create personalized learning experiences.
  • Learning is for everyone, not just novices and up-and-comers. You can’t expect to prosper without it. Make sure everyone’s covered.
  • Learning takes reinforcement in order to stick. Seek feedback. Blog, tweet, and otherwise share your reflections. Revisiting what you learn fixes it in memory.
  • Innovation is born of mashing up concepts from different disciplines. Encourage looking outside the box.
  • Provide feeds for what’s going on in the team, the department, the company, the industry, and technical disciplines.
  • People confuse learning with schooling. Build lessons on learning how to learn into the Workscape itself.

I’ll keep building the list but I’m hungry for more. I don’t want to get caught thinking small. What other aspects of sustaining the organization should be here?

Most of the value of organizations derives from Social Capital. (See my post Measure what’s important.) Were you able to deconstruct an organization into molecules of social capital, you’d have:

  • human capital – the know-how of the workforce
  • relationship captal – your reputation and ways of working with customers and partners
  • structural capital – processes, systems, and secret sauce

social capital

Thus far, my list deals with only human capital. Help me think through the role of the Workscape in leveraging relationship capital and structural capital as well.


AT&T, shame on you

Our 29-year old son Austin emailed my wife Uta last week from vacation in Hong Kong and Seoul. He couldn’t get any reception on his Android phone.

He wanted to be able to read messages and make emergency phone calls. Wednesday morning Uta went online to look at AT&T international calling plans. The three phones on our plan had worked in the UK, Switzerland, and Italy last year. AT&T’s services had changed since our trips abroad.

Uta called AT&T for further information. An AT&T rep in International Calling told her Austin would not be able to make calls on his phone. “But he has the latest Galaxy,” she explained. Again and again, the rep said international service was not available on that line. My wife said she did not understand. The rep repeatedly said my son would not be able to make international calls from his phone. “I don’t understand. What are you saying?” she asked repeatedly. Finally, when the International Calling representative could not explain further, she hung up and went to the local AT&T store.

A representative at the store looked up our accounts and mentioned international calling plans. Uta said she didn’t want a new plan. austin’s problem is that he was not even receiving calls on his phone. He wanted reception and a way to make pay-per-use calls.

All Austin needed was reception and an option of making pay-per-call calls. Besides, he was on a short trip and that was half over.

The rep advised that Austin remove the battery and put it back in to reboot the phone. Go to settings, check for local providers. Uta emailed Austin, who had already rebooted the phone. Settings showed eight providers. Nonetheless, he was getting no reception.

Thursday morning Uta called the rep at the store. She admitted that this sounded like an AT&T issue, not something wrong with the hardware. She checked with her manager and called back to say Austin’s phone needed expanded international roaming allowance.

All Uta needed to do was call Customer Care and request this free option.

An hour later, Uta received an automated email asking her to call an 800 number. The number was an automated voice telling her how to activate her Go-Phone, requesting her confirmation, and requesting she replace her SIM card. She called the store to ask what was going on. The rep confirmed this was an authentic AT&T mail but had no idea why we’d received it. (Go Phones do not require outside activation.) The rep could not identify who sent the superfluous email.

Uta called Customer Care about the mysterious email. They couldn’t explain it either, but as long as we’re talking could Customer Care help us expand Austin’s international roaming alliance?

Certainly, she was told three times, Customer Care could sell us an international calling plan. No, that’s not what we’re after. By this time, Uta could recite the international calling plan specs better than the AT&T reps. They could not even say whether international calling applied to Hong Kong and Seoul. Some said yes; others said maybe. Customer Care only offered the option of for-fee international calling plans.

Friday, the next day, Uta called Customer Care again. She reached a helpful fellow named Evan. As with every new contact at AT&T, she had to recount the entire story from scratch. AT&T apparently does not document customer calls.

Evan said he would call International Calling and request the “expanded international roaming allowance.” the right person to deal with this while Uta was on the line. Evan turned us over to Kershe Rumph in International Calling. Kershe understood what we were asking for: Expanded international roaming, free, not a new plan. He added the feature to Austin’s line. He said Austin would only need to recycle his phone.

Uta asked if Kershe could switch her line to international roaming, too. Kershe said he would do that and confirm by email. His email the next day mentioned only Austin’s line.

During the call with Kershe Rumph, Uta pointed out that we’d gotten reception overseas last fall. Why did we no longer have international roaming? “Because it has to be added,” she was told. Uta pointed out that we had international service last year. Kershe told her that they only add the service during sweeps of many accounts.

Why did Jay’s iPhone have international roaming but the others not? Uta was told my phone had been automatically updated in a sweep in November 2012.

This is balderdash. In November, I had purchased a new iPhone from Apple. Were our other lines deactivated for international calling at this time? Was neutering our phone retaliation for buying from Apple instead of AT&T? I’ll probably never know.

On Friday afternoon, Austin emailed Uta that his phone was working.

Uta had invested three days learning AT&T’s confusing terminology and retelling the same story over and over.

How does she feel about the experience?

She became very angry when the International Calling guy told her over and over that Austin’s line could not work internationally. What? Why? How is this possible? Again and again, the rep could provide no information.

Here’s a formula for stress: Feeling helpless when encountering stories that are at odds with one another. The feature might cost something or then again it might not. International might include Korea and Hong Kong or then again it might not. Receiving a spurious email without a way to contact the sender and with clearly inappropriate content. Frustration with dealing with an illogical, dysfunctional system.

I did my best to provide an explanation for what might be going on. Half of America’s workforce is disengaged. They don’t care whether they serve the customer or not. Judging from their service level, I suspect AT&T hires more than its share of the disengaged workforce. Also, AT&T either lacks or doesn’t use any form of Customer Relationship Management system.

AT&T people don’t know their products. Their knee-jerk response to service outages is to try to sell another product. How many people do they dupe into buying international calling plans by cutting off the free international call-per-call option and offering a recurring “plan” instead? I will forward a copy of this paper to the FCC to make sure they’re aware of the practice.

Clearly something is off when only one AT&T rep out of half a dozen can fulfill a simple request. This is a failure of leadership. By chance, I happen to have met the head of leadership training for AT&T; we spoke on a panel together. I’ll forward this to him, too. Perhaps leadership training could use this as a case study. AT&T has my permission to use this for those purposes.

My mantra for management is “Delight the customer.” This is not how.

Steve Hargadon + Jay Cross

Steve Hargadon interviewed me about informal learning yesterday. Steve does his homework and asks great questions.

If you listen to podcasts while exercising, perhaps you’ll enjoy the Audio of Steve letting me amble on for an hour.

A one-hour audio goes against my religion of brevity & less-is-more. However, if you want a painless way to peak into my thinking while hiking or peddling, this may be up your alley.

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

Emotional Business


Some of you have inquired about my research into happiness and well-being. I paused the project for six weeks. Upon return, I realized there’s a lot more to it. Taking a broader perspective, I realized you can’t deal with happiness without addressing joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, love, sadness, anxiety, anger, motivation, and relationships, Continue reading

Jay’s on walkabout


Dating back 25,000 years, Australia’s Aborigines are the world’s longest-lived culture, despite the harsh conditions of the Australian Continent. By dedicating more than half of their resources to intangibles such as learning, relationships, and the technology of eco-farming, the Aborigines created a society without war, crime, poverty, or taxes. You have to learn a lot just to survive.

Karl-Erik Continue reading

2012′s Top articles on Working Smarter

Working Smarter Daily points to ideas from design thinking, network optimization, brain science, user experience design, learning theory, organizational development, social business, technology, collaboration, web 2.0 patterns, social psychology, value network analysis, anthropology, complexity theory, and more. These disciplines add up to what I call “working smarter.”

Working smarter embraces the spirit of agile software, action learning, social networks, and parallel developments in many disciplines. Every day, Working Smarter Daily uses social signals to select the top articles from blogs in these fields. Here’s how. And here are the top articles from this year:

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