Category Archives: Working Smarter

Jane Hart’s Top 100 Learning Tools


It’s time once again to contribute to Jane Hart’s annual survey of tools for learning. I was the first person to take part in this project some nine years ago and now it’s an annual ritual. It’s enlightening to review what’s best in the toolbox.

My top tools for learning are:

  • Experience. Extracting the lessons of simply living my life.
  • Friends. My colleagues in Internet Time Alliance and colleagues.
  • Books. I have an extensive library and am in the midst of looking back through to refresh what I’ve learned from them.
  • Journals.  I buy a new black book at KaDeWe in Berlin every year to draw and write in.

These won’t be on my submission to Jane, because for purposes of the survey:

A learning tool is any software or online tool or service that you use either for your own personal or professional learning or for teaching or training.

      1. WordPress. My blog is where I reflect on things and share them with others. I’m still old-school on this, writing whatever I feel like. One reader complained, saying “I thought this was a blog about L&D.” Well, no, my blog covers whatever grabs my attention and that’s less and less about L&D.
      2. Twitter. I learn new things every day, following the links offered up by the 250 people I follow. I have 9,000 followers who provide feedback or answer my questions. (Jane has 26,000 followers.)
      3. Skype.  I like to see the person I’m talking with. Also, Skype’s great for talking with a group of people at once.
      4. Google. Many times I’ll be searching my own sites. I really enjoy using Google to search images. They are very useful when I’m trying to get different perspectives on a concept. If I need to remember who someone in a photograph is, Google will tell me about 80% of the time.
      5. YouTube. I tap YouTube for entertainment and publishing videos. YouTube also showed me what we wrong with my fridge and taught me how to create 300 dpi imagery with Photoshop,
      6. Flickr. Flickr enables me to enjoy memories of times past. Since 2001, I’ve posted 32,000 photographs.  I’ll admit to revisiting Monterey Car Week half a dozen times.20018082444_08f995c1e3_z
      7. I curate five topics on (example). You really learn something when you share it with someone else. As master curator Robin Good suggests, you need to give your opinion to add value. It keeps you on your toes. Plus, searching for fresh content puts you in touch with the latest news.
      8. Diigo. Bookmarks are my external memory. In the course of researching two books, I’ve created nearly 3,000 bookmarks. (Here are the current bookmarks related to my book on DIY learning.) A side benefit is the ability to share your bookmarks with other.
      9. SurveyShare. I take surveys to find out where groups are at. One is currently collecting feedback from people who read my new book.
      10. The cloud. I store all my files online, in Dropbox, Google Docs, and iCloud. Since I work on three or four different computers, it’s great to have all my stuff available no matter where I’m signing in from.

Honorable mention:

VLC. This little freeware tool plays just about any video format you can throw at it.

iMovie. As movie editors go, this one’s simple as can be. It has its limitations, especially if you want to edit multiple tracks, but the output is excellent and it’s free on Macs.

PowerPoint. I’m not your conventional, bullet-pointed presenters. I use PPT for making simple diagram, for storing visuals, and keeping up with visual models. Every year I start a new PPT of general graphics.

neuronsPowerPoint image for Aha! book

Free form for self assessment and career development


Goals provide the motivation for self-directed learning. Writing down career goals makes it more likely you will attain them.

Participants in The Aha! Project asked for a structured way to go about self-assessment and goal-setting.

We developed this Learning Plan template to lead them through the process. Feel free to use it. If you have feedback, we’ll be glad to hear it.form

Learning Plan Template in pdf  |  Learning Plan Template in MS Word

Through the Workscape Looking Glass

Your Workscape is everything in your organization except the training department. It’s where work is done and where people hone the skills they need to add value. It’s the biggest frame of the big picture. It’s relationships and culture and secret sauce. It’s the organization as organism. To prosper, you need to nurture it, plant seeds, pamper the ground. It’s your job to help the system thrive.

Learning Ecosystem, Learning Ecology, and Learnscape mean the same thing as Workscape. I don’t use the word learn with executives, who inevitably think back to the awfulness of school and close their ears. “Let’s talk about performance.” 


The Workscape is a systems-eye view of the workplace. Everything is connected. Rather than try to control nature, we do what it takes to keep the environment thriving.

In the same vein, I talk about Working Smarter instead of informal learning, social learning, and so forth. Some people denigrate informal learning but nobody’s against Working Smarter.

Your organization already has a workscape where people are learning to work smarter. That’s where all the informal and social learning we hear about is taking place. The problem is that the learning processes are haphazard, often a paving of the cow paths. Many employees and stakeholders miss out—and stumble. Most companies’ systems fail to get the job done. Our Workscape ecologies are entering a do-or-die phase like global warming. Management is demanding that the workforce be more effective. “What got us here will not get us there.” We must nurture the Workscape or face corporate meltdown.

Global warming signals in Workscapes

clarkWe hear that if “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” yet most corporate learning and development is broken. 77% of the senior managers surveyed by the Corporate Leadership Council reported they were dissatisfied with L&D. 76% said L&D was not critical to business outcomes. Only 14% would recommend working with L&D. Clark Quinn’s recent book, Revolutionizing Learning and Development, slams L&D, which should be named Performance and Development, for seriously underperforming.    

Time is speeding up. More happens in a day than your grandmother experienced in a week. Keeping sharp and up to date is now a continuing part of everyone’s job. Corporate learning must expand from focusing on the classroom, which provides at best 10% of learning, to the entire organization  where learning while doing is the rule. Training a novice may lead to  productivity gains in the future. Helping an experienced person impacts the bottom line immediately. Little wonder that the training department is underperforming: they only touch a minority of employees, most of them newcomers.

transformationAs many as four out of five large multinationals report they are undergoing a digital transformation. It goes by many names, from Enterprise 2.0 to Radical Management or simply Going Paperless. Altimeter Group defines digital transformation as: “the realignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital customers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle.”* The digital transformation of workplace learning involves moving from the limited training department to the holistic Workscape framework view of the world.

The input may be establishing social learning networks; the output is improvement in the business overall.

Scope of the habitat

Put on your ecologist hat. Let’s examine the diversity of species among those people in your Workscape drawing paychecks:

Novices and newbies have been the main focus of training. This includes new hire on-boarding and provision of basic and technical skills (we’re all novices at something). This minority uses a disproportionate share of the training department’s resources and mindshare.

Experienced producers bring home the bacon yet training departments overlook them. Training departments have single-shot solutions: courses. Courses are rarely appropriate for experienced workers. Many old hands will not tolerate them nor learn from them if they do. They know that experience is a better teacher. Tuning the learning environment to make systemic changes for this underserved population has fantastic upside potential, perhaps enough to get CLOs a real seat at table in the C-Suite.

Top performers are the 20% of the team that generate 80% of the results. A 1% improvement at this level makes waves. This species needs special handling, sometimes including personal service.

Compliance is a red herring that people point to when discussing how deep “training” goes into the organization. However, compliance is not learning. Sure, it’s required, but no body’s expecting much performance improvement in the area, particularly in its present primitive form.

Alumni are an overlooked opportunity in many organizations. IBM invested in keeping former IBMers abreast of what was going on back at Big Blue. The alumni connected over social media and saw demos in Second Life. The result? An on-going flow of leads from true-believers and those who contract with IBM.

Subspecies. L&D has traditionally focused on the needs of employees on the payroll exclusively, disregarding the fact that partners, customers, subcontractors, temps, service agencies, outsourcers, suppliers, and others are equally part of the value chain. Take the Workscape view. Let’s go up to a balcony overlooking a model of your business. Look at the flow of business. You can see that the product is only as good as the weakest link in the chain. Think carefully about who you want to be co-learning with.


The Workscape should address the needs of learners throughout the extended enterprise.

Theoretically, your Workscape — the realm where you’ll be wielding your influence on performance and learning — could stretch way beyond your firewall to include nearly everyone the organization interacts with. Imagine how much cooperation will improve if they all read from the same page.

Reading the temperature

The climate for Workscapes is changing, forcing a re-think of how things are connected.

Decision-making is migrating from institution to individual, from training to pull learning, and shifts “power to the people.” This is how digital transformation works: digital democracy first. Digital citizens exploit connections and take power. Making the shift is an enormous change management task.

Informal, experiential work is three times more effective than formal, top-down training. Experiential earning is migrating into the workflow at a very fast rate. Spread the footprint of the Workscape to the optimal size.

Workscapes are complex and unpredictable, in perpetual beta. Experiments are cheap. Plant lots (hundreds, thousands) of Workscape experiments and nurture those that catch on. Watch out for monoculture (using only one solution) and the echo effect (making judgments from a narrow spectrum of reality).

Nurturing the Workscape requires competencies such as business problem analysis, collaboration experts, community managers, and moxie. I foresee learning process SWAT teams attacking connection gaps. You don’t have these people on board now.

Forget about the traditional way you’ve trained people. Unlearn your assumptions about courses and top-down learning. Break with the present by looking ahead five years. Start with a blank piece of paper. Take a Workscape perspective. Assess the organizational benefits of:

  • embedding learning in work, covering a much larger audience
  • setting up learning as a continuous activity, not an event
  • leveraging self-sustaining processes instead of one-time courses
  • pinpointing high-return activities such as manager coaching
  • embracing social and experiential learning
  • changing the learning philosophy from push to pull
  • employing business metrics to gauge success
  • canvasing the organization for opportunities instead of waiting for requests
  • focusing on overall business outcomes
  • building self-sufficient teams
  • extending the Workscape to cover partners, customers, and outsourced services
  • making learning a driver with business impact

The learning conservationist toolkit

L&D’s collaboration experts and SWAT teams are digital MacGyvers who weave techniques like these into Workscapes:

Make Management responsible for development

  • Issue stretch assignments to grow staff
  • Mentors, coaching
  • Action learning

Personal Learning Network

  • Collaboration and cooperation
  • Friends and colleagues provide answers
  • Peer learning

Performance support

  • Job aids, bookmarks,
  • FAQs, aggregation, curation

Access to information

  • Wiki, inhouse YouTube, internet
  • Self-study catalog, portals

Enterprise social network

  • Activity stream keeps one up to date
  • Platform for conversation
  • Opportunity to share knowledge

Communities of Practice

  • Professional growth
  • Knowledge repository
  • Create knowledge


  • Individual publishing (Learn out loud!)
  • Follow thinking of others

Social learning

  • Make conversation easy
  • Collaboration


  • DIY

Performance feedback

  • Is it working? How can we do better?


  • Learning in tiny bites

Instead of taking requests, the traditional role of training departments, learning conservationists actively seek out opportunities where learning will have the most impact.

One group of L&D special agents posted this set of beliefs to explain how it worked to its internal clients:

  • We are open and transparent.
  • We narrate our work. Need to share.
  • We support continuous learning, not events.
  • We value conversation as a learning vehicle.
  • We drink our own champagne (or mimosas).
  • Business success is our bottom line.
  • We are not a training organization.
  • We value time for self-development and reflection.
  • We establish business metrics for every engagement and report back publicly on outcomes.


Changing the physical environment can improve learning.

The staff will use any tool available to improve learning, right down to moving the furniture. A computer manufacturer discovered that its chip designers learned from overhearing conversations among their peers. They replaced a cube farm with comfortable sofas, rolling white boards, and espresso machines — and watched the production of innovative ideas skyrocket.

Environmental impact report

In a 2011 book, A New Culture of Learning, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown described the kind of learning necessary in this new environment as “whitewater learning”—the ability to acquire useful knowledge and skills while at the same time practicing them in an environment that is constantly evolving and presenting new challenges. They argue that our learning environments need to match the speed and degree of change happening in the world around us.**

The emancipation of both nature and the human imagination depends first on the capacity to ‘unsay’ the world and, second, on the ability to image it differently so that wonder might be brought into appearance.***

Over a hundred CLOs told us what they were currently doing was insufficient to prepare them to deal with the future needs of the business. Obviously it’s time to do something different.

Our People Growing Fast Enough

One way to accelerate people’s development is to optimize learning by looking at the organization as an organic, unpredictable, complex system. It’s time to fix the big picture by working on the level of the Workscape.


*Digital transformation by any other name, Jason Bloomberg in Forbes

**Aspen Institute, The Learning Ecosystem

*** James Corner, “Ecology and Landscape as Agents of Creativity,” in Ecological design and planning, George F. Thompson and Frederick R. Steiner, editors, (New York: John Wiley, 1997), p.99. quoted in Design Education and Innovation Ecotones by Ann Pendleton-Julian


Research funded by Litmos

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