Notes from the Spargel Tour

The last two days, the GPS in our rental car has taken us on to obscure farm roads and “the long way around” time after time. We don’t know whether we should take advice from the GPS’s calm English voice or say to hell with it and follow the signs. We’ve traveled farm roads so narrow that we had to stop to let cars come the other way. The GPS will tell us it’s planning another route because of traffic conditions and then take us directly into roadblocks and construction projects. I fear it’s possessed.

mapDistances are so short in Europe compared to the United States. We left Lindau, the German island on Lake Constance, at 11:30 this morning. Fifteen minutes later, we were whizzing through Austria. And fifteen minutes after that we were in Switzerland, headed to Appenzell, our destination for a 1:00 lunch.

Asparagus is still on the menu even though we’re at the southern tip of Germany. spargelEveryplace seems to have a Spargelkarte, a special asparagus menu. A Spargelkarte typically offers asparagus soup, a pound of asparagus with hollendaise or butter, asparagus with a schnitzel or perhaps a fish filet or ham. Uta never tires of the stuff. A few stalks is about all I can handle at one sitting.

neuTomorrow we’re headed to Schwangau, home of crazy Kind Ludwig II’s castles. It’s schmaltzy and I’ve visited three or four times before, but I can’t resist something that looks so damned cool. Ludwig may have been nuts, but he left behind beautiful, iconic symbols.


My professional interest is shifting to helping knowledge workers learn and flourish without training. There are millions of harried people out there who don’t appreciate that learning is a skill that you can get better at. It’s the underground passageway to success. I’d rather work with them directly.

Thinking about learning from the learner’s point of view is different from looking on it as a learning executive or instructional designer. Well, most knowledge workers don’t know they have an CLO and certainly never heard of instructional design.

Anyway, I am on the lookout for useful metaphors to propel the new book on DIY learning and intelligence.

Experiential learning is the biggest lever in the learning toolbox, so let’s start there.


Picture two territories, FamilarLand, where you already know everything and the Unfamiliar Territory which is loaded with people doing things you don’t know how to do.

The Unfamiliar Territory is where you can grow. Staying in FamilarLand all the time is stagnating. There’s no excitement when there are no surprises.

Since you have all your predetermined opinions, ways of doing things, and beliefs along for the ride, you’re happy when lazing around FamiliarLand. Many will be stuck in place there, non-learners who couldn’t keep up with the flow. They are slouches; we’ve got to hang out with the others.

Go-getters will continuously rewire their brains with dashing adventures in the Unknown Territory. With perseverance, they will grow into the roles they’re shooting for.

Increasing border crossings will boost organizational knowledge.

Is the metaphor of a journey from FamilarLand to the Unknown Territories and back a useful way to look at things?

Why Content Curation Should be in Your Skillset

girlCuration can boost your profit and help your people grow. It can save millions, reduce frustration, and boost the velocity of information in your organization. It starts in a gallery.

You expect the curator of an art gallery to know the collection and to:

  • search out the best items
  • select for the collection
  • authenticate and preserve items
  • add interpretation, descriptions, and meaning
  • publicize viewings

Picture a digital curator in your company. They have the same job but instead of paintings, deal with digital artifacts such as:

  • blog posts and Tweets
  • articles
  • meeting summaries
  • presentations
  • competitive analysis
  • video
  • conversations
  • images
  • infographics
  • TED talks
  • sales pitches

Curating these items — selecting, organizing, evaluating, and sharing them widely — multiplies an organization’s return on information many times over. It makes sense to recruit curators from within; the primary job prerequisite is a burning curiosity.

Instead of satisfying art lovers, corporate curation saves enormous amounts of time, keeps teams on the same page, and equips everyone with the latest insights. In a minute I’ll give you the story of a company that saved over fifty million dollars with a low-budget curation program. And, as Clay Shirky has said: “Curation comes up when people realize that it isn’t just about information seeking, it’s also about synchronizing a community.”

Curation helps individuals keep professional skills sharp, improve critical thinking, earn professional recognition, build reputation, grow personal networks, and “work out loud.” Anyone can be a curator; it’s a great way to learn. Curation helps workers help their peers as they help themselves..

An example: How Jay Cross Curates Content

Here’s an example of a no-cost, one-person curation project. It’s one of mine.

When I started studying the future of conferences, I began with research. I set up a Google Search for daily news on the topic. I opened a free account on the curation platform and put in search terms and authorities to listen to.  I scoured the web and paid particular attention to curation champions like Robin Good and Howard Rheingold.

Every day I would sift through a hundred or more items suggested by my social networks or the search engines. Perhaps one item in fifty seemed worth commenting on. Sorting through posts made me think critically and see patterns. It’s an excellent way to get a bead on a subject.

I voiced my opinion on nearly every item. Wise interpretation is what adds value to the content. The human touch is required. In my case, the review of thousands of items taught me a whale of a lot about the future of conferences. In order to write my opinion, I needed to pin down and say why this item made any difference. Like the pitch of the docent in front of  a painting in the gallery, I sold an item — or panned it — and tried to win you to my way of seeing things.

When I select an item, it shows up immediately on my site:


Jay’s site on the future of conferences

…and gets reposted to my Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter feeds. All on automatic.

Curation shows off your repertoire or interests. Four out of the five conference owners I spoke with over the next two weeks told me they’d heard about my work on the future of conferences and were excited to talk. Google for “Future of Conferences” and my work comes up #2. (Marketing departments love curation.)

The basic process I followed is the standard for curation.

  1. Research the field. Find and pour over the feeds. Scour.
  2. Make sense out of the item, explain why it matters. Grok.
  3. Publish on social sites, blog, mail list, and social media. Share.

That’s all there is to it.

IDEA: Entering new markets? Recruit someone to curate news to share with everyone on the team.

IDEA: Entire team researching a subject? Curate the topic collaboratively.

IDEA: New person joining the team? Curate a topic to gain exposure and build reputation.

We used to be inthralled with the idea that everyone now had a personal printing press. Curation tools make it easy for any of us to be publishers of glossy online magazines!

That’s the exhilaration that comes with curation. Imagine the web as millions of pages. To make your magazine, you tear out any of those pages you fancy, explain why they matter, and push the button. Bingo! You’ve shared a link to the content and your take on it.

Several companies offer inexpensive or free curation tools. The best known are,, Pinterest enables you to curate photos. Diigo facilitates curating bookmarks; here are my Diigo pointerson the topic of Curation.


Jay’s Pinterest Page on Conferences

Millions Saved 

A multinational software and e-business consulting firm (If I told you the name, I’d have to shoot you) set up dozens of communities of a hundred or so like-minded professionals. Admission is invitation-only; the communities are like guilds.

Groups formed around topics such as Java, enterprise architecture, banking, insurance, dot-net and businessintelligence. Management made sure each community had at least one person planting seeds.

Each community elected trusted authorities to spot developments and research worth sharing with the group. Colleagues fed them leads from the field so they wouldn’t miss any important developments. Two topics per week were chosen for curation. The curators feared tackling more topics would wear out their welcome.

Since engineers are generally lousy writers, the firm hired professional authors to interview the authorities and write a couple of posts with links every week. Removing the noise of mediocre posts increases the fidelity of results. Applying one person’s time at the front end saves the time of hundreds at the receiving end.

The initial attempt to offer the curated news as RSS feeds and on blogs bombed. Workers will not tolerate breaking out of their workflow. Curated items began arriving by email and everyone was delighted.

Before the community news program, engineers or scientists spent 10% of their time sifting through lots of dead ends and time wasters, and perhaps still not catching the most important news.

About 4,000 people belong to communities. If the curation program cuts everyone’s research time from 10% to 5%, and the average engineer bills $300,000/year, that’s $60 million in additional billing capacity.

Personal Knowledge Mastery

The most sophisticated approach to individual and small-group curation is Personal Knowledge Mastery, a concept pioneered by Harold Jarche. (Disclaimer: Harold is chairman of Internet Time Alliance, the think tank with which I am affiliated.)

Harold’s workshops teach the mechanics of curation but take it to a higher plane. Harold’s PKM is a set of individually constructed processes to help each of us make sense of our world and work more efficiently. Continuously seeking, sense-making, and sharing become the process of work, not some activity on the side. This takes place on the local team level, in communities of practice, and on the internet at large.

PKM provides a framework for becoming knowledgeable. Sometimes it becomes an organizational priority. Says Harold,

PKM may be an individual activity but it is social as well. It is the process by which we can connect what we learn outside the organization with what need to do inside. Research shows that work teams that need to share complex knowledge need tighter social bonds. Work teams often share a unique language or vocabulary. However, they can become myopic and may lack a diversity of opinions. Social networks, on the other hand, encourage diversity and can sow the seeds of innovation. But it is almost impossible to get work done in social networks due to their lack of structure. PKM is the active process of connecting the innovative ideas that can arise in our social networks with the deadline-driven work inside organizations.

Just Do It

You may well be a curator already, posting items to Twitter, your blog, FAQs, or a wiki. When you look at the entire curation process top-to-bottom, you’re likely to find ways to do it with more impact.

Curation enriches the commons by saving people time in finding what they need. It’s also a marvelous means of professional development. The question is if you’re not curating, why not?

Curate your gallery of corporate and personal knowledge as part of your own personal development plan.

Research for this post sponsored by Litmos.

Informal Learning Center

People acquire the skills they use at work informally — talking, observing others, trial-and-error, and simply working with people in the know. Formal training and workshops account for only 5% to 20% of what people learn from experience and interactions.

Order the Informal Learning book or read a summary or download the Informal Learning Poster.


What is Informal Learning? Informal learning is the unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way most people learn to do their jobs. Informal learning is like riding a bicycle: the rider chooses the destination and the route. The cyclist can take a detour at a moment’s notice to admire the scenery or help a fellow rider.

Insight: Most corporations over-invest in formal training while leaving the more natural, simple ways we learn to chance. This is foolish, for there are many ways to encourage informal learning and they boost the bottom line.

Where to start

Need to get your arms around the essence of informal learning in business in a hurry? Start with these: