E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

Open Leadership

Mastering the Art of Collaboration Through Conversation

 Gran Canaria - Risco Blanco in the winter

Can you have too many conversations at work? And I don’t mean that in the sense of just cultivating, building or nurturing your social capital skills per se, even though we all know they are the key to success for the 21st century organisation, as my good friend Valdis Krebs once wrote about, but I was mainly referring about work related conversations themselves. Can you have way too many of them to the point of not allowing you to get work done effectively in a timeline manner? If you are thinking that some times we may well have far too many, I am going to ask you to hold on to that thought for a minute while I challenge you all to think the moment we feel we are just having far too many conversations at the workplace, specially, through the extensive use of social software tools, that’s probably the moment when we would all stop collaborating, because, to me, conversations and collaboration are pretty close to one another, which brings me to this particular rather thought-provoking article from Andrew Pope who comes to question ‘How much collaboration is too much?

Collaboration is probably one of the most loaded words in today’s workplace that I can think of (And I am pretty sure there are plenty of other good candidates out there as well!) and, probably, it has been like that over the course of the last 25 years or so, when it first came about while being associated with the whole concept of groupware. There are tons of different definitions about collaboration out there and what it is, but, to me, the most effective one is this one: ‘the action of working with someone to produce something’. 

Now, let’s go back in time, about 17 years ago, when The Cluetrain Manifesto was first published, and let’s have a look into this particular quote from David Weinberger himself about the one main role of knowledge workers, according to him. To quote: 

Business is a conversation because the defining work of business is conversation – literally. And ‘knowledge workers’ are simply those people whose job consists of having interesting conversations

While I can certainly vouch that there may well be situations where collaboration just plainly fails due, mostly, to a lack of purpose, of consensus, or a lack of a trustworthy environment to work in or just simply because of either (micro-)management or leadership not working hard enough on it (Highly recommended read by Deb Lavoy on the topic, by the way!), I would also state that if you come to think about it and do a correlation between collaboration and conversations the risk of failure is almost non-existent. More than anything else, because, if anything, as a knowledge (Web 2.0) worker, you are what I call feeding the beast, essentially, switching gears successfully from the good old push model into a pull model. It’s when we switch from good old information into conversation.

Conversations are, most probably, the lowest common denominator towards a successful collaboration between peers who want to achieve a common objective. If anything, they manage to destruct everything that seems to separate knowledge workers and put them all at the same initial level, i.e. no status, no hierarchy, no silos, just an opportunity to learn about one’s own collaborators before executing on the task(s) at hand. So when I started reading through Andrew’s article about ‘How much collaboration is too much?’ I just couldn’t help thinking that if we were to take collaboration as a series of conversations the failure rates would probably be a lot less and that’s a good thing. Let’s see how sustainable that premise of collaboration = conversations really is in terms of Andrew’s article. 

The balance between collaboration and concentration as well as establishing a time to focus just plainly disappear, because when you think about collaboration as a series of conversations the first thing you come to terms with is that work becomes learning and learning is the work, which means you realise you are no longer at the centre of the interactions, not that you ever were, for that matter, in short, of the conversations, but you are just one of them. You are now part of a massive exchange of conversations happening out there in the open and pretty much like with the good old known Web 2.0 river of news you dip in and out as you may see fit, based on the work you need to complete, and when you are done and come back to that firehose it’s all business as usual. You just resume the dialogue wherever it may well be at the time. Yes, of course, I know, it’s tough to let FOMO go, but you see?, you are now part of a giant social network, or of multiple clusters of networks and communities, who trust you just as much as you trust them, so there is no need to fear being left out. If anything, it’s those very same networks that will work really hard to ensure you are up to date on whatever you may have missed out that may be relevant to you. And all of that thanks to the power of conversations.

Of course, there is a time that needs to be established to focus on getting that work done, but because you are now operating as part of a network (or a community of practice for that matter), don’t make it an individual activity, but a collective one, if you can, that is, depending on the confidentiality of the information you need to work with, because there is a great chance that within the first five minutes of you having to do that work you will be depending on, or need, the help of one of your peers. So focus may be a good thing, but don’t isolate yourself too much, because nowadays we are working in such complex environments that we need to be able to reach out pretty easily in order to accomplish our tasks. Remember the good old days, say 15 to 20 years ago, when you used to work at your office cubicle, with the door closed, in a single project with a single team reporting to your boss executing on a number of different tasks you could complete in no time before you would move into the next thing? Well, those times are now gone, at least, for the vast majority of us. So don’t isolate yourself too much away from the overall conversations, even if you just see them fly over you, it’s still a good reminder you are no longer alone at work. 

We all know that in every single workplace we have different working styles from various different generations and we therefore ought to have colleagues who are just plainly not good collaborators. At all. Well, that’s fine, if only, because I have always believed it’s a myth. Whether we like to admit it or not, we, human beings, are supercooperators by nature. It’s in our genes, our DNA, it’s how we have gotten work done over the course of millennia as a matter of mere survival adapting to the world we live in. So if you feel you have got fellow knowledge workers who are not very collaborative you may start asking yourself why is that happening? And what can you to do help out? And, of course, the art of conversation comes up, once again. Remember, we are all now part of giant cluster networks and communities at work, that gather in small groupings while having to get that specific piece of work done. And in that case, as my good friend Harold Jarche has been writing about for a good number of years, in networks cooperation trumps collaboration.

When you think about collaboration and collaborating with your peers, there is something we always keep leaving out of the equation, when, in reality, it’s critical, and that is context. Context defines how, why, when, what and with whom we get to collaborate to achieve a specific objective, yet, when you come to think about it, context is almost always left out, as if we didn’t have the time to think about it, so instead of aiming at that collaboration mix that Andrew writes about we just keep wondering why things didn’t work out all right. This is where conversations come to the rescue, because by thinking that collaboration is all about the conversations you have the first thing you understand is that there will be an imperative to understand everyone’s needs and wants while everyone else becomes a whole lot more understanding and flexible, if anything, because there is a massive transformation of both our behaviours and mindset when we realise that collaborative work is not longer a physical activity happening while we are at the office, but it’s mostly a state of mind. And that’s exactly where context kicks in, trying to fit in and accommodate, as best as it possibly can, the needs from everyone embarked on that collaborative piece of work. 

Ah-ha! And this is where we come to realise, at long last, that collaboration, if anything, is all about having conversations, whether face to face or online through the various different social software tools that we may have at our disposal. Andrew himself put it quite nicely towards the end of the article when he wrote the following quote: 

Use the time that people are actually together in a room to have a conversation.

Indeed, except that room is no longer just the physical meeting room per se, but also the social networking tools put in place out there, whether inside or outside of the firewall. They are as well the ones that, at long last, help us understand, in very clear terms, why we need to talk and speak up more often, in the first place, in the workplace, but, secondly, why we also need to create and define new ways of working through those networks and communities enabled by the conversations we host. Back in 1998, yes, you are reading it right!, back in 1998, the one and only Howard Rheingold wrote ’The Art of Hosting Good Online Conversations’, so if we ought to get better at collaborating with one another, and if conversations and narratives are the new documents we better get started today, as my good friend, Esko Kilpi, wrote about not long ago: 

‘Work is communication and the network is the amplifier of knowledge. The process of communication is the process of knowing. Knowledge work is about a community-based cognitive and emotional presence. Bridging, bonding and belonging. […]

Work is communication. Conversations and narratives are the new documents. Conversations cannot be controlled. The only way to influence conversations is to take part in them.

If we want to influence the process of knowing we need to develop new habits of participation and new habits of communication.

Are we there yet? I really hope so.

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The Illusion of Control

Gran Canaria - Guayadeque in the winter

 

The illusion of control is coming back, and it’s coming back with a vengeance, apparently, according to this article from Henry Mintzberg, who has been noticing, how, lately, most organisations seem to have put more tight-in controls within, and outside, the firewall in order to control what seems to be uncontrollable anymore (if it ever was!), that is, the workforce. Whether that may well be rather accurate, or not, you can tell me in the comments below what you think about it, if you wish, I have got this little theory going on in my mind that we, knowledge (Web 2.0) workers, may have to blame ourselves for that to happen in this Social, Digital Age. Somewhere along the way we seem to have completely forgotten about the initial value add proposition from Social Business and Social Software tools (Connect, Collaborate, Learn and Share) and instead we all, collectively, decided to turn it into one of the most massive surveillance operations in our entire history, whether at work or for personal use. We seem to have become just that, pure data, i.e. *the* product, leaving out entirely our networks, connections and relationships. 

It’s probably one of the main reasons as to why we keep talking on a rather regular basis about Management vs. Leadership, when they might be one and the same depending on the context and the task at play; why we keep using Community Management (and Community Manager(s)) vs. Community Facilitation when all we are doing is either facilitating or stewarding online communities; why we keep witnessing (some times in the first person) teams being killed left and right; why we continue to talk about hierarchy vs. networks as opposed to thinking that hierarchy is an integral part of wirearchy, after all; why we keep investing in control when it’s been rather well documented that trust is cheaper, way cheaper; and so on and so forth. 

Not long ago Carmen Medina once tweeted: ’[…] the worst human instinct is the desire to control others’ and somehow I suspect we may have made it even much worse upon ourselves with all of these emerging (social) media tools where, if anything, we have become masters in showcasing our various different dysfunctional behaviours that, obviously, need to be controlled somewhat, before we may mess up even further, acknowledging, without realising much about it, that, when doing so, we won’t have to, necessarily, be either responsible, nor accountable, for what comes across from our own different devices. It’s not our job to worry about that. Therefore, the imperative need to be controlled. Instead. our main worry, at the moment, seems to be ‘I need to make myself present out there [*wave* *wave* *wave*], hopefully, noticeable enough I get my own 15 minutes of fame in that media pedestal, regardless’. No wonder the powers that be would want to curb those inevitable urges a fair bit and try to re-control things back into place. If only for their own sanity, before they start questioning what’s really going on.

If anything. It’s probably one of the main reasons, if you look into it a bit deeper, as to why (social) analytics, in whatever form or shape (big data, small data, or just simply data), has surpassed, in terms of attention and commitment from the business, the Social Business transformation journey. Carmen herself put it in much better words than I could have ever in a different unrelated tweet to the one above:  

The struggle for control is real. Very real, I would probably state it’s an integral part of our human nature, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we just can’t fight the urge to control things AND, specially, people, and look out for potential better solutions, specially, when they have clearly demonstrated that they work really well. You see? Control has always been an illusion and whether people would care to admit or not, we just can’t control folks because we may want to. We just can’t. It’s that simple, yet so complex at the same time. In fact, I would dare to state it’s way more demanding (think in terms of €€€) and resource intensive to control than to trust (your) people. Trusting your people is always cheaper, as my good friend Lee Bryant once wrote and I couldn’t have agreed more with that statement, even more so if we are ever so keen on transitioning into social networks and communities as the new operating model.

This may well be a bit too obvious, but both networks and communities don’t respond well to control. They never had, they never will. Quite the opposite. It’s a whole lot more about how you inspire to provide the right conditions in facilitating the conversations to flourish naturally, to help enable people to network, connect, collaborate, learn and share what they are doing for work and in that context learn through plenty of hands-on how to work smarter, not necessarily harder. So instead of spending time in front of your Digital Dashboard watching over what people are doing, or saying, in whatever the digital platform and try to make some sense of that firehose of data, better think about how you, too, could dive in and be also part of the conversations. Most of the times, it’s far more effective to relinquish control and trust your people to do the right thing to only realise, after a while, you will be getting it back twofold in terms of value add, instead. Remember the good old mantra of leading by example? 

It would be a good time now to put it into practice, by all means, before it’s all too late and your knowledge (Web 2.0) workers revert back to making extensive use of one of the most harmful and damaging siloed tools within the business world that has ever existed, i.e. corporate email. Where will your organisation knowledge go after it dies in their own Inboxes? To put it in other words, think about it, after all, when was the last time you embarked on designing for loss of control? Perhaps it’s a good time today to start thinking about it, and figure out how you could make it happen, in case you may not have, just yet, because as my good friend JP Rangaswami wrote nearly 8 years ago

It’s about relationship and covenant and caring and respect as the motivators to do something, rather than command-and-control and more-stick-than-carrot.

He then pretty much nailed it with this other short, but rather thought-provoking sentence: ’Collaboration is not an option, it’s an imperative.’ In this day and age, at long last, we may well need, then, to start putting our actions behind our words, if we would want to make that happen, because, somehow, (open) collaboration and control don’t seem to work well together and if control is really coming back again we ought to re-think again what we are doing with the so-called Social Business transformation journey? Are we doomed yet?

Hopefully, not! Please do tell me we aren’t going back again to Henri Fayol’s ‘Planning, Organising, Commanding, Coordinating, and Controlling’.

Please do tell me we may all have learned something, after all, over the course of the last 100 years…

Control? No, thanks! We don’t need control in this Social Era, do we?

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The State of Surveillance We, The Good People, Are Creating

 Gran Canaria - Maspalomas Dunes at sunset

Over the weekend, the one and only, Dave Snowden, put together what I think would probably qualify as one of the top 3 blog posts you may well read during the course of 2016. Just the first paragraph will do. It is that good on its own. In fact, if there would be a way to describe what this year has been like so far (thinking we still have got three more months to go), I don’t think it would get any better than that. I am hoping my good friend Dave will forgive my liberty, but I’m just going to reproduce over here that first paragraph, so you may have a look and judge for yourselves. I can strongly encourage you all to then go and read through out his entire blog entry and sign up, if you can help. It will totally be worth your time. To quote: 

There was a wonderful, if depressing, tweet from J.K.Rowling yesterday: If we all hit ctrl-alt-del simultaneously and pray, perhaps we can force 2016 to reboot. Brexit, the rise of Trump, the failure to support the peace initiative in Colombia, support of elderly white socialists, Universities are closed in South Africa by riots arguing for education and so on. Racism and misogyny are legitimised by popularism. The Chinese curse to live in ‘interesting times’ might have been made for this year and its not over yet. It’s been called a post-fact society, a world in which reason has little or no place, people vote against their own interests and the establishment is rejected as an act of rejection, not an act of reasoned protest. Syndicalism and being part of a movement is more important that to actually change things. We live in echo chambers, augmented and enabled by social media, to prevent encounter with any uncomfortable truth. We live in a world where despair legitimises any protest and in a world of pre-victorian levels of income inequality and opportunity who can dispute the morality of those who are the victims of a system which is maintained for the elites?

WOW! I mean, just WOW!! Yes, it’s one of the most thought-provoking, mind-boggling paragraphs you will be reading in a long long time. And yet, there is one single sentence that, when referring to media tools and their current impact, it pretty much nails it for me as to why I’m no longer as comfortable and confident, as I used to be, to continue making heavy use of them to change the world we live in. Why? Well, because, if anything, we are doing everything else but change the world. In fact, we are probably making things even worse. Allow me to explain further what I mean with the sentence itself from Dave I am referring to: ‘We live in echo chambers, augmented and enabled by social media, to prevent encounter with any uncomfortable truth.’

You know, I don’t necessarily mind the need to have echo chambers per se, as I feel they may well be somewhat necessary to make us all feel somehow more comfortable, to a certain degree, with the unknown territory of the complexity domain, so that we can attempt to make some sense out of it all, collectively. However, when those echo chambers turn on their own filter bubbles to just augment the worst in all of us showcasing our very own dysfunctional behaviours, and, specially, through the impact of the so-called social media, I am no longer sure that amplified through media tools echo chambers are good to humanity, in general. Indeed, welcome to the awfulness of the social media shaming phenomenon.

Sharon Richardson, also over the weekend, reminded us all of such dreadfulness pointing us to this rather poignant TED Talk by Jon Ronson under the rather provocative title ‘How one tweet can ruin your life’, where he gets to talk about how voiceless people like you and me can now, finally, have a voice with media tools like Twitter, for instance. A new, ‘powerful and eloquent tool’ that inspires ‘a democratisation of justice’ where ‘hierarchies would level out’ and where we would be doing things better. Except that, after a while, we didn’t. At one point in time we realised ‘we want to destroy people, but not feel bad about it.’ And we did oblige accordingly. 

 

My goodness! When did we transform ourselves into ‘unpaid shaming interns of Google’? When did we decide to turn Twitter, as one example of many others, into a ‘mutual approval machine’ where we get to approve one another, even to the worst of both our individual and collective behaviours? Where did we lose our capacity for empathy? That seems to be at the heart of it all as Jon himself nicely concludes on his TED Talk referenced above: 

The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to the voiceless people, but we are now creating a surveillance society where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless. Let’s not do that!’

Indeed, Dave himself also puts it rather nicely with this particular quote, along the very same line: 

’But escape we must and that escape will not come by condemnation, indulgent sarcasm or condescending humour (and that was as much confession as condemnation). If I pickup the very basic lessons of what I have taught over the years then we have to start from where things are, not from where we would have liked them to be, or think they should have remained. 

I am pretty certain you would agree with me that today’s media tools, compared to, say, 10 or 15 years ago, are not the Social Web I think we would all want to build, create, nurture and sustain over the course of time. More than anything else, because there seems to be a complete lack of both constructive feedback and healthy critical thinking, as well as adding value into the conversations by not only creating and making, which I realise is way tougher than just destructing, but also by showing empathy for others to the point where we seem, instead, to first seek that self-assurance and approval by others, usually, of our worst behaviours and within our very own echo chambers, than try to put ourselves in the shoes of someone else, specially, if they are total strangers, just to see what it feels like.

Dave himself writes in that stunning blog post referenced above already what empathy is all about: ‘the ability to see things from different perspectives is creating something sustainable. That means exploring not only the ways in which we engage citizens, but also how we create meaning.’ And if we ought to lead by example, and, believe me, we surely should be leading by example, we probably have got to start here, that is, questioning what kind of smart use do we want to give to all of those media tools and figure out for ourselves, and our future generations, what kind of Social Web do we want to have and thrive in? One where we all turn into voiceless humans, once again, because of the ill-behaviours of a very few amplified and augmented by the good people or do we want to continue with that Social Revolution I blogged about three years ago and that we started over two decades ago when the first instances of social software tools came about? 

Tons to reflect upon, I am pretty certain, but perhaps this week is just the perfect one to get things started as tomorrow we get to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day. In fact, as we continue to make use of these (social) media tools, we probably should start asking ourselves this initial question, without even venturing, just yet, to have an answer for it: Is today’s Social Web the one Ada would have wanted all along for our future generations?

Something tells me that’s not the case, so the follow-up question would be then, ‘what are we doing about it?’ How do we prevent and enable those human voices from becoming voiceless once again? Something tells me that empathy will play a key role, and since empathy is actually a choice, it may well be down to us all to start questioning what do we want to get out of all of these (social) media tools in the first place. If not just for us, for Ada herself. How can we treasure and celebrate her legacy? It’s the least we owe her, don’t you think? 

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

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Resisting Change – Luddites Unite!

The London Eye, Palace of Westminster and the Thames

Who would have thought that, after 20 years in the IT industry, I am, essentially, a Luddite. No, not necessarily a technophobe, nor someone who is opposed to industrialisation, automation, computerisation or technology in general. No, not like that! Just what the original Luddites were all about. People who were not opposed to technology itself, but to the particular way it was being applied. Or as Eliane Glaser brilliantly wrote just recently people whose ‘protest was specifically aimed at a new class of manufacturers who were aggressively undermining wages, dismantling workers’ rights and imposing a corrosive early form of free trade. To prove it, they selectively destroyed the machines owned by factory managers who were undercutting prices, leaving the other machines intact’. 

Whoahhh! No wonder I keep musing about another rather thought-provoking sentence she put together as well in that superb article: ‘Technological change does not automatically equate with progress’. And that would probably explain why, nearly at the end of 2016, we are still so averse to any kind of (technological) change, specially, inside organisations. And for a good reason…


We all know change is hard, very hard, yet, we all acknowledge that, if anything, change is inevitable. It’s only a matter of time for us to decide how long we may be able to delay it, while we decide how we may, or may not, need to adapt to the new conditions, and if technology kicks in, all the better. However, when thinking deeper about change, and how we face it, specially, inside organisations with all of these different change initiatives around Social Business and / or Digital Transformation, there are different ways of how we can make it happen a lot more effectively than what we may have been doing in the last decade or so. And it all has to do with a simple shift of focus areas: from technology and business processes to people (i.e. culture), from document centric to people centric computing, and, finally, from replacing knowledge (Web) workers (i.e. humans) with machines (i.e. algorithms) to augmenting, not replacing, the human potential.

If you look into one of the main reasons as to why vast majority of Social Business and Digital Transformation programmes have failed over the course of the last 10 years, there is a great chance that it’s mostly due to our very own reluctance to accept that we might be replaced, over time, either by business processes or by technology via automation, or the well known algorithm. Eventually, either by business processes and / or by machines. No-one wants to see that happening, of course. No-one wants to see how Artificial Intelligence, in whatever the form or shape, kicks in eventually taking over. Never mind how we are already seeing plenty of instances, specially, in the so-called Social Web out there, about that taking place and with very little left that we can do. The thing is that it doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be. We can do much much better than that. And it only starts with thinking that change doesn’t necessarily imply something negative, but something (very) positive, as long as we keep thinking that such change, or change initiatives, need to have the main focus on and for the people. The knowledge (Web) workers themselves, not just the business. Remember how we need to dramatically improve the overall employee experience, before we can influence the customers’? That’s where we need to start!

Professor Calestous Juma already points out the potential main reason as to why we keep failing to adapt to change fast enough in a wonderfully inspiring write-up under the rather suggestive heading ‘Why do people resist new technologies? History might provide the answer’:

Society tends to reject new technologies when they substitute for, rather than augment, our humanity’

Assisted Intelligence anyone? Well, hold on for a moment. It gets better, way better. If you keep on reading throughout the article, there is this golden gem that will pretty much help you conclude, right as we speak, whether your change programme, either if you are starting now or if you have been working on it for a good while already, will eventually succeed (by whatever the criteria you may have put in place already) or fail along the process. To quote him:

‘We eagerly embrace them when they support our desire for inclusion, purpose, challenge, meaning and alignment with nature. We do so even when they are unwieldy, expensive, time-consuming to use, and constantly break down.’

Calestous continues brilliantly reflecting further along with ‘We live in exciting times where technological diversity and creativity offer limitless opportunities to expand the human potential for all, not just for certain exclusive sections of society’  to then finish off, towards the end of the article, with this incredibly inspiring reflection:

‘Resistance to new technologies is heightened when the public perceives that the benefits of new technologies will only accrue to a small section of society, while the risks are likely to be widespread.’

Is it ok now then for us all to become Luddites? And I mean, the original Luddites described in the article I already mentioned above by Elaine Glaser? Hummm … before you answer that question for yourself, take a look into this stunning article published by the one and only Howard Rheingold back in 1998 (Yes, you are reading it right … 1998!!!) under the title ‘Technology 101: What Do We Need To Know About The Future We’re Creating?‘ Go ahead and read it. It’s very much worth while the time. Don’t worry, I will be here waiting … 

 

Yes, I know, we are now all Luddites! We need to be. Either within our very own organisations or out there on the Social Web. We don’t have much of a choice for that matter anymore, if we would want to effectively embrace change and adapt to technology by augmenting the human capability versus either being replaced by it (i.e. automation) or subjected by it (i.e. the algorithm). We need to exercise our rights to question everything, to reclaim our long gone and lost critical thinking skills about what we know is just not right. We need to, eventually, at long last, wake up to the reality that ’technology is a tool we can deploy to achieve democratically agreed ideals’ and that, after all, it’s about defining, collectively, what our human choices and priorities may well be like and what progress really means. That’s when our change and transformation journeys will begin…

For everyone. That’s where inclusion, purpose, challenge, meaning and alignment with nature will kick in and, if I may add further along, that’s when we will start caring.

What do you care about?

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Never Underestimate Your Innate Ability to Network Through Conversation

 Barcelona - View from Montjuic's Castle

Summer is over. ‘Back to work. Back to blogging!’ Those were the first few words that came to my mind earlier on today, after having returned, over the weekend, from a short holiday break in Barcelona, Spain. It is still one of my all time favourite cities in the world and for a good number of reasons that I may be able to explain over the course of time, but this time around it taught me something that I guess I have been taking it for granted for the last two decades and that’s to never underestimate our innate ability to network through conversation, whether at work or in our personal lives. At all times. After all, we are social, human beings, and, whether we like it or not, we are destined to become the masters of networking through conversation.

I knew I wanted to take a good holiday break away from what seems to have been one of the weirdest years I can remember in terms of work streams, so over the course of last few weeks I have been secretly planning to spend a few days completely disconnected from the world, pick up a favourite city of mine (Barcelona, in this case), turn it into a culinary trip of some sort and enjoy the ride as much as I possibly could being completely disconnected from everything and everyone. I decided, on purpose, to keep a low profile about it all and don’t mention a single thing on the various media tools where I usually hang out. I just went quiet for a while without sharing anything out there, not even here in this blog. I suppose I just wanted to be away from it all for a short while to remind me what it felt like. And, of course, I failed. 

I failed because serendipity kept insisting on doing its own wonderful magic day in day out. I pretty much failed not necessarily from having shared different tidbits online in some of those media tools, which I haven’t, but because I just couldn’t be away from what still remains one of my favourite activities, whether work related or not, which is networking. Even if for the sake of just doing it: that is, learning from other people through conversations while networking away. It was just fantastic! Literally. 

That’s why, while catching up with my digital feeds, I was a bit surprised about bumping into this article by Joe Myers under the rather thought provoking title ‘How to overcome your aversion to networking’. My goodness! Where did we go wrong? What happened? Have we forgotten how we are wired to learn through conversation(s)? Or how the future operating system for humanity is conversation? When did we decide to have meetings vs. conversations? Ouch! 

Joe’s article is a pretty good read, indeed, with tons of savvy advice and great pointers to other interesting articles around the whole notion of exploring the many benefits of networking through conversation, but I suspect we may need to go way deeper on this one. We may eventually need to remind ourselves what makes us unique in this world, whether at work or in our personal lives, and it’s not necessarily the unprecedented opportunity to use technology to connect with other people, a la world of zero distance, but more to remind us all we ought to remain human through the conversations we facilitate, as our main opportunity to thrive on in that everlasting journey of lifelong learning.

Leandro Herrero calls it ‘Reclaiming Conversations in an Alone Together world’, but I think my favourite quote on the topic of conversation(s) and being human would still be the one from David Weinberger from the Cluetrain Manifesto (again!): 

To have a conversation, you have to be comfortable being human – acknowledging you don’t have all the answers, being eager to learn from someone else and to build new ideas together.

You can only have a conversation if you’re not afraid of being wrong. Otherwise, you’re not conversing, you’re just declaiming, speechifying, or reading what’s on the PowerPoints. To converse, you have to be willing to be wrong in front of another person.

Conversations occur between equals. The time your boss’s boss asked you at a meeting about your project’s deadline was not a conversation. The time you sat with your boss for an hour in the Polynesian-themed bar while on a business trip and you really talked, got past the corporate bullshit, told each other the truth about the dangers ahead, and ended up talking about your kids – that maybe was a conversation’.

There is a lot we can all, collectively, do to design for effective conversations, but then again we can just let serendipity do its magic, open up, be prepared, expose our very own different vulnerabilities, acknowledge we don’t know it all, become comfortable with the uncomfortable (i.e. not knowing where to next) and let the conversations shine through that honesty and authenticity we seem to have left behind somehow pretending we are all just perfect and know-it-alls as we transitioned from all of these social tools into just media tools. We aren’t. The conversations themselves are the ones that help us bridge through our very own imperfections to become better at what we do. After all, as the unmatched and thoroughly missed Jay Cross once wrote:

Conversation is the most powerful learning technology ever invented

Indeed! We just need to, once and for all, come to terms with the fact that, most of the times, we don’t need any other technology tool(s) to replace what we have been really good at for thousands of years already: Learning is (still) conversation and I am really glad Barcelona has taught me that over the course of last few days by providing me with plenty of unique opportunities to network, connect with and learn from other people. And best part of it all? It’s that for the first time in a long while I managed to enjoy all of that without using my mobile phone a single time!

Just talk to people. Whenever and wherever! And enjoy the almost lost art of a really good conversation … No interruptions, no distractions, no multitasking, just network, connect and learn. 

Feeding thy soul.

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How Social Networking Tools Enable Heutagogy in Learning Organisations

Gran Canaria - Cruz Grande's surroundings

 

Imagine one day you read this quote: ‘The way we teach in our schools isn’t the way I think you create successful (and happy) adults, it’s the way you create the society we’ve had until now.’ Now imagine you swap the wordings ’teaching’ for ‘learning’ and ‘our schools’ for ‘our workplaces’. Read it out loud again, please. Slowly. Imagine if you then read this other quote at some point in time later on: ‘I don’t want to grow up and 30 years later find out that I’m an office worker unhappy in life and that hasn’t done anything to improve this world. Because that’s my main goal now: leave a positive mark here’ and ask yourself how many of your work colleagues you could name up out loud that would fit that description. Yes, I know!, I had the exact same problem. Not many! That’s why Workplace Learning is broken and why heutagogy may need to come to the rescue to save us all…

Heuta… what?, you say’ …Hang on for a minute, before I go into that topic a bit deeper, allow me to give you all some context as to why I have started this blog entry with those two quotes. Those absolutely mind-blowing and rather provocative sentences, as depressing and as exciting as they may sound, don’t come from a knowledge worker working in a particular corporation protesting about the poor state of workplace learning or learning in general. They, actually, come from a letter written to Roger Schank by a 15 year old girl in Central America protesting herself about the poor state of the education system in her own country and the very few choices she has got to change the situation herself on her own. Roger himself recently published it in his own blog for all of us to be wowed, and not in a positive sense, by the way, more than anything else, because, upon reading through it, one has got to shamefully admit that current state of education / learning is incredibly pervasive and available in most countries throughout the world, and, of course, in vast majority of organisations. Ouch! 

After publishing the letter in his own blog, which I strongly recommend you go ahead and read through it in its entirety, Roger comes forward to share a couple of uncomfortable reflections that, upon reading through them, reminded me as to why I heart, so much!, heutagogy, not only within the overall education system, but also with workplace learning inside organisations, in general. To quote: ‘We just let kids be miserable, or, we use school for its true intention: indoctrination’. Again, replace ‘kids’ for ‘knowledge workers’ and ‘school’ for ‘workplace’ and, once again, we would have the reaffirmation as to why workplace learning is currently broken within the business world.

But perhaps the most mind-boggling, and rather troubling!, quote from the entire post he shared is this other one: 

Our schools are, in a sense, factories, in which the raw products (children) are to be shaped and fashioned into products to meet the various demands of life. The specifications for manufacturing come from the demands of twentieth-century civilisation, and it is the business of the school to build its pupils according to the specifications laid down.

That quote, you may be wondering, is from Edward Cubberly, Dean of the Stanford University School of Education, from around 1900. Yes, you are reading it right, it’s not a typo, 1900!! 116 years ago!! Whoahhh! 

My goodness! No wonder the current education system is totally broken. It’s been broken from well over a century, already! Yikes! And I’d dare extend that sentiment as well towards Workplace Learning, despite notable efforts of wanting to wake up into a new reality and see if we can still save it all. Even Roger himself already hints in that blog entry part of what the potential solution(s) may well be. To quote him: ‘Let kids learn what they want to learn in curricula design by professionals’.

This is where heutagogy kicks in beautifully, because that’s exactly what it is all about: 

Heutagogy is the study of self-determined learning … It is also an attempt to challenge some ideas about teaching and learning that still prevail in teacher centred learning and the need for, as Bill Ford (1997) eloquently puts it ‘knowledge sharing’ rather than ‘knowledge hoarding’. In this respect heutagogy looks to the future in which knowing how to learn will be a fundamental skill given the pace of innovation and the changing structure of communities and workplaces.’ [Emphasis mine]

First time I ever got exposed to Heutagogy, as a concept, was back in March 2013, when I was invited to speak at the Welcome Heutagogy conference event in Prague, where Dr. Stewart Hase (Founder of Heutagogy himself), along with the delightful Lisa Marie Blaschke, were the keynote speakers (Links to the presentations AND recordings can be found here and here, respectively). Little did I know, back then, I have been practising it actively myself for 13 years already, and still going strong today, more than anything else because, if anything, heutagogy is all about making learning a change experience, indeed. But it’s also about placing ‘the learner at the centre of the learning process not at the end of a linear process starting with the curriculum, through the teacher, to the resources and finally ending with the learner’, as Stewart himself wrote about in this wonderfully inspiring blog post a little while ago.  

Fast forward to 2016 and this specific tweet may be particularly helpful in describing some more in depth what it is: 

That is, certainly, one of the many reasons why I heart social networks and social networking tools from all along, because thanks to them, we have been given the incredible and unique opportunity of being in charge of our very own learning, a la self-determined learning, whether at work, or elsewhere, based on a specific set of needs and wants, to the point where it’s always each and everyone of us, and not the system, deciding upon what we would want to learn more about, how we would want to learn and with whom (i.e. our networks) we would want to learn with / from. In other words, thanks to all of these social networking tools, specially, in a work context, and thanks as well to applying those heutagogy principles referenced above, we may be, at long last, working really hard towards making that successful transition from being a knowledge (Web) worker into a learning (Web) worker: 

So you can imagine how happy I was when earlier on this year, while serendipity was doing its magic and I was searching for something else, I bumped into the recording of the presentation I did back in 2013 about how I was applying heutagogy myself into my day to day work routines using social networking tools (IBM Connections back then and nowadays it would have morphed a fair bit into a combination of IBM Connections, Twitter and Slack) in the context of #NoeMail to get work done more effectively WHILE I was learning away.

The mind-blowing thing is, upon watching myself deliver that very interactive presentation, I realised that pretty much what I said back then it still applies to how I learn AND work nowadays, even though I’m no longer a salaried employee and don’t work in major corporation, confirming, therefore, if anything, that a combination of both heutagogy and social networking tools have managed to convert me into a lifelong learner with a completely different mindset of work, one where you realise your knowledge, and what you learn further along with it, is no longer just yours, but from the communities and networks you spend the vast majority of your time with, which is just too funny and perhaps a tad ironic because that’s, essentially, the main reason why, even today, I am still even so keen on sharing openly my own knowledge. Indeed, to learn even more! 


PS. By the way, in case you folks may be interested in going through the recording of the presentation I did back at the Welcome Heutagogy event in Prague, I have taken the liberty of embedding the video clip over here in this blog entry, so you can watch it right away, as you may see fit. It’s about 35 minutes long, plus Q&A, and in it I describe, through my first hand user experience, what A Day in the Life of Luis Suarez using IBM Connections was like to learn AND get work done more effectively through my own social networks and online communities, still today two of the most powerful enablers for the adaptation of emerging social technologies in the workplace without having to rely too much on email per se, which, if you ask me, it’s a good thing altogether, don’t you think?

Welcome Heutagogy – Luis Suarez from HR Kavárna by LMC on Vimeo.

Hope you enjoy the presentation, just as much as I did back then, and I still do today, as a self-empowered lifelong learner through applying heutagogy’s principles and making extensive use of social networking tools 😀👍🏻

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