On Cultures of Learning

Since August, I’ve been on a journey. My posts have ranged from social innovation and ecosystem reform to Enterprise 2.0, the pitfalls of traditional Knowledge Management (KM), and the first inklings of a knowledge renaissance.

Do you see common elements? What if we made an effort to foster cultures of learning throughout our social and commercial ecosystems?  If we assumed there were shared threads, what kind of tapestry could we weave?

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A Knowledge Renaissance

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At the core of such a model would be teams of people, working to understand and improve the many problems and challenges in front of them. Let’s call that process collaboration. Social media is making this a virtual experience, removing traditional geographic and political barriers. Now anyone can collaborate with virtually anyone, at little or no cost. All it takes is a commitment of time, and a sense of purpose. What would they be working towards? The stuff of paradigm shifts, really: emergent insight, knowledge, or simply a better “way of doing things”. So we’ll call the outcome by its rightful name: innovation.

Now let’s look at examples in two distinct areas:

Social context. In areas like public education and healthcare, a focus on stakeholder outcomes is gaining increasing priority. Many have grown frustrated by a current state that is broken and dysfunctional. Even now, social innovators are forming ranks to attack issues in our ecosystems.

Commercial context. Still other teams begin to work in cross-functional ways to drive new organizational models. Focus on individual contribution increases. Silos are seen as the problem. Under banners like “Enterprise 2.0” and “Social Business Design” corporate innovators are building new models for networked interaction and collaboration.

Today, social and corporate cultures rule the status quo, and are routinely identified as the most critical barrier to change. The alternative? We need to build cultures that embrace learning as a fundamental requirement, bringing open minds and critical thinking to the table.

Behind the scenes, learning and innovation are woven tightly together.

Here’s the bottom line: if it sounds ambitious, it is. But the foundational work is underway and social media has unlocked many new doors. Its work that needs our energy and our focus. Are you on board? I’d love to get your thoughts.

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Framework for Ecosystem Change (2): Evolution

Below I introduce a framework for Ecosystem Evolution, a collaboration-based process to achieve innovation in our social ecosystems, which includes complex spaces like Healthcare and Public Education.

Our thought process has been evolving since August 2009, and can be tracked in this stream.

This problem-solving approach is intended to be comprehensive in its objectives and capabilities, yet straightforward in its design. It is made possible by incorporating insights from complexity science, as well as the rapid evolution of the social media platform, which allows cross-disciplinary subject matter experts (“SME”s) to work together in an efficient, virtual manner.

Paradigms: the Way Things Work

At the core of this framework is a realization that there is a current way of doing things, and multiple, new, innovative ways of doing things better.

Using paradigms to frame and analyze developing ideas is important, especially in early stages, when the alternative solutions are still formative [1]. It provides an intuitive frame of reference for discussing ecosystems: boundaries, rules, behaviors, and outcomes, all important elements that describe the complex systems we will be tackling. This “way of doing things” (both current and improved) is often the source of significant debate. Semantic challenges abound. Traditionally, problem/solution scenarios are written down in many ways, ranging from pure text (popular in legislation) and napkin drawings all the way to complex diagrams and flow charts, using a multitude of formats and tools. We will need to keep the process focused on ideas and content, not tools.

Due to the complexities of our social ecosystems, the nature of changes involved must go far beyond any notion of incremental adjustments. Contemplating the “game changing” notion of a paradigm shift precedes any fundamental, structural changes in our current paradigms [2]. To innovate, we’ll need to challenge conventional wisdom in each domain, or subject area. This approach will help us achieve that.

Let’s take a look at my proposed Ecosystem Evolution model, which provides a collaborative overlay to the Current State view that I originated in my last blog post.

Ecosystem Framework pt 2

Ecosystem Framework pt 2

The over-arching characteristics of this new model are:

– All stakeholders will have opportunity for input
– Social media plays a critical role as “open collaboration forum” for idea exchange
– Invested producers with a financial stake will have more limited roles
– Consumers (most impacted by ecosystem outcomes) will have a voice in articulating outcomes
– Consumers will get final validation (via “rating”) of proposed solutions
– Several open-loop cycles ensure iterative improvements toward final innovation
– Multiple iterations or “feedback cycles” ensure consensus

There are a couple key points to take away from this.

(1) Actionable Scope (need to be realistic). A framework like this is a representation of a complex set of relationships, interactions, intermediate steps, and deliverables. The simplicity of the model should by no means imply trivial efforts or shallow treatment of the topics. Rather, considerable work is implied. This model creates the process backbone for a series of connected collaboration teams. Further details on “how” will be forthcoming.

(2) Adaptable, Scalable and Efficient. This approach creates the means by which the rigorous and appropriate discussions might evolve uninterrupted, through a “hub and spoke” model of work group replication. In other words, any number of problem-solving teams may be spun off from the core problem team within the ecosystem, to work on sub-issues, and report back. This makes the Ecosystem Evolution process adaptable, scalable, and via multi-tasking, quite efficient. Given the complexity of our ecosystem issues, this is perhaps the ONLY way problem solving could be meaningfully performed.

(3) Focus and Rigor. We will begin to ask the right questions, and record all viable answers.

(4) Meaningful Social Innovation (“disruptive”, and otherwise). Using this model, we can embark on a journey of discovery and social change that has heretofore been unsuccessful. It will be powered by people, connected using social media, supported (with further discussions) by both government and industry, and ultimately, embraced by all stakeholders. Clayton Christensen has made strong and insightful statements about the need for “disruptive innovation” to achieve change from outside ecosystem walls, and the many mechanisms required [3]. I think his vision is the right one, and this Framework intends to achieve it. However, with participation from producers and consumers alike, the degree of “disruption” can be minimized, and simply acknowledged as a working objective. After all, we won’t score a “win” if we create economic chaos. I believe the collaborative approach is the disruptive innovation that has been needed. The approach itself is an innovation in collaborative techniques imagined by Don Tapscott, but not (as yet) fully implemented [4].

(5) Who benefits? First and foremost, it will be the consumer, as this approach is designed to achieve their objectives. But in the end, all stakeholders will win, because we will have created a viable, optimal, balanced approach for delivering services.

This is clearly ambitious. Why am I so optimistic?

Because there are lots of smart people out there. We simply need to engage them to start solving the tough problems.

It’s time for our second test (and this is a non-rhetorical question): Can we make this work?

Notes:
[1] Kuhn, Thomas, Structure of Scientific Revolutions. (1992).
[2] Meadows, Donella. Leverage Points (web, 2008).
[3] Christensen, Clayton. Disrupting Class (2008): McGraw-Hill, Ch.8, pp. 179-196.
[4] Tapscott, Don. Wikinomics (2006): Penguin, Ch.6, pp. 151-182.

Unraveling Complexity (the Missing Link): A new approach for solving problems in Social Ecosystems

For months I’ve been reaching out to colleagues to explore barriers to collaboration, a key tool in the social innovator’s toolbox. Among those queried (and in spite of diverse backgrounds), virtually all had experienced significant barriers to collaboration over the years including silo-thinking, dated and inefficient problem solving models, cultures of control, and a strong, prevailing lack of trust.

Consensus? The barriers to innovation seem to be as universal as they are frustrating.

So something is broken. What is the root cause?

Beth Noveck and David Johnson have published important research on how new Social Media collaboration technologies can change the game. Their perspective on a New Science of Complexity is summarized in this People & Place blog post and explained further in an excerpt from their research. Their focus was the U.S. EPA (including the Federal process for environmental research and legislation) but their conclusion, which I agree with strongly, is that the principles are applicable in business (#e20) and broader social venues (#gov20) as well.

My primary takeaway?  I now believe that INNOVATION IN COMPLEX ECOSYSTEMS will depend on an improved collaboration process – a new middle ground for problem solving – that balances large-scale central organizational approach with grass-roots contributions by individuals. It is about finding the “sweet spot” between rigid structure and adaptive, organic sourcing of ideas. In a new and somewhat uncharted public collaboration space, it means that the forces of organizational scale and leverage can be networked – connected – with discrete centers (or hubs) for contribution to produce more rigorous solutions.

At the core of this thinking? A realization that traditional large-scale organizations (with their central thinking, hierarchical layers, and silos of functional experts) are generally ineffective when dealing with complex situations. Quite literally, they are too rigid. Without the ability to adapt to new variables or to coordinate across silos, grid-lock ensues. And complex social ecosystems are impacted, since “sending in experts” is how we tend to attack these issues. On the list? The well known structural challenges in energy, sustainable food and water sources, public education and healthcare.

What’s needed is an outright paradigm shift in problem solving models that are fundamentally more interactive and cross-functional. And focusing on complexity theory is key, because it begins to unlock some new doors. For one, there must be an organic aspect that allows solution teams to learn, self-correct and grow. And to meet the requirement of connecting people more dynamically, Social Media is the ideal technology. Some examples? Think about experts engaged in live chat. Acceleration of thought synergies. Tools to merge and re-mix knowledge. Ability to leverage and extend dynamic repositories.

With focus and coordination, we can work to find the elusive “sweet spot”.

In terms of naming and framing the problem, the above research makes significant strides. The next step is critical as well, and is just as exciting: in pockets across the internet, the new collaboration is already starting to appear.

Are you seeing it too? Let’s talk, I’ll show you where and how.

Gartner on the “Sea Change in KM” (some takeaways)

Just read a great post by Carol Rozwell from Gartner on challenges in the coming “sea change” in KM (or “Knowledge Management”) enabled by Social Media.  It’s about the transformation in how we approach collaboration and innovation in the work place.  She raises concerns that many are still trapped in the old 1990’s KM paradigm. As with any change, each of us must see the need for it, understand it, and accept it.

I couldn’t agree with her concerns more, and responded to her blog with my thoughts on KM’s evolution.

It is very encouraging to see more and more practitioners (organizations, companies, thought leaders, consultants) coming to the same conclusions:

Old KM often didn’t work.

New KM is about connecting people and driving engagement.  It’s not about collecting artifacts anymore. We are social and innovation engineers, not archeologists.

KM has alot to do with driving innovation.

KM has everything to do with collaboration, hence the strong links with Social Media.

Please post your comments here. Would love to know what you’re thinking. Meantime, thanks again Carol for a great blog post. Glad to know Gartner is engaging on this. Frankly, we need all the help we can get.

Chris (@SourcePOV)

Twitter Gets Down to Business: Unlocking 1:n Collaboration for the Enterprise

Companies seeking to innovate want to spark collaboration, but the path is often elusive. Twitter is positioned to help change this.  It’s founders have recently started talking about opening up microblogging in the commercial space, per a recent interview w/ Biz Stone.

But first, there’s a hurdle.  Companies must start to trust employees to communicate openly on shared topics inside the firewall. In theory, that shouldn’t be so hard. It simply means employees must exercise judgment, as has always been required, deciding when email, phone or (heaven forbid) face to face meetings would be more appropriate means to share something. But because the new mode of communication is out in the open, the bar is raised. Judgment will be even more important.

Point made. I believe employees will see the value of 1:n collaboration and will step up to the plate.

When execs and IT realize the water is safe? That’s when Twitter (or micro-blogging tools like it) will start unlocking doors.

What is 1:n (or “one to many”) communication? We’ve all been buried by emails and convoluted distribution lists that would have been far better served as an “open wire” dialog or chat.  It’s the input that creates your opportunistic “oh, I didn’t know that was happening” response.  Today only Twitter can efficiently spark that electronically in real-time.

I believe Twitter and solutions like it will have an evolutionary impact on communications when they begin to take hold.

Given the chance, most want to help drive an innovative idea or solution. They seek to get their ideas in circulation. 1:n communication is the better mousetrap.

Not to sound impatient, but why wait?  Security in the corporate setting was solved long ago.  Granted, when information is going outside and across the firewall, who uses Twitter and definitions of “safe ground” for tweet content is a bit more complicated.   There have been some great posts on the ‘spectrum’ of corporate views on how to interact with the public using Twitter including Marketing, PR & Customer Service guidance.  This aspect is evolving.

But let’s not sacrifice the internal work group benefit to wait for the external Marketing & PR side to catch-up.

It’s time to get down to the business of effective 1:n corporate communication. Twitter represents a powerful new medium for more effective enterprise collaboration.

Become an advocate for change in your organization.  Help take the “social” out of Social Media by putting it to work on important business conversations.  That leg-up will give Twitter the chance to work it’s collaboration magic in the enterprise.

Start brainstorming with your colleagues, how could you leverage “1:n” communication to solve business problems?

(Thanks to a blog post by George M. Tomko with a comment by Nigel Legg, where portions of this post first appeared as a comment; you guys got me thinking on an important topic !! CJ)

Twitter’s Missing Link: use of Hashtags (re: Context)

The first time people see Twitter there’s a negative reaction. I felt it too. There are too many people talking, too few people listening … and way too many haters.

It looks like lots of noise.

To make Twitter useful, we need to better understand and more consistently use the scheme for relating tweet content to topics. It’s done with a special tag for tweets, called a “hashtag”. These are simple key words that you and others define, typically on the fly. Over time, as the most common hashtags gain popularity, people start to watch who is using them, and to see what those people are saying. The hashtag basically serves to index your tweet for anyone else who might want to find it.

How does it work?

It’s easy, really. Just put “#” in front of any word that describes what your tweet is about. Most are placed at the end, especially if they don’t fit in the flow of your tweet, but they can be placed anywhere. You can use as many as you want. Just keep in mind you’re limited to 140 characters for each tweet. The shorter the hashtag, the better. And it needs to be sensible enough that others are likely already using it, or would think to search for it.  For example, try tweeting:

Why doesn’t Twitter have a user manual? #twitter #socialmedia

then search, first on #socialmedia and next, #twitter.

You can use Twitter’s Search, but most eventually opt for a free 3rd party Twitter application like TweetDeck, TweetGrid or Seesmic that will let you define search criteria in columns. This let’s you ‘watch’ specific tweet streams without lots of repetitive typing. As your experience evolves, you can quickly change the hashtags you want to follow.

Another benefit? The rate that people post to hashtag streams is considerably slower than the public timeline. With the pace more reasonable, the conversation is easier to keep up with.

The social media marketing (#smm)  implications are significant as well.  Once you identify hashtags that are relevant to your product, company, or brand, tweeting to your target hashtags increases the chance that potential customers will see it.

But the silver lining may well be global networking.  One day (soon) someone will respond to one of your tweets with helpful insight, and it will be someone you previously didn’t know, quite possibly from across the planet. You see, watching hashtags happens without relation to followers. All of the sudden, the world is your stage.  You could say (or tweet):

Where else (besides #Twitter) can you message the world and get answers? #communication #paradigm

Twitter is what you want to make of it. Just be sure to put a hashtag or two in your most important and insightful tweets.

Sans hashtag, chances are your tweet is going to be lost in the Twitterverse. And that is a very large space indeed.

See you online.

Chris (@SourcePOV)

Twitter: A New Communications Paradigm

Lot’s of interesting data and buzz about the growth of Twitter, in spite of the apparent indifference among teens and the more predictable roller coaster of Hollywood opinion.

see Blog by Paul Dunay (where following comment was 1st posted)

For me, it’s refreshing, at long last, to see a technology like Twitter achieve massive adoption without ‘fad’ status. I find it reminiscent of the internet ca. 1996, it just appeared in the mass market one day and we never looked back.

Twitter is an evolution in global communications. Where else can you message the world and get answers?

It is a paradigm shift.

It is changing PR. It is clearly impacting news media, marketing & customer service.

And perhaps most important – it’s a brand new playing field for global collaboration & innovation.

We’re all early adopters, and need to keep that in mind. Folks are still learning how to tag & search (the magic sauce is effective use of the ‘hashtag’), and the word needs to keep getting around. I’m amazed that Twitter can grow like it has and still be stable .. well, most of the time. As long as Twitter can keep up with growth, I see good things ahead.

No one ever said change would be easy, especially on this scale.

Expect more bumps.

But I don’t think the habits of Hollywood stars will be the drivers on this one –