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Not Without Purpose

Not Without Purpose

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Published by Jay Cross

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Published by: Jay Cross on Mar 09, 2008
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06/04/2010

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By Jay Cross
Not Without
Purpose
NO ONE HAS TIME.Life on earth is faster,faster,faster.We are inundated with information,showered withtechnological innovation,and pestered by multiplemedia 24/7.Business is a blur.Life is uncertain.Peopleare stressed.Work is hell.It’s time to do somethingabout this new way of life.A woman with a watch knows what time it is; awoman with two does not.Most of us wear watchesset to agrarian age time,others to industrial age time,and yet others to Internet time.Our bodies,our work-groups,our families,our employers,and our global en-vironment are out of sync.Our lives are incoherentbecause our worlds are changing faster than we are.Nothing is more important to business successthan the knowledge and know-how of workers.In theindustrial era,management’s role was showing work-ers what to do.In the knowledge era,workers want tolearn,but hate to be trained because telling them howto do something insults their intelligence.Study after study finds that workers get 80 percentof their job know-how informally.The choice iswhether they do it well or to do it poorly.Important as itis,informal learning doesn’t show up on the corporateradar because it isn’t recorded in industrial-age chartsof account.No one has a budget for it,but organizationsthat fail to leverage informal learning leave buckets of money on the table.In a knowledge era,it is irresponsi-ble to disregard the prime means of creating,sharing,and replenishing intellectual capital.Informal learning is effective because it is personal.The individual calls the shots.The learner is respon-sible.It’s real.It’s self-service.It is the only thing thatwill work with the digital natives who are now enter-ing the workforce.In the past,learning focused on what was in the in-dividual’s head.The individual took the test,got the de-gree,or earned the certificate.The new learning focuseson what it takes to do the job right.That includes thebusiness environment,work flow,colleagues,partners,and customers.
Accelerated change
Informal learning is the path to organizational agilityand profits.It also respects workers and challenges themto be all they can be.Informal does not mean withoutpurpose.Generally,payback far exceeds what you getfrom traditional approaches.Informal learning is cur-rently the low-hanging fruit of worker development.Knowledge workers demand respect for who theyare.They thrive when given the freedom to decide howthey will do what is asked of them.They rise or fall tomeet expectations.We need to set those expectationsand then get out of the way.Training,development,knowledge management,performance support,informal learning,and mentor-ing are all components of performance networks.Networks expand or die.Linking nodes distribute in-formation and power.Networks subvert hierarchy.Theflatter the organization,the denser its interconnec-tions and the faster its throughput.Humans exist in networks.We are members of so-cial networks.Our heads contain neural networks.Learning consists of making and maintaining betterconnections to our networks—social,operational,commercial,or entertainment.A superlative engineer can be 250 times more pro-ductive than an average performer.Making a greatperformer better creates more bang for the buck thanmoving an average performer up a notch.It’s a humanbutterfly effect.
Free-range learning
Learning is successful adaptation to change.Informal and formal learning are the end points of acontinuum.On one end,formal learning is like riding abus: The driver decides where the bus is going,whilethe passengers are along for the ride.On the oppositeend,informal learning is like riding a bike: The riderchooses the destination,the speed,and the route.Therider can take a detour at a moment’s notice to admirethe scenery or use the bathroom.
Copyright ASTD, June 2006
 
Informal learning happens outside of class.There’s no curriculum and no certificate of comple-tion.Informal learning includes things like triyingand failing,asking a neighbor,reading a book,orwatching television.Informal learning is how welearn about life.It’s how we make sense of things.Formal learning—riding the bus—is great fornovices.It’s useful to have help getting the lay of theland and getting to the destination.Training depart-ments are very talented at setting up bus routes.Informal learning,what the bicyclists do,is mostappropriate for people who already know the territo-ry.They want tips on the new shortcuts and theessence of a topic.They want to plug the holes intheir knowledge,and they won’t sit still for bus ridesto their destinations.Training departments don’t de-vote much effort to helping cyclists.Here’s the irony: The cyclists are the high perform-ers.Raising their performance 5 percent blows theroof off.(Whereas raising the performance of novices5 percent doesn’t even register.) When it comes tolearning,most corporations are spending the mostmoney where it will do the least good.Some training departments justify treating every-one as a bus passenger by saying that riding the busworks for novices and the old pros.This is flat-outwrong.The bike riders will always find a reason notto take the ride.Workers with the most upside poten-tial rarely receive any focused learning at all.Here area few suggestions to correct the balance:
Envisioning.
Visualization is transformative.Humanslearn twice as well from images and words than fromwords alone.Pictures translate across cultures,educa-tion levels,and age groups.Yet the majority of the con-tent of corporate learning is text.Schools spend yearson verbal literacy but mere hours on visual literacy.It’stime for us to open our eyes to the possibilities.Visual literacy accelerates learning because therichness of the whole picture can be taken in at aglance.Visual metaphors unleash new ideas andspark innovation.Having a sharper eye increases thedepth of one’s perception and life enjoyment.
Conversation.
Conversation creates knowledge.Fre-quent and open conversation increases innovationand learning.Workers come together to share,nur-ture,and validate the tricks of the trade.Work is a demanding,pressure-packed,rats-in-the-maze race with the clock to get the job done.Home is a comfortable,private space for sharing timewith family and individual interests.Neither work norhome,a World Café is a neutral spot where peoplecome together to offer hospitality,enjoy comradeship,welcome diverse perspectives,and have meaningfulconversations.Shared spaces encourage dialogue.Get a third of a million people involved in a singleconversation,and it’s sure to give you that real-timebuzz.IBM has adopted it as a management approachfor our open,flat times.
Connections.
Knowledge workers waste billions of dol-lars of time looking for information and the rightpeople to talk with.Good architecture and spaceplanning facilitate learning.Organization networkarchitecture connects people virtually by spottingbottlenecks and opportunities for integration.The design of the workplace is an important com-ponent of productivity,yet architects create corpo-rate buildings with the hierarchical floor plans andgrid layouts from a previous era.Corporate efforts toreduce one-time costs and maximize usable spacebackfire because they hamper the work of the build-ing’s inhabitants for as long as it stands.Speakingmetaphorically,you can’t have water-cooler conver-sations if you remove the water coolers.Inside every formal organization is an informalorganization that runs the show through an undocu-mented series of personal and professional relation-ships.It is a living entity with a mind of its own.Theinformal organization is a community of people thatruns on life’s rules.You can influence it but not man-age it; it’s not for sale.Organizational network analysis blueprints the in-teractions of the informal organization.Visualizinghow people interact highlights potential opportunitiesand likely breakdowns.
People skills.
Learning is the new work.The best wayto take advantage of informal learning is to get out of its way.Less is more.Informal learning has no needfor the busywork,chrome,and bureaucracy that ac-company typical corporate training.Today’s worker chooses the employer.Does shefind the company,its vision,and its people exciting?Will she have an opportunity to make a contribution?People are emotional animals.Gut feelings are re-al.Stress disrupts productivity.Acting from the heartas well as the mind makes us better people and hap-pier campers.In nature,you either escape the bear orget eaten.In the office,however,the mind conjuresup bears that never let up.All-day stress overtaxesthe body.Perceptions lead to stress; changing thoseperceptions makes the bear go away.Stressed-outpeople don’t learn well.Free-range learners choose how and what theylearn.After all,they’re the only ones who know whatthey already know.Besides,self-service is less expen-sive and more timely than the alternative.
E-learning.
Five years after I coined the term “e-learn-ing,we were living in an e-world where networks fa-cilitate virtually all learning.It has become trite topoint out that the “e”doesn’t matter,and that it’s thelearning that counts.I don’t think the learning counts
DELIVERING LEARNING
44 TD
June 2006
Copyright ASTD, June 2006
 
for much either.What’s important is the “doing”thatresults from learning.People do not know what they like; they like whatthey know.For example,many assume that face-to-face instruction is the one best way to teach and thatonline learning is inherently inferior.They seek waysfor online initiatives to support the high-grade face-to-face experience.Capella University turns this viewon its head,asking what face-to-face support is re-quired to supplement online learning.Blended is a transitory term that reminds us tolook at learning challenges from many directions.Itmakes computer-only training look ridiculous.It dri-ves us to pick the right tools to get the job done.
“Unconferences.”
Business meetings used to come inone flavor: dull.New approaches create meetingsthat people enjoy,often organized in scant time andat minimal cost.Unconferences are characterized by:
no keynote speaker or designated expert
breakthrough thinking born of diversity
having fun dealing with serious subjects
emergent self-organization
genuine community,intimacy,and respect.
Getting better at getting better
Getting better at getting better is an evolutionarychallenge.You don’t get there by taking one step at atime.Rather,you set up millions of little experiments,let ‘em rip,and see what you end up with.Meta-learning focuses on improving the processof learning,which includes how people learn,barri-ers to learning,and improving the learning of bothindividuals and organizations.You’re going to spend your entire life learning soyou might as well get good at it.Embracing mindful-ness is your first step.You’ll need to be flexible,lookat things through different lenses,reflect on whatyou see,try new things,run thought experiments,and pay attention.A mindful person often cuts off the mindless auto-pilot of aimless living to follow Ni-etzsche’s advice to “become who you are!”Informal learning is natural.It occurs when wetreat people and organizations as organisms in nature.Thinking is a skill.You get better at it with prac-tice.Many people confuse thinking with intelligence.That is a mistake because that thinking leads intelli-gent people to squander their potential by not learn-ing to think.
TD
Jay Cross
is an internationally acclaimed strategist, speaker,consultant, and designer of corporate learning and perfor-mance systems. He is the author of 
Implementing eLearning,
founder of Internet Time Group, and has just completed abook on informal learning; jaycross@internettime.com.
 TD
June 2006
45
Ten years ago, most business executives saw no value inthe Internet beyond cheaper communications.
CIO 
maga-zine’s December 1994 issue sheepishly proposed “not tolaud the future of electronic commerce nor to cheerleadthe creation of a great national network that, like Godot,may never materialize.”Since then, the Internet has taught us:
Time trumps perfection.
In the old days, training wasn’t re-leased until it passed through a gauntlet of editors, proof-readers, packagers, double-checkers, and worrywarts.Everything is a work in progress. If it’s not finished, label it“draft” or “beta,” but don’t hold it up.
Online networks facilitate personal connections.
The Internetenables one to rely on the kindness of strangers. Hun-dreds of people I didn’t know before have helped melearn. I keep my karma account in balance by helping oth-ers learn. The Internet even enables you to talk with yourheroes if you’re daring enough.
To learn something,teach it.
The Internet empowers each ofus to express ourselves publicly. Sharing ideas is bothselfish and generous. Explaining something online clarifiesyour thinking and reinforces your own learning.
It’s a small world after all.
 Around the world in 80 millisec-onds. Wow! With Skype, you can talk with people all overthe globe through Voice over IP (VoIP) for free.
Me 
-learning.
Dr. Google and Professor Amazon have taughtme a lot more than four years of honors studies at an IvyLeague college. Why? For one thing, I’ve forgotten morecalculus, Wittgenstein, physics, Nietzsche, and Frenchthan I’ll ever know because I was driven by someoneelse’s agenda rather than my own.
Internet Inside
Copyright ASTD, June 2006

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