Archive for the 'Leadership' Category

Fighting Management Preconceptions about Social Learning

I just found this wonderful preso on Social Learning. I kept on slapping thigh laughing as I read… “Oh yeah, that’s a good one!” For me the highlights were:

Yes, Play is OK - you need it to grow innovative, collaborative and fast-adapting employees.

“Control is an illusion” – Okay… this is where I slip into incredulous teenager mode: Duh! You can control what people are learning and sharing about as easily as you can keep water in a sieve.  The presenters note that “80% of learning happens outside” of formal learning systems in their control. This is “Informal Learning” in action. The faster leadership realizes that building a company culture where learning is valued, the quicker they will start fostering a truly effective organization. Also, it’s very important to build the expectation that employees are really responsible for learning (their job and how to enhance their work).

People already share bad information - no kidding. Everyone has experienced the grapevine effect in a workplace. Human beings honestly seek knowledge about the goings on, some need it to function and work effectively without fear. They will even speculate on management’s behavior when they have no information, which is why transparency is less dangerous than keeping your lipped buttoned.

I also really liked the fact that they provided some solutions for measuring ROI (Return on Investment).(CRUD: I actually wrote this section but it got lost in the blog ether when I was trying to save my post)  I think it’s possible to tie a company’s increased success to social learning initiatives through anecdotal stories.  Also, connecting increased levels of innovation could also be possible. Think James Burke’s Connections (the show from the early eighties). Much of the show argued that the worlds most famous and influential innovations such as the combustion engine would not have happened if people did not make connections with each other.  I think if you analyzed the history or development of a particular innovation at your company you can actually trace the connections that were needed to make the innovation happen. You may be able to identify whether or not these connections would have happened with the social networking  efforts in place.

Some excellent points were made, but I suspect that no amount of brilliant arguments will convince the hardcore curmudgeons that insist that Social Learning/Networking is bad and evil. My only question… Can I work for the folks who made this presentation?

What Does the Ideal Virtual Workforce Look Like?

I was talking to my manager the other day about writing some sort of article that highlights the skills and talent needed to manage a virtual team. Last year I was able to briefly describe the ideal virtual employee. I decided to come up with characteristics for both virtual managers and virtual employees.  This is what I came up with so far… I’m still working on it.

Ideal Virtual Workforce

Click on the image to view the full sized mind map

I based the qualities and behaviors of managers on several of the managers I’ve had in the past whom I felt to be highly effective. In a nutshell, I really liked/like working for these people and I’d pick up another job with them in a heartbeat if it was available.

Honestly, I feel that the first thing an effective manager of a virtual team does is hire ‘the right people.’  In a sense, half the chore of managing a team is done once they’ve hired the correct type of person. This isn’t easy, because good employees are often hard to come by, and I speak from my own experience on hiring panels in a corporate workplace. Often interviewees have been coached to “talk the talk,” and a hiring manager needs to be able to see through this. A good virtual manager will probe employees to see if they can truly demonstrate the qualities and behaviors of the “ideal virtual employee.”  Moreover, a virtual manager will request and thoroughly review a portfolio of the prospective hiree’s past work before the actual interview. They will aslo ask pointed questions about how the interviewee accomplished or made these portfolio items.

To be honest, when I enter an interview, I actually look for the behaviors I described above in the hiring manager.  I want to know that the person who’s leading me is capable of managing me and the whole team effectively. There’s nothing worse that being hired into an extremely dysfunctional team. I’ve often thought of scripting scenarios that take the best moments from interviews I’ve had with managers.  I’ve even thought of taking the best coaching moments I’ve experienced and sharing them.  So many of us have in the past worked for or currently work with poor managers, sometimes It’s good to know that there are good ones out there. While the economy is bad right now and many people might be willing to put up with working in a dysfunctional workplace, it’s still important to hire good managers (virtual or not) who encourage productive innovation. Innovation and the ability to change and adapt readily is what helps companies survive in succeed in trying times.

Addendum… thanks to Twitter, I’ve found a number of interesting articles on virtual workers:

Can they truly change?

Strange this morning… I work up with a rhyme from my childhood in my head.

I’ll stay here not budging,

I can and I will… if make you and me and the whole world stand still.

Well, of course,  the world didn’t stand still…

The world grew.

Recently, I watched a Frontline episode online. There was an interview with a spokesperson from GM. The interviewer asked her why GM didn’t act earlier on developing hybrid technology. The woman admitted that the company didn’t see and immediate investment return for such an effort. Now, GM’s fate is in the balance and they expect the American tax payer to bail them out of the woes that stem from their inability to think and build towards the future.

PLEASE! This is an example conservative and unimaginative thinking worthy only of those executives who only want to ‘hang in there’ until they can cash their retirement and haul their golf-shoed feet to Scottsdale, AZ or some other place where they put ineffective executives out to pasture.

The American auto industry, if any should be the ones who take advantage of this leadership position in helping the world handle the threat of climate change. I’ll be very blunt. I don’t think there’s any place in this world anymore for leaders who think the ‘old way.’ Caring only about immediate profit margins isn’t going to cut it when we have to think about 10, 20, even 50 year plans for turning the effects of Global Warming around.  We’re about to find out how much so much complacency and lack of imagination can cost.  I’m placing my faith in the younger generations of corporate leaders. Hopefully, they haven’t taken their cues from the old guard.

Here’s what they have going for them:

  • For them it’s not always about self-achievement and individual rewards.
  • They are beginning to understand that there is such thing as a bigger picture.
  • They can see the world and it’s environment changing (and not necessarily for the better).
  • They have children who will inherit this world.

Stand out, nail, Stand out!

The carpenter may notice you and alter the look and feel of design.

I check out the Slow Leadership blog every now and then. Carmine Coyote had a great post on going against the grain. It’s a well known fact that excellent leaders surround themselves with astute people who do not agree with them all the time. Abraham Lincoln did it. The purpose of doing this, of course, is to make sure that you are going in the right direction and to get multiple perspectives. Again, that challenge that both leaders and diverse teams have is actually working with each other.

I found some great documentary clips on the creation of Disney’s Haunted Mansion. The crew that designed and develop the original ride seemed to have an excellent team relationship. They were good at what they did, and perhaps their imaginations and creative visions clashed, but under the leadership of Walt Disney they were able to achieve the memorable experience of the ride (too bad they changed it).

Though let’s not delude ourselves to think that disagreeing all the time is the right thing. If you have to disagree all the time there must be something wrong with the working dynamic of the group you belong to.



Professional Jealousy Among Educators


Sometimes sniping just gets people down

At the conference we were sitting in a lecture. One part of the lecture had us break into groups and analyze four different types of SME. One of the case studies describe an SME/Faculty Member who was highly dedicated to her students. She was extremely prepared, she had her exercises and activities organized and she would often have an activity or lesson plan at her fingertips when the Instructional Designer and the team would say… we need an activity that is like this… When asked to describe the SME one of the the participants in the room described her as “kind of annoying and a show off.”

I thought – what the !@#? I like working with people like that.

Then I thought… she really is revealing how insecure she is by making a comment like that. It actually reminded me of an attitude I’d seen among teachers. There really was this feeling that spread in the faculty lounge that it was not okay to be a “Show Off.” “Show Offs” included people who used new and different teaching styles and approaches or people who “stood out” as teachers. “Show offs” were not to be trusted and often there were political struggles within the school where the “show offs” were involved. In particular, I remember this struggle at one school between teachers who wanted an extra planning period by sending their classes to ‘play educational games’ in the computer lab for one hour vs. the teachers who wanted to break up the lab and actually put the computers in their classrooms and integrate writing, math and science activities using software already installed on the computers. Being the idealistic person I was/am, I assumed that I was just imagining these bad feelings from my peers. Maybe I was channeling June Cleaver, but I really thought I could work around these people and just do things on my own. Honestly, I think this was one of the reasons why I left teaching. The hosing and the sniping could be dealt with if you could find a group of people whom you could identify with and unite with against the snipers, but otherwise it was tiresome to deal with to say the least. I liked the kids and working with kids, I liked their enthusiasm, but even after a while, that wasn’t enough to induce me to remain in the teaching field.

I did some research online and found that were discussion threads and articles and an actual study about professional jealously among educators. It’s been about eight years since I set foot in a public school classroom. I hope things might have changed since then, but I suspect that in a profession where there is no upward mobility there’s no where to snipe, but on the horizontal field of play and your peers are the easiest targets. I’m not saying that all educators are like this, only that in every group, society or culture there will always be people who engage in this kind of behavior. Maybe we should look to Bob Sutton and Slow Leadership to help us figure out how to combat this type of behavior.


Image from this site:

Summary Notes from the Distance Learning Conference – Madison, WI

Please note: I was able to add more information to the previous post. I will also link to the actual presentations once they become available on the conference website.

  • Collaboration and Cooperation are KING/QUEEN
  • It’s still always good to approach things with a critical mind. Technology can be good, but never loose your ability to question what you’re getting into
  • E-mail communication is for old people

Not necessarily mentioned at the conference, but I still thought about it:

  • Not everyone has access to the technologies/economic divide is tech divide

More detailed notes on the summary items.

Collaboration and Cooperation are KING/QUEEN:

New social networking and gaming technologies have rendered a generation of more cooperative and collaborative workers who see the corporate workplace as more of a level playing ground rather than a hierarchical dog eat dog structure the way the baby boomers saw it. This new generation isn’t as likely to hoard information like their baby boomer counterparts. Learning must take place in the forms of cooperative endeavors, and as a developer of online learning experiences you MUST help instructors build a sense of community among students. Asynchronous discussion threads and assignments that comprise mainly read and reflect activities are just not going to cut it anymore with the younger generations. People also learn using social bookmarking. Check out this post from Christy at Experiencing E-Learning which includes a video that introduces the concept of social bookmarking.

No more Sage on the Stage!!!!!

Stop turning class time into nap time. Stop lecturing and sharing in front of a virtual or live course using hour + lectures in front of a PowerPoint presentation. Students need to learn using the media they grew up with. Of course, they should still learn how to read, write and reflect, but still allow them to explore, document and share using digital media, video, audio, etc.

If you still believe that the old way is the ONLY way, watch this video. It actually does a decent job of sharing some college student’s feelings about attending school in an “Analog World.”

Digital Students @ in Analog Schools

In addition to being able to express their ideas creatively… these same students need to be able to develop critical thinking skills which allow them to continually question what is being put before them. These skills will make them truly flexible and creative and ready to deal with any changes put before them. Teachers and professors can leverage discussion that occurs naturally within social networking structures to promote or generate discussion among peers that allows them to develop these questioning skills.

It’s still always good to approach things with a critical mind. Technology can be good, but never loose your ability to question what you’re getting into

Don’t just accept technology and changes without thinking about the consequences critically. Think about how it can be used both for right and wrong. Millions of individuals are sharing personal information online (some of it incredibly personal). They are doing this by choice. Even sharing information via a meme on line can be problematic. As you share this information it is now possible to track relationships between individuals. I don’t want to sound paranoid, but perhaps this is not such a good thing now that I think about it. Also, how will learning using new media technologies continue to include development of essential traditional skills such as expository writing? Though honestly, I believe ALL LEVELS of education high and lower are failing students in their efforts to teach them decent writing skills. I believe the answer to this and all other concerns about educating in the new media are out there; however, we as educators need to take the initiative to come up with creative solutions rather than fight changes.

E-mail communication is for old people

Apparently this was the feedback of one prospective college student to a wooing college. She and others didn’t want to get information about the college in a glossy flyer or an e-mail. She wanted to interact with the media online. Others wanted to be able to participate in a live chat with university representatives and a real student who was attending there at the time. The long e-mail thread conversations also irritate younger folks…. use a wiki or discussion board to send out your thoughts. Hopefully there will be an active chat feature that can help you find the one or two original thoughts you wanted to come back to.

Email communication is for old people  -Ars Technica

Distance Learning Conference – My notes

I’m currently attending the Distance Learning Conference in Madison, WI (when I have time I will post the conference stats/details), and will post my notes and general reflections on the lectures that I attend.

Please note – these notes are not complete, I’ll fill out the details to some of these notes more as I go along.

Problem Based Learning for Online

Margaret Drew and Lori Mardis

Note: clicking on the image above will open up the full concept map.


Suggestion: Provide a collaborative lab project.

  • Provide something that’s broken and get people to fix it.
  • Multiple solutions to complex medical prob. (suggestion – use blog).
  • Idea-make people take an active task oriented solution
  • What…about using blogging to facilitate discussion/collaboration on the process.
  • Creation of individual learning scaffolds… learning is meaning full
  • Began with open-ended ill structured problem that initiated discussion.

Building Virtual Communities

Dr. Rena Pallof & Dr. Keith Pratt
Importance of online Community

Now, I’ve always suspected that it’s not okay to just dump and run when it comes to delivering online content, but now it seems that the novelty of this realization is becoming dated. This presentation highlighted the importance of instructors establishing a rapport and building a ‘community’ among the students. Big takeaway for me was the presenter’s suggestion not to openly communicate intent of building community because many learners will protest because they’re just in the class to get credit… and or NOT to make friends.

I believe that it’s important to demonstrate the value in learning from your peers by providing learning experiences that allow the students to do this. Those people who continue to want to be anti-social can do so, but not at the expense of the rest of the students. Also courses an the purveyors of a curriculum who employ this social approach to learning should continue to do studies and investigations to the efficacy of this method of learning and provide education on the importance of virtual communities.


Note: the “suggestions” are part of my notes to myself not the lecture.

Construction of Online learning community in which instructor is on the same level as students as a contributor… research says.

Intentional work on the development of presence online as well as other means which community can emerge are important… on student learning satisfaction.

Give the instructors and opportunity to communicate with students as a human level.

Suggestion: Encourage Office Hours / Train Instructors on how to do this effective

  • Need to be intentional and create the environment… you have to make the effort.
  • Aspects of learning:
    • Teaching students howt o inquire/construct knowledge
    • Teaching students to become self-direct

Suggestion: I-Search Papers

Competencies of Online Instructors (Martha Davidson):

  • Creating a Learning Community that is Intellectually Exciting and Challeging
  • Pepper collaborative activity throughout the course
  • Encourage learners to perform to the best of their abilities
  • Demonstrate Effective Use of Group Dynamics and Dialogue – need to know when to intervene and when not to intervene
  • Use a variety of methods other than lecture
  • Stress the interrelatedness of the complete curriculum and the value
  • Know workplace trends and perspectives
  • Draw out creativity, innovativeness, and ideas in a collaborative manner
  • Integrate curriculum designed to provide learners with experientially based learning environment
  • Evaluate learning outcomes
  • Continue personal development


  1. You must be able to connect with the people in the course.
  2. You need to establish a sense of rapport/ and portray yourself as a ‘real’ person in the online environment
    1. Non Example: professor who put his whole CV online
    2. QUESTION: Do you think there’s a level of infomality in creating this presence that some instructors might not be comfortable with? How do you get them comfortable with this?
  3. When there is a high degree of interaction between these participants…

Social Presence Online Correlates with:

  • Increased learner satisfaction
  • Greater depth of learning
  • sense of belonging to a learning community
  • Increased perception of learning
  • Begin the course by focusing on the development of social presence.
  • BUT DON”T TELL THEM THIS…. (They say…I didn’t take this class to make friends… I just want to take the class to get a grade).


  • Give minimal guidelines (note to self – don’t make up fussy rules)
  • Let students know -It’s NOT okay to do all your posts on the same day
  • Agree on what’s a substantial post
  • Allow them to disagree

Suggestion: offer modeled examples and many practice opportunities for instructors. For example show them samples of chat discussions (recordings, simulations), have them practice in various online activities

Working as a Team: Collaborative Online Course Development

Emily Hixon, Ph. D

This was the best lecture/activity I’ve attended at the conference so far.

She provided 4 case studies of working with Faculty and SME’s talked about the challenges of working with faculty to develop an online course. She outlined the challenges and provided suggestions for selecting Faculty participants. I’ll post more details later including some interview criteria she listed for selecting good Subject Matter Experts (or Faculty).

One of the biggest takeaways I got from this was… bottom line – you need to find SME’s who are collaborative and can work on a team of folks who also communicate their process and progress along the way. Moreover, you have to find a SME who really believes that teaching online is possible.


Managing Flash Game Development

Jon Aleckson

Another great lecture and probably one of the best here at the conference, that I was able to attend… because the presenter basically confirmed my hunch that creating really great learning activity requires a well-balanced team with the right skills and doing this takes moolah. If you want to be stuck with word documents and handouts then discount the need for these types of people on your team or look to moving into the online publishing business.

Biggest Takaways

  • Good Game Design Requires a Superlative Team including:
    • Instructional Designer/Writer
    • Artistic Illustrator
    • ActionScript Flash Programmer
    • Project Manager
  • DONT SKIMP IN HIRING (Note: I will post my notes on each of these position descriptions later)
  • Using CMMI (CapabilityMaturity Model) – importance of logging time for data collection purposes and learning for future teams and projects. It is important to communicate intent for data collection to employees (positively)
  • Use a Wiki for Knowledge Management/Capture – Saves time builds knowledge
  • Brainstorming tools:
    • Learning objectives and content outline
    • Activity List
    • Benchmarking
    • Include people with different roles!
  • Game or Simulation Continuum (3 dimensions)
    • Roles
    • Goals
    • Interactivity

Using Webcasting technologies

Coco Kishi and Tomoko Traphagan

What students wanted out of player technology

  • Wanted to see what the instructor was doing clearly
  • Synchronized audo, video, slides (clearly see the blackboard or slides
  • Content Searching
  • Playback and Speek Control
  • Flexible Viewing Controls
  • Bookmarking
  • Annotation

MySpace is not YourSpace

View the slides from the link here:

Christy actually took better notes than I did during this presentation. Check them out.

I really liked the fact that these presenters encouraged us to think about the consequences of technology and also really question whether or not some learning media were truly appropriate for all learning.

Bridging the Tech Gap with Nice People

Via a search today, I just read this brief post on HBR from Tom Davenport from March: Why Enterprise 2.0 Won’t Transform Organizations.

He brings up a good point about:

Such a utopian vision can hardly be achieved through new technology alone. The absence of participative technologies in the past is not the only reason that organizations and expertise are hierarchical. Enterprise 2.0 software and the Internet won’t make organizational hierarchy and politics go away. They won’t make the ideas of the front-line worker in corporations as influential as those of the CEO. Most of the barriers that prevent knowledge from flowing freely in organizations – power differentials, lack of trust, missing incentives, unsupportive cultures, and the general busyness of employees today – won’t be addressed or substantially changed by technology alone.

Recently in a conversation I had at the PDX blogger dinner. I spoke with the Director of Product Marketing of Jive Software (sadly, I was not able to stay and see the demo of their alternative to Sharepoint. Any alternative to Sharepoint gets my attention). I noted that one of the biggest mistakes we make in project management is assuming that the tools (software, spreadsheets, web aps, etc.) will take the place of hiring good people, setting reachable goals, and building good relationships between team members.

Davenport is right. Technology won’t change things alone. But people can help, and especially ‘nice people’ who are passionate about what they do. When I think of really nice people like this, I think of Josh Bancroft. I used to work with Josh in IT at my former company. Josh has a real ‘can do’ (can’t believe I used that term) attitude about sharing what he’s excited about. He actually introduced a friend of mine and me into the worlds of podcasting and wikis. He was always excited about sharing his ‘geek’ knowledge, as he called it, with others and helping them learn and discover how to use Web 2.0 technologies. He inspired a few communities within the company that spawned new movements in applying collaborative technologies, some with some pretty impressive and cool results.

Davenport openly admits that he’s being a curmudgeon in regards to the potential of Enterprise 2.0, but Curmudgeons are important too. They force us to really take things into perspective. Though we should never let any resistance, negativism, criticism or cynicism shape our view or hinder where we want to take our imagination and creativity.

Though I disagree with Davenport on the matter of structuring of knowledge in the workplace. Structured information environments don’t necessarily need to limit or hinder the sharing of information. I can learn just as much about how to process a purchasing document in SAP or what the best transaction could be by networking with my co-workers and learning how they do things. That’s the problem with creating prescriptive or linear materials and documentation for tools like SAP instead of training people to ‘think for themselves’ or even learn from each other, you get people locked into automaton mode and you don’t build a workforce that can think on their feet, innovate or adapt quickly to change.

I have hope for Enterprise 2.0 despite everyone thinking that it is or was a big. Though still we have to let the curmudgeon in us rise up every now and then and question where we’re going. Sometimes questioning when done constructively can only open up new avenues or possibilities.

Somewhat to mildly related stuff:

About blogging and thinking and acting like a blogger

Here’s a good point from the Portals and KM blog (commentary on articles featured in the post):

blogs are popular because they provide useful content, often not found elsewhere and written in an accessible style. Blogs cannot sound like PR.

This is a good observation, and it makes sense. No one thought it was cool when their parents tried to speak to them in their slang. It seemed stilted and poorly executed. I think that that’s the biggest failure of some corporate blogging endeavors when they start blogging they ‘try too hard.’ They allow the tones of their blogs to degenerate into a sort of weatherman speak. I just recently had a conversation with a former co-worker about being too forward in one’s corporate blog or even in one’s personal blog. I’ll be the first to admit that there really is a personal value to ‘not sharing every thing about oneself.’ It’s just healthy for most people to maintain at least a modicum of privacy. However, the charm and beauty of blogging lies in the fact that there is some level of transparency into the author’s personality.

Yes, it’s true that if you’re blogging within a corporate environment there should be some rules that you must abide by which may sound something like this. I have this sort of aversion to ‘letter of the law’ approach to enforcing rules:

Be nice, dude:

  • Never slander the company
  • Never directly attack an individual or a group

Use constructive confrontation (uh, what ever happened to that?)

If you are going to question something or express doubt* about company policy address the people who are responsible for that policy outside of the blog text. But this of course assumes that a true “Open Door” policy exists. Sorry, that’s the execs and management’s responsibility to waterfall this down via actions and attitude towards their staff. Note: if it’s clear that your company doesn’t have an open door policy and you want to keep your job, then it’s probably better that you don’t blog about work (or you find another job). Blog about crochet, gardening, building muscle cars, collecting ceramic dogs, poetry, or your love of Westerns.

Remember that blogging is about sharing what you love or are curious about

This should be self-explanatory. If it’s not then you just don’t get the point about blogging. Strangely enough, I love and enjoy various aspects of my job and am very curious and eager to learn and share about the cool things I find when learning about my work.

My hunch is that like anything else, art, life, general existence, if you’re really trying too hard, blogging or fostering a culture of transparency and openness that promotes connections and innovations in your company will probably fail. I have to stop and think, perhaps this type of environment and attitude (and therefore blogging) is not appropriate for all places. It’s really up to management to reflect on whether or they want to foster a corporate culture that values blogging and communicate effectively their policy on blogging.


I forgot to add one more guideline…

Ignore the Jerks and Trolls

The best thing to do with a bully is ignore him/her or work around them. Who wants to hang out with a bunch of looser-jerks anyway? No fun.

Some other interesting readings:

*I remembered that I did post something on expressing doubt in reaction to watching the film Ikiru by Akira Kurosawa. I guess one should perhaps ‘use this card’ sparingly or really when it counts. A good leader will probably be sensitive to the ‘good folks’ he or she hires when they are experiencing doubt.

Sizing up an individual: Example Yoshitsune


I was watching an episode of Yoshitsune the other day and I was reminded of the importance of reading people well as well as being able to determine what people’s true skills are despite what they say. In this episode the young Samurai lord Yoshitsune must face the challenge of the enemy to shoot down a fan on a small boat floating at least a quarter of a mile off the coast. Yoshitsune surveys the archers who volunteer for the task. Several older and presumably more skilled archers confidently boast that they will definitely be able to shoot the arrow; however, when asked one of the archers expresses his doubt in his ability to do so.

Naso no Yoichi’s reply sounded something like this:

I doubt that I can hit the target. The angle of the wind is unpredictable and the boat is bobbing up and down.

Yoshitsune chose Naso no Yoichi for the job simply because he was the one who seemed to assess the situation clearly. More, what I find admirable is he looked past the swaggering and boasting (translation in corporate culture – the PowerPoint pitch and ‘Pimped up’ progress reports). Oh, yeah… Yoichi hit the target on the first go.

It took me a while to realize this, but Yoshitsune (if the legend is true) was exhibiting signs of a truly good leader because he was listening to the “intuitive guy” rather than the “glib guy.” (See my post which references Kathy Sierra’s definition of the glib and inarticulate parts of our brain). It’s important to see and hear beyond what’s ‘obvious’ when you are a leader because you may miss some underpinnings of either behavior or trends that may set your project and work environment awry. But don’t go to the darkside of believing that you can directly control people’s behavior… other wise you become like this…



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