Oct 302014
 

I’m not all that fond of the word “curator.” (Keep in mind, though, that for some time I wasn’t all that fond of the word “blog.”) I was fine with the original meaning–a person in charge of things in a museum, zoo, or similar place of collection. I agree it’s a logical extension to use it for someone who chooses items from a collection, or chooses the items that go into a collection.

In the online world, though, there’s a tendency to call anyone who slaps four things together a curator. Sometimes, I think, he’s just a guy letting you look into his virtual junk drawer.

David Kelly looks at this more seriously. He believes anybody in the learning and performance field (or probably any field) can be a curator if they listen, analyze, and share:

In a similar vein, Harold Jarche stresses the need for every professional to do his or her own personal knowledge management, and he talks about this in his Seek, Sense, Share framework.

I’ve just finished my first year in a new job. One of the things I want to do in the coming year is more deliberate personal knowledge management. Part of that involves collecting information from the networks I’m involve in and sharing that with my colleagues. I know from experience this increases my mindfulness, and the more I seek, the more things I find I have to think about and to share.

My trusty sidekick for sensemaking is Evernote. (I just looked up their home page, and I smiled at the tag line, “the workspace for your life’s work.”) On my own computer, I can use their web clipping widget to add notes, adding my own tags and (if I’m so inclined) sending the new note to a particular notebook (section) in my Evernote collection. I can email things to my Evernote account, and from my phone I can create notes directly (in the Evernote app) or share things from other apps.

All that’s by way of introduction. Some time back I created a “keeper” tag for items I wanted to hang onto, specifically because I might want to share them with people.

What I’m now planning: a series of keeper posts. Rather than fling a bunch of things onto a page here because I have a bunch of things, I’ll go through my most recent keepers and pull out a subset of them. I’ll try to explain what I’ve kept, why I’m keeping it, and (at least implicitly) why I’m sharing it.

That’s what the next post will kick off.

Oct 062014
 
New! Improved! Now with TripleHorn API!

CC-licensed image by Kudu Photo

In the world of organizational learning, there’s always another bandwagon. In fact, they have to widen the L&D Highway every few years to accommodate late-model bandwagons, as well as service vehicles full of batteries, charging cords, and templated reports. Which is great–if you’re in the bandwagon-supply business, rather than the far less trendy business of helping people accomplish things on the job.

I work for an organization where much of the staff works with complex computer systems. In our case, the systems help us administer pension programs — enrolling people when they start a job covered by one of our plans, producing annual statements of benefits, calculating estimates, processing transactions related to salary and service, and managing all the pension-payment transactions.

Hundreds of thousands of people–I suspect millions, actually–work in similar jobs in any industry you can think of. I am pretty familiar with hotel, airline, and passenger rail reservation systems, and I’ve helped train people to use systems for managing inventory, conducting pharmaceutical trials, monitoring accounts in the consumer packaged goods industry, trading natural gas, and tracking shipping containers.

Almost none of these systems had a way for people to practice tasks in a robust way.

By robust practice, I mean features or capabilities that let people practice complete tasks, as they would on the job, without risk to data, resources, vendors, or clients. It’s my contention that most large corporate systems, although they’re the workhorses of the organization, have no way for someone to practice what he’s supposed to do in the production system–except by working with real data.

I say “production system” as shorthand for the ability to reserve actual airline seats or handle actual pension benefits or process actual bank loans. And I’m going to say “practice system” when I mean the ability to exercise the same steps and skills without reserving actual seats, handling actual pensions, or issuing actual loans.

In a financial system for managing bank branches, for example, if you wanted to practice the steps to process a car loan, you had to pretend you were issuing a loan to yourself. And you really had to remember not to click approve, or customer-you would have a loan.

“Don’t push Approve!” is good guidance in that situation, but a lousy way to train someone in loan approvals.

Is this your experience, too?

Of the large corporate systems you've worked with, how many had robust practice capabilities?

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Simulations are at best a half-measure. (At worse, they’re a fantastic way to set money on fire.) It takes forever and two weeks to develop a simulation, and the Thursday after it’s released, IT relabels the Pending tab and adds two new buttons on the Estimation form.

(Added to original post: a comment from Clark Quinn on Twitter made me realize that this last paragraph could be misconstrued. I was thinking of simulations of some complicated corporate computer system–in other words, a standalone imitation of the production system, one that requires at least as much maintenance as the production system does.)

True robust practice doesn’t mimic the production system; it mirrors or piggybacks on production’s capabilities while ensuring that anything that goes wrong in the practice system stays in the practice system.

At Amtrak, we created a set of imaginary passenger trains–the “training trains.” They had robust practice features, and also safety features.

Robust features:

  • Training trains ran on the same routes as actual trains, with the same schedules, fares, and accommodations.
  • The set of training trains contained every accommodation available, so you could practice reservations that might rarely or ever come to you otherwise.
  • Training train schedules, fares, features, and services were created using production-system data, so the training trains always reflected real-world conditions.
  • Practice IDs could retrieve such production-system information as schedules, fares, routes, on-board services, and operating status (“Is train 353 on time?”).
  • You could log into a practice ID from any terminal connected to the production system.

Safety features:

  • A person using a production ID could not display the training trains. (You couldn’t make a reservation for a real person on an imaginary train.)
  • A person using a practice ID could not reserve space, create reservations, or issue tickets on an actual train.
  • Practice users could issue the “print ticket” command, but the actual printed ticket clearly read TEST TICKET / NOT GOOD FOR TRAVEL.
  • Practice users could not enter or alter production-system information — e.g., they could not report an actual train as departing on time or change the hours of a ticket office.
  • To log into a practice ID, you had to log out of your production ID.

Additional safety measures guaranteed, for instance, that imaginary revenue from training train reservations was not counted as actual revenue in the production system.

We try so hard as learning professionals to create authentic, high-value formal training. And we talk a lot about the problem of transfer, the need for spaced practice, the value of whole tasks, and the like. But we don’t seem to advocate for measures that would deliver robust practice to the workstation, and many of us are a little uneasy about what was described to me as “letting people run around inside a practice system.”

Such running around, which I think of as “deciding what I want to practice, then practicing it,” seems to me to have far greater potential for performance support than run-of-the-mill elearning, no matter how many images it has of people in suits, talking on phones.

Sep 142014
 

an leabhar beag gormMy ancestors were all Scots–MacDougalls, MacLeods, MacLennans, MacFarlanes, MacIsaacs, Rankins, Macdonalds, and more than one who spelled my last name MacFhearghais–and so I’ve followed the run-up to next Thursday’s referendum asking “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

This is a question for the voters of Scotland, and I don’t pretend to have advice on how they should vote. In the social media streams I follow, though, I’ve seen many remarks to the effect that, despite excesses here and there, discussions in Scotland have had a high level of seriousness.

Just today, on the Facebook page for an artist I follow who’s an ardent advocate for Yes, a person planning to vote No was invited to a public discussion. He felt secure enough to ask with an emoticon wink, “Will I be safe?”

Ordinary individuals are exploring, considering, pondering, which is a good thing for any democracy.

What this post is about is not a Yes or No vote in the referendum, but the thoroughness of one organization firmly on the Yes side–Wings Over Scotland, a political website focused on the media.

What I mean by thoroughness is their approach to communicating with potential readers. I only happened to notice this because I came across a link to An Leabhar Beag Gorm, the Gaelic edition of their publication, The Wee Blue Book(I don’t know much Gaelic, but I knew all four words in the Gaelic title, so it caught my eye.)

wee blue bookAs Wings Over Scotland explains in their introduction to The Wee Blue Book, none of the 37 national or daily papers  available in Scotland supports independence.  “Newspapers have no duty to be fair or balanced, but… the press being so overwhelmingly skewed to one side is a problem for democracy.

“Our website…is biased, too. We support independence…”

To that end, they’ve collected a great deal of information and assembled it into the Wee Blue Book.

What’s impressive is how they’re offering it up. You can see on their August 11 post that the book is available:

And, as you’ve seen, in Gaelic.

But wait! There’s more!

Wings Over Scotland has a print-ready edition–and when they say “print,” they mean A6 paper, self-cover, CMYK, saddle-stitched, with a 3mm bleed, on 130gsm stock, so you can “just hand the PDF to a printing company.”

Finally, they have a “low-colour, ink-saver version” for home printing, with instructions, so if you want to run off a couple yourself, you can.

I’ve never met the Reverend Stuart Campbell, who runs the site, but I’m pretty sure he’s a lot smarter than the average social media guru whose self-promotions rain down on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Aug 032014
 

Here’s a Gaelic proverb:

Is iomadh urchair tha dol ‘s an fhraoch.
(Many a shot goes into the heather.)

In other words, when you hunt, you miss. And if you fire indiscriminately, paying no attention to when or why or how, not trying to figure out why you missed, and not turning to anyone else for feedback, you’re  going to continue putting a lot of shot into the heather.

In my personal life, I’ve been sending a fair amount into the ground lately because I’m learning something new. And as I think is often the case, “learning something” really means “learning several different things, and also learning how they work together.”

I joined a choir.

I haven’t joined a choir before, so I’ve been learning different but interrelated things:

  • The lyrics to songs I didn’t know (which so far is “all the songs we’ve been practicing”)
  • The melodies of songs I didn’t know (see above)
  • The tenor part for these same songs

Those are all examples of explicit knowledge: they’re factual things. Learning the tenor part, for example, means learning the succession of tones.

I’m having to learn some tacit skills as well, such as what Maria von Trapp called “minding your own business” — concentrating on your part when other choir members who are not tenors are singing right next to you.

In addition I have to learn pronunciation, because I’ve joined Guth nan Eilean (the Voice of the Island), the Victoria Gaelic Choir.

It’s been a great experience. I ran into the choir when they were performing at the Victoria Highland Games last May. I was especially struck by how clearly they enjoyed what they were singing. It probably helped that I recognized two or three of the songs they sang.

It didn’t surprise me to discover there’s a worldwide community of groups who thrive Gaelic song. I’m especially impressed by people like Kathleen MacInnes and Mary Ann Kennedy who’ve made their language part of their careers.

No, not many people speak Scottish Gaelic. I can’t, except for a few traveler phrases and a handful of songs. But I always want to know the meaning of any song I sing in another language, and the Victoria Gaelic Choir gives me another reason to do that.

Here’s a whole flock of choirs at the Mòd (Gaelic festival) in Paisley, Scotland, last year, singing the unofficial anthem of such choirs:

Togaibh i, togaibh i, cànan ar dùthcha,
Togaibh a suas i gu h-inbhe ro-chliùitich;
Togaibh gu daingeann i ‘s bithibh rith’ bàidheil,
Hi ho rò, togaibh i, suas leis a’ Ghàidhlig!

Praise it, praise it, the language of our country
Give it honourable status
Promote it with spirit, and treat it with affection,
Hi horo, praise it, up with the Gaelic.

‘S i cànan na h-òige; ‘s i cànain na h-aois;
B’ i cànan ar sinnsir; b’ i cànan an gaoil;
Ged tha i nis aost’, tha i reachdmhor is treun;
Cha do chaill i a clì ‘s cha do strìochd i fo bheum.

It’s the language of youth, it’s the language of the aged,
it was the language of our ancestors, it was the language they loved
Although it is now old, it is robust and strong
It has not lost its power, and it has not surrendered to misfortune.

 

 

Jun 092014
 

The other day a project manager was remarking on the early stages of large projects and the inevitable changes that occur as those projects unfold.

I’m no project manager, so I was doing internal translation. I see a big project’s requirements document as like the initial design for a kitchen remodeling: in the new inventory system, we want to have glass cabinets,  a wall-mounted oven, an island with its own sink, and on the south wall, bigger windows (for greater visibility into the supply chain)Only later in the process do you discover you won’t have the time, or the money, or both, to move Finance’s plumbing.

Financial flowYou’re facing some rethinking, but that doesn’t mean starting the project requirements from scratch.

If  right now you’re wondering why Finance has a sink, then my analogy failed. Or, you recognized adjustments that you’ve seen, or that you can imagine, even though the project you’re thinking of didn’t involve inventory, Finance, or a kitchen, then I think I made my point.

A larger point is that, when it comes to improving performance, what’s crucial about an analogy is not how clever it is, but how effective.

The goal of an analogy is to help someone make a connection or reach an understanding that he hadn’t yet made. You can’t guarantee that your analogy will do that, though you can road-test it and modify it so that it’s more likely to.

Cleverness carries a risk that you’re focusing on surface elements, or on outside references that don’t apply to the immediate situation. Shakespeare’s plays are as full of analogies as O’Hare airport is full of wheeled baggage, but many of those analogies rely on references that in the twenty-first century we don’t understand.

Sweet are the uses of adversity
which like the toad, ugly and venomous,
wears yet a precious jewel in his head.

 — As You Like It

It might be clever to work Shakespeare in, but if this one’s your choice, you’ll likely connect only with committed theatergoers and unreconstructed literature majors.

I tried a different line once, as a lead-in to a course on vendor-managed inventory.

If you can look into the seeds of time,
And say which grain will grow and which will not,
Speak then to me…

 — Macbeth

It might not work for you, but I managed to avoid using a stock-art photo of a warehouse dock. More important, the inventory people saw the connection  to the topic.

That helped me escape the too-clever trap, although technically this wasn’t an analogy, just an indirect lead into the topic. Banquo was not in this scene struggling with inventory control–but he was interested in knowing what the future might hold, which is a true, on-the-job concern for warehouse managers.

So the real test might not be whether you’re using an analogy, a metaphor, or a simile — but whether the way you present something new makes the aha! more likely.

CC-licensed kitchen sink photo by Steev Hise