Over the past few weeks, we’ve been building out the idea of how to facilitate innovation within organizations. My proposal includes a revealing of the social network structure of an organization, breaking down silos between departments, sharing knowledge and information, and amplifying people’s natural strengths and talents.
I’ve been thinking about the sharing aspect the past few days, and why it shouldn’t be so hard to create an environment that encourages it.
As is usually the case, the topics I’m focused on suddenly appear all around me and bring me new perspectives and insights. In the past few days, there’s been a new meme – the Social Learning Snake Oil Salesman. The first post I noticed, Social snake oil, came from Harold Jarche, a practitioner in creating collaborative learning environments in the enterprise. He talked about how the field of Knowledge Management was “hijacked” by software vendors trying to sell it as an IT solution, and social learning is on the path to the same fate.
As soon as the software vendors and marketers get hold of a good idea, they pretty well destroy it.
Now social learning is being picked up by software vendors and marketers as the next solution-in-a-box, when it’s more of an approach and a cultural mind-set.
Since then, I’ve seen several others within the field echoing these sentiments, leading me to think about this a little more deeply.
[As a quick aside, here are a few people worth checking out if the concept of social or informal learning is new:
Harold Jarche – Learning and working on the web (@hjarche)
Jay Cross – Internet Time Wiki (@jaycross)
Jane Hart – Social Media in Learning & Center for Learning & Performance Technologies (@c4lpt)
Jon Husband – Wirearchy (@jonhusband)
Dave Snowden – Cognitive Edge (@snowded)
Charles Jennings – performance.learning.productivity (@charlesjennings)
Clark Quinn – Quinnovation (@quinnovator)
John Seely Brown John Seely Brown (@jseelybrown)
Also, check out the #km hashtag on Twitter for links to more useful content on knowledge management and learning.]
So, why the attack on social learning? I feel like I’m seeing this same pattern emerging with Design Thinking Snake Oil, and it’s frustrating to see a good thing so badly abused. Companies seem to want to implement a quick and easy solution that will solve their organizational issues, not realizing that what’s needed is not a patch for a faulty system, but rather a new system. Banking on the power of buzzwords only puts money into the pockets of consultants and marketers. At the end of the day, you’re out a couple grand, and your organization is still in trouble. These words are just the packaging – the underlying solution is a shift in culture and thinking.
Facilitating collaborative learning doesn’t have to be overcomplicated. Trying to formalize informal learning misses the point. When it comes down to it, we want to create environments that allow people to grow. There has been plenty of research linking learning with improvements in workplace performance, productivity, loyalty, and happiness.
I was reminded of the premise Daniel Pink put forward in his new book, Drive. Based on several decades of scientific research, he identifies three elements of human motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Not surprisingly, these things are all tied to learning – from learning how to make informed decisions, to honing skills and working towards expertise, to discovering and developing inherent strengths and talents. People want to grow. People want to feel remarkable. And people want to participate in behavior that both enhance themselves and their networks. We like to share.
I decided to do some ethnographic research on this topic and asked you on Twitter: “Why do you share?” The responses are below, and show how very human we are.
Pay attention, Enterprise. Social learning isn’t something you have to gnash your teeth over and figure out how to “enforce.” Learning literally makes the soul rejoice. Set up the environment, encourage the culture, and watch what will happen.
@jeff_dickey Why share? So people learn, and other people learn that not everybody is happy to go along with the status quo.
@SemiraSK “shared joy doubles joy” as the Germans say :))
@KathyHerrmann Sharing = Connecting, companionship, discovery, extending, excitement, richer experience.
@jankoch The short answer is love
@petertwo I share because … others may obtain value … it is a natural act (aka @WestPeter)
@Cekent I share in order to receive what others share. For me it is reciprocity, not sharing.
@cole_tucker i #share because it connects me with others and brings forth more from each of us
@AndreaMeyer it’s fun &rewarding 2 share info that’s useful 2 others; engage w/ new folks worldwide, learn new things, laugh, build future
@fadereu “We’ll transmit in order to receive.” – Nikola Tesla
@renatalemos there´s such a joy in discovering, that sharing this joy becomes part of its excitement
@ScottLeamon Sharing is almost instinctual. What I find is more curious why some do not share.
@Tomgibbonstms It is an expression of identity which I think is the purpose of all behaviour…
@jwolfworks Share? to: expand the commons, connect others to valued ideas, become acquainted, inspire, help cream rise, reveal my thinking- then receive
@MarkTamis to hone my ideas thru exchange
@sanchezjb A belief that the information shared may help or benefit someone and in turn, may help make a difference somewhere, someway.
@chris23 All psychological speculation aside, I am simply compelled to share. This, to me, is a deep & natural instinct.
@Strng_Dichotomy we share w others 2 provide level of confidence that our work will b treated w respect. sharing and relationship are coupled
@jazzmann91 I share so that I don’t become completely invisible… 🙂
@DanielStocker for feedback and to give back
@bioZhena Trying to connect with those who need what we have, and with those we need to get our tech to market
@AmandaClay I share because I can’t help it. I need to distribute good information to people who might want it. I’m a librarian.
@HowToMakeMyBlog it just feels good to share good and educating material to other people, why keep it secret?
@ehooge A first question should be: what do I share? As I like to share things that sharing increases ie: knowledge, love, happiness
Kathy Herrmann said:
Good foodstock for the social discussion.
Harold Jarche is correct that social learning should start first by thinking of cultural implications. Technology is a secondarly consideration as a support support to the social learning environment. Once companies know how they want to foster sharing, only then is it time to consider technology systems to enable it.
Sharing requires a willingness to trust – that others will use information wisely to the benefit of all. Sharing also requires time to build that trust in others as viable sources of learning.
Companies will have to value collaboration in order to inspire employees to engage in it. And collaboration is the opposite of control so many companies will still struggle with it.
Additionally, companies with high levels of internal competition will find social learning fails to take hold. For these types of organizations, expect a prevailing mindset that sharing will let others accrue benefits at your expense.
That said, fostering a collaborative mindset is liberating. It’s emotionally satisfying, stimulates creation and innovation, and helps us all grow.
renata lemos said:
nice one, venessa!
this is so true, and yet, few are able to see it.
Alec Perkins said:
Glad to know we’re still human.
Sharing is especially tied to the mastery element of motivation, I think. Part of mastering a topic is the ability to share it. A few of the responses to “What is an expert?” were along these lines. Sharing is perhaps the best way to determine the extent of your knowledge, highlight the gaps, and stimulate a process that will fill those gaps.
social network designer said:
Good article. Efficient knowledge management with concentration on the resolutions including whole the system such as organization and human and technology resources.
social network design said:
Love this post very much,
this is very useful.
keep going on.
Jon Husband said:
Thanks for the mention.
When it comes down to it, we want to create environments that allow people to grow. There has been plenty of research linking learning with improvements in workplace performance, productivity, loyalty, and happiness.
If one goes and reads a bunch of books about organizational effectiveness, or leadership, or organizational culture, that were published in the 60’s or 70’s or 80’s or 90’s, you’ll find re-phrasings of what you put in the above statement. There were less of such books published in the 60’s or 70’s, and the business / organizational section of the bookstore really started to grow fast in the 90’s.
In fact, I don’t doubt you will have read much on the topic.
If making an organizational culture more sharing-oriented, or collaborative, were simple or easy (and maybe it even is) it likely would have been done more effectively long ago. But there are obstacles .. structures, mental models, beliefs and rationalizations .. that tend to help keep things more or less the way they have been for some time now.
For example, Chris Argyris … basically, Mr. Empowerment for oh about the last 50 years or so.
Or Peter Senge (mental models) or Warren Bennis, etc., etc. A few years ago (2005) in a client’s office I picked a book off the bookshelf … Bennis on leadership in 1977 … and put it down again after about ten minutes of skimming, as I realized that it could have been written in 2005.
Now we have hyperlinks and networks, and we’re still basically talking about the same things. As Michael Schrage (then of MIT) once said, “(Hyperlinked) Networks make organizational culture and politics visible”.
But we still have and use industrial-era models for organizational structures, power and decision-making and we’re still wondering why people in workplaces don’t act as naturally as they might.
michael schrage said:
btw – still with mit
susan c said:
I love what your husband wrote, Venessa! I would like to add a name to one of those 60s 70s guys: Russell Ackoff. You ask a great question, and I also like the person who added “WHAT do you share” as a prequel to the discussion. My experience inside organizations is that employees generally learn NOT to share due to “office politics.” This encompasses a lot, but basically comes down to the fact that “old fashioned trust” is not a core value that is operationalized or incented in most hierarchical organizations, where internal competition is often far more vibrant than the overall sense of competition in the marketplace.
That said, I guess I would answer the question this way: Where there is trust, I share from a place of good will. Where there is no trust, I share as a way of promoting my own agenda (blowing my horn = voicing my opinion and ideas), but only to the extent that I believe it won’t damage my own goals/image/well being.
Venessa Miemis said:
thanks for comment susan.
p.s. – he’s not my husband….his name is Jon Husband…. 😉
Jon Husband said:
Russell Ackoff is one of my all-time ‘heroes” .. one of the finest, and most practical and honest, systems thinkers there has ever been.
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