Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Difference Between Presents and Presence

Most people who care for you would rather have your undivided attention for a while than anything that you could buy for them.

It seems to take a long time to learn this.

Enough said...

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sometimes What You Don't Know Can Actually Help You

Today I went ice skating with my 5 year old son. He skated confidently around the hockey rink about 15 times; he ran on his skates and took enormous jumps and landed back on his skates; he skated like mad and then would do a quick turn...and this was only the second time he has ever been on ice skates in his life.

The first time we went ice skating was about 3 weeks ago. It was early and the rink was empty. I put on my son's skates and took him carefully to the edge of the rink - he simply walked onto the ice and skated without hesitation around the entire rink by himself (I had not even put my skates on yet.) In fact, he had no idea whatsoever that he could not ice skate. He imagined that he could skate and he did. Why not? There were no other people on the rink struggling to stand and falling down, no one telling him to be careful and to go slowly, no one saying that it would take him some time to learn (and even if I had he would not have listened to me). He had complete confidence in himself, and his perception was that he held mastery of that activity.

I am sure that the absolute faith that you can do something does not stop after 5 years old. Maybe we just have to tap back into that 5-year old within... back to frame of mind where absolutely everything is possible. Even if you have never done it before.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Strength of Weak Coffee

We write frequently about informal learning in our blog - that 80% of the learning that you do that is not structured in some kind of course (taught or self-taught). Informal learning is what happens when you are surfing the net looking for something, watching TV, in a meeting, even having coffee with someone that you do not know very well. All of these things can give us new insights, expose us to new ideas, help us update ourselves, and allow us to further develop and refine our own knowledge and ideas.

Informal learning for many people is completely accidental, it is not a deliberate learning process and in many cases is not even noticed (this blog is a conscious attempt to notice our own informal learning). Many companies and big institutions are trying to help their staff members be more aware of, and optimise, their informal learning opportunities for the overall benefit of the whole institution. They believe that having a "networked" staff inside as well as outside their doors will build their assets (their knowledge workers) and in the end, give them access to more of what they want. They create organizational environments where people are encouraged to go outside of their daily patterns, into more unstructured, creative spaces (whether virtual or real) and do their most important, inventive work there. The silicon valley IT companies' billiards rooms, free restaurants, and on-site gyms are more about inspiring creativity and conversation than for pure entertainment.

In Mark Granovetter's article, The Strength of Weak Ties he argues, "that individuals with few weak ties will be deprived of information from distant parts of the social system and will be confined to the provincial news and views of their close friends [or colleagues - ed]. This deprivation will not only insulate them from the latest ideas and fashions but may put them in a disadvantaged position in the labor market..."

There are lots of ways that institutions can help foster informal learning, especially (as in my organization's case) for a large team of knowledge workers who are committed to the sustainability movement, and are expected to be visionary, substantive and work together across sectors and disciplines. Some of the ways that my institution has created this important space for exchange and updating has been weekly free coffee mornings that bring together people, many of whom do not usually meet, to share news and information. Another way is through subsidized cafeteria costs, which serve to bring staff together at meal times (rather than scattering to restaurants or their offices with packed lunches) to converse, update and brainstorm new ideas, and make necessary strategic links among a highly diverse set of programmes, projects and operations.

These initiatives have been valuable and could even be strengthened further. Without these kinds of meeting opportunities, informal learning might very well go back to being purely accidental.

As for the title, well, our office coffee is actually very good!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Learning to Sing

It is a little slow in the office around the holiday season, so I thought I would write in this post about another kind of learning that I have embarked upon recently.

I joined a local choir a few months ago with my neighbour because I like to sing and am a fairly competent; I have sung off and on in choirs and in small groups for many years. I didn't really expect to learn anything new except some French songs and perhaps more about some other people in my village. However, this current excursion is providing a completely new learning experience, which is immediately noticeable in the quality of my singing. Astounded, I asked myself, what is different about the process this time and is there anything transferable there?

In past choirs, the director would hand out the music, people would struggle with it for a while, we would break it down into parts, practice individually, put it together, have it sound horrible for a while and gradually it would come together and sound pretty good. The focus was on the notes, the words and the voice. Sing, sing, sing - hours of singing. The director's motto was "do it again!" and gradually, from pure repetition, it would be note perfect, and he would have nearly beaten the life out of it.

In this new choir, the director calls it the "Tao of Voice", and uses as her inspiration the book of that name by Stephen Cheng. During a 90 minute session, we stand side-by-side and sing from sheets of music for about 30 minutes. The rest of the time we are doing breathing and body movement exercises, singing songs without words, standing with our hands pressed against another singer's hands to feel different notes, walking around in the semi-darkness singing tones from different parts of our body (have you ever tried to sing out the back of your head, or from your feet - try it, it is not as hard as it sounds). What this means when we do sing, is much more of a sensitivity to your body, and what has to happen in your whole body to sing properly. You sing with every part of you, and you are completely connected to the music, the words, and what you are doing to them while singing.

When you sing like this, you are completely there, in that moment, in that word and in that song - and that complete authenticity of experience and connection of everything we have produces music that is very different than those songs we sang 1,000 times in school choir. Our daily lives can be so scattered - we sit in one meeting, our mind is on our next trip, our heart is at home with the family - and how convincing is anything we say in that meeting? When we can bring all these things together, that is when the real music starts.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Jumping in Front of the Bus

Why do people sometimes find learning so frightening?

Even me - last weekend I was offered the opportunity to organize a 4-day meeting of senior scientists, systems thinkers and sustainability practitioners on the topic of climate change and behaviour change. My response - no way! I have worked in the sustainable development field for over 20 years now, but I have never worked directly on the climate issue and am certainly not a SME (subject matter expert) in that complex field - I work in capacity development and learning.

Then I thought more about this - what was it about the meeting that caused me to react like that? In retrospect, it was probably being acutely aware of the enormous body of knowledge that already exists, the proliferation of different opinions about what to do about it, and a bit of fear about providing a quality event to a very high calibre audience. Overall it represented to me a very steep learning curve and a great sense of responsibility. How many other people react like this to a) big learning generally and b) the climate issue in particular?

I fortunately got to sleep on it, and the next morning I reframed this for myself. I need to learn more about this issue (as do some other 6 billion people on the planet), so I needed to embrace this opportunity to work on the climate issue. I needed to put myself in the way of learning - to jump in front of the bus, so to speak - not sit there on the sidewalk and watch it go by because it is going too fast, is too big, and seems unstoppable.

I found this analogy useful to give me the energy to take on this challenge. However, my friend Valdis, who works in climate change policy for one of the Baltic governments, usefully pointed out that by "jumping in front of a bus" you could get squashed. He observed that thinking about learning like that can take people from their comfort zone, through their eustress (or good stress zone) into distress. I think that was my case when I was first confronted with organizing a meeting about climate change. He suggested that instead of telling people to embrace new learning by "jumping in front of the bus", to encourage them to push themselves or take risks in a safer way.

So I took the challenge to organize that meeting, I am going to learn alot more about climate change in the next year, and, with the help of my very knowledgeable friends, will not get squashed in front of the bus, but will do a little learning bungee jumping instead.

Friday, December 15, 2006

New Technology: It's Not Just for Christmas

I just received a new video I-pod for my birthday as I am very interested in seeing how podcasting can be useful to my work (not to mention getting the latest episode of Lost each week).

However, the worrying thing is that I have not yet set it up properly and the papers are sitting all over my desk. What does that say about my commitment to using this new piece of technology in the long run?

I heard Dr. Palitha Edirisingha from the University of Leicester speak about the process to move students there into using podcasting in their studies - he called the process "Domesticating a technology" and he talked about 4 steps:

Appropriation: Taking the technology from the shop to home (or ordering it through Amazon)

Objectification: Creating a space in your home for the technology (in the lounge, or on your desk)

Incorporation: Finding a place for the technology in the routine of your life (remembering to charge your phone every day)

Conversion: Displaying ownership and competence in a public culture (like being evangelistic about keeping your blog up to date)

So I need to think about this - if I don't want this i-Pod to become a paperweight, I need to get through to the incorporation stage. When I start writing blog posts about podcasting you will know that I have succeeded!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

How Old is Your Knowledge?

When you learned your science, physics and chemistry at high school, could you imagine that the information you were getting was over 30-50 years old already? How old are you now? You do the math - you might possibly be a little bit out of date.

Professor Natalia Tarasova, Director of the Institute of Chemistry and Problems of Sustainable Development at Mendeleev University of Chemical Technology of Russia, spoke at our network meeting today about the need to update curricula in the sciences and keep it current so that our next generation of scientists don't leave school already out of date.

What about the rest of us? How do we update our learning? We can’t all go back to school - this takes time (which we don't have), it takes money (which we might also not have available), and it might take displacement (which we don't want necessarily.) And it is possible that the information you will get is also 30-50 years old. That updates you a bit, now you are just 30 years out of date again instead of 70. But what if you want to be right up to date – how do you do this?

Where do you get your information? Do you have time to read books? Do you have time to surf the web? How deliberately do you try to find the information you need to do your work and make your decisions, or do you rely mostly on what you have? Jay Cross, author of Informal Learning, says that workplace learning is 20% formal and 80% informal. Formal learning might be those introductory Spanish classes that they offer at your work. Informal learning however, is an interesting combination of reading, internet surfing and search, audio-visual inputs, speeches and presentations, meetings, and conversations in the cafeteria, corridors, and on the bus. For the most part in these activities learning is quite accidental and not a deliberate objective. There are learning opportunities around every corner. What are you doing to structure your informal learning?

We Don't Use the "L" Word.......Enough

Did you know that the Earth Charter, a soft law instrument that is gradually becoming "harder", has the word Love in it? One of the principles of the Earth Charter is to "Care for the community of life with understanding, compassion and love."

Leadership development practitioners, such as those at the Teleos Leadership Institute are increasingly talking about "Whole Leaders" and how to build capacities in our development leaders which incorporate mind, heart, body and spirit. Their new book Resonant Leaders explores "renewing yourself and connecting with others through mindfulness, hope and compassion."

This weekend I am at a steering committee meeting for a network of sustainability scientists and leaders that I have the pleasure to attend each year in December, in Walliselen, Switzerland. In our very first conversation this morning we talked about what makes this particular network of sustainability leaders, which has been active for 25 years, so successful. Members agreed that when this community meets, it becomes one of the few environments - safe creative spaces- where you can integrate your intellectual work and "love". In the conversations of this group, people can talk in the same sentences about global change, development trends and dynamics and care, concern and love for society, the environment, their friends and themselves.

The difference? They do not feel that this type of holistic conversation diminishes the intellectual rigor of their points. On the contrary. It is felt to be more real, more accurate and more representative of the real world, than the potentially one-sided conversations happening in science-based bodies now. Think about it, when was the last time you used the "L" word in one of your workplace conversations?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

When did I first know I needed an iPod?

How many of you have an iPod? Asks Kevin Wheeler, Global Learning Resources Inc. Many hands in the room go up. When did you first know you needed one?

I do have an iPod. My husband bought his iPod home a couple of years ago. He (we) started buying tracks from iTunes instead of albums on CD, and I suddenly found that where he goes, our favourite music goes. What about me and my music? I'd dabbled in the world of Ipod and, like any good marketer, he'd sold me on customized playlists, podcasts and pocket-sized. A few months later, I knew I now needed my own iPod.

Kevin's point? Executive buy-in to the use of technology-enhanced learning for professional development is all a question of marketing. How do we help our executives know they, and their organization, need technology enhanced learning? Is it really as simple as enticing them to have a quick dabble with technologies they never knew they needed? Perhaps we should be providing our CEO with a choice of links to our end of year report: podcast or a wiki?

Me and My Multiple Intelligences. We and Ours.

Eight kinds of "intelligence" exist in us as humans and we all possess varying levels of the different intelligences, determining our unique cognitive profile. This is at the heart of Howard Gardners Multiple Intelligences theory – explains Ann Shortridge.

Ann and Benay Dara-Adams have been looking at the theory of Multiple Intelligences and posed the following questions during one of the Online Educa Berlin pre-conference workshops:

* How aware of we of the intelligences making up our cognitive profile?
* How do our intelligences affect our learning style?
* How do our intelligences and learning styles affect the way we interact with others, including trying to help one another learn?

I think I'm pretty aware of my own 'intelligences' and learning style. I hadn't given much thought before to how it affects my interactions with others.

Following the 'Exploring Deep Change' meetings that we organized a couple of weeks ago, we asked people to send us their 'learning stories': short, personal reflections on what they took away from the sessions. Collecting these has been fascinating. For any one session, the diversity of stories has been great (ranging from appreciating one-to-one interpersonal story-telling exercises to recommending greater use of bold and colourful visualizations to trigger the imagination). Is this indicative of the diversity of intelligences and learning styles present? I can only think so.

My question now is - in our organizations, what are we doing to make sure we interact in ways that address diversity of intelligences and learning styles? And how can we engage the multiple intelligences of our colleagues to best answer this question?

Fish!ing for a compliment?

Arriving at my desk this morning, I was greeted by a delightful surprise. In fact, it was a surprise that made my day. Stood proud on my desk was a bottle of wine, wrapped in a paper bag sealed with a staple, with a small, silver, star-shaped sticker attaching a little note. On the front of the note – a friendly graphic, carefully chosen from our photo bank, and my name in hand-written calligraphy. Inside – a simple, personal sentence of thanks. Following a few 'delicate' weeks at work, this touched me greatly. I went to my colleague to thank them for the gift – more for the words than the wine. What I didn't tell them was that they made my day.

I recently read a wonderful little book called Fish! in which it is suggested that organizations introduce a 'box' which isn't for complaints or suggestions, but rather for people to acknowledge others in an organization who make their day. We don't have such a box in our organization – yet. If we did, I know who would have got my vote today, and in the absence of a box I am just going to have to tell them myself! A little, genuine appreciation can go a long way.

Whose day did you make today? And who made yours?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Nothing Private About That! Applying Corporate Learning to NGO Processes

On Monday our organization hosted the most fantastic workshop at which 12 staff members from a major multinational bank came to our office for the day to help us think about how to best message, market, and position one of our most important institutional knowledge products. They came from completely different departments in that company, from HR to legal, and they learned with us, talked with us and thought with us over a whole day about how to increase the reach and impact of this key sustainability knowledge product.

These days we know that private sector companies have much more to offer the sustainability movement than only financial resources. They have expert knowledge and experience in identifying client interests, matching users needs with quality products, testing ideas, delivering messages, marketing services, and so on. They also have corporate social responsibility programmes and HR programmes that can help make these highly developed skills accessible to non-governmental partners.

In working with them over the day, we were delighted that their staff members engaged with us creatively and enthusiastically, and with great commitment to follow-up sharing and exchange. Calling them the private sector might be a bit of a misnomer...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

How is Information Like Electicity or Water?

Information is a Flow. Like electricity or water in your house, it is constantly available, you know where to get it, and you can turn it off or on whenever you like. You would never keep buckets and buckets of water around, all over your house, just in case you need it...

This was a thought-provoking comment by Teemu Arina at the Educa Online Conference in his presentation on Blogs as Reflective Practice.

If information flows, then why do people keep so much of it around? Why do I keep every newsletter or email that I receive, carefully filed, when the information is constantly being updated on some portal or another, changing or becoming obsolete?

Corporate learning experts carried this notion a step further with the advice that structured workplace learning should be less about giving staff the information than about giving them the skills to find it - to know where to go, whom to go to, and what to do with it when you finally get it. How might that change the way learning is approached in institutions?

How can we let go of that need to keep those buckets around us, just in case we need them?