Posted tagged ‘innovation’

The Average Joe imperative

24 June 2014

There once was a time when I thought Second Life was going to take over the world. Well, the virtual world.

I was so impressed with the technology – and amazed at its availability for free! – that I saw it as an unstoppable force.

Yet more fascinating for me was its implications for education. Web conferencing was starting to become popular around the same time, and while these days Skype and FaceTime are de rigueur, back then webcamming introduced a sorely needed human element to distance learning.

However, I noticed something peculiar with web conferencing. While the webcam presented the human face, the learning experience remained undeniably isolated. We were all together, yet each alone.

Second Life was different. Its animations reproduced not only the full human form, but also the learning environment: chairs, tables, stage, etc. Now (at least visually) we were all together. The irony was that by making the interaction entirely artificial, it made it more real.

A virtual learning session in Second Life

Alas, Second Life had an Achilles heel. While it was drop-dead easy to participate as a consumer, it was relatively difficult to participate as a producer.

For a start, if you wanted your own space, you had to buy your own virtual real estate. But worse, it was surprisingly hard to make stuff. I remember trying to build simple objects using the developer tools, but I struggled. So I’d give up, go back to it later when I could steal some time, only to abandon it again. Until I finally gave up for good.

Now I’m a fairly tech savvy kind of guy. While I can’t hack into NASA, I’m confident enough to give any software a go and not be put off by shiny new toys. But I was put off by this. And so too, it would seem, was the rest of the L&D world.

Graph of Gartner hype cycle showing that all new innovations follow the same predictable trajectory from hype to eventual application

The moral of the story is deeper than the Gartner hype cycle.

In fact, while we experienced a peak of inflated expectations with Second Life, and then the trough of disillusionment, I don’t think as a profession we ever reached the slope of enlightenment, let alone the plateau of productivity. Sure, some educators such as Sydney Medical School are doing wonderful things on the platform, but that’s hardly universal.

So what happened?

To me it’s simple: Second Life failed to accommodate Average Joe. If Joe wanted to attend a virtual conference or a meetup, he could do so with ease; however, if he wanted to host a virtual conference or create a meetup venue, that was beyond him.

And so Second Life sailed off the edge of the virtual world.

Statue of Achilles Thniskon

Compare Second Life’s journey to that of other products that have emerged recently. For example, everyone says that Articulate Storyline looks and feels like Microsoft PowerPoint. Well guess what… that’s the point.

Love it or loathe it, PowerPoint is easy to use. So hundreds of millions of people use it.

Articulate’s master stroke was to piggyback the usability of PowerPoint for their own purposes. And the proof of the pudding is in its eating. I am seeing Average Joes everywhere who wouldn’t touch other authoring tools with a 10-foot pole expressing an uncharacteristic willingness to give this one a go. That’s not by accident; it’s by design.

I predict a similar fate for other emerging technologies, be it Tin Can, augmented reality, responsive e-learning, or whatever else lay on the horizon.

Address the Average Joe imperative. Lest your Achilles heel becomes your fatal flaw.

E-Learning = Innovation = Science

10 June 2014

Have you ever been to a conference where the presenter asks the audience, “Who’s implemented a mobile learning strategy?”, and only 2 or 3 people raise their hand?

Forgive me: it’s a rhetorical question. I know you have. Because everyone has.

Of course the question might not revolve around mobile learning, but rather gamification, or enterprise social networking, or flipped classrooms, or whatever the hot topic may be.

While a lot of talk is bandied around about e-learning, it’s evident that relatively few of us are actually doing it.

The e-learning panel at AITD2014

To help bridge the gap, I was honoured to moderate a panel session at last month’s AITD National Conference. I was even more honoured to share the stage with Helen Blunden, Matthew Guyan, Anne Bartlett-Bragg and Simon Crook.

The session was entitled E-Learning: Transforming Talk into Action, and the panellists were hand-picked from multiple sectors to share their insights and expertise with us. And that they did.

Simon explained how his science students are using their iPads in class to enrich their learning experience: “Engage me or enrage me”; Matt described his use of Articulate Storyline to develop online courses in-house; Helen shared her experience in using Yammer to cultivate a collaborative culture in a conservative corporate environment; while Anne dove head-first into MOOCs and ruffled a few feathers along the way.

Regardless of the specific technology or pedagogy discussed by the panellists, the overarching advice provided by each one was to give it a go and see what happens.

In other words, e-learning is innovation.

Graph

Now I realise that many of my peers will balk at this assertion. After all, e-learning is decades old, and today’s L&D pro’s are tech savvy and digitally invested.

So let’s take the “e” out of “e-learning” already – I’ve argued that myself in the past. However I put it to you that a great many among us still haven’t put the “e” into e-learning, let alone take it out again.

For these people, e-learning represents making changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products. And when you think about it, e-learning is that for the rest of us too – it’s just we’re more comfortable with it; or, in fact, excited by it.

For all of us then, viewing e-learning through the lens of innovation offers us a crucial advantage: it reframes failure.

You see, innovators don’t think of failure as most people do. Rather than see it as something to be ashamed of, avoided at all costs, and certainly not to be aired in public, innovators embrace failure, they actively seek it out – and most importantly of all, they learn from it.

They appreciate the fact that if you never try, you never know. A failure isn’t an error or a mistake, but a beautiful piece of intelligence that informs your next move.

The trick of course is to ensure that when you fail, you do so quickly and cheaply. You don’t want to bring the roof crashing down upon you, so protect yourself by taking baby steps. Pilot your innovation and if it doesn’t quite work, modify it and try again; if it tanks miserably, cut your losses and abandon it; but if it does work, scale it up, keep an eye on it, continue to modify it where necessary, and enjoy your “overnight success”.

Scientist

And still I wish to take this line of thinking further. Beyond innovation, e-learning is science.

My definition of science is “systematic knowledge”. If you want to obtain deep, scientific insight, get systematic.

Scientists frame failure in much the same way as innovators do. Again, rather than seeing it as something to be ashamed of, they see it simply as a result. It’s not good or bad, right or wrong. It just is.

The advantage of viewing e-learning through the lens of science is embedded in its methodology. Classic experimental design is based on two hypotheses: the null hypothesis, in which the treatment has no effect; and the alternative hypothesis, in which the treatment has an effect. By running an experiment, the scientist will either accept or reject the null hypothesis.

For example, suppose a scientist in a soda company is charged with testing whether honey-flavoured cola will be popular. He might set up two sample groups drawn from the target market: one group tastes the regular cola, the other group tastes the honey-flavoured cola, and both rate their satisfaction. After crunching the numbers, the scientist may find no significant difference between the colas – so he accepts the null hypothesis. Or he may find that the honey-flavoured cola tastes significantly better (or worse!) than the regular cola – so he rejects the null hypothesis. Whether the null hypothesis is accepted or rejected, it’s a useful result. The concept of failure is redundant.

The parallel with e-learning is readily apparent. Consider the teacher who allows her students to bring their mobile devices into class; or the trainer who delivers part of her program online; or the manager who sets up a team site on SharePoint; or the L&D consultant who supports a group of employees through a MOOC. In each case, the null hypothesis is that her new method, idea or product has no effect – on what? that depends on the context – while the alternative is that is has. Either way, the result informs her next move.

A baby taking a step forward

So my advice to anyone who has never raised their hand at a conference is that you don’t need to don a white coat and safety goggles to transform talk into action. Rather, change your mindset and take a baby step forward.

Porn, weed and fireworks

29 October 2012

Last weekend I was privileged to contribute to the Human Brochure – a world first initiative by Australian Capital Tourism to promote the nation’s capital city, Canberra.

When I told my friends that I was going down to Canberra for the weekend, they invariably asked: “Why..?”

You see, Canberra has a reputation among Australians as being boring. As the home of yawners such as Parliament and the High Court, Canberra is associated with porky politicians and pompous legal types.

Paradoxically, Canberra is also notorious well-known for its sale of X-rated erotica, its decriminalisation of cannabis, and its availability of pyrotechnics. Yep, our very own Amsterdam.

But like most places where people haven’t actually been, its reputation is about 20 years out of date.

And the Human Brochure set out to prove it.

Human Brochure logo

The idea of the Human Brochure was to invite 250 social media-savvy people to Canberra; feed them; shelter them; and cart them around to several major tourist attractions. In return, we were asked to “spread the word online” about “all the great things” we got up to.

I joined the Arts & Culture stream. We were treated to national treasures such as the Australian War Memorial, the National Museum of Australia, the National Film and Sound Archive, the Australian National Botanic Gardens and Canberra Glassworks – not to mention lunch at Two Before Ten, dinner at Mezzalira and z’s at the Diamant Hotel.

That may sound excessive (and yes, we were spoiled out of our minds) but it all boils down to how much you value word-of-mouth marketing. The point of the exercise was for us to share our thoughts, opinions and experiences with our followers on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.

Sure, Australian Capital Tourism could have pumped the money into yet another traditional advertising campaign, but we all know how they’ve been tracking. Instead, they tapped into the power of personal influence.

Here are a few of my tweets…

I was mindful not to sound like an over zealous salesman. I endeavoured to present only genuine thoughts and share only real experiences. Luckily that was easy to do because I thoroughly enjoyed just about everything!

I did provide some constructive feedback to the National Museum (it conspicuously omits Parramatta, one of Australia’s most important historical places), and I suggested the NFSA play more of its precious footage to visitors (they have since pointed me to their excellent YouTube channel).

But miniscule gripes aside, I expect the Human Brochure will prove to be a roaring success. Not only was the glory of Canberra amplified throughout the social media metasphere, but the initiative itself was the subject of interstate media attention.

Time will tell whether ROI is achieved. My prediction is that other tourism boards will copy the Human Brochure concept, and that will be the ultimate endorsement.

Regardless, I can say hand on heart, I had a wonderful time in Canberra.

Even without the porn, weed and fireworks.

The power of one

24 September 2012

A lifetime ago I worked in an office that, like most others, had a tacit dress code. A tie was not mandatory unless you were meeting clients; otherwise a collared shirt and sensible slacks (or a nice blouse and a long-enough skirt) sufficed.

One Friday, however, my bohemian colleague rocked up in a tee, jeans, and something the kids these days would call “shoes”.

When someone asked him why he was dressed that way, he shot back a quizzical look and stated matter-of-factly, “It’s Casual Friday”.

After a private chuckle, I didn’t think too much of it until the following Friday when something unexpected happened: other people were wearing casual clothes. Then the next week, more people were in their civvies. And so on every week until eventually everybody was embracing “Casual Friday”.

Now, Casual Friday is an institution at this company. You would look very strange indeed if you turned up in a suit.

Dilbert.com

As I reflected on this little episode, I pondered the teachings of Fred Kofman.

In Conscious Business, Kofman defines the difference between a “victim” and a “player”. A victim blames all of his or her woes on external factors – the bus was late; the traffic was horrendous; my boss is an idiot; our IT sucks; we don’t have a learning culture around here.

In contrast, a player responds to the environmental conditions to his or her advantage – he calls ahead to push back that meeting; she leaves half an hour earlier to beat the traffic; he buys a judiciously chosen book for his boss for Christmas; she experiments with externally hosted social media; he engages the few employees in the organisation who are hungry to learn.

In other words, the player exploits his or her “locus of control”. Of course you’re not the CEO, so you can’t make anything happen just by decreeing it. However, you do have a sphere of influence. Are you using it?

Conscious Business

If Kofman’s work is a bit too self-helpy for you, let me rephrase it in edu-speak:

Sometimes the ones most guilty of the knowing-doing gap are ourselves.

Ironic, eh?

As L&D professionals, we know most learning undertaken in the workplace is informal. We know social learning works. We know our target audience is addicted to their smartphones and tablets.

So what are we doing about it?
Jeans

The moral of the story of my bohemian friend is that we are more powerful than we realise. A single person can make a world of difference, if he or she has passion, courage and persistence.

I’m certainly not goading you into making drastic wholesale changes that are going to bankrupt your company or get you fired. All I’m saying is that sometimes it is better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.

If my bohemian friend had asked to wear his jeans that Friday, he would almost certainly have been declined. So he didn’t ask; he just did it. If it backfired, he simply would have fallen back into line the next Friday. (And no doubt try something else!)

So I put to you:

What do you wish would change at your workplace?

Are you a victim or a player?

What can you influence?

What can you sensibly risk asking for forgiveness for rather than for permission?

Do you have the guts to make a difference?

It’s time to wield your power of one.

Foching up social media

18 October 2011

General Ferdinand Foch

Aviation is a good sport, but for the army it is useless.

So declared General Ferdinand Foch in 1911, merely 3 years before the outbreak of World War I.

To be fair, we shouldn’t forget the context in which the statement was uttered. It wasn’t even a decade since Orville Wright managed to keep his engine-powered Wright Flyer in the air for 12 seconds.

By the end of the year, however, the Italians were already using aeroplanes for reconnaissance and bombing raids in their war against the Turks in Libya.

First successful flight of the Wright Flyer by the Wright brothers.

Aeroplanes were used extensively for reconnaissance by both sides in the early years of World War I, with opposing pilots even waving to each other in gentlemanly fashion.

Sure enough, this behaviour was soon replaced by the pilots throwing bricks and grenades at each other, then firing handguns, then operating mounted machine guns.

Dawn Dog Fight, Mick Mannock VC by Graeme Lothian

Today, of course, aeroplanes are a critical component of warfare. They are used for close air support, air interdiction, strategic bombing, interception, military escorts, transporting people and cargo, and even distributing propaganda.

Jet Fighter

Of course, I don’t accuse the good general of stupidity. He simply lacked imagination.

Foch struggled to make the mental leap from what contemporary aircraft was being used for, to what it could be used for – particularly in terms of advancing technology.

Are we any more imaginative today?

Unfortunately this kind of thinking has not been lost in annals of history. It’s alive and well in modern corporations, perhaps most conspicuously in relation to social media.

Many executives still don’t “get” social media. They see their daughters dilly dallying on Facebook; they hear their sons laughing at skateboard crashes on YouTube; they read about Charlie Sheen attracting 1 million followers on Twitter in a single day; and they learn about lonely hearts finding true love on Second Life – only to meet in real life and promptly break up.

No wonder they think it’s crap!

But don’t let them off the hook that easily. Help them make the mental leap from what social media is currently being used for (at least in their world) to what it could be used for – particularly in terms of customer service, sales, marketing, public relations, communication, engagement, collaboration and innovation.

It’s an arms race. If your business doesn’t start running, it’s foched.

Everything connects at Amplify

15 June 2011

AmplifyLast week I attended AMP’s biannual innovation and thought leadership festival, Amplify.

As usual, the speaker lineup was first class.

For those who couldn’t make it, I have linked to the recordings of most sessions below. For the sake of convenience I have organised them under three broad categories: Innovation, Social Media and Mobile. These categories are somewhat arbitrary and they blur to varying degrees.

As this year’s tagline states, everything connects!

Light bulb

Innovation

Sanjay Purohit, Vijaya Deepthi and Ananth Krishnan explain how innovation is managed at two massive Indian corporations, Infosys and Tata.

John Katzenbach lists 4 imperatives for promoting an innovative culture.

James Gardner proposes a strategic alternative to breakthrough innovation.

Venessa Miemis foresees the future of money.

Nigel Cameron questions the ethics of radical life extension.

Mike Hawley recognises the emergence of powerful but economically polarised super cities.

Alex Zelinsky predicts Australia’s National Broadband Network will drive innovation beyond the mining boom.

John O’Sullivan highlights the inventions that radio astronomy has brought into the world.

Network

Social media

Jeremiah Owyang walks through the 5 requirements of a corporation to prepare for social media, and the 5 goals that should define its strategy.

Andrew McAfee explains how social technology can help organisations overcome typical barriers to high performance.

Debbie Weil exposes the 5 truths of baby boomers and social media.

Peter Shergold argues that social media reinvigorates civic participation in government.

Richard Binhammer presents a case study on perhaps the most social corporation in the world, Dell.

Group of business people with smartphones

Mobile

Bob Egan reviews the relentless march of mobile connectivity.

Mark Zawacki predicts that everything will be in the cloud and your mobile device will be your thin client.

Barry Vercoe shows how the XO “$100 laptop” is improving digital literacy among children in the world’s remotest areas.

Amplify Festival

Watch even more speakers at the Amplify website, including John Hagel III, Jarod Green, Gunter Pauli, Xavier Rizos, John Smart, Iveta Brigis, Jim Benson, Rod Farmer, Ian Dunlop, Oliver Weidlich, Hugh Mackay, Michael Kordahi, Matt McDougall, Mike Nelson, Paul Cooper and Tony Golsby-Smith.

Who owns the photocopiers?

17 May 2011

Debra Ellis asked recently: Does social media belong in Marketing or Customer Service?

I replied whimsically that the way I see it, asking who in the organisation owns social media is a bit like asking who owns the photocopiers.

Marketing and Customer Service – not to mention others such as Media Relations – each have their own contribution to make for the success of the group. So why wouldn’t they take charge of their respective social media initiatives? (Just like they take care of their own photocopying.)Various pegs in their right holes

Of course they should work together to maximise impact, but the point is:

Marketing should market and Customer Service should serve.

Ignorance is bliss

Time and time again I have seen new ideas (such as leveraging social media) stall in the corporate sector. Some call it analysis paralysis.

No one wants to stick their head out or, alternatively, dig in and do the dirty work. So they sit on the merry-go-round of meetings and proposals and committees and reviews and research and meetings…

Occasionally, someone highly pertinent to the conversation (yet inexplicably left out of the loop) will have the guts to give it a go – all the while blissfully ignoring protocol.

And it’s probably successful because it aligns to purpose.

On purpose

Who owns the photocopiers? Who cares!

They are tools that are used to achieve goals.

If using a photocopier is integral to your role, then use one. And if you don’t have one, then get one.

If you need authority or approval, get it. If you need advice, get it. If you need training, get it.

Do your job!
 


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