Chairman Ed

Connecting people, ideas and processes

Monthly Archives: January 2012

DESIGNING A SEED

How many adults around the globe do you think could benefit from new knowledge that could help them improve their lives and living standards? Could it easily be several billion people?

How many people do you think could afford to pay for that learning at the rates that are charged for college courses or continuing education programs or business workshops? Probably not very many.

What new tools and social factors might help us reduce the cost and deliver new knowledge broadly? The Internet is certainly one of the tools. Research about how we learn and the differences in learning styles offer other tools. Social factors like new organizational forms that produce results like Wikipedia and the Linux operating system offered new ideas about organizing and getting people involved in such activities.

Another major social factor is that we have more people living longer who have immense amounts of life experience and expertise that they could share. Also, many of these people have enough “retirement” income to give them greater flexibility in terms of how they spend their time. And, some may want additional purpose in their lives and enjoy connecting with people in other places and other cultures.

If you can accept these premises – and please feel free to challenge them – how could we design a different educational approach that would be much less expensive and that could be replicated and scaled to meet global needs?

I see that challenge as “designing a seed“, because it has to start very small but have within its core the necessary DNA blueprint to grow into something much, much larger.

I want to explore some ideas about that design in subsequent posts. I am also wondering about the soil that will be necessary to germinate this seed and to nourish it as it grows.

So, what factors do you think fit into this design? Does the Stanford University course with 140,000 registrants mentioned in my last post suggest any factors that should be considered in this design? What else is happening in education that you might know about that is changing the model for adult learning in terms of cost and scale?

Changing Word Cloud

On many blogs, and some websites, you might notice a segment off to the side with many different words displayed varying in type size and boldness. These are word clouds that give an indication of the prominence of certain words or tags on that site.

 

I have been building my own mental word cloud from speaker presentations at my executive peer group meetings and from continually scanning the Internet. My mental radar tends to pick up words that indicate changes in societal norms that affect organizations and how they operate internally, or interact with their external environment.

 

For example, about seven years ago I attended a small conference of early pioneers in what was then being called video blogging during a blizzard in New York City. Some of the founders of the Vimeo.com video sharing system where there and just starting to patch together an early version of the system. Interacting with the people involved in that conference and the related e-mail discussions made me aware of the emergence of the word authentic. It was very important for these video bloggers that their work be authentic to contrast with the corporate videos that were then the norm.

 

Use of that word has spread tremendously, and it has been used to contrast with official “propaganda” from businesses or government or the shallowness of political statements. Authentic and open often come together, or are expressed as transparency.

 

Growth, an always worshiped concept, is being questioned by the word sustainable. Now we might be more likely to hear discussion about sustainable growth, or growth may be put aside entirely and the question may be purely β€œis it sustainable?”

 

The question of growth is sometimes addressed in another form by asking is it scalable? Usually this applies to software and Internet services in terms of the number of users or the amount of data, or both. The scale of systems, and the number of people that can be accommodated, is stretching far beyond our previous limits. As an example, a recent experiment at Stanford University offered open access to an artificial intelligence course, which eventually had an enrollment of 140,000 people.

 

The concept of collaborative activities seems to have a steady and continuing impact on our expressions of how we should work together. The students of the Stanford course very quickly self-organized into many study groups using existing Internet services like Meetup.com and Facebook. Collaboration involves sharing information and expertise, which sometimes clashes with how we were molded in school. We could not share our answers or our homework because that was “cheating”.

 

Engagement is looking to replace the old process of buy-in. Engagement comes before the decisions are made, while buy-in is the process of selling a decision that has already been made, usually by an elite and relatively small group. And engagement is usually a collaborative activity that involves systems that must be scalable to accommodate larger groups of people than has been the industrial age norm. To have trust in such interactions there must be transparency and authenticity.

 

These changes threaten industrial age hierarchies. There is more need, and available systems to support, broad group conversation. This is particularly difficult for organizational hierarchies that look to have official positions and pronouncements. Using Facebook to have conversations with customers, while being authentic and not simply repeating the company position, can be very challenging and risky.

The Occupy Wall Street movement illustrated how some of these concepts have come together to affect societal expectations and norms.

Occupy Wall Street participants were questioned by traditional media to determine their positions and demands so that the media could test them to see if the public would buy-in, but there was no spokesperson and no position paper. There was a mismatch of expectations about industrial age processes versus emerging information age processes. Engagement via conversation was the norm, and not just locally, but on a global scale. This USA action is part of a global conversation that Time Magazine recognized this year with its “person of the year” cover story.

 

So, do any of these words appear in your personal word cloud? Do you think they have any lasting significance? Have you noticed any other words slipping into our global dialogue that indicate shifts in our thinking?

One word that I am watching is the concept of a curator as it is now being applied far beyond its normal usage in the art world. Let’s see if it becomes more prominent this year.