A Good Plan for How to Make Learning Strategic From Charles Jennings

On June 18th I responded to Michele Martins thoughts,  That post needed more elaboration, which has been supplied by Charles Jennings’ post.  This is about my suggestion #1: Strategy must play a stronger role where learning is part of the organizational narrative not just an afterthought.  Jennings excellent post suggests how to go about supporting a vision of learning and development (L&D) as a strategic business tool in 5 basic actions:

1. L&D departments need a strategic departmental vision, aligned with the organization’s strategic vision and priorities, and supported by an appropriate model of governance that includes senior business leaders. The following graphic is an example of a governance structure from Jennings Blog:


3. Integrate frontline managers into all aspects of L&D.  The managers are the point at which learning must take place or it is likely to be ineffective.  Jennings draws on the information from the Corporate Executive Board/Learning & Development Roundtable in this graphic to support his view:


3. Embrace Innovation (such as social media and informal learning trends).  This would also be supported by fostering a creative environment.  My previous post on Supporting and Developing Creative Environments has much relevant information.

4. Use technology and tech tools in innovative ways.  Don’t just put course work into technological forms, but use technology to rethink learning experiences

5. Develop internal departmental capabilities and skills such as consultancy skills, (communication and skills in leading and persuasion), a deep understanding of L&D contexts

We Need Appropriate Measurement for Appropriate Management

Confusion on Managing by Measuring

I believe there is some confusion today involving the place of measurement in business.  In a recent article (Productivity in a Networked Era) in Chief Learning Officer (also available at Jay’s blog), Jay Cross and Jon Husband addressed the need to change traditional ways of viewing return on investment in a networked learning environment where ideas and other intangible assets have become more important than physical assets.  Regarding this need to rethink the basis for investing in new forms of capital, this article is spot on.  However, I am concerned by some aspects of the discussion involving measurement such as:

. . . it (measurement) doesn’t apply to making judgment calls, strategic choices or disruptive innovations.  . . . Intuition, judgment and gut feelings guide these more important decisions.

I disagree!  The very idea of the need for science is that our “intuition, judgement and gut feelings” are just as likely to mislead and to encourage us to choose the wrong path.  Today, psychology is giving us more insight into how our non-conscious mind can lead us astray when we trust our “gut”.

Re-think how we measure, but do not abandon measurement

Again, I believe that Jon and Jay’s basic idea is valid, that most companies measurement methodology is keeping them from making appropriate investments, but part of the problem is managers limited understanding of measurement and the methods needed to develop and use data.  With the increasing complexity of networked environments (see Jon & Jay’s example of Cisco Systems’ large-scale adoption of social computing) and with the development of new forms of data visualization, using data has never been more important than it is today.  Jay and Jon’s conclusion “We should rethink and expand our methods for making judgments”, is also correct, but, I would not suggest doing this by abandoning measurement. The ability to use and understand data begins with an understanding how the data was collected, that is, with understanding the measurement processes involved.

A final thought: fast changing, intangible centric and knowledge intensive environments require knowledgeable and capable individuals.  In the past, this kind of thinking about measurement was reserved for academics, not business types, and it is true that typical academic communication styles are sometimes not appropriate, even for academics.  Simplification is a worthy communication goal, but the ideas we need cannot be dumbed down.  Complex issues, like understanding the meaning of data and the measurement processes by which it is obtained, must be an important capabilities throughout organizations if they wish to take advantage of opportunities in our current business environment.  I believe that measurement is crucial to management, but inappropriate measurement will lead to inappropriate management.

A Networks Model for Evidence-based Management and Knowledge Transfer

Couple of interesting reads this morning (Bandura 2006 and Guest 2007) that are relevant to the topics of learning, performance support, knowledge transfer and evidence-based management (EBM).  The bottom-line:

(From Bandura) Knowledge transfer in many situations can be seen as a form of learning that proceeds through ongoing modeling with feedback and increasing approximation, not by an explanation of abstract information.

(From Guest) Practitioners do not generally change their practices as a result of abstract knowledge, but from the example of others in their organization or field.  (e.g. bankers looking to other bankers or retailers looking to other retailers)

Furthermore – Guest laments the current state of EBM.  Changing it requires attention to the communication process (communicator, message, medium and receiver) and the building of bridges (both traditional and non-traditional) between research and practice.  Guest is pestamistic about the readiness of the management field to address EBM.  I would disagree and suggest the following based on Guest’s communication process analogy:

  • Communicator – The concept of EBM is not an outcome, it is the bridge that can close the gap between researchers and practitioners. However, the communicator must stand on this bridge, not on either shore.
  • Message – Standing on the EBM bridge, the most important aspect of research is validity.  It is a view of validity that begins with the whole of the concept (not the narrow view of traditional research validity).  Research is not valid until the consequence of it use in practice can be demonstrated.  See a previous post on validity here although I may need to do additional work on the validity concept.
  • Medium – In the light of Bandura, the real medium of concern, in fact, are the people in the practitioner’s network.
  • Receiver – We need to build up the scope and diversity of practitioner’s networks and the ability of these network to act as learning models for evidence-based practices.

Research Recommendations on Supporting and Developing Creative Environments: A review of the article: Creative Knowledge Environments

This is a follow-up to my creativity post of 6-15-2009

Reference: Hemlin, S., Allwood, C.M. & Martin, B.R. Creative Knowledge Environments (2006). Creativity Research Journal, 20, (2), pp. 196-210.  Which is also available online here.

First the results.  In my reading, the recommended conditions should have:

  • clear (and coordinated) objectives;
  • a research culture built over time;
  • a supportive and cooperative group climate that seeks and respects diverse thought in identifying salient problem features (sense-making);
  • strong vision with leadership in stimulating, structuring and promoting ideas;
  • a flat decentralized organizational structure giving appropriate autonomy to individuals linked by collective goals;
  • supportive and clear communication styles in a highly interactive environment (high levels of social capital) able to mediate any potential clash of ideas;
  • adequate resources (time, funding, equipment, library materials . . . etc.);
  • diverse individual characteristics (discipline, institution, cultural, social, geographical, motivational, etc. . .) with strong and varied individual competencies appropriate for the discipline(s) or field(s) involved;
  • appropriate quality control (although not in too excessive or intrusive a form);
  • an institutional base with an established reputation and visibility’
  • strong but flexible links with individuals both inside and outside of the organization
  • respect for breaking routines when necessary and for taking appropriate risks.

The paper notes that innovation tends to cluster geographically and reasons that:

innovative activities involve a significant element of tacit, embedded, and to some extent locally bound, or ‘sticky’ knowledge that is best communicated face-to-face . . . facilitated by small distances (Asheim & Gertler, 2004)


Looking primarily at the processes that lead to creative products this paper is attempting to identify what:

. . . types of factors are thought to either enhance and hinder creative output, but we are still in the early stages of finding empirical correlates as well as potential constellations of policies and leadership initiatives.

A definition from the paper (paraphrased):

Creative Knowledge Environments are environments, contexts, and surroundings (teams, companies, regions, nations) that exert a positive influence on human beings engaged in creative work producing innovative products.


The authors consider 3 levels of environments macro, meso and micro levels.  In addition they also provide the following more detailed classification schema for characterizing details of specific environments:

Components of Knowledge Environments and their Characteristics

Task characteristics: short-term/long-term, simple/complex, routine/novel, modularised/integrated

Discipline/field: natural sciences VS engineering VS social sciences VS humanities, theoretical VS experimental VS modelling, basic/applied, single paradigm VS multiple paradigms VS pre-paradigmatic, reductionist/‘holistic’, discipline-based/inter- or multi-disciplinary, influence of ‘epistemic community’

Individuals: knowledge, skills, abilities, cognitive style (e.g. broad/narrow, focused/eclectic), motivation, interests, career plans, values, beliefs, other personality properties (e.g. introvert/extrovert)

Group characteristics: size, integrated/loosely coupled, inward looking (‘group think’) VS outward- looking, leadership style, degree of group tension/harmony, heterogeneity/homogeneity of group members, ‘chemistry’ of personalities in the group, composition of knowledge, skills and abilities, agreed on or contested beliefs or underlying assumptions

General work situation for individuals: number of different work tasks or projects, features of time available for research (e.g. sparse/abundant, fragmented or concentrated), job ambiguity (total autonomy VS narrowly defined goals), quality of IT available (including the usability)

Physical environment: facilities, buildings, architecture, location, climate, equipment

Organisation: income sources, economic situation, organisational structure and culture, reward profile, leadership and managerial style (e.g. controlling/allowing), degree of organisational tension/harmony

Extra-organisational environment: small/large economy, expanding/decreasing economy, market characteristics (e.g. open/restricted, global/regional, competitive/monopoly), reward profile, information availability (open/closed), job opportunities and mobility, regional, national and cultural characteristics

Each of the above classifications can be divided into the elements of the social domain (“openness to new ideas or innovation, relations between colleagues or organisations, and routines for the upkeep of equipment”) and the cognitive domain (“bodies of knowledge and skills, cognitive work style and thinking style (e.g. adopting an experimental or ‘trial and error’ approach).  The cognitive domain can also be analyzes for spacial distributed aspects.  Environments can also be classified by the Triple Helix of industry, government, and non-profit.  Although these classifications will effect environments, it is likely that creating positive conditions for creativity will share much more across institutional types than they will differ.


These are general findings the authors derive from the literature and could be considered general recommendations for looking at the creative potential of individuals:

Internal motivation is generally seen as more important in relation to creativity. . .

Many researchers stress the prior need for quite extensive knowledge of the domain.  . . .

individuals should be given sufficient time and opportunities for practice and learning to occur.  . . .

creative problem-solving might rely more on “weak methods” (general problem solving skills)

In general, creative persons show greater openness to experience(,) higher tolerance for ambiguity (and have) flatter hierarchies of associations’ (i.e. having many associations for a particular stimulus with a fairly equal probability for each association, and with associations being easily affected by internal and external events)

Although the authors discuss other personality aspects of creative people, but the research seems more correlational than causational and sometimes conflicting.  I’m reluctant at this time to place much weight on other recommendations regarding personality.

The Business like University Meme: An Explanation

I think often on the meme of businesses becoming more like universities with universities (researchers too) more like businesses.  It can be disparaged as a crass idea by academia, but I think a deeper understanding can inform potential reforms on either side of the equation.  I came back to this meme by following the thread from Tony Karrer who asks us to weight in on the future of learning as a business.

The future of business itself is knowledge and technology centric.  Managing that future is different when:

  • you’re managing people with more expertise than you and
  • when the knowledge that you have and want to impart is dense and complex and
  • when a major goal is to uncover or develop new knowledge and when
  • a major goal is the ongoing development of a shared knowledge base and communication structure within the organization.

If the goal of your organization is to develop world class service, managing it may share many activities with running a university department and research center, except that there are no diplomas and your always in beta.

On the university side of the equation, I’ll first differ to Ellen Wagner’s post Psst…for researchers only.

This is a tip for those of you who conduct quantitative research . . . you can influence the technology product roadmaps . . . if you have data that shows that particular kinds of features in products can help students retain more, remember better, perform at peak levels of efficiency for longer periods of time then you need to figure out a way to get that information to the education marketing team at your technology company of your choice. Because those are the kinds of facts and figures that help sales teams connect with their educational customers. Education customers don’t just want to hear about features and benefits. They also want to know about best practices for using products to solve real problems.  . . . What (technology companies) can do is to help promote your findings, showcase your success.

I may be jaded, but I believe that academics writing is often intended to be instrumental toward tenure, not to have an impact on society and the peer review journal processes inhibit innovation and risk taking by researchers.  Research should be consequentially valid and disseminated for that purpose, and at its heart, dissemination shares many similarities with marketing.  Academics and journals must also travel beyond their disciplinary boundaries in ways that are in line with new forms of networked knowledge.

Summary: A manager / leader of world class services and a teacher leading students and research projects share potentially similar skill sets and futures.

Who’s in the Market for Learning: An Organization’s Perspective

More ideas following Tony Karrer’s post, this time inspired by Michele Martins thoughts (Who’s in the Market for Learning, Individual or Organizations).

Lifelong learning from an organizations perspective:

  1. Strategy must play a stronger role where learning is part of the organizational narrative not just an afterthought.
  2. Focus learning activities on building organizational intelligence with individual learning.  Individual learning becomes organizational intelligence when it changes processes, shared understandings or artifacts (like the organizational narrative).
  3. Organizations need a learning infrastructure.  Six Sigma is one example, except that it could be more broadly focused beyond quality.

I think there might be some room for further development of these ideas.

Ideas and paradigms are Important Enablers of Creativity

A timeout from research to respond to a relevant blog post.

George Siemens posted about studies from the PsyBlog relevant to my current  research on creativity.  The PsyBlog post ended with the recommendation to go it alone if creativity is important to you.  I think this is counter productive.  Many important outcomes require group work and diversity in groups can be an important source of creativity when it brings together different perspectives.  Certainly one important factor encouraging creativity in groups are shared ideas and a paradigm based that supports creativity.  The base of my thoughts are in the following comment made in response to George’s blog post.

Good discussion George and Ken;
It reminds me of Vygotsky’s lower and higher mental functions. What Ken describes sounds like a group manifestation of lower mental functions ( a level of thinking shared with animals). Valuing something like diversity may only occur if a higher mental function regulated this primal instinct for conformity.
I would not call this type of creativity destruction a problem with norms, but a problem of lower levels of responding. Something like diversity may require a higher level of function with ideas, paradigms and the sort, mediating the thinking, whether it is a group or an individual. Valuing diversity could be a norm too! Creativity may need to start with an individual, but for a group to participate, you may need relevant shared ideas to be present in the group. As a metaphor, think of shared ideas and artifacts like the neurotransmitters of the group.
In the study referenced by the PsyBlog, we don’t know what kinds of paradigms underly the groups thinking or of the study. Science in my view is a blend of theoretical and empirical. This study sounds like it over emphasized the empirical without a good theoretical understanding of creativity. Sort of like a hold over from behavioral experimental psychology that thought of the individual as a black box where you only measure the inputs and outputs. Measure group creativity, but keep their shared ideas and paradigm base as a variable in the equation.

Building A Creative Infrastructure: The Prime Economic Directive

This post begins a process to consider the importance of, and different methods of creativity.  It is a recognition, a re-thinking if you will, of the need for creativity, what it means, and how it is the foundation of much of my recent reading.  I’ll start with a couple of interesting finds from yesterday’s blog reading.  In subsequent posts I’ll look  at the research literature relevant to building a creative infrastructure.

First Harold Jarche posted about a project he undertook involving the idea of a research center bridging university research and venture interests through: applied research – prototyping – pre-commercial seeding.  As part of my comment I asked; Do you think anyone knows how to do such a thing – examples of methods?  A serendipitous browse of other blog readings that day led me to consider that creativity could be the basis of such a research center.

It was later that I came across a post by John Howkins, a guest on The Creativity at Work Blog. John has a new book, Creative Ecologies.

My new book, ‘Creative Ecologies’, shows that eco-systems is a useful model. A creative ecology is a network of habitats where people change, learn and adapt (or not, in some cases).  . . .Ecological models have a great advantage over the financial models that preoccupy government.  Ecologists speak the same language as do biologists and environmentalists and can share their ideas and theories, whereas economists are tied to rationalist preconceptions and to monetary values.  . . . Running throughout the model is what the Indonesian diplomat Soedjatmoko calls the ‘capacity to learn’.  It is astonishing how closely a country’s capacity to learn as a whole, rather than any individual genius, affects national levels of creativity and innovation. (Emphasis added)

He goes on to talk about bringing institutions of learning together and making their impact felt throughout a culture.

. . . bring think-tanks, research bodies and NGOs into the education process; protect learning-for-the-sake-of-learning from being squeezed out by learning-for-a-job vocational courses.  We must re-think ‘knowledge transfer’. . . .

In this perspective, your productivity and your sense of well being may well depend on the ecology you’re in. As Howkins says;

It helps if you are in the right place at the right time.  The old question, Where do you want to live?, is now, Where do you want to think? (Emphasis added)

Howkins, I believe, is talking about the importance of building an infrastructure of creativity, something that he indicate is substantially different from industrial era infrastructures.  It potentially could involve diversity, culture, communication, community resources and many other factors.

Which begins us to a post by Diego Rodriguez at the Metacool Blog on the The four ways of creative cultivators.  Interestingly, Diego begins with the same idea that I left off with in my last post (in my review of Management Rewired), collapsing the distinction between managing and leading.  He also uses a garden metaphor (something to which I’m partial), but I also believe that  he is really talking about 4 ideas for building an infrastructure for creativity:

1. Being at the bottom of things  (T)he leader-as-cultivator makes it their job to live simultaneously at the bottom and in the middle and on the edges, dealing with things that might seem like plain manure to outsiders. The bottom can be a messy place, but it is the wellspring of success . . ..

What is the foundation of creativity?  One aspect is to prepare your ground and the nutrients needed from growth.

2. Trusting what is there  Creative cultivators trust what is there. A wise cultivator resists the temptation to “dig up the seed”, as it were, to check if people are being creative enough. Many breakthrough innovation initiatives are stifled by linear project timetables . . ..

I don’t think this means don’t manage.  Think instead of the ways that Charles Jacobs (In my review of Management Rewired) operates in a Socratic mode collapsing the manager and leader distinction.

3. Seeing the ecosystem:  By their nature, gardens are part of larger ecosystems.

Two things.  Reflecting Howkins, the surrounding intellectual / learning community is an important source for creativity, as we already know in Silicon Valley, the North Carolina research triangle or Boston’s 128 Corridor.  But, it is also important the companies cultivate open environments and their infrastructures and policy frameworks recognize and encourage open boundaries.  Open models are becoming very successful.

4. Taking a bird’s eye view:  Finally, creative cultivators do all of the above while simultaneously curating the garden from a bird’s eye view. Managing a portfolio of creative endeavors requires knowing how many plants a certain piece of land can support and then pruning or as culling appropriate.  . . . guiding growth to be something unique and wonderful – that is the essence of strategy, and of gardening as well.

Diego also emphasizes that we can’t manage creativity, it can only be led:

(Creative Companies) see the leadership of creativity, in all its facets and complexity, as something akin to the act of cultivating a garden. Particularly when it comes to harnessing the power of emergent behavior, where creativity morphs into world-changing innovations, leaders must all — in fact, can only — tend to their gardens.  They must learn to become cultivators of creativity.

Echoing Howkins ideas of the importance of a culture of creativity, Diego says:

. . . it is incumbent upon leaders to unleash the creativity of the many, not the few.  . . . Modern organizations . . . must be able to tap in to the creativity, intelligence, and initiative of everyone affiliated with the brand, not just the talent of a select creative few.

In my next post I’ll review a Hemlin, Allword & Martin article “Creative Knowledge Environments (2008, Creativity Research Journal, 20, 2 196-210.).

Management Rewired Reviewed: A Summary

Nine is the final and wrap-up chapter of Jacobs’ book.  It does not present new information and I will use this post to summarize my ideas about this book.

First, what is the contribution of Neuro-science?  I believe that neuroscience and fMRI studies are very important, especially going forward, but at this point they seem to be insufficient in themselves.  We still need to understand and interpret the data and that depends on psychology more generally.  Jacobs’ suggestions are very interesting, and management could certainly benefit from a stronger connection to the insights of other social sciences, it is just that his positions could be better supported by the findings outside neuroscience.  In a future post I will look at the social nature of learning, working, and the artifacts that we use to make sense of organizations.  I think this can not only support Jacobs position, but may be able to extend them further.

What are the primary insights that I have gained from this book?

  1. The mind works holistically.  Don’t be ruled by emotion, but logical mind sets that discount emotion can cloud important insights.  When logical thinking discounts emotions and the holistic nature of the mind, it is constraining decisions not making them better.
  2. Higher mental functions like stories, paradigms, metaphors or theories can focus and enable thinking skills in a way that honors the minds holistic nature.
  3. Relationships are complex and understanding that people are active thinkers with minds of their own is a much more functional method of management.  Treating people and organizations as mindless machines is counterproductive.  Jacobs makes the mind (behaviorism’s epi-phonemena) central  in management.
  4. Instead of relying solely on managers abilities, avail yourself of employees mental capabilities.  Be like Socrates: ask don’t tell, ask for objectives, for reviews of their work, for their ideas about support needs.

Management Rewired Reviewed: Chapters 5, 6, 7 & 8

Chapter 5 discusses the benefits of organizing through small cross-functional teams over hierarchal forms and chapter 6 talks about examples of strategy and how emotion and other previously mentioned themes can have an impact for good or ill.  There is nothing particularly new in either of these chapters.

The topic of chapter 7 is change and change management.  Jacobs addresses this subject through previously introduced topics.  He suggests leading change by changing the paradigm and avoiding negative relationship dynamics.  Because we often think of organizations like machines (he calls this Aristotelian logic) rather than mindful thinking people, the best path to change can often seem counter-intuitive rather than direct.

In chapter 8 Jacobs talks about transformational leadership (as opposed to transactional leadership).  The idea of a transformational approach is consistent with the main themes of this book, but I think it can be better viewed by looking at the distinction between leading and managing (See the subsection Leadership versus management in the Wikipedia leadership article).  Jacobs’ ideas of Socratic management de-emphasizes power relationships while emphasizing vision and empowerment.  This makes the distinction between leading and managing to almost nil.  His 5 key actions of leadership reads like a summary of the book in actionable terms (paraphrased):

  1. Transform the way people think; shift the paradigm
  2. Make it Participative;
  3. Convey an aspirational vision
  4. Tell the Story: Use the power of narrative
  5. Create focus and urgency