Interesting article and claim by Kazem Chaharbaghi and Sandy Cripps  (2006). Intellectual Capital: Direction, not blind Faith, Journal of Intellectual Capital, 7 (#1) 29-42.

Intellectual capital (IC) has been touted as important to knowledge intensive situations and organizations, but these authors find that traditional management approaches can be self-defeating to the appropriate functioning of IC.  Organizational ecology should nurture IC shifting from directing to enabling exploration that seeks innovation and discovery.  It is somewhat similar to a recent HBR podcast featuring Robert Kaplan suggesting that leaders cannot possible know everything including the right questions to ask about their business.  Instead leaders need to seek out, enable, listen to, and appropriate the analysis of junior partners around them if they desire the best in analysis and direction.

The solution is to change management structures where necessary.  Jon Husband, writing at the Management Innovation eXchange (MIX) makes this suggestion.

We need to revisit the fundamental principles of work design AND the basic rules used to configure hierarchical organizations in which the primary assumption is that knowledge is put to use in a vertical chain of decision-making.  I am not arguing that we need to replace hierarchy holus-bolus. Rather, I am suggesting that the capabilities of information systems combined with social computing capabilities and two decades of experience with team development and organizational development processes can permit centralization (read hierarchy) where and when necessary, and networked configurations where and when necessary … both centralization and decentralization.

Artists, Creativity and Innovation

Working on 2 thought projects:

  1. How to justify practice from an evidence-based perspective
  2. The importance of artists and artistic environments in building creative learning environments.

Patrick Dunn alerted me to an issue of The Journal of Business Strategy that explores artists and business innovation.  This is a comment I left on his blog in response to the opening article by Nessley (Arts-based learning at work: economic downturns, innovation upturns, and the eminent practicality of arts in business).

I don’t think the value of the arts can be expressed in a linear fashion as in Nissley’s examples. My belief is that many innovations do not come out of nowhere, but are expressions of a zeitgeist. That is, many different innovations in different parts of the culture share parts of an internal structure or nature. Artists are important for innovation because they live on the edge of this zeitgeist; constantly testing its forms and limits. This zeitgeist spreads across disciplines like a meme, sowing the seeds of innovation. The arts become important for business when business is exposed to this spread and can adopt portions for its own innovation. It’s the artistic environment that’s needed, exposure to the thinking of people on the edge. It should be part of the regular business environment because it may be the 100 iteration of a particular portion of the zeitgeist that finally lights the needed spark.

I think business innovators, entrepreneurs and artist are all cut from a similar mold and all can be valuable contributors to an edge environment. It is an edgy environment that is important, not a Picasso on the wall or the thousandth rendition of a Beethoven piece.

More on this after a bit more research.

#cck11 – Equipotency: A Potentially Important Concept for Connectivism?

I would like to contrast some recent interesting posts (prompted by the CCK11 MOOC) with the peer to peer concept of equipotency which I will define as: an open and equal capability to participate in diverse social network activity.  The theoretical / memetic foundation of equipotency is the emergence of open peer to peer culture, that I think can also be related to the idea of knowledge flows, as defined by Hagel, Brown and Davison (HB&D) in the Power of Pull.

Stephen Downes notes that we need a precise vocabulary  to analyze and talk about social networks.

Rather than use prejudicial and imprecise vocabulary, . . . we can respond to it meaningfully, with clarity and precision.  . . . the point is that we can use network terminology to explain much more clearly complex phenomena such as instruction, communities and interaction.

I believe we need much more than vocabulary, we also need a framework; a theoretical account to help us distinguish between information and noise and to point out how things are changing overtime.  This is the relevance of connectivism as a theory. What is the connectivism framework?  I like Jennie McKensie’s summary in a Connectivism Linkedin Group conversation when she says:

Understanding according to George Siemens is, “Depth, Diversity, Frequency, Integration and the strength of your Ties”.

But, Paul McKensie reply was also interesting.

Knowledge is distributed with a decreasing half-life – why do we insist on cementing the same blocks of content together.

Traditional education, focusing on content and a specified curriculum is, I think, an example of HB&D’s push learning.  It can only really be successful where knowledge is stable, changing only slowly.  When we are faced with situations where knowledge behaves more like Paul’s decreasing half-life metaphor, we need an openness to change that focuses on more than things like equipotency.  Equipotency may become an important to a connectivism framework.  Concepts such as tie strength may not be focussing on the most salient aspects of learning relationships.

Sui Fai John Mak further expands on this discussion through discourse analysis and asks whether discourse and power relationships are important to the social web.  Quoting Rita Kop he says;

(T)he notion of  ‘supernode’ predictably emerges when some contributors are recognized by a  number of others as having particular relevance to, or knowledge of a problem. There seems to be a natural tendency within the ‘perfectly’ democratic network to organize itself, over time, in a hierarchical system composed of leaders and followers.

In her dissertation Rita also said:

As research has shown, the open WWW has a hierarchical structure and is not the power free environment that some would like us to believe (Barabasi, 2003; Mejias, 2009) (pp. 267-268)

HB&D’s point is that it is not longer possible to identify what will be important in order to push it out to the network.  Digital networks can be seen as a flow of knowledge, and the point is to be open and able to draw on this flow in productive ways.  As I commented on John’s blog: many people are still searching for expertise in their network participation, teachers or knowledgable others (in Rita’s terminology) who can push the knowledge they need to their where they are at the time of need, but participation in peer to peer culture recognizes that value can arise from any node and can not be predicted in advance.  Supernodes, if they are truly valuable, may represent people who are not experts or knowledgable others in content knowledge, but are most able to recognize value in the knowledge flowing around them.

Open peer to peer culture as a way to understand the creation of value and participation in web-based social networks.  Peer to peer culture according to wikipedia is described and defined as:

  • Relationly and structurally dynamic,
  • based on the assumed equipotency of its participants,
  • organized through the free cooperation of equals

Task wise it can be thought of as:

  • the performance of a common task (peer production),
  • for the creation of a common good (peer property),
  • and with forms of decision-making and autonomy that are widely distributed throughout the network (peer governance).

Peer to peer culture may describe a new evolving type of community that is relevant to learning, especial where knowledge is in development.  It is likely important for collaboration and Collaborative Inquiry and it may warrant a prominent place in the Connectivist’s framework.  As I see it, equipotency is an important key to peer network organization.  Strong and weak ties, expertise, authority, and other forms of discourse based power can exist within and can influence network activities, but like Hagel Brown and Davison’s emphasis on serendipity, value creation can not be easily predicted and does not always emanate from expertise or strong network ties. Networks must be open to the unexpected contribution of any node in the network.  This is the basis of equipotency and peer to peer value creation networks.

#CCK11 – The Bias in Frames are an Integral Part of Design, Innovation and Education

Serendipity drawns me back into the frames discussion, this time through Jon Kolko’s Magic of Design series on the Fast Company Design Blog.  This post also relates to an assertion that the arts are integral to the 21 Century economy.  Most people’s everyday work lives operate in something close to a scientific orientation, but we still need access to a more biased and creative orientation.  Integrating the arts into our social workspaces give us inspiration to add design thinking to this workspace and the process is explained through Jon Kolko’s Magic of Design.

I’ve previously discussed Jon’s first 2 posts on a process for innovation and providing work space to explore deviant ideas.  His last post in this series is about the importance of bringing frames, perspectives and biases to the design process.  The statement: “the true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time” is attributed to F Scott Fitzgerald.  To participate in design processes, the trick is to bring both diversity and this type of intelligence to your processes.  In this case, we can not ignore science as a way of driving our actions, but we also need creative innovation, and in some ways science and innovation are at opposing ends of a spectrum.  Sometimes we need to embrace our biases.  As Jon explains it:

For as a designer stands in front of a whiteboard in a war-room, surrounded by anecdotes, quotes, pictures, sketches, and working models — and searching for a new, innovative, and persuasive idea — she is relying on her ability to connect something in her own life with something in the data she’s gathered. She is purposefully applying a frame of bias to objective, empirical data, in order to produce something new.

This is called sensemaking.  . . . the interplay of action and interpretation rather than the influence of evaluation on choice.”  . . . all of this (design activity) is useless if the people doing the synthesis aren’t very interesting. Synthesis requires a team of varied and highly eclectic designers who are empowered to embrace their biased perspectives. . . . Groundbreaking design doesn’t come through statistical regression testing, metrics, and causality. It comes from the richness of a biased perspective on the world.

Here is the primary Issue: How do we hold the multiple perspective as important and shift between them on an everyday bases?  There is no place where this is more important than in education.  What kind of Environment can help us to function better in this way?

Encouraging Innovation, Demystifying Design

This post is based on Jon Kolko’s Fast Company’s design blog post and follows Jon’s previous post on design synthesis here and a post on playfulness here.

Demystifying design could be a good theme of Jon’s posts.  Today he looks at the relation of playfulness to innovation and the work cultural requirements in three points.

Embrace dynamic constraints.

Any design or artistic endeavor needs constraints to focus participant activities within an endless universe of possibilities.  Jon’s point is that the best art accepts constraints and then selectively finds innovation by stepping outside of those constraints.  Hence, accept constraints, but also accept the possibility that constraint may take on a dynamic character.  Encourage a culture of functional flexibility.

Provide a Runway (Space) to Explore Deviant Ideas

Don’t allow decision processes to squash deviant ideas during design processes, even conflictual ideas.

The notion of being playful is to appreciate and encourage divergent thinking and the shifting, flexing, and removing of constraints. Play is about exploring “what-if” scenarios; that is, dream states. Our lives, jobs, and compensation are so frequently tied to rational thought that we have often forgotten how to actively dream, yet these dreams — the ability to generate ideas, outlandish or otherwise — are at the core of design innovation. Design synthesis embraces this divergent dreaming.

Encourage Flow and Autonomous Decision Making

Jon references psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of flow; an “automatic, effortless, yet highly focused state of consciousness.”   I diverge with Jon on this point.  I like the idea of flow, but I’m going with Hagel’s  knowledge flows, not Csikszentmihalyi’s version, which I think takes us back toward magical thinking.  I interpret Hagel’s flow as much more than a rational process.  It is a social, emotional and unpredictable process that has some similarities with Jon’s approach.  It fits the idea of playful design spaces, but doesn’t depend specifically on a hard to define altered state of consciousness, which may or may not be available when they are needed.

A “Clean-Sheet” Perspective for Education: A Rationale Derived from Hagel and Brown

Interesting HBR article: Innovation Blowback: Disruptive Management Practices from Asia (Hagel & Brown, 2003).

Their main point

Companies offshore production to cut wages, gain access to skills and capabilities and seek new markets, but they fail to gain more than a small affluent segment of these emerging markets because they do not seek the level of innovations to target the demands of the larger low-wage market.  Long-term they then are often undercut by the local companies that do seek this level of innovation.

What do the authors recommend:

  1. Specialize, develop partnerships and orchestrate the resulting process network to extend your capabilities.
  2. Develop open collaborative environments and orchestrate innovation within these partnership networks.
  3. It is not enough to strip costs from existing products.  Instead, redesign products and processes from a “Clean-sheet” perspective in a way that amplifies your own distinctive capabilities and those of the partners in your network.

Relevance for Education

Whether it’s high school dropouts, workers needing re-training, organizations with new learning demands, higher expectations from graduates, or a multitude of other new demands for learning; we too are facing new and different “markets” for learning.  It is not enough just to make small adjustments to existing systems that were designed for other demands.  We need to redesign our educational products and processes by innovating within our own capabilities and by seeking open network partnerships to extend those capabiities.

The Search for a New Common Sense

I’ll begin where I left off in my last post.  Our task (as educators) is to find a new common sense for how to operate in a 21st Century economy (Hagel and Brown).

The Current State of Affairs

Here is my big picture view of what is going on in the economy today.  Globalization, digitalization, standardization and other productivity improving factors are decreasing general labor requirements; a first level of economic restructuring.  Some of that labor is falling to low wage and low skill service jobs, but there is a significant effort being directed to developing totally new forms of value.  Hagel and Brown’s call is consistent with the call of Drucker to improve the productivity of knowledge workers.  What is this new common sense; this new source of productivity:

Living on the edge will help you build the strongest core.

What do we mean by this? The edge is where the action is – in terms of growth, innovation and value creation. Companies, workgroups and individuals that master the edge will build a more sustainable core (Hagel and Brown).

The bohemian spirit has defined the edge.  That doesn’t mean we should adopt old bohemian models, but we should be wiling, in various ways, to help people explore their boundaries and boundary conditions.

From Push to Pull:

Over the past century, we have been perfecting highly efficient (push) approaches to mobilizing resources. . . . In education, we design standard curricula . . . In business, we build highly automated plants or service platforms supported by standardized processes . . . In technology, we write massive enterprise applications specifying activities . . . (but) powerful forces (increasing uncertainty, growing abundance, intensifying competition, growing power of customers) are at work shaping the need for an alternative approach. . . pull models help people to come together and innovate in response to unanticipated events, drawing upon a growing array of highly specialized and distributed resources. . . . pull models seek to provide people on the periphery with the tools and resources (including connections to other people) required to take initiative and creatively address opportunities as they arise (Hagel & Brown).

Note: this is not the death of standardization.  It is alive and well and plays an important function, but economically speaking, it is playing a decreasing role as a differentiator, a role that is now falling to creativity and innovation.

A Need for New Forms

This is the place for new forms of Personal Learning Environments;  personal environments that we create collectively.  It’s also about developing the resources to be able to pull to you, what you need, when you need it.  It’s also about helping people to find and pursue their passion to creating value, change their thinking and perceiving, and it’s about changing the functions of institutions and organizations in order to fit with this new pull model.

I believe this pull model will increase knowledge work productivity, it will enlighten us on the connections between the economy and the creative industries and it will play a big part in helping us to securely face the future.

A Research Compilation on Inter-firm Networks

Why are learning networks necessary?  Because innovation is importent.  The competitive advantage gained through knowledge or processes is transitory; it just doesn’t last very long in today’s complex dynamic business environment.  Innovation and organization learning are needed to sustain competitive advantage and innovation grows out of collaborative processes, which can be enhanced by participation in network based learning platforms.

Our knowledge of learning networks is limited, but growing.  Ozman has helped by compiling research on inter-firm networks.

Ozman, M (2009).  Inter-firm Networks and innovation: a Survey of Literature.

What do Firm Gain from Networks

Firms benefit from network when they are able to fill structural hole (gaps in their knowledge) or response to complex problems by increasing their social capital.  Increases in complexity tends to increase the importance of tacit knowledge, something that networks with members who have complimentary capabilities can be good at passing on, especialy in face to face situations.  Filling structural holes is also a common problem when businesses are expanding into new lines of business or are in start-up mode and do not have all the knowledge needed.)

Trust, a Necessary component

The most important trait in networks seems to be trust among participants, followed by complementarities between participants (which I feel also implies diversity).

There are many questions that are not addresses like:

  • Development – how do you start and grow networks
  • Efficiency – how do you make networks into effective learning platforms
  • Support – What types of institution supports are needed for best functioning

However, this is a start; a knowledge base from which to begin.

The Big Shift: Moving to a social-cultural-constructivist Educational Framework for Organizational Learning

While reading Jay Cross’s comments on John Hagel’s definition of the Big Shift the thought came to me, that this is really a re-definning of knowledge management within a framework that would be acceptable to a social-cultural-constructivist.  Here are a list of Hagel’s definition categories and my thoughts about them.
From knowledge stocks to knowledge flows: I interpret this as a shift from an attempt to objectify knowledge to the recognition that knowledge is bounded by people and contexts, and that knowledge becomes useful when actualized in real-time processes.  You don’t need a database of content that was written for different contexts and different times.  Instead you need access to conversations with people who have a degree of shared understandings (cognitive contexts).
From knowledge transfer to knowledge creation:  Constructivism is often considered synonymous with discovery learning and I don’t think that is correct, but learning is a building process.  Except for modeling (think: mirror neurons) transfer isn’t a valid metaphor for learning.  Better metaphors are creating, building or growing.  These are literal metaphors if you think of learning as the neurology of synaptic development.  Knowledge creation is often achieved by synthesizing new connection between previous knowledge in new ways and learning is represented neurologically by making new connections between existing neurons.
From explicit knowledge to tacit knowledge:  I really don’t like the term tacit knowledge; I’ve never seen a good definition.  Sometimes it’s explicit knowledge that hasn’t yet been well expresses, sometimes it refers to contextual elements.  I’ve always believed that knowing only exists for doing things, the idea that the deed preceded the word.  Sometimes explicit knowledge is just about trying to ascribing more capability to abstract knowledge than it is able to handle.  Let’s just accept that knowing is for doing, it’s one of the main reasons for getting learning out of the classroom and into the world.  Hagel doesn’t seem to realize this yet and why I don’t seem to get much value from his paragraph on tacit knowledge.
From transactions to relationships:  Trust is indeed becoming more and more important.  I also relate the idea of trust to Umair Haque’s idea of profiting by creating thick value, doing things that make peoples lives better.  I really believe that the transition from transactions to relationships and from thin value to thick has a lot more to do with financial and accounting frameworks than it appears on the surface.  The financial set up has to fit the situation correctly, especially if finance is driving your activity.
From zero sum to positive sum mindsets:
This has a lot to do with boundary crossing, open source, and the aforementioned transaction to relationships paragraph.  A major goal of all organization should be identifying their zero sum process pockets and thinking about moving them to positive sum frameworks.  Often the key is not in the processes themselves, but in the frameworks and cultural understandings that support those processes.
From push programs to pull platforms:
People tend to think of social media here, but that’s just a technology platform.  What is needed first is a cultural platform that makes employees partners and then a relationship platform that blurs organizational boundaries so there is a network to pull from.  While technology can facilitate much, people are the foundation and institutions are important facilitators.
From stable environments to dynamic environments:
This is not a choice, environments are becoming more dynamic, the trick is to develop resilience, the ability to identify when change is needed and the ability to adapt in a timely fashion.  The trick is to not let change become disruptive from a cognitive and a work-flow standpoint.  Sense – learn – respond, it needs to happen all the time and at all levels.  Organizations can cope if individuals are always learning and striving to improve, (something I believe is a part of human nature, that is if organizations do not make structures to stifle it) and if organizations take steps to be flexible in their policy structure.  Refer to the previous paragraph on transactions and relationships.  It is important the employees trust their organization and that their organization must trust their employees.  It;s about creating thick value through and through.
Again this is all pretty much consistent with a social cultural constructivist psychological and educational framework.  Previous ideas about knowledge management could be thought of as a management corollary to positivist psychology.  A rational view that just doesn’t square with the way things seem to work in real life.

We Need Innovation in Creating Thick Value

A Live Science article, Obama: Key to Future Is Innovation by Robert Roy Britt, discusses Obama’s call for innovation through education and controlling health care costs, The problem is that the concepts are a little to vague and unfocussed.  What we need most is innovation in value creation similar to that called for by Umair Haque who writes in the Edge Economy Blog about The Value Every Business Needs to Create Now.  He advocates for thick value.  Thin value is “built on hidden costs, surcharges, and monopoly power”, while thick value is “awesome stuff that makes people meaningfully better off”.  As a country we either need people to shift to thick value or we need to start picking winners and losers with the loser coming from the ranks of the thin group.  If we reduce the cost of health care, it has to come out of someone’s pocket unless that someone starts to create thick value.