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.

Learning Beyond a Standardized Approach

Interesting post by Jay Cross that helpes me clarify my last post and explore some new directions.  In his post Jay says;

No more efficiency models, and no more Six Sigma. Forget that. We aren’t in a stable environment and won’t be in a stable environment. We have to have our people go out and experiment, innovate, and invent. Job descriptions, competency management systems, and all that legacy stuff are needless baggage.

So, a good first question to ask yourself is, “Is there evidence for functional stability in the environment”?  I mean functional in that, is there real stability, or are conservative forces trying to hang onto a fading paradigm.  If the answer is yes, than there may be a place for six sigma and other standardized programs.  But if the field is in flux, and there is a lot of flux today, than standardization can’t be your primary focus or strategy.

So if your area is in flux, how can you focus your strategy.  Jay also has some good suggestions for structuring learning processes and environments for a learning strategy.

(I)f you have an employee who is entering a new area . . .  and they have no framework, then formal learning is the way to get them up to speed—to learn the lay of the land, the technique, and the structure. But as soon as you form a complete tableau in your mind of that domain, then you are empowered to go out and fill in the pieces.

This country has missed one of the best opportunities for employee development and worker fulfillment by not asking the employee her life aspirations. Once you identify that and let the people you work with know that, you plan together to make it happen. . . . If you have a manager who isn’t willing to participate in making people better, then throw him out the door. Focus on the platform. The program stuff will get what they need if they have the right platform and things are hooked up. . . . establish an environment for learning—where you can focus specifically on your learning ecology and what will make it healthy and grow.

Some Factors that Support Creativity and Innovation

A couple articles relevant to my 12-6 post, which may also form the beginnings of a partial psychological explanation of Richard Forida’s Spikey World and Creative Class theories.  (Note – Florida’s data is primarily a correlative macro-analysis, however, these theories must also function and be analyzable at a micro level in a way that represents people’s everyday relationships.)

First, the opposite perspective – What will not help Education

Recent news is reporting on America’s falling test scores and the potential dire consequences if improvement is not found.  Now, I really can’t make a judgement without delving deep into the data, but I suspect that the most direct route to improving test scores will be some form of discipline and it will be exactly the opposite of what would help us devise a competitive advantage vis a vis the rest of the world.  Test scores are not the answer.  The answer is innovation for business and economic success.

How to Create Innovation and a 21st Century Economy: Play

I’ll examine 2 articles that make the case for the importance of play and a positive playful attitude for creation and innovation. Furthermore, read below the surface and you will find that this is not just for children.  A playful attitude is important wherever creativity is needed and today that is almost everywhere.

Tracing the Spark of Creative Problem-Solving by Benedict Carey

Main point –

. . . people were more likely to solve word puzzles with sudden insight when they were amused . . . positive mood, is lowering the brain’s threshold for detecting weaker or more remote connections” to solve puzzles.  . . . “It’s imagination, it’s inference, it’s guessing; and much of it is happening subconsciously,” said Marcel Danesi, a professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto and the author of “The Puzzle Instinct: The Meaning of Puzzles in Human Life.”  “It’s all about you, using your own mind, without any method or schema, to restore order from chaos,”. . .

Those whose brains show a particular signature of preparatory activity, one that is strongly correlated with positive moods, turn out to be more likely to solve the puzzles with sudden insight than with trial and error . . . “At this point we have strong circumstantial evidence that this resting state predicts how you solve problems later on,” Dr. Kounios said, “and that it may in fact vary by individual.”

The second article is from Fast Company’s Design Blog; Frog Design: The Four Secrets of Playtime That Foster Creative Kids

There is a myth, common in American culture, that work and play are entirely separate activities. I believe they are more entwined than ever before. As the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget once said, “Play is the answer to how anything new comes about.” A playful mind thrives on ambiguity, complexity, and improvisation—the very things needed to innovate and come up with creative solutions to the massive global challenges in economics, the environment, education, and more. . . . How then can we get our youngest generation to embrace the role of designer rather than (game) player? Fundamentally, it starts by letting children be the inventors of play.

The article recommends 4 ways to make this happen.

  1. Open Environments – open environments are those in which the child gets to be the author and the medium is open to interpretation.
  2. Flexible Tools – Part of being open is being flexible. Technology has given us a whole new set of tools, though they’re being used in ways not necessarily planned for.
  3. Modifiable Rules – Being open and flexible within parameters is necessary and even helpful, but what happens when the parameters themselves no longer fit our needs?
  4. Superpowers – the physical and mental skills that we develop to adapt and thrive in a complex world while exploring the creative opportunities made possible by global progress.  . . . It’s crucial to understand that we aren’t born with playful minds, we create them.  . . . When 85 percent of today’s companies searching for creative talent can’t find it, will more focus on standardized curriculum, testing, and memorization provide the skills an emergent workforce needs? Not likely. Play is our greatest natural resource. In the end, it comes down to playing with our capacity for human potential. Why would we ever want to limit it? In the future, economies won’t just be driven by financial capital, but by play capital as well.  (Emphasis added)

The Play Ethic

In the Afterword to the book Education in the Creative Economy (Play, the Net, and the Perils of Educating for the Creative Economy) Pat Kane speaks of a new basis for work informed by the play ethic (and a new common sense):

(A)fter the obsolescence of the work ethic . . . (t)he play ethic is an alternative belief-system that asserts that in an age of mass higher education, continuing advances in personal and social autonomy, and ubiquitous digital networks (and their associated devices), there exists a surplus of human potential and energy that will not be satisfied by the old workplace routines of duty and submission.

Kane calls neoteny (the retention of juvenile features in the adult animal) the basis of our biological non-specialization that allows us to respond uniquely to unusual circumstances.

(W)e are not determined by our environment, but make and construct our worlds? This is mirrored by the “permanent precarity of jobs,” where we wander nomadically from one cloud in the nebulous world of labor markets to another.

While this state has the potential to produce anxiety, it also holds the possibility to unleash the “constitutive power of play” that can be productively used, especially if we can wed it to a resilience and supportive infrastructure

Learning: From Content to Capabilities

There are two major trends that I think will shape the future of educational theory.  One is the shift to peer networks as the organizing structure of tomorrow’s learning platforms (and away from the sage / university).  The reason for the shift to networks (discussed in greater detail here) is the need for learning is distributed across a person’s lifespan and the source for learning is distribute throughout the peer population.  The second shift is from knowledge content to capability.   In this post I would like to address in detail the second shift, from knowledge to capability and ultimately linking it to performance.
The links between the knowledge gained at school and later performance have always been tenuous at best.  This is not surprising in light of what we know about performance.  Think of it this way.  If you talk with an expert, the first thing you notice is that they have a wealth of content knowledge.  That knowledge, accumulated through participation in activity, is necessary for practice.  The problem is, you can’t create an expert by teaching knowledge as simple content the way that most schooling is conducted.  Knowledge and performance are related in complex ways in expert practice.  As Sawyer puts it:
Studies of knowledge workers show that they almost always apply their expertise in complex social settings, . . . where knowledge is not just a static mental structure inside the learner’s head; instead, knowing is a process that involves the person, the tools and other people in the environment, and the activities in which that knowledge is being applied. . . .  in addition to acquiring content, what happens during learning is that patterns of participation in collaborative activity change over time (Sawyer, 2007, p. ).
My analysis is simple.  If we want to improve performance, don’t measure knowledge, measure and focus on the construct of capability.  (I am not yet making a distinction between terms like capability, capacity or skill.  All terms are used in the literature, often in interchangeable ways.)  Capabilities can be analyzed at an individual, group organizational, regional or even at the national level.  Capabilities are social to the extent that most work is completed in collaboration with others and it is often necessary to build teams around people that have diverse, but complimentary capabilities.  From an educational standpoint I will raise two concerns.
  1. Capabilities are flexible and always need to be in developed in anticipation of future opportunities.
  2. No team enters a problem space with all the capabilities they will need.  All work involves the need to learn and the need to add to the team’s and to each individual member’s capabilities portfolios.
We want to do 4 things at the organizational level as a prelude to bring capability development into the organization.
  1. Define the core capabilities that are needed.
  2. Develop appropriate measures of these capabilities
  3. Understand the educational methods to develop more or stronger capabilities
  4. Understand how capabilities are distributed across the organization
There is a possible endless list of capabilities, but we need to find the aspects of this construct that correlate with performance and performance measures.  Some competencies are harder to measure (like crafting relationships, trust and legitimacy) than others (like technical or logistical skills), but I begin with the idea of performance and work back from there.  Baser et al lists the following five as their core capabilities and I will use these as a place to begin.
  1. The capability to commit and engage  – This includes drive, confidence, ambition, self-perception and the attitude to persist in the face of opposition.  This can include hiring the right people and having the right strategy and expectations, but it must also involve development and empowerment.
  2. The capability to adapt and renew – To respond appropriately and strategically to rapid or even destabilizing change by fostering dialogue and by calling on the agility to reposition or reconfigure the organization.  Most research concerns the construct of resilience, both for individuals and for organizations.
  3. The capability to balance diversity and coherence, to have a variety of perspectives while resisting fragmentation, to encourage both stability and innovation.  Includes strong communication and relationship abilities as well as the ability to manage paradox and tension.
  4. The capability to relate and to attract – the ability to craft, manage and sustain key relationships and the ability to build trust and sustain credibility within those relationships.
  5. The capability to carry out ethnical, service delivery and logistical tasks – The emphasis is on functional, instrumental ways of meeting a set of objectives and fulfilling a mandate (i.e. business analytics, financial management, project management etc. . . .).
This is just a beginning.  I’ll need to explore methods for capability development as well as addressing measurement concerns, but that is for a later date.
Bases, H., Morgan, P., Bolger, J., Brinkerhoff, D., Land, A., Taschereau, S., Watson, D. and Zinke, J. Capacity, Change and Performance: Study Report, European Center for Development Ploicy Management. File Accessed June 2010 at$FILE/PMB22_e_CDapproaches-capacitystudy.pdf
R.K. Sawyer (2007). Optimising Learning: Implication of Learning Science Research, in Center for Educational Research and Innovation, Models of Learning and Innovation: Draft Report accessed 6/17/2010 at$FILE/JT03235431.PDF

Professional Networks as Learning Platforms: A Idea for Lifelong Learning

Two related ideas, one on learning in educational settings and one for learning in business.

1. Learning in educational settings should only be considered successful if you both learn how to learn and if you are provided with the resources to learn into the future.  Most post secondary education is organized around courses that have a beginning and an end with a bounded set of knowledge, but this does not square with the idea of lifelong learning and with the learning demands modern society places upon us.  Society is still set up so that first you learn to do and then you are expected to go forth and do, but we are understanding more and more how doing and learning are inexplicability bounded together with one another.  It seems to me that courses should end not with an examination, but with a path forward that points out what you don’t yet know and an introduction to a society where that learning can take place.  A degree should not give you a bounded set of knowledge, but with an introduction to the flexible outlines of a path and the means to pursue that path.

2. Knowledge is more distributed than we have ever acknowledged and knowledge networks are a key in knowledge development.  Business once developed around the idea of a cooperative advantage that comes from locking up and exploiting resources including people and knowledge.  Knowledge’s half life continues to stink daily and I’m not sure that the super smart people really ever existed beyond the hype.  Today’s  business imperative is learning and to do that you must be tapped into broad knowledge and idea flows that only exist in networks.  It’s the idea that we are all smarter together than anyone of us individually and we can actualize this intelligence through networks.  We are not talking mobs and mob mentality, but we are talking networks where the nodes are smart people full of knowledge, ideas and experience.

These ideas are related in this way; if we want our students to have a next generation education, it will require that we put them on a path for lifelong learning, not through courses that never stop, but through learning that is embedded in everyday activities.  That takes a different type of resource then we find in the university system.  The closest thing we have to that resource are professional networks that are set up to function as learning platforms.

Concept clarification of Evidence-Based Management

My current series of post are centered on clarifying the meaning of being evidence-based and a recent article (Briner, Denyer & Rousseau, 2009) falls right in line with this task.  The article focusses on 4 key points in clarifying EBMgmt.

1. EBMgt (Evidence-based Management) is something done by practitioners, not scholars.

One caveat here, the implication that practitioniers do not need to be scholars.  The type of scholarship and scholarly activity may be different, but evidence-based practice is based on scientific inquiry and requires a certain level of knowledge and thought.  People often talk of this being a knowledge age, which if true, will mean that more and more people need a better understanding of various forms of scholarship.  Understanding science is often a foundation of educational programs designed to prepare evidence-based practitioners.  The scientific tasks of practitioners will be different than other types of scholarship.  It is scholarship focused on what’s relevant to practice and it’s true that practitioners often find current scholarship irrelevant, but there is a type of scholarship that will drive the evidence-based movement.

2.EBMgt is a family of practices, not a single rigid formulaic method.

Determining the validity of one’s practice focuses on the total context of practice.  Both it’s method and the type of evidence required is multifaceted.

3. Scholars, educators, and consultants can all play a part in building the essential supports for the practice of EBMgt. To effectively target critical knowledge and related resources to practitioners, an EBMgt infrastructure is required; its development depends on the distinctive knowledge and skills found in each of these communities.

Well said!  I also hope that we see related innovative thinking in these communities as well.

4. Systematic reviews (SRs) are a cornerstone of EBMgt practice and its infrastructure, and they need to possess certain features if they are to be informative and useful.

I believe the infrastructure needs should focus on systematic reviews that go beyond what work in a simplistic fashion.  It should focus on the total needs of practitioners who are developing their practice by means of scientific inquiry.  Major et al (2009) in the December issue of American Psychologist is a good example of a through review process.  Their article reviews the empirical research on the links between abortion and women’s mental health, a highly contested and politicalized issue.  They first look at how relevant concepts and research questions have been framed by various studies.  They consider various problems with the data before analyzing the results organized by different parameters.  Because of their comprehensive approach, their conclusions not only provide a good empirical summation, but will also contribute to practitioners’ understanding of the relevant issues from a number of different perspectives and how it might relate to different practices.

My next post will focus on what types of knowledge (and hence what type of infrastructure) might be needed by the scientific inquiry of practitioners.


Major, B., Applebaum, M., Beckman, L., Duton, M.A., Russo, N.F. & West, C. (2009). Abortion and Mental Health: Evaluating the Evidence, American Psychologist, Vol 64 (9) pp.863-890

Briner, R.B., Denyer, D. & Rousseau, D.M., (2009). Evidence-Based Management: Concept Cleanup Time? Academy of Management Perspectives, Vol. 23(4), pp. 19-32.

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.

Cartesian Problems in Communicating about Designing and Design Thinking

Interesting article – Thinking About Design Thinking – by Fred Collopy blogging for Fast Company.  Fred considers, “As (Design Thinking) is a way of talking about what designers can contribute to areas beyond the domains in which they have traditionally worked, about how they can improve the tasks of structuring interactions, organizations, strategies and societies, it is a weak term”, because it makes a “distinction between thinking and acting.”

As Fred points out Design Thinking is beset by the Cartesian Mind – Body problem, which is frequently being rejected today.  One form of rejection is found in the idea, “thought” has it’s genesis in “action”, like how you learn to walk and then you learn to think about where you want to go.  A similar idea (attributed to Bakhtin) is that Cartesian thinking unnecessarily divides being from becoming, where the abstractions of disembodied thought never fully capture either the actions of our lives or the moral aspects of those actions.

This is especially important for education that often has it exactly backwards, trying to teach you how to think in order to go out into the world to act.  Education would be so much more valuable if there were no dichotomous walls. (i.e. classroom/world, schooling/working, or even the idea that education = a 4 year quest for certification instead of an ongoing quest for knowledge.)

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