Wednesday, February 20, 2008

LT2008: Jay Cross tells us everything flows

A rather late reflection on Jay Cross's opening keynote at LT2008.

Jay started by expressing the view that the major challenges facing managers today were due to the transition from an industrial model to a more biological/organic one. He gave a potted history of the evolution of networks from isolated nodes with little or no communication between them, through kingdoms where knowledge is accumulated and imbues power, to an interconnected democracy. In this knowledge democracy, the boundaries between work, learning and leisure become blurred and there is no longer a traditional “clocking off” at a specific time of day. It becomes increasingly difficult to make predictions, as a wider circle of contributors have the power to influence outcomes and changes impact the whole community. Intangibles and services have an increased share of market value.He challenged us as to our readiness for this model. Whereas in the old model it was “the world as a machine”, whereas the new model is “the world as a biosphere” in which there is no “head tree”.He explored the concept of natural learning, as observed in small children who naturally seek to master their environment. Natural learning, as he saw it, consisted of

  • comprehension, borne out of observation, experimentation and mimicry (the last of which he considered undervalued in the corporate environment)
  • conversation
  • collaboration (team accomplishments and peer learning)
Jay then explored the impact of the Internet on corporate structures. He no longer saw this as an optional provision, since Internet access facilitates contact between different teams, suppliers and customers and even competitors. Tools such as instant messaging result in the penetration of silos, puncturing the hierarchical approach to the dissemination of information and cutting through red tape. He touched on the concept of the permanently beta environment, in which people are able to develop their own tools collaboratively. He pointed out that open source applications are more reputable than many appreciate, citing Apache and Firefox as examples. He reminded us of the extent to which the internet makes things, people and information “findable”, particularly since the advent of tagging. He also mentioned the affordances of podcasts and online meetings.

Jay then tackled the subject of learning-and-the-internet head on, using the three focus areas he had mentioned earlier:

Comprehension - “don't join the dots” he urged us “leave them something to do for themselves.” He spoke of the value of identified champions and urged us to empower them, to give them access to what they needed to know and the tools to communicate this to others. He emphasised the importance of moving from a push training model to a pull learning model in which it is easy for a learner to learn what they need to know when they want to know it.

Conversation – Jay urged us to encourage conversation, to move away from the cubicle model in which movement and conversation are restricted. He spoke of the value of blogs and vlogs, directing our attention to the blogs of Jonathan Schwartz (CEO and President of Sun Microsystems) and Doug Englebart (although for the life of me, I can't find a URL to link to!). He spoke out in favour of what he called “street wisdom” and the sharing of information at grass roots level and advised us not only to let it happen, but to put mechanisms in place to encourage and facilitate it.

Collaboration – Put simply this refers to working with others, thereby augmenting one's own intelligence. As Jay saw it, there were several web 2.0 tools which enabled the division of labour across dispersed teams, such as profiles, tagging, blogs and online communities. He suggested that we consider creating internal wikis by means of which communities could pool their knowledge, adding value to individual and to the organisation, thus pushing the business forward.

No comments: