Sunday, March 19, 2017

Permaculture Design Course - Setting Goals

Here is a simple map which helped me articulate what my goals were for the permaculture design course I've signed up for.  Articulating goals was one of the tasks for the first assignment in anticipation of the first class (next weekend).  The benefit of the map and the mapping process is that it allows me to see how the top level goals are related and part of a broader system.  I don't use color-coding very often but in this case it was a simple way of identifying what I had already completed, what I wanted to do in the near term, and some vision for the longer term.

Map #25 - Goal Setting with Color-coded Prioritization (simple)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Permaculture and Design Thinking

I have developed an obsessive interest in permaculture in the past few weeks.  I've binged watched countless YouTube videos, including an entire MOOC provided by Oregon State University and everything my local library had on the subject.

Why the sudden interest?  Some of it may have to do with the fact that spring is coming and I have been trying to do something about the yard (front and back).  But there is more to it.  Permaculture isn't your typical backyard gardening.  It's much more intriguing.  

1) The thinking that goes into it, the design thinking part of it is critical;

2)  You don't wait for a perfect design. Clearly, a lot of thought goes into where to plant what, but it's really a matter of learning over time what works best for the unique characteristics of the site you're working on and starting small;

3) It's simple, trying to mimic nature, and yet very complex (just like nature) because of all the interactions among the different elements of the system.

I signed up for a hands-on permaculture design class that will take place over 6 weekends through the spring, summer and into early fall.  Some things you can learn with books and YouTube videos, but this requires playing with dirt (and compost).

My favorite YouTube videos so far on this topic are the collection from the Bec Helloin farm in France (mostly in French).  This is a great little piece of paradise but the permaculture principles have been applied on a large scale in other countries, including China (see the experience of the Loess Plateau).

Here's a little map synthesizing what I've retained so far at a very high level.

Map #24 - Understanding Permaculture - A Beginner's Map

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Fitness Training and Work-based Learning - Some parallels

Training for a sport competition is all about achieving one's maximum potential at a specific point in time (the competition), and therefore planning the training regimen based on a specific schedule.  However, without a competition in sight, it should still be possible to reach a certain high level of performance (if not peak performance) on a sustained basis.  It is not possible to always be at peak performance.

We do the same when preparing for a difficult exam.  We prepare, we rest the day before to be able to reach peak performance during the exam.

How can we maintain a high level of cognitive performance, a high level of learning and adapting throughout life without competitions and exams to push us towards peak performance?

We know from neuroscience that one of the key characteristics of the brain is its plasticity.  Our brains, just like the rest of our body, have a great deal of potential for remaining highly performant in later years IF we properly manage them.  It also relates to Robert Bjork's notion of "desirable difficulty."

To maintain a high level of cognitive performance, one hypothesis is that it might be good to create challenges for oneself, the equivalent of the sport competition.  A challenge is more than just routine maintenance of the body or the brain.  A challenge requires pushing oneself beyond one's comfort zone, doing more than what is achived without much effort.

For the brain and the body, this might mean:

Train the Brain Train the Body
Reading in a different language; watching a movie in a completely different language Watch a documentary on a sport you've never tried; watch competitions from other sports.
Picking up a book in a completely different field, something that's going to be difficult to understand, something you will need to pay close attention to cross train, don't stick to one sport that you're comfortable with.
Seek out people, books, websites, etc... that promote ideas/values you disagree with and put yourself in their shoes for a while.. in other words, make your brain work differently, create new neural paths If you don't care for sports competition, go explore the lives of people who compete for a living; If you like competition, go explore the perspective of those who engage in a sport purely for the sake of going out in nature and being alone with nature...
Repeating the same thing over and over doesn't help improve performance Deliberate practice: practice with specific goals in mind, and get feedback so that you learn and make adjustments

Key principles to keep in mind:
  • Seeking high performance requires training -- going beyond basic maintenance;
  • Peak performance cannot be maintained indefinitely but it can be planned for based on a training schedule;
  • Variety/diversity in training is good for performance and for motivation/moral;
Work-based learning can be seen as individual performance and team performance:  Individually, we can all work on our performance, but it is when we come together as high-performing teams that the organization really benefits.  The same is very true in team sports.  Team sports rely on individuals to be fit and performant, but also to train as a team to perform as a team.  Teams of individual performers rarely sustain their success over time.  

On top of the parallels just mentioned in terms of training, we know that a healthy body (achieved through good nutrition, adequate sleep and exercise) is critical for brain health.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Measuring Learning in the Context of Individual Performance Assessments

Abt Associates' Jacob Alex Klerman blogged about the need to proceed with caution when dealing with efforts to measure performance.  It can become a very deep and expensive rabbit hole.

I'd like to push the idea further from a knowledge management/organizational learning perspective.  There have been arguments for including "learning" metrics in individual performance assessments.  The (simplified) logic is that if you want to encourage t a particular behavior, you should measure it.

I'm not sure if there is research on this topic (I suspect there is), but my intuition tells me that while performance monitoring may be useful to identify and take action on under-performing employees, it is much less useful in rewarding high performance employees who are self-motivated in the first place.  You might force under-performing employees to comply with certain things by threatening them with bad performance assessments, but can you force an under-performing employee to learn more?  I doubt it.  Can you help a willing learner?  Yes, but adding a learning metric to their individual performance evaluation won't do it.

So, here's the question: How would/could a learning metric have a positive impact on employee learning?  Perhaps indirectly, by communicating the organization's recognition of learning as an important element of performance; by forcing conversations about what constitutes workplace learning, what is an effective learning strategy for individuals.

If the ultimate objective is to have these ongoing conversations about workplace learning and how it contributes to individual, team and organizational performance, then individual performance metrics may not be the most appropriate starting point.  They may be a minor component of a much broader strategy (see map below).

This also illustrates a point made by Beer, Finnstrom and Schrader (2016) in "The Great Traing Robbery," which is that training -- and leadership development in particular -- needs to be fully integrated with organizational development.