Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Mapping Your Speech

I've been a member of Toastmasters for a couple of years.  During that time, I've used a number of methods for preparing speeches, including notecards, fully developed and highly polished text, slide decks, and maps.  I find the map to be the most effective method for quickly developing an organized speech and a set of notes that will fit on one piece of paper.

Here is an example of a map I developed for my latest speech.

Click on the map to open as a larger image in a separate window.
Depending on the intent of the speech, the map can also become a handout for audience members.  A much simpler map around the same theme could also serve as outline for an hour long workshop, allowing audience participants to start thinking about developing their own learning plans.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Uncertainty vs. Ambiguity

I wrote an article for an internal organizational newsletter recently about ambiguity and decision making in the context of project management ("Ambiguity, Decision Making and Program/Project Management," pgs. 22-24, The Critical Path, Winter 2016).  The impetus for the article had nothing to do with current political issues, but now it keeps coming back to mind.  The point I was trying to make in that article is that our aversion to ambiguity makes us dismiss ambiguity rather than force us to tackle it with critical thinking.  It's a cognitive bias we need to be more aware of.

People keep saying that we don't like uncertainty, but what they mean to say is that we don't like ambiguity.  What we are facing with the Trump transition are conditions that resemble ambiguity rather than uncertainty. Uncertainty can be characterized by known risks and probabilities associated with those risks being realized. Ambiguity is characterized by unknown risks and an inability to come up with the probability of various outcomes being realized. When faced with known risks and probabilities, we have risk management analytical tools that allow us to assess the risks and deploy various strategies to address them.  With ambiguity, we tend to hide our heads in the sand, which is never a good idea.  Ignoring a challenge because we don't know how to address it doesn't make it go away.

Regardless of our individual political affiliations, we need to acknowledge that what we are facing is an ambiguous situation rather than an uncertain situation.  Critical thinking skills will be at a premium.  Sharpen your minds!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Entrepreneurial Learning Curve in a Context of Effectuation

This week I came across the concept of entrepreneurial effectuation in a MOOC taught through Coursera by Phillipe Silberzahn.  A key concept behind "effectuation" is that rather than conduct thorough market studies to develop a very detailed strategy and business plan, entrepreneurs tend to launch themselves into the unknown (and sometimes the unknowable) in order to co-create new products and services by working closely with stakeholders, viewing clients almost as partners in the co-creation of new markets.

I wanted to try to elaborate on the learning aspect of this approach, which isn't emphasized in the MOOC.

In the traditional entrepreneurial approach, a great deal of learning happens in the planning phase, as she searches for all the data available about the existing market for the types of services or products she wants to provide, and the data she finds might actually redirect her ambitions towards specific services and products, abandoning an initial idea based on the data collected.  Learning in the planning phase has a huge impact on the strategy eventually being deployed and the nature of the business plan to be implemented.

In the context of effectuation, market research is assumed to have limited value and could constrain the entrepreneur's creativity and ability to develop new markets.  Instead, the critical factor for success is the entrepreneur's ability to learn from its early efforts and evolve the approach, developing the services and products over time and continuously learning and improving.

I would argue that an entrepreneur is therefore engaged in intensive action learning in the early phases of her adventure.  While the intensity of the learning may diminish as the "successful approach" emerges, the learning habit remains and continues to serve the enterprise well over time.

I don't think the entrepreneur has to completely abandon the traditional approach.  There is value in developing a tentative business plan and learning from other's failures and successes in the market she is interested in.  The key is to acknowledge the plan's weaknesses in terms of the assumptions being made and inadequacies of historical market data.  In addition, keep track of ideas that might have been too quickly dismissed by the narrow analysis of the current market.  Effectuation promotes the creation of new markets which could not have been easily predicted by traditional market analysis.

In short, here are a few steps to follow to integrate a strong action learning approach in the entrepreneurial adventure:

1. Develop a plan, but don't treat it as set in stone.  Psychologically, it can be useful to have done some work, to feel a little more prepared, even if the unknown and the ability to create a new path, develop a new market is precisely what attracts the entrepreneurs.

2. Plan for regular reviews, plan to pause and learn, with your key stakeholders.  It's easy to get pulled in all kinds of directions and try many different routes but at some point decisions have to be made about which path is truly going to be successful.

3. Don't become complacent when success is on hand.  Keep learning, improving, creating.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Skills and Tools - Don't Put the Cart Before the Horse

I just came upon a short article in the Harvard Business Review, "Until You Have Productivity Skills, Productivity Tools are Useless," which triggered the following insights.

You could easily replace every instance of the word "productivity" in that article and replace it with "knowledge management."  The point is that skills must come before tools.

Most efforts to build skills after the so-called KM platform has been deployed is really "training" to use that particular platform, failing to impart real knowledge management skills.

We deploy a lessons learned platform and we plan to train people on how to put lessons learned into the system, focusing entirely on the mechanics of uploading a document, filling a web-based lessons learned form.

A more valuable approach in the long term, which would also build buy-in from everyone involved, would start by asking how people have handled lessons learned without a sophisticated KM platform, identify the strengths and weaknesses of existing approaches and some of the lessons and insights that the employees have about lessons learned.

Before you can expect employees to actively participate in an effort to capture valuable lessons learned and post them in a KM system, a lot of groundwork needs to be done.  To be most effective, that groundwork, laying out the foundations for a learning organization, has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with how people think and behave around their own knowledge, that of their team and the entire organization.  Then, more specifically, the employees at all levels need to engage in productive high level conversations around lessons (What constitutes a lesson?  When is a lesson really learned?  How do we share lessons?) as well as more practical conversations, perhaps in the form of hands-on workshops, around documenting specific lessons and working through the complexities involved in that process.

Note that I am not advocating KM "training."  Employees do not need to be trained to become KM experts.  They need a little help thinking and doing their job with a more developed sense of what it means to be part of a learning organization.  None of this needs to be in the form of formal training.  Indeed, the more informal, conversational, hands-on, and embedded in the work flow, the better.