Category Archives: learning institutions

Dancing Alone?

That does not sound like a lot of fun, but many institutions live by strategies that amount to “dancing alone”.

Why this occurs is an interesting topic. More important is what effects this has. The effects, by and large, are to separate those within the entity from the real world. They work inside a bubble, so to speak.

BTW, this is not my idea. Peter Drucker formulated it long ago. And Peter warned managers of the dangers of bubble thinking.

Those dangers are more serious these days. Greg Satell writes about why this is so.

The Case for the Lazy CEO

Peter Drucker wrote extensively about what a CEO should and should not do. His basic point was that CEO’s do not have time to work. They are too busy having meetings.

Why so many meetings? As Fred Wilson points out, the CEO needs to  formulate a  long term strategy, bring together a great team to implement it, and make sure the company doesn’t run out of money. This takes a lot of talking.

And not just talking of the ordinary sort. The talk must be effective in uniting a team around a message. Scaling that message. That is, as Sutton and Rau point out, a “ground war”.

Track and Measure

Peter Drucker said that things that cannot be measured cannot be improved. And, as usual, he was right.

But to measure you need to (1) select what you should be measuring (the metric) (2) track data over time, and (3) assess the measurements. That three step process is at the heart of modern efficiency building and Fred Wilson is right to advocate for more applications of it.

Kickstart your Career with Training

One of the more interesting trends these days relates to how “work” is changing. In the old days, the world of work was pretty well fixed. One found a job that started him or her on a career track. And one hoped that with high levels of job performance, the employer would offer the tools to get ahead — including, but not limited to mentoring and training.

Employers still want great workers. But employer needs are changing. They are looking for different things that they used to. More precisely, they are looking for technical knowledge and soft skills. And with a more rapidly changing workplace, employers are less able to guarantee that they can offer you the knowledge and skills that you need to get ahead in your career.

Here is an example. A statement from the CEO of ProtoLabs on who they want to hire.

(we recognize) how important STEM fields are within manufacturing today, and it’s why Proto Labs actively reaches out to college grads who may not be familiar with the current state of manufacturing — a tech-driven industry that is undergoing a digital renaissance

This is a brave new world. And targeted training will play a greater role to upgrade worker skills sets and knowledge bases for workers to fit in. That may be for entry level technical positions. And it may be for ongoing skills development.

Where will you get this? Good question.  Probably not from your school or university. Academics are not that well connected to the above world of work. We are talking about a private intermediary who is networking with employers and offering programming for workers.

I will be searching for the best of these around the globe and bring back reports as I go.

Stay tuned!

The Pace of Interactions

A long time ago, I worked in a law firm. BTW, that was before the fax machine was introduced into the office as a standard piece of equipment. When I look back on how we worked back then, one thing  was very, very different. That was the pace of interactions.

The pace back then was much slower. Interactions with persons and entities outside the firm was largely by mail (now called snail mail) and meetings. Inside the firm, we wrote memos and had meetings.

There was a luxury to this. One could take one’s time in making decisions. Indeed, slowing down the pace of decision making was at least part of the value added we gave to our clients.

Now consider whatJeff Immelt says about GE in an interview he gave to McKinsey

My notion is we’re in a permanently complex world. And this historical organization chart with lots of processes is a thing of the past. We’ve basically unplugged anything that was annual. The notion is that, in the digital age, sitting down once a year to do anything is weird, it’s just bizarre. So whether it’s doing business reviews or strategic planning, it’s in a much more continuous way. We still give a lot of feedback. We still do a lot of analysis of how you’re performing. But we make it much more contemporary and much more 360-degree. So somebody can get interactions with their boss on a monthly basis or a quarterly basis. And the data you get is being collected by your peers, the people who work for you, in a much more accurate and fluid way.

The key words are “more accurate and more fluid”. In other words, things have sped up and the stress is on improving the efficiency of communication in this more complex and changing environment.

These are important factors to consider if you wish to develop strategic competence.

US Politics How Bad Can it Get?

Consider this article about the state of the US criminal justice system.  here is the conclusion

The costs and consequences of having such a faulty system are profound, and go well beyond the staggering financial outlays. Operating an apartheid justice system where those at the margins are always in the crosshairs sickens our nation. So far, America is reaching for a scalpel to make changes when, the closer you look, only a wrecking ball will give us the fresh start we need.

And the political dialogue is not focused on criminal justice reform. That is indeed a sad signal.

Curating TED Talks

There are so many TED talks around, it is hard to keep track of them. So I liked this list. But needing a list brings out a fundamental weakness of the TED ecology.

What is that? Well, TED talks should START conversations. And no doubt they do. But we do not have a tool to easily FOLLOW the conversations that get started. And so TED talks tend to be “on off” or “ad hoc” injections of ideas, etc. We need a TED thread tool.

Thinking about Legacy Technology

This quote from Willy Shih’s HBR article gets you thinking

Technologies like 3-D printing, robotics, advanced motion controls, and new methods for continuous manufacturing hold great potential for improving how companies design and build products to better serve customers. But if the past is any indicator, many established firms will be slow to adjust because of a formidable obstacle: legacy assets and capabilities that they are reluctant to abandon.

The challenge is most extreme when adopting a new technology means that old skill and knowledge sets (competences) are no longer of value. New ones are required.  And the challenge is more daunting when investment in old capacities has not been fully amortized. In these settings short term thinking crowds out the long term.

Market players who have nothing to lose tend to make smarter choices with respect to embracing new technologies. Think for example of German and Japanese steel makers after the second war.

But what can the rest of us do? We should become more sensitive to “functional” obsolescence. That is when whatever we are using is less good than what a competitor is using.  And we need to balance how we experiment with how we exploit our current technologies.

The above strategic challenge applies not just to equipment. it applies as well to intellectual tools.


Commenting on “micro-learning”

One thing is clear. It is very difficult to use large amounts of information to upgrade skills. So, I might be able to deliver to you a 2 day lecture series on negotiation skills, but that may not help you negotiate better. It may help in other ways, but the quantity of content that hits at the same time makes it difficult to use that content later.

Instead, when we seek to upgrade our skills, we need to focus on pieces of the larger puzzle and use smaller, more modular advice on how to practice in that area. Small and modular may be translated into “microlearning”.

A basic point — one cannot do this without a larger agenda. In other words, the modular bits that one takes in over time have to connect in a meaningful way. We work on bits, but with a holistic agenda.

Do you do this?