“Oh, Paperwork!” was the answer my new colleague Barbara gave at our weekly team meeting to the following question: “When you think of performance assessments what comes to mind?”

However, for the last 2 years our team has decided to make performance assessments all about team learning. And in doing so, we have used them to build up our noticing skills, our understanding of the situations in which our team members work best, and what we all need from each other to operate as much as possible in this productive zone. I wrote a blog post a few months ago on the 360 degrees process we use called: Practice Note: Helping Performance Assessments Be About Both Individual and Team Learning.

Now we’re preparing our individual work plans for 2009 – the agreements upon which our performance assessments are based – and we took some time to reflect on what we’re learning and why we think team assessment and work planning, rather than the traditional 1-to-1 meetings with your managers, presents a richer and more useful experience for everyone involved.

Here’s why we think performance assessment and individual work planning (agreements) should be done as a Team:

  • Focus the team on the team: There are not that many opportunities (unless you create them) for a team to talk about its own performance. Regular team meetings are usually task oriented and focused on getting things done. Discussions around performance assessments however are focused more on how we get things done, individually and as a team.
  • Create a safer space: Team discussions can help tone down the anxiety that some people might face in a one-on-one assessment or evaluation situation (for both the staff member and the manager – we think this is one of the main reasons why performance assessments inspire masterful procrastination.)
  • Strengthen accuracy and utility of reporting at all levels: When using a team approach for everyone, including the manager (who in our case only needs to be assessed by his/her line manager), the team approach helps provide more useful and accurate information on daily work practice for everyone and from everyone’s perspective.
  • Form the bigger picture: Knowing what everyone is doing helps piece together that larger picture of the goals and vision of the unit, and how each team member is contributing to these. It gives the rich context that some people need and helps make meaningful links between individual pieces of work and that of the team. This understanding of individual contributions to a larger goals also helps with engagement and motivation.
  • Help more people identify change opportunities: With a sense of the overall results desired, it is easier to identify places in the team’s work where a change of practice can produce the most benefit. It also helps people understand potential trade-offs that might be needed for such change to happen. That work becomes a task of the team, rather than simply the manager, when the overall picture is shared.
  • Create Ambassadors: When everyone understands the vision of the team, how their work fits, and how these aggregated efforts contribute to the overall institution’s goals, then each member can share that understanding in the many informal learning situations in which they find themselves each day.
  • Provide professional and personal development opportunities: In a time when bonuses are not really an option to reward good work, team acknowledgement can be an internal metric to help people assess their own growth, development and improvement.

We generated these thoughts as a team. And we think these are compelling reasons to put people at the centre of performance assessments, and take the focus off the paper that they’re written on.

Every 4 years our Members elect a new Council, and we have our brand new Council meeting this week! We will be working very closely with them, and for many in this important group, this is their first time visiting our headquarters. As an introduction, we could have given a one-hour PowerPoint presentation on our organization, followed by Q&A. We could have shown the organigram and a list of our departments, and the names of the heads. We could have even added in photos of the teams that are doing various things. But we didn’t. Instead we organized an Interactive Tour…

Yesterday afternoon, at the end of their first day of the Council meeting, 33 Councillors were organized into four “Tour” Groups. Each group had two of our Young Professionals who acted as Tour Guides, complete with an individual Tour routing for their group, a Fact Sheet hand out of our organization to use along the way, and a lot of energy and enthusiasm. The Tour was divided into three parts. Part One was a whistle-stop tour through the building. Our many units and teams, including our Regional Directors who were attending the Council meeting, had a stop on the tour, for a total of 12 stops all over the main building (upstairs and downstairs and into the far reaches) that the Councillors would make in the first 60 minute period.

Each stop had a host who gave the visiting “Tour Group” a brief 3-5 minute overview of the team and its work. Some offered snacks and drinks, give-aways, pamphlets and brochures, and an opportunity to meet all the members of the team. In that short time, they gave them a flavour of their work and encouraged them to come back for more in-depth discussion in Part Two of the Tour.

Part Two of the Tour was a 60 minute opportunity for the Councillors to go back on their own or in small groups to the places in the building where they would like to dig deeper and have more in-depth discussions. Part Three was a group dinner, with all 170 people participating, with decorated tables all over the cafeteria, in the hallways, lobby and all the central meeting spaces.

The first two parts took 2 hours, the third went on for some time I understand. And you can imagine how much more in-depth the conversations were, after having been given insights of the work of the many various teams, identifying follow up questions, and putting names to faces in the first stages of the Tour.

The feedback was excellent. The Councillors enjoyed the opportunity to get out of the main meeting room and explore the building and see people in their workspaces. They got to tailor their experience by going back and having more in-depth discussions where they wished. All the teams got to meet the new Councillors face-to-face and vice versa, which should make it much easier in the future to approach one another. It demonstrated the hospitality that people feel, and the good will that comes with visitors.

We also learned plenty about doing such a tour in a building with some 150 staff. First of all, overall scheduling was great. Having the joint dinner immediately after the Tour provided an excellent opportunity for people to both reflect upon and digest the information they received, and still have time to find people in a more relaxed environment to ask further questions.

Another bit of learning: there is an opportunity next time for face-to-face briefing for the speakers (we did it this time by email). Tour Guides noticed that some people are so enthusiastic about speaking opportunities that it is hard to catch their eye to call time at the 5 minute mark. Clear briefings with the speakers about time allocations and how to organize content might have been useful for this messaging. Even with such a briefing, some speakers might still find it a challenge to give an overview in 3-5 minutes. Either more time for Part One of the Tour could be useful (and consolidating some of the stops might create this time) and/or encouraging all the speakers to create a few clear messages, and use some props or multi-media for additional information. For example, the person speaking about our new green building project (see my previous blog post on Reframing Our Big Dig ) had three points, a short handout and piece of the unusual recycled concrete to pass around. She still had time to take a few questions. Another host spoke to a rolling slide set of colourful images in the background. We saw all kinds of tricks to get lots of information into a short time span, without having to talk too fast!

In all, the Interactive Tour was a success and much appreciated as a way to get to know each other a little better. This was our opportunity to welcome, exchange, share and set the stage for good collaboration in the next four years.

This morning our Director General invited the headquarters staff for a World Café on our institution’s Organizational Development and Change process. Fifty-four of us met in the cafeteria to participate in the process. Here are some of our “hot” reflections on the event.

World Café is an innovative way to think collectively about an issue, with conversation as the core process. In our case, 12 conversations happened in parallel, and after each of the four rounds we took some highlights from these conversations. With interesting, rather iterative questions, you could feel the energy build as people made connections and meaning for themselves and others. Here are the questions we used:

  • What is your vision of a highly relevant, efficient, effective and impactful IUCN?
  • What underlying assumptions have you had about how we, in IUCN, work? How might these need to shift?
  • What can we do to help identify and embrace opportunities for IUCN’s organizational development?
  • What patterns are emerging from the three earlier conversations? What are the implications for you and for us?

The results of the discussions will feed into our organizational development and change process, through the people in the room, their teams and our individual action. Additionally the process itself will help us move towards some of our articulated goals around creating a culture of dialogue, interaction, and an enabling environment for innovation and cross-pollination of ideas.

Since we (the Learning and Leadership Unit) are the ‘process people’, we captured some of our learning about holding a World Café in our institution. Here is what we thought went well, and what we would do differently next time. We are also sharing our learning with the World Café online community at the request of David Isaacs, one of the authors of The World Café book. (More knowledge resources on The World Café can be found on the Society for Organizational Learning’s website here.)

What worked well with our World Café:

  • The process brought lots of positive energy to a conversation about change;
  • People appreciated being listened to;
  • Mixed groups combined different teams and levels within the organization and gave opportunities to get to know new people (when we asked the group if this process had given them a chance to speak to someone they did not know, almost every hand went up);
  • It was hosted by the Director General and connected to a real internal process where people had questions and a desire to contribute;
  • It linked with an in-house tradition – Wednesday morning sponsored coffee – a weekly coffee morning for staff supported by our Learning and Leadership unit and the Human Resources Management Group to promote internal dialogue and informal learning;
  • We held the World Café in our cafeteria, so instead of trying to transform a formal space (like a meeting room) for informal conversation, we went right to the organization’s kitchen literally for these conversations, which changed the interpersonal dynamic. There was kitchen noise and the sound of coffee machines making it all the more real;
  • We did not use a flipchart to take down the “popcorn” ideas between each round. We wanted to avoid to externalising the ideas and actions too much and directing the focus away from the group. Instead the comments came from within the group, were given to the group (and not a flipchart), and stayed with the group. We did, however, record them all for future use, which we will share with participants, among other ways through the use of a wordle (take a look at this application that creates beautiful word clouds, if you have never seen one)
  • We distributed an “ideas form” to give everyone the opportunity to share some of their top ideas with us afterwards. We handed this out just before the end and also sent an email for people who wanted to send us some ideas electronically. People did a great personal prioritisation for us and themselves, and the act of writing it down also helped people to go through the synthesis process and create a set of potential next actions that might help them remember what was most useful for them.
  • We put flipchart-sized graph paper on all the tables as grafitti sheets. People used them for recording ideas. Added benefits: the gridded paper (instead of plain) made it seem more like a checkered table cloth, and the white paper reflected on people’s faces making the photos better!

What we would do differently next time:

  • In a room not made for speeches (i.e. a cafeteria), accoustics can create challenges for facilitating and hearing ideas from the tables between rounds. To address this we used a soft whistle to get people’s attention and asked people to stand up when sharing their ideas. Next time we would get a louder whistle (!) and we would contract lightly with the group in advance to quickly conclude their conversations when they hear the whistle.
  • In our briefing, we would emphasize further that the host is responsable for ensuring interactive conversations, but not necessarily for recording or reporting back. At the beginning, making this clear would have helped our host volunteers come forward more quickly.
  • Whilst the vast majority of participants stayed throughout, a few people trickled in and out due to other commitments, which was fine. We might have created better messaging to ensure a crisp start. Only a few people had participated in a World Café before, out of our 54 participants; now that people know how it works the next time we might not notice this.

We got some terrific ideas and comments out of our World Café, including many thanks for running such a process internally. People seemed to be happy to take this kitchen table approach to connect and make new meaning together around our organization’s future. And this open process provided plenty of opportunity for everyone’s ideas and concerns to be laid on the table – besides the kitchen sink – which was nearby anyway.

What kind of creative process produces ideas like a Treetop Barbie, a doll that models adventurousness, being outside and active for children? Or a programme like Canopy Confluence that mixes artists with scientists and takes them to the forest canopy to create art (even rap music) that touches people with more than data and diagrams? Or starts a Moss in Prisons project to explore different ways to sustainably grow moss for horticultural use (apparently moss grows very slowly). Or takes policy makers up into the trees with ropes and harnesses to get conservation messages directly to decision-makers in a Legislators Aloft project?

These are all Outreach Projects of the Research Ambassador Programme at Evergreen State College (Olympia, Washington, USA). At our World Conservation Congress, we heard Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, from Evergreen, speak about all these ideas in our “Beyond Jargon” workshop. All incredibly creative, what I really wanted to know was – what kind of a creative process produced these ideas?

It is easy to gather explicit knowledge on the internet – a quick google gave me a good description of all these activities and told me more about their goals and outcomes. Tacit knowledge (know how as opposed to know what or know why)- can be an even more valuable source of learning, especially for innovation processes. I was able to ask Nalini Nadkarni about her creative process – what confluence of events, steps or practices produces these incredibly innovative projects? She shared some thoughts on what is working for her and the team at Evergreen, which I synthesized into these three headings:

1. Accept no boundaries (or at least question them relentlessly): This condition may be part DNA and part deliberate. For Nalini growing up in a dual culture home gave her simultaneous insight to two worlds and an innate breadth of perspective. Her choice to be both a dancer and a professor of environmental science again provided multiple reference points and opportunities for bringing together diverse traditions and communities, such as the arts and sciences. Evergreen State College itself is a unique learning environment where professors of different subjects have offices in the same hallway, not departments in different buildings, and this maps over into the interdisciplinary and team-taught nature of its interest-based curriculum. For innovation, breadth of view and perspective seems to foster new ideas. Multi-everything is the word that comes to mind.

2. Find time to listen to the smallest inner voices: In the confluence of stimuli, how do you notice, sort, select and develop the ideas that will become the next great one? Time outdoors alone seems to work for Nalimi, who takes long runs and hikes to tap into what’s happening around her, to make connections and meaning from it. It strikes me that there are many ways to undertake this kind of reflective practice, it could be the long run, or 20 minutes on the eliptical trainer, or an off-peak-hour bus ride, or a cat nap in the sunshine, or any other opportunity to quiet your mind and ask yourself to think deeply on some interesting questions.

3. Braving the creative collision space: Once you have the ideas can you let them go so they be developed further by others, formally or informally? In this case, Nalimi has Monday lunches with students and other faculty which provide great opportunities to throw a new notion out and get people’s feedback. Ideas build on ideas and quickly you have a better prototype, richer with the inputs of people you trust and respect. This might take a little courage, and a willingness to let go of some of your earlier conceptions in the creative jam around your idea.

These three things seem to be a part of the creative process at Evergreen State University’s Forest Canopy Lab – it’s definitely working for them. Maybe some sequence like this could or does work for you. Think about your own great ideas. What kind of conditions have been present when you had them? Are there any patterns you can identify? Why not note them down and share them. Learning can happen anywhere, not just from what you accomplished, but how you accomplished it – think about tapping into your own creative process, it’s probably quite replicable.

In the last 2 days, I have hand delivered three letters in my office building. I think that is the first time I have ever done that. But these days it is an absolute necessity. Our office is a little crazy right now (I wanted to call this blog entry “Going Postal” but with the stress levels right now it did not seem very p.c..) We are 3 weeks away from the opening of our enormous Congress, almost entirely run by and for people in our Union (staff, partners, and members alike). People’s email boxes are overflowing, their phones are on voicemail, meetings overlap, schedules are triple booked, questions and requests are flying in from all corners of the world. Time is precious. I had a 4 minute meeting today which actually accomplished something important. I am assured that this is completely normal just before one of our huge four-yearly Congresses.

What it means is that people are having to work very differently, which might not be a bad thing. If I need something now, information or a decision or someone’s attention, (like my 3 invitations to speak at workshops), I need to get off my chair and go out of my office and physically find them. Sometimes they are at their desks, sometimes coming out of meetings, sometimes ducking into the ladies or heading out for a smoke, where ever they are, I need to find them. Because in 5 minutes we have discussed, informed or solved something that would otherwise go into an action file and re-emerge in a week or a month (or never). No time for that now.

Actually I am enjoying this new mode of working. I get to see people, talk for a minute, learn about their latest whatever. I am getting to hear more about what people are doing, their hopes, goals and sometimes frustrations. I can even help at times which is very satisfying. Like the postman in the old days where I grew up – he walked around door to door, chatted with people, knew what was going on in the neighbourhood, and was always willing to exchange a few words or give some friendly advice. I think that this way of working helps reduce stress, pulls the community together, builds relationships, and fosters informal learning. There is something deliciously counterintuitive about this way of working (I am too busy to send a 2 minute email and wait for a response. Instead I’m going to take a 10 minute walk to get what I need.)

I remember reading an article about the workplace of the future (which is now) suggesting that the ONLY reason to come into an office today was to interact. At home, people have all the equipment they need to work – online access to intranets, skype, Instant Messenger, and more. So if you are not in the office to interact with colleagues, you might as well work from home. There, your only interuption might be the postman.

My hopeful answer to this is “well, maybe.” I get my evidence from a recent experiment that I conducted quite by accident.

Two month ago I took the Meyers-Briggs test and felt the results were accurate (self-validated). The instrument I thought had captured fairly my preferences on the four dichotomies. One of my preferences at that time was “P” – Perceiving rather than Judging. Perceivers are spontaneous, go with the flow, they make lists and lose them, they complete tasks at the last minute or late rather than well in advance.

Well, in today’s world with no speed limits on the information highway, this particular species is likely to get run over. So I have been working on this. One month ago we invited David Allen to come and address our staff on Getting Things Done, an approach which (check previous GTD tags) provides a system to help you keep alive in the organizational jungle. Many of us after his seminar have adoped this appoach and it appears to be working.

Now back to my experiment, yesterday I went to an MBTI training course and for that I had to take the instrument again, just a few months after my first test. I was amazed at the change. Everything was the same, except that my preference on the “outerworld orientation” dichotomy moved from Perceiving to Judging – with unfamiliar words like planned, structured, decisive, scheduled, makes lists and uses them, as descriptors.

I can only imagine that this difference in such a short period of time could be influenced by the GTD experience, which is still very fresh. Hopefully this change will last. I wouldn’t want to lose any of my spontaneity, and at the same time a little more structured follow-up and information management would not go amiss. Maybe just half of the spots could change? Would I then become a GMO? (GTD-Modified Organism?)

I can’t believe it, but I have ZERO messages in my in-box right now. Not only do I have zero messages in my personal email account, but I also have zero in my work email. On Sunday I had hundreds and hundreds in each. Now I have zero -what’s the secret? Watch this fascinating google video and see…

This is a video of a 58 minute presentation (including Q&A) called In-box Zero by productivity guru Merlin Mann that he gave at the Google HQ in July. I watched it, I tried it, and I now feel completely different about email. It no longer rules (me). Mann’s advice is based on David Allen’s method and book called, “Getting Things Done” (or GTD for short). It seems that Allen’s method has been heartily embraced by IT companies where knowledge workers, who are supposed to be creating new and innovative things, are apt to get swamped by endless everyday email and tasks. His method is about getting your to-do list out of your head, or your email in-box, and into a system that works to organize and manage it for higher productivity.

I have now read the book (bought the label maker), watched the video, implemented the systems now both at home and at work for both email and paper-based tasks. I am surprised to say that it works (you need to keep your maintenance up), and it is refreshing not to see those piles of paper on the desk, or hundreds of emails. I’m sure there are still plenty of tips that passed me by the first time. By sheer luck, I have a free pass to a David Allen full-day seminar in London tomorrow and will get to hear more about the method right from Allen himself. I will blog my learning when I get back.

What am I going to do with all that spare time if I ever do get completely organized?

I heard a great idea yesterday from the founder/owner of an innovative Dutch technology firm. He wanted to create an experiential learning opportunity for himself, the head of the business for nearly 20 years, so he organized a “Boss swap” with a friend in another company. For three days, he swapped roles with another CEO from a similar-sized, but non-competing business, to see what he could learn.

He said that he found the experience fascinating. Indeed, he got some new management ideas that he could effectively apply in his own workplace. And, by observing with a more dispassionate view on structures, roles and work flows, he found that when he returned he was able to look more objectively at his own business.

One of the most valuable parts of this experience he said were the discussions with his swap partner afterwards. Both in similar roles, they were able to help each other explore internal decisions and options for change with much more background that they could ever shared over (many) dinner conversations, creating a peer-learning opportunity that bordered on coaching that was equally valuable to both of them. He also said that, following his experience, he organized similar swaps for other levels of management in different offices, and that the Dutch media had been so interested in the exercise that they had covered it in the news (no doubt an added benefit.)

This strikes me as an excellent informal learning exchange for those at different management levels in our institution (even between our HQ and regional/national offices). It would give managers the opportunity to think differently about their own work, build relationships among senior staff (and with other workers), and develop a system of peer-support at the management level. It would also give people more information and experience with one another’s programmes and might help identify practical ways to collaborate that were not obvious before.

Lizzie and I are here at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Library of Alexandria), in Egypt with our colleague Rania, who works in our Amman office. We are here planning a workshop on new learning (formal and informal) for sustainable development in the Arab region this September. We are going to be inviting some Universities who are developing and delivering e-learning courses in the region (on our topic of environment and development) and will also be inviting people who are using informal learning tools (like blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc.) to foster learning on this topic in the region.

We were delighted to hear today about how the library is a great forum, source of inspiration and an experimentation space. The senior staff member that we spoke to told us that it was “born digital” and as a result is encouraging students to help their professors enter the internet age, from offering to put their lecture notes into PowerPoint to engaging them in internet-based chats, and more. The learners are helping their teachers to help them learn. We are interested to know how Web 2.0 is supporting these efforts to enhance learning across the board in this region.

Rania told us this morning about a Jordanian blogger who is writing about environment and development news in the region. This blogger says that, “Blogging has became a highly effective and free expression medium that is spreading all over the Arab world. Amongst thousands of blogs in the Arab World very little focus can be found on environmental issues. ” We have already found some bloggers who are talking about this topic, like him. That is however just one part of our search…

Does anyone know any Arab region bloggers who are writing about formal and informal learning? We would be happy to know about them too!

At the moment, I am at an NTL (National Training Laboratory) course on Group Process Consultation. We are learning about how to use this technique to help groups guide themselves to be more effective in their group processes.

It is different than pure “facilitation” in that the Group Process Consultant (GPC) doesn’t do any of the up front work for the group (no standing at the flipchart, no developing ground rules, no notetaking). Instead the GPC’s work is focused helping the group perform those tasks itself. The Group Process Consultant will observe the group’s work and intervene periodically to notice and mirror back to the group some information and ideas about how the group is going about its task and what kind of group “maintenance” is needed for the participants to feel engaged and satisfied with the process. This particular technique is designed to reduce the group’s dependence over time on external help (like a facilitator) to achieve its goals. To me, it seems a little like being a group “psychologist.”

In our opening day yesterday we spoke about how the course would be multi-leveled all the time. We would be working at the cognitive level by talking about theoretical models, methodologies, etc. We would be exploring the behavioural level through noticing what we are learning and practicing as a GPC. And we would be talking about the personal level and trying to understand as a Group Process Consultant “what I bring to the table”. So how can I be aware of myself in a process, how can I manage my assumptions, and notice how I react to things and how that might affect the group. Chuck Phillips, the course’s trainer, explained that in Group Process Consultation, “The delivery of the process is the delivery of ourselves. We are the process intervention.” So we are also trying to understand our own mental models and make sure they don’t get in the way of our work for a group.

We also don’t want anything to get in the way of learning this week; even our learning environment is set up to help this. We are in a room with 20 soft chairs on wheels (which we use to scoot around into different discussion groups), but no tables. The trainer noted that when there are tables, people tend to hide behind them, or use them as a barrier between themselves and what is going on in the room. We can’t have that, so no tables.

That might be an interesting feature of one of the rooms in the Learnscape we would like to develop at work. It would be nice to have a space to use where nothing is a barrier to process. A small exception might be made, however, for … footstools.

The blog has been a little slow lately as we have entered an intense period of travel. The upside to this is that long flights are great places to read and think (and a much more pleasant environment for this than the emergency room…)

On my flight yesterday I began reading Howard Gardner‘s book Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People’s Minds. This book was first published in 2004, and probabaly most people read it then. However, it is interesting to connect it with Jay Cross’ new book Informal Learning (2007). One connection jumped out to me immediately – that is the application of 80/20 principles. In Gardner’s book, he talks about the Pareto Principle (that 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort). He states that this is a counterintuitive concept because people have an embedded 50/50 mentality (that we should spread our effort equally across all parts of an activity until we get to 100%). So if we want to optimise we should just focus on getting to 80% and not worry too much about the last 20%(unless we are brain surgeons or pilots), which actually takes the most effort to achieve.

Jay Cross talks about the 80/20 principle in informal learning – that 80% of our learning is informal and 20% is formal. My dangerous question as a learning practitioner is, if you put the two together, should we be skipping formal workplace learning altogether?

As a trainer and facilitator by experience, my first response would be “no”; somehow that does not feel quite right. However, it is a powerful question to consider if you are trying for increased efficiency. Also, I notice that professional development budgets in HR departments, no matter how small, are often linked to providing formal learning opportunities. Perhaps at least we could open those funds up to informal learning opportunities – like can HR help pay for Free Coffee Mornings?

A few days ago I received a thought provoking and relevant article from one of my colleagues who is in a very different department than I am. She is in such a different part of our organization’s work, in fact, that I probably would not have been on her radar screen normally, except that we have spent a few hours together recently co-designing a road-mapping workshop for an important external partner.

Last week she read this article, thought of my interests and sent it along to me. I had not seen it myself and probably would never have found it. Not only did it make my day, I also felt our institutional social capital at work. Among members of our own teams, we know many of the same people and read many of the same sources, newsletters, books etc. So our ability to bring radically different thinking into our team discussions is based mostly on our own efforts to connect with other audiences.

However, we can also spend a lot of time seeking this novel input, and we could still miss many useful things. What we have noticed is that when people from radically different “communities” start to understand our interests and learning goals, then they can also help bring us into contact with these new ideas and practices, cross-fertilize our learning, and make it an ongoing, continual process and much more refined than our own google-like searches. What does it take to encourage other people to help you with your work?

Many organizations talk about “silos” within them, to the extent that the lack of experience in collaboration, the lack of knowledge about what the other silos are doing and learning, and even the lack of relationships among people in those silos makes it ever harder to collaborate. When interconnections, collaboration and cross-fertisilation is the goal, even a little experience in successful collaboration, and a good relationship, can do a lot to help you share information and knowledge, and even find further opportunities to work together. This ultimately creates that flow of knowledge and information that is an important part of workplace learning and institutional knowledge management. Is this the body of work for a living, breathing learning organization?

I received an email from my Father-in-Law this morning, with a nice little learning story which I thought I would share here. It goes as follows:


In the late 19th century in Great Britain, milkmen left open bottles of milk outside people’s doors. A rich cream would rise to the top of the bottles. Two garden birds, titmice and red robins, began to eat the cream. In the 1930’s, after the birds had been enjoying the cream for about 50 years, the British put aluminium seals on the milk bottles. By the early 1950’s, the entire estimated population of one million titmice in Great Britain had learned to pierce the seals. The red robins never learned that skill. What happened?For learning to occur among birds, three things need to happen:

(1) Some of the individuals in the organization must have the potential to invent new behaviours or develop new skills;
(2) The members of the species must have and use the ability to move around, and they must flock or move in herds rather than sit individually in isolated territories; and
(3) The species must have an established process for transmitting a skill from the individual to the entire community through direct communication.

Red robins are territorial and don’t communicate much with one another, so they didn’t learn the new skill. Titmice flock together and were able to learn the new skill through-out the whole country.So, when you learn something new, or have a great idea on how to improve something, share what you’ve learned. You and your colleagues have many ways to communicate ideas and information – use them! Through improved organizational sharing and learning, we can help each other achieve our goals.

Source: Arie de Geus, The Living Company, Harvard Business Review, March, 1997

Monday afternoon, a two hour session was held titled, ‘Learn Something New: People and Networking’. The objective was not to provide a taught course on Networking, but to create an environment where people can share and exchange about networking, and do it at the same time.

In one exercise people were asked to stand on a line on the floor which represented a continuum between two extremes. The question was: How do you feel about networking at meeting coffee breaks? The extremes were: “I love it!” or “I’ll go to the loo!” What we noticed was that a slight majority was going to the loo. One participant reflected that, for a networking organization, we are not all comfortable networkers.

Some suggestions were offered about how we can do more networking, and how we can help create work environments where networking and interaction is one of the key objectives. Longer coffee/lunch breaks? Open spaces in the agenda for interaction? Introductory sessions which serve to connect people and help them build relationships?

After this session, another 40 people know each other better (and can recognize each other by their ‘Learn Something New’ wristbands!). There is a reception tonight, let’s see how the networking goes…

A month ago (December 22nd), Gillian wrote a post about the value of weekly free coffee mornings in fostering staff networking and informal learning in our organization The Strength of Weak Coffee. Well, one month later we decided to explore the opinions of others in our organization on this topic. To do so, our team sponsored last Wednesday’s free coffee morning and, as staff flocked into the cafeteria, we explained that this week free coffee came at a small cost: In exchange for coffee – the completion of a brief questionnaire. What are the purposes of free coffee mornings? How do you feel free coffee mornings contribute to teamwork in our organization? What innovative ideas have been triggered during free coffee mornings? And, what did you learn over free coffee today?

As the cafeteria began to fill up, the exercise generated a lovely, humming buzz. What’s more, we were delighted to see that many people came equipped with pens – eager to share their thoughts, having been prepped by our email in advance. Perhaps more encouraging still was that throughout the day we were approached and asked for questionnaires by staff members who were unable to attend this week’s free coffee morning and yet still keen to have their voice heard.

A first look at the sixty questionnaires completed shows great support for free coffee mornings, with the majority of respondents citing their importance as a small ‘thank you’ from the organization and opportunity for staff networking and learning about matters of both personal and professional interest. A more substantive analysis is due, but for now I wanted to capture one additional outcome. Many staff commented on the exercise itself, pointing out learning about how to make the most of free coffee mornings in the future to engage with staff, about how enthusiastic staff are to express their opinions, and the importance of ‘social spaces’ and time for team-building and collaboration across ‘silos’.

So what did we learn? That a lot of learning in organizations takes place at unexpected times in unexpected places – informally. Often this has neither been noticed nor appreciated (either by the learners themselves or others). We need to continue to help notice and appreciate our learning by continuing to find ways to ask – and capture the answers to – the question: What did we learn today? This was a valuable purpose of this free coffee morning for us.

Everyday I commute for two hours, traveling an hour to and from work with chunks of the journey by foot, tram, train and bike. For the past three years, this has been a time for thinking, reading and chatting with other commuter colleagues – on both professional and personal matters. The time has always been a much appreciated ‘wind up’ to and ‘wind down’ from the hours in the office. A recent addition to my commuter repertoire has made it even more enjoyable! – Podcasts.

Podcasts. The word itself tickles my imagination – hence the title of this blog post. Little did I expect, however, to find them so engaging. An audio file, downloaded from the internet to your computer, from where you can listen to it or transfer it to your iPod for use wherever you go – in my case whilst commuting. I had never thought of myself as an audio-learner. I realize now I’d just never found audio-learning resources so suited to my interests and lifestyle.

My first three Podcasts came from the members section of MindTools.com and comprised some really stimulating expert interviews with the authors of books on leadership and learning. Much like a great radio show, these presented manageable amounts of info in a way that really came to life – so much so that I felt more-or-less party to a live conversation. Of course there’s no substitute for reading the book in its entirety, for in-depth learning; however with the Podcasts the seeds have been successfully scattered and sown. I’m sure I will follow up on the ideas presented there and who knows where these new bits of information take me. If a magic beanstalk results – all the better!

For me at least, listening to Podcasts is a pleasure. Now I just need to learn a little more about how and where I can find even more quality content providers that match my interests so well. Recommendations please…

James Surowiecki has popularized the concept of The Wisdom of Crowds in his book of the same name, which ‘explores a deceptively simple idea that has profound implications: crowds are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant – better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future. This seemingly counterintuitive notion has endless and major ramifications for how organizations are (or should be) organized and operate, how knowledge is advanced, and how we live our daily lives.’ The question is, how are we responding to these ramifications? How are we leveraging the wisdom of crowds in our organizations?

According to Surowiecki, there are four key qualities that make a crowd smart. It needs to be diverse, so that people are bringing different pieces of information to the table. It needs to be decentralized, so that no one at the top is dictating the crowd’s answer. It needs a way of summarizing people’s opinions into one collective verdict. And the people in the crowd need to be independent, so that they pay attention mostly to their own information, and not worrying about what everyone around them thinks.

Next week, our organization is hosting a week of meetings, bringing together in headquarters senior staff from our offices around the world. During these meetings, how smart will our crowd(s) be? How smart could it/they be? As session organizers, what can we do to make our crowds as smart as possible – better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future?

Returning to the office tomorrow, I’m going to have another look at our session designs and ask myself these questions, considering the extent to which our crowds will have the key qualities described. I will certainly come back to this in the coming days.

Even skype chat offers learning conversation opportunities. This is what you can type in a chat window in four minutes between Portland and Geneva…

[10:33:55 PM] Andy says: How can one work situation with all the money and talent be such a torture chamber and another situation with a few fairly tolerable people turn out to be such a great job and incredibly productive?

Gillian says: Because work is all about relationships and when they are good, work is generally higher quality, and when they are bad the same positive correlation is often true.

Gillian says: And I think we have a lot more control over our work environment than we think. There is a nice little book about the Seattle Fish Market called “Fish” which is all about making great workplace environments. You should check it out; you can read it in about 2 hours.

Andy says: I’d throw trust in there somewhere. This latest gig has really let me make my own mistakes and fix them. It’s kept me interested the entire time. There has been no second guessing and back stabbing that just kills any and all ambition.

Gillian says: Yes, and I think that trust is fundamental to a good relationship.

Andy says: Yeah, my boss really has done that well. The gal I work with could make soooo much money somewhere else, but he leaves her (and me) alone to get the work done.

Gillian says: And she would rather have a good working environment with a little less money than a bad working environment with loads of money – good for your boss.

Andy says: Yeah, my boss doesn’t have any money so a good work environment is all he has to offer. You know how non-profits work.

[10:37:09 PM] Gillian says: Yep, I work in a non-profit.

It’s January and for many of us that means yearly work planning. We get together and we think about what we need to accomplish in the year ahead. How do you feel at the end of this planning process? Ready to go, or tired already? How can we get excited about the year ahead?

We may not always have a choice about the work we do, but we can choose the way we do it is a well-known statement that managers often use in efforts to help motivate team members. But maybe there is more. Maybe we have more latitude for choice about what work we do than we think.

Even within set organizational programmes, teams can always ask the question – What do we want to do this year? What do we want to learn and what do we want to achieve for ourselves and our team? There will always be the ‘reality check’ team member that will remind us of the programmed goals. The creative process then focuses on how to weave these together. How much more motivation, energy and enthusiasm does it create when people get to bring into the workday some of their passions, personal avenues of enquiry, and the opportunity to develop some longer term capacities they are building?

One week into 2007, I’m back to work and Gillian and I are looking at all we have planned for the year ahead. Wow! We have a long list of things we want to do and achieve. How are going to ensure that – come the end of the year – we stand the best chance of finding ourselves looking back and happily reflecting on our successes?

Going through the deluge in my inbox, I come across an end of year email from Mind Tools entitled ‘Keeping Your New Year Resolutions’ . It raises some interesting questions for us to ask ourselves, including: Why are New Years’ resolutions often about what we should give up and not do?

This made me think back to two earlier, related posts: What Do Change and Strip Poker Have in Common? and Our Story, Our Choice. As explored in these previous posts, we don’t have to focus on what we should give up and not do. We have a choice.

Rather than thinking of change and what we resolve to do differently as a loss and pain, let’s frame our new intentions more positively, more ‘appreciatively’. In our personal resolutions, and looking at the list of things we want to do and achieve professionally in 2007, let’s first resolve to ensure that we frame our new intentions as a pleasure and get motivated to succeed!

We write frequently about informal learning in our blog – that 80% of the learning that you do that is not structured in some kind of course (taught or self-taught). Informal learning is what happens when you are surfing the net looking for something, watching TV, in a meeting, even having coffee with someone that you do not know very well. All of these things can give us new insights, expose us to new ideas, help us update ourselves, and allow us to further develop and refine our own knowledge and ideas.

Informal learning for many people is completely accidental, it is not a deliberate learning process and in many cases is not even noticed (this blog is a conscious attempt to notice our own informal learning). Many companies and big institutions are trying to help their staff members be more aware of, and optimise, their informal learning opportunities for the overall benefit of the whole institution. They believe that having a “networked” staff inside as well as outside their doors will build their assets (their knowledge workers) and in the end, give them access to more of what they want. They create organizational environments where people are encouraged to go outside of their daily patterns, into more unstructured, creative spaces (whether virtual or real) and do their most important, inventive work there. The silicon valley IT companies’ billiards rooms, free restaurants, and on-site gyms are more about inspiring creativity and conversation than for pure entertainment.

In Mark Granovetter’s article, The Strength of Weak Ties he argues, “that individuals with few weak ties will be deprived of information from distant parts of the social system and will be confined to the provincial news and views of their close friends [or colleagues – ed]. This deprivation will not only insulate them from the latest ideas and fashions but may put them in a disadvantaged position in the labor market…”

There are lots of ways that institutions can help foster informal learning, especially (as in my organization’s case) for a large team of knowledge workers who are committed to the sustainability movement, and are expected to be visionary, substantive and work together across sectors and disciplines. Some of the ways that my institution has created this important space for exchange and updating has been weekly free coffee mornings that bring together people, many of whom do not usually meet, to share news and information. Another way is through subsidized cafeteria costs, which serve to bring staff together at meal times (rather than scattering to restaurants or their offices with packed lunches) to converse, update and brainstorm new ideas, and make necessary strategic links among a highly diverse set of programmes, projects and operations.

These initiatives have been valuable and could even be strengthened further. Without these kinds of meeting opportunities, informal learning might very well go back to being purely accidental.

As for the title, well, our office coffee is actually very good!

When you learned your science, physics and chemistry at high school, could you imagine that the information you were getting was over 30-50 years old already? How old are you now? You do the math – you might possibly be a little bit out of date.

Professor Natalia Tarasova, Director of the Institute of Chemistry and Problems of Sustainable Development at Mendeleev University of Chemical Technology of Russia, spoke at our network meeting today about the need to update curricula in the sciences and keep it current so that our next generation of scientists don’t leave school already out of date.

What about the rest of us? How do we update our learning? We can’t all go back to school – this takes time (which we don’t have), it takes money (which we might also not have available), and it might take displacement (which we don’t want necessarily.) And it is possible that the information you will get is also 30-50 years old. That updates you a bit, now you are just 30 years out of date again instead of 70. But what if you want to be right up to date – how do you do this?

Where do you get your information? Do you have time to read books? Do you have time to surf the web? How deliberately do you try to find the information you need to do your work and make your decisions, or do you rely mostly on what you have? Jay Cross, author of Informal Learning, says that workplace learning is 20% formal and 80% informal. Formal learning might be those introductory Spanish classes that they offer at your work. Informal learning however, is an interesting combination of reading, internet surfing and search, audio-visual inputs, speeches and presentations, meetings, and conversations in the cafeteria, corridors, and on the bus. For the most part in these activities learning is quite accidental and not a deliberate objective. There are learning opportunities around every corner. What are you doing to structure your informal learning?

How many of you have an iPod? Asks Kevin Wheeler, Global Learning Resources Inc. Many hands in the room go up. When did you first know you needed one?

I do have an iPod. My husband bought his iPod home a couple of years ago. He (we) started buying tracks from iTunes instead of albums on CD, and I suddenly found that where he goes, our favourite music goes. What about me and my music? I’d dabbled in the world of Ipod and, like any good marketer, he’d sold me on customized playlists, podcasts and pocket-sized. A few months later, I knew I now needed my own iPod.

Kevin’s point? Executive buy-in to the use of technology-enhanced learning for professional development is all a question of marketing. How do we help our executives know they, and their organization, need technology enhanced learning? Is it really as simple as enticing them to have a quick dabble with technologies they never knew they needed? Perhaps we should be providing our CEO with a choice of links to our end of year report: podcast or a wiki?

Eight kinds of “intelligence” exist in us as humans and we all possess varying levels of the different intelligences, determining our unique cognitive profile. This is at the heart of Howard Gardners Multiple Intelligences theory – explains Ann Shortridge.

Ann and Benay Dara-Adams have been looking at the theory of Multiple Intelligences and posed the following questions during one of the Online Educa Berlin pre-conference workshops:

* How aware of we of the intelligences making up our cognitive profile?
* How do our intelligences affect our learning style?
* How do our intelligences and learning styles affect the way we interact with others, including trying to help one another learn?

I think I’m pretty aware of my own ‘intelligences’ and learning style. I hadn’t given much thought before to how it affects my interactions with others.

Following the ‘Exploring Deep Change’ meetings that we organized a couple of weeks ago, we asked people to send us their ‘learning stories’: short, personal reflections on what they took away from the sessions. Collecting these has been fascinating. For any one session, the diversity of stories has been great (ranging from appreciating one-to-one interpersonal story-telling exercises to recommending greater use of bold and colourful visualizations to trigger the imagination). Is this indicative of the diversity of intelligences and learning styles present? I can only think so.

My question now is – in our organizations, what are we doing to make sure we interact in ways that address diversity of intelligences and learning styles? And how can we engage the multiple intelligences of our colleagues to best answer this question?

Lizzie and I are at the Educa Online Conference in Berlin which brings together people working with all the weird and wonderful new online tools and technologies for learning. This will be the first of a series of blog posts on what we are learning and how we think it might be applied in our work.

George Siemens, author of Knowing Knowledge says that that a body of knowledge cannot exist in the head of one individual, there is too much and it is too complex. Therefore, we need to network our knowledge and rely on our network to collect and filter knowledge for us.

Charles Jennings, from Reuters, added that 40% of a knowledge worker’s time is spent finding answers. So instead of spending so much time trying to keep up with a rapidly changing field yourself, it is better not to know – instead learn where to go when you need the information (instead of the information itself.) Networked learning is knowing where to go, who to go to, and to learn as you go. Especially in an environment where information changes rapidly, is complex, comes from distributed sources, and is for the most part itself technologically mediated.

It also means that you need to be more deliberate about what you are doing every day, so you can identify your knowledge needs and go for the specific information you need. Rather than trying to keep up with the ocean of information and letting its eternal flow to determine how you spend your day (reading email documents, filing or deleting it). What a relief, that takes about 100 emails out of my in-box!

Sticky croissant in my left hand, coffee in my right, congress programme tucked under one arm and computer bag precariously balancing on the shoulder of the other, I awkwardly weaved in and out of the people thronging in the ‘Atrium’ until I found some breathing space by the outer wall, along side a documentary photo exhibit. Looking onto the jostling Congress (www.devcomm.org) participants from this ‘safe’ spot, I found myself in a conundrum: Do I put on my networking hat, offer my sticky fingers to others and muster my best opening line in the hope of kick-starting a conversation to identify common interests and future possibilities? Or, do I busy myself with carefully examining the photo exhibit beside me – “Communication in the Disaster Zone” and drink my coffee in peace?

Day one, coffee break one – I allowed myself the photo exhibit, full in the knowledge that in those that followed I would need to step into networking mode (something which doesn’t come very naturally to me). As I did so I began thinking about a book I’d just come across whilst scouring the airport bookshelves on my way: Edward de Bono’s How to Have a Beautiful Mind (2004) (http://www.edwarddebono.com/). “The beautiful mind… is a mind that can be appreciated by others – usually through conversation… Just as people can look at your physical beauty they can listen to the beauty of your mind… If you want to make your mind more beautiful you can. It is not a matter of innate intelligence or great knowledge. It is how you use your mind that matters” – read the intro.

Thinking about this book and about the Congress of which I would be part for the next three days, I began wondering about the link between natural networkers and ‘beautiful minds’. I believe that there is at least some link, whilst additional factors are certainly at work (introvert versus extrovert tendencies for example). I guess the question is: Do all good networkers have beautiful minds? And if so, do they have beautiful minds because of what they have learned from the many conversations they have had as good networkers? Or did they start with beautiful minds which have made them good conversationalists and therefore good networkers?

What would improving our networking skills contribute to beautifying the mind? And how would developing a more beautiful mind – and more ‘beautiful’ conversations – enhance the networker within? I will sign up for the makeover and let you know.

Many people say that they do not have time for reflection in the workplace. Meetings after meetings with two minutes in-between, emails interrupted by visitors in turn interrupted by telephone calls. Forgetting to have lunch?

Reflection however is what helps people process the various inputs that they are receiving. It helps them develop their own opinions; link new ideas to their own experiences to either validate them or question them; and consider possible actions (proactive or reactive.)

Building in reflective practice however takes commitment, perseverence and motivation. You have to make the time and you need to see positive results in order to have the incentive to keep it up. Learning and change can be that incentive, the possibility of dialogue can also be an incentive.

I am interested in how blogging can be used for reflective practice in the workplace – how it can be used to capture the progress that people make when they are thinking through issues and ideas. And how it can be used to start discussions, both within an institution and outside. Discussions that might not happen otherwise due to lack of time and attention.

How can we get our organization to promote blogging by staff members to help them reflect on the work they are doing and develop conversations around the things they are noticing, and the questions they have? It could help people understand more about the work staff members are doing and the processes that they are undergoing themselves as they develop their own capacities in many areas. It would help people get to know each other.

Are there any non-governmental organizations that actively promote blogging for this kind of purpose? Imagine an organization where every individual or team kept a blog. One that captured for themselves, their team and others some of the things they notice every day, funny things, celebrations, learning points, frustrations even. I can imagine myself checking one of my colleagues blogs thinking, “I wonder what’s going on in the DG’s office today?”

As I was dashing out of the door to work this morning, throwing my empty coffee cup in the sink and grabbing my bag, my husband handed me a weekly news magazine. “Read this article”, he said, “you’ll enjoy it.” Settling into my seat on the tram, I glanced down to the article in hand. “I trained my husband like an exotic animal”, read the headline. He had my attention.

Written by Amy Sutherland, author of “Kicked, Bitten and Scratched: Life and Lessons at the Premier School for Exotic Animal Trainers”
(http://www.amysutherland.com/), the article considers behaviour change techniques – as learned from trainers of seals and other exotic animals, and seemingly effective with the human too.

As I read this, whilst wondering about quite what my husband was trying to say (not sure whether he thought of himself as the one throwing or catching the mackerel), I began thinking about the applicability of these ideas and techniques in the most exotic of animals – the organization.

In our organizations, how successful have we been in:

  • Identifying the ways in which are own actions may fuel those of others and using this to the positive?
  • Introducing “incompatible behaviours” that make undesirable behaviours impossible?
  • Rewarding the small steps towards learning a new behaviour?

And how can we continue to practice and master these techniques until our practice ‘makes perfect’?

We have conversations everyday. How many of these conversations matter? When did we last have a conversation that mattered? And what was it that made it matter? What defines a conversation that matters from the multitude of conversations that so often fill our world?

We’ve all come away from conversations that have mattered and to some extent (whether we recognize it at the time or not) shaped our lives – conversations that have changed the nature of our relationships, the way we think and the way we behave. Similarly we’ve come away from conversations which have made little (or no) impression on us, and following which business continues as usual.

Having just returned from some wonderful conversations with the Generative Dialogue Project (http://www.generativedialogue.org/), I got to wondering: How are the conversations our organization is having changing the nature of relationships and the way people, groups and societies around the world are thinking and behaving? In other words, to what extent are our conversations bringing about the change we seek and helping achieve our objectives? And how can we continue to improve the quality of our conversations to better ensure that they matter?

As yet I don’t have the answers to these questions. I do think that sparking some conversations about them in our organization would be very worthwhile – enabling us to further reflect on and learn from our own conversational practices.

Why do people blog?

“Why do you want to blog?” my husband, the software engineer asked me. “Is it for visibility? Is it an ego-thing? Is it to start a discussion on an interesting topic? Is it to gather a community of like-minded people around you?”

What good questions. What was it about blogging that made it an interesting way to capture our thoughts? And what did we hope to accomplish by starting and maintaining a blog? Here are a few responses:

1. What a great way to explore a new communication medium!
2. This gives us a new way to follow our favorite topic – learning – and to capture this journey for ourselves;
3. It presents a creative way to practice Appreciative Inquiry within an organization;
4. It might get other people who are passionate about institutional and personal learning to start a conversation with us;
5. It gives us a reason to be deliberate about our learning;
6. It might give other people some ideas or things to think about (it certainly does for our team);
7. It is a useful way to frame our experiences for one another in our team; it asks us to be concise and make a point;
8. Everyone else is doing it! (actually at the moment I’ve only found one other blogger in the Bangkok office);

These are some of my reasons for blogging, and, I can say, that I notice that it has created a whole new sense of energy and purpose for our team. This blog helps us to capture and crystallize our learning points as we work through our day, and practice communicating them to each other. It’s a storytelling tool – a way to create a meaningful narrative and draw a single thread of learning out of the deluge of information, stimulating conversations and multi-sensory inputs that we get every day.

I find that I listen more deliberately. It makes me want to be an active learner and not a passive learner, at least I want to notice what I am learning so that I can value it (and potentially write about it). I think this blog is more for us than for anyone else. However, at some point it might get noticed. We are sure that others will see that we are writing with appreciation, good will and good intent.

Most of all this learning blog makes me want to ask really good questions. Like, “It’s 10:30 at night, what else should I have been doing when I was working up this blog entry?”

“Today this organization celebrates its 58th birthday!” it was announced at yesterday’s staff meeting. In two years time, its 60th birthday will be celebrated at the opening ceremony of the World Conservation Congress in Barcelona. What will all those present be saying about these past sixty years in our organization and those of the future?

In twelve days I will be at a surprise birthday party celebrating my Mother-in-law’s 60th. Last night my husband and his sister began busily reflecting on the life of their Mum and what they have learned from her. Oblivious to this little secret, she too is taking stock of what life has taught her over the last sixty years and how she wishes to embrace these lessons to make the most of the coming decades. Sixty is a big birthday, most people think “What kind of impact do I want to make in the years I have left?”

Whilst organizations and individuals have different life cycles (some institutions last for hundreds of years, our doctors have not cracked that yet), approaching the 60th birthday of our organization seems a great opportunity to reflect on what the organization has accomplished in the last fifty-eight years and what we have learned from it. How can these lessons can be embraced and used to propel our organization into its future in the most meaningful way?

If our organization was a person turning 60, what would she say was the most important contribution she has made to the people and world in the last 60 years, and what would she like to be known for in the future?

We have just started our blog about learning at our organization and in doing so, I did some learning myself about blogs (after being completely inspired by a presentation on the power of this medium by Alex Steffan from www.worldchanging.com). I spent around 3 hours looking at many blogs about learning and here is what I noticed:

1. The blog itself needs a distinguishable title and a good tag line that talks about what the theme is. Otherwise it is hard to find it;
2. Colour and font are important for readability;
3. Short is definitely good. But too short unless there is some pithy content is not good. www.Dormgrandpop.com site has good length – long enough to develop a thought, and not too long to get boring;
4. Links are valuable;
5. Postings have great title names – clever (think New Scientist);
6. No spelling errors. This reduces trust in content;
7. Write in full sentences and with proper punctuation and capitalisation – otherwise it is not easy to take seriously; and
8. Archives are hard to use if there is not a search function on the site. It is hard to look into the date archives if you are looking for something special. Thematic archives seem easier to use, except that not too many blogs have thematic archives (some do.)

We are just going to start our blog and get going. We will no doubt find our pace in a few days…