Archive for December, 2008

Happy and Prosperous New Year!

December 31, 2008


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Practical Hints for Learning Facilitators (#3)

December 31, 2008

Based on blogposts D18 (“Teaching versus Facilitating Learning”) and D19(“Debate versus Discussion versus Dialogue”), here are some practical hints for learning workshop facilitators (numbers below refer to the four stages to generative dialogue in D19):

  • Don’t mix bosses with their subordinates in the same workshop group, or else you may be stuck in 1. This is more true among Asians, whose tendency is to respect or bow to authority.
  • To move faster from 1 to 2, state a ground rule at the start: no one should monopolize or dominate participation; everyone should be given a chance to speak out.
  • The minimum goal is to reach 3 and stay there as long as possible; in actual practice, the group can shift quickly between 1, 2 and 3 within a short period of time, or different participants will be at different stages 1-3 at the same time.
  • To help move the group to 3, be a model to the group of the ability to suspend judgment; for example, continue to visibly and seriously pay attention, accept and listen to what a participant is saying, even when many are showing signs of judgment (sniggering or laughter, booing or making sounds of disapproval) of what a person is saying. If the group misses your modeling, be explicit by saying, for example, “You noticed I did not react or make judgement in any way on what he just said; I continued to be open and to listen. Be aware when you are making a judgment, and try to suspend it…..”
  • Awareness of one’s own assumptions is necessary to stay in 3. Help the group practice being aware of their personal assumptions and judgments by asking someone who just made a judgmental statement: “You just said that….. Let us practice awareness of assumptions and judgments here. Reflect on what you just said; what are the assumptions and judgments behind what you said?” The rest of the group can help in answering this question; just be factual and refrain from making any judgment on the judgment itself, or from adding more judgments or alternative judgments. As learning facilitator, if you yourself make the mistake of making a judgment, it will show up as mild but very visible signs of approval or disapproval: half-smile, quizzical look, surprise, etc.
  • As learning facilitator, you can be candid about your own internal process. For example, you can say: “Upon hearing that statement, my tendency was to disagree. However, I saw that tendency immediately and I held back and said to myself ‘I should continue to listen; he may have a point that I do not see yet'”. This kind of intervention also demonstrates to participants the ability to be aware of your own thought processes or metacognition – another skill needed to move to 3. It also demonstrates the value of being aware of (and being able to name) a process.
  • You can ask a participant (particularly someone you sense is entertaining a private reaction): “Miss X, what were you just now thinking when you heard Mr Y said what he just said?” Whatever her answer is, tell the group that it should be regarded as an internal report of Miss X, instead of Miss X’s judgment of Mr Y.
  • It can happen that by simply listening to different ideas, someone (or you as facilitator can do it, if no one seems to come out) may come upon a way to combine, reconcile, adjust/readjust or build upon two or more of these ideas to come up with a new or seemingly better idea. Point out this process of synergy and its importance (for moving to 4). Teach the importance of being aware of or keeping track of group processes (especially to participants who are technical people and thus have a tendency to see only the content and not the process).
  • If you see signs of ego investment (e.g. defending an idea simply because it is “his/hers”) this can block movement to 4. Remind the group that they are after a group output and group ownership.

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D19- Debate versus Discussion versus Dialogue

December 31, 2008

In a debate the purposes are usually:

  • To win (“win-lose” thinking between two sides)
  • To defend your idea as best as you can (ego investment: “your idea”)
  • To look for your opponent’s weaknesses and use them to defeat him
  • To know who is right and who is wrong, or who can argue better
  • To settle an issue
  • (To learn is usually NOT a purpose of debate)

Discussion involves:

  • Presenting and talking about two or more ideas, solutions or options (many “sides”)
  • Analyzing and evaluating different proposals to make a rational choice on the best one
  • Listening and comparing different views to look for common ground for agreement or “win-win” combinations
  • Looking for the best choice or solution, usually based on “either/or” thinking
  • Not only rationality but also exercise of power, influence or peer pressure
  • Making a final choice.

Dialogue requires the following:

  • Ability to be aware of your thinking processes (metacognition or Peter Senge’s “left-hand column”)
  • Ability to recognize and suspend your own assumptions and judgments
  • Willingness to admit your own mistakes or limitations
  • Ability to listen to different viewpoints or interpretations
  • Willingness to admit that you have only a few pieces of the entire jigsaw puzzle
  • Ability to see the strength and value of a different idea; ability to see an idea from many perspectives
  • Ability to make explicit one’s “ladder of inference” (according to Peter Senge, your sequence of thinking between what you see and what you conclude)
  • Ability to see that there are many ways of framing a question, and there can be many right answers to a question (there are no “sides” or you don’t “take sides”)
  • Ability to think “out of the box”
  • Ability to put several different views into a more encompassing view
  • Ability to sense what is emergent.

Dialogue can lead to:

  • Generating many new ways of looking at the same thing
  • Generating novel frameworks
  • Understanding, appreciating, combining and sharing meanings; evolving and generating new meanings
  • Generating innovations and new learnings
  • Broadening choices.

Here are the four stages to Generative Dialogue adapted from William Isaacs’ book “Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together”:


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Wordle: Word Clouds of this Blogsite

December 30, 2008

Here is a nice Internet toy you can play with from Wordle. I “wordled” this blogsite to visualize the words I most often used. The result:


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D18- Teaching versus Facilitating Learning

December 29, 2008

This table summarizes the differences between teaching and facilitating learning.


Teaching and facilitating learning are not polar opposites. They can be viewed as part of a teaching-learning continuum.


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D17- Single-Loop Learning versus Double-Loop Learning

December 27, 2008

According to Chris Argyris and Donald Schon, who originated the terms, “single-loop learning” is correcting an action to solve or avoid a mistake, while “double-loop learning” is correcting also the underlying causes behind the problematic action. Underlying causes may be an organization’s norms and policies, individuals’ motives and assumptions, and informal and ingrained practices that block inquiry on these causes. Double-loop learning requires the skills of self-awareness and self-management, and the willingness to candidly inquire into why what went wrong did so, without sliding into defensiveness, blaming others, making excuses, trying to be “nice and positive” to each other, protecting each other’s egos, and other automatic or unconscious patterns of behavior that block honest feedback, inquiry and learning. Single-loop learning looks at technical or external causes; double-loop learning also looks at cultural, personal or internal causes.

A sample problem: delays in completion of work.

Sample questions that lead to single-loop learning:

  • Which step suffers most from delays, and what delays that step?
  • How can the work process be simplified to reduce completion time?
  • What better technology can be used to reduce delays?

Sample questions that lead to double-loop learning:

  • What are the bases for setting the standard or expected completion time, and are these bases still valid in this situation?
  • If the delay had been noted earlier or it has been recurring or persistent, what prevented those who noted them from reporting or doing something about it? What prevented them from taking the initiative?
  • Does it happen often that employees notice a delay but hesitate for some reasons to do something about it? If so, what are those reasons? If it is difficult for employees to talk about those reasons, why so?
  • Does it happen that a delay occurs so often that employees tend to no longer notice or talk about it? Why? Or, what led to this pattern of unspoken group behavior?
  • If the delay often occurs with a specific employee, what prevented his manager or colleagues from doing something about it earlier? Is there an unwritten agreement or practice to avoid embarrassing co-employees, or to always “be nice and positive” to each other?
  • Were there people who believe that some potential root causes of a delay or problem were not considered or were too easily dismissed by colleagues or by managers? Why didn’t these people speak out, and if they did, why were they not fully listened to?
  • Is problem recognition, problem analysis or problem solving often dominated only by certain employees, and if so, why does this practice persist?

Double-loop learning requires three skills: self-awareness to recognize what is often unconscious or habitual, honesty or candor to admit mistakes and discuss with colleagues to discover and validate causes, and taking responsibility to act appropriately on what is learned. According to Argyris, “today, facing competitive pressures an earlier generation could hardly have imagined…leaders and subordinates alike…must all begin struggling with a new level of self-awareness, candor, and responsibility” (from Argyris: Good Communication that Blocks Learning, in: Harvard Business Review on Organizational Learning, 1994).

Footnote: read what I wrote more recently on this topic: “Practicing internal watchfulness (hint #11)”

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The Future of Innovation

December 25, 2008

Bettina von Stamm of the Innovation Leadership Forum, together with Anna Trifilova of the Nizhny Novgorod Architecture and Civil Engineering State University, in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, invited me to contribute to a book on “Future of Innovation.” The book will be launched at the ISPIM (International Society for Professional Innovation Management) Conference to be held in Vienna, Austria on 21-24 June 2009. The conference theme is also “Future of Innovation.”

Here is what I wrote:

    The future of innovation will be influenced by the fact that the pace of technological innovations has outstripped that of political, social and ethical innovations needed to solve the problems made worse by the technological innovations themselves. Mankind has demonstrated that its ability to technologically innovate is far greater than its ability to anticipate, learn and solve the negative social consequences of those innovations.

    Innovation in the future will be driven by common threats confronting mankind. Ironically, most of those threats are man-made. Innovation will proceed in the general direction of preventing and resolving conflicts, governance at all levels, advancing human rights and human security, cross-border agreements in preventing and fighting crime and terrorism, eliminating social exclusions and other social ills that lead to poverty, generating consensus on environmental problems and solutions, and value creation.

    Innovations in value creation, either for the commercial sector or for the social or development sector, will be important in redefining and advancing wealth creation for all. Wealth creation in the new global economy has been less and less through extraction and processing of natural resources and more and more through application of human knowledge and creativity. Both pursuit of corporate profits as well as nurturing community or social development have been found to be dependent more on knowledge and other intangibles such as social and cultural capital, and less on tangible assets and infrastructures. Now and in the future, we can expect that creating and managing knowledge and other intangible assets, personal and organizational learning, and facilitating innovation itself, are playing greater roles. Innovations will move from the physical hardware and software types to also embrace the biological-ecological, behavioral, organizational, network-social, legal-legislative and symbolic-representational types.

    Development itself is being redefined. Pursuit of peace, including the use of new international sanctions to support local application of violent modes to secure long-term planetary peace, is also being redefined. As humankind’s only home planet gets more crowded and problematic, we are forced into a common journey of learning how to live together and how to creatively convert our ethnic, religious and political diversity from a disadvantage to an advantage.

    Mankind’s capacity to innovate will need to be focused on questions of “what for” and “for whom.” It will have to revolve more around finding new and better questions, than on finding correct answers to old questions. I anticipate more innovations in how people recognize and manage their own mental boxes and judgments, and how people can perform this reflective process through open dialogue within a diverse group. I sense a future where innovations will give mankind a better capacity to reflect and learn together as a group, and therefore co-create a consensus on how they can more effectively address problems they face as a group.

Bettina’s comment: “Many thanks for your contribution. We enjoyed reading it, this is really from your heart, as we are looking for! Very nice indeed!”

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Let Us Celebrate this Day – How?

December 25, 2008

Let us celebrate this Day by –

> Sending quietly a loving thought to one person you don’t like, or
> Giving something that will bring a smile on the face of a complete stranger, or
> Admiring afresh the beauty and purpose of something small you see and take for granted every day, or
> When you enjoy a delicious meal with meat, egg or fish, saying quietly “thank you” to the animal who died that you may live, or
> Catching yourself thinking of a limiting, unfair or untested belief about someone close to you, or
> Asking yourself “what did I learn?” after every painful or uncomfortable experience, AND
> Continuing those little celebrations every day after December 25.


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Two Important Trigger Questions in a Lessons-Learned-Session (Practical Hint #2)

December 24, 2008

In connection with the previous post on “Best Practice versus Next Practice”, when you perform a Lessons-Learned Session (other KM practitioners call it “After-Action Review” or “Post-Mortem” etc.), there are two important trigger questions:

1. What worked well?

The answers to this question leads to useful knowledge that can be re-used in similar activities: work templates, approaches, tools, directories, checklists, etc. If something worked exceptionally well, then it is a candidate for best practice (or call it “good practice” if you have no comparative metrics to prove it is “best”).

2. What did not work and why?

Many teams find it difficult to address this question, and some people with personal issues will habitually shift to justifications, blaming others, excuses and all other sorts of unproductive defensive reactions that will prevent the team from understanding why what went wrong did so. BUT, if a team can develop the culture of trust, continuous improvement and constructive inquiry (instead of “witch hunting” or “blame game” or “taking things personally”), the question “What did not work and why?” can lead to improvement and innovation of NEXT practice!

If this happens, the obverse KM question “What did not work and why?” will prove superior to the KM question “What worked well?”. See my previous post on “Cost of Ignorance” on what is the meaning of “obverse knowledge management.”

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D16- Best Practice versus Next Practice

December 24, 2008

The KM tool of transfer of best practice is NOT the best! Why?

Transfer of best practice means –

  • You are improving your productivity BUT
  • You are merely copying from the benchmark setters;
  • You are always catching up;
  • You are looking at what had already happened (backward-looking);
  • You are competing with others who are also seeking the same best practice.

Innovating NEXT practice means –

  • You are THE benchmark setter;
  • You are setting new standards or new market niches;
  • You are forward-looking;
  • You are ahead of the pack and others are copying from you;
  • Your revenues will grow earlier and/or faster than the others.

According to Jesper Kunde, author of “Corporate Religion: Building a Strong Company through Personality and Corporate Soul”, “Companies have defined so much ‘best practice’ that they are now more or less identical”

Management guru Peter Drucker said that “…the major task in society and especially in the economy… [is] doing something different rather than doing better what is already being done.”

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