A Twitter story

A while back I decided I was going to get involved with Twitter. It was in part because the company I was working with seemed to be obsessed by it and I wanted in on the action. It was partly because I was looking for a way to connect with other people and talk about things outside of family life and kids.

That was three years ago. In the early days Twitter was a fun distraction. A way to pass the time when time allowed. I tried to find some people I thought I could connect with. Folk in the L&D field, HR field and the likes. It took time and I eventually found some few people that I started connecting with in small ways.

From there it progressed quite rapidly. Suddenly there was a tweetup is Twitter folk who used a hashtag called #connectinghr. There was an unconference which attracted a lot of attention. There were these blogs being written about all sorts of fascinating topics and I started paying attention to them. Even my writing in those early days was mostly just rants and the odd post about something worth talking about. #hrblogs became a core source of finding some brilliant writing.

Then there was another tweetup I decided I’d try attending, and suddenly met all these people. And that’s where life started to become really interesting. These people were actively interested in supporting each other and creating a much more refined community. It was seriously attractive and very compelling. I bonded with various other Twitter users and forged friendships with some, ongoing discussions with others and the network kept growing.

Through all this time I was encouraged. I found my voice in a world I didn’t know I was going to be part of. I grew more confident in wanting to be more involved and supportive where I could.

The time came where I felt there was enough people I had connected with that I could put forth the idea of the L&D community to come together and forge their own path. #ldconnect and #ldblogs was born and we’ve started to really help move the L&D conversation in some interesting ways. Opportunities for partnering and progression have developed with industry bodies and groups.

Somewhere along the line I started to gain a following independent of the mutual I follow you, you follow me thing. It’s been nice to see how that happens. Sometimes I lose followers. Sometimes I gain them. It all works itself out and I just quietly muse about the way these things unfold.

I’ve enjoyed this unfolding of Twitter life. It’s created a sense of purpose I didn’t expect to find, and a way of being I didn’t expect to be. The people are what makes it a continuing pleasure and what motovates me to keep at it.

Tonight was a chance to meet up again with people who use Twitter, and I’ll be doing it in a different way on Monday. It is affirming to know the community still wants tolve forward, and I like being part of it.

In time life will move on and other things will take priority. Until then I enjoy connecting and talking with you all who choose to honour me with your presence and dialogue.

Tomorrow’s World

Remember that programme? Always about future things that are on the horizon and how life is going to be different. I don’t remember the kind of things they actually showed, but I do remember being impressed by the technology. More so though, it was about the possibilities of what tomorrow could bring. And that, is always exciting.

Fast forward to 2012 and advancements are happening all over the world, and in some respects the corporate world has kept up. How so? Well, look at the changes in presentation formats. Standing and presenting has always been a winner. The aids to support have changed. From slide projectors, to overhead projectors, to PowerPoint, and in more recent times Prezi and pecha kucha presentations.

There have also been advancements in meeting management. The stock and trade boardroom table and meeting has moved to having open space meetings, to all hands meetings, to workshops, to facilitated meetings to appreciative inquiry methods. Those innovations in meetings and group dynamics have largely been a result of organisational development type activities as well as improvements in psychology and understanding team and people dynamics.

Then there’s the stock and trade conferences. Suppliers are asked to exhibit, speakers are asked to provide case studies and consultants are asked to be experts. It worked for a while. Until people decided they needed more and created unconference formats, also known as barcamps and open space events. I know of several fields where they use these formats to engage an audience: HR, Recruitment, Learning and Development, User Experience and Technology geeks. They’ve brought themselves together to create a learning format that creates something highly engaging and collaborative.

Last week, I was part of an unconference and a conference, and I’m left thinking why has the traditional conference not changed its approach. Why are they staying to stock and trade when the new developments create so much opportunity for increased engagement and relevance. At the CIPD HRD conference they’ve done some impressive things to try and improve their format. There’s interactive boards on the floors to help attendees see the conversation happening on Twitter. They trialled a 45 minute unconference discussion. They have tweetups. They have Swap Shops where professionals can exchange skills. And they have free short learning presentations that exhibitors can present some theory and then sell their product. And they have journalists and bloggers present to create buzz (of which I was happily part of and very glad to be too).

But here’s what was missing – learning and development. The conference format is one way with a bit of Q&A thrown in to make it feel interactive. Which isn’t really. With a potential discussion between 60-80 people attending a session, four or five get to ask questions. The only learning that happens is the inferences you make from the speaker’s presentation, and what notes they may (and often not) provide.

What needs to happen is interaction with the content. There were many conference sessions I was sitting in where I desperately wanted to discuss the content but there was just no opportunity to do so. I don’t mean I wanted to discuss with the presenter per se, but the content was certainly of enough interest that more could have been facilitated around it.

Here’s some things that could have happened. The presenters are there anyway for their allotted time. Time can be given later to hold a discussion forum with presenters where you discuss the content. The unconference format lends itself well to this kind of discussion. Attendees can engage in the content they are interested in, and equally learn about other discussions that have taken place. Don’t forget attendees have already paid to attend a session. They’re willing to invest their time for proper development of thinking, which doesn’t happen.

The presentation formats are for too rigid. Why does it have to be a formal presentation, and why does it have to be PowerPoint? I saw no-one and heard of no-one talk about other formats, which is such a shame. Imagine the buzz and engagement around the conference in hearing that Bob from Comapnies R Us delivered a Prezi presentation, or Bella from Organisation Brilliance did the best pecha kucha ever. I want to see and hear that! But instead we have to put up with slides, and videos, and graphics, and fairly boring presentations. “We did this, it amounted to this, you need to consider your organisation, good luck.” I’m being unfair to the many good presenters out there, but there’s just not enough.

There needs to be a much better way of making the content on the day available to the many people not present. Bloggers and journalists help this happen organically and there is a lot of value in that. But what about after? Who’s curating the content? Who’s tracking the conversation? Are presenters encouraged to keep up with the conversations after the event? Are presentations available online and available to be accessed by paying with a tweet for example?

And the exhibitors need some kind of briefing and training from the likes of the CIPD. They need to know what the organisers hopes, objectives, goals, vision are. They need to know what they are and not allowed to do with the attendees. Can they pre-arrange meetings? Can they stop looking bored while waiting for footfall? Can they attend sessions because of the money they’ve paid? Can they do more than plug their products? Are they allowed to collaborate with other exhibitors and do more for each other? I suggested while at HRD that Doug should help both the organisers and exhibitors understand how to stop doing dumb things to customers.

There’s a fair amount here. Some of it I reckon can be useful. Some of it is probably just my own musings. What have I missed?

I give to you, L&D Connect

Today I was part of something new and exciting which many of you may be familiar with – the @LnDConnect unconference. I’ve written a lot about it over previous posts and there’s been a fair amount of chatter on LinkedIn and Twitter about the event. I would normally allow more time to reflect and take in what today has meant for me, but I’m at the CIPD HRD12 event for the next two days so want to get this out while there’s nothing to pollute my memories. (also, no links in this post)

If you’ve not been part of an unconference before, the essence is the agenda is decided by the delegates on the day. It’s a very organic process which does follow some method to allow the discussions to unfold. What happens is people get involved in the discussions that interest them and can move freely between the discussions.

I cannot begin to describe how glad I am that this event came to be. 1500 views of the eventbrite page, with 26 confirmed bookings (unfortunately two had to drop out), plus the organisers made a group of 32 on the day. We discussed things covering a range of very prevalent L&D concerns such as: What is learning? Who is responsible for learning? What should L&D stop doing? What’s happening tomorrow that holds interest for L&D? What part does social media play in learning? How do we help the next generation of learning? How do we make the L&D function better with more business impact? How do we create more agile L&D solutions?

The output of those conversations rests with the individuals taking part. I can’t share all that content because I was only part of some of the conversations. But, the use of a backchannel encouraged discussion to happen beyond the people present. Special mention goes to José Franca for being so open with his team about being part of the online discussion that he was probably the most active participant without being present.

The closing comments from the group that were shared out were so heart warming and kind I am filled with joy. That the event resonated so well with the group and had inspired them to think differently about what they do is a blessing and I am so grateful to everyone who took part today.

This is where I let go of being a minder. I may have had the brainchild of wanting to bring L&D professionals together, but the event was only possible because of the team involved: Martin Couzins, Debbie Carter, Stella Collins, Margaret Burnside, Natasha Stallard and David Goddin. Where it goes from here will be a series of ongoing discussions and organic development. Thanks all and I look forward to doing more brilliant things with you all.

The proof is in the pudding

On Tuesday next week, we’re going to be holding the first L&D Connect Unconference. “We” being: Martin Couzins, Debbie Carter, Natasha Stallard, Stella Collins, Margaret Burnside, Doug Shaw and David Goddin. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am by the event. As of today, there are going to be 30 of us signed up and ready to take part in the conversations. This is quite frankly awesome, unexpected and exciting.

Alison Chisnell has written a post about how friends can help you find your way. This is so true, and I’m so very grateful to the group above for allowing each other and me to make this a reality. I’ve written a post about how the idea for it came into being. But there’s another angle which is interesting to make note of. It all happened through social networking.

I know all of the above people personally. They didn’t necessarily know each other before we started talking, but they sure do now! We’ve used social networks to good effect in helping all of this to happen. We were on Skype when we wanted to do a group chat. We used LinkedIn when we wanted to develop ideas and have ongoing conversations on content, planning and marketing of the event. We’ve used Twitter extensively to get the word out about the event. There have been some blogs written about the event in advance, and a lot of emails flying about personally inviting people to attend. I even recorded a short piece on what the event is about on YouTube!

We’ve had very little in the way of face to face chats and conversations. That’s partly been because we all live in different parts of the UK, and we all obviously have the day job to get on with. So we’ve done pretty brilliantly to self-organise and use the tools available to us to make the day happen. It’s been a great example of collaboration, and giving up time and efforts to make it happen.

The @LnDConnect Twitter account has been used well, and various people have been guest tweeting from it to create engagement and chatter. The LinkedIn Unconference group has been generating a wealth of topics that people want to actively discuss on the day. I think we’ve produced a jolly good showcase of how social media has enabled this event to happen.

Have you booked on to the event? It’s on Tuesday 24th April from 1300-1700 at LBi, on Brick Lane in London. Pass the word around to those you think it might interest. There’s plenty of time to book, and it’s only £50 to get in. Book now!

Paying it Forward at #ldcu

I’m not sure where or when I came across the concept of paying it forward, but it is certainly an idea that I like. The idea is instead of paying someone back for a gift, you pay it forward by passing on your gift (or something else) to those less fortunate than yourself. A very altruistic notion, and one that chimes with my personal values.

At the L&D Connect Unconference, we’re going to have a space for a variation of this to happen. Doug Shaw got in touch with me to let me know he had four copies of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni that he’d like to make available to others at the Unconference. I thought this was a wonderful offer, and will be adding this to the mix of the day.

One of the main ways we L&Ders increase our understanding of the world is via reading. And we all have a complete range of reading interests and topics that we find interesting. Personally, I enjoy books from Malcolm Gladwell. I like his style of writing, and what observations he has to make about society and the way life works. Making his stuff practical is a challenge, but it certainly gets the cogs turning. I have since made available my copies of Tipping Point and Blink which is a shame as I would have made them available here. However, I have Freakanomics by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, .59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman and some others which I will be making available on the day.

I enjoy reading, and is why I have the Kindle app on pretty much every device I have, the Guardian app so I can read the news in my own time, RSS subsrciptions so I can read what people are saying on their blogs, and Twitter, because it’s the ultimate reading experience.

And what is the idea? To pay it forward by giving these books to the delegates at the Unconference, either for themselves, or to give to people they know because it might be of interest. I could add a proviso along the lines of writing a review of the book once it’s been read, but that’s not cricket. We make of the reading materials available to us what we will. And ultimately it’s up to us how we share that, so at its best I’m hoping we can all take part in paying forward the books we own.

If you’re going to be at the Unconference (which can be booked here), and want to take part in paying it forward with your books, leave a comment below so we can keep track of the books, and help others to see what reading they might be able to look forward to. Also, it occurs to me that you may want to take part in this even though you may not be able to attend. If this is the case, we’ll figure out how you can be part of this, just comment below.

Tunnel Vision

I recently wrote about how L&D can be brilliant given the right type of thinking. Essentially I was saying that the role of the L&Der can be a true business enabler provided there is an understanding of how to do this. I want to develop this thinking, and give some more thoughts on why this may not be a mainstream set of activities. With many businesses and organisations espousing the need to take learning and development seriously, how can we, as a profession help businesses to see what their potential is?

I think part of the problem is those professionals who are indoctrinated into following the L&D cycle (needs analysis, development, delivery, evaluation) and following Kirkpatrick’s model of evaluation to such an extent that they don’t see beyond these activities. For those up and coming in the role, this is a good place to start, and it’s what I would ensure any new person in the role is capable of doing as this is our bread and butter. The need, though, is when that stops being enough.

How do you know when this happens? When you believe success is based on activities like:
– “let’s create a calendar for the year”
– “let’s include elearning as part of the solution”
– “let’s create a new course on subject x”
– “let’s put a newsletter together”

I’m not having a dig, these are worthwhile activities, and they are certainly beneficial in many ways. What this kind of list does, though, it gives permission for the L&Der to just stop there. And then when they attend a conference, or seminar, and they want to implement the new style of thinking, there’s a moment of “I’m out of my depth here”. And we then carry on with the same. I’m guilty of this, and in no way am proclaiming I’ve got this nailed down. Take today for example, my main set of activities have been to send out evaluations on recent workshops. A day spent on admin? Ugh.

It’s when we take the time to think, discuss and debate that we start to see there are other possibilities. It’s when we stop reading the trade journals, and start concentrating on bigger events, that we see that there is more we can be and do. It’s when we start to engage in social media and networks that we start to see there is an absolute mountain of knowledge just waiting to be consumed that can make us better people. And through that we can deliver better insight, better solutions and better understanding of the world that we both work in and that we live in.

The tunnel vision that most L&Ders are burdened with is our biggest barrier. This is true of independent consultants who believe their product will change the world, and of the internal consultant who is blinkered to the possibilities that are out there. The twain can and do meet, just not often enough. Once more L&Ders start to see the potential of what their role can achieve, that’s when mainstream business and organisations will take notice.

Have I got you thinking about what this means for you in your role? Come discuss it further at the L&D Connect Unconference on 24 April. It’ll be an interesting debate and one I can only learn from.

Being brilliant

When thinking about the state of learning and development in businesses, I get both excited and feel despair. There are some very good, very learned, and very skilled L&Ders around. What they help their businesses achieve is impressive. Activities like management and leadership programmes, inductions, elearning, talent development, social learning networks – these are all good things to be taking place. They make me feel like the profession is adding value and helping businesses to really focus on its people.

And then you get businesses that ask their L&Ders to do the wrong things or become involved in the wrong activities. Things like “deliver this training next week”, or “Bob needs assertiveness training, make it happen”, or “Bella needs to feel part of the team, training will help her, right?”. Oh, how I despair at these conversations. They’re just awful. What makes them awful is the absolute lack of understanding of what it means to think about learning and development.

L&D is not restricted to training, or on the job learning, or sourcing an external provider to deliver training. The brilliance of L&D happens when people are brought together to share their fears, share their concerns, talk about new ways of thinking, and do something about it. This is what we are capable of achieving and doing, and this is what makes me excited to be part of this profession. We talk to so many departments about their needs and their day to day language that we develop insight into the business which is quite unique.

We’re given permission to discuss new ways of thinking about work, about projects, about culture and a host of other things because we’re already talking about how to support the business achieve its goals. Beyond this, the best L&Ders I’ve known have started talking with the business about how to develop its thinking on its products, on its services, on its brand, on its recruitment, on its sales because they’ve been part of regular discussions anyway.

Where does this lead? Well, to very interesting challenges, problems and opportunities, the likes of which we wouldn’t have expected. The L&D strategy of the business is largely dependent on the skill of the L&Der to decide what this looks like. The playing field is theirs to determine, and that’s a very interesting place to operate from. As facilitators of knowledge, sharing and collaboration, we can help a business be the best version of itself.

Yes, it helps if the CEO, Exec and senior management team are on board with all this, but when they see how the L&Der is making things happen across the business, it becomes a compelling place to be. You’re starting to be allowed to talk to and direct this group based on your observations and your insight into what the business is achieving, and where they can be engaged in helping more to happen.

This is the excitement of the role and the job which I’m glad to be part of. The parts of where this can fall into despair, is where I hope through sharing and collaboration, we can help and support each other to achieve our best. This is part of my thinking behind wanting to create a community of folk around #ldconnect on Twitter, and for holding our first unconference. There’s ample opportunity for a lot to happen in our profession, and we all have ideas about what we can do to get there, so I hope to help that happen through the community.

UPDATE: Rick sent me this link to a post where he highlighted the kind of conversation I have described above.