Tag Archives: learning community

Social Sensitivity Leads to High Performing Groups

Here is a transcript from a recent 60 second science report from the Scientific American:

Groups with Good Social Skills Outperform the Merely Smart

Groups of two to five members who interacted with each other best outperformed groups whose individual members had higher intelligence scores.

Karen Hopkin reports:

If Alice is smart, and Bob’s even smarter, working together they would A) be twice as smart, B) be half as smart or C) form a task force and get nothing done. According to new research, the answer is none of the above. It would actually depend on how well they get along.

What makes a group good at what it does? A team of scientists put their collective heads together and divided volunteers into groups of two to five. And they asked these groups to perform a variety of tasks, from brainstorming answers to questions like “What can you do with a brick?” to team typing blocks of complicated text.

What the researchers found is that the intelligence of individual group members was not a good predictor of how well the group as a whole performed. The teams that did best rated high in social sensitivity: their members interacted well, took turns speaking and included more females than groups that did poorly. The study is in the journal Science. [Anita Woolley et al., citation to come.]

So if you’re looking for a recipe for group smart, don’t automatically reach for the biggest brains. Try adding some heart. And at least one person who knows what to do with a brick.

Thank you Frédéric Domo for sharing this via Linked In.

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Online Communites are Changing my World

Should online communities have a better reputation?  Should you join and participate in one more online community?  Are online communities profoundly changing the world for the better?

Here are four examples of how online communities have changed my world:

  • I was organizing a conference in London UK for a client.  I researched the internet (blogs, discussion threads, social networks, etc.) and found 2 very interesting speakers to participate.  One was from Finland and one was from the USA.   The first time we met in person was at the conference.  We continue to network and collaborate to this day.  One of the speakers connected me to an incredible career opportunity.
  • I created a post on my blog and promoted it via Twitter and some of my Linked In groups.  I received an invitation on Linked In from someone who wanted to join my network.  I accepted the invitation after reviewing his profile, and confirming a mutual interest and benefit.  This contact invited me to help create a new social learning website for a professional community, introduced me to some other people who included me in a conference event, and provided a professional recommendation for me on my Linked In profile.  I recently arranged a 6 month contractor role in the home country of this contact and we are planning to meet in person for the first time.  He has a yacht and wants to take me sailing.
  • I targeted a few companies where I would like to work.  I used Linked In to identify people in leadership roles in these companies and introduced myself.  Two of the leaders willingly spoke with me to explore opportunities to work together.  I did not go through the traditional RFP process and spent very time and money on business development and marketing activities.  I am presently discussing a 6 to 12 month contractor role.
  • I participated heavily on the blog of a well known thought leaders in my field.  I contributed to discussion threads, commented and rated contributions made by others, and helped connect some of the other community members to each other and to “content.”  One of the leaders reached out to me.  This leader acted as a coach and mentor, and a reference.  Eventually this leader hired me for a contractor role.  The first time we met in person was just 30 minutes before meeting our client for the first time.  We are now talking about a longer term partnership.

How have online communities changed your world?

The authors of “the 2020 workplace” make the following predictions for online communities:

  • You will be hired and promoted based upon your reputational capital (for example – successfully turning professional communities into increased business value for the organization and creating a stronger personal brand).
  • Recruiting will start on social networking sites (at least 80 percent of recruiters will tap into online communities as the first stop to recruiting global talent).
  • Corporate social networks will flourish and grow inside companies (corporate participation in social networks may be as critical in the 2020 workplace as managing cash flow).

I was inspired to write this post after receiving a link from one of my network members (Kim Burt) to Richard Millington’s blog post where he shared examples of how online communities have changed his world.

Selecting the Best Targets for Social Learning

Will we make social (or peer-to-peer) learning worse by creating incentives for community managers and members that are based exclusively on activity targets such as the following?

  • number of downloads, views and hits
  • average ratings
  • number of contributions (or uploads)

There is a systematic relationship among purpose, methods, and measures.  Imposing only activity targets (or measures) into the social learning ecosystem will create a de-facto purpose and constrain the methods of learning.  Such contingent metrics (i.e., if you do this you will get that) will shift the focus from the higher purpose of social learning (i.e., how do I do learn more and perform better and help others to learn more and perform better?) to surpassing previously achieved activity metrics (i.e., how do I survive in a social learning system?).

An obsession on activity targets will always increase costs and create more waste.  Such a focus is detrimental to content quality, community motivation, and community attitudes.   The community will focus on the incentives from achieving activity targets (or the rewards) rather than on improving how they learn, collaborate, and network.

Imposed activity targets will manipulate and often destroy collaboration, blindly promote a single and arbitrary purpose, deter risk taking, and reduce creativity.

A better approach is to derive targets from the purpose of the “learning ecosystem” according to the point of view of community managers and members.  Put the targets (or measures) in the hands of the people managing and participating in the learning ecosystem and you will see increased creativity and innovation, and a step change in the level of success.

Remember to also think about how to intrinsically motivate the community.  Permit community autonomy, create a shared sense of community purpose, and create confidence in the role of the community towards helping people to achieve mastery and success.

I recently viewed a recorded lecture from John Seddon that has greatly influenced my thinking about the role of activity targets in a social learning ecosystem.  The lecture is one hour in duration and it is focused on the organizational system rather than on a social learning system.  I believe many of John’s observations and findings relate to the social learning ecosystem and I encourage you to view his video.

John Seddon Video

Learning to Change – Changing to Learn

Watch this video on YouTube from May 2008 because the messages are still spot on.  Although the video focuses on the educational system (Kindergarten through 12th grade), several of the messages are relevant to corporations and professional enterprises.

There are a few concepts and ideas presented in this video that really grabbed my attention – such as:

  • Learners are effective content developers and ommunicators
  • Learning is about relationships, communites, connectivity, and access
  • Learners are living in a “nearly now” space where they no longer have to wait ages to get the content and discussion they need today – and where they have more opportunities to reflect, research, and test new ideas without the same pressures experienced in traditional learning systems
  • It’s about providing the best quality trainers and experts to learners no matter where they live and work
  • We have a classroom system when we could have a community system
  • The vending machine approach to training will not prepare people for the workplace
  • Learning is not about memorizing facts – it is about being able to find, validate, synthesize, leverage, communicate, collaborate, and problem solve with the facts, ideas, and concepts

What are your thoughts?

Key Social Learning Roles

Premise:  Learning communities or networks thrive because its members possess certain skills and capabilities.  Community members should be able to perform one or more of the five roles described in the table that follows.

The road ahead:  I am presently developing detailed role descriptions, community guidelines, role assessment tools, and the identification of appropriate learning products and offerings.  Please share your comments and ideas to guide me through my next steps.

Role Role Description Key Skills and Capabilities
Consumer The person who looks for and uses content, information, and social connections.
  • Self Directed: Able to identify and pursue learning needs without too much formal structure and rigor.
  • Media Savvy:  Able to use social media in a natural way.
  • Insightful: Able to filter meaningful information, patterns, and commonalities from multiple streams of data.
  • Group Oriented: Able to build collaborative networks and leverage the collective intelligence.
Creator The person who creates, shares, improves, and discusses content and information.
  • Attentive: Able to respond to requests and to reach out to others in a meaningful and timely manner.
  • Designer: Able to format and package ideas and information logically, concisely, and understandably.
  • Researcher: Able to augment and enhance the ideas, stories, and information created and shared by others.
Connector The person who helps others to find the content, information, and people they seek or need.
  • Broker:  Able to persuade others to collaborate.
  • Conductor: Able to simultaneously coordinate with many people.
  • Switched On: Able to understand the political dynamics and cultural values in various communities and networks.
  • Networker: Able to form and sustain networked relationships.
Carrier The person who helps creators to transmit and promote their content and information to others.
  • Communicator:  Able to transmit an idea, story, or information into a variety of viewpoints and perspectives.  
  • Trend Spotter:  Able to notice new and emerging ideas that deserve mass awareness and adoption.
  • Marketer:  Able to select and use media and channels for promoting content and information to a target audience.
Caretaker The person who manages the learning community.
  • Ambassador:  Able to represent the community and portray its goals, purpose, and policies.
  • Advocate: Able to intercede and act as a mediator on behalf of a community or an individual member.
  • Cultivator: Able to put into motion and institutionalize community values, policies, procedures, and practices.

Creating Value From Social Learning

Social Learning — namely, the use of social media in the workplace to foster learning, collaboration, networking, knowledge sharing, and communications — has taken on a kind of religious fervor among learning practitioners during the past couple years.  And not without good reason: It often creates more powerful and enduring learning experiences; it helps people establish and leverage social connections to accelerate the distribution and sharing of experiences, content and guidance; and it allows learners to be more productive, learn faster and work smarter.

One of the reasons many learning and development professionals are struggling to secure budget and resources for their social learning proposals is the inability to articulate the value proposition.  What does “good” look like and what are the influencers that create this “goodness”?

Does it all add up? Value Creation from social learning is more likely to take place when the business context and the learning ecosystem are “optimal.”

Read my article on the enterprise collaborative website: creating value from social learning

Do We Need Sweeter Carrots and Sharper Sticks?

Learning or professional communities are “healthy” and beneficial to the organization when its members are intrinsically motivated to participate and contribute. Members of a learning community must have a desire to network, collaborate, and share information or the community will not thrive and will not drive business value. What will intrinsically motivate community members? Which types of rewards are cost-effective?

When I talk with organizational leaders about creating healthy learning communities I am often asked “how do we motivate and make them participate and contribute?”

One fundamental problem with this type of discussion is the notion that there is an “us” and there is a “them.” This position assumes that “we’ are better than “them” and “we” must force “them” or make “them” participate and contribute in the learning community. “They” do not understand what to do or “they” are too selfish to contribute, share, and help other community members.

The organizational leaders I speak to often suggest different ways to incentivize community members like the provision of gift points and other little presents to motivate them. What about the old adage “you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink?” Do you believe we are able to “make” learning community members participate and contribute through a “carrot and stick” strategy? Are rewards and punishment schemes affordable and sustainable?

Some research findings and “experts” suggest that rewarding community members for meeting networking, collaboration, and information sharing targets (or punishing them for failing to meet such targets) is detrimental to quality, motivation, and attitudes. The main argument is that a rewards and punishment scheme is manipulative and will often destroy collaboration, blindly promote a single solution, deter risk taking, and reduce creativity.

Watch this 19 minute “Ted” presentation of Dan Pink who believes that we are punished by rewards.

Dan Pink

Dan presents a case to prove that contingent motivators (i.e., “if you do this then you get that”) will work for tasks that are mechanical, routine, rule-based, and that are organized around a clear destination or outcome. Contingent motivators will not work, according to Dan, and often cause harm when applied to cognitive tasks that require creativity, the resolution of complex and novel issues, and where the final destination or result is unclear. Rewards and punishment will narrow our focus, concentrate the mind, and lead to poorer performance. Rewards and punishment are detrimental for work tasks that lack a pre-defined and clear destination or solution, or a pre-defined and clear path to the destination or solution.

Dan claims that this is one of the most robust findings in social science and one that is often ignored by business leaders. In other words, there is a mismatch between what the science knows and what the business does.

What should we do if we want to intrinsically motivate and encourage members of a learning or professional community to participate or contribute? What else can we do besides roll out a rewards and punishment scheme?

Dan says that a new operating model is required and that we should not look for sweeter carrots or sharper sticks. He says that we should look at different building blocks: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Autonomy is an urge to direct our own work. Mastery is a desire to get better and better at something that matters to us.  And purpose is the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

Autonomy: Managing and governing a learning community is good if you want compliance. Autonomy is better if you want engagement. One way to intrinsically motivate your learning community members and to achieve higher levels of community engagement is to permit the members to have more responsibility over their governance. Another way is to allow the community members to decide what information to share. Do not create and assign targets for members to fill up defined subject areas with content. Allow community members to network, collaborate, and share information on anything that they want.

Mastery: What about mastery? Do community members believe that the community matters to them? Do organizational leaders want community members to have a stronger affiliation to their community than to their formal hierarchy? Do community members believe that community networking, collaboration, and information sharing will lead to higher performance and success on the job? One way to intrinsically motivate community members towards mastery is to help them become better community connectors and carriers. Not every community member needs to be only a content expert or contributor. Effective learning communities need only 10% of the members to regularly make content contributions. Learning communities will also matter to more members if there are enough helpful connectors and carriers. It’s not all about content. Especially in environments where there is a lot of change, the work is complex and the solutions must be novel and surprising, and where collaboration is critical to success.

Purpose: Learning communities will fail if too few content experts have a sense of purpose or a yearning to share their expertise in the service of their community. Many content experts try to hold on to their power and job security by making sure people have no other option but to come to them for answers and advice. Why would content experts want to store their expertise on the “system” in the form of a podcast, knowledge document, blog, or discussion thread? Most people are not that altruistic and would not willingly sacrifice their career in order to help their learning community. Content experts might have a stronger sense of purpose after contributing to their community if it helps them become a more valuable employee. Content experts who share their expertise more widely and more efficiently will likely receive more feedback and ideas from more people. This might help content experts to more quickly and more effectively shape, grow, and refine their expertise. The content experts would also grow and improve their networks making it easier for them to more quickly and more effectively test new ideas, find new ideas, and share new ideas. A “smarter” and more “connected” individual is a valuable asset to most organizations. Sharing ones expertise might be a purpose worth pursuing.

Rather than simply providing monetary gifts so that community members focus and concentrate on narrow targets such as sharing a certain number of podcasts or knowledge documents during each quarter, we need to explore new ways of intrinsically motivating learning community members using building blocks such as autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Please let me know how you believe we should encourage and motivate members of a learning community.