Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Personal Change for the Networked World

I was at a recent meeting with the Conference Board of Canada's Knowledge Strategy Exchange Network (I'm privileged to be a member, and on the Advisory Council) and, as I'm sure you'd expect, the conversation turned to blogs, wikis, and other social / Enterprise 2.0 stuff. Part of that conversation was to talk about characteristics of the demographic called "e-born" / "net generation." Coincidentally I'm currently reading Don Tapscott's book Wikinomics, which is a deep exploration of this and other related topics.

Prevalent themes in all social computing topics and sub topics include networks and communities, co-creation, collaboration, hierarchy based on contribution not position, common objectives, transparency, open / honest communication, engagement, speed, access, active participants / actors, and taking personal risks.

Do you remember hearing the term "self-directed learning" going back 10 years or so, coincidentally around the same time interest in computer based / e-learning was on the rise?

I think the new work world heading our way is the next generation self-direction - active initiative.

Its pretty clear to me that to really derive personal value from these new technologies and new ways of working, we all have to take initiative and be active contributors in a contextual/situation specific meaningful way. "The more you put in, the more you get out" certainly applies.

So a couple of thoughts popped into my mind during our Knowledge Strategy Executive Network conversation about social computing. Traditional command/control environments often stifle initiative and innovation. I can even recall a few circumstances where I've thought to myself "if he's going to do all my thinking for me, why should I bother?" or " why should I bother contributing if it has no value?" And obviously, people who have spent years / decades working under tightly controlled environments can easily loose the desire, and even capability, to take initiative. They just trudge to work, put their heads down, do "their job", hope the heck no one "shines a light on them", and trudge home.

Under these circumstances how equipped are older generations of workers, who have been raised in a command and controlled environment, to deal with a horizontal, social, networked, community based work environment? I suspect in quite a few cases they are not.

So, I think this is a big challenge facing organizations, leaders and managers - facilitating the personal change required to equip and enable older generations of workers to work effectively with younger ones, having the patience to do so, and in the interim, not disenfranchising them by forcing them too quickly to work differently. The same thing could also apply to re-engaging retired workers in some capacity.

I think the other part of the challenge in creating an effective cross-generational work environment is truly understanding how work is performed from both boom and net-generation perspective, and supporting it effectively from a business and technoloy perspective. I heard the word "ecosystem" mentioned by Jerome Nadel of Human Factors International, and thought that a good metaphor. Let's create an ecosystem that enables effective contributions and interactions through multiple means, selectable by the contributor.

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