Thursday, February 24, 2011

Figuring out What's Next Big Trend and Why Maybe You Don't Want to Know

That title -- "Figuring Out What's Next Big Trend and Why Maybe You Don't Want to Know" sounds kinda ominous, doesn't it?  Well, I didn't mean it like that. I'm not afraid of the future. Not a bit.

I think the main trends that we are going to be dealing with are all about the crowd. Crowd everything: crowd financing, crowd sourcing are going to be very big. If you haven't already, check out Kickstarter gives creative people -- or at least people with an idea -- a place to make a pitch, and then let other people support them financially. I've supported:
  • TickTock, a wristband that transforms a Ipod Nano (the new, square ones) into the coolest watch ever.
  • Lumina, an eye mask that wakes you up by gradually getting brighter, like the sun rising.
  • The Stork, "... a game/social experiment which encourages people to perform brave acts of kindness."
  • The Manual, "a new limited-run print magazine that takes a fresh look at design on the web."
  • The Shape of Design, a book that combines one person's thinging about "design and thinking about the topics that orbit the practice: storytelling, concept, craft, and improvisation."
 These projects,  and others that haven't been succussful in their bid to be funded, are novel and interesting and cool. In the old, 3 years before now world, I would only be a part of these projects if I was actually a part of the project. I most likely wouldn't have had the opportunity to know these people in the first place. And my puny little $10 or $25 or $100 contribution wouldn't be very useful. When my tiny contribution combined with other people who also think these projects are cool, it has the power to make dreams come true.

Crowd financing and micro financing aren't  extremely new, although I think the way that idea has been blended with social networking at the Kickstarter site is novel. Another related idea, though, really is new. That's the idea of a Network of Strangers That Have Something in Common.

Right now we have some pretty robust networks on the net -- Facebook and LinkedIn are two that I participate in daily. But these networks are networks of people I know or have some direct connection with. LinkedIn, in fact, actually actively discourages me from linking to people I don't know. And I get why they feel that way. But what if I could search a network for people that share common interests or want to do something that I want to also do? If there was some sort of rating on my reputation, like rating systmes used on Yelp or Ebay, where people who had worked with me could rate the quality of my participation, then you wouldn't necessarily need to "know" me to want to team with me. So Network of Strangers -- you heard it here first!

Which leads me to my next trend -- Influencer Identification. Just like back in High School, there was that one kid who led the pack and set the styles, in groups there are individuals or groups of them, that are driving the bus. In the past we ordinary mortals didn't have enough data presented in such a way that we could see what what was happening. But we do now, and visual information analytics is becoming more sophisticated and more available, every day. This technology can also be used to determine where innovation is happening, and how that innovation is being funded. Quid is one of those tools. quoted Bob Goodson, one of Quid's founders as saying, "The idea is to pinpoint where innovation is happening, what trends are emerging and who is funding them." Bob Goodson uses Quid to mine YouNoodle, a site that introduces entrepreneurs to people who want to fund them.

So with all this wonderfulness going on, why did I say, "Why Maybe You Don't Want to Know" in my title? Because if your aim is to increase your ability to monetize yourself, perhaps you don't want people to know so much about you because with the decrease in uncertainty, comes a decrease in the volatility associated with you. The Harvard Business Review (March 2011) in it's article "Experts are More Persuasive When They're Less Certian," says, ""People value potential more than achievement. Given identical stats for a veteran pro athlete's first five years of performance and a rookie's predicted five-year performance, study subjects choose to pay the rookie nearly  $1 million more in year six."
In other words, because we don't know just how wonderful the rookie is, we are will to pay more money for him. Because he might be fantastic. And the veteran, even the best, most wonderful veteran, is a know quantity. You've probably noticed this effect at work, where the person who is hired off the street starts at a sometimes significantly higher salary than the person who is already employeed by the company. So if you are on the rookie side of that equation, perhaps you don't want the company to know TOO much about you! Only enough to be sure that you are indeed wonderful! It would be very interesting to to see how the fees paid to people who have community ratings relate to the people who don't have those ratings. Or how people's fees in networks where you "know" folks relate to those in networks of strangers.

I'm fascinated by the way the future is unfolding. Let's see if I'm right about these tends.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Far Transfer and Second Language Acquistion

This quarter I took a great class: "Structure of ASL" taught by Kim Kurz. Kim is a great teacher, and I found the class really fascinating. Kim used the book by Clayton Valli, Ceil Lucas, and Kristin J. Mulrooney as the basis for her instruction. One of the points she made in class was that there is a difference between a user's competence in a languague and a user's performance in a language. In other words, there is a difference between how a what a person knows about a language and how the person uses the language.

This is definitely true in my case.

Several of my ASL teachers have taught these four general rules of ASL:
1. Time goes first in the sentence.
2. General goes before specifics.
3. Concrete before abstract
4. Describe the location in space from the signer's perspective.

I KNOW all these rules. I UNDERSTAND these rules. But do I APPLY these rules? Not consistently. When I'm in the middle of a conversation, I flip back to English rules. This seems to be especially true if the person I am conversing with is using sim com, or is a hearing person who voices (even in whispers) when she signs. If the person is a native ASL signer, it is easier for me to maintain closer adherence with ASL rules. But I still make mistakes.

So I know what the problem is, but I don't have any idea on how to fix it. The advice I commonly get here at NTID is to spend more time with ASL signers. That would be nice, but my work here is more about me spending time at my desk, in front of a computer, than it is chatting up ASL signers. And I will admit to a reluctance to using my colleagues and work friends as unpaid tutors.

I've spent some time trying to find any research that discusses how to increase far transfer skills in seccond language acquision.  So far, I haven't found much of anything. So if you are aware of any research that might be useful for me, please point me in that direction!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

What Do the Best Companies Have That You Don't Have?

I read an interesting page on the Hay Group's site. Here's what the Hay Group says about the "best" companies -- companies that can "surface, identify, and use great ideas."

90% of the Best Companies expect employees to lead, regardless if they have a formal position of authority.

All of the Best Companies manage a pool of successors for mission-critical roles.

90% of the Best collect leadership development best practices from subsidiaries and share them

Cultural diversity means 95% of the Best can respond to the challenges of competing in a global economy

95% of the Best Companies have a ‘family friendly’ corporate culture to support employees raising children.

100% of the Best have programs to develop leaders who can bring together resources across the organization

The Best give all employees the opportunity to develop and practice the capabilities needed to lead.

100% of the Best pay male and female employees the same rate.

95% of the Best Companies have programs to help expats deal with the local culture.

100% of the Best get local leaders to participate in decisions made at HQ to share ideas and best practices

For more information about the Hay Group, click here.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Wisdom of Crowds and the Changing Nature of Leadership

The Center for Creative Leadership has published a research white paper on the changing nature of leadership. They interviewed 389 individuals about leadership and organizations, and I found the results to be very interesting.

According to the research, 84% of respondents believe that the definition of what is effective leadership has changed in the past five years. 60% believe that leaders face challenges that go beyond their individual capabilities, and 58% believe that interdependence work is the foundation of effective leadership. To me this means that the concept of a leader as the person out front, singularly leading the troops to some semi-distant goal is no longer accurate. Perhaps either because of the growing complexity of problems, or the flood of data, more and more of what identifies true leaders is their ability to effectively team with others.

A second area of study seems to reinforce this conclusion. CCL asked about the three core competencies that they use to define leadership: setting direction, gaining commitment, and creating alignment. According to the study, only 50% agreed that leadership in their organizations sets direction effectively. Only 46% said leadership gains commitment effectively. And perhaps most telling, only 40% felt that leadership exhibited the the competency that seems to be the most connected to working with others, creating alignment effectively.

The notion of the wisdom of crowds isn't a fad or the latest business buzz term with no substance behind it. It actually represents a fundamental change in the way people view reality. The challenge will be to lead people with this changed worldview, especially since the manager who strives to lead them attained his/her position by successfully manipulating the old paradigm!

The whit epaper also reports on activities that are rewarded by companies, comparing what is happening currently with what the crowd felt should be rewarded. While behaviors like "making the numbers" and individual performance are currently what is rewarded, the crowd thought that teamwork, collaboration, long-term objectives and working across boundaries should be rewarded. The paper didn't discuss how this fundamental disconnect between what the organization is doing and what the crowd feels is the more appropriate action tends to undermine leadership. Perhaps this is why leadership can't create alignment effectively.

The worker bees of the organization do understand the trade off between "making the numbers" -- an activity with monthly or quarterly horizons -- and long-term objectives, which ultimately will create a more stable environment, foster innovation, and invest in quality. Some time ago, I worked for a company that was purchased by another company. Immediately before the sale, we were pushed hard to "make the numbers", so our balance sheet wotul be as attractive as possible to potential suitors. This caused our management to attempt to make as much salable product as possible, with little thought to quality. After the new company made the purchase, we had a period of relative calm. But eventually, the new ownership began to exert that pressure again. There was no desire to listen to the wisdom of the crowd, and ultimately many excellent people left the organization. Until management is rewarded for having a longer view and encouraging collaboration and innovation, the organization is going to be in conflict with the current values of it's workers. Not only does it miss out on all that wisdom, and make suboptimal decisions, but it is going to loose the best workers, who simply will not stay where they can't participate in a meaningful way. And this is going to happen even in a sub par economy.

The Changing Nature of Leadership, by Andre Martin for the Center for Creative Leadership, can be found here.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Metacognition is the Golden Key

 I am a strong believer in open education, a trend that some people believe would put all of us working in Higher Education out of a job. What is open education? In my perfect world, it is groups of people who share the desire to know about something, coming together, finding a teacher, and learning it. There are no grades, there is no term. When they are finished they go away. Maybe it isn't even a group. Maybe it's just me, and I find my resources, the books, videos, articles, whatever, and then I think about things. And after I have thought about it, I make something. I add to the knowledge of the world.

The Internet is a wonderful partner to open education because literally everything is out there, just waiting for me to find it.

So what do we, those of us in formal education, what do we offer to our students? Why do they need us at all?

Well, I think we hold the golden key to all this learning and knowledge making. We are the ones who can help our students to understand the gap between where they are today and where they want to be tomorrow. We are the ones who can help them to understand how to actually perform that act of self examination. We are the ones who can teach students to evaluate themselves, and determine for themselves, what is needed to bridge that gap.

One of my work pals has told me that her students don't want to do this. They want HER to do this. Well, too bad. Because if we don't teach students this much, they will never go on to be the life-long learners that our society must have in order to survive. They will be come slaves to their own ignorance. Metacognition is the golden key, and if we don't give it to our students, we have failed to actually teach them anything of value.