Are You Multitasking or Are You Juggling? One Can Be Productive, the Other is Not

There is a reason why sometimes I work with my door closed. It is not to be mean, it is not to be anti social. It is because I need to think. While I’m all for spontaneous meetings when needed, people need to be more respectful of people’s work space.

About a year ago, I turned off all messaging services on my computer except for Skype where I’m Offline and I’ve put all alerts on my BB on mute, except for call from my boss when he’s travelling. I find my productivity went up in spades.

When we get down to it, it’s really a question of avoiding cognitive overload. Gina Trapani gets to the heart of the matter in this article and the video included in this article really hits the nail on the head as well.

When your brain switches its attention from one task to another, it takes time to get into a new train of thought. You lose any momentum you had on the first task, which costs you on the next switch. On the internet or in an office where distractions abound, switching tasks can cost hours. A recent study showed that office employees who were interrupted while they worked took an average of 25 minutes to get back to what they started.

When it comes to splitting your attention between tasks, remember the difference between multitasking and juggling. When you have the choice, stop juggling and get things done faster–one at a time.

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Are We Using the Term Social Learning too Loosely?

I’m glad that the always thought-provoking Janet brought this up. There comes a time when we need to really look at what the activity of learning really is. It is nice to find a new model every day that explains what X might be but unless we are truly analysing these models, implementing them, testing them, juxtaposing them, really, all we are doing is surfing the Web.

And as a side note, very few people I know have the chutzpah to title their blogpost “The clusterfuck known as social learning”. 😉

Janet quotes Gary Woodill:

Learning through the use of social media is a set of implicit assumptions that if people are using something called “social media”, then “social learning” must be taking place. This is a confusion of the means with the ends.

I think, when it comes to the new social learning crowd, we’ve got us a case of groupthink. I’ll be the first to say I’ve been part of the problem. However, I think we’ve got to slow down before we flood search engines with models that are not models and definitions grounded in little more than what someone else said.

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McDermott and Archibald Publish a New Study on Health and Impact of Communities of Practice

From 2 of the leading researchers and writers on Communities of Practice comes this new study that studies the health and impact of online communities.

I absolutely can’t wait to get my hands on this research! Until then, here are a few blurbs from their article:

Though in-house networks of experts—or “communities of practice”—were once entirely unofficial, today they are increasingly integrated into companies’ formal management structures.

Today they’re an actively managed part of the organization, with specific goals, explicit accountability, and clear executive oversight. To get experts to dedicate time to them, companies have to make sure that communities contribute meaningfully to the organization and operate efficiently.

We’ve observed this shift in our consulting work and in our research.

To examine the health and impact of communities, we did a quantitative study of 52 communities in 10 industries, and a qualitative assessment of more than 140 communities in a dozen organizations, consisting of interviews with support staff, leaders, community members, and senior management.

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The UK Offers a Free Communities of Practice Platform for Local Governement Collaboration and Innovation

Communities of practice for local government is a website that supports collaboration across local government and the public sector in the United Kingdom.

From the About section of the site:

This is a freely accessible resource that enables like-minded people to form online communities of practice, which are supported by collaboration tools that encourage knowledge sharing and learning from each others experiences.

Connect to Collaborate to Innovate

This is a community platform supporting professional social networks across local government and the public sector. It provides a secure environment for knowledge development and sharing through online communities of practice.

What will I find?

Networking across local government

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Distinguishing a Community of Practice from a Team or a Network

Lilia Efimova’s diagram clearly illustrates how a Community of practice distinguishes itself from a work team in that it goes beyond the structured boundaries of the team to seek out others with a common class of problems. That said, it is still semi-structured in that it is not driven by a common pursuit of solutions.

Efimova's team, community and network communication diagram

Team communication is heavily shaped by the shared goals and agreed communication formats/processes. It’s very much about getting things done together and strong ties that needed for it.

Communication in communities is a bit further from actual work, but still has lots of connection with it (e.g. Q&A mode, where one uses an opportunity of being together with other experts to ask for solutions for a problem). It’s usually a mix of stronger and weaker ties that help to open up and share local practices. There is enough commonality and trust to hold people together and enough diversity to support learning.

Network communication is more opportunity-based and informal. There is not much in terms of shared goals and recurrent conversations, the ties are weak or latent. However, there is enough connectivity and opportunities to communicate that result in cross-fertilisation and emergent ideas and practices.

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How Are You Stimulating the Flow of High-Quality Contributions?

Dr. Jacques Bughin of McKinsey & Company throws a question to how are organizations stimulating an influx of content. My own response to this question is the following.

One of the keys to pulling content from readers and turning them into participants is by asking relevant questions. For example, this particular blog post ends with a call for opinions. This is just one strategy used for stimulating contributions.

In a qualitative analysis that I did of 5 bloggers in the field of training and development, one of the things that I ascertained was that when bloggers asked questions to their readers, this stimulated discussion.

Another stimulator that I have come to find in my research on communities of practice (focus of doctoral research) is that one of the ways to increase participation in to offer up a problem that requires resolution to a community of experts and let them “hash it out” so to speak. It is amazing to see lively discussion being captured in a thread and see new perspectives emerge through discussion.

In learning environments, creating activities in discussion forums such as case study analysis, is a great way to pull in information.

Since Conversation Theory (see Gordon Pask) is core interest of mine, I have been researching exactly this question for a few years. At the moment, I am administering a booming prototype for a community of practice in the Aviation Industry.

The key is letting the participant know that their contribution is of value and has the potential to advance thought and/or practice.

Early analyses of user participation pointed to the importance of building large communities, creating effective incentives for participation and implementing more flexible forms of organization. Looking back a few years later, the good news is that active participation continues to spread. The bad news is that harnessing participation is more difficult than we thought. Stimulating a continuous flow of high-quality contributions should be the focus of companies that want to take advantage of user participation.

A few years have passed since those observations. Looking back, what can we infer from them?

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The Importance of Learning in Talent Management Strategy

Cornerstone OnDemand has published a new white paper titled “Failing to Learn: Why Learning is Critical to Strategic Talent Management.”

Focussed on best practices, the paper addresses how learning is essential for:

  • Onboarding: Avoid making new hires sink or swim in your organization.
  • Performance: Develop employees in the middle, not just high and low performers.
  • Succession: Do more than just identify skill gaps, actually address them.
  • Compensation: It’s not just about the money.
  • Social networking: Don’t hide the knowledge and expertise in your organization.

Talent management can empower your employees to thrive and help your organization retain them. But the irony is that most talent management solutions are missing the one critical component that will make that business impact a reality – learning.

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The Challenge of Keeping Up with Research when Immersed in Practice

Though I haven’t had the opportunity to read the research study, based on these reported findings, I can formulate an argument for research into practice type learning activities and communities of practice. The reality is that practionners in all fields are having a hard time staying abreast of new research developments and professional development and training needs to start looking at this issue in a new light.

Researchers at the University of Gothenburg and the University of Borås in Sweden have looked at how professionals in different occupational groups seek and use information and keep updated after finishing their education. The results show that teachers seek information they can use in their own teaching and that librarians focus on helping library users find information, while nurses just don’t have the time.

The study report goes on to explain how keeping up with professional development is difficult to live up to:

While the interviewed nurses were in fact told that they should keep up with current research as professionals, they said that this is easier said than done. Nursing education is about producing texts while the nursing profession is about attending to patients. The time it takes to keep updated on nursing science research is simply not available, making such practice uncommon.

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How Social Media, Organizational Dynamics and Social Change will Shape Communities of Practice over The Next 10 Years

Social Media has changes many things, including the way experts envisage online communities of practice. The following is Cormac Heron’s account of leading author and expert Richard McDermott’s reflections on how Communities of Practice have evolved and where they are headed.

Richard McDermott was there to give a bit of his background in personal and professional experiences of the last 20 years. 10 years ago they thought that these were the main characteristics of online communities:

  • Informal
  • Voluntary
  • Independent of an organisation
  • Some face-to-face occurrences
  • Passionate Leader
  • Supported
  • Light-handed management

But on revisiting them consequently the following were thought to be more relevant:

  • Goals were set out
  • Governance
  • Reporting to the highest level
  • Integrated into organisation
  • Passionate Leadership
  • Part of the actual job description

According to Heron, Richard then ended his keynote by hitting them all with this stonker:

How will the emergence of new social media, current organisational dynamics and social change shape the role and impact of communities over the next 10 years.

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Luck. Is it Really a Question of Attitude?

Seneca said:

Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.

Richard Wiseman said:

Those who think they’re unlucky should change their outlook and discover how to generate good fortune.

This article by Richard Wiseman, psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire and author of The Luck Factor (Century) reveals what his research on how outlook changes luck.

A decade ago, I set out to investigate luck. I wanted to examine the impact on people’s lives of chance opportunities, lucky breaks and being in the right place at the right time. After many experiments, I believe that I now understand why some people are luckier than others and that it is possible to become luckier.

Unlucky people often fail to follow their intuition when making a choice, whereas lucky people tend to respect hunches.

Unlucky people tend to be creatures of routine.

Lucky people tend to see the positive side of their ill fortune.

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