Dialogue Flows

Why does the CEO of a major bank want to ban powerpoint? Why are our traditional approaches to leadership, management, marketing, sales and PR less effective? Why don’t employees get more engaged when we explain why they should be? Why do political pitches get shorter and simpler but no more effective? Why do fixed knowledge management hierarchies disappoint users? Why don’t our customers or community understand us better?

Talking at

We talk at people. We don’t talk with them.

Our traditional methods of communication and exchange of knowledge talk at people. We have been taught to see communication as:


Says What

To Whom

In What Channel

To What Effect?

– Laswell’s model of communication

This model of communication sees communication as a single transaction moving my stock of knowledge to you. That’s not a dynamic flow or a two-way exchange of information. It is the one-time relocation of a given stock of information, whether you want it or not. Because the transfer is one way there’s no chance to improve the knowledge or the process.

We can’t blame the failure of this approach on bad luck when it has little regard for whether someone wasn’t paying attention, didn’t need that information or doesn’t understand it.

Talking with

In a connected world we no longer have the luxury of talking at people and ignoring their understanding or replies. We may design our organisations to ignore their responses but failure to discuss now has consequences. Someone will be prepared to listen to the replies of your employees, customers and community, even if it is only the other members of that group. Over time others will listen better, learn faster and new competitors will be born.

Dialogue has far more power. Working together to share and use knowledge in flight builds community and deepens understanding. Critically, the conversations that build a shared understanding also create a rich shared context on the knowledge. In many cases, the context proves more valuable than the information exchanged. If these conversations occur out loud, everyone’s understanding benefits.

Begin a new Dialogue

Start a new conversation today on a project that matters to you.  Start with someone else’s purposes, concerns and circumstances. Talk with them and learn. Your turn to share will come and it will be richer for the dialogue.

What do you need to discuss?

Lonely ideas have hidden friends

Lonely ideas have hidden friends. Working out loud and sharing the ideas draws out the hidden friends.

Draw Out The Hidden Friends

An example of discovering hidden friends came after yesterday’s post on the power of sharing lonely ideas.

Anne Marie McEwan saw my post through a share by Richard Martin (@indalogenesis) on twitter and responded sharing her lonely idea.


In one of life’s moments of serendipity, I had just been advised through twitter of the launch of peeracademy.org so I knew the hidden friend for Anne Marie’s idea:

All of sudden an idea isn’t so lonely anymore.

Every Idea has Friends Somewhere

If you have an idea, there is a good chance someone else has had the same idea, a similar idea or an aligned idea. If you let your idea be lonely, you will never know how their thoughts and actions might help your agenda.

We manufacture serendipity when we put ideas out in networks to be found, engaged and used. The networks supply the capability but sharing our idea creates the moment of opportunity. Knowledge in flight has somewhere to go.

Working out loud let’s others connect the dots between our ideas and others. Share an idea and it is rarely lonely any more.

See if you can’t draw out a few friends for your lonely idea.

International Working Out Loud Week is from 17-24 November and is an opportunity to experiment for a week with sharing of your work. Join in the movement of people working out loud.


Share the Lonely Ideas

Put your ideas in circulation. Ideas don’t deserve to be lonely. Share them in conversation. Watch them grow. Discover you do more.

Ideas start in conversation

We are surrounded by wonderful ideas. We have many every day. Too many are born and die lonely and unloved.

Almost all the ideas explored in this blog come from conversations. These posts are the insights and reflections on a flow of daily interactions. Many come from working out loud and the comments others make in reply to my work. 

Over time, I have learned to watch for those wonderful ideas that pop up in conversation. Teasing them out in conversation enriches them. Noting them down supplies a ready source of inspiration for future posts (Evernote is a blessing). Without others to share those conversations, there would be far fewer quality ideas.  

Ideas are better in action.

All of the ideas that become posts are further improved by being shared further, refined, tested, challenged and built upon. The really good ideas grow most through use by others.

Ideas get lonely if they have only one brain to occupy. Lonely ideas wither, lose their power and are forgotten. Sharing an idea increases its value. You still have the idea but now it has been shared elsewhere. Not only do you still have it but the process of sharing enables others to help you improve your once lonely idea.

Even better, a lonely idea shared is a call for collaboration. So many of the best projects I have been involved in arise when an idea shared becomes a common cause.

Share your lonely ideas. Connect with others to create, share and improve your ideas.

You will discover you do more by working out loud.

International Working Out Loud Week is from 17-24 November and is an opportunity to experiment for a week with sharing of your work. Join in the movement of people working out loud.

Talent is not an Asset. Talent needs a Community

Reading Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work for insight into working out loud, I came across the concept of a scenius coined by Brian Eno.  The idea of a scenius is that great talents arise from scenes that foster them. Great talent arises from interactions in an ecology of talent.

What really happened was that there was sometimes very fertile scenes involving lots and lots of people – some of them artists, some of them collectors, some of them curators, thinkers, theorists, people who were fashionable and knew what the hip things were – all sorts of people who created a kind of ecology of talent. And out of that ecology arose some wonderful work. – Brian Eno

There isn’t a War for Talent

Talent isn’t oil. We haven’t yet reached peak talent. There is plenty of untapped wells of talent left.

The concept of a War for Talent has motivated organisational HR departments and executives ever since a McKinsey Quarterly article coined the phrase in 1998. The article related to changing demographics of people entering the workforce that lasts to 2015.

McKinsey’s original war has almost run its race (& even been made more redundant by the forces of a changing economy). We might have arguments about new Wars for Talent now, but the competitive and hoarding nature of the concept has inspired managers ever since. Why wouldn’t you want to hoard the largest stock of talent? Why wouldn’t you want to win in the competition for a scarce resource?

The War for Talent also had another unintended consequence in organisations. Because acquisition was easy to measure, it focused organisations on the battle for talent external to the organisation. Internal talent was often inadvertently devalued in comparison to the battle to win new talent. Internal talent was rated on potential and regularly decimated. The focus on those rated high potential talent was retention. For the middle range there was little focus on deployment, development or growth in potential.

The scenius idea highlights why so many organisations that have pursued a stock oriented approach to talent have discovered that it fails to deliver.  Talent is not a stock to be possessed. It is a flow that grows through connection, purposeful work and community.

Talent needs a Community 

Organisations that have tried to hoard talented people generally find that their talent decays or departs quickly. The half-life of a stock hoarded talent is short. 

The surest way to lose talented people is to disconnect them from inspirations, deprive them of purpose and underemploy their skills and expertise. The hoarding mindset encouraged organisations to do exactly this. Organisations wanted to disconnect their talent from others who might poach them. They wanted to have more talent than they needed ‘just in case’ and sought to deploy talented people in roles that weren’t stretching them to have a pipeline of future talent ready.

In contrast, a community of talented people grows in number and skills. Talented people grow through the interactions in a scenius, their networks or other learning communities. They grow by reaching out to the example of others, by stretching the use of their skills and by learning against great challenges, not by sitting on a shelf waiting to be deployed.

Once you see the flow of network interactions within which talented people operate it becomes clearer that all the talent need not be inside your organisation. Organisations need to foster value in their talented people by purposefully networking your organisation.  

Organisations need to recognise that talent will be active participants in the flow of knowledge and learning experiences outside the organisation too. All employees should be encouraged to reach out into networks because it develops the talent of everyone in the organisation and gives your organisation greater access to the real strategic benefit of those networks.

Talents grow when they are deployed against challenges. Make sure your people have the opportunity to realise their potential in the flow of interactions around them. Give all your employees the chance to grow and leverage their talents in networks.

The Firehose, the Bucket & The Sieve: Information & Value in the Network Era


The new network era quite evidently brings us a firehose of information, the ability to draw buckets of relevant insight and the need to sieve out relevant and quality knowledge. When we turn to value, we know it is rushing by but often we feel like we are holding an empty sieve. We need to rethink how we gain value in the network era.

Information: The Firehose, the Bucket and the Sieve

We are already aware of the impact of the network era on our access to information:

  • The Firehose: We are all experiencing information overload. The flow of data, information and knowledge is to great for anyone to follow in a meaningful way. The pace of change of that information in networks also stretches traditional techniques of gathering and using information. The hype around ‘Big Data" is a attempt to say ‘hey point the firehose here and we will find meaning in the volume’. Many big data initiatives will fail because the volume outweighs the value without clear goals and uses.
  • The Bucket: Most people cannot consume the flow from the Firehose so they resort to a Bucket. We search. We follow. We join communities. We turn the hose on and off to fill a bucket we can manage. All of these are personal knowledge management techniques to narrow our focus and draw a more useful amount of information.
  • The Sieve: Even with our Bucket, we need a Sieve to find the real insights, the actionable information that becomes knowledge and can develop into wisdom. Quantity is huge. Quality is variable. Significance can be scarce. The more efficient we are at recognising it the better. The value of working out loud is we can leverage others ability to find the significance with us.

Value: The Sieve

When individuals and organisations turn to look at value creation in the network era, it often feels like they are holding an empty sieve.  

Networks route around blockages and inefficiencies. Our traditional ways of capturing value from information often create exactly this. The information and media industries have led the way in this disruption of traditional value gates like copyright, access, etc. Getty images recent decision to let their photos be used for free in certain cases is a simple recognition that their content is already being used, reused and shared.

This disruption is already moving beyond the information industries as people use the opportunities of networks, information and analytics to route around other the methods of value creation in other industries.

Value: The Firehose

The huge valuations of a number of information sharing platforms in the network era shows the value that can be created and the speed with which revenue will shift from one industry to another. This is the firehose of value.  

However firehoses are hard to control and flick around. Some of these major players are already seen their world disrupted as the next wave of innovations arrive. The largest players need to be constantly evolving and acquiring to stay relevant in a rapidly changing environment. Like the railroads of the industrial era, some will fall behind and be over taken by better paths or entirely different approaches.

Value: The Bucket & The Sieve

Scale was the principle source of value creation in the industrial era.  Big data is an echo of the view that we should get big to reach big markets and make big value. The network may not agree.

Lean startups focus on a small bucket first. Draw a little water. Run some experiments and sieve out the insight and the value. Some of those experiments prove to scale. Many don’t.

Drawing a bucket takes clarity of purpose, an understanding of strengths and focused and aligned efforts at creativity and insight from everyone in the organisation. These are the first steps to create value in the network era.

If we stand with a sieve in the firehose and expect value we will be sore, disappointed and very wet. The test for each of us and our organisations is to understand what bucket of value we are seeking to draw and to experiment relentlessly to sieve out the new and better ways of working. We need to rethink our organisations so that they have the ability to act this way, to be responsive to the information and market opportunities around them. Scaled command and control won’t cope.

Responsive organisations that leverage human capabilities, networks and experiments are the starting place. The value creation of railroads in the industrial era was overtaken by value creation of those who used their networks to develop and distribute new products and services. The next phase of growth of the network era will see similar opportunities for value and job creation. 

People: The Firehose, The Bucket and the Sieve

Networks open up to us the exponential potential of people. We now have access to the talents of many more people than ever and the potential to create a firehose of value from collaboration.  Leadership is required to help those individuals to find purposeful domains, a bucket in which for people to collaborate to realise value.  Leaders also need to reinforce the direction, celebrate successes and help to discard the failures, creating a sieve for specific potential from all the possibility.

The transition will take leadership. Leaders will need to give up the apparent safety of scale and power to shift to a new more dynamic and empowering model. We will need new ways of working and organising people and the boundaries of organisations will be more fluid. Leaders will need to shift some focus from efficiency to effectiveness and start leveraging human potential to create value in networks.  

That is the work that will make work more human.

I am currently doing Harold Jarche’s PKM in 40 days program. This is the first post inspired by the activities in that program. I recommend it to anyone.

The Network Navigator


The power of a networked world is shifting the emphasis of work from expertise to navigation. Are you ready to move from expert to network navigator?

From Expert to Navigator – a financial services example

Research into perceptions of an advice relationships in financial services consistently often comes up with a common theme. Usually, the financial services organisation is keen to build a trusted relationship with the client as an advisor and to demonstrate its depth of expertise in the advice process. 

However, these goals are rarely what the client is looking to achieve. The client is often more interested in building a relationship with someone who is responsive to their needs and who can to help them navigate the complexity to find their own answers. The complexity the client needs to navigate is not just the financial decisions; it includes the organisations own advice and service processes. In times of complexity, uncertainty & change, clients are reluctant to be dependant on someone else’s expertise. They want control. They want to be guided across the map of choices and find an easier way through the process.

The Network Navigator

Networks and the increasing pace of change that they bring about are having a similar disruption for the traditional model of expertise-based advice.

Relying on a proprietary stock of knowledge is no longer enough to justify an advice proposition. Knowledge is increasingly a flow. Stocks of knowledge are out of date too quickly as the network learns more faster by sharing.  If clients want access to stocks of knowledge, they can find the information themselves (& access a greater diversity of insight and experience) if they are prepared to put in the time and effort.  Doing that work for them on an outsourcing basis is a low value task.

The challenge of a networked era is no longer gathering a stock of knowledge. The challenge is leverage rapid flights of knowledge and guiding others through networked knowledge creation. The skills that rise to the fore are no those of hoarding a stock of knowledge. The skills are those of being able to connect people, share capability and create new knowledge together.

The 8 Skills of a Network Navigator

A network navigator does not need to know the answer. They do not even need to know the whole way to the solution. They need to be able to lead others, to leverage the knowledge of the network and to find a way forward in collaboration to create new value: 

  • Setting a course: In a complex world often the purposes, goals and questions are as unclear as the answers. Helping people clarify their objectives and questions before and during their engagement with the network is a critical role that the network navigator can play.
  • Seeing the big picture map: Navigators are people who can hold the network system in view and manage the micro detail to guide people forward.  A navigator creates new value with an understanding the broader map and new & better paths that others may not have considered.
  • Make new connections: Increasing the density of networks can be critical to creating new knowledge and value from network interactions.  Bridging weakly connected groups is another role that navigators can play to realise new insights and value.
  • Recruiting a crew and local pilots:  Building community matters in new network ways of working.  Community takes connection to a deeper and more trusted level and begins to accelerate learning and change.  Network navigators know how to recruit crew to their travelling community and add local pilots as they need to learn faster in new parts of the network.
  • Translating strange cultures: Connecting diverse groups often means that there are differences of context, language and culture to be bridged before conversations can create new knowledge. Network navigators have the skills to understand and share diverse inputs.
  • Logging the journey: A network navigator works out loud to record their journey and let others contribute and benefit from the record.  A network navigator nows there are many others seeking the same answers or looking for better paths forward and makes that possible by sharing their work and inviting others to contribute.
  • Weathering storms & avoid shoals: Journeys through networks are not linear and often unpredictable.  The navigator has the experience and the confidence to see others through the storms and to sustain others in their journeys. Most importantly, when the storm is darkest, they have the passion to keep pushing and keep experimenting.
  • Navigating where there is no map: Network navigators need to be able to embrace uncertainty and ambiguity.  They need to be able to lead others forward to learning even if it is dark and there be monsters.

Acknowledgements:  This post is in large part inspired by conversations with a wide range of participants that occurred during John Hagel’s recent visit to Melbourne for the Doing Something Good dinner and Centre for the Edge workshops that I attended.  It is also informed by ongoing conversations about new networked ways of working among all members of Change Agents Worldwide.  

Leaders don’t know

Every leader faces a challenge. People expect them to know the answer.

Knowing as a leadership challenge

Every day in each leadership interaction whether with one person or thousands of people the same moment occurs. People look at their leader and hope that the leader has the answer. The question is irrelevant. The leader is expected to supply the answer. The leader is expected to make things easier by taking the problem away. In this moment, a leader’s authority is tied to their capability to perform as an answer delivery machine.

Leadership doesn’t work that way. Often supplying any answer is exactly the wrong response. Supplying an answer can disengage, foster work avoidance or leave the leader holding all responsibility going forward. It can be a lonely and challenging place to be trapped in a question against the weight of expectation of the team. 

The pressure to supply the answer and be a source of all expertise is a common factor in the imposter syndrome many leaders experience. Not knowing enough to answer all the questions makes people doubt their capabilities. The feeling that they are an imposter is more than a thing. Imposter syndrome is almost an epidemic.

Why leaders don’t know

If you don’t feel some doubt at leading in a time of great change and complexity then you are extraordinarily talented and well informed. Just take care that you are not one of the leaders who are either delusional or pathological There are some reasons why knowing is a challenge: 

  • Leaders shouldn’t know – role: A leader’s role is not to be an answer person. Their role is to create conversations that engage, deepening understanding, set context and shape direction. Leaders need to hold others in tension so that they do the work necessary to move towards answers.  If you are providing answers all you can expect is compliance or at best agreement. You won’t get engagement or creativity.
  • Leaders can’t know – context: No matter how well they measure their business, no matter how deep their expertise, a leader can’t have all the context required to make a good decision. They should be focused on other things most of the time. They will have a different context to the person on the spot with a problem.
  • Leaders shouldn’t know – waste: Every time you stop to ask a leader everything comes to a halt. The process of asking takes time. That time could be better spent solving and building the team’s capability in the process. Even if the leader does know the answer, that time and the process required to extract information is a waste.  You can’t create agility with a bottleneck of a leader.
  • Leaders can’t know – uncertainty: Often the answer is not clear and will only be revealed in action. Requiring a leader to declare a certain position or outcome in this case is pointless and only serves to undermine the leader.
  • Leaders shouldn’t know – capability: Giving answers rarely teaches people how to find their own. Leaders need to build their people’s capability to answer, learn & lead themselves

Knowledge is a flow

Leaders don’t need to know a particular stock of knowledge. Leaders need to know how to help others to share and develop knowledge as an ongoing flow. Then leaders need to help people translate knowledge to action.

  • Teams know some: In a majority of cases when asking a leader what to do, the person asking has a well-formed view of what to do. They have the context. They understand the challenge well. With a sense of authority, they would have acted by now. If the team doesn’t know the answer itself, they likely know where to start.
  • Stakeholders know more: Leaders who help their teams engage externally with the system & stakeholders around the business, enrich the team’s understanding of what to do next.  What a team is missing, the system around will be able to add. In the conflict between the answer of the team and the broader stakeholders is exactly where the problem and the insight lies.
  • Knowledge is evolving: Knowledge needs to be constantly tested and updated in action. Leaders can make sure that teams understand to track and learn from the experiments that they make applying knowledge. The lessons from those experiments move everyone’s insight forward. 

Next time people expect you as a leader to supply all the answers, lead them & their stakeholders to engagement with better questions instead.

The Power of Collaboration

I was recently chatting to a doctor who described to me why she still works in emergency rooms well after others may have chosen to retire from a successful career. These days she sees fewer patients but she still plays a critical role in the functioning of a ward.

Her role is to contribute to management of the ward and most important of all she shares her wisdom and experience with her colleagues. She is a sounding board for opinions, guides the choice of tests and scans, helps read charts, and generally available to consult and guide others in the high pressure and high stress environment of an emergency room.

Where is the special value in access to advice and experience vs more hands-on work?

Well, the hospital asked the same question. Hospital budgets are tight and they need to be allocating their resources carefully to produce the best outcomes. Rather than assume an answer the hospital looked at the data and compared the time patients waited and the outcomes for the whole ward on the days the experienced doctor worked versus the other shifts. To everyone’s surprise, there was a dramatic improvement when she was working and advising her colleagues. Wait times for patients were significantly reduced on those shifts. In an emergency ward that time makes a big difference.

Adding a doctor to the shift who had a career of experience and had accumulated years of tacit knowledge made the entire system of the emergency ward perform better. Doctors took less time over their decisions and needed less often to wait to interrupt a busy colleague to get advice. That matters a great deal when many of the decisions are time critical and life threatening.

This is not a story about skills. All the doctors are smart, passionate and talented. They made their own decisions on what to do and when they needed advice. The ward is always well run, but it runs better with the opportunity for more collaboration. What mattered was that the opportunity for collaboration and access to greater experience, improved the outcomes by speeding the exchange of knowledge in the ward.

Tacit knowledge and experience matters to speed and to outcomes in knowledge work. Knowledge is a flow and comes from interactions between people with diverse experiences. Being able to draw on more of these interactions can save a great deal of rework and mitigation of doubts and concerns.

How do you enable sharing of knowledge and experience?

This story resonated deeply with me because I have both benefited from the advice of others and spent a significant part of my time sharing my experience with others. Knowledge work is a growing share of most developing economies (around 40% in Australia, US and EU) In my experience, the use of experience and advice in knowledge work is often undervalued by organisations and they rarely consider the impact of advice and counsel on team performance. This story was a great example of an organisation that measured that impact and saw a dramatic result.

There are a few lessons from this story that apply to all organisations:

  • Recognise that in knowledge work the discussion, debate, advice and counsel is part of the work: Many organisations take an industrial view of knowledge work. If there’s not an immediate tangible final output it is waste. That means any conversations in and around the process of work are seen as waste. It is a common misguided criticism of enterprise social media – ‘why is there so much talk? shouldn’t people be working?’ They are working if they are improving their understanding, gathering insights, learning and solving problems more quickly. That a is all knowledge work. Importantly, that learning is permanent and shared.
  • Design ways of work, teams and connections to leverage experience and other forms of tacit knowledge: People with experience, shortcuts and life lessons can be an invaluable part of the team. Their prior experience as a part of a conversation with the team can accelerate progress and reduce risk. The smartest, most talented and most energetic bunch of people in the world are better with a wise advisor. Drawing out tacit knowledge into conversation improves others learning. Make plans to leverage this. Foster mentoring, make it OK to ask others and build an advice culture. Social collaboration tools are a great start.  
  • Use data, not assumptions, to determine the contribution of individuals to their groups and teams: Individual performance is usually easily measured. It takes a little more effort to understand the contribution of people to group performance. As many organisations have learned to their detriment, the person underpinning team performance may be the person with less visibility but who is sharing the most.

PS Don’t forget the value of diversity too: Another key lesson is the power of leveraging older workers, especially female role models. There may be benefits you have not considered in a greater diversity of experience. This takes effort from organisations to create flexible roles that suit their interests and passions and a work environment to which they want to contribute. With the changing demographics of an ageing workforce, this is an important consideration for all employers.

5 Big Shifts – Chaos is Human

When you connect many people, you are reminded of a very human form of chaos. Things just cease to happen in the orderly way that you might expect. It is human nature:

  • to seek purpose,
  • to connect and share knowledge with others
  • to seek to make a difference.

Once we are connected, these natural human needs begin to take over reshaping efforts to structure relationships. 

Efforts to Control Chaos are Failing

So many of the ideologies and management approaches of human history have been efforts to control and shape these three natural human behaviours. They have been concerned to restrict their potential to drive change and create chaos. These ideologies rely on asymmetries of power and information to enforce their approaches.

Still solving problems of a pre-modern era, we still try to work against the grain of human behaviour:  

  • We seek to structure out the mess of human communication through silos, tools, meetings, formats which leads to a focus on the process over the conversation
  • We define teams, roles, hierarchies, discretion and decision rights with exacting detail down to the exact titles people can use to describe themselves and the social indicators in each role.
  • We specific processes in exacting detail in the hope that we can dictate exactly how that process will be best executed by each person in every case without discretion
  • We motivate people with top-down orders, objectives, rules, measurement, financial incentives and threats of exclusion  

Complexity, uncertainty and disruption are on the rise despite our best efforts. These techniques are increasingly seen to stifle innovation, to waste human potential and to frustrate motivation of vital talent.

Working with the Chaos

Human nature is not changing any time soon. Our technologies will continue to enhance our connection and opportunities for expression and collaboration. The potential for failure of traditional techniques will worsen with time.  

We need to work with human nature. Working with our human nature requires us to accept some fundamental shifts: 

  • Knowing to Learning:  We need to move from a view that experts have the stock of knowledge that they require. The model of knowing everything never worked. We need to embrace knowledge as a flow, constantly being enhanced, made relevant again and a part of a constant exercise of learning. 
  • Motivating to Inspiring: We need to engage around purpose and help people to see how they realise their goals and potential as part of collective activities and group goals.
  • Supervising to Enabling: Build people’s capability for more complex tasks rather than trying to simplify the tasks to make supervision, direction and measurement easier. Engage people in developing the ability to produce better outcomes that take them where they want to go.
  • Controlling to Engaging:  The role of leaders is not to direct but to shape the conversations to provide context for good decisions and ensure that all the stakeholders are appropriately engaged. Leaders also help the community agree the level of urgency for change and overcome change and collaboration barriers.
  • Inside-out to Outside-in: Understand the environment, community customer and other stakeholder views as you form your own. Create an organisation and people that engage with their communities. Be responsive.