Rework: Collaboration, Creativity, and the Spirit of Wikinomics

July 25, 2010

The commitment to improvisation, collaboration, and sharing that runs through all successful workplace learning and performance efforts is at the heart of Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson’s recently released book, Rework, a wonderful collection of very short essays about how we need to rework much of what we currently do.

It’s a book very much of its moment as those preferring Web 2.0-style collaborations and those who feel territorial about everything they produce attempt to find common ground. The writers suggest that we avoid the complexities and turf wars which so often hold many of us back from achievements we might otherwise produce if we weren’t trying to do too much, trying to recreate what others are doing rather than pursuing our own vision on behalf of those we serve, and allowing ourselves to “obsess over tools instead of what [we]’re going to do with those tools” (p. 87).

Readers familiar with Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams’ Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, will find themselves on familiar ground here as they encounter Fried and Hansson’s suggestion to “sell your by-products” (pp. 90-91)—a suggestion rooted in the idea that if we find applications for everything we work on rather than focusing only on what we set out to do and leaving untapped resources as waste material, we become more effective at what we do. Trainers, for example, might take parts of something already finished and find a new use for it, as Gwinnett County Public Library Training Manager Jay Turner did by using video clips from a live staff recognition event to create a new half-hour virtual staff day video which more than 90 percent of staff voluntarily watched after he posted it online for them; Turner found another way to rework the material by writing, for other trainers, about the tools he used to produce the piece.

Another familiar aspect of the book is the light and playful approach the writers take—which also carries over to the promotional videos posted on their website for Rework. The simple graphics which are interspersed with the text throughout the book seem to take a page—or many pages—from Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin and Unfolding the Napkin, which help trainers and other presenters see that we don’t have to display the artistic skills of Michelangelo or Rafael to be able to reach others. The use of the graphics and the stylistic device of providing short sections on dozens of interrelated themes—most pieces are no longer than a tightly written blog posting and have the same sense of informality—make the book a pleasure to peruse and easy to absorb. Which means it again offers a great model for trainers who are tackling complex topics and trying to find ways to break the complexity into small, digestible chunks.

It is not the content that is revolutionary here. Reminders to improvise (pp. 18-20), produce something tangible rather than engaging in endless discussions about producing something tangible (pp. 33-45), undertake a few achievable projects rather than trying to pursue every possibility and ending up completing none (p. 83), ask what problems we are solving through our undertakings (p. 100), and learn by doing rather than always trying to duplicate what others have accomplished (pp. 134-136) simply take us back to basics we should already know but all too often set aside in a frenzy of trying to respond to all constituents without serving any of them effectively. And if we can relearn and rework some of these lessons, just imagine what the learners we assist will gain.

Trainers Learning: Conferences, Training, and Communities of Learning (Part 1 of 2)

January 15, 2010

Inspired by numerous conversations with trainer-teacher-learners attending an annual American Library Association (ALA) conference a couple of years ago, I was struck by how much of what we all do is firmly rooted in the concept of building communities while having fun–and by how much a conference can help us in this valuable endeavor.

From the moment we arrived, we seemed to be engaged in one continual series of planned and unplanned encounters. At times the gatherings were small, as when a few of us from Infopeople met one afternoon to discuss a proposed marketing plan for the organization, or when a handful of trainers from all over the country met for dinner and discussion of what is happening in the libraries which we serve. At other times, the sheer number of people walking the exhibits hall to see what publishers and other vendors were offering libraries seemed to make any sort of meaningful encounter unlikely. And yet, the opposite was true.  I very quickly lost count of how many times, while strolling the aisles of the exhibition area, I ran into colleagues who were willing to take advantage of these chance encounters to discuss what we were doing and find ways to move our overlapping projects forward to the benefit of the organizations and colleagues with whom we work.

At the heart of this, I believe, is something basic: the need to associate. The need to build something greater than any one of us can build alone. The desire to not be bored and fall into routines which serve no one but the lazy. The desire to constantly learn or create new things while retaining and nurturing the best of what we and our predecessors have already developed.

The result for us and those we encounter is the creation of ever-expanding formal and informal communities of learning. Dancing along the cutting edge of what libraries and training-teaching-learning can and should and do offer without fear of falling off. Sharing ideas to the benefit of everyone around the table and all who couldn’t be at that table but, through hearing or reading the stories that we spread, feel as if they were.

It’s all about listening, adapting, and passing it on as in the Wikinomics model described by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams—setting aside any concern about others using what we develop without providing us with immediate monetary compensation. The real payoff comes in knowing that whatever compensation we “lose” is more than made up for by what we gain through the collaborations which result from the exchange of information, ideas, and knowledge at conferences, in our workplaces when we return home, and in other parts of our lives where what we learn contributes to community.

N.B.: An earlier version of this article was originally posted on Infoblog.

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