Archive for March, 2010

by Sherry Engel

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”

–John Quincy Adams


People who know me, know I’m addicted to quotes. When I read this quote, it struck me as being so parallel to a recent article I read on leadership titled “Recession as a Litmus Test”. Take a look!

The article discusses that during times of recession (or difficult times in general), there are four distinguishing aspects of leadership. Those four aspects are as follows:

1 – Disciplined Thinking (Dream more)

Help others to see through the noisy clutter of confusion during times of uncertainty. Focus on the known, such as the core business requirements, and keep an eye on the big picture.

2 – A Bias for Action (Do more)

Don’t just wait around for someone to tell you the new vision or the next steps to take.  Start creating it….one step at a time. You may need to take a step back once in awhile, but three steps forward and one step back is better than no steps forward at all.

3 – Timely and Transparent Communication (Inspire others)

Be open, be honest, be realistic. Find the right balance between realism and optimism, but always communicate.

4 – The Ability to Inspire Followership (Become more)

After someone speaks to you, do they feel as if they can move forward or do they feel “stuck”? Use the three items above to help inspire others. Lead by example.

Now, picture yourself in this situation. Due to a recent reorganization, you now are leading a blended team of individuals from two very different organizational cultures (maybe it was a merger, maybe it was a global reorganization effort, whatever the case may be). You need to begin laying out your strategy, supporting projects, plans and processes for your newly-defined team. But where do you begin?



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by Rich Mesch

(Links to other articles in this series: 1 2 3 4 5 6)

[This is the first of several entries in a series-within-a series where we’ll explore the impact that IBM has had on the use of VIEs in business. Today’s entry is the first of at least two that are based on an interview I did with Chuck Hamilton, one of the key visionaries responsible for IBM’s commitment to VIE. Chuck gave me so much food for thought, it wouldn’t all fit in one post! I’ll also share an interview with Kerry McGuire, an IBM instructional designer involved in creating content for VIEs.]

When you talk about the use of Virtual Immersive Environments (VIEs) in the corporate world, you can’t help but talk about IBM. IBM has been one of the earliest and most fervent adopters of VIEs for various business uses. While other corporations are dipping their collective toe in the water, what made IBM dive into the deep end? To answer that question, I was fortunate enough to get some time with Chuck Hamilton, the head of Virtual Learning Strategy at IBM’s Center for Advanced Learning in Vancouver, BC.

Chuck works with a diverse and talented group at IBM. He shares, “We’re sort of the go-to people for learning delivery across IBM. We are very seasoned people with expertise in 100 different angles around the intersection of learning and technology. So we help the people with design, we help the people with delivery, we help the people come up with a new way of getting it done—whatever it takes. My particular expertise has always been where new media learning and technology starts to cross.”

With that sort of background, you might expect that Chuck would become interested in VIEs; what you might not expect is that it’s his architecture background that first got him interested: “If my first degree hadn’t been around design and architecture, I probably wouldn’t have been so fascinated about putting spaces together that I could put people in.”

But that interest quickly turned to the application of VIEs for learning: “IBM spends millions of dollars on learning globally, so it is something that is important to us, and Learning has became very important to me.  I always find myself saying, ‘How can I take XYZ technology and make it work for people in a learning context?’”


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by Reni Gorman

(Links to other articles in this series: 1 2 3 4 5 6)

Tip #2: Use the conceptual framework (you created in tip #1) to organize course material into hierarchical groups, subgroups and chunks of 7 (plus or minus 2).

Cognitive Psychology: Prepare information for encoding into the propositional network by attempting to organize and chunk material into meaningful patterns of information based on a conceptual framework and limited to groups or units of 7 (plus or minus 2) to account for the standard capacity of verbal working memory.

Why (Justification):

“The fact that ‘expert’ knowledge is organized around important ideas or concepts suggests that curricula should also be organized in ways that lead to conceptual understanding.” (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 42)

Even though experts have vast knowledge basis in their domain, their knowledge is organized around a set of core concepts that guide them. These core concepts “emerge” as a higher level pattern among all the data for their domain referred to as meaningful patterns of information that arose over years of practice. (Bransford et al., 2000) “A key finding in the learning and transfer literature is that organizing information into a conceptual framework allows for greater “transfer”; that is, it allows the student to apply what was learned in new situations and to learn related information more quickly.” (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 18)

In a study by DeGroot (1965) expert chess players were compared to novice players by asking them to verbalize their thinking as they played. The experts were more likely to recognize meaningful chess configurations and strategies that allowed them to consider sets of moves that were superior to novices. “Chess masters are able to chunk together several chess pieces in a configuration that is governed by some strategic component of the game. Lacking a hierarchical, highly organized structure for the domain, novices cannot use this chunking strategy.” (p. 33)

“The superior recall ability of experts… has been explained in terms of how they ‘chunk’ various elements of a configuration that are related by an underlying function or strategy. (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 32) According to Anderson (2000) our minds seem to break information down into the smallest unit of knowledge that can stand as a separate assertion for storage, into a proposition.


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 by Rich Mesch

One of the more controversial aspects of Virtual Immersive Environments (VIEs) is the use of avatars to represent ourselves. That’s understandable—when we’re just icons on a WebEx menu, we don’t worry about what those icons say about us. And when we appear on a videoconference, we feel pretty good that we’re represented accurately. But avatars are unique; depending on the VIE platform you’re using, you have a chance to customize the way you look—from very accurate, to complete fantastical. So should our avatars look just like us? Should they look like what we’d like to look like? Or should they be creative interpretations of us, which may or may not resemble us at all?

A popular concept, originally applied to robotics, is The Uncanny Valley. In a nutshell, the theory says that the closer a facsimile of a human gets to reality, the more repulsed we are by it. Think about the animatronic presidents at DisneyWorld. Creepy, no? But perhaps the easiest to understand definition of The Uncanny Valley came in an episode of 30 Rock from last season. Since this is a family blog, I can’t give you the exact context (but feel free to Google for yourself), but this snippet of dialogue between the characters of Frank and Tracy says it well:

Frank: As artificial representations of humans become more and more realistic, they reach a point where they stop being endearing, and become creepy.

Tracy: Tell it to me in Star Wars!

Frank: All right. We like R2D2 and C3PO.

Tracy: They’re nice.

Frank: And up here we have a real person, like Han Solo.

Tracy: He acts like he doesn’t care, but he does.

Frank: But down here, we have a CGI Storm Trooper, or Tom Hanks in “The Polar Express.”

Tracy: I’m scared! Get me out of there!

Frank: And that’s the problem. You’re in the Valley now. And it’s impossible to get out.

Most VIEs use a simplified version of a human being, ranging from extremely cartoonish to moderately cartoonish. If you’ve spent much time in Second Life, you’ll see extremes in every direction, from tools to make your avatar look and move as realistically as possible, to completely non-human avatars such as animals, mythological creatures, and aliens. But even the most realistic avatars don’t look very real. Right now, that’s a technological limitation. But do we really want our avatars to look just like us?


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by Dawn Francis, Ed.D.

Performance improvement begins with business goals. What are the strategic priorities of the organization? How do the tasks I perform in my job role help to satisfy those strategic priorities? Perhaps, we don’t ask ourselves these questions every day. So, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. When we do, the business value of our performance becomes less of a focus. I was reminded of that when I met with a former student of mine earlier this week.

I met with this student so that we could review her resume and discuss her career aspirations. She is now in her junior year in college. As we discussed the tasks she had listed under various job titles, I noticed that she began to look more and more chagrined.

“At this job, I only filed patients’ claims,” she said. “It really doesn’t seem like much. I doubt a future employer would be impressed by this work.”

Now, think about it. What would you say to this student? Would you say, “No, no, don’t think that way. It’s very important work.” Well, I did. And you know what? It’s the truth. The tasks she performed helped her employer satisfy a business goal. While the work might have seemed mundane, it was vital to the success of the business. I told her so.

“I never thought of it that way,” she said.

Widening her perspective helped her to see the relevance and importance of her contributions. It also gave her the confidence to position her work for this employer as being significant and noteworthy. Suddenly, “Filed patients’ claims in accordance with legal statutes” took on greater meaning and purpose.

The lessons I took away from this conversation are two fold. First, we tend to regard our everyday work rather myopically. Who’s to blame us? Deadlines have a way of keeping us focused on the task at hand, rather than the larger business benefits of our hard work. And second, we need to remember that in order to position ourselves effectively – say, in a conversation with our superiors at work – it’s important to lead with those business benefits of our hard work.

I can hear the conversation now… “I saved the company over a million dollars by effectively filing patients’ claims in accordance with legal statutes.” Now, that type of performance will get any manager’s attention.

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by Sherry Engel

Each year, at the beginning of my son’s basketball season, the coach gives a speech to all the parents. He says, “I promise if I have to discipline your child, I will always be fair. But that doesn’t mean that I will treat each child the same.” Now, at first glance, this may seem odd; however, if you examine your interpersonal relationships, you’ll find what works for one, may not work for another. Perhaps a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t the best philosophy to use in all of our interpersonal interactions with co-workers, managers, clients, family members, or friends.

Reflect on some of your past relationships….think about a time you had difficulty relating to a new co-worker or manager. How did you work through that? The key is: If we can understand how a person inherently thinks, feels, and behaves as a unique individual, then we can be in a better position to relate to them. That’s why I’m such a strong proponent of Gallup StrengthsFinder.

Do you know your top 5 strengths? By using StrengthsFinder to identify your top 5 of 34 “themes/strengths” (such as Futuristic, Relater, Analytical, to name a few) and sharing these strengths with others, you can work with them – or simply relate to them – in a whole new way.


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