Dan Pontefract: Open Thinking

Notes from Dan Pontefract's talk at Focus 2018, Montreal

Beginning with the idea of being distracted, rather than ruminating in thought. We have accepted that. That's what's happening in society - technology aids and abets it. Do we have to outsource our thinking to Siri or whatever? I'm not sure we have figured out what is the right amount of tech. Consider the problems created by distracted driving. Why is that happening?

This is outsourced thinking. A guy follows Google Maps down a ramp into Lake Champlain. Or some Australians trying to drive to an island. And the type of thinking that's going on in our organizations is similar to this sort of outsourced thinking. There's also distracted thinking - the idea that our attention span has shortened from 12 to 8 seconds over a decade. We even have texting lanes on sidewalks. There's corporate ADD overwhelming our organizations.

Thinking back to the book 'Flat Army', which contained the idea of 'pervasive learning', which is the idea that learning ought t be both formal and social. But we need some free time to do that learning. Meanwhile, innovation is still happening. For example, we have to adapt to AI - and if we don't have the time to dream, to think, we will fail.

But we have this bias for being busy. For example, the busyness of meetings. Statistics show meetings are ineffective. Employees tend to do other work in meetings. There's  stat saying 70% of us do work for 30 minutes a day in bed. 281 billion emails are sent a day, going up to 333 billion a day in 2022. There's also Twitter and Facebook and Snapchat messages. This all comes at the expense of deep thinking. And we are overly stressed.

What to do? We need to balance reflection and action. This is what I mean by 'open thinking' - balancing action and reflection (as opposed to 'indecisive', 'inflexible', or 'disengaged'. Example with popcorn. Consider inflexible' - not reflecting. Example with fake news about the Pope. Example of French defenses before WW2. Example of fake missile alert in Hawaii.

The proper cycle is: dream, decide, do. Consider the cycle of thought a chef has to go through. They balance the creative thinking, the critical thinking, and the applied thinking. Example from the movie Cast Away - starts as a busy-person, ends with a reflective contemplator. We need to be more like the Tom Hanks that left the island than the Tom Hanks who entered the island. Example, Galaxy Note 8 (with exploding batteries).

Do you take the time to pause and reflect. Do you allow your mind to wander? Are you organized? Do you take account of facts? Are you willing to revisit a decision? Are you in charge of your focus? Are you acting with reserve and patience? Are you flexible in a moment of acting? Etc.

Open thinking is: creative thinking, critical thinking, applied thinking, and repeat.

So how can HR help? At work, you are flying in a plane. You can't land the plane. But your job is to change the fuselage.

What do you do?                                                      What can your org do?


- write it down; you won't recll everything.
                                                             - take time to learn: formal, informal and social.
- stop over-programming your every minute.
                                                             - take time for mind-wandering and dreaming.
- network - engage
                                                             - collaborative cultures unleash creative thinking

- take control of your decision time
                                                             - share your organization's failures
- arm yourself with as much evidence/truth as possible
                                                             - create a critical-thinking leadership attribute
- ask others about data an insights before deciding
                                                             - build a critical thinking employee guidebook

- get organized - a messy self is an unapplied self
                                                             - think long-term, not just short-term
- be focused - eliminate the distractions
                                                             - distraction training
- be malleable and flexible and willing to 'repeat'
                                                             - empathy training for employees and applied thinking

Story: Gord Downie and Liliput Hats (in Toronto). Asking the hatters about milnerism (the making of hats). Dream - decide - do. Just like the chefs. We can all be open thinkers - it doesn't matter your profession.

It all started when watching a family in a restaurant for Mother's Day, all the children on their phones. There was no reason for them to be on their phones. It's Mother's Day in our organizations every day.

My essential guidelines to open thinking (an homage to Bertrand Russell):

- time is a crucil component of thinking
- be deliberately focused on what matters most in the moment
- take action only when deemed appropriate
- do not reflect to the point of impairment
- find your contentment in periodic breaks
- be flexible with your verdicts
- be organized and prepared
- do not allow a dearth of information or facts to act as an excuse
- do not hold thoughts solely in your head
- continuously dream, decide and do

Use this. It's very simple. Do you reflect? How do you decide? Will you take thoughtful action?

Bionic CLO: A Case Study with BMO
With Sarah Danzl and Josie Ramunno

We see three big shifts shaping the future of L&D:
- Strategy: from periodic training to continuous development
- Operations from L&D managed to self/manager driven
- Technology: from integrated systems to open ecosystems

Yesterday's L&D is not enough to build tomorrow's skills. Imagine jobs like VR developer, etc. 50% of Canadian jobs will require new skills. So we have to shift from occasional re-skilling to continuous upskilling. 37% of the kills people use today were learned in the last year.

BMO example: megatrends are impacting our work: digital, simplicity, demographic, social, economic.
Future-proofing the workforce: we are upskilling them, as follows:
- technical skills
- human skills
(plus selective hiring)
Example: coding for coal miners (so they can transition into new work)

BMO example: building and cultivating a 'made for me' mindset. 2/3 of employees lean in their personal time, 13 percent learn on their community. 80% of learning is driven by the employees. The experience is really fragmented, from the LMS to (hundreds and hundreds of) Sharepoint sites, social media, and then external. Our learning sxperience should be centered around our employees.

We want to pull ll our content off our LMS, Sharepoint sites, etc., and put it all on one platform. That's wht we did. Plus premium content, open resources, etc. We did it with Degreed. We promoted as one great new platform, and it's for you. BMOU.

Our learning is increasingly disconnected from our business and HR systems. It's a wide variety of different systems (photo). 79% of learning comes from sources outside the central L&D function.

We use 'the human performance continuum' - stories and talks, communications, bite-sized support, informal learning, and finally formal learning. How do we support this? We made a shift from the typical Instructional Designer to 'Learning Experience Designers', who bring different skillsets - novelists, videographers, musicians, etc., working together.

There's a new way' - a loop that looks like this: enable - understand - build - manage - engage - measure - etc.

Now we have wonderful things like APIs to connect 'best of breed' solutions. Shifting therefore from integrated systems to interoperable systems.

What new tools are being used (at BMO?): Well, Degreed, of course. Gathering, curating, getting feedback.

Also: a hash-tag help wanted system - a virtual bulletin board that has gone out to employees to help employees sign up for and help with key projects.

Questions for the whole panel

Q. How do you balance making rich content with time-to-delivery. A. It's about mnaging the expectations of our business partners. Working with agile groups. Talking directly with designers so people can see the impact of change requests. Also, focusing on "what's the right solution for you?"

Also - it was an 18-month journey to implementation. Also, we had string change-management communications. Executive was on-board and communicated that. We also used training videos to tease people on "what's coming". We also created resources to help people learn about the systems. Also, we had local 'BMO event' booths with a demo, videos, promotional materials, food - it was all about having fun. We got a bunch of people signed in right then and there.

Q. What do you do with the ones who learn too much? Do you have career conversations?

We wante dto have one-on-one conversations.

Q. Is there an integration with the HR system as well?

A. No it is not integrated - we haven't done a full integration into our LMS - it's coming in the future.

Q. Security

A. Degreed is really an aggregator - there's no connection into the BMO system. Will pull in content internally and externally. Employees can't 'recommend' internal content.

Q. About planning process.

A. What I don't see any organization ever do is an audit of technology use. I see CTO eg. jumping to action, "let's use technology as quickly as we can," but we never stop to ask "how much is enough?"

Q. What is Degreed? An LMS?

A. WE are an aggregator. An integrator, not an LMS.

Q. How do you convince an organization that they need to allocate time for reflective thinking? Even if I know it leads to great results, I have yet to find an organization that will do it.

A. WHO - in 2020, the leading cause of death will be stress. If you are not taking care of your employees, what are you here for? A great culture depends on mentally well healthy people. If they're all stressed, they will stress out on customers, they'll call in sock, etc.


Just a test: link test for webreference


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