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Updated: Jan 18, 2019

“So in fact, the topic you are working on, is lifelong learning!”

He said.

He is a younger guy, in his early thirties. A politician, consultant and social entrepreneur. Youssef Kobo. I had met him 4 months earlier thanks to a common connection on Facebook, Yasmine Alice.

Our conversation, on a cold Saturday afternoon in a coffee shop in the centre of Antwerp, made me understand that up until now, I had positioned social technologies in the mere context of the digital workplace - a hot topic, indeed. But, social technologies are also related to a much broader topic, a vital and even more influential one that affects politicians, policy and decision makers, unions, employers and employees. Social is also related to lifelong learning.

“So”, Youssef told me “explore it and elaborate on it!”.

The day after I left for a short trip to Switzerland. It was the end of October and when my husband and I entered the small village of Vals, we were surprised by 60 cm of freshly fallen snow. I guess the snow must have been a good source of inspiration because while we were driving back home, 5 days later, the following visual emerged in my head:

Let me explain the visual. And let’s start with the outer circle: Consume – Contribute – Create.

Think about LinkedIn for a moment. What kind of activities do you see in this online community? What do you see happening? How do you participate in these activities? And, how do they bring value?

People tend to think that they can only bring value by creating - writing blogs, recording podcasts or drawing visuals. But that’s not correct: the simple act of reading, consuming all these “units of knowledge” of creations, is also extremely valuable.

“If even just 1% of the community members are creating, 99% are learning.”

That’s what one of the co-authors of my book, Jan Vanoudendycke, once told me. Jan is Knowledge Management Director at Engie, a global energy provider. Jan is absolutely right. In online communities members create value in many different ways: making and publishing new materials is one way; consuming, reading and learning, is another one.

And what about the third C in the outer circle of the visual, contributing? We can contribute by reacting to other people’s posts or by sharing them. In each of these two cases, we’re adding an extra layer of information. This extra layer of information can take different forms, such as:

  • a summary of the original post;

  • an explanation on how the ideas of the post help you in your job;

  • a link to other blogs, videos and podcasts;

  • a clarification on why you do not agree;

  • an open question asking for help to clarify some elements;

  • a remark on how the ideas in the post link to an experience: “oh this reminds me of a conversation I had lately with person X”;

  • or a suggestion to a community member to connect them with the author of the post “this might be of interest for X who is working on …”.

I am a big fan of contributing since it’s all about adding sense, “translating” knowledge, going a step further. It’s about linking facts and ideas to what they mean to us, explaining how they relate to our work. I like to compare “contributing” with clay modelling: we model or mould the clay, the raw material, into a particular form. Contributing is like making art, indeed! 😊

Before I tell you how the 3C’s relate to lifelong learning, let me explain what lifelong learning is all about.

Lifelong learning is a kind of behaviour, and each behaviour is underpinned by a set of beliefs, each behaviour is shaped by a certain mindset. Which is this mindset when we talk about lifelong learning? I see at least 3 elements: curiosity and proactivity, a growth mindset and reflective mindset.

Curiosity and proactivity Lifelong learners don’t wait for their manager to organise a training. They are in the driver’s seat of their own development. They decide themselves from whom they want to learn and what topics they want to focus on. A growth mindset A beautiful idea, developed by Carole Dweck. People with a growth mindset don’t feel threatened by the successes of others and they don’t see intelligence as something static. Quite the contrary. “Challenges help me grow.”, “Efforts and learning are a path to mastery.” That’s how they think.

Reflective practice Lifelong learners choose not to be overwhelmed by the daily hustle bustle. They take the time to reflect, to pause, to analyse how they use their time and talents. Reflective practice is a consciously and consistently planned activity.

So, finally, how do the 3Cs relate to the beliefs that underpin lifelong learning?

Let’s start with the first C: Consuming.

Consuming is not about reading everything what passes us by. We choose ourselves deliberately whose messages are worth reading. We build up a healthy feed. In other words: consuming promotes curiosity and proactivity.

It also allows us to develop a growth mindset. Reading is a great way to learn.

Moving on to the second C: Contributing.

Contributing, this way of doing art online, is about constructing meaning together. It reinforces our belief that it’s OK not to know everything, and it’s OK to ask questions. It also encourages us to take the time to reflect.

So yes, contributing allows us to develop our growth mindset and encourages reflective practice.

And what about the third C: Creating.

The prerequisite of creating is that we take the time to reflect and that we are curious about what is happening during the day. Creating is never just about the bear facts, but translating them, relating them to our own reality.

So yes, creating encourages reflective practice and stimulates our curiosity.

In conclusion. The 3Cs allow people to develop curiosity, proactivity, a growth mindset and reflective proactivity. Better said, participating in online communities is a like a walking through a door, following a path towards lifelong learning.

So thank you Facebook, for having connected me to inspiring people.

Thank you Yasmine, for having connected me to Youssef.

Thank you Youssef, for triggering me to broaden the scope of my topic.

Long live lifelong learning!

Long live online communities!

Long live social!

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Last week I published this image on my social media accounts. I was surprised by the different reactions. A lot of likes but some of my followers were disappointed. "Is digitization the reason why you get up in the morning?" Christian De Neef asked me on Instagram. "The why should connect to heartfelt passion Isabel". Vijay Pandey told me on LinkedIn.

the why how what of the learning track connect|share|lead

And then suddenly I got it. The use of why|how|what is immediately associated with Simon Sinek. His why is about serving a bigger purpose. And it goes without saying my purpose is not digitization.

So what is my personal why?

When starting up my business in April 2018 I wrote the following about my mission. You still find it on my homepage. Please take your time to read it carefully. Every word counts.

Imagine a workplace free of silos, where people are encouraged to share their knowledge with others. A place for intense connectedness of people and ideas, beyond all barriers – geographical and hierarchical.

Imagine the magic!

The magic of a healthy workplace where employees deploy their talent and expertise. Where employees have their own voice. Imagine the increased efficiency, co-creation with customers, innovation, speed and growth.

That is the magic I want to make, the workplace I want to help shape.

The more I work on the topic, the more I feel this is something I just have to do.

But: the Simon Sinek's why is not enough. Why?

The hype about Simon Sinek's why is that we might forget clients have problems to solve.

With the visual I shared, I clearly wanted to state the business why. Research by McKinsey shows social collaboration and an external view are prerequisites for a succesful digital transformation. Knowledge sharing across silo's and participation in internal and external online communities is not just a beautiful ideology. It's also a strong business need in the digital era. Social and digital are intertwined.

Knowledge sharing across silo's and participation in online communities is not just a beautiful ideology. It's also a strong business need in the digital era.

And what about the participants' why?

After Simon Sinek's why and the business why, there is even a third why: the participants' why.

Organizations buy my learning track connect|share|lead for different reasons.

  • They want to enhance employee advocacy so that stakeholders are even more attracted by their brand.

  • They want to be better prepared for the introduction of social Learning or Enterprise Social Networks.

  • They want to build up better relationships with their employees and freelancers.

All of these are organizational why's. Clear business why's.

But participants are not particularly charmed by the organizational why. Their heart does not start beating faster when the manager says "this learning track will enhance our sales".

How to convince people they should share their knowledge?

How to convince them they have nothing to loose while doing so?

How to convince them of the advantages of having a network?

Talking about the individual advantages of having a network is one thing. I spend a lot of time doing so. And I repeat the message throughout the track.

I also make them feel these advantages with concrete exercises. Participants should feel personally the speed of the network, their increased efficiency and the power of proactivity.

And still … The more I work on the topic, the more I think it goes much deeper.

Behaviour and skills are influenced by our values and beliefs. So this raises the question: what are the values underpinning knowledge sharing and social learning?

I think I already have found 4 of them:

  1. It’s up to me as an individual to be in charge of my professional life.

  2. Not being a lifelong learner makes me fragile.

  3. All knowledge workers should take the time to reflect.

  4. An isolated expert is a fragile expert.

If these are the beliefs of the participants, working on the skills of knowledge sharing is really fun for them. Participation in online communities is not seen as something to be done on top. But as part of their daily hygiene. "Oh Isabel I simply could not stop reading". And "I want to start writing a blog each 2 weeks because it sharpens my mind and feeds my proactivity". That is what participants tell me.

But what if people's values are different? What if participants think:

  1. It's the organisation that has to take care of me.

  2. I can go a long time with my actual expertise.

  3. I am there to execute - my manager is there to think.

  4. I can do my work on my own.

Am I allowed to change people's beliefs? Isn't that paternalistic?

I am really stuck there.

And also: helping people become lifelong learners, develop their growth mindset and proactivity, helping shape healthier workplaces, well that is something I simply have to do.

So back to Simon Sinek. :-)


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