Friday, June 25, 2010

ThinkBalm Innovation Community becomes the Tandem Learning Innovation Community

After we broke the news that we planned to disband the ThinkBalm Innovation Community, members of the community expressed lots of interest in finding new leadership for the community moving forward. We are excited to announce that effective immediately, Tandem Learning will assume the community management responsibilities of the newly named Tandem Learning Innovation Community.

The value of this community is in the membership and the collective wisdom and experience of the group, and Tandem’s focus on new technology, user experience, learning design, and strategic business innovation allows them to touch on the areas of interest that bind our community together. We believe the leadership at Tandem is committed to maintaining the integrity of the community while finding new and exciting ways to add value to everyone who participates.

Exciting times are ahead for all of us and we’re looking forward to what happens next!

Erica Driver, co-founder and principal, ThinkBalm
Sam Driver, co-founder and principal, ThinkBalm

We’re so pleased to have the opportunity to continue the amazing work that Erica and Sam began in 2008 as we assume responsibility for the newly deemed Tandem Learning Innovation Community. While we know many of you from our work in virtual worlds and immersive technologies, we’re looking forward to interacting with all of you in the weeks ahead as we plan for the future of the community. In our new role as the community managers, we will honor the tenants of the community as established under ThinkBalm and will seek even more ways to bring value to our members. Please feel free to contact me directly with your thoughts, ideas, and feedback...this community belongs to all of us and it’s your input that will continue to make it valuable and successful.

Koreen Olbrish, CEO, Tandem Learning

Thursday, June 24, 2010

LEEF wrap up: The best little conference you're missing

Just back from LEEF 2010 at Harrisburg University, and in its second year, it did not disappoint. Last year we attended the first LEEF conference, and were thrilled at the structure and the content. With a focus on serious games, simulations, and virtual worlds for learning, we were treated to in depth case studies and demos that you just didn't see at other conferences.

This year was even better. The quality of the sessions was amazing. We got to see demos of products, like IBM's Innov8, before they are released on the market. We got to play full blown games and ask all of the design and strategic questions that you don't normally get to ask at conferences. And we got to really meet and connect with brilliant practitioners in our field.

The keynotes blew me away. Mike Cuffe, Vice President, University of Farmers, Claims at Farmer's Insurance, is doing some of the most cutting edge training I've seen. It was refreshing to see a visionary in corporate training who practices what he preaches and is vigilantly staying ahead of the curve. Jerry Heneghan, Managing Director, Virtual Heroes Division at Applied Research Associates gave a really inspiring presentation on 3D immersive games that gave some insight into how they have been effective in changing behaviors. I am looking forward to seeing what his group will be doing next related to health.

Tandem presented two sessions on ARGs (alternate reality games) and both were really fun for me, in different ways. The first was our case study overview and we presented to a pretty packed house. Even more exciting for me was the line of people afterwards that wanted to talk more. I'm excited to see ARGs really seeming to have some traction for corporate learning, and I'm looking forward to our next projects in this area. The second session was a debrief of the ARG that we helped support at the LEEF conference, The Robots are Eating the Building. It was a truly valuable learning experience, and I got a lot out of the debrief.

Thanks so much to Jen Reiner, Andy Petroski and Charles Palmer for putting on such a great conference. Can't wait to see what you put together next year...and hopefully some of you who haven't already will join us!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Taking responsibility for big, bad problems

I just read this post by Patrick Strother about BP's failures in light of the gulf oil spill...or gushing, which is a bit more accurate than spill. It made me think about corporate responsibility, and personal responsibility, and knowing when to say when.

I'm not going to defend BP. But I might, just for a moment, empathize with Tony Hayward. Don't get me wrong, I think what BP has been doing is criminal and I think their attitude in dealing with a global environmental crisis is beyond reprehensible. And I think Tony Hayward is a first class douche.

But do any of us really think that this is one man's fault?

Tony Hayward is responsible for his actions and for the actions of BP in the gulf oil spill crisis. But he is also being positioned as the scapegoat in a saga that demonstrates that sometimes, you need to admit your failures and step aside. Tony Hayward's biggest problem is insisting BP can fix a problem that they created but now is too big for them to overcome.

The truth is, in any situation or crisis, what led you there is usually several people's responsibility. Very rarely does a problem start as a big problem...usually its a little problem that just keeps getting worse over time. Sometimes people ignore a problem or situation. Sometimes people are aware of a problem, but don't have the means or the skills to fix it. Sometimes even when people are aware and have the means, they just don't have the desire to fix it or don't want to exert the effort to take responsibility. All of these attitudes lead to the inevitable...if you ignore a problem long enough, something big and bad will eventually happen.

And when disaster strikes or big, bad things happen, someone has to take responsibility. Usually, the person who gets blamed for the problem is not the person, or certainly not the only person, who caused it. But in any big, bad crisis, someone is always left holding the bag.

Big problems are difficult to address. Because it was the collective negligence of many people that got you there, you'd think that if everyone just started paying attention, addressing the issue, that it would be fixed and things would be better because people would have learned their lessons. But that's not how life works and people are, in the end, who they are. What got you into the big problem will very likely be the very same reactions that prevent you from getting out of it.

Sometimes you get too far down the road, and there's no way that the people who caused the problem are going to be able to fix it. They are defensive, exposed, and confused. They grasp at half-baked solutions or go through the motions of looking like they are trying to fix things, all the while still engaging in their old behaviors that got them there. They consult with experts, they read about similar situations, and they vow to be different, to do better. But sometimes, too much has happened. Sometimes its too late. Sometimes organizations, cultures, relationships are not able to handle the big, bad problem. Sometimes they shouldn't. Sometimes, despite their best intentions, it just drags the problem out and makes it worse.

We're seeing that with BP now. They vow to fix it, they come up with solutions...but the attempts they are making keep falling flat. Why? Because BP had the ability to prevent this from happening, but instead of preventing it or preparing for it, they just hoped they wouldn't ever have to face it. They did not develop a culture of responsibility and now their laziness, their ineptness, and their fraud has been exposed.

And the scapegoat, the one who gets pinned with the problem, has to suddenly step into the spotlight and make a decision, take responsibility for the actions and decisions of everyone who got them to that point, for everyone that contributed to the big, bad problem. Yes, maybe a leader is ultimately responsible for everything that happens, but that's usually because that leader is the one who has to deal with the consequences of the actions of everyone around them, and so it behooves him or her to stay in control.

You can't control everything. Sometimes you just have to trust people. The best leaders trust those around them. And when that trust turns out to be ill-placed, its the leader who must step up and say, yes, this is a really bad problem. Yes, we caused the problem. No, we aren't prepared to deal with it and we don't want to make things worse by trying. Unfortunately, we aren't seeing a lot of that from Tony Hayward.

Organizations fail at this all of the time. Look at Enron. The banking industry crisis. And now BP. Sure, there are one or two people that are blamed...but it was the organizational culture that failed, not just the leaders at the top. It was the organization that recognized there was a problem and ignored it, covered it up, pretended like everything was ok...until it couldn't be ignored anymore. And then, its usually too late. Sometimes when an organizational fails in such a big, bad way...the right answer is to step in and dismantle the organization. Or in the case of BP, to hold them accountable but relieve them of the task of fixing the problem. Its clear they are ill-prepared and unequipped, and their attempts are making the situation worse.

Who knew that Kenny Rogers would have so succinctly taught us how to face big, bad problems? Unfortunately, it seems too many times we err on the side of holding 'em when we should walk away, or run.

Tony Hayward is responsible for what has been happening with the oil spill, and I have no doubt that he will have to deal with the consequences of his actions and decisions. But he is not the only one who is responsible. I only hope that Mr. Hayward and BP recognize sooner rather than later that their attempts to fix the mistakes that they've made are making things worse for them and us and is ultimately dragging out the time its taking to get to the inevitable stopping of the oil leak so that we can start cleaning up and healing. Sometimes the most responsible thing you can do is admit when a problem is just too big for you to fix.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The right people

When we first started Tandem Learning, we used to have Wednesday night "rockstar" meetings. (I hear that this is a very start-up thing to do.) We would sit around as a group, talk about our strategy, make plans about what kind of company we wanted to be. We talked about our mission, vision, and values. We brainstormed the types of problems we wanted to help organizations solve. We matched our expertise and potential solutions with those problems. We dreamed about who we would become as a company.

One of the highlights of those meetings was a list of what we wanted. Here's that list (paraphrased, because I can't find the flip chart paper we put it on):

  • Do good, meaningful work
  • Work on cool stuff
  • Only work with smart people we like
Seems pretty simple, right? But in reality, not so much. The first one has been easy...we all focus on the quality of our work. The second one? Well, sometimes what pays isn't what's cool, and sometimes what's cool violates the first bullet...and we definitely aren't sacrificing that.

The complication is really the third bullet. We've all known what its like to work with amazing people...the problem is finding them, and when you do find them, convincing them that they want to work with you. We've been really picky here at Tandem, and we've been lucky. We've worked with some exceptionally smart and likable people, and we've met a lot along the way. Now that we're in a position to grow our team, we've had some serendipitous moments of mutual interests and good timing that are helping us honor that third bullet. And we couldn't be more excited.

We're going to be making more hiring announcements in the next few months, but we are thrilled that Tim Martin is joining the Tandem Learning team. We met Tim in 2008 when he was working for the eLearning Guild and we were planning our first conference as a vendor at DevLearn. Sometimes fate or circumstance presents opportunities, and we're ecstatic that Tim is coming on board.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Even more change in the virtual worlds industry

I was a little surprised and saddened to hear today that Erica Driver from ThinkBalm has taken a marketing position for a software company and will no longer be serving as an analyst for the immersive technologies market. Her departure is a blow to a much needed role in the virtual worlds industry: independent data and research on the use of immersive technologies. In addition, the closing of the ThinkBalm Innovation Community leaves a gap the development of users groups and a community that can share best practices.

In any emerging market, start ups lead with ideas and as the industry matures and the market becomes established, start ups grow, fade away, or get bought up by larger companies who want to enter the market. We've been seeing these changes over the last few years in immersive technology companies, but it seems the services companies are the ones that have taken the hardest hit from the snail's pace of immersive technology adoption.

Erica is a bright star in the virtual worlds industry and I very much valued and trusted the work that she was doing on behalf of all of us to evangelize immersive technologies and virtual worlds for enterprise use. I wish her and Sam the best of luck.

And now, the onus is on us to continue the good work they were doing.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Virtual worlds industry changes and what it means for learning

A few things have happened over the last week that have been big news in the virtual worlds industry...but what does it all mean for learning?

First there were rumors, then there were the actual Linden Labs layoffs. From all accounts, it appears that the enterprise focus of Second Life is gone, at least as far as Linden Labs is concerned.

Next, Proton Media announced their partnership with IBM. Given they were already integrating with Microsoft, that definitely puts them in line to pick up where Second Life was leaving off.

And then this week (today actually!), Reaction Grid launched Jibe, which they describe as:

... unique among virtual world solutions, offering the ability to deploy under your own branding on your existing websites & blogs. It works in web browsers, desktop (Mac & PC), mobile devices like iPhone & iPad, and even game consoles.

So what does all of this conflicting information actually mean to us, enterprise proponents of virtual worlds for learning?

1. Despite the chicken littles out there, the sky is really not falling for virtual worlds. Probably not even for Second Life. Yes, maybe Second Life won't be the leading enterprise virtual world platform, but I've said from the start that Second Life isn't the best platform for learning and that's not what it was designed for anyway. The enterprise focus was a retro-fit, an attempt to capitalize on the obvious benefits of virtual worlds for collaboration and learning. But there were many more drawbacks than benefits of using Second Life for those purposes, and other virtual world technologies like Protosphere from Proton Media, Vastpark, and Teleplace have focused on overcoming the functionality deficits that Second Life had in addressing enterprise customers' needs.

2. We're moving towards the browser. In a year or so, any virtual world that isn't accessed via browser with no or minimal plug ins is probably not going to be viable.

3. Social networking will eventually move virtual worlds more mainstream, not business. Just like other social media technologies, virtual worlds will be successful when people see the social benefits and it doesn't seem like work. Right now, they are a lot of work. That will shift and will move virtual worlds as a much more viable enterprise learning tool. And since learning is social, it just makes sense, no?

4. Content and design are still the key. Virtual worlds will need well-designed and appropriate content to move forward. Reaction Grid's Jibe seems to be moving in that direction, allowing for learning affordances that haven't been seen in other platforms to date, or at least not all on one platform. It will continue to be the case that no matter how cool the tools and technologies are, that the content design and user experience will drive adoption. We're still woefully behind in the learning space in having great examples of appropriate virtual world content design. But we'll get there, or virtual worlds won't.

I'm encouraged by the recent news that change is coming for virtual worlds. I've been waiting for a shift, a big announcement or event that would throw virtual worlds into the limelight and drive adoption. What's more likely, based on the news of this past week, is that the little steps will keep accumulating, until we don't remember how we practiced things before we had avatars in virtual worlds.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The bigger picture (and why I love Amanda Palmer)

About 2 1/2 years ago, I took a big risk and leap of faith and started Tandem Learning. And I have to admit, it was exhilarating. Starting a company? Building something new? Risking everything in order to achieve something you didn't know was even possible? Suddenly, I felt brave and powerful and capable in a way I never had.

That feeling doesn't last forever. I made mistakes, faced challenges, had to make big decisions. I didn't always know what I was doing or what to do next.

Two things are true. I've always followed my heart and I never gave up. But yes...I've made mistakes.

On February 18th...on the actual 2 year anniversary of my first day as Tandem Learning...Amanda Palmer wrote a blog post, a portion of which I'm going to quote here now, in response to her releasing the "back story" of Evelyn Evelyn, her current project and tour. You can read her entire post here, but this is the part, this is the section, that inspires me and reminds me why I'm doing what I'm doing...that reminds me how to stay brave:

the bigger picture.

yesterday i found myself chewing all of this upsetness like a bone in my mind.
i’m also PMSing, and that made things even lovelier.

in my life and in my work, i’ve made a lot of people angry.

people love to judge.
too feminist. not feminist enough. too outspoken. not outspoken enough. too intellectual.
too dumb. too glam. too underdressed. too funny. not funny enough. too inappropriate. too safe.
wrong kind of funny. marrying my favorite author and now i fucking hate her. fat. irritating. loud.
blah blah blah blah, etc, ad infinitum.

this is something i’ve had to learn to live with.

to get clear, i always have to stop, dig deep within myself and ask:
were my intentions good? could i really stand behind them? was anybody really harmed?
if i’ve actually harmed someone (and the harm isn’t just a drama in their heads), have i owned my responsibility?

when i quiet myself down and find the answer within myself, that’s the most important one.
it speaks louder than the voices outside my head and the anonymous voices on the internet.

it is to this voice you must listen, or you’re FUCKED.

i know a lot of younger people read this blog and i have constant contact with teenagers who are always asking me:
“how do i get brave?”

a lot of that answer lies in situations like these.
when you are forced to sit down, reckon with a situation, listen to people screaming that they hate you, take stock of what you’ve done, look everyone in the eye, tell them what your intentions are, and know that they will either hear and understand you or they will walk away.

and then your job is to not run after them.
your job is to stay calm. your job is continue on with your work.
and the hardest thing, sometimes, is to continue on with your work in a spirit of love, without letting other people’s hate and anger getting the best of you, and turning you into bitter, angry and jaded fuck.

it’s so easy to be afraid. to do nothing. to not make your art, to not follow your calling, your passion, your impulses, to not take any risks for fear of people cutting you down and misunderstanding you.
most people are CONTROLLED by fear, because they’re convinced they’ll do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, write the wrong thing, sing the wrong thing.
those fears are founded. you can see that, here, now.
shit happens, you can upset people.

and you need to do your work anyway, because the world needs you to.

that, i think, is how you get brave.
My life, my success (or not), my decisions...I've committed myself to not let fear control me. I see others who give in to their fear all of the time. Make excuses. Back away from scary decisions. Stay complacent and safe.

Those are not the people who do great things. Those are not the people who change the world. Those are not the people who I look up to.

If you want to see some of the people I look up to, you'll find them at Tandem Learning. (A belated anniversary to you, my friends. Thanks for trusting and forgiving and being brave with me.)

Or join me next Friday, when I'm going to see Evelyn Evelyn.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Throwing caution to the wind

I just read the post Writing cautiously blows by Janet Clarey and wow, its like she's in my head.

Oh know how much I get in trouble for calling it like I see it? A LOT. I've offended people, had to apologize, been accused of not being "political" enough and have even taken a blog post down.

I get the "cautious" writing, but it's just not me...I write like I think/talk and I don't mind at all if people fact, I like to be challenged.

I think the thrill of writing, and of life, is throwing it all out there...if you don't take risks and welcome new challenges, it's impossible to grow, to be better. Caution leads to comfort, and comfort leads to death of your spirit :)

So let's get into trouble, Janet...I've got your back!

Monday, June 7, 2010

The play is the thing

Have you ever played a game? Did you enjoy it? (I know, these seem like silly questions, right?)

Then why is there all of the fuss about using the word "game" in relation to learning? Who said that learning can't be fun?

Now, I know...we all went to school and learned in classrooms and we were taught that it was serious business. Studying is hard. You need to read quietly. No talking during tests. We even call it homeWORK. We were conditioned to think that learning had to be serious and dry and boring. 

But what if we hadn't been? 

I was watching my 3 year old playing a game today. I realized she was learning about pattern recognition, but she wouldn't have told you that. She would have told you she was playing. She would have said she was having fun. Was it any less learning than if I had given her worksheets? 

So let's think about corporate learning. If you want employees to "know" something, sure...let them read about it, go through an e-learning module, answer some multiple choice questions. If you want them to "do" should have them practice it. Practice builds expertise, practice implies repetition...and games are a great vehicle to allow for practice. How do you get better at a sport? Practice. How do you get better at selling? Practice. How do you get better at solving problems? Practice. 

How much more would your employees practice if it was fun? 

Let's not vilify games for not being brutally painful to play. Let's explain the elements of games that make them more appropriate than most other learning methods for improving skills, increasing knowledge and encouraging practice. I'd bet that manager who dismisses games for learning might even be watching the ball game on Sunday...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The only thing to fear

I'm not what some people would call "risk averse." No, I'm not a fact, growing up I wasn't athletic at all, and I was pretty shy. I was (still kinda am) scared of heights. I wouldn't go down escalators (up was ok, just not down).  I remember one trip to an amusement park where I must have stood in line for the roller coaster 10 times, only to walk through the car to the other side without riding it. My dad was totally annoyed; my sister was thrilled...she got to ride the roller coaster 10 times in a row.

But sometime in my late teens/early 20s, I got over it. I moved away to college when I was 17 and I never went back. I managed my own money, worked 3 jobs, graduated with my undergrad degree in 3 years. I started going down escalators when I spent the summer in London and had no choice for travel except the Tube.

That's not to say I don't still get scared. Its also not to say that I'm not still cautious. You can ask any of my friends--I still pause at the top of an escalator while my heart does a little flip before I'll take that step on. But I've learned that I gain so much more when I take risks and face my fears.

What has surprised me as I've gotten older is how many people allow fear to govern their decision-making. Don't take a new job, don't try a new technology, don't seize an opportunity...all because of the fear of the unknown.

Mark Oehlert mentions fear, control, and trust in his presentations on organizational resistance to social media implementations. But think about how those same three factors effect our personal decision making...

Fear. Fear that you'll make a "wrong" decision or a "bad" decision. Fear that something bad will happen. Fear of what others will think of you. Fear that in some way, you won't be able to handle it if things go poorly, or more ironically, if things go well.

Control. If you feel like you have control of the situation you're in, if you're comfortable, then why take the risk of losing some control, losing some comfort? Taking a risk means surrendering some control. The familiar is comforting, predictable, and safe. Taking a risk means releasing that control in the hopes of gaining something new and better.

Trust. Do you trust yourself to make good decisions? Do you follow your gut, or fall back on feelings of fear and loss of control? Do you trust yourself to deal with the consequences of the decisions that you make? Do you trust yourself to be honest and open? Do you trust in your relationships to support you in whatever risks you take on?

So how do you get over your fears? Maybe you don't. Maybe you fall back to the safe position. Maybe you defend old decisions "because that's how we've always done things." Maybe you stay where you are and try to make the best of your situation, put a good spin on it.

But maybe you do. But facing your fears, giving up control, and trusting yourself takes practice. Its not easy to face your fears...if it was, fear would have no power. Every day, ask yourself who you want to be. Do you want to be safe and comfortable, or do you want to achieve great things? Settle for what you've always had even if its not what you dreamed of, or take a chance and reach for your dreams? Take opportunities or let them slip away?

Do you want to just stand in line for the roller coaster, or do you want to ride?