Making peace with ambiguity #msloc430 #wol

I started this post last night, reflecting at the end-of-the-day for day one of our Working Out Loud week. Was a bit too tired to finish it in a coherent fashion.


A theme emerged. Along with the coffee.

I woke up this morning to a blog post from Helen Crump in which she shares some great insights about working and learning out loud as well as her reflections on learning measurement and learning outcomes (in part based on her contributions to and participation in #rhizo15). “It’s always a topic that wears me out,” Helen writes.

Yes. That’s me also sitting in the it-wears-me-out section of the room.

In #rhizo15, Dave Cormier set the challenge for each participant to create their own “learning subjectives.” Helen pulls together a couple of great bits from the resulting dialogue. I love this line she pulls from Lisa Lane: “I can’t measure learning, only the symbolic artifacts of learning.”


I love data. I really do. But I also have a healthy respect for the distance between data and reality. I think I have made peace with ambiguity.

Which is what I began to write about last night, in my reflection about my work that day.

Much of my day was spent in a working session with the leadership team of the Master’s Program in Learning and Organizational Change at Northwestern University. The session was actually led by one alum and one soon-t0-be alum: Alison Servi  and Teresa Torres. The topic: Designing a strategy and model for shifting the leadership of alumni engagement activities from program staff to alumni.

This is a blank-sheet-of-paper problem for us. We are at the stage where we can now create a model that makes sense for us as we continue to grow. Our alumni number low-hundreds, not thousands, so we are setting a path that should take us well into the future. And for us – paying attention to the details of creating a model that fits both our goals and culture is important. We’re not an off-the-shelf team.

We made great progress. And the session was actually fun. Why? What was it that made it so?

Here’s a possibility: Complex problems are fun.

Not all. Some complex problems are covered with all sorts of emotional wrappings that just make them painful. But some – the blank page problems – are really kind of fun. Especially if you are working with a group of people who have made peace with ambiguity. Those people – like the team I am fortunate enough to work with – know how to tease out possible paths and actions that respect the messy aspects of complex challenges. How people think. What they feel. The politics. Individual and organizational capacity.

That capability – the sense I get that someone has made peace with ambiguity – is something that I now recognize as what draws me toward working with or learning from people I encounter. Thanks Alison. Thanks Teresa. Thanks Helen.


A status update on our working out loud week activities.

We have more than 40 responses around 10 different working-out-loud topics posted by 10 individuals in a discussion thread in our private enterprise social network space. We’re also sharing a bit on Twitter using the combination of #msloc430 #wol hashtags.

The discussion thread structure was an educated guess on the best way to pull this together. In part it was driven by two factors: It’s a familiar format for our community (we have had some great, long discussions). It was also the easiest way, at least in our community, to make sure that participants could see all the activity with relative ease.

I recognize it as being a little off in terms of getting people in some habit of making their work visible multiple times daily. We’re sliding into a habitual way of responding and posting that follows the community norms for discussion threads. That’s not bad. We really do have amazing discussions going on at the moment. But the toolset with which we have to work doesn’t seem quite fit for purpose.

An option we considered was using the status update feature – but there was no easy way to aggregate these into some stream dedicated to our working-out-loud week. The internal ESN is just not quite where you can get with using Twitter hashtags and public blogs.

2 thoughts on “Making peace with ambiguity #msloc430 #wol

  1. Great post, Jeff, and I completely agree. Ambiguity is where it’s at, man! All the good stuff that social biz people are looking for these days — self-organizing communities, networks, adaptive organizations — in a sense they all emerge from ambiguous environments. It’s no coincidence that we talk about new ideas “crystallizing.” You can start with a speck of something, even dirt, get some stuff bouncing around, and end up with a snowflake. No design necessary, just provide the right conditions. Where everything is already highly structured it’s often also rigid, which means there’s no room for anything cool and beautiful to emerge.

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  2. On the topic of learning measurement I wish to suggest a post I wrote a few ago: Of course I’m not an a learning specialist but this technique of Narratives proved to be very helpful in other domains like User Centric experience design and Marketing. Also I’m sitting in xAPI working groups so I start to have a varnish on the topic. Would be glad to have more opinions.

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