Keeping up with change through community-based learning

In 2018, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella spoke about the pace at which we have to adopt technology today. He said organisations will have to build their own digital capability on top of the technology they have adopted. Satya expressed this in the following formula:

(Tech adoption)^Tech capability = Tech intensity.
Satya Nadella speaking about Tech Intensity during the MSIgnite 2018 keynote – 7:06 to 7:41

Update (Jan 23, 2019): Satya shared some fresh thoughts and examples on Tech Intensity in this LinkedIn article.

I must admit, my reaction to the phrase “Tech intensity” was not applause but of concern. Working in user adoption and change management, I am concerned about how to help organisations keep up with change, to align technology with business needs and learn to achieve more with those changes. Tech intensity makes me think of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Short intervals of high intensity exercise, followed by recovery with intervals of low intensity exercise. Organisational change is similar to HIIT. Some change has to be delivered in short intensive bursts and is planned for accordingly. Some change is continuous and low intensity. Organisations need intervals of rest from change, to recover and let the change settle in to realise the benefits.
However, much of the change and innovation delivered today requires you to have understood and adopted earlier changes.

Nilay Patel, Editor in Chief at The Verge encouraged us to “think of the tech industry as being built on an ever-increasing number of assumptions.” We have to know something to know about the new something. But his observations are like those of Satya’s “Tech intensity.”

“Lately, the tech industry is starting to make these assumptions faster than anyone can be expected to keep up.”

Patel, Nilay. (January 6, 2019) Everything is too complicated. The Verge. Retrieved from https://www.theverge.com/platform/amp/2019/1/6/18170272/everything-is-too-complicated-2019

If you haven’t learned and adopted the previous version of the technology, you will have difficulty understanding the latest release.

We are approaching terminal velocity for humanity’s capacity to cope with technological change at it’s current rate of release and level of interaction. We are having to explore different ways to lower the intensity of human interaction. This is why the tech industry is intensely pursuing advancement in artificial intelligence, machine learning, voice assistants and autonomous tech. 
We are trying to reduce the need to learn new tech by making the tech learn for us.

If artificial intelligence is the computer-powered answer to tech intensity, then the people-powered answer is community-based learning.

Artificial intelligence can suggest new connections and help maintain existing ones. In Microsoft 365, services leverage the Microsoft Graph to find connections between people, information, activities and make suggestions. But the suggestions are just that. They are only as good as the algorithms and code behind them. We need to use actual intelligence to make sense of the suggestions.

This is when we depend on a different AI, the Actual Intelligence of others to help us learn relevant skills and make appropriate choices for our scenarios. Community-based learning is successful because it’s built on the collective knowledge and experience of the community. It’s strength is in the active participation of it’s members and the connections between them. A community can learn together by asking and answering questions, sharing experiences from the context of their work and giving real world examples. Members may combine skills and knowledge creatively, to solve problems and develop processes that not be contrived from programatic algorithms.

A community will stay alive when it’s members participate see and receive something of value from the community. Much as we’d like to think we visit a community to give, people stop participating when they stop getting. Here lies the the synergy. When a community is built around it’s need to continuously learn together, it has a compelling reason to survive.

Communities can live on organic participation and with no management. But they thrive with management with purposeful attention from community managers. Take a look at some online communities that are struggling. Prolific promotional posts, low response rate, little to no conversation, no community managers in sight. Perhaps most damaging, the purpose of the community is long forgotten, relying only on the community name to signal the purpose.
A community with the purpose of learning will thrive with the careful guidance from community managers.

Communities set their own pace for communication and learning. They provide high and low intensity learning through the pace of communication. Early adopters will explore new technologies and features. They often belong to external communities and discuss how other organisations are using technology. Early adopters may even know about new techology before it is available within their own work environment. They are allies for the cause of community-based learning and will champion the technology when it becomes available internally. Early adopters should be involved early in the implementation process. Their enthusiasm for learning and knowledge of business unit processes and culture is invaluable. If the implementation of new capabilities and features will be delayed, involve early adopters in pilot groups and planning to keep them engaged. This will be an asset to the project as they pre-empt the impacts of the change. Your early adopters will be better prepared to assist the rest of the community when the changes are rolled out and it’s their time to learn and explore.

When Tech intensity meets community-based learning, an organisation supports itself through continuous change. It is increasingly the goal of Adoption and Change Management specialists, to build self-sustaining learning commmunities. Communities where people take ownership of their learning at their own pace, on-demand and within the context of their work, together with peers.

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