Curriculum development

Yesterday are still preparing the proposal for the 3-day leadership conference that I mentioned in the blog 'cutting edge management theories'. We got to the question "How will you develop the curriculum?" So I started to think about this in more depth. It's difficult to know what the 'right' answer is to that.

To begin with I don't think of a conference as having a 'curriculum'. To my mind a curriculum is a long course of study integrated with content from different programmes. However, I thought I might be wrong on this and in the course of finding out what other people thought came across this the article Curriculum Theory and Practice. The statement here is categoric:

A useful starting point for us here might be the definition offered by John Kerr and taken up by Vic Kelly in his standard work on the subject. Kerr defines curriculum as, 'All the learning which is planned and guided by the school, whether it is carried on in groups or individually, inside or outside the school. (quoted in Kelly 1983: 10; see also, Kelly 1999).

So I was on the right track on my thinking. Anyway – that digression did not address what that proposal was looking for (I don't think). So I went back to try and work out what they were asking for. It seems to be something on the lines of 'What is your process for developing appropriate content for the three days of the conference?' i.e. how will you know what to put in and how will you know what is the appropriate delivery method?

Assuming this is what they want I revisited the content outline for the three days I had already prepared. How had I decided what to put in? What should be the delivery method for each of the four modules per day that I was aiming for?

In talking with the proposal writer I realized that I've reached the point of automaticity in preparing training programs (which this conference is). So have I reached stage 4 of the learning cycle that that begins with unconscious incompetence and reaches unconscious competence having passed through stage 2 – 'conscious incompetence' and – 3 'conscious competence'.? Another digression while I pondered that before tackling the actual question.

Early on in my career when I was training to be a teacher, and later when I was training people to be teachers we used to discuss Kolb's learning cycle. I think it is still taught, and in any event, I seem to have integrated it into my thinking (without thinking about it). I looked it up again to confirm that is what I do. Indeed it is – so I felt validated. Not only that I found a very nice graphic that integrates the principles of Kolb's learning cycle with the different learning styles participants are likely to have. So using the graphic as a start-point to unpacking what has become automatic to me, I was able to say that the curriculum will take participants around all four steps of the learning cycle, in a way that accesses and recognizes the various learning styles present.

Having got the model (the 'what') squared away I then tackled the process (the 'how') – I didn't need confirmation of what I do here as this, in outline, is what I know I do!

Assess phase
Understand who the participants are
Understand their predominant learning styles
Clarify their learning objectives in taking this curriculum/conference/training/etc
Assess their experience of various learning approaches
Determine what tools and resources they have available/will need to take the curriculum (e.g. laptops)
Assess what level of support/direction they will need to take the curriculum e.g. self directed, face to face instruction, peer coaching, etc.

Design phase
Set the criteria for the curriculum
Draft a high level curriculum and (if possible) get feedback from potential participants
Design a detailed curriculum that enables participants to move smoothly towards the attainment of the objectives

Deliver phase
Ensure participants stay 'on board' as the curriculum is delivered
Make any immediate and obvious adjustments as necessary
Keep the pace and energy high

Improve phase
Evaluate success of curriculum
Recommend improvement for subsequent use
Follow up with participants at 30, 60 and 90 days to assess level of on the job application/transferability of learning

So I wait to see what has actually gone into the proposal, and whether we are called to an oral presentation as the next step towards winning it.


Someone gave me the book The Wikipedia Revolution by Andrew Lih. It's a great story about organizational design – how an organization is thought about by its participants, how it evolves, and what pressures make the community take one route over another.

Setting off with the philosophy of "Assume Good Faith" backed up by "BEBOLD", and "SOFIXIT" Wikipedia's principles have been boiled down to five unchangeable pillars that Lih says 'Define Wikipedia's character':

Setting off with the philosophy of "Assume Good Faith" backed up by "BEBOLD", and "SOFIXIT" Wikipedia's principles have been boiled down to five unchangeable pillars that Lih says 'Define Wikipedia's character':

1. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia
2. Wikipedia has a neutral point of view
3. Wikipedia is free content
4. Wikipedia has a code of conduct
5. Wikipedia does not have firm rules

What's fascinating about the philosophies and the principles is that they are not mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive (MECE) a multivariate logic concept (explained in a Wiki entry). This leads to difficulties in the Wiki organization because, for example trolls, vandals, and sock puppets sabotage entries which leads to discussion on the code of conduct, the need for firm rules around editing, and fierce debate about being bold.

Beyond trying to implement somewhat contradictory principles – each one is contentious. For example, the principle of 'neutral' was challenged early in the history of Wikipedia and an example of this is entertainingly told in the story of Gdansk and Danzig when an article on the topic 'quickly gathered Poles, Germans, and anyone else who cared to chime in with their interpretation of what was right. 'Neutral' was unfortunately a casualty of the conversation, as it had broken down into a test of wills and strong points of view.'

Assuming the same philosophies and the five pillars apply across the whole Wiki organization (that is not clear) it's also evident that immediately cultural differences in interpretation come into play. For example, the German Wikipedia culture has 'become famous for their strict standard for inclusion. Additionally 'administrators in the German edition voted among themselves on matters important to the community, and were not afraid to have closed discussions among sysops'. In the UK and US part of the organization the view is that this Germanic approach smacks of secrecy and bureaucracy which is anathema to the intent of the principle "Wikipedia does not have firm rules."

The book ends with an Afterword containing the marvelous Durova's fourth law.

Small organizations run on relationships. Formal policies emerge when the organization becomes too large to operate on that basis. Policies continue to grow in both quantity and complexity in proportion to organizational growth until the policies no longer work, at which point the policies remain in place while the organization reverts to running on relationships.

If only managers would start looking first at their policies rather than their structures when they want to re-organize.

Cutting edge management theories

We're putting in a proposal to run a three day symposium with a theme and curriculum that reflects knowledge and experience with cutting edge management theories and principles and in leadership and managerial executive education. Getting the call to work on this first thing on Sunday morning as the submission date is tomorrow forced me to drop what I was doing (writing the book) in favor of responding to the request. This reminded me of my time management teaching days when I had to explain the distinction between 'important' and 'urgent'.

However, I then turned my mind to 'cutting edge management theories'. First stop, what? I guess, define cutting edge. So I brooded a bit on this. 'Cutting edge' seems to me to be less about new and faddish and more about what actually works in practice and makes good sense.

On this basis the most cutting edge seem to be Peter Drucker's theories which are not, for whatever reason, featured highly on business school programs, but which are timeless, sensible, and written in plain English (or American). The Economist's comment on the centennial of Drucker's birth makes the point that

The most important reason why people continue to revere Drucker, though, is that his writing remains startlingly relevant. Reading "Concept of the Corporation", which was published in 1946, you are struck not just by how accurately he saw the future but also by how similar today's management problems are to those of yesteryear. This is partly because, whatever the theorists like to think, management is not a progressive science: the same dilemmas and difficult trade-offs crop up time and again.

So first stop Drucker. Then what? Well judging that massive bureaucracies and leading edge technologies are uneasy companions – and the participants in the symposium will be people working in those two conditions there seems to be a call for some discussion around the issues of new technologies and well established, some would say hidebound, organizations. Next stop, then Gary Hamel and his thoughts on 'The Future of Management' and a re-reading of his article 'Moonshots for Management'.

Two stops seemed enough to get a high level outline up on computer screen (more cutting edge than 'down on paper') although I am aware that I didn't consider the thousands of other potential cutting edge management theorists but stuck with what I've found useful.

Thinking on symposia that I've attended I'm always weary by the end of day one of being talked at by experts and long to do something. So I've mentally tagged day one as being the input and discussions on cutting edge, then day two using various collaborative technologies to work out what cutting edge means in the participants' particular situations, and day three as a case simulation where they can all try out what they've come up with and get some practice in applying the cutting edges without fear of damage to themselves.

Of course, submitting a proposal is not the same as winning the bid – but I enjoyed putting the book writing aside temporarily and, in fact, came across material that will contribute to the book – so some value in taking urgent over important in this case.

On-line learning

We're having a debate in my office about online learning that has led me to revisit the various online learning sites that I've used, tuned into/downloaded from. Simultaneously I'm noticing a sudden surge in interest in the possibilities of online access enabling an education for everyone. As an example in two recent issues Fast Company published articles on technology: the first How Web-Savvy Edupunks Are Transforming American Higher Education which made the point that, Suddenly, it is possible to imagine a new model of education using online resources to serve more students, more cheaply than ever before. and the second Cellphonometry: Can Kids Really Learn Math From Smartphones?

I'm a fan of open and on-line learning. Years ago I was an Open Learning Development Officer – aiming to convert traditional face to face curriculum to (in those days) text based distance learning. For many years I taught for the UK's Open University and currently I teach at Capella University which is totally online. A friend's children attend PAcyber an on-line American charter school (also totally online) dedicated to: the success of all students who have not had their needs met in a traditional educational setting.

Below are listed some of the free sites that I learn stuff from

Free to individuals
Harvard Business Review Idea Cast (on i-tunes)

MIT Open Courseware is a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content. OCW is open and available to the world and is a permanent MIT activity.

Peer2Peer University combines open educational resources, structured courses, and recognition of knowledge/learning in order to offer high-quality low-cost education opportunities. It is run and governed by volunteers.

University of the People tuition-free, online academic institution dedicated to the global advancement and democratization of higher education.

Academic Earth is an organization founded with the goal of giving everyone on earth access to a world-class education. A

But it's also worth looking at these two pay sites

50 lessons More than 1,000 personal and authentic video lessons from over 200 of the world's most respected business leaders, 50 Lessons is the world's premier multimedia business resource.

i-minds – a new company that is developing a first-of-its-kind catalog of 8-minute audio books that deliver bursts of knowledge on an array of topics to iPods and other MP3 devices.

And corporates might benefit from membership

IMD's Corporate Learning Network

Or some of the link ups available through I-tunes U

(Apple also has an education department dedicated to working with educational institutions to develop and make available on-line curriculum).

Up in the air

Yesterday I went to see the film Up in the Air . At one level it isn't anything more than a fairly run of the mill story told in rather long , boring, and repetitive way. On the other hand it has three themes that I found myself thinking about:

1. How to approach firing someone
2. The uses and abuses of technology
3. The organization society

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) plays a character whose job is to fly around the US and fire/lay off/make redundant people from companies. He does this, it appears, because company managers don't want to fire their people themselves but are willing to hire people who will do it. So we see Bingham facing across a table someone he has never met before and will never see again, giving them the news that they are being 'let go' (a ridiculous euphemism in my opinion).

We then see the range of emotions people show related to this piece of information – from chair throwing, to tears, and in one case to suicide – but we only learn this later. Through it Bingham sticks to the company's script and formula for firing, in each case handing people 'the packet' which will help them make sense of the information.

Cue Natalie, a recent psychology graduate, who has just joined Bingham's company. She hits on the idea of firing people by tele-conference – thus saving the company travel time and money. Bingham refuses to go along with this until Natalie has actually fired some real people face to face. His long experience of firing people, and very short experience of technology-enabled work makes him think it is an unsuitable medium.

It turns out he is right, but it takes while, a detailed, fully scripted flow chart given to each "terminator" (that was the job title Natalie wanted for them but it was rejected in favor of some other title I've forgotten), a life-like training program and the suicide to get to that point. I was relieved. Hopefully no-one watching will actually think laying people off should be done other than by face to face meetings. (Although the film was laced with people receiving similar news e.g. relationship break-up, by text-message).

The fact that Bingham has (by the end of the film) a 10 million mile specially minted frequent flyer card – he is only the 7th person to receive this status symbol reinforced the point that he is fairly typical of the 'road warriors' who travel for work – in his case 322 days in one year. The film is shot predominantly in airports, airplanes, rental cars, and hotels – involving lots of product placement. It all served to illustrate the notion that there is an over-arching global business culture replete with its symbols, norms, language, behaviors, and other artefacts. Bingham is representative of someone who is so culturally conditioned that he finds it difficult to act in other cultures – in this case in a 'normal' American culture of weddings, committed relationships, home ownership, and so on.

Organization design and workplace environment

Architects and interior designers traditionally work with company facility managers to upgrade or redesign the physical working environment. The physical environment is rarely discussed in this context and by these practitioners as integral to the organization's business model, the delivery of its strategy, and as a component of the design of whole organizational system.

This is a missed opportunity. The physical environment is a reflector of the culture, values, and preoccupations of the organizational members. The corner office, for example, is the prime example of a physical space status symbol, reflecting positional power. The choices of marble, wood, or other surfaces give clues on organizational values – lavish use of hardwood might be at odds with corporate statements about sustainability – and on the industry sector (the reception area of a hospital is very different from the reception area of a bank).

The effects of good or poor physical space planning effect, among other aspects, the motivation and morale of workers, their productivity, the way they are able (or not) to communicate face to face, and the way they feel about their power and creativity – how easy is it to be creative in a high partition American style office cubicle?

A n NY Times report last week on hospital redesign by Kaiser Permanente describes a welcome example of one company that is deliberately including physical space as part of the thinking about the well-being of the whole organization, an extract from the article makes the point that:

"Though hospitals will end up looking better, these efforts aren't about decorating, they're about outcomes. Numerous studies point to the benefits of the design strategies and environmental interventions KP has proposed and implemented. Factors like the quality and intensity of light, access to natural light, the noise level in a room, the privacy afforded by single-patient rooms – all of these affect patient health, satisfaction, soundness of sleep and speed of healing. Views of nature have been shown to decrease depression, pain, stress and even length of hospital stays. Floor plans that are designed to help health care workers do their work more effectively (as well as increase privacy and comfort of patients) can reduce falls, improve patient communication and lessen stress for all".

Arnold Levin, of architects nbbj, whom I was talking with recently made the point that

"design strategies and solutions must be posed and presented as business cases, a language and format not necessarily in the comfort zone of the design profession. … More importantly, for the workplace to serve as a change agent; we must also be in the position to provide change management services … We often speak with clients about the workplace being a transformation opportunity, a place to create innovation and change, yet we have traditionally given clients the physical opportunity for change while leaving them to their own devises to adapt internally to the required (operational and mindset) changes".

Teaming organizational designers and developers with architects and facilities management to ensure organizations are getting the most value from their physical space in terms of operational effectiveness, sustainability, and good customer outcomes seems an opportunity waiting to be taken up. As the NY Times writer commented: I can't help thinking of the enormous opportunity for other large corporations and institutions to take a cue from Kaiser's efforts.

Organization design in China

I've been asked to go and facilitate an organization design two-day training program in China next year. Accepting it has had the effect of making me really take a closer look at several aspects of the design of the program. I already have a two day program that I lead for the UK's Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in London. I've run it over at least 4 years now and it's progressively become more popular – in the first couple of years it ran twice each year. Last year a third set of dates was offered, as was this year, and next year will also be three sessions.

So an invitation to China seems to be following a trend that HR people need to know about organization design – a trend reinforced by the fact that organization design is now a specifically required competence area for CIPD certification, and features on their HR Profession Map.

Thinking about teaching it in China, I'm now mulling over three aspects:

1) Being in China – do I need to learn any Mandarin, should I allow time for sightseeing, touring the cities (Beijing and Shanghai), who do I know there who I can visit, how long does it take to get a visa?

On the language piece I'm looking at the BBC Real Chinese which is straightforward and seems doable in the time I've got available. I've ordered the Moon Guide to Shanghai and Beijing – I've enjoyed other Moon Guides, and I've alerted several people I know who live in either of the cities.

2) Business in China – what would make understandable case studies, is business in China very different from business in the UK/US, what are the preoccupations of line managers, HR people? I'm enjoying working through these – looking at (predominantly) US companies that are expanding into China, for example Best Buy, Starbucks, Yum, McDonalds, companies that have tried with less success to develop there (Marks & Spencer), and companies that are thinking of going there, as well as Chinese companies who are home based and moving out. There's a wealth of information available. It's making sense of it to convert into a training program that I'm working on now.

Here I'm following the China Law Blog getting a daily email briefing on companies in Asia-Pacific from the Financial Times and reading the Economist country briefing as well as anything else people recommend.

3) Organization design competence – what level are the people I will be working with, will I have to adapt the language and concepts, do they want theory or practical applications?

On this I'm partly relying on the organization that's invited me, asking them questions about the attendees, the programs that have gone down well in the past, the type of approach they're looking for, and so on. Additionally I'm quizzing people who've worked in China, who have taught programs there, and who have done business there.

So I'm hoping that I'm on the right track to give participants a good program that they enjoy and learn from – any further tips would be welcome.