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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Enough Tools for Now

Based on my post yesterday on Missed Opportunities, I received a really interesting email. The basic gist of the email could be summarized as:

Don’t we have enough tools for now?

At some level, this seems like a great question. We are already swimming in tools and new tools arrive faster than we can understand them much less try them. It seems somehow reasonable to simply say, let’s stop looking at new tools for a while and just get better with what we already have.

In Work Skills Keeping Up?, I discuss the Tilde Effect. And in some ways, there’s a really good point being made that there is no way we can truly keep up with the flood of tools and solutions. So, we have to make smart choices about how to stay up to speed.

Still I’ll stick with:

The bottom line for the Tilde Effect is that we live in a time of incredible innovation that directly affect the methods we use to work and learn. Our work skills cannot sit still. There's a lot of discussion about 21st century skills to be taught in schools, but what about the rest of us?

And the focus of that post is really about general metacognitive tools and methods for knowledge workers. If you are talking about tools, methods, analysis, etc. for technologies that impact learning and performance AND you believe you have a responsibility to help with design of appropriate solutions, then I don’t think you can say we have “enough tools for now.”

The better question is “How do you appropriately balance the need to stay up-to-speed with the fact that you cannot possibly spend enough time to truly stay up-to-speed?”

Back to the post from yesterday for more discussion on exactly that.


Anonymous said...

We live in a time where there are so many tools (and so many of them solve the same problem) that it's impossible to know about all of them, and thus it's impossible to tell if you are using the "best" one. It's frustrating, and sharing information about what people use is really the only way.

Read, listen, share, and try.

Vic Uzumeri said...

When busy people deal with changing technology, the tension is inevitable and perpetual. FWIW, I try to deal with the problem in 2 ways:

1. For many years, I have maintained a discipline where I set aside at least 5% of my time to play with new tools, technologies and ideas. Even when I have brutal deadlines, I use those sessions as a break. It is much easier to pick up a new tool and use it to solve a problem if you have already done some preliminary learning. In a crisis, it is usually impossible to learn it fast enough to adopt it effectively.

2. Take another 5% of time and devote it to revising and improving the 'process'. IMHO, the education industry (public education and industrial training) pays far too little attention to their operational process designs.

Since process design is my primary interest, I spend a lot more than 5% of my time on that aspect. But every minute of advance planning, preparation and organizing can make it easier to make the right tool and method choice in the crunch.

Tony Karrer said...

Vic - that's a really interesting approach. I somewhat do a similar thing but use my blogging time to force myself into learning mode. I should think about the additional structure that you are suggesting.

Paul Angileri said...

I think the "how" of staying up to date will vary from person to person. The best way to keep an eye open is to participate in the discussion. I have found out about more tools through talking with like professionals (and even a few outside our sphere that "dabble" when their business requires them to) than I probably could just Googling. There is a countervailing aspect though, in that many of the tools we talk about are vying for the same space in the market. This necessarily reduces the number we have to worry about. The continued pursuit of ever richer one-click functionality in many tools also makes the process of learning them that much less complicated, allowing us to remain focused on the "meta" activities, which is what we were hired for in the first place.

Part of the answer to the question also comes down to work context. If you are in a position where certain technologies are firmly entrenched and shifting them is a herculean task, then staying up to date is more important. Conversely, if you are a contractor (as I am presently), the various different projects present opportunities to apply technologies. It's been my experience that limited-term contracting offers a wide array of opportunities to get face time with things I might otherwise have not seen for years. This is not to say everyone should become a contractor tomorrow, just that there are different takes on this question depending on one's current context.

Unknown said...

There’s a mash-up of thoughts in my brain. These are interesting times for me. I teach legal professionals how to use technology. Not only are the tools I use changing, the applications that I teach are changing just as rapidly. But that's not all... The legal profession business model is experiencing change as well. Safe to say, sometimes I'm overwhelmed by it all.

It doesn't matter if I think we have enough tools for now. This isn't about me. It's about the professionals I support. They are clear when they tell me they are frustrated with the turnover of technology because they do not have time to sit in a classroom with me. I've got to find better ways to support them. It's my job …

Because the number of tools used in legal have increased so much, it is no longer realistic to expect everyone to know everything. But they do need to know the tools in their everyday workflow; what other tools are available for special needs; when to learn the technology; when to let others use the technology on their behalf; and where to find help.

It is advice that I am trying to use myself. I could not keep up if I had not stepped into this world of online sharing. I'm creating my own personal support network using online/social tools. In the end, whatever pain points I experience- while I am learning -become the lessons I share with others.

I start with a big idea and then go online to narrow the focus to a manageable set of tools by:

• Searching
• Using RSS feeds to track other opinions/discoveries
• Tagging content at the moment consumed by using social bookmarking
• Finding people with shared interest or experience on Twitter or Linked In
• Joining groups - online and offline
• Listening to my target audience – are there any conversations happening in the legal community?

Once the focus is clearer:

• Attending free webinars and online group events
• Sharing with trusted professionals

Next is a leap of faith that I focused on the right tools and if I didn’t, my peers in my community that I’ve created for myself are testing different tools and will document their findings online.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora e Tony!

I could not agree more with you on this. In fact, the discussions that we've had this year, over 'expert' and 'expertise' would tend to suggest that, perhaps, the plethora of tools that we constantly swim in, may well be contributing in an inflationary way to the present status of the 'expert'.

Catchya later

V Yonkers said...

While there are some people that design tools for their own personal pleasure, most do it to solve some problem that they or others are experiencing.

This is why I don't go looking for a new tool if the old ones can still do the job. I don't use twitter, nor have I learned it, because I don't have a need for it.

From a learning professional's point of view, it is important that I teach my students how to identify the gapes in their technology needs (at the individual, group, departmental, and/or organizational), how to find tools to meet those needs, how to assess the choices, and when and how to find help in using the technologies. Tools will continue to develop (which is a good thing because it means we are continually solving problems and gaps in technology), so we can't (nor should we expect to) put a stop to them. When we do that, we limit our options and others. What is more important is how we address the overload of tools (and information for that matter).