Tag Clouds and Social Networks Connect Talent to Opportunity

The statistics on the infoglut coming our way is downright scary. By the year 2010, the amount of digital information on the web (internet and intranet) will hit a significant inflection point. Specifically, the Saratoga Institute predicts that it will be doubling every 11 hours.

This means that every day, for the rest of the history of this planet, the amount of digital information that us homo-sapiens will need to Grok in order to function as a society will double. Imagine that, starting in 2010, every day you will receive twice as many e-mails as the day before and think to yourself how long you would be able to handle it. Got it? Well it is like that but only a whole lot worse ; )

Meanwhile, the boys in the back room of my brain are slowing down. They are not as quick as they used to be and their capacity to remember stuff is degrading at an alarming rate. Unlike the technology that encroaches on our space more and more every second of every day, I do not get a brain transplant that allows me to process things twice as fast and remember twice as much every 18 months. In such an information deluge, Homo-Sapien short term memory becomes a thing of the past. Our old and creaky carbon-based biological sensory affordance mechanisms are simply not able to handle the amount of stuff coming at us from the silicon based world. This does not bode well for us as a species. This is a digital divide of a wholly different kind.

Some time back, Guttenberg’s disruptive invention ushered in the era of codified knowledge. This new technology also fundamentally transformed learning profession. The ability for knowledge to be codified in a portable 2D context (i.e. a book) enabled teachers to increase their reach and students to access insights from masters that they previously could only have obtained through direct contact. The prevalent “mentor-apprentice” pedagogical model was largely left behind as the “preach from the pulpit” or “sage on the stage” model took hold. The printing press ushered in the componentization of knowledge and rendered it out in a static 2D form. It provided us with a snapshot of what was known, often devoid of the context that is so important to making content meaningful from a comprehension perspective. Today, given the infoglut, we seem to have unconsciously moved our pedagogical model from “Master-Apprentice to “Sage on Stage” to “Spray and Pray.” Lets use the web to spray stuff at folks and lets pray that something sticks.

The sheer increase in volume and dynamic nature of information, and the accelerative change effect that it brings with it, is hitting an event horizon that no longer enables us, as Homo-Sapiens to individually make sense of it all. This could be one reason that we are seeing so much writing these days about Wisdom of Crowds, Crowd Sourcing, Smart Mobs and the like. Since on one-person can figure all this out, and since none of us is as smart as all of us, we to engage the collective wisdom of humanity to ensure that we don’t loose the plot on why we are here and what we want to accomplish.

OK enough philosophy psychobabble. Time to ground this post. I want to come down from the clouds and land with a resounding THUD the topic of competency modeling and skill gap closure. How is that for a quick transition to something concrete ; )

Competency modeling and skill gap closure, like the “Sage on the Stage” pedagogical model, is an entrenched part of what we do as learning professionals. Usually it goes something like this (Warning gross generalizations below ; )

    Break a work role down to the competencies and skills required to be successful in the role (Job Analysis, Task Analysis etc…)

    Define the observable behaviors that characterize successful outcomes at different levels of competency for a given skill (Behavior Event Interviews, Ethnography, etc…)

    Define what an acceptable proficiency level is for each competency/skill

    Have workers in that role assess themselves (or managers assess workers) on their PERCEIVED proficiency on a given skill

    Identify the worker’s skill gaps (i.e. Skill Gap = Desired Competency Level – Perception of Proficiency).

    Provide learning recommendations for workers to fill their skill gaps

I could go on for some time about some of the issues with this model. They are well documented, but that is not my goal with this post.

Here is a very quick breeze through the issue space. There is significant variance in worker’s PERCEPTION of how good or bad they are at something. Fresh out MBAs think they rock on every skill and can’t understand why they are not the CEO. More seasoned executives who know what it really takes to be a CEO are more apt to score themselves lower than those same MBAs even though they are actually more competent. Perception carries with it context and personal history. Context is personal therefore you have so much variance in responses that it seems tenuous at best to try to strategically build collective organization capability based on this input alone.

If we are truly endeavoring to build organization-wide capability in a dynamic and organic way we should not be looking at the aggregate perception of “skill gaps.” Buckingham and others have made lots of good arguments on integrating Talent, Opportunity and Passion to get to the TOP. The current competency model approach we apply as a matter of course within our profession is clearly not focused on, or couched in, an opportunistic light. Instead, it is more about “lets figure out what you suck at and make you work at that till you get at least average at it.” How will this approach drive insight and growth for both the worker and the enterprise?

Beyond that, there also is the issue that “collective suckiness” on a given skill does not necessarily mean that plugging that skill gap will yield organization benefits that matter (i.e. more revenue). This is because, in using a perceived proficiency scale to drive skill gap closure, we never ask how IMPORTANT the skill to a desired business outcome. Just because most people are bad at a certain skill does not mean that plugging that skill void within the enterprise will yield value-added business outcomes. All skills are not created equal and figuring out which ones matter most when based on a specific desired business outcome it at least as important, if not more so, than aggregating the collective suckiness of the workers and keying capability development off that data.

I won’t go into all those details here because there is a bigger issue that is, to my mind, hacking away at the very foundation of the competency model/skill gap closure cultural artifact that exists within our profession. With information coming at us so fast and the incredible amount of change that follows in its wake, it is just a fact that WE WILL ALL HAVE A SKILLS GAP ALL THE TIME and that this gap will continue to grow as time continues to unfold towards infinity.

Another issue is that, not only will we have skills gaps in perpetuity, but the skills that we have gaps on are also swapping in and out all the time. Hence, the overhead associated with keeping competency models current (and more importantly getting people to assess themselves against them) is increasingly challenging.

In short, individual skill gap closure based on self perception of skill proficiency seems to be hitting an asymptote with regards to its ability to add value when it comes to ensuring that the enterprise has the people with the smarts required to sustain it in increasingly competitive and unpredictable economic times.

So what to do? Some random thoughts from the Web 2.0 lunatic fringe:

    Change the unit of analysis from the individual to the group. People work in groups. People learn in groups. They should be developed as a group within the context of the work that they do.

    Change the focus from what and individual needs to know to what the group needs to know to succeed over a given time horizon (say 3-6 months).

    Use Web 2.0 platforms (i.e. Wiki or Jam) apply to leverage the wisdom of crowds to settle in on what the group believes it needs to know to succeed on specific desired business outcomes they collectively agree upon.

    Set up a lightweight infrastructure of Grok Teams or Blog Squads who sign up to take on certain areas that the group does not know that it knows it needs to know in order to be successful in the next 3 months.

    Ideally these teams should be allowed to form organically with two guiding vectors: (1) People have Passion for the Topic, (2) The composition of the team will increase the density of every person’s social network.

    Create social networking sites for each group member (Facebook meets Company Directory).
    Generate persistent tag-clouds on the workers social networking page so that everyone in the group can see what they are up to and, by association, what they know.

    Generate a Social Network diagram on the social networking page so that every member knows how connected they are every other member.

    As these folks work together and learn and tag what they read or talk about or write about it in blogs or wikis gets fed back into their own Tag Cloud thus continuously updating the database on what they know.

    As they work with others who are the “weaker-ties” in their network the strength of weak ties takes hold and the new knowledge generated by the Grok Team or Blog Squad creates insights around opportunities for growth. Knowledge Accidents are engineered right into the grouping mechanism here.

    This insight, predictably, highlights new areas of knowledge that need to be grokked. This is updated by the group and the process moves on in perpetuity.

Setting up such a system is advantageous in many ways:

    Taps into the wisdom of the crowd on what matters most for the collective team to succeed on a business outcome that matters

    Enables people within the team to follow their passion in areas they truly would like to learn more about, and more importantly apply immediately to drive more growth

    Facilitated the increased possibility for knowledge accidents via the formation of Grok Teams or Blog Squads based on weak-ties

    Is built on a meme that is lightweight in structure and procedure

    Mashes up Web 2.0 technology to build a scalable, organic, learning organization focused on Team Talent, Opportunity and Passion not Individual Competency, Skills and Gaps.

Workers closest to the customer are the ones who know what needs to be known to delight them. Tap into that wisdom, aggregate it and use it. People who are true Web 2.0 adherents never read or write anything without tagging it. Take advantage of these tags. Pop them into a cloud generator and you have a real-time, all the time snapshot of what they know. Connecting people with weak ties who have common passions yields true original thought that is a key requirement for the identification of legitimate white space opportunities that drive growth.

If we continue to focus only on teaching individuals within companies how to do the things we have already figured out how to do via skill gap closure the learning function could ultimately become outsourced. Why? Because this is an efficiency based approach to learning where the componentization of competencies and skills (and associated mapping to learning) will become commoditized. Plus, at best it delivers more efficient (or obedient) workers not more innovative ones. If efficiency is the need of the business, it might still be applicable.

The issue here is that every executive I hear today is not talking about denominator management. They are talking about the NUMERATOR. They want to GROW. What is the development model that taps into the wisdom of the people and allows them to engage with passion to come up with heretofore unforeseen possibilities for growth. Hint: The answer ain’t a traditional competency model.

Leave a comment


  1. Tony,

    Is there anyway I can get a larger copy of the graphic where the guy’s head explodes? I have a client and they recently told me that they don’t want employees heads to explode.

    This would be a gas to show them.



  2. Currently I am doing a moudle on competency mapping from the Indian society for Training and Development. What we have been taught is that one has to first see the critical business functions and give priority to only those roles while doing the modeslling.

    The facebook suggestion is interesting. Marcus Buckingham has also said that 8/10 people are miscast in their jobs and 31% need to do a drastic career transition. Competency models can help in that in my view and your facebook suggestion can help their provided HR managers and employers look at it with an open mind.

    It is quite possible for a person to be qualified in something and profficient at something else- http://mypyp.wordpress.com/

  3. Yassmin

     /  May 27, 2009


    Would you please let me know where I can get a larger version of the Model in order to be able to read it?

    Thank you

  1. Learnlets » Web 2.0 Orgs
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