Embracing ambiguity – reflecting on Learning Technologies

It has been a busy week and an airport pause has finally offered a moment to reflect on my day at the Learning Technologies Summer Forum. My word for the day (and for the Learning Live Network event the day before) is ambiguity. And futhermore, beware those who are offering certainty for they know not what they are about.

My day started on on the panel in the “Stories we can all learn from: tough lessons learned ” session. In conference terms, this was breath of fresh air. There was no whiff of best practice and polished offerings of triumph from the mountaintops. There was plenty of honest and self-aware reflections on what has gone badly in our professional lives. As the panel and then attendees revealed histories of misjudgement, misunderstanding and mishap there were consistent nods of heads and smiles of recognition. We were among friends and could see ourselves clearly in the stories of others. Best practice case studies don’t often elicit this response.

It was a quiet and constructive celebration of the unravelling of false certainties. Nothing was as we expected it to be, we found. Furthermore, as we all agreed, that does seem to be the way of the world. S*#t happens and we have to work it out from there. Great lessons were learned and shared from the messy and ambiguous world of work that everyone ihabits. A really encouraging honesty and humility was on display as well: the best of the L&D world on show. (I am less convinced that the exhibition floor shared this embrace of ambiguity and humility).

The day, for me, closed with my presentation of and discussion around, the capabilities required for a succcessful digital learning service. I have shared some of this here before and will return to some of the themes again no doubt. For now, the theme of comfort with ambiguity is the one that shines through. I have posted about the new maturity that digital leaders need to embrace before. This is an area where I feel the L&D world needs to make progress, particularly with regard to technology.

System thinking and systems implementation often requires the denial of ambiguity. It needs rules and certainty (or he belief of it) upon which to balance implementation. Yet so much changes around us so quickly, this kind of confidence over long periods of time is ambitious and arguably dangerous.

Seek evidence from testing and trial. Be prepared to halt, change direction and test again in the sifting of the results of experimentation. Beware the certainty that long term implementation and heavyweight programmes require.

I think the best decision makers are now those who are comfortable in an ambiguous situation and are ready to be flexible in their approaches. This does require leaders to settle in to not being sure and admitting it. Digging deep foundations might not be the help that it used to be.

These are not yet fashionable leaderhip traits perhaps but the trendsetters are out there and will start to make others look a little frayed.

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