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Jane's Gems: Working Smarter in Terra Nova Circa 2015

By Jay Cross, Jane Hart, Jon Husband, Harold Jarche, Charles Jennings, Clark Quinn / September 2010

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England's New Forest is called "new" because it was built in 1079 by that well-known Johnny-come-lately, William the Conqueror. William wanted an oak forest for hunting. Timber would be required for building ships centuries later. He was thinking long term. Let's follow his example.

Free yourself from day-to-day worries for a few minutes, and join us on a tour of the learning landscape five years hence in 2015.

We will call our destination Terra Nova, Latin for "new world." Within five years, the world will have changed so radically, you will not recognize it. It is a new era and it is right around the corner.


Agricultural Age: manual labor by individual farmers (8,000 BCE—1760)
Industrial Age: machine-assisted manual labor in factories (1760—1949
Information Age: white-collar knowledge work in offices (1949—2012
Terra Nova: creative collaborative innovation in networks (2012— )

In the industrial age, bosses issued instructions and told workers (we say "workers" rather than "learners" because work is their ultimate goal; learning is but an enabler) they were not paid to think. This is the ultimate in push, as people deal with what is pushed upon them.

In the information age, people were encouraged to think, but only "inside the box," that is, complying with narrow sets of procedures and rules. Workers were empowered, but within strict bounds. Assignments still drifted down from the top. This is still primarily push.

In Terra Nova, push and pull combine to create a dynamic flow of power, authority, know-how, and trust. Change is so fast and furious that work and learning blur into one activity. Workers respond to novel situations as best they see fit, governed by the organization's values and their own gut feelings.

Terra Nova is holistic, with significant decision-making power delegated to the workers themselves. "Power to the people" could be its rallying cry.

Thus, the industrial age was top-down, explicit, and focused on efficiency. By contrast, Terra Nova supplements hierarchy with networks. See Figure 1.

Figure 1
Figure 1

One-Way Push to Two-Way Pull

"I love to learn [pull] but I hate being trained [push]." —Winston Churchill.

We're optimistic about Terra Nova. Workers will lead organizations as well as managers and executives. No longer treated as cogs in the machine, people will have the freedom to be all that they can be—and they will have the responsibilities that come with that freedom. Our hive mind will create unparalleled value and fulfillment.

Table 1 shows some more characteristics, inspired by Dan Pink's A Whole New Mind (2006), for describing the transition from one-way push to two-way pull. The lines between them are fuzzy. Old eras never die. They simply fade into the background.

Table 1. Characteristics of Terra Nova
  Industrial Age Information Age Terra Nova
worker manual laborer knowledge worker creative networker
source of value hard assets intellectual capital design and emotional appeal
what works muscle and blood left-brain logic right-brain logic
focus of attention mindless execution innovation
communications media speech text context
exemplars factory labor, robber barons MBAs, lawyers, engineers investors, counselors, entertainers
workflow sequential linear simultaneous

Networks and connections exemplify Terra Nova. Networks crave connections. The denser the connections, the faster the cycle time. Time flies by at blinding speed. There's more progress made in one of your minutes than in one of your father's hours. Futurist Ray Kurzweil, in The Singularity is Near (2006), calculates that the 21st century will contain 20,000 20th-style years!

Isaac Newton gave us a clockwork universe where every action yielded an equal and opposite reaction. René Descartes made the case for pure logic by taking god out of the equation. Their world was predictable, precise, and tidy. We felt in control. Logic ruled.

In Terra Nova, everything is relative. As more and more people and entities interconnect, everything flows. Control is an illusion. Complex adaptive systems create butterfly effects all around. In the industrial age, an exemplary worker might produce 25 percent more than the average worker. Now, a great engineer may create 200 times the value of an ordinary engineer. Black swans abound. The insight of a minute may reverberate for decades.

Complexity, or maybe our appreciation of it, has rendered the world unpredictable. This shifts the timeframe of workplace learning from past (efficiency, yesterday's wisdom) to future (creative response, innovation). Workplace learning is morphing from blocks of training conducted apart from working to a merger of work and learning. Change is continuous, so learning must be continuous, too. We live in a learning continuum. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2
Figure 2

Don't Call it 'Learning'

The accelerating rate of change in business forces everyone in every organization to make a choice: learn while you work or become obsolete. Nonetheless, we never use the word "learning" with a senior executive.

An executive who hears the word learning immediately thinks school. School is not the best way for workers to learn.

In school, students forget most of what they learn before they have the opportunity to use it. Hermann Ebbinghaus, the 19th century German psychologist, showed that memory, if not reinforced, decays at an exponential rate. That's why you are unlikely to remember things long after taking a test, unless you revisit or practice them (see Ebbinghaus' 1885 work Memory, a Contribution to Experimental Psychology).

Furthermore, you don't get to chose what to learn. You often deem what you're studying to be irrelevant. School forces you to learn from an authority, when really, you have much more faith in your peers. School focuses on individuals, but success in real life depends largely on groups. School is walled off from the real world, while experience is still the best teacher.

Terra Nova screams out for a never-ending process of applying learning while working, not apart from it, predicated on:

  1. learning what you need to know, when you need to know it
  2. reinforcing the lesson by applying that knowledge immediately
  3. knowing where to find relevant information in lieu of memorizing it
  4. learning from your peers and on your own rather than from instructors following a set curriculum.

Companies don't want learning—they want things done. Traditional learning (stuffing information into people's heads) is often expensive and unreliable compared to building know-how into the job.

That's why we talk about "working smarter." More than knowing how to get things done, working smarter involves actually doing them.


Most corporate functions have been streamlined, re-engineered, fish-boned, TQM'd, sigma'd, dis-intermediated, and squeezed until there's no slack left to cut. Optimizing the workscape, on the other hand, is virgin territory. (Workscape is the theoretical structure where the learning aspects of work transpire.)

Simple instances of working smarter by sharing information in real time or making professional development self-service can throw millions of dollars to the bottom line. Here are a few examples:

  1. Free wiki becomes the go-to source of corporate information for 20,000 workers, eliminating $20 million a year in duplicate effort.
  2. Twitter-like information sharing saves wind turbine company $3 million to $5 million annually.
  3. Self-service FAQ cuts length of customer calls by 10 percent, improving service while shaving $3 million off payroll for temporary workers.
  4. In-house subscriptions to research findings saves 4,000 systems engineers two hours per week, freeing up 8,000 billable hours, expanding capacity by more than $25 million per year.
  5. A major consumer goods company outsources 50 percent of its R&D to customers, saving on staff and increasing innovation.
  6. A national telecommunications firm uses performance support to reduce the rate of order entry errors from 30 percent to 6 percent (an 80 percent reduction) in 6 months.
  7. 3,000 communities of practice embedded in a major manufacturing company generate more than $75 million in savings.
  8. More than 2,000 employees of Best Buy have provided 20,000 answers to customer queries using Twitter.

Let's examine the first of these examples. Six years ago, a product manager at Intel asked a web enthusiast in IT, "Couldn't we set up sort of an in-house Wikipedia to capture stories about our history?" When the manager called back a few weeks later to say he'd found some money for the project, the fellow in IT told him he'd already set things up. He had downloaded a free copy of Media Wiki (the same open-source wiki that powers Wikipedia) and loaded it into surplus space on a Linux box connected to the internal network. Intelpedia (Intel, Premier IT, Winter 2008) went viral. Two and a half years after launch, workers had posted 25,000 articles and reached 100 million pageviews annually. The site contains a wide variety of content (see Figure 3, for example), such as:

  1. Intel history [where the project started (sample Intelpedia page on the link is from Intel's Josh Bancroft)]
  2. groups, such as "Macs at Intel" and "Intel Sailing Club"
  3. products and technologies
  4. acronyms and code names, which often differ across divisions
  5. workgroup processes.
Figure 3
Figure 3

All Intelpedia articles (not to be confused with Intellipedia, the wiki used by the American intelligence community to share formerly classified information) are written and maintained by Intel workers. They make an average of six edits per page that keep content fresh and accurate. "Intelpedia appears to have become the system of record for much of Intel's documented history," noted an assistant to Intel's CIO. Workers are embracing Intelpedia as the repository for Intel knowledge.

In the United States, knowledge workers typically spend a third of their time looking for information. Imagine the time 10,000 people at Intel must be saving. Plus, the information they find on Intelpedia is always the latest version, for that's all you see on a wiki!


People are motivated to do things because they want to make progress [see Fisher, C. & Amabile, T.M. (2009). "Creativity, improvisation, and organizations." In T. Rickards, M.A. Runco, & S. Moger (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to Creativity. Oxford: Routledge].

As Dan Pink writes in Drive, the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (2010), "It's about satisfying workers' desire for autonomy, which stimulates their 'innate capacity for self direction." Some people want to increase the breadth of their repertoire to gain personal power. The best motivators for mind work are intrinsic. People do things for their own satisfaction, not external rewards. See Table 2.

Carrot-and-stick rewards motivate manual laborers. Carrots are neutral or even disincentives for people who work with their heads. In Terra Nova, external reward initiatives backfire. Withdraw the reward, and the desired behavior may stop. Also, rewards tied to performance have the potential to change play into work.

Table 2. Changing motivators.
Rote Work (Push) Creative Work (Pull)
money accomplishment
prestige pride
extrinsic intrinsic

If you set high expectations of people, they usually live up to them. If your expectations are low, people will live down to them. A person not trusted with the authority to do something can't take responsibility for doing it. "It's not my department." A person trusted to take responsibility cannot help but do so.

As Will Herzberg, "the father of motivation theory," pointed out years ago (in his 1968 piece "One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?" Harvard Business Review), workers are motivated by

  1. achievement
  2. recognition
  3. the work itself
  4. responsibility
  5. promotion
  6. and growth.

This innate desire to do well can be hindered by obstacles that reduce motivation: lack of respect, poor working conditions, perceived unfairness, low pay, lack of job security, and poor relationship with supervisor.

In Terra Nova, successful organizations embrace respect for the individual, flexibility and adaptation, openness and transparency, sharing and collaboration, honesty and authenticity, and real-time responsiveness and immediacy. Workers are motivated by achievement and autonomy. Everybody wins.

What People Need to Know

Terra Nova is awash in information. People produced as much information in 2009 as they had produced in all previous years put together. Things change so rapidly, the details you learned often change before you apply them.

The way to keep from drowning in flows of information is to redefine what people need to know. Essentially, you don't need to know something if you know where to find it and when to apply it. Workers need to develop:

  1. search and 'find' skills for finding the right information when it's needed
  2. critical thinking skills to extract meaning and significance
  3. creative thinking skills to generate new ideas
  4. analytical skills for solving problems and making decisions
  5. networking skills to identify and build relationships with others who are potential sources of knowledge and expertise, within and outside the organization
  6. people skills to build trust and productive relationships that are mutually beneficial for information sharing
  7. reason and argument to extract meaning and significance
  8. the ability to validate data and the underlying assumptions on which information and knowledge is based.

What we used to call "content" is not so important in Terra Nova (see Figure 4). Equipped with core knowledge of the fundamentals and an understanding context, you can find what you need on a network. With the advent of pervasive computing, the complete riches of the internet will be available to all citizens of earth 24/7. Given unlimited information, the issue becomes what you want to know.

Figure 4
Figure 4

Carnegie Mellon's Robert Kelley discovered that whereas in 1986 we carried 75 percent of what we need to know to do our jobs in our heads, by 2006 our brains contained only about 8 to 10percent of what we needed to know. The rest is stored in our "outboard brains"—laptops, the cloud, or, increasingly, smartphones.

Inside a community of practice

Several years ago Jay Cross (lead author of this article) realized that while he championed social learning in books and conferences, he did most of his work in solitary.

Jane Hart and Cross linked arms and were soon joined by Clark Quinn and Harold Jarche (all co-authors of this article). Hart and Cross have known each other for years and think alike. Quinn and Cross had founded the MetaLearning Lab seven years earlier and have met for lunch and beer and worked on things together ever since. The following year, Jarche and Cross had offered online, open-source "unworkshops" that stretched from Tokyo to Tel Aviv. When Charles Jennings retired as CLO at Thomson Reuters, we immediately invited him to join us. Jon Husband, whom we'd met at various KM conferences, is our most recent addition.

We founded a community and named it Internet Time Alliance. We adopted lightweight practices that could help six independent people learn from one another. It took a year before things fell into place. Forming a new community can't be rushed. We had conference calls, but with two of us in the U.K., two in Canada, and two in the U.S., scheduling was a nightmare. We settled into a routine of weekly conversations on Skype, an instant messaging discussion board, and a conferencing system that lets us see one another in real time.

We grew organically, staying flexible by refusing to plan far ahead. We reinforce and supplement one another's findings. We collaborate on projects. Our private conversations often spill into public posts and presentations.

Learning in a community is unlike learning in a classroom. You take snippets of conversation, mix in something you saw on the web, and Google the concepts you're fuzzy on. The lessons that emerge from this stew of soundbites and fragments are richer and more textured than what you'd find in most books. Read on, and we will demonstrate.

The LMS Debate

The 125-year old Olympia exhibition hall in South Kensington, London, plays host to an annual event: Britain's largest ed-tech gathering. The conference takes place on the third floor; the expo is free and fills the second floor. The speakers upstairs talk about the future, social learning, 2.0, and improving the quality of learning. Most of the vendors downstairs use buzzwords without substance to hawk lowest-common-denominator technology. (We don't mean to pick on the Learning Technologies conference. We attend and speak there. It's better that most conferences on learning. Perhaps the high quality of the presentations upstairs sharpened the contrast with the offerings downstairs.)

This discontinuity kicked off extensive debates about the role of the learning management system (LMS) in Terra Nova.

Conversation in the first community, Internet Time Alliance, was conducted over a period of six months. Dialog and debate went from a face-to-face event, to the Blogosphere, through in-house chats, and back to Blogs, comments and Tweets, fanning the flames of what's become known as the Great LMS Debate. It's not over yet. Excerpts are available below, and more can be found on the Internet Time Alliance site.

Discussion at #Lrnchat

Lrnchat (pronounced "learn chat") is an informal community of learning professionals who meet every Thursday on Twitter. Participation is open to anyone. (For a complete explanation of Lrnchat and a discussion of its value, see "Lrnchat: An Introduction to Twitter's Weekly Learning Chat".)

It's phenomenal how much you can learn from a rapid scan of 140-character opinions. One person said she learned more about instructional design in 90 minutes on #lrnchat than in the last semester of her master's degree program.

"LMS — Lessons Learned" was the topic on May 6, 2010 (a full transcript is available on Here are some representative excerpts. This is social learning in action.

lrnchat: What are lessons learned about LMSs?

magdaZINE: Rolling your own is expensive!

JaneBozarth: Colleagues learned of hidden costs, like upgrades that cost as much as the product.

ADDIE ID: We learned that "learning" can't be measured

Quinnovator: LMSs are 'enablers' for thinking that all learning is formal, and ignoring the rest of the performance suite

billcush: Lessons from LMS implementation. Know what you really want. Start simple. Don't over customize. Get core functionality right.

marciamarcia: could have made a career of cleaning up LMS messes, here tonight to listen. Ppl prevail.

jsuzcampos: Lessons learned about the LMS. Maybe we don't need one after all?

ThomasStone: Identify what your true needs are for LMS, and then find one that will fulfill those at reasonable cost and time to implement.

britz: LMS DO NOT manage learning ... they manage content, courses, etc

dwilkinsnh: Lessons learned on LMS — most orgs don't use even half of what leading LMS's are capable of


cammybean: So maybe the leading LMS's should be slimming down?

dwilkinsnh: alternately, orgs should consider scaling up… ; )

tigerlily300: most seems to encourage the mindset of box checking. Went to course. Check. Passed assessment.

lrnchat: What would you tell your boss about the LMS implementation?

dwilkinsnh: I think anyone who thinks LMS is only about formal needs to take a new look at the market. Srsly.

hjarche: How much of LMS is about actually doing work?

hjarche: The LMS is modern equiv to the institutional school—it's all about control of the masses

lrnchat: What do you see as the future of the LMS?

ThomasStone: Convergence w/social media, w/more LMS adding it than social tools adding tracking

gminks: I would like to say easier integration with other enterprise tools

Quinnovator: the future of the LMS it a tool on the workbench, part of the performance ecosystem

TriciaRansom: easier for users, easier integration for IT (sso transparent), truly linked w/performance, not courses

petersonandrew: the future of LMS is Google + Facebook + a dash of YouTube

nickjhowe: need better link to full talent lifecycle. Not many companies doing this today, even though software can do it.

rmazar: The future of the LMS = no LMS; web spaces constructed by instructors built out of a bunch of tools all glued together.

These are examples of social learning in action. Note that they are engaging, active, and fun. Expect to see more of this in the future.

Terra Nova is a New Ball Game

Developing talent and extracting results in Terra Nova starts with unlearning obsolete but embedded beliefs.

Smart companies prosper. Clueless companies die. Brains make the difference.

Organizations that continuously exercise and improve their collective brainpower come out on top.

Until recently, most of the collaboration and development that fuels the growth of individual and group braininess was haphazard. We hope to bring this activity into the sunlight and suggest tips on benefitting from social learning, informal learning, instructional design 2.0, mobility, judgment skills, and more in the near future.

Working Strategically

Many learning and development (L&D) managers devote a lot of time to thinking about how they can make their departments more effective and provide real value to the organization. The question is usually "What can I do to ensure that the CEO or director views L&D as a strategic business tool and not another also-ran support function." See Figure 5.

Figure 5
Figure 5

Every L&D department has the opportunity step up and add real strategic business value rather than continue to act as a support function and an also-ran. There's a great opportunity for L&D to become a meaningful, relevant and indispensable part of the organization in many more instances than currently exist.

How do you think the world of learning will look in 2015? Comments are welcomed and encouraged below.


  • Wed, 29 Sep 2010
    Post by Leah MacVie

    There are so many things to reflect on in here. First, I think we can look to our own dying cities to see that this is true. My city, Buffalo, is a great example. Agricultural Age: manual labor by individual farmers (8,000 BCE1760) Industrial Age: machine-assisted manual labor in factories (17601949 Information Age: white-collar knowledge work in offices (19492012 Terra Nova: creative collaborative innovation in networks (2012 ) the buffalo area was agricultural through the 1800s, then it morphed into an industrial town, we are presently in the dying information age, and it will be the, what you have coined as, Terra Nova that will help put humpty dumpty back together again, hopefully.

    You cited Pink's 'Drive', but in 'A whole New Mind' he best refers to the Right Brain taking the lead. We can only hope that the future leaders will have an incredible balance between the Right and Left brain. We can't ever forget that they need each other.

    Lastly-I wanted to comment on the evolution of the LMS. We've been having this conversation around the office lately, and I've come to the conclusion that the major players aren't doing enough to adapt to what we need them to be able to do- they aren't adapting for the future. LMSs like Blackboard and eCollege will probably fall to underdogs like Haiku, simply for the fact that Haiku is already accounting for more Web 2.0 applications and DESIGN. I also see Google coming out/perfecting their LMS system in years to come.