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Collaboration, boat race

The Worst Nightmare: Rolling out Collaboration Platforms that No One Uses

Boat_race_chundanThinking of rolling out a collaboration platform to the entire organization? Think again.

Do you really need to roll it out to everyone at one go? Do you fear that people may not use it? To reduce your risks, here are some points you could follow:

 1. Do Not Roll it Out to Everyone—Create a Plan

 As we plan the creation of a collaborating organization, it’s important to note that a company-wide implementation of a collaboration platform at one go may lead to chaos. It may intimidate users, or people may question the use of it.

Instead of rolling out the platform to the entire organization, it’s best to identify high energy teams and start on a trial and improvisation basis with them. As and when teams or communities successfully collaborate, the network of people and teams on the platform can be increased. Creative methods can be used to get people interested in the platform.

2. Share Success Stories

​If you roll out to a limited audience, there will be a buzz around your platform. Follow up on how this audience is using the platform. Improve it based on their feedback.

And remember to share the success story with the next group to who the platform will be rolled. The more convincing your success stories, the more people you’ll motivate to participate in your organization’s knowledge network.

3. Strategize, Such that People Engage With the Site in the Long Term

As Daniel Pink says, people have an internal drive to learn and to contribute. What the organization needs to provide them is a purpose and some form of autonomy. To provide autonomy, it’s best to allow the collaboration platform to be an initiative that is run by the employees.

Community leaders play a crucial role in defining the purpose, and often times they need to be trained on guiding and running a community.

4. Involve the Leaders of the Organization

As organizations spread across the world, and interaction amongst culturally diverse teams becomes indispensable, leaders need to positively promote collaboration. They can do this by setting an example and contributing regularly to the knowledge network.

5. Train to Activate the Right Brain

As Daniel Pink points out, a collaboration platform should be the right brain of an organization, promoting the capacity to, “synthesize rather than to analyze; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than to deliver specific answers; and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair.”

It’s crucial to make people see the purpose of the platform and to help them actively understand how collaboration plays a role in their work. This can be done through training.


Image Reference: Image Reference: Challiyan at ml.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

MOOC Dropout

MOOC Dropout Rates

MOOCS are criticized for high dropout rates. Are dropout rates a barrier to learning? Should we be worried about low completion rates? We think it's incorrect to use dropout rates to gauge the success of MOOCs. We should NOT be worried about completion rates. Here’s why:


The Medium is the Message

If we take a deep, realistic look at the medium, we won’t consider dropout rates for assessing the success of MOOCs. As Marshal McLuhan tells us—"Technology shapes our behaviour." We step into the online medium (which is like an ocean with no beginning and no end) and we’re automatically drawn to what’s interesting. Our purpose is not to read the Internet or its resources like a book from beginning to end.

“People don't actually read newspapers. They step into them every morning like a hot bath.”  - Marshal McLuhan 
It doesn’t matter from where you enter the hot water bath or from where you exit it.

Internet Audience

We all know the 1% rule:

Isn’t that how it goes for almost everything on the Internet? We can again look at Marshal McLuhan’s thoughts on media and how it determines behaviour. 

Many MOOCs ask questions to study dropout rates. Ideally, if people go out of any MOOC knowing even a wee bit more than they came in with, the MOOC has served its purpose (even if they go out with the realization that this topic isn’t for them).

Different Strokes for Different Folks 

Many students don’t have access to great education across the world. If a student enters a MOOC with the purpose of learning those three principles of physics that s/he had problem understanding, a MOOC is helping the student. S/he need not “complete” the MOOC.

Physical world and the online world are two different spaces that evoke different behaviour and have different benefits. While completing a course book may be top priority for many students, no one bothers to read every single blogpost that even their most well-liked professor may have written. The metrics to measure success in the two media should be different.

The illusion that we ought to control learning leads us to misguided metrics like completion rates. When we let go control, this particular metric becomes meaningless.

What different success criteria can be used to study the success of online courseware? Read here.

How open is open education? Read here


References: Image 1: By Michael Kellen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Pie Chart: By Life of Riley (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons





Meditation at the Workplace

300024933_9aedf3f9b1_zIt would be incorrect if we looked at meditation as a means to increasing productivity. Because that’s what meditation is NOT. It’s the exact opposite of doing. It’s a state of not doing, and not seeking. And ironically, meditation may yet be a way to increase your employees’ productivity, to reduce their stress levels, and to prepare them to take on the world.

What is Meditation?

There’s no right answer to that question. It’s perhaps a state of absolute harmony through the end of conflict or the end of duality. Many people attempt to answer that question, and the most beautiful description, in my knowledge, has been given by J. Krishnamurthy:

In this 57 minute video, Krishnamurthy very cogently describes the meaning of meditation, and says that there’s no prescribed “technique” to achieving a meditative state.

After listening to this lecture, it seems incorrect to suggest that we should “use” meditation to “achieve” any results. That in itself is the beauty of meditation at the workplace. Empowering employees with the skill of meditation could mean coming together without a purpose. The by-product of which is—an understanding of ourselves, and observation of all situations that we’re in, as they exist in the present. 

Here’s how meditation can be introduced at the workplace:

Meditation in Training Sessions

People get drawn to things they perceive as beneficial. Unfortunately, urgent and important work almost always seems more beneficial to people than soft-skills training. And trainers wish for a magic wand that could grab their audience’s attention and could get them involved in a training session.

We discovered through a series of training sessions conducted for over 6000 employees of a client that meditation can be that magic wand. It brought people in the present moment, and held them there for a good amount of time. Not just that, it also brought in “commitment” and “seriousness” for the rest of the session. Of course the session too needs to live up to the audience’s expectations to keep them involved. 

Meditation as an Employee Engagement Tool

In our experience, those who attended workshops that started with a meditation, wanted to take up meditation as a daily habit. They formed meditation groups within office and started attending these regularly. 
Meditation is a life skill that helps people cope with the stresses of daily life. While other forms of entertainment (like watching television, playing games online) tire people out, meditation rejuvenates them. Even if you do it regularly, meditation disrupts routine, since each day is a new journey to your inner self.
Many big corporates like Google, Apple, Cisco offer meditation classes to employees. The trend is growing and even psychiatrists are prescribing meditation as a means to control several psychosomatic diseases and to manage stress. 

Methods of Meditation and Resources

“The World Health Organization estimates that stress causes American organizations approximately $ 300 bn a year.” Is higher productivity really a by-product of meditation? In this video, Arianna Huffington, Matthieu Ricard (a Buddhist monk), and other practitioners discuss how meditation can cause a change in the mind of leaders and make them more effective.

If you’re convinced you wish to begin meditation practice in your organization or wish to add to your leaders’ life skills, help is just around the corner. Several organizations, including Design Storm, offer meditation practice services to get employees engaged in meditation.
Remember there’s no right way to meditate, and individuals can explore texts and develop their own way. So, get your yoga mats out and start off a meditation group at office. All you need is a music system, speakers and some good music / guided meditation CD.
If you wish us to help your employees get started, you can contact us at: We will answer basic questions on meditation and provide support in getting started. 


Image of Meditating Man:




The Expert

As learning experts, we can surely relate with this video. We often find ourselves caught up in situations where:

  1. The customer knows what they want.
  2. They know it all wrong.
  3. You’re pressurized internally by your organization to simply execute what the customer wants.
  4. And you better get it right.

What is the way out? How can we generate awesome learning experiences, and keep our customers happy? 

Five ways to handle these situations:


I Begin at Home

Lead up and educate your teams. Customers may not always be right, and the sales people / project managers need to be educated about what is wrong with the customer’s demand. Experts rarely communicate with this end of the spectrum.


II Educate the Customer

Each time you find yourself cribbing about a customer’s understanding, ask yourself these questions—

  1. Did I make an effort to educate the customer? 
  2. Did I simplify things enough? 
  3. Did I show them the implications of what they’re asking to be delivered?


III Say No

If your answers to the questions above are “Yes”, refuse to do the project. Saying a “No” means you’re honest. Explain why you’re refusing. It may not win you the goodwill of your customer in the short-term, but in the long-term they’ll know you were right.


IV Position Yourself Well

Most great experts don’t pay enough attention to how they position themselves. You’re not here to take orders, but to understand a problem and to arrive at solutions. Take a hint from the way doctors have positioned themselves. 


V Involve and Collaborate with Customers

Learning is not an exact science, and designs will evolve as you ask more and more questions, and collaborate with your clients. The more you involve them, the more they’ll understand your point of view.


We’re all guilty of being the ill-informed, confused customer. We’re this way to interior designers, architects, lawyers, accountants and to almost everyone we deal with. So, while you educate, resist, question, push back—be nice to your customers. Nothing works better than that. 

Google University Consortium

Google’s Treasure Trove for Educators – Part II

In an earlier post we shared some exciting tools and apps from Google for educators:  In this part II of the same post we’re back with some more jewels. These Google tools transport us in space and time. They connect us with people from across the world, and give us a first-hand experience in global collaboration. Read on to explore.

VII Google Cultural Institute:
Take a trip through museums from across the world, and become a curator of your own gallery. This is a rich resource that covers art, history, and culture under one space.

Google Cultural Institute

You can visit these online museums anytime, as many times as you like. Your students can even create their own galleries, and that is how they may end up knowing more than they would from a physical visit to a museum. However, would these reduce the excitement of visiting a physical museum? Doubt it. In fact, the experience is almost better than a book (apologies book lovers), and lesser than an actual visit.

VIII Google Tour Builder:

Your students can become explorers, navigators or army generals making strategic decisions. Get them to tell stories using the Google Tour Builder, and they’ll connect with history, geography or culture, like never before.

Come up with your own creative uses. For example, take up a journalistic assignment of documenting changes in your local area since the new government took over. Or allow employees to explore your organization’s growth story using this tool. The possibilities are endless. 

“Teaching history is about teaching stories.” Watch how this teacher uses Google Tour Builder to bring stories to life.

IX Google Historical Voyages and Events:

Much along the lines of the resources listed above, this Google Certified teacher is trying to get schools from across the world to create voyages of the great travellers to explore your culture and history.

X  Google Skymap:

“I can find in my undergraduate classes, bright students who do not know that the stars rise and set at night, or even that the Sun is a star.”—Carl Sagan

Source: [CC-BY-SA-3.0-usvia Wikimedia Commons

Enlighten your students with this open source mobile app, which is Google’s “window on the sky”. To have some fun learning, you could organize a star gazing party around this app.

XI Developers University Consortium:

Google University Consortium

And here is another hidden treasure: Free online courses on Android Mobile App Development, Interactive Web Development, and Programming.

Use technology to facilitate wonders, and share your stories below. We're all eager to learn. 

Google scholar

Google’s Treasure Trove for Educators

Google has a treasure trove of tools for educators and learners. We've listed out some exciting ones that are being used extensively for online education. Let's take a look: 

I Google Scholar:

This handy tool goes searching specifically for scholarly articles for your research, classroom activity, or personal interest.

More Information Here are some excellent tips to optimize your search:


Click the image above to enlarge.


II Google Helpouts:

“Real help from real people in real time.” This is the most amazing, recently launched, Google space for educators and learners. In this space everyone can be a teacher. And anyone can be a learner. People collaborate in real time to learn new things. 

Those who want to teach a subject can do so online. Share the per session rate you’d like to charge, or give out knowledge for free. Learners have a plethora of subjects and teachers to choose from. They can see the top rated teachers, take a course, and provide feedback. It would be interesting to follow how this space is used.


Click the image above to go to the site.


III Google Sites:

Google Sites are an easy way to set up a collaboration space for groups. These sites are easy to set up, and intuitive to use. They also have an exciting range of templates to cater to your specific needs.

You can use Google Sites for:

  • Classrooms / Online Learning Events: Learners can use them as editable “wikis” to collaborate and create a repository of knowledge that groups can utilize even after a course is over. Incorporating a wiki in your learning solutions can help people learn forever, and Google Sites is a cool tool to help you do just that. 
  • Projects: Project teams can easily use Google Sites to share documents, create visibility of progress, share a calendar, get project updates, and to collaborate on the project.

A sample project site made using Google Sites 


Click the image above to go to the site.

More Information: You can get very creative with Google Sites. Here are some links to begin:


IV Google Apps for Education:


Click the image above to go to the site.

These include the common range of products by Google:

  • Gmail
  • Calendar
  • Drive
  • Docs
  • Sheets
  • Slides
  • Sites
  • Vault

While these products are available to a personal Google account holder, using them via apps has some differences. With Google apps for education you can: 

  • Create a school/organizational domain, and learners will be able to access the tools via the school/organizational domain only. So these apps are a part of one umbrella, available only to the members of your domain. 
  • Have administrators who create the accounts for your school / organization. Individual students or teachers cannot create their own account. This helps you keep this space personal and private. 
  • Give a clear message to people to differentiate between a personal account (for sharing anything they like) and a school / professional account. 

More Information
Some free courses from Educators on how to find your way around Google products for education:


V Google Forms:

Google forms can be used to send invites, to ask quizzes and to take surveys. This touching video elaborates how a teacher broke barriers in the physical space by using Google forms to connect with her students. The possibilities are truly endless: 


VI Google In Education:
This resource provides all that Google is doing to help teachers grow and connect better with their students. There are stories, programs, and resources for teachers, trainers, and administrators. They also have an exciting set of programs for students.

So that's the list from us. Which Google tools have you found most useful for education? How have you used them to facilitate learning in your organization or school?

View Part II of this post here:

Timeline of MOOCs

Historical Timeline of Virtual Learning Environments

At every stage of human history, societies have built elaborate mechanisms and institutions to guard knowledge. Learning has always been available only to a certain few who have had the means and access to these institutions. Technology, however, has been a great leveler. By altering the process of production and distribution, technology has made knowledge more available and accessible. Beginning with the invention of the printing press all the way up to Google books and the open courseware movement, technology has freed learning and knowledge.

Here is a timeline that traces the key events in the development and adoption of technology in learning. It also places the evolution of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) in a historical perspective.

(Please click the image below to enlarge.)


Image References


Analogy, Flight

“Active Use of Analogy” in the Manager’s Toolkit

Analogy, Flight

“I hit the television and it started working. Let me hit the toaster. That might work too.”

“We set up an online store for our range of jewelry, and it started selling well. Can we do the same for apparel?”

Analogies play a bigger role in our thought process than we give them credit for. Anytime we’re faced with unprecedented situations we look for solutions by running to an unrelated experience we’ve had in the past. We may do this overtly, but most of the times it’s a hidden process. We don’t actively know the fact that we’re drawing analogies with a past situation.
Well, many masters say that being actively aware of our thought process can help us harness the power of analogy, and it can also help us avoid the traps that poor analogies may lead us into.

So, what is an analogy?

According to Douglas Hoftstadter, an analogy is – “Perception of common essence between two things.” Hofstadter goes on to say that analogies happen inside our head. It is the connections we make between two mental representations that we project on the outside world.

We compare the essence of one situation/person/place to another, and that is how analogies help us connect the dots to make meaning of our world. 

How can it help decision makers and creative thinkers at work?

Analogies for Creative Thinking

Analogies have the power to facilitate creative thought. You take one concept and project it to another, and so forth. This helps us think more fluidly, which in turn leads to newer ways of looking at things.

In this video, Douglas Hofstadter (the author of Gödel, Escher, Bach) describes what analogies are, and how they can facilitate creative thought:

(The introductions are lengthy. You can watch the video from 13 minutes onward.)

Example of a creative analogy: The author of this post uses Sesame Street to draw lessons for breakthrough blogging.

Analogies for Reasoning and Strategic Thinking

Although Hofstadter doesn’t really associate “reasoning” with analogies, many management gurus propose that analogies do play a big role in the way decision makers and strategists operate. When we are faced with incomplete information, and unpredictable situations we make use of examples that we feel are similar to the problem at hand.

For example, in the learning design space, companies often follow the analogy of IT companies for project management and development models.

At Design Storm, we sometimes use the analogy of an advertising campaign to receive the brief of a problem – convert the brief to a design idea – start the creative process – promote the creative output to generate a pull with the learners.

Sometimes we also use the analogy of marketers to measure the success of our courses. Our blog-post brought out one such analogy in comparing Amazon’s marketing success criteria to online learning:

When faced with more complex situations, such as a company trying to expand into newer markets, or setting up a facility at a new location, people often look for analogous situations that will help them prepare. This Harvard Business Review article brings out several examples of how strategists have leveraged analogies in the past to solve novel problems:

While analogies are a great tool, they can also be extremely misleading. A, now hilarious, example is our first attempts to fly. We used the analogies of birds to learn to fly, and it failed us miserably:

Why did these people fail so miserably? Although they drew an analogy, they never paid attention to a lot of details. 

How can we avoid the pitfalls of an erroneous analogy?

We can use analogies more fruitfully by:

  1. Becoming aware of our thought process, and recognizing the fact that we’re using analogies to resolve a particular issue. That would be half the battle won. 
  2. Analyzing the source of the analogy deeply, and understanding the key reasons behind why things worked in a particular situation.
  3. Analyzing the differences from the source of analogy. This should help us know whether the situation we are handling is fundamentally the same, or radically different from the analogy we’re drawing. (This is what the winged flyers of the past missed.)
  4. Not following the analogy blindly. Using other methods like deductive reasoning to arrive at conclusions. 

Design Storm runs an intensive one day program designed specifically to help senior management learn to use analogies for good decision making. For more information about the program, please contact us.


Classroom Games: From Chaos to Meaning

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. – Plato

Games liven up a space, and they bring out the best and the worst in us. While playing, we design, connive, think creatively, fight on, give up and unabashedly show our emotions on the field.

Games have the power to help us learn about ourselves. All it requires is a little meta-cognitive thinking triggered by some Socratic questioning by a facilitator. 

As a game designer, I’ve had the great fortune to keenly observe the process of learning through games. This helped me arrive at a progression pattern that most of our classroom games follow. Take a look:

1. Chaos and Understanding of Game Mechanics

Learners concentrate on understanding the mechanics of the game, they ask a lot of questions, and are in a state of chaos. This is the exploratory phase, where things may not be in complete order. Usually people begin to make sense of the game at this stage. 

In a well-design game this phase lasts a short time. 

2. Intense Play

By this stage learners have understood the game and are immersed in it. They team up to device strategies, brainstorm, or just simply jump into the game to try and explore. A lot of discoveries about the topics under study happen in this phase. Learners may draw upon past experiences and knowledge. Relationships among players and opponents emerge, and emotions begin to run high. The classroom’s decibel levels are very high at this stage.

This phase is full of discoveries, formation of new knowledge, drawing up on past knowledge, formation of relationships, and learning through connections. This is the stage that players will usually reflect back to once the game is over.  

3. Concentration on the End Goal, and Competition

During this phase, the end goal takes over and learners concentrate on winning. This is a phase of heightened activity, where learners are in action, executing their strategies and thoughts. Competition among groups/individuals usually peaks at this stage. 

Teams practically apply the topics under study and they may need to rethink concepts, strategies, and previously held beliefs. Facilitators may intervene to help losing teams to understand their situation very well. 

4. Realizations

This is the last phase where winners emerge, and almost all teams have an “aha” moment of discovery, either by having played the winning game or by observing other teams. 

This is where they start to look back at what they did during the game. Talk about what they did right or where they went wrong starts to emerge.  People may try and buy more time to correct some actions. 

5. Reflection

Good learning design usually helps facilitators to grab this opportunity to help learners reflect on what they actually did, and what they could have done. We usually make all our games reflection heavy, because this is where the learning becomes relevant and obvious to learners. 

A lot of meta-cognitive thinking helps learners reflect back on their thoughts, behaviors, strategies, misconceptions. This phase is debate and thought heavy. Learners have several “aha” moments at this stage too and realization dawns on them about their own and their team’s actions. This is where a large part of the learning takes place.

6. Formation of Far and Wide Connections

This is an extension of the reflection phase where facilitators help learners connect their learning to real life situations, their job, and the tasks they perform. 

Extension to real life and formation of connections with other things helps learners imbibe the concepts taught and take the learning with them forever. 


Performance Assessment: A Self-Check

Every time I assess performance of my team members, I do some meta-cognitive thinking. And the stuff that I find out about myself is always startling. Sometimes I find myself controlling the urge to shield a favorite high performer. Other times I'm outright political. I even catch myself getting swayed by popular opinion. And what's worse, often I don't even have enough evidence or observed data points about a person to qualify to give feedback. For those, who like me feel the brunt of being human, here are some fun ways to control that devil inside:

1. Peep into Your Own Mind—Avoid Bias

Ask yourself‚ "Am I biased?" If the little voice in you says, "No," give it an Implicit Association Test (IAT):

I came across this test in Malcolm Gladwell's book, "Blink," and it was an eye-opener. Most of us are biased, and as this site explains, we may not even be aware of it. Just becoming alert towards our biases may help us avoid them while assessing performance.

2. Probe the 12 Angry Men—Go by Evidence, Not Perception

Many times we get so carried away by our perceptions that we don't look for enough evidence of performance or the lack of it. We're too quick to jump to conclusions. The film‚ "12 Angry Men‚" is an intense watch that sensitizes the mind to look for facts. At some level, it even reminds me of an appraisal discussion where we take decisions that affect people's careers. The film (1 hour 52 minutes) tells us to state facts and to provide evidence for every definitive statement we make about a person's performance.

3. Be Like a Sleuth—Observe Carefully

Sherlock Holmes, Chapter 2, "The Science of Deduction" is a witty account of how Mr. Holmes stumps Dr. Watson with his capability to observe and to deduce:

While we don't need to be super sleuths, we do need to observe to be able to gather appropriate facts.

4. Avoid Political Appraisals—Support Good Performers

Give people their due. Avoid political appraisal of people's performance. In this candid address (7 minutes), Carl Icahn brings out the common culture and politics that surround promotions in our organizations. He gives a funny analogy of anti-darwinian organizations that promote talent that is weaker and weaker.



5. Monkey Say, Monkey Do—Don't Follow Popular Belief

Think for yourself. Don't get swayed by what others say about a person. We may not realize it, but we are not immune to peer pressure or popular opinion. Here is an interesting experiment (2 minutes) that tells us that we aren't infallible: 

We must double check for such effects on our feedback and assessment ratings. While these resrouces opened my mind towards performance assessment, you can also use them in workshops to help executives become better performance and talent assessors. So have fun assessing people, and keep that devil in check.