Currently I am in Pakhuis De Zwijger, Amsterdam at the Startup Weekend. This is an intense 54 hour event which focuses on building a web, software or mobile application which could form the basis of a credible business over the course of a weekend. Entrepreneurship is a trade you learn in practice and this is where Startup Weekend provides an inspiring learning experience. Within the first 24 hours our team made great progress and developed our startup: Askbox. Askbox is an App for peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. Our aim is to connect questions from Askbox users around the world to a crowd of leading experts. They give users instant advice using rich media content (text, images, audio, video). So far it has been interesting to see how a team of back-end & front-end developers, designers and marketeers can work together to create something great. More updates to come of how the entrepreneurial Askbox team will progress. Follow us on twitter via @getaskbox.
Ever since the introduction of the term Learning Organization back in the 1990s the concept has been the ‘holy grail’ for many organizations. In some business plans I reviewed recently, the organizations producing them had an explicit aim of becoming a learning organization. As it has turned out that the concept of the learning organization is rather abstract and difficult to implement, I was struck by this ambition and directly responded with some questions to articulate this ambition:
1. Why do these organizations want to become a learning organization?
2. How can these organizations become learning organizations?
3. What kind of learning do these organizations aim at?
Many management concepts are hyped by consultants and/or scientists, which in return, earn good money by implementing them. But, the learning organization is beyond that point. The importance of knowledge and learning is a given for almost all organizations. Therefore all organizations need to find opportunities to produce, distribute and commercialize knowledge. Learning is a critical process in contemporary organizations. As research has shown this process is multilevel when considered from the learning organization perspective (e.g. 4I model by Crossan et al.). Most critical learning takes place at individual and team level. Some of this learning is institutionalized at organizational level and is embedded into systems, procedures and practices. On individual and team level learning is also important for competency development, as it helps individuals and teams to grow and improve their performance. When looking at organizations, the answer to the why question depends largely on their strategy or the business drivers that are appealing to them. Strategy and business drivers are for instance aimed at security (compliance), improvement (exploitation), innovation (exploration) or HR policies (talent management).
How does a learning organization learn? Of course 80% or more occurs in the informal or non-formal space. But, interventions are needed to secure that the learning is effectively captured and embedded in the organization. As many scholars suggest the right mix of formal and non-formal learning should be found in order to reach effectiveness of learning in organizations. Also the connections between individual, group and organizational level learning should be optimized. This ensures the proper institutionalization of learning in the organization. Developing the right mix of learning interventions, either formal or non-formal, is the aim for true learning organizations. This is quite a job and requires a learning climate that balances organizational characteristics in leadership, culture, structure and systems. Also it requires maturity in learning & development offerings that are aligned with the broader HR and talent management practices in an organization.
What the learning organization wants to learn is a question that is overlooked in literature on the learning organization. In the why question some directions where given, but when you look at organization strategies some assumptions about the required learning for successful execution can be made. Typical strategic options are presented in the work on Value Disciplines of Treacy and Wiersema. They distinguish operational excellence, product leadership and customer intimacy as strategic options.
- When you want to play in the ‘operational excellence’ league, you probably want to have smaller learning cycles based upon process improvement. Learning will be focused on operations with a combination of plan-do-check-act learning cycles and a sharp eye for radical operational innovations. Learning will take place at production and supply chain level to a large extent.
- When you want to play the ‘product leadership’ card, learning should be aimed at technological and design innovations that can be embedded in products. This learning is focused on finding new combinations of technologies and design. Probably learning will take place with knowledge and business partners in this case.
- When your aim is ‘customer intimacy’ your learning should be aimed at the market and your clients. Market intelligence, questionnaires and direct learning from customer complaints and needs is a key differentiator.
With these questions in mind, the implementation of the learning organization concept is quite challenging. In my opinion it is a worthwhile ambition for organizations to become learning organizations. Not only for them to stay competitive, but also to provide their members with an inspiring work environment that allows growth and talent development.
An interesting piece about Boeing’s Workplace Innovation Lab in Management Innovation Exchange. Boeing started a 90 day program that connected Gen Y employees to their managers for business innovation. The aim was to accelerate business priorities, leverage personal networks, facilitate conversations, and spread the use of new technologies. The idea of ‘reverse mentoring’ is something that strikes me as an interesting way of bridging not only a generation gap, but also a knowledge gap. This gap is mainly about the new technologies that businesses are facing.
The aim of the Workplace Innovation Labs were:
- Performance improvement through more collaborative working
- More effective ways to transfer expertise across the generations
- More productive use of investment in collaboration tools
- Helping leaders to be people-leaders as well as technical-leaders
Some of the lessons learned:
- that communication tools should be varied according to the importance and urgency of the communication;
- that a less seasoned employee can bring fresh perspective and valuable insight to a long standing business problem;
- that having a manager open to innovative solutions and using young talent in innovative ways can be a powerful retention lever.
What I like about programs like this one is that they contribute to organizational learning and create social capital within the organization. That is why a program like this one should not be limited to a one-shot 90 days, but can work as a continuous tool for workplace innovation.
Again a very nice Animation! Sir Ken Robinson speaking about the need to change our Education Paradigms. Although this is not a new discussion, the way it is represented here is almost Art. The Art is both in the content and in the presentation. And just like with all good Art, the interpretation and idea’s about solutions are left to the audience. The remaining challenge is: “How can we transform the educational system to meet these ideas?”
Very nice book promoting video on ‘Where good ideas come from’ from Steven Johnson. Slow hunch and connectivity seem to have an important role according to the author. Besides a wonderful way of presenting his thoughts, there are quite some good insights that make this 4 minute video a worthwhile watch!