A New Organizational Learning Goal: the Accrual of Awareness
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This is a post originally by Rawn Shah, following our Google+ Hangout with him.
I talked to Toby Daniels, co-founder of Social Media Week, the global multi-city conference, on the subject of cross-functional collaboration and how this is impacting the future of how people learn. Companies have found that regardless of institutional learning, new employees have to keep learning when they join. While the background they may get at a University is vital, what they need next is the contextual specifics that they encounter in the company. I do not mean ‘will encounter’ which implies predicting what they will be, but how they handle themselves as they ‘are encountering’ these contexts — a very different frame of mind.
In essence, we know that employees have to learn even more once they are out of school, but what they need, the context, can be so highly variable and specific that companies have to try something other than formal training programs to enable employees to learn during the job. This is a follow up to my recent articles on How to Move Away from the Industrial Age Company Model and Why Social Business can lead to Reinventing the Company Model, on how and why not only are the tasks and processes of various organization functions changing, but the organization may see an overall transformation as these responsibilities are distributed across the organization.
We are undergoing a second shift. Centuries ago, the goal was the accrual of experience under apprenticeship to eventually build an oeuvre, a body of work, which became your calling card. It was based on long mentorship, and then finding patronage. Later, as population grew, training people in this fashion became impractical and the masters began codifying their knowledge to make it easy for more people to learn. The goal then became the accrual of knowledge and to achieve certification in the knowledge rather than strictly a body of work. It became much easier as learning through physical proximity (the university) became a reality.
With the Internet age, there is a scaling of even more people to teach, as well as the ability to reach even more people through virtual proximity. But as we moved in that first shift from a focus on the demonstration of techniques to the formalization of techniques, we have to ask what shape the new activity will take.
Both demonstration and formalization is still necessary so we know what to do, how and why. The growing challenge as the number of contexts increase is how to take the ‘what’ and the ‘how’, and reinterpret the techniques we know quickly in near real-time to the many situations we face in the flow of our work.
The shift now is not simply the accrual of knowledge or the gathering of a stock of knowledge — a goal that John Hagel, John Seely-Brown and Lang Davison have eloquently described in their work The Power of Pull as an increasingly depreciating asset. Instead, it becomes one of interpreting and applying that knowledge in the flow of how it happens. I describe this new goal as the accrual of awareness.
Can you develop yourself so you are more aware of what is occurring around you? For each event do you understand the context behind it? What has worked in other similar situations for you directly? Do you know how to arrive at what action to take next? Do you know who should be involved in that action or to whom it should be redirected? Are you aware of which of the concurrent events you should pay attention to at the moment? Can you suspend the activity and move onto a different item (context-swapping) should the need arise? These are new learning skills to develop that may impact but are not dependent upon the tools you may use.
From an organizational perspective, per the video, the shift away from accruing knowledge impacts how the training function in your organization needs to work. Rather than preparing the content and delivering it directly, it becomes a matter of:
- Tracking and determining if there is a balanced level of coverage of that space;
- Supporting or improving the distribution of the knowledge through systems of people;
- Motivating content creation by the employee base;
- Ascertaining what topics are being discussed in the flow, when and how;
- Determining how many and who is aware of the topics based on their discussions.
It becomes less about measuring specific education and classes, and more about enabling the system to flow freely.
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