As we do more of our work in networks, workplace learning becomes an interdependent activity. Social and collaborative learning support the development of emergent practices needed for more complex work.
Esko Kilpi looks at different work tasks with the same framework as the above figure: independent, dependent or interdependent.
The Internet-based firm sees work as networked communication. Any node in the network can communicate with any other node on the basis of contextual interdependence and creative participative engagement. Work takes place in a transparent, wide-area, digital environment.
The focus is thus not on independent tasks, or predetermined processes, but on participative, self-organizing responsiveness that creates patterns of continuity and creativity.
Work and learning, as they merge, become increasingly interdependent activities. People haven’t changed over the years but with the Internet we have an opportunity to create work structures that may actually meet our core needs. Dan Pink discusses in Drive how various studies have shown that three basic things motivate people to do work (see video). These are:
- A sense of purpose
This applies to all but the most menial of tasks. We need to be in control, work at bettering ourselves and do this with the sense of some greater mission. We are social beings. As independent self-employed workers we were limited for centuries in developing our skills without support, adequate tools or feedback from others. We needed to study from masters and become part of a community of practice. Even with guilds and unions, there was limited access and individuals lacked autonomy. This same lack of autonomy and sense of purpose was magnified in the factory and is still evident in the modern workplace. Today, up to 84% of workers want to leave their jobs, in spite of the current economic climate.
It is only by working (and learning) interdependently, retaining our autonomy, co-developing our mastery and feeling a shared sense of purpose that we will be truly motivated. The opportunity the Internet has given individuals is the chance to work cooperatively toward a shared purpose (Seb Paquet calls this “ridiculously easy group-forming). The Internet also affords organizations the opportunity to loosen the dependence of workers through participative engagement (as The Cluetrain Manifesto explained a decade ago). The new organization must be some mix of free-agent autonomy, support mechanisms for mastery, and a wide enough span for each person to develop a personal sense of purpose.
Perhaps there is a new middle ground between lone wolves and corporate sheep: