Working and Learning Together

I found a recent HBR article on The Big Shift by Hagel & Brown via Betrand Duperrin, who provides his own comments in French (and in English). The key point of the HBR article is that Return on Assets have diminished over the past several decades, in spite of increases in productivity. The authors say that many organizations no longer reflect the realities of the external environment which now includes networks of transparency and multiple knowledge flows.

Twentieth-century institutions built and protected knowledge stocks—proprietary resources that no one else could access. The more the business environment changes, however, the faster the value of what you know at any point in time diminishes. In this world, success hinges on the ability to participate in a growing array of knowledge flows in order to rapidly refresh your knowledge stocks. For instance, when an organization tries to improve cycle times in a manufacturing process, it finds far more value in problem solving shaped by the diverse experiences, perspectives, and learning of a tightly knit team (shared through knowledge flows) than in a training manual (knowledge stocks) alone.

How does an organization adapt to become more transparent? Change the organizational framework from a hierarchy to a wirearchy, incorporating two-way flows of power and authority. According to Jay Cross & Jon Husband:

Intangibles travel via networks, and networks are the infrastructure for doing business in the future. An overarching caveat here: Strategist and practitioner Stuart Henshall said trust is critical. “It’s the one qualitative factor all networks depend upon.”

Without trust, human networks don’t work and without networks, businesses won’t succeed.

Even with an understanding of knowledge flows and networks, organizations are slow to discard training as the primary method of personnel development.  Charles Jennings sees a very limited role for formal training. “The evidence has been around for a long time that formal training on detailed task and process-based activities in advance of the need to carry out the task or use the process is essentially useless.

The alternatives to formal training programs include the integration of collaborative working and learning using online social networks, and Jane Hart is an expert with many of these platforms, have used and tested a wide variety of them.

So that, in my opinion, is how to address the big shift: to be effective in a networked economy, individuals and organizations must integrate working and learning so that there is no longer a distinction between the two. As Jay Cross & Clark Quinn say, “In business, networks supplement, surround and challenge hierarchies. Sound vision and leadership will inspire, not control, workers. Managers, workers, customers and partners will recognise we’re all in this together.”


8 Responses to “Working and Learning Together”

  1. John Truty

    I have been in the business environment for close to 30 years. I spent my time in a family owned multinational that at one time was heavily invested in the notion of welfare capitalism and where the associates truly believed that “Managers, workers, customers and partners will recognise we’re all in this together”. In todays world that seems less and less true. When one looks at the increase in productivity (BLS data) and plot this against the real wage growth of labor, one sees that what used to be a mutualistic exchange has become consistently one sided. Not withstanding the rhetoric of the employ engagement/empowerment is there truly a big shift or is there a well crafted PR/propaganda campaign going on.

    My larger question, framed within the above context. is do you really think that organizations can create (maintain and continually improve the efficiency of) these learning networks – even if hierarchy, power (of course within limits) and authority are more equitably distributed – given all other social contract changes? Or is this notion far less universal and reserved for only certain types of workers?

    A notion of connectivist learning theory (pressed into service within the organization) and employee engagement (the engaged employee willing gives discretionary effort that they might not otherwise have done) intrigues me… there seems to be a link here… like the useful creation of a common sense, Are these process normative or transformative? My sense is as I read a series of blogs on the topic I get the sense that the authors are expounding a new transformed world, I fear it may be a creative re-invention of Taylor, Mayo and others – normative.

    • Harold Jarche

      Thanks for your comment, John. I don’t think that standard hierarchical organizations can easily develop learning networks, but I see hope in working models of democratic organizations that are highlighted by WorldBlu or other non-standard examples such as WL Gore and Semco SA. For now, this is notion reserved, in practice, for more knowledge-intensive and creative industries but I’m hopeful that we could see structural change in all sectors. The industrial model took a long time to become widely distributed, so I think we’ll see uneven adoption of networked organizational models over the next decades. More organizations will have to face the fact that they are dealing with networked customers, suppliers and partners and will have to adapt.

  2. Virginia Yonkers

    I think there needs to be a greater understanding of the various stakeholders within and OUTSIDE an organization and their motivations. Organizations look internally, often using top down management styles in an attempt to keep the information within the confines of the organization.

    However, my research is finding that there are “cross-border” training motivated by customer needs and wants, professional standards, external reference groups (including political, religious, and cultural groups), shareholders, and internally, the group, department, organization, and even individual. What I am trying to tease out is which knowledge and learning is accessed in which situation and who determines what knowledge is relevant when. I’m seeing some powers. But I think many organizations wrongfully ignore the power of the external influences. These are then the influences that social media/networks drive.

  3. Virginia Yonkers

    Oops, Freudian slip…I’m seeing patterns (perhaps where the power lies?), not powers.


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