Social learning is how work gets done in the network era. But what does that really mean?
Our dominant frameworks for structuring work are currently hierarchical structures, like corporations and bureaucracies. But these structures are failing us, as the world gets so networked that traditional command & control structures cannot deal with the rapid change and increasing complexity. As Umair Haque asked last year, “Name a ‘working’ institution. Just one. Better yet, define a ‘working’ institution. See the problem? ”
Because of powerful software and cheap worldwide communications, routine work is getting automated and outsourced. Routine means work that can be standardized, and that applies to any work that can have a ‘job description’. Here are some examples:
If routine and standardized jobs are relics of the past, what can we do now to ensure that we have meaningful work?
The answer lies in our networks. Knowledge networks are like the paradox of life; the more you give, the more you get. If you don’t engage, you get nothing.
“We learned that individual expertise did not distinguish people as high performers. What distinguished high performers were larger and more diversified personal networks.” —Rob Cross, et al
In knowledge networks, openness enables transparency, which fosters a diversity of ideas. Diversity is essential for innovation, and innovation drives business success.
“We need input from people with a diversity of viewpoints to help generate innovative new ideas. If our circle of connections grow too small, or if everyone in it starts thinking the same way, we’ll stop generating new ideas.” —Tim Kastelle
Social learning is how work gets done in the Internet age. As John Kelldon observed, “In a network, one of the few things that scales really well is social learning.” It’s the secret sauce for organizational success today, increasing return on engagement for both employees and customers.
On March 1st, I will start my last workshop of our series at the Social Learning Centre, on Social Learning in Business. It is based on my work over the past few years, with both large organizations and free agents around the world. The focus will be on understanding networks and how social learning is the lubricant that helps intangible capital flow. In a world where intangibles drive the economy, we need practical ways to work in this fuzzy space.
Jay Deragon says that, “Work is a by-product of intangible capital that creates tangible results beyond expectations.” Intangible capital, unlike tangible capital, cannot be stored, moved, or transferred. It needs the constant involvement of people and their complex relationships. Supporting social learning is essential for organizations today. Understanding social learning is critical for managers. Practising social learning is important for all of us.