We need more sandboxes

Earlier this week I wrote that practices like personal knowledge mastery (PKM), and its potential for enhanced serendipity can give us the underlying structure to become better hackers and be more creative. Behaviour change comes through small, but consistent, changes in practice. So how do you move from responsibility, to creativity, and potentially to innovation? Play, explore and converse. But first you need to build a space to practice. PKM can be your cognitive sandbox.

But what can be done at the organizational level to promote playing, exploring and conversing?

Informal learning environments tolerate failure better than schools. Perhaps many teachers have too little time to allow students to form and pursue their own questions and too much ground to cover in the curriculum and for standardized tests. But people must acquire this skill somewhere. Our society depends on them being able to make critical decisions, about their own medical treatment, say, or what we must do about global energy needs and demands. For that, we have a robust informal learning system that eschews grades, takes all comers, and is available even on holidays and weekends. – Scientific American

Organizations should think about building sandboxes as well. These could be shared resources, like the museums used by schools in the article, or even virtual spaces. The greatest challenge, if organizations did create learning sandboxes, would be resisting the urge to control them. Perhaps the best way to develop a “robust informal learning system” that eschews control would be through joint efforts, public and private. We have museums for the public, mostly aimed at basic levels of learning and often focused on children. Is there a new role for museums to develop spaces aimed at working adults? Can these be aligned with market needs? Instead of boring courses for the unemployed, how about access to a maker space instead? Again, it would mean giving up control.

Last year I witnessed a company close operations. A very good benefits package was provided as well as access to “re-training”. This was provided by an HR services company. Courses were available on how to write a resume or how to search for a job. I heard from attendees that these courses were interesting but not that useful. I suggested that something like PKM might be useful. However, the company would not provide anything beyond what the HR service provider offered. The company had met its legal commitments and it was time to turn the page.

sand playInstead, some employees set up their own sandbox. It was just a blog, connected to LinkedIn and other social media. People shared stories and passed on opportunities to others. Now this filled a gap, but it was temporary and the network was not that strong. Imagine if this sandbox had been in existence prior to the closure and was already a learning community of practice? What if community managers were already plugged in to other networks? Would this not be better for employees, the company, and especially society? Let’s build some sandboxes.

One Response to “We need more sandboxes”

  1. Bree

    I am all for more sandboxes – what a great post. I have to say though, the Scientific American quote saddens me. I work in K-12 education and it’s as if they’re saying traditional education is a lost cause, so let’s work on cultivating critical thinking elsewhere. I don’t disagree with the sentiment that K-12 education is doing many things wrong, but my hope is that we can make it better and that all the good learning won’t have to happen outside/after/beyond school. One day!
    My school is launching an Innovation Department next year. I hope it will be the start of an organizational sandbox, both for the people within the department and for anyone else who wants to come in and play. I’m looking forward to following your future posts for inspiration!


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