“In a crisis, you should always deploy an innovation team alongside the business recovery teams … to capture the novel practices … put naive observers in alongside the incident team to capture the key learning points” —Dave Snowden
Are you responsible for learning in your organization? What are you doing during this pandemic as your organization reacts and changes its practices? First of all, stop thinking that your work will be remote but business as usual.
“Stop work on that coronavirus eLearning module you started last week. It is already out of date. Focus on curation and access.” —Lori Niles-Hofman
Curation of learning resources and improving access to people and resources are definitely things that the learning and development department can and should do. They are what you should have been doing before this crisis hit (image above). But there is something even more important to do.
We have to learn as we deal with this crisis. If we wait until later to do some after-action reports about the crisis, we will have forgotten what it was like at the beginning. As the operation staff deal with issues, learning departments can become the naive observers, recording what is happening from an unfiltered perspective.
“People recall the things that happened through the lens of retrospective coherence, to fit with what they thought actually happened and the organisation’s rules. The longer you leave it, the more likely you are to get a ‘blurred’ or biased version of events.” —Chris Bolton
In complexity we should make small continuous probes, make sense as we do them, and develop emergent practices as we work. In chaos we have to take action, any action, try to sense where there is some stability, and develop novel practices (in order to deal with a novel virus).
Taking note of what is happening every day will inform institutional memory in the future, when we may have to deal with another global crisis. For example, climate change may be slowed down a bit this year but it is still a slow-moving ‘black swan’ event we will collectively face. We need to map new stories so that we can act in a more informed way in the future.
The role of learning departments in this chaotic and complex crisis should be — observation > narration > curation. Start by listening, then put observations together, and later curate these for sharing across the organization. Let’s make our own stories from what we see now. We also need to become story skeptics so that some future master storyteller (e.g. the post-truth machine) does not lead us astray.