Friday, 18 May 2007

What's the Buzz about Organizational Learning? 2

Sounds a bit stodgy doesn't it? Organization and Learning, YAWN zzzzzzzzzzzzzz, yet think about it, many of us spend a significant part of lives and invest signifcant parts of our identity into organizations. Simliarly learning is as natural to us breathing. Because these two things are very close to us we can fall into the habit of 'taking them for granted' by which I mean we don't stop and think about them for too long unless there is a problem. Not thinking about things leaves us prone to gullibility.

So, if sombody bugs us at work, we begin thinking about hierarchies and job priorities, or if sales go down we start thinking about lack of information, ignored memos, or the arrogance of the boss. More abstractly we think about 'learning' (not the stuff in school or college - you know, topics like intergalactic basket weaving, or arc welding for nursing mothers) I mean we think about how people get information about their world, how they make sense of it, what plans they make based on their 'sense-making' and how they act. (You'll find a writer called David A. Kolb has neatly explained this in a thing spookily called - Kolb's Learning Cycle - wouldn't surprise me if you can find out about on wikipeadia too lol)

Are you 'I'm interested in personal gullibility' folks still with me on this?

As they say, s@** happens, or as academics prefer to say 'we exist in high turbulence environments characterised by discontinuities, partial unpredictability, and suprises' Now imagine this, you just discovered that a cowboy builder has ripped you off and you ring him to discuss the 'discontinuity' you experienced between his quote and the standard of the job he did, or you've just found out that your partner is 'playing away from home' so you have a sober discussion about the 'partial unpredicatbility' of their behaviour. 'Partial' because you guessed something was up when they started buying new scent, and coming home late from the office)Aahh so you aren't as gullible as you thought.

The interesting point here though is that if you live alot of the time in fairly stable environments, then you set yourself up to expect things to remain the same in future. Philosphers of Science call this 'inductive naivite'. In gambling its called the Gambler's Fallacy

, and its where people take past experience as evidence of future possibility. You know the sort of thinking..But you've always done that...Its always happened that way before...

Management thinker Igor Ansoff described 5 states of turbulence in the worlds we live (he is not refering to the weather here but our poltical, social, economic, technological, legal, environmental settings) ranging from 'static' - like the coal mining industry (although this is arguable) to 'chaotic' like the computer games industry. People who move from one environemnt state to another take with them the 'management methods' that worked for them in one to another and then come unstuck. Long range planning tools don't work in fast moving environments like the 'blogoshpere', command and control management styles don't either. Conversely free wheeling , lets sit on bean bags and cover our PC's with gonks and photos is interpreted as 'cavalier' frivolous and undisciplined in mass market production environments (or am I wrong?) Well you sure wouldn't see it in the Supreme Court or the Old Bailey - M'lud.

In order to explain how some organizations succeed and others struggle in their environments the 'subject' of organizational learning has evolved to explore what was happening, and behind this lies some metaphors like organizations as Brains, or Organisms. The idea being that information about the world is collected and something is done with it so that the organisim (organization or individual - I haven't forgotten about you folks !) can adapt and change. P.S. Have you seen the CIOD link on the Blogroll?

Interesting writers on this stuff are Peter Senge (also involved in the Integral field), Gareth Morgan,
Chris Argyris,Ed Schein

GM comes up with the fascinating idea of 'Psychic Prisons' which are the world views/ expectations we have that we can be locked into. In order to do things differently we need to be able to 'see' things differently. So my suggestion as a good place to start to avoid being gullible would be to get out of your Psychic Prison.

For a summary of key themes and issues see:

Organizational Learning and Competitive Advantage

Check out the following Resourceful Humans sites for more interesting & useful info

Reflections Coaching

Mcarthurs Rant

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