About the Learning Economy

We are now on the lip of the third, fully networked, industrial revolution.* This is an age in which no company yet has ever traded, and, essentially, businesses that don’t find purposeful methods of learning in driving their transformations to adapt to its new, digital ways of competing will fail.

And, as each business contains collectively, more intelligence, understanding, insight and experience than it ever puts to use, each must learn to collaborate to apply more effectively the value bound up in those intellects on which their organisation is built.

To this point, that knowledge has been impossible to capture, but things have changed, and the mechanism to address many of the unfolding age’s challenges is now already with us, obvious, and staring us in the face.

Post-Facebook, it exists in the pervasive, connected social internet literacy now accessible in every mind in every workplace. No one now has to be trained to use social technologies in order to contribute to workplace intelligence what they know, believe and have experienced.

In parallel with this universal footprint, we also have in a great number of businesses the best private social technologies ever invented for capturing, developing and disseminating knowledge across any organisation, community or network.

Adding those users’ familiarity with these technologies to the impetus of businesses to get competitively smarter gives managers across a workplace access to an entirely new resource, capability and opportunity.

By enquiring of and reaching into every mind across their business, they can now gain access to unprecedented depths of hitherto unknown, unreachable and, hence, underused, but now wholly connected intelligence.

That knowledge and insight can now be applied to identifying and finding new ideas to address the problems and challenges in whichever business or society managers work.

And, whatever other choices it makes in its organisational development activities, each must find a way to organise and make accessible its knowledge as a vehicle for learning and growth, as, in short, every company needs a plan to get smarter, quicker, relative to its competitors.

Amid pervasive internet social literacy, every business’s knowledge is its own potential internal Wikipedia puzzle waiting to be arranged and solved, as the better and more accessibly they bring order to its content, the more quickly they can advance their transformations to the detriment of their rivals.

The network multiplies the competitive potential for organisational learning

Network-driven “organisational learning” is an unstoppable force that will change the world, if only because when a commercial organisation’s knowledge is not joined up, but it is seen to be in others, companies quickly leak money and value for their shareholders.

This is why this mix of technology and technique is so threatening to those businesses which have no agenda, understanding or strategy for how to use it for this purpose.

In this context, organisational learning also bears little relation to training, which typically focuses on building accepted skills of known, identifiable individuals in familiar, understood roles, with a recognised application that can be validated through experience.

By contrast, true learning for the emerging, wholly digital economy is a undertaking altogether more existentially exacting and unrelenting as it requires an entity constantly to identify and imagine what it must become and do next to survive in a context in which no company or its managers yet has any experience.

And hence emerges the challenge to the investors in every business and, ultimately, to the national interest.

The question is, is Australia ready?

Australia’s businesses need to prepare for a future for which many currently listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) appear simply not yet to be prepared. We base that assertion on our growing research and analysis of their current declarations to the market in their most recent annual shareholder reports.

From those documents, whether they intend it or not, can be inferred those companies’ “declared learning profiles”.

Currently, even more alarmingly for ASX investors, our research is heavily skewed towards those listed organisations representing Australia’s finance and investment industry ― those businesses which, especially in the current overhang of the findings of the Royal Commission  into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, should be boasting precisely of leading, not lagging, the learning of others.

Their learning profiles are nothing to be impressed by.

For investors, the coming era demands better organisational intellectual hygiene

The Learning Economy may sound like a benign and productive, progressive place of great promise for all those that participate in it, but little could be further from that illusion.

Instead, as we make the transition into a new and wholly unfamiliar digitised global economy, the constant, discontinuous and disruptive potentials it augurs will have no patience for businesses geared best to compete using only today’s workplace practices, rather than those of tomorrow.

Put simply, to compete globally, Australia’s companies must adapt, at minimum, in step with, and ideally, ahead of, the trend towards broad-based, networked, distributed collaborative working.

Facing the new economy, and the far smarter, better adjusted competitors that will be its natives, whether or not to participate in it by undergoing learning-propelled digital transformation isn’t something about which there is a choice for any business wanting a future.

For investors, knowing what a company’s minds are capable of in its preparation for this “third industrial revolution” is simple organisational intellectual hygiene.

Those not prepared to wait a generation for the market to flush itself out should now be reading carefully for learning-propelled undertakings and preparations most of today’s ASX incumbents’ annual reports don’t even mention.

In most businesses’ work patterns, the notion of collaborative organisational learning may also not yet even be familiar. This suggests the need for a new mindset and a new pattern for seeking out, organising and building existing workplace knowledge.

What is the organisational mindset needed for the Learning Economy?

Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, refers to people who view talent as a quality they either possess or lack as having a “fixed mindset.” People with a “growth mindset,” in contrast, she writes, enjoy challenges, strive to learn, and consistently see potential to develop new skills.

Dweck’s research suggests that when it comes to being successful, some companies appear also to believe their people have a certain finite amount of talent, and that they really can’t do much to change it, indicating they have a predominantly fixed mindset.

The opposite, found in companies that believe their talent can rise to the new challenges of competing in a world of complete and learning-driven digitisation, suggests those businesses possess a growth mindset.

Whatever its nature, the prevailing organisational mindset will influence workers’ satisfaction and their perceptions of their organisation’s culture. Further, the nature of that mindset is likely to determine the organisation’s levels and quality of collaboration, innovation, and ethical behavior, and how it affects supervisors’ views of employees.

Dweck says, “In broad strokes, we learned that in each company, there was a real consensus about the mindset [and] a whole constellation of characteristics went with each mindset.”

Employees at companies with a fixed mindset, she found, often said that just a small handful of “star” workers were highly valued. They worried about failing and so pursued fewer innovative projects, and in them employees were less committed than employees at growth-mindset companies. Fixed-mindset businesses regularly kept secrets, cut corners, and cheated to try to get ahead.

However, when the growth-mindset organisation’s practices become common currency as the driver of desirable learning-driven agility, responsiveness and intellectual workplace change, proven, effective broad-based collaboration of the kind now needed for survival that propels repeated learning and discovery will change forever the competitive dynamic of the digitising marketplace.

It will also transform the competencies of the companies competing in it into which shareholders plough their investments.  

As businesses simply can’t survive in this emerging environment without engaging and transforming all of the intelligence to which they have access, their capacity to learn as teams will most likely be the only thing that can keep them out of trouble. Or at least, for those willing to try, it will offer their best bet.

Whatever their strategy, better, deliberate and, most likely, collaborative experimentation and organisational learning appears to offer the only possible path to survival in what lies ahead.

Graham Lauren
graham@thelearningeconomy.com

* Jeremy Rivkin, The Third Industrial Revolution; How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

There is more here.