In the thinking of the industrial era, the idea that organisations, rather than individuals, could learn together would seem novel.
As we enter the fully blown, networked digital age, it is still a mystery to many people, with even some who are exceptionally digitally smart continuing to confuse organisational learning with workplace training.
Although it is no accident that most organisations learn poorly, because it is not yet in their design to do so, organisational learning is not training.
And those who say whole organisations can’t learn will certainly be interrupted by others doing it, because organisations learning constantly to use the available tools to get smarter is simply an entry requirement for sustained success in the digital economy.
The critical difference between learning and training is that training typically focuses on building accepted skills of known, identifiable individuals in known, identifiable roles, with a recognised application, and then using a validated approach to deliver those skills to the business.
Thus, training is principally about making individuals better at something with which they and their organisations are already familiar.
And certainly, there is always scope for all organisations to lift their games in what they already know how to do.
But as knowledge that is visible and that can be passed on in this way tends to be explicit, teachable, independent and detachable, it is also easy for competitors to imitate.
It is those things that organisations don’t yet know how to do that are more challenging in the face of dramatic digital change.
And as it is likely based on some form of recognised, best practice, it offers competitive parity, but not differentiation.
It is those things that organisations don’t yet know how to do that are more challenging in the face of dramatic digital change. And it is their mastery that offers sustainable competitive advantage.
Thanks to the digitisation of manufacturing, machines networked and digitally connected with each other create and share information that results in new and revolutionary power.
Smart machines getting smarter as they get access to more data make factories more efficient and productive and less wasteful.
Yet, just as important is that, in step, companies invest not just in new machinery to make production more efficient, but also in the flow of know-how that will sustain their business.
Organisations therefore need to get better at knowledge generation, appropriation and exploitation.
Thus, we must employ appropriate systems to ensure that the knowledge and potential for learning they offer also doesn’t result in waste.
Learning involves converting ignorance and a lack of capacity into knowledge, new skills and understanding.
It requires recognising what you do not know and finding new approaches to solve new problems.
To address change, it requires critical thinking and a willingness to challenge accepted practices, even those practices which may be perceived as successful.
It focuses an organisation’s mental resources on constantly refreshing the set of problems to be solved and solutions to be delivered faster than the ecosystem can render their relevance obsolete.
Organisational learning thus describes a new future for knowledge and skills acquisition and development by identifying and building new capabilities.
Certainly, those who demonstrate clear method to organise, motivate and steer the generation of new ideas and new revenues through productive collaboration that everyone understands will find themselves a long way ahead of rivals that haven’t yet figured this out.
To begin with, such collaboration can use as its basis the intellectual effort of drawing out from those across a workplace a better, 360-degree awareness and understanding of the present state of their operation.
That may sound easy, but in many it is neither obvious, nor visible.
But, however it is implemented, in all, it is a necessary catalyst for future change and growth.
As external change accelerates and the age of competitive machine learning encroaches, it is learning, not training, that will provide the necessary differentiation to save your business.
And if you are an investor, while the competence delivered by training is good to know of, it is that business’s learning that will defend and convert your investment into something worth holding and preserving.