It’s time to think more profitably about organisational learning

In an emerging, fully connected, digital economy in which no company yet has ever traded, businesses face new risks from the incursions of those intent on finding new ways to transform their industries. 

This is an age in which disruptive, apparently come-from-nowhere digital competitors such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, Uber and Airbnb are just the beginning.

Against this, every business leader should be rightfully fearful, as businesses that don’t find purposeful methods of learning to drive their transformations for this fourth, fully connected, industrial revolution’s digital ways of competing will fail.

Particular attention must be paid to evolving business models that are appropriately defensive and in keeping with the times.

Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen writes in The Hard Truth About Business Model Innovation, “A PwC survey published in 2015 revealed that 54% of CEOs worldwide were concerned about new competitors entering their market, and an equal percentage said they had either begun to compete in nontraditional markets themselves or considered doing so.’ 

“For its part, the Boston Consulting Group reports that in a 2014 survey of 1,500 senior executives, 94% stated that their companies had attempted some degree of business model innovation.”

Christensen asserts that business model innovation – at whatever stage of business model maturity it occurs – is too important to be left to random chance and guesswork. He adds that executed correctly, it has the ability to make companies resilient in the face of change and to create growth unbounded by the limits of existing businesses. 

Clearly, the sheer volume of new challenges to incumbent businesses is intensifying.

Against this, and against others that are doing likewise, if they are effectively to address an uncertain future, every management team needs to think differently about how it learns to manage the diverse pool of intelligence that really drives its business. 

And those who demonstrate clear method to organise, motivate and steer the generation of new ideas and new revenues through productive collaboration that everyone understands, and in which each workplace member can participate fully, will certainly find themselves a long way ahead of rivals that haven’t yet figured this out.

In the following pages, we articulate a dependable path to controlling a naturally emerging management force available in similar measure to every employer in every industry.

The great, connected workplace learning resource

The job to be done is to unleash the power of workplace collaboration to apply it to continuous learning and improvement across a business.

Previously it was hard, if not impossible, to capture and transform into usable information and action the knowledge and insights of those across an organisation.

The origins of the universal workplace capability I now describe as “mass internet social literacy” lie in social media, but whether or not the minds working in your organisation actually use Facebook, or not, is unimportant.

What matters now is that every employee in every business already knows how to use social media to write online, upload and share material and to make comments about those items uploaded by others.

So, as our familiarity with using the social internet grows, we are presented with an unprecedented opportunity to make the best use of intelligence across the web-age business.

Indeed, by joining the dots to assemble the collective intelligence made possible by the connected, socially internet literate workplace mind, we can cultivate the most powerful management force for business transformation we have ever seen.

When those minds’ workplace communication is in writing, its content can be picked up easily by the mirroring, private, Facebook-like technologies now available within every business. 

And once articulated, organised and interrogated, workplace knowledge, insight and learning that was once out of reach is no longer beyond our grasp.

We can repeatedly ask better questions about how to improve our business.

Collective understanding and anticipation of change can be guided and sensitised to this effect with much greater precision.

Access to perspectives and intelligence that was previously both unreachable and unknown can be unlocked and its intuitions directed and transformed into better management decisions and constantly improving, more responsive workplace practices.

Further, management now has within reach an abundant and persistently renewable intellectual resource, the exploration of whose creativity may be limited only in its imagination by what leaders and managers ask of it.

It is a bridge to smarter AI, as the qualitative data it liberates constantly enables us to ask, what can we do better and differently?

And when working together in productive, thought-out and well-designed collaboration, we can find better ways of doing pretty much anything.

Yet, although knowledge capture and sharing of this sort has never previously been possible, simple social online literacy alone isn’t enough. 

People won’t use information that is not organised or that they can’t understand and if either of these statements is true, they either won’t contribute to it or will do so without enthusiasm or commitment to its quality.

So, if it is to deliver its optimal power and value for sense-making and repeated, reliable reference and learning, it must be managed and transformed simply and reliably into a resource capable of delivering the desired outcomes for management.

Precise collaboration delivers accurate, controlled learning strategy

Every worthwhile organisational learning strategy will be driven by precise collaboration that offers a clear record of what has been achieved and directs what must come next, against declared learning objectives.

Just as it has an outward communication plan, within five years, every Australian company will find it advantageous to be able to develop an internal communications regime explicitly addressing and evolving its learning strategy.

The following pressures will combine to drive every company to develop one:

  • Armed with a learning strategy, a business can deliver more consistent, continuous and reliable digital transformation.
  • The presence of internet social literacy as a ubiquitous force driving new competition between all companies in every market will force every company to differentiate its own business on the strengths of the ways in which its intelligence can be directed and what it can learn.
  • The repeated arrivals of unanticipated, disruptive digital competitors will force new competitive vigilance on all industry incumbents.
  • Every business will experience the need to impose order to get fast engagement and optimal control when developing its workforce’s competitive collective intellect and creative capacities.
  • They will need to be able to attract the best and most ambitious people, eager to learn and to go to work in a place to which they can contribute, and that can deliver it.  
  • The need to earn attention and favour by acting being seen to compete as better environmental stewards in a world battling with finite resources and the clear and ever-present danger of environmental degradation and climate change.
  • The need to understand and increasingly to identify, articulate and automate those processes that can best deliver value-adding competitive advantage.
  • The need of investors to understand they are not putting money into a company that isn’t going to get smarter in its competition against rivals.
  • That banks, lenders and insurers will demonstrate a distinct pricing-based preference for working with companies offering the risk assurance provided by the presence of a learning strategy.

Because it can’t be left to chance, precise collaboration is the means by which a learning strategy will be articulated and driven and delivered reliably and consistently to engage and guide every mind in every workplace.

How I will make collaborative intelligence work dependably for your business

Developing mastery in growing its collective mental agility and capacities for knowledge capture, sense-making and transformation represents the competitive lifeblood of your future business.

The need to make the most comprehensive sense possible from what your people know, can express and learn, and the knowledge they can develop, is absolute.

To keep the forces of the workplace aligned, organised collaboration must consistently tell participants the story of where the organisation is going, what it is learning, and what its collaboration does, and why.

It must drive change in capability by directing, organising and articulating back to the business itself the growing knowledge-creating capacities of its workplace.

This is work no machine can do.

But it makes the ability to communicate simply in writing that everyone can understand and work with one of the most important skills any organisation must develop. 

As an editor for your workplace’s knowledge, I will treat this as a professional publishing exercise, and, my method is exactly as that through which over centuries we have all learnt pretty much everything we know.

One inevitability is that across your organisation, while their intelligence, their ideas and suggestions may be good, the quality of its team members’ writing abilities will be uneven.

For a start, not everyone has the same gift, comfort with or care for written expression. Many people write poorly, don’t like doing it, or record information in ways that may be imprecise and unsuited to use by others.

In seeking workplace insights, it is not an editor’s job to know the answers, but to work with managers to make explicit what a business needs to know, and how it is going to get it.

This being the case, we can identify the challenges ahead, and I will review and work with each of the individuals in your team to ensure their contributions make sense and can be used.

Moreover, as even the best writers’ original writing contains errors they can’t see, editors must often enforce sense, typically rewriting and using simple, precise language to bring focus, remove verbosity, unhelpful jargon and ambiguity.

When an enquiry is launched into a specific subject, I will organise and transform the inputs received into a preliminary summary report, against which further questions can be raised and comment sought.

By drilling down on these subsequent comments, and working with your nominated executive to ensure management’s objectives are met, I will then edit and present a “final” report, amplifying important findings and detailing recommendations and possible courses of action.

If such active knowledge capture and learning is then to become a continuing practice within your business, we will define the ways in which it might be constructed as a capability-building platform that is consistent and reliable.

This will work in much the same way as media does, exploring, transforming, polishing and presenting workplace knowledge in a consistent, comprehensible cycle of assumption-checking “double-loop” learning. (Double-loop learning entails the modification of goals or decision-making rules in the light of experience.)

And in this, we will specify a process that ensures the repeated production of plain English content that everyone can learn from, search successfully and build on will be as seamless, invisible and painless as possible for all to use and participate in.

I explain such a model that uses a Wikipedia-like structure to achieve this, here – https://bit.ly/2x5bBok

The value proposition of an intellectually coordinated workplace

Using precise collaboration, an effective strategy for managing its collective knowledge will ensure a business, at minimum:

  • Makes the most of the intelligence it contains.
  • Gets every mind in the business focused on the future more competitively than can be accomplished by rivals.
  • Defines better shared goals, determined by cultivating the narrative of what it is learning and the new knowledge it is creating from that learning.
  • Is sensitive and agile because it understands better the details of the constantly shifting competitive environment in which it trades.
  • Makes a strength of adapting to whatever the future throws at it by bringing order to the chaos of what it knows, can detect and can learn.
  • Is able to define and build better practices and processes.
  • Strengthens its workplace cultures.
  • Is more nimble in anticipating and seizing marketing opportunities otherwise lost to others.
  • Attracts and retains the most self-motivated learning staff.
  • Is better able to conceive, design, iterate and test new business models.
  • Makes finding ways to stimulate workplace creativity a purpose across all dimensions of its activity.
  • Increases its base of ideas to give it a greater range of strategic choices.
  • Captures more ideas and opportunities to transform into innovation and NPD.
  • Wins opportunities for favourable publicity and media attention.
  • Builds reputational advantage for advances on sustainability.
  • Improves integration across divisions post merger and acquisition activity.
  • Builds superior ways of anticipating the future.
  • Feeds to leaders, investors and owners key information on which they can make better decisions.
  • Drives superior, objective-led learning across its value-creation and value-delivery processes.
  • Becomes infinitely better at managing its enterprise risk, knowing its best defence is always found in a mix of perspectives, awareness, experience, knowledge and communication.
  • Is better prepared and equipped to gather expertise and call on knowledge to report for purposes of compliance.
  • Is more greatly valued by first-time investors and shareholders, attracted by its mission and strategy to learn and improve.

Create capability-amplifying capital from emergent change

When then Harvard Business School professor Andrew McAfee wrote in 2006 on the potential of “Enterprise 2.0,” his key insight was that the traditional barriers to innovation within organisations result when people with ideas are hindered by distance or hierarchy, or simply by not knowing who is whom, who is qualified, interested or accomplished in what, or even that each other exists.

Yet through the use of workplace social technologies, he proposed, an organisation could open up and enable those within to identify and reach each other and thereby capitalise on the specialised sum of personal knowledge of those within the business, wherever it could be found. 

And they could be effective in capturing precisely the emergent organisational learning that results from change.

These days, there is much talk about machine learning and artificial intelligence but still relatively little about getting more from the human intelligence that comprises the educated, connected and internet-enabled workforce within any modern business.

In the learning economy, there remains much unknown about how to expose and put to work the extraordinary combinations of unrecognised “off balance sheet” intelligence that lies at the heart of any organisation.

In most organisations, however, despite the presence of highly networked, internet socially literate individuals and the best tools ever invented for the purpose, the opportunity remains largely uncoordinated and unrealised.

Yet, there is also almost certainly a serious advantage to be gained and money to be made by distinguishing the intellectual power of your business to run the quickest thinking and fastest learning enterprise among its particular group of competitors.

Precise collaboration, however, corrects this by presenting the opportunity to discover more about the intellectual capacity that really drives any company, such that its practices may be understood, its mental power focused and its learning streamlined and accelerated.

Make it your purpose, through precise collaboration, to demonstrate clear method to organise, motivate and steer the generation of new ideas and new revenues through productive collaboration that everyone understands, and in which each workplace member can participate fully.

Thanks

When writing for professional purposes, every writer needs a second reader, and I extend my great thanks for reading and commenting on preceding drafts of this document to my friend, Ken Dovey, whose input has proved invaluable. So, having said that, I now have to own any howlers readers may find here, and if you do, I’d be really grateful if you’d be kind enough to let me know if and where you come across them. Thanks.

About the author

My understanding of what I have written above is based on my own insight, related professional experience and study, and I can guide you in how to use private social technologies to turn what your people and your customers know into better products and processes.

Professionally, I used the same private workplace social tool to make sense of and turn into workable documentation the contributions of a diverse range of workplace contributors when working on a deep digital transformation project in the 200-strong software development team of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia at its Sydney headquarters. (Reference happily supplied.)

At the CBA, I used each day proven, local, Atlassian technology, in a proven commercial application, in the country’s biggest bank. What I have written can and will be done and it is not an abstract fantasy.

By background, I am a former sub-editor (an editorial sense-making and quality control role) on the pages of the Australian Financial Review newspaper group at Fairfax Media in Sydney.

I also have a first, business degree, majoring in marketing, and an MBA (Technology) from the University of New South Wales in Sydney. The forward-looking focus of that latter qualification is on creating and managing the organisations of the future, both driving and in response to changes in technology.

Through it, my experience, and my skills and subsequent study, I discovered a fascination for documenting and transforming knowledge to drive social organisational and community learning, for its many applications, using the best technologies ever invented for the purpose.