In a previous article I had explored the notions of personal development and learning at work. A process by which the individual’s personal knowledge (tacit) can be transformed into organisational knowledge (explicit) that is able to bring value to the company as a whole. A continuous learning cycle whereby individuals are able to internalise new insights to expand their own tacit knowledge base.
This video highlights the shift in thinking about childhood learning,which I feel is also vital for adult learning. With todays communications technologies,continuous learning is within easy reach of all adults. Organisations can benefit greatly if a learning culture is encouraged. And in the words of Nonaka;
“…because tacit knowledge includes mental models and beliefs in addition to know-how,moving from the tacit to the explicit is really a process of articulating ones vision of the world –what it is and what it ought to be.When employees invent new knowledge,they are also reinventing themselves,the company and even the world.”
This talk by Boyd Varty about the concept of ‘ubuntu’is simply uplifting and reinforces my pantheistic beliefs. A sense of peace,belonging,and wonder in the midst of nature. Ubuntu means ‘I am because of you’. A concept which recognises the interconnectedness of all that we do. Whether in personal relationships,in business transactions or corporate change initiatives,I am because of you. The very foundations of empathy.
In an article I had put together almost a decade ago,I said:Current literature suggests that there is nothing to be gained from resisting change or going into denial mode…Just as the butterfly is not an improved caterpillar but a different creature,so too should companies reinvent themselves with the idea that they need to metamorphosise.
At that time digital business was the driver of revolution. Today it’s social business.
Brian Solis ( @briansolis) today talks of Digital Darwinism where consumer behavior,society and technology evolve faster than a businesses ability to adapt. He points to the social economy giving rise to a new consumer revolution. So after a decade of revolutionary digital change,today we have social media revolutionising how people connect,learn and communicate,the effects of which cannot be undone.
In summary:Companies continue to be in the midst of continuous and abrupt change. A ‘Corporate Spring’is in the making and it needs revolutionaries.
When I left Sydney for Istanbul in my mid-twenties,the people I met in that age group were so much more sophisticated in their musical tastes than that I encountered growing up in Sydney. I was soon introduced to jazz in all its forms. Every year there would be the Istanbul Jazz Festival where you would get the masters of jazz performing.
It was during this phase of my life that I fell in love with the music of Miles Davis. Although I missed his Istanbul tour as I was working in London at the time,I did manage to see him perform in London from the first row at the Southbank Centre. He died not long after.
I have always been one to just let things happen and go with the flow when it comes to exploring new lands and holiday destinations. When I packed my backpack one time in Istanbul during a 10 day public holiday and got on a coach I ended up sipping ouzo and feasting on seafood on the Greek island of Patmos in the Aegean somewhere. I could easily have been heading to the Black Sea coast of Turkey but the next available coach was heading south and that’s where I went.
Fast forward 15 years,a wife and a 13 year old,things are a little different. These days random improvisation is something that happens when we decide to hire a car whilst on our pre-booked holiday which we have spent 6 months preparing for. Some people just like certainty.
We all have maps
My young son likes the fact that he knows exactly what’s going to be there when he arrives. This is understandable for a youngster and mostly we all seek certainty and continuity. The alternative is chaotic and uncomfortable. What if,though,our map is dated and it doesn’t show all these alternative destinations and new roads to discovery? Similarly,if we have entrenched beliefs which conflict with a changing environment,then we risk missing out on something magical and life changing.
I can quote a million quotes and cite umpteen gurus to reinforce this message,but you don’t want to read ad nauseam about some abstract concept. One usually makes sense of things by living through them. Perhaps with time my son will see that allowing emergence into our lives can lead to gratification and a richer life,but he will only do that when he is ready. Similarly,in the workplace,we can’t expect everyone to suddenly change their whole life’s philosophy simply because some consultant is telling to do so.
What if they don’t want to change?
If I force my family to change,I risk alienating them and possibly ending up on a dating site posting touched up photos of myself. I’d probably also take 10 years off my actual age,and not mentioning my crook knee and travel sickness I am prone to all the while claiming to love travel and adventure. No brainer really,I think I’ll continue to accept my son’s structured ways and continue to love him and my wife and try to be a safety beacon so he can navigate without a map sometimes.
But what if my employer was changing and I wanted to continue along my well worn path? If I stay,I am going to risk being alienated and also be uncomfortable in a new corporate environment thats changing before my eyes. So here,I either have to throw out my old map and start exploring the new corporate map,or take myself to another company where they have the same map that I have. This is comfort zone stuff but the magic doesn’t happen in comfort zones –nor does corporate longevity. More on that here…
Play is seen as a radical and creative process involving the human imagination. It is a pleasurable activity producing a sense of freedom and spontaneity. It is for this reason that a focus on play,rather than work,can perhaps help companies strike better balances. I have been using LEGO bricks to facilitate group communication utilisng the LEGO language of metaphor,storymaking and constructionism.
Play With a Purpose
In their study,‘Play in Organizations’,Linder,Roos,and Victor identify four different modes of play by members of organizations;
Here,play is about feeling whole,masking individual differences,renewing communal identity,and detecting patterns of interaction that can provide the basis of later social interactions.
Emotions like love,anger,or fear,motivate and shape the different forms of play the player engages in,as well as the symbolic representations he produces. Therefore,through the capacity to pretend,and shift attention and roles,play is a natural setting for a voluntary or perhaps non-conscious release of internal tensions leading to a therapeutic process.
Play requires learning the necessary rules. So,at the most basic level it is a learning activity. The process of play requires a degree of self control as well as the need to act against immediate self impulse,it requires a voluntary submission to rules,and involves important cognitive efforts. The psychological literature points to progress particularly in the domain of problem solving,but also to the improvement of certain skills like language,symbolic thought,focused attention,flexibility (learning to shift perspectives) and de-centration.
Competing is an important purpose because it permits us to measure our own skills comparatively to those of our opponents,or our co-players. It includes considerations of play and power such as hegemony,conflict,competition,manliness,and contest,where the involvement of the player is for the glory of winning,for the rivalry with competitors,for personal prestige and recognition,to develop “manly”skills,or to impose hegemony.
Unlike children,adults play with a specific intention. Ours is more ‘serious play’. We can get so caught up in our play that it may lead us to change who we are:this is referred to as transformation. This potential for transformation can be in terms of ones relation to the socio cultural world as well as the relation to the individual self.
Play is naturally conducive to flow (optimal experience)because it comprises most of these characteristics:the optimization of challenge,strongly focused attention,having clear and realistic goals,providing clear feedback as to whether one is reaching the goals,having a feeling of control,being so involved in the activity that self consciousness disappears,that worries and frustrations temporarily disappear,that time is transformed during the activity.
This transformation is mostly only transitory –the increased awareness felt in flow ends with the play situation,and the experience gained through the transformation does not last unless a conscious effort is undertaken to reinforce it.
In his essay on ‘The Knowledge Creating Company’,Ikujiro Nonaka puts forward a particular pattern for creating knowledge in organisations. He outlines the process by which the individual’s personal knowledge (tacit) can be transformed into organisational knowledge (explicit) that is able to bring value to the company as a whole. Moreover,this process lends itself to a continuous learning cycle whereby the individuals are able to internalise new insights to expand their own tacit knowledge base. It is a ‘spiral of knowledge’ which is made up of four basic patterns.
From Tacit to Tacit
From Explicit to Explicit
From Tacit to Explicit
From Explicit to Tacit
In a knowledge creating company,all four of these patterns exist in a dynamic interaction,a kind of spiral of knowledge. Nonaka illustrates this with a case study (extract below).
It is argued that the knowledge creating company is as much about ideals as it is about ideas.
This is the crux of the matter. Unless we have passionate people within organisations whose mental models are based on seeing work as an opportunity for personal growth and learning,we are not likely to have much creativity happening. Hitherto,this is where the Japanese have excelled. They have built marketplaces where ideas and ideals have flourished. Dai-Ichi Pharmaceuticals,for example,built physical and virtual spaces dedicated to knowledge exchange. They established “talk-rooms”where researchers are expected to have a cup of tea and spend twenty minutes discussing one another’s work. There is an expectation that discussion among colleagues will benefit them and the company.
Single loop vs Double loop learning
If we have inert ‘thermostats’ filling our organisations,can we expect our projects to make a difference!? Should we not look harder at the individual(ourselves) and the dynamics within groups to find paths to personal and organisational success?
“Indeed,because tacit knowledge includes mental models and beliefs in addition to know-how,moving from the tacit to the explicit is really a process of articulating ones vision of the world –what it is and what it ought to be.When employees invent new knowledge,they are also reinventing themselves,the company and even the world.”I. Nonaka –p31
Imagine an organisation full of such people. Wow!
Case Study:Matsushita Electric Company
“In 1985,product developers at the Matsushita Electric Company were hard at work on a home bread-making machine. But they were having trouble getting the machine to knead dough correctly. Despite their efforts,the crust of the bread was overcooked while the inside was hardly done at all. Employees exhaustively analysed the problem. They even compared X rays of dough kneaded by the machine and dough kneaded by professional bakers. But they were unable to obtain any meaningful data.
Finally,software developer Ikuko Tanaka proposed a creative solution. The Osaka International Hotel had a reputation for making the best bread in Osaka. Why not use it as a model? Tanaka trained with the hotel’s head baker to study his kneading technique. She observed that the baker had a distinctive way of streching the dough. After a year of trial and error,working closely with the project’s engineers,Tanaka came up with product specifications –including the addition of special ribs inside the machine –that successfully reproduced the baker’s streching technique and the quality of the bread she had learned to make at the hotel. The result:Matsushita’s’unique “twist dough”method and a product that in its first year set a record for sales of a new kitchen appliance.”Nonaka,I,‘The Knowledge Creating Company’,ın HBR on Knowledge Management,p26-27.
Within the context of Nonaka’s Spiral of Knowledge,the Matsushita experience would look like this;
1 –Tanaka apprentices herself to the head baker and learns his tacit skills through observation. She is “socialised”into the craft. (TACIT-TACIT)
2 –When she is able to articulate the foundations of her tacit knowledge of bread making,she converts it into explicit knowledge,thus allowing it to be shared with her project-development team. The team then standardises this knowledge,putting it together in a manual and embodying it in a product –Articulation (TACIT-EXPLICIT)
3 –Finally,through the experience of creating a new product,Tanaka and her team members enrich their own tacit knowledge base –Internalisation (EXPLICIT- TACIT)
How is a corporate intranet like an urn? Can the ‘central operations project’be as beautiful as the artifact on the left? Why not! You can turn your dreary projects into works of art. It’s all in the mind.
Modern theories of organisational learning and knowledge management center predominantly on people issues rather than implementations of technology. Certainly,technology is the great enabler but the spotlight has turned to knowledge creating people as assets. As seasoned artisans of revenue generation.
The question is,‘what is the individual contributing to the organisation,society in general,and to h/erself?’. Continuous learning,creativity,collaboration,non-linear innovation are the buzz words. Are you helping to produce works of art in your organisation.That is the question in the new economy. As Hamel puts it,“what is not different is not strategic.”
We are very fortunate in that the human brain is overpowering the traditional means of production –raw material,hard labour and capital. Our role has become one of contributing innovation,knowledge and collaborative spirit. And an ability to see the end product as a “way cool”offering that is a work of art.
The urn vs. the intranet
Understand this. The ‘internet banking’product,or the ‘central operations project’,amongst others,that you are working on are indeed artifacts. Any product that makes life ‘different’for its consumer is labeled ‘value added product’or ‘intelligent product’. If we look at the car industry,these days companies are not competing on physical components such as engine technology,air-conditioning or power steering. In fact,there is more technology in most cars today than there was on the space craft that took Neil Armstrong to the moon. The competitive battlefield today is in design,warranty,the service,the image and the finance deal. Intelligence and intangibles. People are what make products and service solutions unique.
What constitutes an artifact,an urn;
Seen in this light,our ‘internet banking’product,or the ‘central operations project’,are artifacts of human engagement with the world. All combining within the corporate milieu ‘into a massive presentation of personal will,collective order that characterise a corporate culture.
The corporate artist
In this new world of improvised theatre,where the ‘corporate career’script has been thrown out of the window,we have all become performing artists because within organisations it is becoming more evident that the employees have the answers. Organisational procedures are being geared to stimulate one,several,or all of the employees to extract and remember what they already know. These experiences,knowledge,and insights are then captured in products and services. So each employee needs to see the art in their labour.
The corporate intranet poses as the perfect allegory for the artifact. I have implemented intranets that have been very much works of art for all concerned. They have been about functionality,benefit and an ability to work with the ‘resources dealt by life’. Its creators,supporters and contributing users were able to see the art in their labour. Because it made a difference to the professional and personal lives of people.
To be an artisan
The emerging technologies are increasingly allowing each and every one of us to be like an artisan. In an age of social business and ‘networked intelligence’,the humble corporate offerings or ‘artifacts’interlock “through patterns of variation and stability”spiraling to generate a New Model for the Creation of Wealth. A process of “effective individuals,working on high performance team structures;becoming integrated organisational networks of clients and servers;which reach out to customers,suppliers,affinity groups,and even competitors;which move onto the Net changing the way products and services are created,marketed and distributed.”Don Tapscott
Just as the artisan works with the medium dealt by life,and manages a profit,the modern corporation too is organising around creative people (effective individuals) who generate value and product innovation that is able to sustain companies. As Jack Welch commented once of GE;”We are betting everything on our people -empowering them,giving them resources,and getting out of their way.”
Anyone who is a parent will tell you that text books never really hit the mark when trying to be the perfect parent. We try to arm ourselves with the best knowledge available,but as your little baby evolves from a bewildered little bundle of joy to a bewildering obnoxious teenager,we realise that no textbook can prepare you for the complexity of behaviour of a maturing human being.
I have always believed in getting the balance right in anything I do. So,throughout my professional career I have always maintained a work-life balance. This has allowed us spend quality time together as a family and we have accumulated many cherished memories of people and places. During this time,we didn’t follow any script but felt that unconditional love would ultimately be the gelling agent and values based on respect,discovery,humility and acceptance would shape character and behaviour in our son. Although we have many years to go before our 14 year old sets his own path in life,we were very encouraged to see signs of our labour with a recent poem he wrote in class for which he received an A+.
Last year we went on an Aegean/Mediteranean holiday in Turkey,and we also watch a lot of food documentaries relating to the traditions of different cuisines such as Italian,Spanish and Greek. So when our son’s teacher asked his class to write a poem about an aspect of their culture,this is what he came up with: