New Work – Ad Hoc Learning vs Work Skills

October 22, 2008

in Knowledge Innovation

Had this thought today that I’d ask my Twitter followers what I should blog about tonight. I got some great challenges from VoIP to social media analytics and work! They are topics I must have an opinion on although potentially each is like crawling into a minefield. I’ve fortified myself with a glass of Cognac.

So my blog post today is on “New Work” compliments of @tonykarrer. Tony referenced a post of his and asks for my POV. I’ve rambled on below. I have summarized his thought points at the end. Tony makes me ask myself, how undisciplined am I? Very I think.


Ad Hoc Work & Learning:

The element that really resonated with me is the adhoc nature / the real-time learning that we do today. I also sense that it’s in no way the same for everyone. Eg some can ask questions and harness a network. Others can hit Google up and find things you never could. Then others are already tracking and writing about it and you can just talk or write to them.

What’s intriguing to me tonight is these aspects when applied to an organization are also substantially different and have different impacts on the way organizations learn.

How Customers Learn Matters More:
As a marketer I used market research as a tool to shape the way the organization thinks and directs their strategy. However today potentially any employee could generate a ready and better network than 1000′s of dollars spent on market research and get better answers and innovations. They just happen to enjoy a conversation and are connected with people that enjoy the same. I think I see this in mobile phones, gaming, car products and around environmental issues. So a key learning point is getting the organization connected and listening to these stories.

Learning Happens Outside the Core:
When someone is seeking to learn about anything (learning task) it’s usually more efficient again to go outside the organization. The employee goes to Google, dives into Wikipedia and other open source efforts. Wherever these communities of experts are active and committed to sharing, things happen. It often doesn’t happen inside the corporate information system and even if it was captured somewhere, few organizations have a way to extract it. That’s a problem for both learning and the corporate experts. This learning only adds to competitive advantage when assimilated. Assimilation of new information is a huge problem in most organizations. Let’s face it organizations that learn faster win. Those that learn faster at lower cost win even more. Those that enable the acceleration of learning outside and around the organization get even better leverage on learning. Examples are beta programs and developer communities.

Invite Highly Personalized Exchanges:

I had a third category too. Identifying those that already are doing the research for you. That’s where an organization should be paying out more. These external learners are often far more knowledgeable than those inside the organization. They simply don’t see the same constraints. Some organizations do a great job of extracting stuff for free. Google is a great example of asking people to present for nothing or on the basis of a promise. My view is those that have written about subjects and continue to talk about them daily should be simply paid a fee and brought in. The learning challenge for the organization is to get the brain dump. I don’t think you should look at these individuals using traditional criteria. Whether industry, education, work history etc. I believe the skill required is to find ways for the organization to effectively interview these individuals. I think I’m arguing this because it personalizes the exchange.

Interpretive Insight not Content:
In fact all of the above (if I think about it) personalize the learning experience. I’m always bothered by elearning as some form of label. Smacks of tick boxes on computerized tests to me. I don’t think the new work is about tests. If you must apply these things give them to your customers. It is more about agility and flexibility. If we want to teach new work we should embed more in complexity theory. Rather than content which we are swamped in, what we lack today is interpretive insight and meaning.

I can be fairly adhoc and undisciplined. Yet I wonder how much of that being open to peripheral vision, having some sense of ambient intimacy and being open to new connection is a pre-requisite for learning today.

I know there is another set of learnings. The metrics on how the organization is doing. But those tend to be repetitive without new input. Oh no the profits and sales are going down!

Actually how can I bring this post to a close? I started with Tony’s premise. I ranted about how customers learn and going outside. Then followed personalized and interpretive insight. In summary I still think the most valuable skills today are “facilitation” when applied to an organization and what everyone working for it needs to learn. Great facilitation empowers organizations and communities. Why – because the learning is extracted, created, leveraged etc when facilitated. Facilitation can be taught, although I believe it is really learned, modeled though example and iterative exchanges.

In the end I’ve pointed to “facilitation” as it is a skill for handling ad hoc situations where we should have coverage. I think my question Tony is -  Are you sure that it is format learning programs that are required. Or should the organization be more effective at facilitating questions that force the organization to learn?

Initial Read of Tony’s Post:
The post focuses on new work skills and what we should be learning. He starts with a survey which takes us back years to a card catalog and microfiche reader. WOW! As in I can hardly identify them!

He writes “a big part of education is learning how to do research” and remembers the euphoria we used to feel when we found some relevant content. Information was scarce!

He asks if our work skills are keeping up. As he suggests I must be as I did get this post off Twitter and visited his blog. So we probably are alright.

New Work and New Work Skills : eLearning Technology

the foundations of knowledge work are changing fairly quickly and most of us learn completely through ad hoc mechanisms that are not likely to yield good coverage.

Bonus link: IFTF has published a set of papers on the Future of Work – Technology Horizons. (BTW – got this off their twitter stream!)

  • Jon Husband

    You’ve put your finger(s) on critical issues for the design of work that consumes and shapes information needing to be adapted to the new realities of living and working in interlinked and networking working environments. Top-down and highly-structured is (generally) less and less useful and productive, though there are i think some situations in which it is still appropriate.

    My statement is just an opinion ;-)

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