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This blog has frequently stated that a successful learning culture must accept that failures are an important component of learning.

So what, exactly, does that mean?

Does this mean that managers are to overlook mistakes and praise and reward those who’ve screwed up?

Wouldn’t the end result of such behavior be an organization whose members were sloppy, inaccurate and imprecise in their work?

What, specifically, would an organization interested in making a shift from the “push” training culture to a “pull” learning culture do if it wanted to make failure an opportunity to learn about problems before it grew too expensive –or too late — to address and correct them?

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These are all important questions — and I’ll talk about them in this and a series of blogs to follow. But let me start by quoting Amy C. Edmondson, the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School who states, “All failures are not created equal.”

In her highly engaging and readable article, Strategies for Learning from Failure published in the Harvard Business Review, Edmondson illustrates how some failures can provide highly valuable information, while others are inherently less helpful.

Edmondson has divided failure into the following three categories for which I have provided abbreviated descriptions, which are based largely on hers:

Preventable failures in predictable operations

These are failures most of us would consider “bad.” As Edmondson states, “They usually involve deviations from spec in the closely defined processes of high-volume or routine operations in manufacturing and services. With proper training and support, employees can follow those processes consistently. When they don’t, deviance, inattention, or lack of ability is usually the reason. But in such cases, the causes can be readily identified and solutions developed.”

Think of the famous Toyota Production System, which instills in all employees the importance of pulling a rope to stop the assembly line immediately upon spotting — or even suspecting –there is a problem. Diagnostics and problem-solving process kick in, and there is no “punishment” for initiating this process, which over the years, has helped the company identify real and potential problems early, before they became serious, system-wide, and costly to the company and its reputation.

 

Unavoidable failures in complex systems

This relates to work involving “a particular combination of needs, people, and problems may have never occurred before,” as Edmondson puts it. Some examples of this type of work includes healthcare professionals in hospital emergency rooms, soldiers in battle, people working in nuclear power plants

Even if workers follow best practices for safety and risk management, small process failures will occur. Often, true disaster is caused by a series of small failures that occurred within a short period of time, or occurred in a particular sequence. To prevent this, workers need to feel they will be supported — not stigmatized — when they report small failures with equipment, systems or procedures while it is possible to address and correct them, rather than waiting until a true crisis  — or disaster –occurs.

 

Intelligent failures at the frontier

The term “intelligent failures” was coined by Duke University professor of management, Sim Sitkin. Dr. Edmondson defines these as “good” failures that “occur in environments where answers are not knowable in advance because this exact situation hasn’t been encountered before and perhaps never will be again.”

Intelligent failures are to be expected in companies working to create a new vaccine, build a new type of aircraft or vehicle. In these situations, good work involves good experimentation– and it is always hoped that the failures good experimentation will produce will be quick and decisive. If they are, they will prevent the organization from sinking further time, money and other resources into unproductive work.

There you have it: the hierarchy of organizational failure as laid out by one of the finest minds at Harvard Business School.

My next blog will consider the reasons why organizations are so resistant to the idea of “destigmatizing failure.”

KnowledgeStar is a corporation that consults with large and small organizations to transform themselves into learning cultures. Contact us at David(at)KnowledgeStar.(com) 

5 Votes

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This post written by Susan Fry and David Grebow

“Push” learning has gone the way of the cassette tape, tube television and electric typewriter.

Leading educators and trainers now regard push learning as inefficient, suboptimal and outdated. Even many schools, often the slowest institutions to change, are rapidly making the transition away from that model.

Yet, despite the fact that “push learning” is clearly not suited for today’s “economy of ideas,” corporations have been surprisingly reluctant to make the necessary change.

Why?

The reason may well lie in the fact that a “pull” learning culture is truly democratic. It’s a culture that encourages and supports everyone to explore and demonstrate their initiative and abilities, allowing the best to rise to the top based on merit.

That sounds like a great benefit to any organization. But when put into practice, the concept can prove to be quite revolutionary.

Throughout history, providing access to knowledge has been a way to control who gained power, wealth and status.

Learning and training are often hoarded and carefully doled out to people upon whom top management wish to confer success. Often, they are golden keys to elite private club that are given to friends’ children, colleagues, and clients, alumni from the same university, people of the same culture, class or color.

There can be no doubt that in the last 50 years, countries with the world’s leading economies have worked to erode discrimination and provide greater employment opportunities to people regardless of their race or gender.

It’s time organizations make another much-needed cultural shift, and “tear down the wall” by replacing the old, “push” learning culture with a “pull” culture that ensures equal opportunity learning.

KnowledgeStar is a corporation that consults with large and small organizations to transform themselves into learning cultures. Contact us at David(at)KnowledgeStar.(com) 

5 Votes

Screen shot 2015-03-18 at 10.37.18 PM

This post written by Susan Fry and David Grebow

“Push” learning has gone the way of the cassette tape, tube television and electric typewriter.

Leading educators and trainers now regard push learning as inefficient, suboptimal and outdated. Even many schools, often the slowest institutions to change, are rapidly making the transition away from that model.

Yet, despite the fact that “push learning” is clearly not suited for today’s “economy of ideas,” corporations have been surprisingly reluctant to make the necessary change.

Why?

The reason may well lie in the fact that a “pull” learning culture is truly democratic. It’s a culture that encourages and supports everyone to explore and demonstrate their initiative and abilities, allowing the best to rise to the top based on merit.

That sounds like a great benefit to any organization. But when put into practice, the concept can prove to be quite revolutionary.

Throughout history, providing access to knowledge has been a way to control who gained power, wealth and status.

Learning and training are often hoarded and carefully doled out to people upon whom top management wish to confer success. Often, they are golden keys to elite private club that are given to friends’ children, colleagues, and clients, alumni from the same university, people of the same culture, class or color.

There can be no doubt that in the last 50 years, countries with the world’s leading economies have worked to erode discrimination and provide greater employment opportunities to people regardless of their race or gender.

It’s time organizations make another much-needed cultural shift, and “tear down the wall” by replacing the old, “push” learning culture with a “pull” culture that ensures equal opportunity learning.

KnowledgeStar is a corporation that consults with large and small organizations to transform themselves into learning cultures. Contact us at David(at)KnowledgeStar.(com) 

5 Votes

Screen shot 2015-03-18 at 10.37.18 PM

This post written by Susan Fry and David Grebow

“Push” learning has gone the way of the cassette tape, tube television and electric typewriter.

Leading educators and trainers now regard push learning as inefficient, suboptimal and outdated. Even many schools, often the slowest institutions to change, are rapidly making the transition away from that model.

Yet, despite the fact that “push learning” is clearly not suited for today’s “economy of ideas,” corporations have been surprisingly reluctant to make the necessary change.

Why?

The reason may well lie in the fact that a “pull” learning culture is truly democratic. It’s a culture that encourages and supports everyone to explore and demonstrate their initiative and abilities, allowing the best to rise to the top based on merit.

That sounds like a great benefit to any organization. But when put into practice, the concept can prove to be quite revolutionary.

Throughout history, providing access to knowledge has been a way to control who gained power, wealth and status.

Learning and training are often hoarded and carefully doled out to people upon whom top management wish to confer success. Often, they are golden keys to elite private club that are given to friends’ children, colleagues, and clients, alumni from the same university, people of the same culture, class or color.

There can be no doubt that in the last 50 years, countries with the world’s leading economies have worked to erode discrimination and provide greater employment opportunities to people regardless of their race or gender.

It’s time organizations make another much-needed cultural shift, and “tear down the wall” by replacing the old, “push” learning culture with a “pull” culture that ensures equal opportunity learning.

KnowledgeStar is a corporation that consults with large and small organizations to transform themselves into learning cultures. Contact us at David(at)KnowledgeStar.(com) 


Screen shot 2015-03-18 at 10.37.18 PM

This post written by Susan Fry and David Grebow

“Push” learning has gone the way of the cassette tape, tube television and electric typewriter.

Leading educators and trainers now regard push learning as inefficient, suboptimal and outdated. Even many schools, often the slowest institutions to change, are rapidly making the transition away from that model.

Yet, despite the fact that “push learning” is clearly not suited for today’s “economy of ideas,” corporations have been surprisingly reluctant to make the necessary change.

Why?

The reason may well lie in the fact that a “pull” learning culture is truly democratic. It’s a culture that encourages and supports everyone to explore and demonstrate their initiative and abilities, allowing the best to rise to the top based on merit.

That sounds like a great benefit to any organization. But when put into practice, the concept can prove to be quite revolutionary.

Throughout history, providing access to knowledge has been a way to control who gained power, wealth and status.

Learning and training are often hoarded and carefully doled out to people upon whom top management wish to confer success. Often, they are golden keys to elite private club that are given to friends’ children, colleagues, and clients, alumni from the same university, people of the same culture, class or color.

There can be no doubt that in the last 50 years, countries with the world’s leading economies have worked to erode discrimination and provide greater employment opportunities to people regardless of their race or gender.

It’s time organizations make another much-needed cultural shift, and “tear down the wall” by replacing the old, “push” learning culture with a “pull” culture that ensures equal opportunity learning.

 

KnowledgeStar is a corporation that consults with large and small organizations to transform themselves into learning cultures. Contact us at David(at)KnowledgeStar.(com) 


Move over, Cambridge, Palo Alto, Madison, Ann Arbor, New York and Nashville —  Carmel, California may soon become the hotbed for innovation in education!

We at KnowledgeStar thank our clients  — McGraw-Hill, the United Nations, Brandon-Hall Group, Bersin by Deloitte, and the Navajo Nation — for giving us the privilege of working on such exciting projects this last year. Without them, we wouldn’t have received the nice honor pictured below.

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This post was written by David Grebow and Susan Fry

When we talk about creating a learning culture, we’re defining learning as “the ability to adapt what you know and what you know how to do to an ever-changing variety of circumstances.”

To become a learning culture, an organization must understand that learning is not a discrete training event or even a series of them. Rather, learning is an ongoing process, one that occurs over time. Sharing and expanding knowledge in a culture is very different from the “rote learning” or classroom learning model that prevails in most organizations, and which rewards short-term memory.

By “rote learning,” we mean any brief, highly structured learning event that employs quizzes to provide a score intended to gauge how much the participant “learned.” The problem is that the goal of these “learning events” is  to ensure that, to be considered “successful” requires only that the attendees retain information long enough to get a passing score on a quiz or test (or multiple ones, scattered throughout the session.)

Ask yourself what the scores would be if the quiz was taken again, a few days after the “learning event” was over. A huge percentage of what was supposedly “learned” would already have been forgotten. (I’ll leave the cost-effectivemess of such training for another discussion.)

Interestingly, art and science have proved to be two areas where what we’ve just stated above do not apply.

This is because art and science require an evolving degree of knowledge from basic to advanced. Think about learning to play the tuba or conducting a chemistry experiment. This is subject matter that was always learned by apprenticing with or being tutored by a master, someone with a great deal more experience.

Would anyone consider handing a Bach score and a cello to someone who played a little guitar and expect him to master it after two hour-long seminars and a demonstration video?

Real learning is somewhat like sleeping. You do not go to sleep; rather, you go through the process of sleeping, which is completed in a number of stages. If you’re constantly interrupted, you wake up the next morning feeling like you had a bad nights’ sleep. Real learning requires stages as well and you cannot skip over any of them.

What neuroscience researchers have learned by studying golfers helps shed light on this.

They describe how learners reach a point during the adoption phase where they peak at the physical learning part of the game. After enough time has been spent “on the job” practicing the required physical movements, a point comes when it stops being necessary to consciously think about the movements.  When that happens, the brain is freed to focus on the parts of the game that require active mental thought and calculation. When you hear coaches use the phrase “muscle memory,” or tell athletes “get out of your mind” or “you’re over-thinking it,” this is what they mean.

When a golfer has mastered the essentials of the physical game, the mind becomes is table to focus on more complex issues.  And that focus is truly the key to transforming a good player into a great one. But it takes a very long time, and a lot of practice to get to this stage.

An analysis of the eye patterns of novice golfers on a green, lining up a putt, translated the players’ eye movements into graphics. What it showed looked like someone had thrown a plate of spaghetti on the green: there were lines and loops going every which way.When they graphed the eye movement of top golfers, the patterns were a few lines most of them moving directly towards the cup.

The reason why most classes offered by organizations are essentially a waste of time is because they do not include enough time to complete the learning process. The material presented is not reinforced and internalized through experience.  No time is allowed for the learner to practice the concepts or methods that have been presented and try them out in the “real world” or workplace, repeatedly, over time, until they become like “muscle memory.” Because of this, little is retained.

Now imagine what would happen if the organization provided continuous opportunities for learning, actively encouraged its members to be learning continuously, built in time for them to practice, and measured progress not by pop quiz scores, but increased productivity.

Now imagine that the organization is your organization.


This post written by Susan Fry

The question I’m asked most frequently these days (besides, “ATM or credit card?”) is “How do I start to create a learning culture in my organization?”

I’d actually prefer to start with a different question, which is “How close is the current culture in my organization to a learning culture?”

Many organizational cultures–and maybe yours–already have some of the key characteristics of a learning culture in place.  Finding out where you stand is the logical first step.

We employ a variety of tools to help organizations understand their culture because it helps makes for a smoother, faster transition from an obsolete “push/training” mode into the “pull/learning” culture.

Below, you can view a sample from one of the assessment tools we use. In the left column , you’ll see brief descriptions of key characteristics that  encourage learning; on the right, you’ll see descriptions of those that block it. Beneath the sample you’ll find instructions for taking and evaluating the assessment. new assessment captureTake a moment to answer the questions yourself.  Some of your answers are likely to be surprising.

You can view the full, printable Learning Culture Assessment here.

How to use this assessment

The assessment asks respondents to rank you organization on each characteristic by writing a number in the square at the bottom of each section.

The number “1” indicates strong disagreement with the statement, while “5” indicates the strong agreement. Adding all the  numbers in each column will show whether your organization is currently perceived to be a learning culture.  Questions that received the lowest scores indicate areas that need the most attention.

After you’ve taken it yourself, I suggest that you distribute this assessment to a group of people within your organization. Choosing as many audit participants as possible from diverse areas and levels of responsibility will provide you with more accurate information.

The survey has an additional benefit: it will communicate that you are starting to take a hard look at how good your organization is at providing learning opportunities that enable employees to do the best job possible.

This assessment was first published in Creating a Learning Culture: Strategy, Technology and Practice (Cambridge, UK; Cambridge University Press, 2004). I’m grateful to Marcia Conner, my colleague from my Peoplesoft days and friend of many years, for recently bringing it to my attention. (Check out her blog at http://marciaconner.com/

In case you didn’t note the publication info above, let me point out that this assessment was published more than ten years ago. In Silicon Valley terms, that makes it almost ancient — and yet I constantly meet people who think the “learning culture” is a radical new concept!


One of the most significant advantages a learning culture offers is the ability to be constantly managing, maintaining and updating knowledge in their digital repositories or knowledgebases. In a learning culture the traditional corporate silos are no longer a barrier to learning. Information is openly shared between R&D and manufacturing, manufacturing and marketing, marketing and administration, administration and sales, and so on.

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The minds of people working both inside and outside the organization contain valuable information— whether they are C-level executives or clients/customers or vendors and partners. When all three knowledge streams are in play – learners, leaders, technology – and aligned with the goals of the corporation, they create a sort of “super intelligence” for the organization in which the sum total of knowledge is continuously shared, updated, reviewed, revised and shared again.

A learning culture always operates as a closed loop with information moving in both directions between these three key contributors. The learning can pass from learners to leaders, learners to learners, or from the enabling technology to learners — or in the opposite direction. This is why we call it a “bi-directional model.”

The knowledge and skills held by the individuals who make up three knowledge streams can reside in the digital repository, which is easily updated and maintained. The benefits to both the individual and the organization are many. For example, when someone discovers a better, faster or more cost-effective way of doing something, the specific information can easily be added to or updated in the repository, making it readily accessible as needed.

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When learning is at the heart of a corporation’s culture and a key driver for its success, specific, up-to-date knowledge and information is available from multiple channels whenever and wherever learners need that knowledge to do their jobs. As an equation, a learning culture would look like his: Leaders + Learners + Technology = Learning Culture.

Becoming a Learning Culture is Critical to Your Corporation’s Future

Why has it become critical for corporations to make the transition from a training culture to a learning culture, and what are some of the major considerations? When we first started studying organizational learning, it conformed to the then-prevailing schoolroom “push “model adopted for the workplace.

Corporations spent a large amount of time and money to produce training programs that were delivered to employees in a classroom. Learners had to be on-site, sitting in a room with a specified number of other people who had also been told to attend the training. Each session began and ended at a specific time. Each attendee received the same materials and information at the same time

This model worked because corporations were centralized and standardized. Because people worked in the same time zone and physical location, on the same days of the week and for the same hours of the day, having people attend learning and training events together was efficient. The business and economic environments changed slowly, so products and services had a longer shelf-life and did not need continuous updating. Corporations had the luxury of long development schedules and generous budgets for developing training about how to manufacture, sell or fix products.

That is no longer the world in which we operate.


Why a learning culture is critical to your

corporation’s survival in the Idea Economy

This post was written by Susan Fry, VP Creative Strategy, KnowledgeStar.

Your organization needs to be a learning culture in order to continue to succeed. That means a change from your current training culture. As the pace of change increases, the need for faster innovation and greater collaboration becomes critical. Which means performance is everything. Performance is not the same as training and learning what to do. Performance means being able to quickly find out what you need to do when and where you need to get it done. And the only way to make that happen is to develop a learning culture which supports that level of rapid and responsive performance.

Learning culture directly accounted for 46% of overall improved business performance as measured by business outcomes. Josh Bersin

Throughout the past year, during our meetings with various organizations, we kept hearing the same conversation. The discussions too often focused on the event, the program, some better learning technology, or the “cool” new tools.. The focus always seemed to be on the parts of the new learning environment in which we work, rather than seeing that environment as a whole interconnected system.

It became obvious that the conversation needed to change. There was a fundamental shift needed in the way organizations think about the way they provide learning. A change from the perception of the workplace as a training culture to one which is a learning culture. A place where employees take charge of their learning and have with immediate access to the knowledge they need any time and any place. Follow the lead of the most innovative and successful companies. Replace the emphasis on training and training technology with a focus on doing and the technology which enables people to perform.

As recently as eight years ago, transforming your organization’s culture from a teacher-led training culture to a learner-led learning culture, driven by digital technology, was a managerial preference.  Today, it is no longer an option.

The use of digital technology in the workplace is so profound, so dramatic, that it can be compared to the invention of the printing press in 1450 or Edison’s success in making electric lighting commercially viable in the 1880s. Digital technology is changing everything we know about learning. In a recent report on global human capital trends, Bersin by Deloitte advised organizations to look at the ways people learn in their organization and “Prepare for a revolution.”

With all due respect to Bersin by Deloitte, we think their timing is a bit off. Our own experience has convinced us that the revolution isn’t coming, it is here. Performance support systems, virtual classes, video conferences and more have all made inroads in individual departments and divisions of many companies to change the way employees are learning.

Yet all this digital technology has not yet significantly changed the basic way we think about learning in the vast majority of organizations. For the most part we are still pushing out training to solve problems the same way we did for the last 100 years since training was developed by the Prussian army. We were hard pressed to think of any other business that still approaches what they do today the same way it was done a century ago.

Relatively few leaders have fully grasped the enormous benefits to be gained by transitioning their training culture to a learning culture and changing the way their employees learn. This is true despite evidence showing that significant benefits immediately start accruing to organizations that successfully make the transformation.

 

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