The one where we’re fiddling while Rome learns

So you’ve all heard the one where the Finance Director asks the CEO, “what if we invest in our people and they all leave?” to which the CEO retorts, “what if we don’t and they stay?” I don’t know who started it but it beautifully sums up the paradox faced by every organisation in considering how and when to invest in their people.

A few weeks ago I attended an event entitled “Democratising Learning” hosted by an emerging business in the learning simulation space Ososim attended by a load of Heads of L&D and OD from a variety of organisations.

The speakers (well at least the first two) were preeminent, London Business School professor Lynda Gratton and former Schools Minster Lord Knight of Weymouth. You can find Professor Gratton’s slides here which are worth a read to see the work she’s done on emerging global trends and the perceived people priorities businesses face. You can find Lord Knight’s slides here and he makes some interesting points about the role of technology in learning and how technology has really driven fundamental changes in less developed parts of the world.

The speakers in the afternoon were myself and Perry Timms and as we didn’t use slides I can say you missed a great show!!

One of the discussions held in break out was what the learning organisation of tomorrow looked like and the summary of the responses looks something like this: (thanks to Leon at Ososim for the summary)

  • Accessible to all
  • Tech savvy
  • Bottom up
  • Collaborative
  • Learning as part of working
  • Covert not overt
  • Sharing across boundaries
  • More than internal
  • Empowering…personal choice
  • Informal and flexible
  • Open, innovative and dynamic
  • Team based…peer to peer
  • Fast, forgiving and fun
  • Focussed on skills, behaviours and application
  • Engaging, inspiring and brave

The next discussion topic was what barriers existed to creating this new learning organisation and the classics appeared feared/lack of courage, resource, funding, buy in, support, resistance, etc, etc and we all moved on and had a biscuit.

The day was really enjoyable and I met some great new people (and reconnected with some I hadn’t seen for a while) but I came away from the day with a lingering notion that we were missing the whole point.

Learning is being democratised whether a bunch of suits sit in a room and decide it or not. People are learning informally and across boundaries. Teams are finding their own learning. Peer groups are using whatever tools available to them to share and challenge each other and let’s face it people are voting with their feet if their work isn’t giving them an opportunity to learn.

A great example from the organisation I work in just last week – we’ve employed 20 new apprentices and before we could get them together to ensure to help them start supporting each other and sharing they’ve already formed a private group on a social network and are communicating with each other. Way ahead of us!

As much as technology is disrupting organisations (and the rest of the world) I can’t help thinking that what we were discussing was not the democratisation of learning but actually the democratisation of learning investment – two very different subjects. I can’t help reflecting that those in our organisations who really want to learn and drive their own careers won’t wait for ‘the machine’ to catch up with them they’ll just get on and find ways to do it whilst the rest of us are writing slide packs to reassure the FD that investing in our people is the right thing to do.




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2 responses to “The one where we’re fiddling while Rome learns

  1. Your learning organisation list holds the key. The leadership paradigm needs busting. In a healthy adaptive organisation, that list would describe the culture.

  2. Pingback: The one where we're fiddling while Rome learns ...

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