Note: This is one of those rare posts (for me) where I have few to no suggestions as to how to proceed.
Islands of Ignorance
In my travels, I have seen many organisations from the inside, and many more from the outside.
In almost all cases, these organisations strike me as like little islands of ignorance in a huge sea of knowledge. As a mariner myself, I’m well aware of the bounty of these seas. So, maybe better placed than most to see the shortfalls in our organisations’ uptake of this bounty.
Seas of Knowledge
It’s never been easier to keep up with developments (sic) in praxis – in whatever fields of human endeavour interest us. And that’s probably even more true for the fields of collaborative knowledge work, software development and product development than for any other.
And yet, almost every organisation I see operates on principles – from the executive management suite to the workers at the coal face – utterly disconnected from the seas of knowledge surrounding them. Principles grown stale and musty with the dust of ages past.
Some organisations, having an inkling of their disconnection, make token efforts to bring outside knowledge in – with brown bag sessions, encouraging folks to attend meet-ups and conferences, hiring consultants from time to time, and so on. But like fishermen on the shore with fishing poles and spears hooking the occasional fish, this ain’t so effective. Few indeed are the organisations that build trawlers and send them out with nets, sonar, radar and the like to harvest the plenty of the seas.
Why is This?
What makes organisations so inept at finding and using the huge repositories of knowledge out there – in books, on the internet, in people’s heads, and so on?
I have some suspicions that the education system is partly to blame. I’ve seen many graduates who, upon doing the workforce, act as if their learning days are behind them.
And short-termism, the bane of UK industry in particular, contributes. With the implicit idea that learning, being more valuable in the longer term, has little or no value in meeting next week’s delivery schedules, or this month’s financial targets.
I guess, too, that like navigating our planet’s vast oceans, the seas of knowledge are so vast now that special navigation equipment is necessary to tackle the challenge. And whilst a fish is a fish, a idea or item of know-how is a much more slippery thing. How to sort the wheat from the chaff? Maybe systematic experimentation can help (see e.g. Toyota Kata, or Popcorn Flow from Claudio Perrone)
So. There you have it. No elegant ideas for addressing the situation. Just an appeal to you, dear readers, to share your experiences, perspectives, and maybe a hint or tip or two for the rest of us.
The Fifth Discipline ~ Peter M. Senge
Peter Senge and the Learning Organization ~ Infed article
On Dialogue ~ David Bohm