posted 1 Mar 2000 in Volume 3 Issue 6
Your Say: Past, present &
There is a clear line of sight from the development of learning organisations a decade ago towards today's active interest in the application of knowledge. Then, we stopped talking about 'training' and started using the terms 'learning' and development'. Our point of view has also developed to include organisational learning. Today, we shift our focus from managing information to managing the context in which we process information. A decade ago, Peter Senge inspired a cadre of systems thinkers and activists from the human potential movement at the same time as capturing the attention of the executive suite by highlighting the simple fact that organisations that don't learn, die. Senge identified five critical 'disciplines' for a learning organisation, and he and his extended team continue to develop tools and practices that support organisations who have adopted continuous learning as an operational principle.
The disciplines and practices associated with learning organisations translate without loss of meaning into the mental models of knowledge management.
Ten years ago, technology to support polymorphous communication required for learning organisations was not universally available in corporations. The World Wide Web, though, acted as a catalyst for the necessary technological developments. This was accompanied by attendant breakthroughs in the technology of networking, enabling applications and structures only dreamed of a decade ago. For example:
- Intranets that provide a tangible ongoing medium to create and maintain a
shared organisational context
- Distance learning - the ability to access courses, instructors, mentors,
from anywhere in the world at any time
- True collaboration of virtual teams, through email, in live
- Instantaneous global communications
- Individual access to the wealth of knowledge in an organisation.
The web is a publishing medium that enables individuals, groups, organisations and bodies politic to make their points of view, operational norms, rules and processes explicit in an unfettered environment. The method they choose to publish i.e. graphic style, lead articles, key menus - represents the organisation's mental model of itself and its relationships. The challenge is to acknowledge this power of representation and to use it to orchestrate the diverse collection of talents, knowledge and views required for innovation.
Personal mastery is enabled not just by the seemingly infinite web of information and knowledge bases on a corporate intranet, but through integrated links within the world wide web. This unstructured exploration is coupled with formalised web-based course curricula that support just-in-time learning for rapid response to new market demands. The challenge for corporations is to provide a rich learning environment for employees that supports corporate goals while enabling its people to stretch - and stay.
Learning in teams occurs through collaboration and conversation. It is a simple fact of our global environment of today that problems are best solved and new opportunities are best met by fielding the right set of people regardless of their geographical and time constraints. We now have (almost) the technologies for real-time computer supported collaboration, for capturing and storing questions, notes and interactions. The challenge is to improve the speed and usability of the technologies while adapting the culture to balance individuals' needs for privacy and recognition with the accelerated demands of sharing.
Technology provides no insights into what makes a leader capable of creating and sustaining a vision for an organisation, but it does provide such leaders with a powerful tool for communicating their vision. Email messages that address everyone in an organisation, thematic and consistent messages on an intranet, congruence of internal communications with external communications are all important tools for a leader. The challenge is to maintain sufficient meaningful public events for employees and the extended organisation to connect personally, to validate the congruence between published words and the leaders' impact.
The 'fifth discipline' is the one that speaks to the heart of managing knowledge in an organisation as if it is the true wealth. It is about knowing patterns and relationships - what we already know and what we must know in order to survive and grow. All the technologies - for communication, publishing, distance learning and collaboration - are the infrastructure for providing access, in the appropriate context, for individuals, teams, groups, and organisations to develop and practice systemic knowledge management.
Patti Anklam is Technology Group Knowledge Manager at Compaq. She can be contacted at: