posted 17 May 2002 in Volume 5 Issue 8
Ana Neves reviews Benchlearning: Good Examples as a Lever for Development
TITLE: Benchlearning: Good Examples as a Lever for Development
AUTHORS: Bengt Karlöf, Kurt Lundgren & Marie Edenfeldt Froment
PUBLISHER: John Wiley & Sons (2001)
This book explores a method that can help businesses become more effective learning organisations by continuously improving through comparison with others.
As the authors say: “Benchlearning is an educational method of gaining better understanding and knowledge of our own business by viewing it in the light of someone else’s experience.” Supported by four building blocks (efficiency, team learning, good examples and broad participation), its ultimate goal is to encourage an attitude of continuous learning from good examples. The benefits of such examples come from generating variations, raising the level of aspiration, triggering a willingness to learn, offering inspiration and transmitting experiences to others, thus reducing error duplication.
Benchlearning clearly borrows some of its key principles from benchmarking, which may be used both in market and planned economy scenarios. In the former, organisations can search for examples among their competitors, while in the latter they can use partners. After all, benchmarking should act as an assessment tool, but more importantly as a source of inspiration.
However, benchlearning has proved more effective than benchmarking because of the variation created by taking a wider perspective; the enhanced possibility of using tacit knowledge; the ability to relate learning to practical application; and, the motivation to convert information into knowledge that is directly relevant to the business.
In drawing an association with broader learning theory, the authors argue that the benchlearning requirements for modern education are a better integration of learning and efficiency, faster learning, and universal participation. They also talk about the importance of building on other people’s experience, but stress that it is often necessary to come from a similar background in order to understand and interpret the experiences of others (ie, prior related knowledge).
The last chapter of the book offers a step-by-step approach to benchlearning, together with some real-life examples and tips.
Throughout the book, the authors maintain that benchlearning is different from knowledge management. In their opinion, the former concentrates on learning while the latter is primarily about retrieving information. Yet my personal belief, and that presented by much of the KM-related literature available, is that knowledge management is as much about creating and acquiring knowledge (ie, learning) as it is about retrieving it. In fact, knowledge management covers the processes of creation, acquisition, storage, retrieval, sharing, usage and evaluation of knowledge (although this tends to be forgotten as too many software vendors sell their storage and retrieval products as knowledge management solutions). Taking this into consideration, benchlearning is truly a key tool in the process of managing knowledge, in particular in supporting the creation, acquisition, and measurement of existing knowledge.
In my opinion, this book is aimed at, and is relevant to, anyone responsible for increasing the value of an organisation, which in turn means everyone who works there. Although the theory supporting the key concepts and ideas might not be relevant to some, the fact that the authors describe benchlearning as part of everyone’s role makes this book useful reading for just about everyone. The concepts, explained in plain language, present a collective and individual approach to benchlearning, in turn yielding both collective and individual benefits. The aim of creating a state of mind geared towards continuous improvement is key to succeeding in today’s tumultuous economic climate.
The purpose of this book is to help organisations become more effective learning entities by shifting towards a continuous learning pattern. The authors realised a need for this book to be written while working with their clients, and the passion they share for the subject triggered them to action. That passion and the knowledge acquired in their professional activities is reflected throughout the book. The way in which they emphasise the benefits of benchlearning reveals both the obstacles they have already faced in their work as consultants, and the results they have witnessed when applying the benchlearning method in practice.
I have to say that this book really surprised me, primarily as it explores the established principles of benchmarking from a new perspective, aiming not at comparing and evaluating, but rather at looking for inspiration, and increasing efficiency and value.
Ana Neves is the editor of KMOL. She can be contacted at: email@example.com