In between the serious discussions, someone stated “Organizations don’t retain what they learn” and pretty much everyone else agreed. To give you an idea of the mental horsepower in the room, one fellow was a Stanford economist who now does consulting for major firms, another fellow is a leader in developing safety systems in high-consequence industries (the 25-cent phrase is “he works to prevent plane crashes, highway disasters, oil tanker disasters, …”), we have a fellow who travels internationally advising governments on pandemic preparedness, …
All in all, a pretty high power bunch of folks sitting around the table. (Regardless of your opinions of me, I’m the designated “slacker” in the group when it comes to getting things done.)
This last meeting, though… we got to talking about organizations retaining knowledge (a very real KM (Knowledge Management) problem) and how pandemic it is. It’s not a matter of simply mentoring individuals to replace leaving workers, it rises throughout entire organizational structures from loading dock to boardroom. And all of us see it in our separate business lives.
We concluded that there are definite reasons for this and it has to do with so called Best Practices, something I wrote about in Rethinking Your Best Practices. It seems that the larger an organization becomes the more best practices become CYAses. The ability of a business to implement a learning, to extend themselves, becomes subservient to their need to protect their economic own.
The need for safety is, of course, quite real. No organism can survive without creating a safe environment for itself. Likewise, no species can survive long enough to adapt to new environmental and ecological requirements unless it first creates a safe environment for itself (see From TheFutureOf (13 Mar 09): The Analytics Ecology and From TheFutureOf (5 Jan 09): Omniture and Google Considered Environmentally for some examples of this).
And careful readers will note in the above that organisms and species must first create a safe environment for themselves before they can survive long enough to adapt to environmental pressures.
Wait a second…how can a safe environment have pressures in it?
That’s quite simple. An organism creates a safe environment for itself so that it can mature to the point of reproducing. The act of reproduction modifies the environment (there’s another mouth to feed, more energy is required for the reproductive process to reach fruition, …). The modifications to the environment make things no longer safe for the original organism and this cycle both repeats and matures.
So the best practices of last year (let alone ten years ago) may not be today’s best practices even though they remain as such.
Especially in a highly mobile, information rich, knowledge adaptive world.
This group I mentioned specializes in creating adaptive solutions, currently focusing on the health care industry. Often creating these adaptive solutions requires rethinking best practices and modifying them for the new economic and information environments. In a sense, helping organizations retain what they’ve learned rather than discarding it because it doesn’t mesh with their current “best practices”.
You can read collective thoughts on An Economy of Meaning. The other folks are publishing very serious and interesting stuff. I’m just adding some fluff.
Please contact NextStage for information regarding presentations and trainings on this and other topics. Upcoming Conferences:
- The 4th Annual SNCR Research Symposium & Awards Gala at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, 5-6 Nov 09
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