Learnerprise – Beyond Neologism to Collective Understanding

New Research Shows Corporate Training Budgets Are Misaligned
Although 64% of Learning Executives Believe Informal Learning Approaches Have Higher Impact, More Than Two-Thirds of Corporate Training Budgets Are Spent on Traditional Formal Training
Bersin & Associates

Props to Dan Pontefract who pretty much inspired this whole post about the mashup of Andy McAfee’s Enterprise 2.0 notion and Learning 2.0. This is to contribute to Dan’s argument to help bring this word, “Learnerprise” from lonely neologism into the general vernacular.

The first steps of the emergent Learnerprise organization must include federating the LMS and integrating learning opportunities ubiquitously throughout the organization in rich social media environments.  But to ensure success, the savvy Learnerprise architect has to understand that whatever opportunities are provided, formal or informal, they are competing against not just their own learning offerings, but also the wild social web.

Let’s unpack this.  Any learning opportunity initiative – let’s say the corporate university just released a presentation coaching two-day classroom workshop, coupled with a communications e-learning certificate package, and supplemented with an informal use-as-you-choose books/video library on effective presence, and promoted in a push campaign alerting associates of that availability – must understand that it is competing with a compendium of other resources that the now-socially empowered free agent of the organization can reasonably garner from any number of outside resources.

And so, to build a compelling webscape of learning, we need to create mechanisms for the collective wisdom of our colleagues to enhance the intrinsic drive of those we hope to inspire and change.  Remember it’s the intrinsic personal interest that we need to be enabling in eventual service of the organization, not what we think people need to be learning.  That is, the learning organization (the new Learnerprise) shall provide the environments and opportunities in which people can satisfy their own emergent drives and interests to learn.

Recognizing intrinsic drive suggests that ideas and skill-development resonate not when the royal we of organizational learning thinks it needs to happen, but rather when people are ready, willing and eager to absorb and integrate new ideas into their behaviors – which is why a group of people can participate in the same learning campaign, and yet only a portion of that audience find stickiness and ah-ha!  Which again, explains why despite the best efforts of the learning organization assigning prescriptive learning, only a portion emerge effectively engaged in the “intended” outcomes.

Clearly now in the conceptual age, following the readily available knowledge age, to remain relevant, learning initiatives need to engineer in all varieties of disparate possibilities for the individual to parse what matters to them, and to apply to their work.

Personally, I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught. – Winston Churchill

Step Up Change Agents

Dream well. You may find yourself there. -Neal Bushoven

“Companies are people” is a popular expression to celebrate that the engine of a company is the people who work there, and it’s success or failure is built on the collaborative, innovative and actionable power of those people.  But remember, a Company is a kind of legalized fiction – a set of codified relationships between shareholders, employees and customers, bound together by contracts – the value of which is predominantly wrapped up in future deliverables – yet to be fulfilled.  Sure enough there is brand, reputation, and pent-up expectation, but the future employee contribution or innovation, the equity value yet to be delivered to the shareholder, and the product or service value to be delivered to the customer, all make up the promise of a Company.

These are much more manageable deliverables than managing the fickleness of people.  People, on the other hand, are people – and susceptible to having babies, or heart-attacks, or mid-life crises, or jumping to the competition, or opening yoga studios, or whatever else strikes their fancy.  A Company’s ability to first: attract and retain the best and brightest, and then: allow them to collaborate in innovative and actionable activities together, is what comprises all those promises codified in the contracts upon which the Company is based.

So let’s look at the people.  The people are “consumed by more fear-based motivation than I’ve seen in my lifetime” said Robert Reich in a presentation today.  There are 77 million baby-boomers working today who were born between 1946 and 1964 and they are:

  • retiring later because their 401K has evaporated (exaggeration – but diminished indeed)
  • more worried about losing their jobs than any time in extant memory
  • unable to borrow yet more from their home equity against diminished home values
  • trying to escape from existing debt load

The result of all is that fear has become a primary motivating force and change agents are becoming more scarce, and yet more valuable than ever, because bold idea makers are shackled by fear.  The biggest barrier to change is past success.  That’s right, when things are good and products and services are moving along at a nice clip, companies encourage more of the same – more of the past successes to fuel growth.  But what if what worked, doesn’t work any longer?  This is when idiosyncratic change agents are most needed. Now more than ever, change agents can be more effective in innovating and bringing new opportunities and actionable ideas because companies are hungry for emergent successes.

The ability to envision how to do new things effectively is now more valuable than ever.

Conceptual Learning is Beautiful, Unique and Meaningful

Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, recognized the role of conceptual output as early as 1997 in a speech at the University of Connecticut when he said “The growth of the conceptual component of output has brought with it accelerating demands for workers who are equipped not simply with technical know-how, but with the ability to create, analyze, and transform information and to interact effectively with others.” By 2004, he had developed his views on the topic, referring to reductions in manufacturing in the United States, outsourcing to India and China, excess of supply and the global marketplace, all leading to the increasing conceptualization of economic output.

Taking a page straight from Dan Pink and Gary Hamel, knowledge and even expertise are common, expected, cheap (sometimes free) to source, and no longer represent lasting competitive advantage. We have moved from the knowledge age to the conceptual age where creative, symphonic thinking – the ability to harness sometimes seemingly disparate pieces of information and ideas and mash them into wholly new iterations that can be applied effectively to solutions and results – are in fact the individual and organization’s competitive advantage.

Whatever field you work in, your expertise is expected, but your initiative and creativity to bring unique and signature solutions to solve unexpected problems is your brand, and increasingly also your company’s brand and identity. If this is true (and you better believe it), the future of learning is to provide more conceptual and powerful learning opportunities in which the expected learning outcomes are by nature, unexpected. Sometimes called chaotic or unstable by design, this construct suggests building learning opportunities which offer insight, ideas and parables intended for inference and application by the learner.

This calls for balancing the spoon-fed, outcome-anticipated, specific-competence results-oriented learning environments with more conceptual learning environments which treat learners as ready and able to distill ideas presented into their own signature integrated solutions applicable for their line of work and customers, whether they be internal or external.

Tom Kelley, CEO of IDEO, a premier product and services innovation company, has been a long advocate of this approach. In his book, The Ten Faces of Innovation, he describes a particular persona called the “Cross-Pollinator.” Cross-Pollinators are those types who are inquisitive beyond their particular domain expertise and explore ideas from industries outside their immediate purview, come to understand the technology, device or methods employed elsewhere and figure out how to incorporate these ideas into their own work.

How might this look like in learning environments?  To compete with the wild web, these learning environments will provide media and socially rich environments which aid learners to deduct applications from disparate sources.  The conceptual age learning environment will offer a deep portfolio of ideas and solutions garnered from varieties of domains. For example, a sales learning environment will not only offer presentation tips and niche industry knowledge but perhaps also ways in which organizations well outside their own have leveraged technology to gain their customer attention. For example, Sugarloaf Ski resort has been admired for their ability to use social media to update the faithful.

Foremost, emerging learning environments will understand that people have their own intrinsic motivators, often contrary to what their company or manager thinks is their primary motivator (drop the carrots and sticks paradigm).  When really what motivates the learner is passion, purpose and curiosity.  Learning opportunities will only resonate when they intersect with someone’s current passion, fulfills their sense of purpose and giving, and piques their curiosity.

Learning opportunities are plentiful and the expectations are rising, and to be compelling whatever you are offering must be beautiful, unique and meaningful.