There was a period in the Middle Ages where the English decided they should be ruling France as well as England.
They had a decent claim. Royal marriages were mainly about alliances and land grabs, but they came with consequences because if one line runs out of heirs, then what had looked like a useful marriage of convenience a couple of generations ago, suddenly becomes the senior surviving line and if that line is also the line of the Kings of England, then they have their own army and might want to pop across the Channel and do something about it.
Despite England being smaller, poorer and less-populated, they did just that and managed to rule large parts of their continental neighbour for the best part of a century.
A few years ago the L&D world was abuzz with the sound of people explaining that 70% of learning comes from experience, 20% from other people, and only 10% from formal learning events.
Thus the 70:20:10 model became the flavour of the month, and was used by Consultants everywhere to try to ram it into the stubborn heads of managers that a one-off tick-boxy training course is not a good way to help people get better at doing their jobs.
Like all things that are fashionable, it suffered the roller-coaster of fashion bias one minute, then anti-fashion bias the next, in turn exaggerating then obscuring the wisdom within the model.
Fashion Bias (noun, origin: just made it up): the tendency to overestimate the value of the latest thing because it is in fashion
Anti-Fashion Bias (noun, origin: just made this one up too): tendency to underestimate the value of the latest thing because it is in fashion
And lo, what had once been the answer to all L&D woes faded into the background to become yesterday’s news: a slightly awkward gimmicky sounding tool that people often took to mean that you should do a bit of job shadowing and watch a TED Talk once you’ve done the training course.
The problem with throwing out a model because it gets misunderstood and misused, and through familiarity ends up sounding a bit simplistic and old hat, is that one can accidentally also chuck out the good bits. I believe the metaphor to use here is the one about not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but I’ve always thought that a rather dramatic and unfamiliar analogy: who hears that metaphor and thinks, “ah OK, now I understand thanks to my vast experience of accidentally throwing babies away“?
There are many reasons why the learning organization remains so tantalizingly elusive.
Like any big idea that’s about intangible stuff like culture and attitude, the concept suffers from being a bit wishy-washy and vulnerable to the told-you-so cynics who love to point out how all the stuff isn’t perfect.
It also asks people, employees and managers, to behave in ways that are not necessarily in their own short-term best interests. It requires people to be mature, professional, think long-term, share and collaborate, and create safe environments where people can make mistakes and learn.
Not only that, it’s a staggeringly ambitious vision for an organization. The standard definitions offer a glittery utopian future that few would see as undesirable, but most would fail to even know where to start, let alone be able to put together a coherent programme that would impress the finance department.
So, I thought I’d solve all of these problem by developing a three-stage definition that would also serve as a road-map.
This isn’t to suggest that this is simple. It isn’t. The road is strewn with obstacles, but let us not be deterred by the difficulty of the terrain, let us break it down and get stuck in …