On Cultures of Learning

Since August, I’ve been on a journey. My posts have ranged from social innovation and ecosystem reform to Enterprise 2.0, the pitfalls of traditional Knowledge Management (KM), and the first inklings of a knowledge renaissance.

Do you see common elements? What if we made an effort to foster cultures of learning throughout our social and commercial ecosystems?  If we assumed there were shared threads, what kind of tapestry could we weave?


A Knowledge Renaissance


At the core of such a model would be teams of people, working to understand and improve the many problems and challenges in front of them. Let’s call that process collaboration. Social media is making this a virtual experience, removing traditional geographic and political barriers. Now anyone can collaborate with virtually anyone, at little or no cost. All it takes is a commitment of time, and a sense of purpose. What would they be working towards? The stuff of paradigm shifts, really: emergent insight, knowledge, or simply a better “way of doing things”. So we’ll call the outcome by its rightful name: innovation.

Now let’s look at examples in two distinct areas:

Social context. In areas like public education and healthcare, a focus on stakeholder outcomes is gaining increasing priority. Many have grown frustrated by a current state that is broken and dysfunctional. Even now, social innovators are forming ranks to attack issues in our ecosystems.

Commercial context. Still other teams begin to work in cross-functional ways to drive new organizational models. Focus on individual contribution increases. Silos are seen as the problem. Under banners like “Enterprise 2.0” and “Social Business Design” corporate innovators are building new models for networked interaction and collaboration.

Today, social and corporate cultures rule the status quo, and are routinely identified as the most critical barrier to change. The alternative? We need to build cultures that embrace learning as a fundamental requirement, bringing open minds and critical thinking to the table.

Behind the scenes, learning and innovation are woven tightly together.

Here’s the bottom line: if it sounds ambitious, it is. But the foundational work is underway and social media has unlocked many new doors. Its work that needs our energy and our focus. Are you on board? I’d love to get your thoughts.

6 thoughts on “On Cultures of Learning

  1. Both the setup and the collaborative learning process make me think towards learning organizations (Peter M. Senge ,The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization). The question is whether removing the traditional barriers thanks to (social media) technology improves the collaboration, organizational learning, and ultimately, innovation. Social media may remove some barriers, but does it create/enable the motivation, time, and willingness required for sustainable organizational transformations? I’m afraid the bottom-up effect of social media still has to be complemented by strong leadership desire for improvement!


  2. Excellent point Christian. Clearly we’ll want to tap the thinking of Peter Senge to guide our actions and refine the approach. I had not read The Fifth Discipline (1990!? I am behind the times!); I will secure a copy today!

    Perhaps we can center our work on his insights. It can certainly inform our steps.

    To your concern: the issues of motivation, time and willingness are real. That’s why the ‘culture’ component is so critical. It won’t be enough for individuals to carry it. Yes, they (we?) need to act as catalysts. But leaders at all levels of the social and commercial ecosystems will need to take notice and participate.

    An encouraging example: the social and cultural engagement of the Danish pharma company Novo Nordisk. They have a balanced strategic orientation toward sustainability, in the context of a ‘triple bottom line’. From their website: they “strive to be economically viable, socially responsible, and environmentally sound.”

    That’s a great example of leadership.

    Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?

    Changing cultures isn’t easy. It often starts one idea, one person, and one company at a time. Social media gets people talking and ideas flowing. Online and virtual communities get things focused, teams self-organize .. and somewhere in there, is a tipping point. And yes, I am up to date on my Gladwell!

    Super insight Christian, thanks for the comment.

  3. Interesting. But Novo Nordisk is — not unexpectedly in this CSR/Sustainability context — a Scandinavian company! It would be (far more) significant to find a solid North American example…

    As for an introduction to the thinking of Peter Senge, I would recommend an early Sloan Management Review article: The Leader’s New Work: Building Learning Organizations.

    Whilst his work is nearly 20 years old, it seems very pertinent in today’s context…


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