In this episode of the From Scratch podcast, Nigel Paine and Martin Couzins discuss Organizational Learning, the subject of Nigel’s new book and also a series of webinars.
And here is the transcript:
Welcome to the From Scratch Podcast. I’m Martin Couzins and my name is Nigel Paine.
MC: Well, dear listener, it’s very exciting. Nigel’s got a project up his sleeve. And we are going to discuss it. Now Nigel, organizational learning reimagined and redefined for our time. Can you reveal the project, what it is, and also, why you’re doing it, and what you’re hoping to achieve by it?
NP: Well, the project is really trying to reset learning and development and realignment to focus more on building great organizational learning, in addition to great individual learning, and to build organizations that learn and grow and react and are resilient. I think this is what we need for today. Sorry, it’s my little mission. And I’m doing a series of webinars to kick it off. But eventually, the book will come out, which is not quite finished yet. But it’s well on the way. And around the book, there will be a whole work plan for individuals and companies, some, unlike the other books, I’m not letting a book out onto defenseless world and expecting somehow it will be picked up and magnified and glorified, I’m going to do a lot more active engagement, and it starts with these webinars. So that’s what I’m trying to do, I’m trying to realign and get people to think for the first time for maybe 20 years, in organizations about what organizational learning means and why it’s important, and why they should get involved.
MC: So what is it and why is it important? I know the work is in progress, the book is to come and you share some of this in the webinar series, but now you talk about individual versus organizational learning. You know, why are you talking about that? You know, why is it been kind of left for 20 years? You know, why now? And what, what are the benefits for organizations to start embracing this thinking?
NP: All good questions, Martin, and I can’t answer all of them. But I think that the research and the explosion of interest in organizational learning from the mid 1990s, to shortly after the turn of the century, was due to a genuine anxiety that organizations are becoming too complex for individuals and individual genius to manage, that we needed somehow to tap into the zeitgeist of the organization to survive. And that got displaced by, I think, largely by personal technology, when we realized that we could personalize and focus down on individual learners and individual learning needs, and we’ve forgotten about the organization.
Why it’s important now is that if we thought it was complex in 1998, it’s extraordinary complex now. And I don’t believe that there is any one individual however smart, and beautifully attuned and how maybe went to the best schools and knows the best people, there is no one individual who can work it out. And therefore, we have to start to pool our knowledge and help the organization get smart. And my belief is that a bunch of smart people working together are always going to outstrip the individual, however good at their job, because individuals have a particular viewpoint. And bunch of people diverse group working together, have multiple viewpoints, and therefore different perspectives, and they can come up with a solution.
But most organizations are deliberately geared up to stop any of that. Now, you’re not allowed to talk to people you get on and do your job. You’ve got your workstation, you’ve got your laptop, you have your tilting monitor, what else do you need, get on with it, do your job and you’re almost persuaded not to engage and wrap around that a culture where asking for help is a career limitation. admitting mistakes is corporate suicide. And giving help to others is a complete waste of time and you know, downside for you as the giver of you’ve got all these cultural things that have reinforced Here’s the message that I’ll get on and do my job and to hell with anyone else. And I think in the current climate, getting on and doing your job, and to hell with anyone else is completely crazy. And that organizations behave far more stupidly than they really are, you know that they’ve got all this collective intelligence, and it’s banished in favor of expecting certain individuals to come up with the answers. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a chief executive, or you’re working the telephones that no one’s going to come up with, the individual is going to come up with answers. Or if they do come up with them, they can make huge errors of judgment, and take the organization in a completely wrong direction.
So, I think it’s time to rethink the power of learning in organizations, because it’s important. And to make sure that as we make individuals more competent, we make the organization itself much, much smarter, much, much more resilient, and much more agile, able to turn and twist as the world changes around them. So that’s the essence of it. It’s a kind of insight that I’m slightly obsessed about. And, and I, it’s my kind of mission in life to get that message across. And I hope that at least one or two people will listen and it was It will stir something and get some energy and activity and organizations. That’s what I’m hoping.
MC: That’s great. I think we should leave it there and wait to see the webinar program and look forward to the book, and all the activities that come around that. I think the one thing I would say just hearing your passion around it is that it’s just it feels like a great opportunity for learning teams to tap into something that’s far bigger than what has been traditional learning. That’s what it feels like to me, you know, I’m just taking away that idea this is about culture, you know, organizational culture, but it’s also about well being, and, and people’s work and being heard. And you can begin to think about piecing all that together and being the team responsible for making the connections. That was like a very, very worthwhile way to spend the working day and week, month and year. So sounds very interesting. So let’s leave it there.
NP: Thank you, Martin. I hope it is interesting. And I hope it does make people’s lives a little bit easier. Because that’s the aim ultimately, is to create a better working environment and do better stuff when you’re when you’re there, not being miserable and unhappy and terrified and wearing masks, not telling the truth, which is you know, a lot of the natural consequences of the kinds of cultures that we have in organizations at the moment. So thank you, Martin.
Picture credit: Magda Ehlers