Subverting management and education, one project at a time

I have been described as “a keen subversive of the last century’s management and education models”, a description I like. It’s a difficult business model though. That’s why I joined with my colleagues at the Internet Time Alliance in 2009. I finally had a close professional group to discuss nascent ideas. Our latest work is on the coherent organization.

We work together on projects, public speaking, workshops, and writing. I am starting to think that our customers and our clients are diverging. The people who could really use our help are managers and individual knowledge workers. For example, we have had incredibly positive feedback from individuals attending our workshops at the Social Learning Centre. We intend to continue to grow this community.

However, organizational budgets are often controlled by people who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Requests for Proposals are usually aligned to a certain solution type. For instance, asking for advice on selecting the appropriate LMS does not ask the deeper question of why you need an LMS in the first place. Requesting help to add informal learning learning to formal instruction does not look at whether the training courses are actually useful to begin with. As my colleague Charles Jennings says, knowing is not doing.

The thinking that hard-wires ‘knowing’ to ‘learning’ has set our efforts to build high-performing organisations back many years.

Learning and knowing sometimes coincide, but they are different beasts.

There is still a huge focus on ‘knowing’ in organisational learning. We build formal classroom courses and eLearning programmes that consist of pre-tests and post-tests. We then assume that if we gain a higher score after some formal learning process (almost invariably assessed through a test/examination/certification based on knowledge recall) than we did before, then learning has occurred.

Most of us know deep down that this is bunk.

Passing knowledge tests immediately following a course tells us little about real learning. It may tell us something about short-term memory recall, but real learning can only be determined by observable long-term changes in behaviour.

I often feel like a doctor in the days before diagnostics. The preferred solutions were the prettiest or the most expensive (and least effective). In this kind of system, it took a long time for doctors to start washing their hands or give up on practices like blood-letting. I was told by someone at a large multinational company that it is easier to hire a brand-name consulting firm to deliver what many in the company know they do not need, than to engage a much cheaper and more effective group like the Internet Time Alliance to try a novel approach. In many ways, it seems that the brands have successfully mounted the bandwagon. What they lack in skills and experience, they make up in marketing.

But every once in a while we meet a client who is open to innovative ideas, or at least trying a few probes in the spirit of addressing complexity. These clients have self-confidence and a sense of adventure. They are not afraid of the concept of failure. If something is guaranteed to be a success, it should not require much attention from management anyway.

We are not just an alliance amongst ourselves but we are building a wider network of individuals and organizations who know that we should create better work environments for society in the network era. We have learned that complex problems require different thinking and innovative solutions. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. We know that each organization’s situation is not only different, it is continually changing. We are not your average consultancy. But who would want one in times of great change anyway?

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3 Responses to “Subverting management and education, one project at a time”

  1. Dick Carlson

    If I had a nickel for every time I saw a potential client’s eyes glaze over, as I kept asking questions about why they had already chosen a particular solution when they hadn’t actually identified their problem…

    Talking myself out of work, regrettably, seems to be one of my core competencies. I keep asking “but how are we going to measure if we’ve succeeded?” “What is the goal?” “Can you describe the problem that we’re trying to solve?”

    I’m generally known as an annoying little bastard.

  2. jay cross

    Hi, Dick. Thank goodness we annoying little bastards can sleep soundly at night. To thine own self be true. I have taken a vow of authenticity and can no longer waste time chasing down things I do not believe in. I’m blunt. This morning I received a friendly email calling Internet Time Alliance “the Avengers of the business world.” Like John Steed and Emma Peel, we only avenge when they’ve asked for it. Uh, hold it. Our correspondent was comparing us to comic-book superheros? Never mind.

  3. Mario Gastaldi

    This whole thinking of yourselves around how businesses choose and buy consultancy services resonates a lot with me too.
    This requires for a relentless effort in engaging organizational leaders while most of them at the moment are caged in their cautious thinking frameworks.
    So the effort is proving to be significant, and like Harold says, it may even be a difficult business model.

    It’s important to keep describing ourselves like people who are focused on results and beneficial outcomes, and speak as much a reassuring, positive, language as it is possible.
    Also, it is important to have many positive stories (cases) to tell.

    On another perspective, I am writing a piece where, among other things, I am talking about which circumstances positively influence organizational leaders toward change and improvement.
    The more they are stably involved with ownership, and the higher they are in their hierarchy, the more likely they are to care for long-term (vs. short term) organizational results, and to be open-minded and self-confident too.

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