Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

23 September 2010

Shifting perspectives

Clark @ 10:37 am

In the Internet Time Alliance chat, yesterday, we were discussing the apparently difficultly some are seeming to have with the necessary mind shifts to comprehend the benefits of social media for organizational learning.  It seems to me that there are 3 roles and each has an associated shift.


The old thinking was that the thinking is done from the top and percolates down.  Whatever skills are needed are brought in or identified and the learning unit develops it.  There’s a direct relationship between the specific skills and the impact on the business.

The new thinking is that the goals are identified and made clear and then the employees are empowered to achieve the goals in the ways that seem best.  They can provide input into the goals, and adapt the skillsets as needed.

The is important because of speed, productivity, and outcomes.  First, the world is moving faster, and there is no longer time to plan, prepare and execute. It has also been demonstrated that employees are more productive when they’ve bought into the plan and have responsibility.  It’s also the case that bringing more brains ‘online’ to help achieve goals ultimately makes better decisions.

The necessary components are that workers need a context where they can contribute safely and are empowered to work.

The Learning Unit

The old thinking was that the learning unit was about ‘training’.  That the learning unit responded to identified skill needs, created training, delivered it, and then measured whether employees thought it was worthwhile.  The focus was on courses.

The new thinking is that the learning unit is about ensuring that the necessary complement of skills and resources are available.  That the responsibility is not just for formal learning, but performance support, and social interchange.  That the role is facilitation, not delivery.

This is important because the workforce needs to be focused on the task, with the tools to hand, but the nature of the important work is changing. It’s no longer about doing something known, but about dealing with the unknown.  Really, any time you’re problem-solving, research, design, creating new products and services, by definition you don’t have the answer and the skills necessary are meta-skills: how to problem-solve, get information, trial solutions, evaluate the outcomes.  It’s about working together as well as independently.

The necessary components are to define and track the new skills, to provide an infrastructure where learners can take responsibility, and to track outcomes and look for opportunities to improve the environment, whether the performer skills, the tools, or the resources.  Yes, there are still courses, but they’re only one component of a bigger picture, and they take a format that is conducive to these new skills: they’re active and exploratory.

The workforce

The old thinking was that they did what they were told, until they could do it without being told.  The strategic thinking was done elsewhere, and they took a defined role.

The new thinking is that workers are told what the goals are, and have to figure out how to accomplish it, but not just alone. It’s a collaborative effort where there are resources  and tools, and we contribute to the outcome while reviewing the work for opportunities to improve.  Workers contribute at both the execution and the innovation level.  They have to take responsibility.

This is important because, as stated above, what with automation, the work that really matters is shifting, and organizations that try to continue to sequester the important thinking to small sections of the organization will lose out to those that can muster larger brain trusts to the work.

The necessary components are leadership, culture, and infrastructure. Workers have to comprehend the goals, believe in the culture, and have the tools – individual and collective – to accomplish the goals.

Hopefully, the contrasts are clear, as are the opportunities.  It’s the shift from hierarchy to wirearchy.  What am I missing?


  1. Is that very like Auftragstaktik, but with learning instead of Panzers?? – The wikipedia description is as good as any here: “In mission-type tactics, the military commander gives their subordinate leaders a clearly defined goal (the mission), the forces needed to accomplish that goal and a time frame within which the goal must be reached. The subordinate leaders then implement the order independently.” So I wonder why it is taking business so long to get it?

    Comment by Mike Cosgrave — 23 September 2010 @ 11:21 am

  2. Clark,
    Excellent insights, thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Sue Schnorr — 24 September 2010 @ 6:41 am

  3. [...] thanks to Clark Quinn The old thinking was that the thinking is done from the top and percolates down. The new thinking [...]

    Pingback by The New Thinking in training helps gets the job done in this fast-moving world — 21 October 2010 @ 10:51 am

  4. [...] 9. The changing learning landscape is part of a much wider changing business environmentWe need a new paradigm for getting things done and for empowering a new breed of employee that does not function well in a heirarchal top down, highly controlled environment – Michael Lascette. Clark Quinn has talked about this here. [...]

    Pingback by Sumeet Moghe: The State of Learning in the Workplace Today | Software Secret Weapons — 3 November 2010 @ 8:14 pm

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