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

23 December 2009


Clark @ 1:49 PM

I love talking with my Internet Time Alliance colleagues, they’re always sparking me to new thoughts.  In our chat, we were talking about learning, and I riffed off Charles’ comment about defining learning to opine that I see learning as a persistent behavior change (in the same context).  It’s very behaviorist-influenced (given that I’m a cognitive/connectionist/constructivist type), but the point is that it needs to manifest.  Otherwise, you get what we cog types call ‘inert knowledge’, you can recite it back on a test, but when it’s relevant in the world it never gets activated!

However, it got me to thinking about individual versus group behavior.  And I realize that there were some key points I take as foundational:

  • that orgs will need innovation
  • that innovation isn’t solitary
  • thus, that improving collective innovation requires collaboration
  • and that collaboration requires culture & infrastructure

I’ve argued before about how the increasing rate of change, capability, and more mean that executing against a total customer experience is only the cost of entry, and that continual innovation will be necessary. Competitors can reproduce a product or service quickly.  Technology advances provide new opportunities to improve products, processes, and services. So, you need continual innovation (which I think of as continual learning, as problem-solving, new {process|product|service} development, creativity, research, etc are all learning).

Now, Keith Sawyer has made the point that, in general, innovation isn’t individual.  In reality, individuals build upon one another’s work continually.  Sure, one person may be responsible for an innovation, but that’s not the way to bet.  Collective intelligence is the way to get the highest and continual output.

As a consequence, collaboration is needed.  The right people need to get together in the right way to address the right problem at the right time.  If you’re not collaborating, you’re suboptimal and therefore vulnerable.  Recognize the attendant issues: you have to be willing to tolerate failure, share mistakes as well as successes, and provide time for reflection!

To do that requires the double context of a supportive culture, and a facilitative infrastructure. There have to be ways to find the right collaborators, to understand the context, to share solutions, to test and evaluate, and to impact the way things are done.  And there have to be rewards for doing so.

That’s both the opportunity and the challenge on the table, and that’s why I hang w/ my posse.  We’d love to talk with you about it.


  1. Great post. I totally agree with you. The key here is that we need both “a supportive culture, and a facilitative infrastructure.” We’re working very hard to solve the facilitative infrastructure part at Ask My BrainTrust (http://AskMyBrainTrust.com).

    I’d love to chat some time to get your thoughts, compare notes, since it seems we’re both got a common goal here.

    Comment by Tawheed Kader — 24 December 2009 @ 6:08 AM

  2. Dear Clark,

    Your posts are always a great read offering insights into the real world of modern organizations and the field of Learning.

    In the digital age and knowledge work , every employee in the organization needs to have access to timely information to execute tasks, make decisions with agility.

    This is where Learning or KM , collaborative learning plays role and not training.
    ( Just another cost). How do we as Learning Pros shift paradigm of some of the Executives who aren’t willing to see things beyond training would be detrimental factor . How a Learning / KM process is helping every employee in an organization succeed would be the measure of our own success.

    These are some of my personal thoughts, i thought to share with you and others via your blog.


    Comment by Ruchi — 25 December 2009 @ 5:45 AM

  3. Thanks, Tawheed, interesting idea.

    Ruchi, agreed, everyone doing knowledge work, at least, needs access. And, increasingly, anyone not doing knowledge work should probably be automated or outsourced, as rote behavior isn’t really a core competency. Except, perhaps, craftsmanship?

    Thanks for the thoughts!

    Comment by Clark — 28 December 2009 @ 7:52 AM

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