Agile learning: Building creative organizations

The old model

We grew up within a school system that taught us what to do. Knowledge was passed on as dogmatic and the teacher was seen as the source of all knowledge.
The system was a one-way communication stream and an extremely effective way of creating an acceptable baseline. It meant that all students had a basic and common understanding of what was being taught.

Within organizations, this is no different. It is also how most up-skill their employees. An expert will come in and tell you how things are done, giving you instructions on how to do a certain job. Again, this is a great way of creating an acceptable baseline of knowledge.

Learning within an organization is massively broken because we are optimizing for efficiency, not growth

It is also a great model for consultancy companies as, just like in schools, failure to achieve results is pinned on the student’s capabilities, and success is measured by their level of proficiency with certain tools and practices.

In business, as in life, proficiency is not nearly enough.

Watch the first 6 minutes of Ken Robinson’s TED Talk – Do schools kill creativity? – and try to draw the parallel to how your organization delivers education. You can save the remaining 14 minutes for later.

A new model emerges

Schools are realizing that their model is broken, as they have been failing to prepare the recent generations for a world where context changes quickly, and tools rapidly become outdated.

Finland, Denmark, Portugal and many other countries, have been slowly changing from the established model to a new one. This is a model that transforms the relationship between teacher and student.

In the new model, the teacher is a facilitator and a moderator rather than the center of knowledge, as they collaborate with students on a common project. At a higher education level, we are seeing universities without course curriculum or teachers having some success.

It nurtures the development of skills like creativity, problem solving, collaboration and other interpersonal skills. The fundamental knowledge is still there,  it’s just not at the center of it all.

Because of the way we experienced the system, many of us still struggle with the lack of a “structure” that we can recognize. “If we don’t focus our efforts on measuring proficiency at using tools, then how can we know if students are ready for the future?!”

In the same vein, organizations need to change the way their teams learn. If the world itself is fast-paced and changing, this is even more noticeable within a business.

And the need is there… We can see it in the vast numbers of creative thinkers, problem solvers and action-driven people that companies are trying to recruit.

What we need to understand is that within schools, the model is changing. The same shift needs to happen within organizations.

The baseline is important, but it is building the skills that this new model caters for that will truly allow businesses to remain innovative.

Organizations need to start embedding and reinforcing behavior around these types of skills within their teams. Wider transformation will come, but teaching the right skills is the real low hanging fruit.

A long way to go

Organizations still have a long way to go, even those that consider themselves proficient in these ways.

Even within these companies, during talks, training sessions or just regular conversations, the requests will still be around “what tools should we use”, or “we’ve been using – insert tool name- but we don’t really get anything valuable from it”.

This immediately hints at an understanding of how something works – its function – but not its purpose. It also reveals why prescriptive methods don’t work if we are aiming to make an organization better at solving problems.

Prescriptive methods work if you are looking for marginal efficiency gains, but they don’t if you want to create new business areas and revenue streams. These should drive more autonomy and empower employees to exercise their problem-solving capabilities.

As schools are moving towards an agile learning model that is focused on discovery, creative problem solving, and away from pure deployment of knowledge, so too should organizations make this shift for the way their teams learn and work.

What organizations need are the skills to build their own future, not the tools of last year.

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