Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Liberty without learning

To continue my series of posts based on the JFK quote on liberty and learning

If you remember, the quote said

"Liberty without learning is always in peril; learning without liberty is always in vain".
- John F. Kennedy

What about the first part? Presumably JFK was meaning that if a country or a people has freedom, but does not understand that freedom or the reasons behind it, that that freedom could be easily lost.

If we put this quote into the context of organisational learning, and look at the freedom of decision making, then we get a different conclusion.

Imagine an organisation, with people empowered to make decisions. Imagine no system for organisational learning. So in terms of Nancy Dixon's four steps for organisational learning, below, we have step 4, but steps 1 through 3 are missing. What then?

1. Widespread generation of information
2. Integration of new/local information into the organisational context
3. Collective interpretation of information
4. Having authority to take responsible action based on the interpreted meaning.

Then, I would suggest, you have anarchy and fragmentation. You also are putting people in a very scary position, asking them to make decisions without a mechanism for supplying them with the knowledge to make the correct decisions. People end up "making it up as they go". And if they are good people, they make up a good answer, but it may not be the best answer.

You see this sometimes in conservative project-based organisations. They hire very experienced project managers, and each project manager is empowered to manage the project their own way, in their own style, with their own reporting systems, often using their personal library of project management tools. Each will deliver the project based on their personal experience. And in the worst case, they end up repeating the way they have managed projects for the past 20 years. So instead of 20 years experience, they have one year, repeated 20 teims.

Imagine if you could pool that experience. Imagine if the project managers could learn from each other. Imagine if their teams could learn from each other. Imagine if you could add learning to the empowerment. Imagine what a powerful mix that would be.

In an organizational contest, liberty without learning is inefficiency, it is fragmentation, and at its worst, it is anarchy.

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