There is a theme that runs through the book, Humanize, that Maddie and I are writing, and it has to do with being all talk and no action. We’re writing about elements of a social organization (or human organization, as we say in the book) that have been covered in the blogosphere already: transparency, openness, trust, ownership, inclusion, learning…the list goes on. And what we have noticed is that lots of people talk a good game on these subjects, but we’re not collectively making much progress in DOING any of it.
We hope that our book will help change that (for each of our main chapters we will have a downloadable worksheet to get you started). Because we feel like we’re running out of time. We need to get serious about all these topics and start making them happen in our organizations, rather than just talk about them.
Learning is one of them that I happen to be writing about now. Social organizations need to be serious about learning, but I am afraid it is something we usually only give lip service to. Sure, we have our “post mortems” after the meeting where we analyze whether we put the signs in the right places or not and write it down for the file so we remember next year. We do our surveys to uncover the preferences and desires of our members and customers. That’s learning right? Yes, but it’s not deep enough.
Peter Senge and his colleagues call that “reactive learning.” It’s where you do stuff and think about it (that’s learning), but you don’t really challenge your mental models and assumptions. It’s mostly relying on what you already know, or habits you have developed. This is fine for doing simple things, but our organizations need deeper learning than that. We need to take the time to really understand our organization’s action and think about it deeply, challenging our assumptions about how things work or why things are the way they are. We each individually need to reflect deeply on the role we play in what’s happening, and how each of us could do that differently as part of getting a better result. We actually need to think about the way things are evolving, not just the way they “are.” Senge et al. argue that the action that comes out of that kind of learning is more likely to serve the whole, and take us to that proverbial next level.
I think we need that next level, and we need it sooner rather than later. So we need deeper learning in our organizations, and that responsibility belongs to each of us (in other words, not just your boss or your colleagues who “don’t get it”). YOU need to figure out how to start engaging in deeper learning.