To optimize your learning, optimize your networks

The Internet Time Alliance has been brainstorming models of learning networks. Harold recently posted this model:

Workers collaborate in Project Teams to get the job done. People cooperate in External Networks to meet a shared goal. Communities in the middle do a bit of both. Harold’s post on collaboration and cooperation generated a lot of discussion.

I can no more keep my mitts off an interesting model than I can pass up a plate of pistachio nuts. I rejiggered Harold’s model to suit my own purposes:


Conversations are the stem cells of learning, and social networks are the carriers of conversation. These networks operate behind the firewall (e.g., the corporate activity stream) and external (e.g. research chemists). They can be personal or professional on either side of the firewall (for example, the company football pool or machinists who support Obama’s re-election).

The individual worker‘s in there because we each bring our own mix of personal and professional networks to the job. Our connections empower us.

The work team is a different sort of animal because we have a job to do. Some teams are self-organizing networks; others are the tail end of command-and-control.

On the wide-open web, my learning often relies on the kindness of strangers. People I’m not connected with share their discoveries. Karma drives me to share mine, too, as a contribution to the Commons.

As standalone companies realize that they’re really extended enterprises, co-learning with customers and stakeholders will become important in facing the future together. Players through the corporate ecosystem need to be operating on the same wave-length. They need to be coherent. This can only happen when we’re adapting to the future, i.e. learning, at the same pace.

Judith Harris’s wonderful book The Nurture Assumption created a stir by making the case that children grow up like their peers, not like their parents. If you want your children to be successful in life, make sure they hang out with the right crowd.

I’m beginning to think the same sort of thing is going on in the workplace. Workers learn from their peers than from their bosses. Our attitudes, our values, and our emotions are vital components of our tacit learning — our “learning to be” as opposed to our “learning to do.” If you want your workers to be effective in the workplace, make sure they take part in healthy networks.

To optimize your learning, optimize your networks.