Category Archives: Networks

Why Organizations Don’t Learn

Where organic, bottom-up meets corporate top-down.45720753_sAn article entitled Why Organizations Don’t Learn by Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats in the November 2015 issue of Harvard Business Review caught my eye.

The resemblance of their suggestions and the content of Real Learning is uncanny.

Both the article and Real Learning highlight:

  • Destigmatize making mistakes (they are opportunities to learn)
  • Embrace and teach a growth mindset
  • Avoid attribution bias
  • Don’t work to exhaustion
  • Take frequent breaks
  • Take time to just think
  • Encourage reflection after doing
  • Leverage your strengths
  • Give workers different kinds of experience
  • Know who you’re working with

While we share many ideas on what makes for a successful organization, HBR and Real Learning are as different as night and day. Harvard Business Review is written for managers and executives. Real Learning is written for people who want to learn. HBR is top-down; Real Learning is bottom-up.

HBR lays the responsibility for getting things done on leaders:

Leaders can use a variety of strategies to counter the biases, including stressing that mistakes are learning opportunities, building more breaks into schedules, helping employees identify and apply their personal strengths, and encouraging employees to own problems that affect them.

The problem is that everything recommended by HBR deals with the supply side. Real Learning looks at the world through the demand side. Real Learning appeals to people with an intrinsic motivation to learn — in order to meet their personal goals. Intrinsic motivation outguns extrinsic motivation because ultimately, individuals learn what they want to learn.

It wasn’t easy writing Real Learning from the learner’s perspective. (At first I tried to write the book without using the word learning, but that proved impossible.) One has to eliminate the trainers’ bias toward “them.” You can’t get away with platitudes about what leaders should do.

HBR’s prescriptions are the right medicine; too bad they’ve chosen the wrong means of administering it.

While leaders can and should do what they can to create a supportive learning environment and an engaging culture, things won’t change until workers begin to act differently.

People in the Real Learning Project learn to learn socially, experientially, and informally. Thus, they are prepared to deal with the daily surprises that are part of the baggage of complex work.


When I was in India in 2011, I found out that India needs to train 500 million people in the next ten years. The solution being batted around was to build 17,000 new universities to teach them.

What would those schools teach? The half-life of a professional skill is down to five years and is shrinking fast. It makes no sense to train people on skills that will become obsolete in short order. I suggested that people need to learn meta-skills, such things as:

  • learning how to learn
  • critical thinking and conceptualization
  • pattern recognition
  • design thinking
  • working with one another
  • navigating complex environments
  • software literacy

India has neither time nor resources to prepare teachers to transfer these skills to hundreds of millions of people. The answer? Flip Indian education. Delegate the delivery of content to electronic means, and focus teachers on coaching, leading discussions, helping people over hurdles, and relating lessons to real life. Also, teach students and workers to teach themselves.

The time is ripe for India to democratize education, to help students to think for themselves, and realize their potential. Top-down (17,000 universities) is not viable. Indians must empower people to learn on their own. Giving control to the learners is the only way to take control of the situation.

Networks of individuals instead of corporate monoliths

In January 2012, two dozen authors, managers, and agile software developers met on a mountain top in Stoos, Switzerland, to try to reverse the decline of corporations. How could the practice of management be updated to work in a complex, unpredictable world?

We concluded that Western corporations are broken. Workers hate their jobs; customers complain of lousy service; investors receive meager returns. There has to be a better way.

The organization-as-machine, the model that served us from the dawn of the industrial age until the beginning of the 21st century, leads to a quest for efficiency. That works in stable, unchanging times, but it’s a formula for disaster amid incessant, disruptive change. The living network is a better model for today. Organizations need to conceptualize themselves as networks of individuals and teams who perpetually strive to create more value for customers.

This flips the corporation into an organization that respects people for their contributions rather than seeing them as cogs in the machine. The new order democratizes the workplace.

Corporate Learning

In America and Europe, the corporate learning function is dead or dying.

A 2011 study by the Corporate Leadership Council reported that 76% of managers are dissatisfied with their corporate training function; 85% deem training ineffective; and a mere 14% would recommend training to their fellow managers.

Workers and managers learn their work though conversation, collaboration, and on-the-job experience. My colleague Jane Hart calls this “learning without training.”

Enlightened corporations trust their people to pull in the resources they need. They’ve flipped corporate learning by putting the learners in charge of defining the curriculum. These corporations concentrate on building self-sustaining learning ecosystems, what I’ve called workscapes, instead of individual programs.

Real Learning builds the skills for workers to take charge of their own learning. I’m currently writing a booklet on what managers and team leaders can do to support decentralization of corporate learning.

The Cluetrain Manifesto in action

themanifestoSixteen years ago, The Cluetrain Manifesto foretold the impact the Internet would have on companies’ relationships with their clients.  Some companies have yet to get the clue.

Excepts from the 95 Theses:

  • Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
  • Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
  • People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.
  • There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.
  • Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.
  • In just a few more years, the current homogenized “voice” of business — the sound of mission statements and brochures —will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court
  • Companies need to realize their markets are often laughing. At them.


CIGNA insurance refused to pay for my drugs because it was the second time in a year I asked for a refill in advance because I was going on vacation.  The story is online.

Here are a few Tweets from yesterday evening. I had warned them and they blew me off anyway. These guys put their undocumented in-house policies ahead of human decency and common sense.

cigna10 cigna9 cigna8 cigna7 cigna6 cigna5 cigna4 cigna3




CIGNA called me this morning and said this shouldn’t happen to anyone. They are reviewing their policies. They are reviewing their internal procedures. They are sorry this happened.

Too bad they didn’t say that yesterday instead of telling me this was the way things were, policy is policy, and I would not be allowed to speak to a person higher up.

I’m off on vacation. I think CIGNA’s doing a little damage control.


danah boyd on teens and 21st century work

danah boyd opened ASTD TechKnowledge 2013 with a keynote on teenagers, networks, and work in the 21st century.

danah spells her name in lower case, but everything else about her is upper case: Master’s in Sociable Media with Judith Donath at the MIT Media Lab, PhD at UC Berkeley School of Information advised by Peter Lyman and Mimi Ito, fellow at the Annenberg Center for Communication, fellow at the Berkman Center at Harvard, work at Yahoo, Intel, Google, and now Microsoft.

danah has been Continue reading danah boyd on teens and 21st century work

Your social wishlist

How will you take advantage of your in-house social network?

Use networks to create services and share collective intelligence

Your company will install an in-house social network. The only question is how soon. Wise Chief Learning Officers are thinking about how social networks will augment learning & development.

Imagine that a Senior Executive in your company returns from Thanksgiving weekend having read white papers from IBM that say social business is the next step in the overall Continue reading Your social wishlist

The Warm Feeling of Vindication

When checking out of the Randolph Hotel in Oxford a couple of weeks back, I was surprised to be charged 3 for “Credit Card Processing.” What? When I pay hundreds of dollars for a room, I expect the hotelier to pick up the finance charges.

The next evening I posted my thoughts on the Randolph’s billing policy to TripAdvisor.

I forgot about the incident until an email arrived from Trip Advisor this morning.

In only 7 days, your review has had 327 readers

If my “review” turns off only Continue reading The Warm Feeling of Vindication

What Universities Must Learn About Social Networks

What Universities Must Learning About Social Networks


Increasingly, businesses are looking to more social approaches to employee learning and development. Higher education institutions must capitalize on this shift.

Co-written with Chris Sessums | Director of Educational Research, Internet Time Lab

THE ISSUE IS NOT whether you are going to become a socially networked university but how soon.

Businesses are being Continue reading What Universities Must Learn About Social Networks

Everything’s Coming Up Networks (except learning)

Sloan Management Review has a great interview with Andy McAfee on What Sells CEOs on Social Networking. CEOs excitedly agree with Lew Platt’s old observation about Hewlett-Packard: “If only HP knew what HP knows, we’d be three times more productive.” They understand the power of weak ties in enterprise social networks. They appreciate the incoming generation’s new approach to working without limits. Sure, there are fears of losing control, the fact that hierarchy and social networks are not Continue reading Everything’s Coming Up Networks (except learning)