Last month we discussed how learning can be “incremental and evolutionary” or “punctuated and revolutionary”(see below). The power of ambidextrous learning is that it takes all types of learning into account with its model. We began our discussion on learning with learning in organizations and what made learning in an AO unique.
This month we will conclude our discussion on learning with a few insights for promoting a dynamic learning environment!
Radical, revolutionary learning is considered inadvisable in most organizations and rightfully so, most would be unequipped to deal with it. Usually, only learning and innovation tethered to the familiar is culturally allowed and structurally accommodated. David Owens, author of Creative People Must Be Stopped described what he terms adaptive learning and radical learning associating them with exploitation and exploration. When learning and innovation are considered together Owens contends, “all but the “smallest” incremental innovation is a bridge too far to consider adopting”, though it may be precisely what is needed.
If the single most important thing a CEO does for their organization is set the culture then the single most important thing culture does is create and protect a dynamic learning ecosystem or environment. It’s not enough to allow and encourage learning, you must protect and defend it as well. What can you do to promote a dynamic (ambidextrous) learning environment? Consider these tips for starters and we’ll talk more next month, enjoy! Eric
Find your Polymaths, Divergent Thinkers, Iconoclasts, and Bricoleurs
Bricoleurs are constantly taking the things they know and recombining them in radical new ways to solve problems.
These people are your Marvel Avengers team! What is a Bricoleur? Think of the television character MacGyver who could get out of a locked room with nothing more than a piece of chewing gum and a paper clip. In a now-famous story, sense-making researcher Karl Weick tells of the Mann-Gulch disaster and of backwoods firefighter Wagner Dodge. Dodge and his team of fire-jumpers were racing up a steep hill of dried chaparral grass trying to escape a fire while carrying heavy packs. With strong winds and a wall of flames in close pursuit Dodge did the unthinkable. He lit a fire in front of him and instructed his men to step into the embers of the burnt grass and lay down. A few of the men who trusted Dodge implicitly did as he said while the rest who couldn’t make sense of what he was doing ran around the burnt patch continuing up the hill. Dodge had never thought of doing such a thing as this before, by all accounts no one had. But he did know fire needed three things to exist; heat, a fuel source, and oxygen, by taking away one of the required elements, he broke the chain. The wall of flames parted around the men who followed Dodge into the burnt spot. Bricoleurs are constantly taking the things they know and recombining them in radical new ways to solve problems.
Iconoclasts are people who attack cherished beliefs or institutions, they are defined as “destroyers of images”. Iconoclasts are great for exposing cultural and structural inertia, two debilitating ailments that silently cripple organizations. Set boundaries for your iconoclasts, they must be respectful and not get personal in their critique. But don’t be intimidated by these positive deviants or drive them out. A passionate person cares deeply about what they believe in and if they believe in your company that’s a great thing. Finally, it’s good to have a person in the room with a different opinion!
Polymaths, and generalists, are once again poised to have their day. A polymath is a person of wide-ranging knowledge and learning (think Leonardo Davinci). Where once the narrowed specialist was revered as king, the master generalist is now making a comeback. In a complex changing world, creativity and diverse interests combined with expertise are being recognized as powerful tools. Most recently billionaire Mark Cuban said and fellow billionaire Elon Musk agrees: “freer thinkers with different perspectives are needed” and “creativity and flexible thinking should be seen as valuable assets.”
Divergent thinkers see the bigger picture, the whole landscape, and suspend judgement until decisions have to be made. If a divergent thinker were to cast a net it would be a wide one. They would be looking to catch as many species of fish as they could while the convergent thinker would be busy separating the blue fish from the red ones. The workplace is full of convergent thinkers (specialists) narrowing down solutions to make quick decisions while divergent thinkers are still looking in all the corners, holding back, and asking ever more refined questions. Use your divergent thinkers strategically, keep the funnel going both ways (diverge and converge) in cyclical patterns until you’ve refined the best solution for you. Interestingly, in a testament to the value of a diverse workforce neuroscience tells us women are considerably better equipped to handle big-picture, divergent, landscape thinking.