If you are creating an organisation from scratch, then it’s relatively easy. If you are trying to transform an existing situation then you may need to surface and deal with the mental models that the incumbents are using. For instance developing meaningful IT training for small businesses involves tackling and neutralising the “official” mental model that there are IT users on the one hand, IT professionals on the other, and nothing in between, Dealing with Digital Divide issues means dissolving the mental model that internet connections are three times as expensive as they really are and that there is nothing of value out there to someone like me.
The really big switch is towards team learning. Our educational system has been geared to the industrial model for 150 years. It favours broadcast activity. Someone on high has the ideas and these are propagated to the serfs and minions.
However real learning is collaborative and the tools of the internet facilitate this. We have Skype, BaseCamp, social media and MegaMeetings to facilitate idea creation and deployment. Where people understand they can create and disseminate their ideas the digital divide melts away.
This has always been true. The spirit of the age can be seen in the music and gene patenting industries where the aim of the game is to end up with all the counters so you can hold the world to ransom by OWNING the knowledge. However scientific and engineering organisations have more often than not progressed by co-creation. The first company I worked for made Steelworks cranes. Each one was different and co-invented by our chief project engineer and theirs. This learning was then retained to improve future designs. We built several software products like this – through collaborating with the customers.
However to retain the gains whatever you do has to be embedded in systems thinking. The business operates as a whole – so imagination and new product development has to be turned into reliable product delivery.
And it has to fit the company’s path through the waves of change.
A lead thinker in this area was Stafford Beer who amongst other things created a real time production monitoring system for the Chilean Government in the early 70s before the blue meanies decided that they wouldn’t tolerate a democratically elected Marxist regime in the world.
His systems model essentially states that the operations people know what they’re doing and can organise themselves to deliver as more or less autonomous units aligned around a vision. Central management’s job is to create a plan and have 2 independent monitoring units one of which looks inside and asks the question “are we on plan?” while the other looks outside and asks the question “is this plan still any good?”
At the same time it has to ensure that shared vision that this is a learning organisation focusing on whatever it does is grounded in the awareness of the whole organisation.
The end game of our CAD business was that we wanted to expand it and moved south in the summer of 1995. We had spent the previous 18 months training the team to be self-organising. In the event we over-reached ourselves and had to close the company 6 months later. But freed of our pretensions to be software developers, the team ran a good business with a local customer base for another 8 years.