The “box” has become a common metaphor describing how people think about things, but none of us can ever really be “outside the box.” We always work from within some framework, some paradigm, some perspective. Most of us work from within a successful box. That is, our way of being in the world, our box, is successful for us. Here is the box paradox: What makes us successful today prevents us from being successful tomorrow because things will change—guaranteed.
Change is a fact of life. Some change is incremental, and incrementally better policies, practices and products emerge daily, increasing profitability. Upgraded software, improved production technology and new product specifications are all incremental, building slowly on what came before. In contrast, some change is innovative, seeming to emerge from nowhere, like e-learning or the shift from mechanical stem-winding watches to electronic watches. While most companies were steadily improving mainspring watches, one company was reinventing personal timekeeping. Incremental change is a daily grind, a long-term process of ongoing challenge, whereas innovative change is a sudden and often-overwhelming challenge. Managing each kind of change requires a different knowledge base and skill set. Employees who adjust quickly to innovative change keep their companies in business.
Content-based incremental learning is the heart of the CLO’s work. Most staff members are good at learning incremental improvements to policies, practices and products. They help the organization do things better. A few staff members are good at learning about innovative improvements to policies, practices and products. They urge organizations to do better things. Senior management and CLOs are heavily invested in incremental change and incremental learning because incremental learning is the key to managing incremental change. I guarantee that 10 years ago there were people in your organization who were promoting the innovative concept of e-learning. Senior management was so thoroughly invested in the incremental paradigm–the incremental box–that no one bothered with this innovation. Now, e-learning is growing rapidly as a technique for incremental learning. Imagine how advanced your organization’s e-learning program would be if someone had listened 10 years ago to that innovative idea.
The vast majority of learning in any organization must focus on incremental changes, on updated policies, practices and products. Nevertheless, a little of the learning in organizations needs to focus on innovation, paradigm changes and wholly new policies, practices and products. Most employees enjoy incremental training and thrive in the incremental box. A few employees thrive on seeking out and learning about radical shifts that may affect the future of your business. These few employees are essential to your company’s future during times of change. If they find the incremental box uncomfortable and leave your organization in order to seek out new opportunities, your competition will take advantage of what comes along tomorrow. Maybe the new idea already came along, and no one in your company was listening to your innovators.
Some of your employees have a talent for learning about paradigm shifts and innovative changes. Learning who these people are, helping them learn how to effectively innovate new policies, practices and products, and helping them learn to speak about incremental change is a challenge. A second challenge is helping incremental learners work with innovative learners—the people who challenge the incremental paradigm. Incremental learners excel at solving incremental problems. Innovative learners are an asset when the world becomes turbulent and dynamic, and they are even more valuable if they have been incorporated into your overall corporate learning strategies.
If the CLO is not preparing all employees for the coming innovative shifts in policies, practices and products, who is?
Will Barratt is associate professor in the College of Education at Indiana State University.
- 5 Forces Shaping the Future of HR
- Why ‘Leaders Eat Last’
- Visions and missions — defining your value and purpose proposition
- The Reskilling Revolution versus the ‘clay layer’
- When the leader can’t return to the office
- Combatting a campus (and workplace) mental health epidemic
- Psychological safety leads to better managers and teams at this major enterprise