When it comes to spotting patterns in the evolution of technology and learning, sometimes the informal conversations at professional conferences can be the most insightful. Discussions at Chief Learning Officer magazine’s Spring 2005 Symposium—when seen collectively—begin to reveal such a pattern.
Steven Schuller, vice president of Wyndham International, revealed that he is developing knowledge networks for Web-based real-time peer-to-peer mentoring. He plans to engage senior managers to capture what they know and make that knowledge available more broadly. Jim Mitnick, senior vice president of Turner Construction Company, said he is moving toward virtual collaboration, via wireless devices that function in an integrated environment, that provides real-time gap analysis. Joy Hunter, CLO of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, described her work on systems that “synthesize the water cooler” to make learning informal and continuous via a system that anticipates and pushes learning as required. George Wolfe, dean of global learning and development for Steelcase University, is trying to “capture the genius within the enterprise,” to target inherent skills and competencies through social network analysis and knowledge sharing.
Virtual capability is now recognized as a critical untapped asset, driving the creation of networks to identify, channel and integrate a company’s collective knowledge for those who need it, personalized bits at a time. The accent is on teasing the potential capability out of an enterprise’s knowledge workers and integrating that capability with vetted knowledge and information.
This emergent emphasis on collective knowledge was predicted by Alvin Toffler many years ago. In his book “The Third Wave,” Toffler notes that America and other countries are already feeling the impact of “a gigantic wave of change based on the substitution of mental power for muscle power” in the economy. “It is more than just technology and economics,” Toffler wrote. This wave marks our transition from a brute-force to a brain-force economy.
That simple principle may lie at the heart of cracking the code in the field of knowledge management and learning strategy. The new focus centers on human consciousness in a powerful integrated solution that is less focused on content and technology and more so on the recipient. There is deep historical precedent. The first wave, the Agricultural Revolution, used tools to leverage physical strength. The second wave, the Industrial Revolution, leveraged tools into more powerful machines to extend reach. The third wave, the Information Revolution, leveraged physical machines into digital machines that expand the amount of knowledge available to the human mind.
The new focus on leveraging human consciousness is an extension of an evolutionary trend to its logical conclusion, and capturing inherent knowledge may be just the beginning. At the cutting edge, a number of companies are paying for and encouraging managers and executives to learn technologies and techniques of mental development, such as transcendental meditation, to improve their decision-making ability and clear their minds of stress. According to Business Week, “Bluebloods like McKinsey, Deutsche Bank and Hughes Aircraft are joining new-age companies such as Apple Computer, Yahoo and Google in offering meditation to their employees.” The National Institutes of Health, the University of Massachusetts and Harvard University report that “meditation enhances the qualities companies need most from their knowledge workers: increased brain-wave activity, enhanced intuition, better concentration.”
This brainpower focus is sustainable precisely because once the unity of knowledge and the knower has been achieved, there is simply nowhere left to go. If the DNA of sustainability is found within individual consciousness, then the building blocks of core competitiveness may lie within the ability to target and strengthen corporate consciousness.
IBM Learning Strategist Tony O’Driscoll suggests, “It’s not about the stocks, it’s about the flows—information has a social life, and its transport mechanism is human beings.” In a relatively short period of time, we may look back on this new focus on corporate consciousness as the turning point, the cracking of the code—the ultimate driver of the sustainable value equation.
Jonathon Levy is senior learning strategist at Monitor Group and former vice president for online learning solutions at Harvard Business School Publishing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.