I am in the second week of Dave Cormier’s Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC and admittedly, I was struggling there for a while.
The subject matter of week one ‘Cheating as Learning‘ became an academic, intellectual and conceptual discussion between participants. I grappled how we could apply cheating as learning within the context of the corporate work environment where cheating may work in your favour (with the opportunities to solve business problems through creativity and innovation) or against you (through performance management; auditing, compliance and regulation and possible job termination).
Due to my workload and a lack of time to write a long blog post, I decided the first week contribution to “Cheating as Learning” come in the form of a vlog and recounted a story of a time where I ‘cheated’. You can read about the full three-part story on exactly what I did and why at “An Old Coaching Framework Comes Good in a New World”.
Regardless my key learning for week one was that call it what you will, rhizomatic learning is the need to explore opportunities to learn and grow personally and professionally – to let go of the expectations that we must be ‘force fed’ information and follow one pathway of learning set up someone (whether it’s the facilitator, vendor or the company) to come up with the same conclusion.
I’ve come to the conclusion that rhizomatic learning can work both within a formal or informal learning programs within the workplace but it needs to be allowed to happen; encouraged to occur, incorporated into the design and development of the programs and most importantly, never driven by fear.
It also needs everyone, in particularly management and leadership to accept and role model it – and not just the few.
After all, no one wants to grow up a robot; go to school that treats you like a robot; attend university where you study like a robot; join a company where you work like a robot. However this seems to be the societal norm – it’s what we know and what we’re used to. And guess what? It’s really easy to do.
We don’t have to make a concerted effort to change.
Are We Going Through The Motions?
Many years ago when I was in the Navy, some of us were receiving extra drill practice on the parade ground as I was going to be Guard Commander of an upcoming Passing Out (not actual passing out ie fainting but a Graduation) Parade. The extra drill practice didn’t perturb me at all. In fact, I relished being outside while a Petty Officer yelled orders in time to our steps. It thrilled me to move in time to his orders and march to the beat of the drums. While I was holding the sword perpendicular to my body, my eyes front, I spied a junior sailor on a bike riding towards us at great speed. He was heading towards the parade ground! (Everyone knew that you must NEVER EVER ride a bike across a parade ground – which happened to be the only nice flat piece of asphalt on the naval base).
I marched on but head straight and eyes following him, sure enough, he broke the cardinal rule in full view of a squad of young officers, a drill sergeant and the tall imposing Warrant Officer who was standing nearby with a mug of coffee (brew) in his hand. He didn’t need to say anything. One steely stare at the Petty Officer was all that was needed. My heart was beating. Something was going to happen to that sailor. He openly defied the rules and protocols in front of his superiors. Part of me didn’t know whether he was a genius or an idiot.
Then I heard, “GUARD, HALT!”
We halted. My heart was beating. I saw the Petty Officer march smartly up to the sailor on the bike. I still remember the sound of this shiny black gaitored boots on the ground. I think my heart was beating in time to his steps. I was determined not to startle when he started yelling at this sailor.
Then the verbal onslaught began. The Petty Officer yelled at the sailor and ordered him to ‘GET OFF YER BIKE!’ He continued yelling for a while while behind me my class mates were chuckling under their breaths but still looking ahead trying to maintain an air of seriousness. My arm was getting sore from holding the sword. I wished that he could have least stood us at ease before he started his rant.
The drill instructor continued to serve this young sailor his due and after a while the sailor wheeled his bike off the parade ground, but not before the drill instructor yelled, “SO ARE WE STILL ON FOR THE PUB TODAY AFTER WORK? WE’RE ALL GOING TO BE THERE. SEE YOU THEN!”
“What? What just happened?” I thought. Obviously these two knew each other and just ‘went through the motions’. From that point on it gave me a good lesson in life – sometimes you need to “play the game” when the system doesn’t allow you to express it in other ways especially when there’s management watching and you are within a system or society that expects a certain behaviour or role for you to play – you follow the rules.
But the difference here is that they knew that they were playing this game.
Sometimes I feel that employees also play the game simply because of the expectation that management or our company policies have on us or we are driven by fear. When you can’t change the system, you learn to play within it.
And herein lies the problem.
Is it the people or is it the system at fault?
Are We Game Player or Game Changer?
This week’s Rhizomatic Learning theme is, “Enforcing Independence“.
You have to wonder how the world got to where it is today where we have to FORCE people to be INDEPENDENT. Two words that look weird together in a sentence. It’s come to this – you have to force people to be independent? Isn’t that something that would create mistrust or curiosity in people?
For example, if an organisation was forcing me to be independent, my first reaction would be to ask why especially if it’s not changing the system by which my performance is measured to go with it.
If a system values my performance on my ability to sell more widgets, increase my customer base, revenue and sales targets – what is the value to me in sharing my knowledge to others? Therefore, the organisational processes and procedures don’t lend themselves to independence – especially when there are only a few who are genuine and value independence and networks while the majority are only ‘playing the game’.
One particular example that is close to home is the use of social enterprise networking tools such as Yammer. It’s one thing to say that we want our people to be ‘social’ and create organisational learning networks another to actually believe and role model this behaviour yourself.
“When you increase the density, you increase the likelihood of collisions. Collisions of diverse people and ideas are a fertile source of creativity and innovation. Increasing the density of the ideas flowing in networks in your organisation will deliver a creative dividend.”
He then goes on to provide some steps an organisation may take to create those collisions through an enterprise social network. Soon after, Mani Thiru (@Mani_Mehala) joins the conversation and provides a link to a great PDF presentation titled Creative Collisions: Networks That Drive Innovation) where the key theme is that ” the structure of the organisation’s social network directly affects how creative the team can be and how well the team can execute projects to completion.“
But does everyone else see the paradox between this ‘enforcing and independence’ and how it’s similar to the paradox between ‘hierarchy’ and ‘networks’?
It’s the parade ground situation all over again.
But this time, do we play along in the system or do we change it from within?
It’s time to change it.
“Once you give people freedom, it’s very hard to take it back”. – Dave Cormier
At the same time, I followed discussions on Twitter and Jane Hart’s blog where she said that Learning and Development Practitioners must “Walk the Social Talk”. It’s no use to pretend that we believe in social learning when we don’t practice it ourselves. We have to provide an environment where we allow people to be responsible for their own learning and don’t try to control it with formalised courses that sit behind learning management systems.
In my role, this is one of my greatest challenges especially around the expectations that my clients have of Learning and Development to act as ‘training order takers’ and to design and develop formal programs. In my experience, I have to work hard to build trust and allow my clients (and my fellow learning and development team members) to accept a blended program that I have designed for them to solve their business problem. Without proper analysis, just by giving them what they think they want is not going to solve their problem. However sometimes my solutions challenge them because it’s not as simple as getting everyone in a classroom to be lectured at for a day – and, it requires a lot more effort on their part to learn the tools, be involved, show their own work themselves and be open.
So the challenge for me – and for other corporate learning teams is this… it’s time for us to create some density from within the organisation to create the change that is required.
We have got to walk the talk.
We will not “enforce” anyone to be independent (because that is the status quo). In my experience, those who force are experts at playing the game themselves but not really changing the game because of their fears.
Instead, we need to be independent ourselves first, create the ‘density’ as Simon Terry says and create the level of interactions that start to stimulate ideas and diversity. In doing so, people will start to question the current systems, processes, procedures and change will occur over time.
Those who will find this change disconcerting or who need to hide within organisational hierarchical structures will leave. The others will, by nature, express independence, create networks and once again re-engage with their work.
It’s only when this happens we will see an environment where people are responsible for their own learning, self-assessment and self-remediation.
Ducks: Compfight www.flickr.com/photos/46944516@N00/1301014184/ by pedrosimoes7
Royal Australian Navy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/royal_australian_navy/4839974710/