A fundamental imperative for organizations – and for individuals within them – is to try and make sense of what’s happening. Moreover, in the context of rapid change, tomorrow the current reality will have evolved further, and organizations will need to keep up with this. So, this process of understanding what’s happening, how things are changing, and what the full implications of this might be, is a continuous process. And the route to building, maintaining and enhancing understanding is through learning. This is where the value of us learning and development folk just got a lot higher!
Much is said about lifelong learning, but the extent to which it has genuinely penetrated the thinking and practice of business is open to question. For many established organizations the traditional learning models still seem to place heavy reliance on the traditional model where learning is something which is undertaken during our formative years – be that at school, university or in the form of professional qualifications.
That’s followed by learning on the job through experience, perhaps supplemented by some ad hoc internal training and possibly some involvement with advanced management education. Such a model has a place in some industries as well a being well suited to a stable world. But, not so applicable in a world of rapid change.
In terms of digital disruption, it seems reasonable to suggest that the rate of growth of knowledge may be increasing at a rate which bears some relationship to that described in Moore’s Law – that is a doubling every two years. In a rapidly changing world, for organizations and individuals to be able to flourish, they need to be learning continuously to ensure they remain as up to date in their knowledge as possible. For us we call this People Power, we want to empower our learners to own their knowledge needs, but to do this they need you as L&D experts to put the right learning mechanisms in place. We explore this more as we go through the paper.
The next aspect of the traditional approach to transformation is the idea that there is a definable end-state that can be identified with a measure of certainty and which the organization aspires to achieve. It’s clear that in the context of rapid change, and the unpredictability that accompanies this, there has to be a new way of thinking. So… Instead, a far more productive model is to acknowledge the reality of constant and unpredictable change and put in place the ongoing capabilities to respond to this.
The objective for organizations as they undertake their transformations is to make themselves more (and more) adaptable, so that whatever form the changes take, they can rapidly adjust to the new, continuously evolving environment. For, as Darwin is reputed to have said, ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives … it is the one that is most adaptable to change’.
This means that learning sits at the very core of this change. Learning provides the ‘antennae’ to detect the changes taking place in the environment. It requires fundamental changes in mindsets and ways of working, processes and systems, the skills and expertise and competencies that are needed. And of course, it also requires organizations to understand how to go about effecting the changes they need to make, and achieving the transformation required.
We think this is best achieved by means of a ‘journey’ rather than a project. An ongoing and iterative process of learning, using this learning to undertake informed actions, and then learning from these actions – and from all other available sources of knowledge – to inform further actions: in fact, a ‘Learning Journey’. Such an approach acknowledges the imperfections in the organization’s understanding of its current situation at any point in time, the uncertainty about the future and the complexity of the change required.
In conclusion,digital technologies are fundamentally changing the business landscapes. Digital disruption is already profoundly impacting almost every business sector – and this will only intensify as the pace of technological change accelerates further. Given the near certainty of profound and continuous change, but the profound uncertainty around the form that this change will take and its implications, business success will depend on the ability to make sense of what is happening, build the capabilities required to succeed in the digital age, and continuously adapt to the changes taking place.
Ongoing learning is the key to this. Learning is the lever which enables businesses to build a better understanding of the changes taking place, what they mean, and how best to take advantage of them. It is the route to continuous adaptation, because it provides the antennae to detect what is happening and then know how to respond effectively, and it is the key to developing the skills and capabilities needed to flourish amidst the tumult of digital disruption. Given this, any digital transformation must put learning at its core in order to succeed.