Triangle OD Network Talk – The Demise of the Enterprise

Last week I spoke at the Triangle OD Network’s Annual Meeting. We were fortunate to have close to 100 folks show up for the meeting – a record turnout for the group.

I was asked to speak about the Demise of the Enterprise and how OD professionals need to revisit their own practices and tools in order to keep pace with changes within the enterprise.

I only had 20 minutes so I ended up, as I often do, going completely ad lib. But, just in case anyone thought I had not done my homework here is the mind map I created as I prepped for this session.

Turns out this would be a better TOC for a book than a 20 minute talk, but I had fun (and I learned) in the process and that is all that matters.

For those of you who are less visual (or don’t have a magnifying glass handy), I mostly went over my Webvolution Soapbox article from February’s Training Magazine. You can read it here (or below if you want to save a click).

Join the Training Webvolution: The Internet has changed business forever. Can learning be far behind?

Market economies typically are characterized by extended periods of stability occasionally punctuated by short unstable periods that forever alter the economic landscape. In the past, disruptive technologies such as the printing press and the steam engine were catalysts in redefining the economies of their respective eras. In the information-age economy, the Internet has emerged as the primary disruptive force of our time—driving unpredictable changes in our economy while simultaneously challenging the viability of the 20th century enterprise.

Today, we live in an innovation-focused, knowledge-enabled economy where work is increasing rapidly in complexity and velocity. Computers have migrated from being information crunchers focused on optimizing productivity to people connectors focused on creating economic value through human interaction. In this increasingly flat, transparent, and globally interconnected world, organizations or individuals that cannot change as fast as the environment within which they operate are destined to regress to a mean of mediocrity.

Internet technology makes rich exchanges possible without the need for formal structures. The nonlinear dynamics of this new information ecosystem are challenging the traditional structures of enterprise. In fact, a recent study from IBM’s Global Innovation Outlook suggests that the future might consist of a billion one-person enterprises—people who act as free agents moving freely and frequently from project to project as their skills, focus, and passion shift.

Today, people work, communicate, and learn across time zones and physical boundaries. Information no longer moves in one direction from top to bottom or from teacher to learner. Instead, information moves through time and space based on the desire and ability of individuals to interact with it—and each other—to make more effective decisions or develop keener insights. In the Webvolution era, information is the currency, individuals are the transport mechanism, and conversation is the transfer mechanism.

As the Webvolution unfolds, the scarcity paradigm that undergirds most modern economic theory is reversed. Information can be shared without being given away. If we take a positive perspective, we can conceive of the Internet as a living information ecosystem, whose central purpose is to promote learning and growth. In essence, people are represented as nodes in a pervasive and persistent network that is aware of who they are; what they are capable of doing; and, perhaps more important, what they are keenly interested in doing. Within this context, the Internet itself can be conceived of as a persistent, worldwide community of learners.

In this type of information ecosystem, the very concept of learning must be recast. Jay Cross puts it best: “Schooling has confused us into thinking learning was equivalent to pouring content into people’s heads. It’s more practical to think of learning as optimizing our networks.” Optimized human intuition networks create a meaningful context within which content can be consumed and digested to create new value.

In the Webvolution era, content may be king, but context is the kingdom. The enterprise that is able to network and tap into resource nodes to address a surfaced need within another part of the network will be able to successfully conduct business within a system primarily tuned to optimize learning and growth.

As such, the learning function’s focus and value proposition must migrate from supporting denominator management (i.e., teaching people how to do things we know how to do to cut costs), to driving numerator growth (i.e., enabling human capital to develop ideas and concepts that grow revenue). Such innovation-focused learning feeds on context and social interaction to channel human intuition toward rapid collective sensemaking around a given opportunity or issue.

In the enterprise of the future, work and learning become synonymous. At the heart of the capacity to innovate is the ability to learn. An enterprise cannot innovate without first learning something new. Thus, training professionals must focus on how to leverage the participatory Web to unleash the innovative energy that lies dormant within the existing structure of enterprise. Are you ready to join the Webvolution?

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  1. Learning Pulse | Xyleme Learning Blog

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