There is an ancient Chinese story, that tells of six blind men and an elephant. It has become popular in the last few years - but if you haven’t heard it, it reads below.
Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, "Hey, there is an elephant in the village today."
They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, "Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway." All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.
"Hey, the elephant is a pillar," said the first man who touched his leg.
"Oh, no! it is like a rope," said the second man who touched the tail.
"Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree," said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.
"It is like a big hand fan" said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.
"It is like a huge wall," said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.
"It is like a solid pipe," Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.
They began to argue about the elephant and everyone of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, "What is the matter?" They said, "We cannot agree to what the elephant is like."
Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like.
The wise man calmly explained to them, "All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said."
This simple little story reflects something important for all organisations today. If you want to create a culture of learning within your organisation, you must pursue and be open to collaboration. Learning is not an individual affair, and ideas will come from places that you least expect them.
Collaborating with your questions will get you in contact with people who will have different answers to yours. This will challenge your assumptions, and force your brain to create new links to synthesise the new ideas. It is in this process that new ideas will develop.
Collaborative training exercises are an excellent catalyst to kick-start a team based learning-culture within your organisation, but here are a few more ideas to begin with.
Go For A Walk
Most organisations shape their physical workspace around the teams that need to work together. This makes excellent sense to create efficient communication between the relevant groups. A downside of this, however, is it tends to limit idea-creation and learning to these physical spaces - and also limits key relationships to the people in your immediate vicinity.
The simple act of walking to another area, and learning names of staff members who work there can be a big step for creating a learning culture. Once you have learnt their name and their passions, it will be much easier to share ideas and wrestle with questions together - rather than cold-calling them in the middle of their day.
Organisational flow-charts and hierarchical structures may be a necessity for efficiency, but they do not have to create arbitrary communication blocks between people. Remember - it is much easier to take the first step in collaborating with people who are lower than you on the organisational flow-chart - and they are unlikely to initiate these conversations with you.
Creating a discussion group which involves people from the warehouse, maintenance, HR, marketing, and top-flight executives will create ideas that would not happen otherwise.
The whole point of creating a learning culture is so your organisation can generate more ideas, and create more opportunities to compete. This means that you are admitting that you need the help of others, and need ideas that you would not have discovered alone! Be open to this, and be open to new learning ideas and opportunities - even if your initial reaction is negative. This requires humility and the ability to listen - essential skills for any learner!