Creating a Culture of Learning - #5

The jet-engine is a ground-breaking technological advancement, that changed the way we think about travel, time and the globe. It’s invention allowed planes to move much faster than before, and travel much greater distances with more passengers, opening up the door to international travel as an attainable good for much of the Western world.

It also revolutionised warfare and space exploration, and paved the way for imagining future technologies and stories - without the jet-engine, would we still have Star Wars?

What is of particular interest however, is the fact that the jet engine was discovered three times, by three separate people who knew nothing of the others’ work.

Hans von Ohain researched the jet engine, with his first plane flying in Germany in August, 1939.

Meanwhile, in England, Frank Whittle’s first plane met similar deadline’s to von Ohain’s, but due to budget difficulties, did not fly until 1941.

In Italy, Secondo Campini developed his first jet plane, which flew in 1940. Neither of these men were aware of each other’s technology, research or knowledge, and it was not until after the war they these men met and - by all accounts - became good friends.

Despite the obvious political circumstances at the time, it is easy to ask the question, “What would have happened if these three men were sharing information?”

 No doubt the jet-plane would have been developed much quicker, with more efficient fuel use and a much higher safety rating. Tens of thousands of dollars were spent discovering the same thing, with countless prototypes built and many failures to learn from. Yet each of these men had to learn the same thing, their own way.

Unfortunately, many large organisations treat their learning experience in a way that is similar to this. Different departments work so independently of each other (in an aim to maximise efficiency), that new ideas, questions and models of doing business remain within the department.

This can lead to countless hours being wasted as different employees from the same organisation spend time discovering knowledge that has already been discovered.

Once you have begun to create a culture of learning, you must begin to create a system to capture the new knowledge, and a way to share this within your organisation. This is a simple step, that is often over-looked - managers assume that these ideas will filter throughout the organisation.

If you want to maximise collaboration, and allow ideas to foster at all levels of your organisation, you must have a system to share knowledge.

Cap Gemini (one of the world’s largest consulting and professional services organisation) has learnt this lesson, and employs several “Knowledge Editors”, who are responsible to capture and share information. A recent report on this model praised the organisation’s innovation in this area, reporting on the improvement in efficiency and lesson’s learned worldwide that have impacted proposals. The Knowledge Editors have reduced administration costs, increased global networking, and have allowed Cap Gemini to be more flexible in responding to situations out of their control - resulting in more successful proposals, and less costs.

There is training available to help create these shared networks of knowledge, but here are a few tips that you can begin today.

Report and Reward

For a medium-sized organisation, there may be a few occasions in the year when your main employee body is all present in one room. Encourage each department to present a short report (no more than five minutes) on what they have been learning, what they have been finding challenging, and any innovations that they have come up with. As other departments hear about the problems and solutions, this may trigger conversations to help share knowledge from one person to another.

Reward these presentations with simple prizes - emphasize the fun nature of innovation.

Go Hunting

Make it a goal of yours to find new learning and innovation that is already occurring within your organisation.

Often this knowledge is lying latent, and requires good questions and opportunities to discover what is already there. Once you have acquired problems that your organisation is facing, and innovations that have been employed, create an innovation report that is sent to all employees in the organisation. This simple method of capturing and sharing knowledge may be a catalyst to more creative conversations happening.

Computer - Everyone’s Best Friend

For any large organisation, you will have to employee computer software to enable this knowledge capturing and sharing to happen.

There are already some excellent models available that can complement your already existing intranet, and will employ an easy interface to make this knowledge sharing easy, and customisable to your organisation. Although this is an expensive option, it may probe cost-cutting for your organisation’s future.