In the 21st century, for all of the technological advances which enhance and control our personal and professional lives, it can truly be said that there are still some rudimentary communication tools which are still relevant in a world of instant messaging, the Internet and such. This tool is social networking, for while there are ways to communicate that indeed were not even dreamed of a generation ago, the basic elements of person-to-person contact and interaction are still the critical parts of the communication equation (Bersin, 2008). From this cornerstone is formed the modern organization, and from that point, the organization in many ways functions like an independent entity, often with a mind of its own, leading what is referred to in the present day as the learning organization (Andersen, 1992).
With these essential elements in mind, this research will begin with a discussion of the learning organization, and expand to ultimately discuss other facets of the organization and related areas. Upon conclusion of this research, a wide assortment of issues will have been explained and discussed.
The Learning Organization Defined
As this research was introduced, the term “learning organization” was brought into play, and indeed will play a prominent role throughout the paper; therefore, it is essential at this point to present a definition of the learning organization, followed by some insights on the learning organization by one of the foremost authorities on the topic. According to Skyrme, one can categorize a learning organization as:
Those (organizations) that have in place systems, mechanisms and processes, that are used to continually enhance their capabilities and those who work with it or for it, to achieve sustainable objectives – for themselves and the communities in which they participate”.
Thus, the learning organization is a place where both the parts of the organization (people) and the organization itself are provided with the proper atmosphere and resources by which they can increase knowledge, skill and favorable outcomes. Such an organization, it would seem, is highly useful given the rapid change that the modern workplace is undergoing on a constant basis.
There is yet another important conclusion regarding the learning organization which becomes apparent after a review of the popular literature on the subject, which is worthy of more discussion in this research as well: the idea of an organization as a whole being worth more than the sum of its parts. In other words, in putting the learning organization concept under a strong microscope, what is seen is a collection of individuals who, if taken separately, would not reach a very high level of results or efficiencies, much like the components of a computer if they were disassembled. However, when put together, these individuals form a knowledge base and information system which is in many ways unsurpassed, especially given the learning organization model whereby continuous improvement and knowledge increases are the rule rather than the exception. Additionally, under this model, any one component of the learning organization can be replaced or realigned, while still allowing for the progress and results of the organization overall to continue. This leads us to some additional discussion of social networking. While the idea of social networks will be discussed in more detail later in this paper, suffice it to say at this point that, once again, we can see that at the heart of the learning organization is the connection between one person and another, on and on, whether that connection is made face to face, cell phone to cell phone, or instant message to instant message. The key point to be made is that in one way or another that human connection must be made for communication to be effective and learning organizations to continue to function as such.
Bersin on the Learning Organization
Easily, thousands of pages could be filled with theoretical assumptions about modern learning organizations, but for the purposes of this research, it is much more relevant to cite one of the innovators in the modern learning organization, Josh Bersin. In a recent article entitled Social Networking and Corporate Learning, Bersin has skillfully established the link between the modern methods of communication and interaction and the fruitful evolution of learning organizations. In a nutshell, Bersin makes the point that the technologically-savvy individual in today’s workplace prefers to utilize such cutting-edge networking tools as Facebook, Twitter and the like as a means of communication, interaction, and in many cases, education. As such, it would greatly benefit organizations to harness such technologies as learning tools and encourage the use of them among organization members as they continue to learn as individuals, and prosper as organizations. With this in mind, Bersin also emphasizes that some of the keys to the successful use of these tools to promote organizational learning are for upper management to resist the urge to excessively monitor communication threads, to promote the use of such technologies throughout the organization, and to foster an environment where members of an organization freely collaborate, communicate, learn and grow.
Social Media Tools and Learning
What is seen at the core of today’s successful learning organization, as previous sections indicated, is the concept of social networking, for it is the connection from one individual to another from which networks and learning systems are constructed (Bersin, 2008). With this in mind, an expansion of the idea of social media tools and learning needs to be explained further.
Yet another source advocates the use of social networking tools, such as the modern Twitter, Facebook and the like, as means of organization learning, with a few important caveats. The point is well established that the collection of too much knowledge in one place can in face lead to what is called “collective stupidity”, the organizational equivalent of too many cooks spoiling the soup (Albrecht, ND). Likewise, there are also “diseases” that can infest a learning organization.
Entropy, which is a term used to refer to the internal loss of brain power within an organization, or what would classically be called “brain drain”. The way that this “disease” manifests itself, Albrecht continues, differs from the non-profit to the commercial sector, but is still significant and costly in either scenario. For the non-profit organization, Entropy and its resulting loss of knowledge, skill and agility can lead to reductions in the number of donors or patrons, cutting of grant funding, or the loss of the most talented organization members as they seek greater challenges. A commercial organization, which is to say for-profit organizations, suffer in terms of reduced sales, lack of innovation, eroding stock values, and losses of personnel. While, of course, learning organizations can recover from the loss of one or a few elements of their network, excessive losses could lead to a total breakdown of the whole, much like an organism that loses too much blood or oxygen. It is this comparison of an organization as an organism which will now be examined further.
Organization as Organism
Interestingly, there is literature which compares the organization to an organism, or more exactly, a brain, for within the organization there are cells (people) which form networks (major regions of the brain) for desired outcomes (productivity, innovation, growth, survival). Just as the brain can guide the body, so too can the organization lead industries, nations, unions and such into the future (Krebs, 2007).
When the organization is seen as an organism, carrying the analogy a bit further, it is easy to see the importance of growth, continuous improvement and increased intelligence, for just as the simplest or most complex organism must grow or die, so too is the situation of the learning organization, for any organization that is not growing is slowly fading away, or will be metaphorically eaten by predators in the form of stronger, smarter and faster competitors.
This research began with the simple concept of one person interacting with another and advanced that idea to the concept of networking and the use of networks to advance and grow organizations. Likewise, cautions were extended to point out that there are pitfalls to acknowledge in such activities. Therefore, in conclusion, perhaps the best conclusion to present is that organizations, as the living species they are, must avoid injury, exercise properly, and nourish themselves if they are to remain healthy and productive. It is within this concept that the future of organizations and organizational management lies.
Albrecht, K. (N.D.) Organizational Intelligence & Knowledge Management: Thinking Outside the Silos. Retrieved November 20, 2007, from http://karlalbrecht.com/downloads/OI-WhitePaper-Albrecht.pdf.
Andersen, E. (1992) On Organizations as Brains. Retrieved August 24, 2008, from the World Wide Web: http://www.espen.com/papers/orgbrain.htm
Bersin, J. (2008). Social Networking and Corporate Learning. CLO Magazine. October. Retrieved November 11, 2008, from the World Wide Web:
Krebs, V. (2007). Knowledge Networks: Mapping and Measuring Knowledge Creation. http://www.knetmap.com/knowledge-networks-mapping.html.
Skyrme, D. (2009). Insights on the Learning Organization. Retrieved June 1, 2009 from the World Wide Web: http://www.skyrme.com/insights/3lrnorg.htm.