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Is It Really Property? What’s the Expense of Guarding It?

12 Mar
  • The future is unknown.
  • Specific goals should change frequently. Whatever you think you are working towards at present will be different a year from now (and if it’s not, ask some deep questions).
  • Learning is acquiring and applying skills so that individuals become skilled at sense-making from abundance.
  • Value is accrued by sharing freely across, between and beyond specific organizations.
  • Workers should discover, test, elevate and discard new ideas and processes.
  • Trust is the lifeblood of modern work.
  • Creativity > Skills: What you can learn above what you know; synthesis over distillation.

I have been thinking about these ideas for quite some time. I read, write, discuss and promote ideas about organizations, and the ways in which individuals move through and beyond them. The power of networks and worker mobility have altered the ways in which we need to organize ourselves and develop our professional skills.

I am not alone, nor breaking vast areas of new ground. I owe much to others whom I follow and learn from. (See @BenCpdx to see whom I connect with.) This is the model I build on.

Learning Age

As I consult with organizations, I get two common push-backs:

  1. What about protecting intellectual property (IP)?
  2. How can we (our organization) maintain focus on our goals if we allow a free-for-all of exploration and individual sense-making?

This post will focus on IP. I will follow up with the organizational goals in my next post.

I find people often confuse smart ideas and clever people with actual “property.” Property represents specific, recognizable, and likely commercial products. That actually limits the conversation reasonably well. Because a team within your organization is working on a new product or service line does not mean that you need to guard a specific property. In those cases, I argue that transparency and working out loud (#WOL) will benefit progress much more than expose it to danger.

IP should also mean In Progress. Whatever you feel may your organization’s secrets, or the guarded technology that allows you to out-perform your competitors, are likely much less important than you think. We live in an era of constant change, and the value of any given IP is also in flux. Context and connection reign. Thriving organizations are more concerned with culture and process than with particular property.

Even in cases where one feels the need to protect patent information, in fact the reverse is often true. Joerg Thomaier, Chief IP Counsel at Bayer: “Greater transparency on the patents covering a product would avoid situations where companies inadvertently infringe our patents… the whole industry will need to embrace the idea [of] greater transparency.” In other words, the considerable time and cost into protecting and fighting for IP could be significantly reduced by transparency.

The core of the push-back lies in the us v them industrial view of business and the traditional command-and-control mechanisms of the late industrial age. Those days are fading into the past. Creativity, synthesis and transparency are the new lifeblood of the connected age (what I call “The Learning Age”). The work, then, is to develop the skills for people and organizations to thrive in the new era.

Learning Economy: Two disciplines beginning to align

2 Sep

If learning is ultimately about seeing patterns, connecting dots and creating a new synthesized idea, then I suppose this post is evidence of my learning in progress. I’m not sure this is completely baked, but as the saying goes: “If you are waiting for certainty before sharing an idea, you’re waiting too long.”

In addition to my interest in learning, professional development, instructional design, and football(!), I also read a lot of economics and political/social sciences. What I’ve been intrigued to note lately is the confluence of some good economic thinking with the latest trends in learning. Yes, really!

Three ideas that have crossed the divide between economics and learning:

1. Actions lead thoughts, behaviors lead learning. Traditional thinking states that you need to teach adults what they need to know for their jobs, which leads to better performance. That notion is being challenged on many fronts. In fact, both research and practice is showing that guiding actions, providing tools and freeing people to experiment leads to learning in more impactful ways than traditional training and instruction. Learning by doing, or Action Learning, is not a new idea, but it is one that is gaining renewed relevance.

  • Learning: See Jane Hart and Avi Singer, where they (as many others have) point out that learning is the work, and that the ability to extract meaning from tasks, learn from coworkers through collaboration and cooperation, and document what is learned is usually a more powerful learning experience than formal training and professional development courses.
  • Economics: See Ricardo Hausmann:

“Once upon a time, IBM asked a Chinese manufacturer to assemble its Thinkpad – using the components that it would supply and following a set of instructions – and send the final product back to IBM. A couple of years later, the Chinese company suggested that it take responsibility for procuring the parts. Later, it offered to handle international distribution of the final product. Then it offered to take on redesigning the computer itself. Soon enough, it was no longer clear what IBM was contributing to the arrangement. Learning to master new technologies and tasks lies at the heart of the growth process.”

2. Openness and collaboration trump safeguards and secrets. Allowing actions to lead learning requires an openness to allow the learning process to occur, even as the work unfolds. If management can overcome that mental hurdle, a treasure of potential may be realized.

“In the world of talent, learning and performance (“The Collaboration Age”) …[it’s] those who share and work together who are the winners. Those who hide behind organisational [sic] garden walls end up deep in weeds. If we’re to succeed …We need to do so with others, in some cases even with our competitors. The rather ungainly term ‘co-opetition’ is being increasingly used to define co-operative competition, where competitors work together to achieve increased value at the same time as they are competing with each other.”

“If, while learning, you face competition from those with experience, you will never live long enough to acquire the experience yourself. This has been the basic argument behind import-substitution strategies, which use trade barriers as their main policy instrument…. The problem with trade protection is that restricting foreign competition also means preventing access to inputs and knowhow.”

3. Deliberate, programmatic supports for learning are key. Far from being a call for laissez-faire policies, organizations and societies that can create the structures to nurture systemic learning will thrive in the 21st century. It may on the surface appear as if I’m recommending soft management to allow people to run down any hunch or notion as they wish. While the freedom to explore – and social-learning-for-work-1-638fail—is important, this calls for deliberate structures and new managerial approaches to work well. Building silos and setting rules is easier than guiding and mentoring adaptation, and begs for more innovative managerial skills.

  • Learning: As Harold Jarche rightly points out, the managerial skill needed for modern work is the ability manage complexities, not hierarchies.

“Sharing complex knowledge requires strong interpersonal relationships, with shared values, concepts, and mutual trust. But discovering innovative ideas usually comes via loose personal ties and diverse networks. Knowledge intensive organizations need to be structured for both. Effective knowledge-sharing drives business value in a complex economy.”

stiglitz“Successful industrial policies identify sources of positive externalities – sectors where learning might generate benefits elsewhere in the economy… Virtually every government policy, intentionally or not, for better or for worse, has direct and indirect effects on learning. Developing countries where policymakers are cognizant of these effects are more likely to close the knowledge gap that separates them from the more developed countries. Developed countries, meanwhile, have an opportunity to narrow the gap between average and best practices.”

So what’s the insight here? The ways in which our world is increasingly based around dispersed networks rather than hierarchies is changing the way we work–which is to say, learn. On the macro-economic level, for the organizations in which we work, and in our increasing responsibility for our own learning and professional development, we’re relying on network-based relationships where nexuses of knowledge and various levels of association are as shifting as our conditions and motivations of the moment.

If you’re reading this, you are part of exactly what I’m describing. I’m glad to have your open association and welcome your thoughts.

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