Four ways to get your employees to create knowledge, not just share it

These experts explain how to empower your workers through a concept they call “scalable learning”

Four ways to get your employees to create knowledge, not just share it
e call it the “sage on the stage” model. An expert stands in front of an audience and relays what they know. It’s the same system used from schools to corporate training programs. But times change and, with it, information. By the time the sage reaches the podium, who can say anything they have to share is still relevant?

This understanding of organizational learning as simply sharing existing knowledge isn’t just dated, it’s broken.
John Hagel III, founder and chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge, joins his colleague John Seely Brown in explaining a better way to learn – not by sharing knowledge, but by creating it.

“Without diminishing the value of knowledge sharing, we would suggest that the most valuable form of learning today is actually creating new knowledge”, Hagel said in a piece published by the Harvard Business Review.

He explained that organizations are increasingly being confronted with new and unexpected situations that go beyond the textbooks and operating manuals. Leaders today are required to think on their feet, coming up with new approaches and developing new knowledge about what works and what doesn’t work in specific situations.

To foster what they call “scalable learning”, they suggest managers should understand these primary distinctions:
  • Explicit versus tacit knowledge
In a rapidly changing world, much of the new knowledge comes in the form of tacit knowledge — knowledge that resides in our heads but that we have a hard time articulating to ourselves, much less to others. This is contrast to explicit knowledge, simple facts one might glean from reading a manual.
Tacit knowledge evolves as we confront new situations and it is often extremely valuable because it reflects our first-hand experience with the changes that are occurring around us, but it is much harder to access and spread.
  • Individuals versus workgroups and networks
In a more traditional model, learning focuses on sharing explicit knowledge. In this kind of organization, individuals – like the sage – are the primary focus of learning. But if leaders shift their focus to creating new tacit knowledge, then that kind of learning is best done in small workgroups that bring together people with diverse skills and perspectives.
“These small workgroups can learn even faster if they are connected through networks with other workgroups,” Hagel said. “That way, they can draw in others and seek advice and help when they are confronting new situations that challenge the individual workgroup.”
  • Learning versus unlearning
“When we see the world around us as stable, learning can be viewed as the accumulation of knowledge over time,” Hagel said. “You just keep piling new knowledge on top of the knowledge you already have.”
But in recognizing that the world is constantly, rapidly changing, learning requires a willingness to unlearn prior knowledge that becomes dated. Hagel and Brown explain that, if we hold on to these assumptions and beliefs without questioning them, we will likely never open up the ability to learn about new approaches that may need to replace old approaches.
  • Skills versus capabilities
In a static world, learning is the simple act of acquiring a predetermined set of skills. But in a rapidly changing workplace, “skills have a shorter and shorter half-life”. Hagel and Brown suggest shifting away from skill-procurement, and cultivating more widely applicable capabilities.

“These capabilities include curiosity, critical thinking, willingness to take risk, imagination, creativity, and social and emotional intelligence,” Hagel said. “If we can develop those learning capabilities, we should be able to rapidly evolve our skill sets in ways that keep us ahead of the game.”

According to Hagel and Brown, scalable learning requires us to challenge our conventional beliefs about learning, beliefs that were fostered in much more stable times.

“If we truly understand the new forms of learning that our rapidly changing world requires, we will need to be prepared to re-think all aspects of our organizations, including our strategies, operations and the ways we organize our resources,” they said.

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