Monsoon Musings – A Learning Organization Our profession presents continuous opportunities to work with new, never before domains and challenges. It’s a profession where learning is a way of life and a critical survival tool. Peter Senge’s landmark book, ‘The Fifth Discipline’ is an enlightened, inspiring and insightful book. It teaches how organization learning can give organizations their edge and can serve as an effective blueprint relevant for learning needs of all organizations. Senge writes, ‘as the world becomes more interconnected and business becomes more complex and dynamic, work must become more “learningful”.In most organizational templates, work is a means to an end and is a primary means to earn money and position. Daniel Yankelovich called it an “instrumental’” view of work. In today’s world most of the money one needs for a week one earns in the first few days, creates an organizational challenge and an opportunity to fill meaning to the rest of the week in unique ways where higher aspirations are being fulfilled. This brings us to the argument of the “sacred” view where people seek the intrinsic benefits of work. The Lumière opportunity is about fulfilling the intrinsic need of the individual for self-expression, continuous discovery of one individuals’ potential and pushing the bounds on possibilities. In this sense, Lumiere aspires to be a ‘learning enterprise’ rather than a research firm. More people have lauded Lumiere as a ‘great team’, and a group of people who have come together in a unique and even extraordinary way. People in the team have trusted one another, complemented one another’s strengths and compensated for weaknesses, all with the common goal of delivering the highest value to the client on the project within the committed timeline. For several team members the conventional workplace is not a feasible option. But when a work place provides an opportunity to learn, work, it makes team members ‘learning entrepreneurs’ who come to recognize the ‘intrinsic’ benefits of work, of which money earned is one outcome. This makes for the Lumiere magic. While the exhilaration of a presentation that went well is one part of the win, what makes work play, is the high of discussion, the resultant flashes of inspiration, the discovery of insights, and the richly visible collective intelligence that is significantly greater than the sum of the intellects of individual team members. I will use ‘The Fifth Discipline’ framework to explain how learning at work takes place at Lumière: Systems Thinking: The systems approach is a thinking framework that allows one to see the full patterns or the ‘whole’ clearer, rather than seeing parts of a whole. Applying systems thinking to a client’s problem allows one to see the context in its entirety. Client organizations vary in their levels of openness of sharing. Where there is mutual trust, deep sharing takes place between client and agency and it allows for sharpness in problem identification and definition. The longer the association with a business and a brand, the deeper is the level of awareness and understanding. To illustrate, a research project is usually as good as the quality of the briefing. A good briefing takes place against the backdrop of trust and mutuality. The starting point here is that the agency will understand and can help refine the thought process. It is infinitely more productive than a top-down dialogue of the ‘4 focus groups needed’ approach. Discussion, active, deep listening, and empathy for the situation and context are behaviors that help the creativity thrive. A briefing discussion helps bring up different viewpoints that deepen perception. The systems thinking worldview is extremely intuitive and the entire project delivery process looks at the entire ‘system’ of data in a holistic manner as a continuum rather than in a fragmented way. Understanding of the body of knowledge that went before, learning and discussing assumptions, action standards and ‘what-if’ scenarios all helps category widens perspective and inter-linkages with seemingly unrelated observations. This increases the possibility for insightful interpretation and recommendations. Personal Mastery: Personal mastery is to be interpreted as an acceptable level of skill and proficiency. Every profession and especially the profession of research provide opportunities to gain personal mastery. Most of us enjoy a good conversation, we are innately curious, like to be intellectually stimulated, like to get to know people, and like a juicy story, especially if it’s a mystery. Learning to refine these skills, to add to it skills like deep listening, patience, perseverance, objectivity, clear thinking, all continually feeds in to the desire to become a life-long learner. It is possible to get skilled and proficient at these with diligent self-observation and comparing the final deliverable with one’s own deliverable at a given point in time. At Lumiere monetary wins are short-term rewards for achieving small milestones of projects worked on. What are more important and significant are the long-term intrinsic rewards of intellect that is being sharpened, and a personality that is being more empathetic, objective, patient, and perceptive. Team-playing, learning, and teaching are all rewarded creating a virtuous cycle of achieving personal mastery. The assumption here is that people inherently want to do their best. When they are treated fairly, are rewarded, given opportunities to learn, and have fun at play, in a strictly apolitical and transparent workplace, they not only give their commitment, but bring in passion, excitement, energy and spirit to the work-place. There is a reciprocal commitment that arises between individual learning and organizational learning. Mental Models: ‘Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations… that influence how we understand the world and take action’. The work processes of Lumiere of transparency and holding up ones work for scrutiny via the rigour of reviews at each stage of work, whether it be open team mails that put us up for scrutiny allow for a continual turning of the mirror inwards. It helps unearth our internal pictures to the organization and helps bring about “learningful conversations” where team members expose their thinking effectively and make that thinking open to the influence of others. Building Shared Vision: A shared vision is an inspiration that binds people in an organization together. To quote Senge, ‘the practice of shared vision …of pictures of the future…foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance’. A genuine shared vision is one where people excel and learn not because they want to. Every team member is deeply aware of the personal and professional transformational experience of working at Lumière. Having seen and appreciated its value they become deep believers in the model and its far-reaching impact. Each team member has at some stage experienced deepening perspectives from the discovery of ‘meta worlds’ or worlds beyond the realms of their understanding. They have experienced joy and even exhilaration at the opportunity to reclaim capabilities that remained unfulfilled and underutilized. To some, Lumière has given feet, to others, wings, and for yet others, wider skies and new flight patterns to discover and learn. In that, Lumière is a veritable flying school. “Butterflies and flight” are common motifs here. Recognition that it’s normal for everyone at every work-life stage to get butterflies, and that everyone can fly with effort and practice. The shared vision at Lumière is very real. Team Learning: A Lumiere observer likened us to a football team with extraordinary capacities for coordination without overt leadership and micro-directing. A football team is a self-motivated intelligent and synchronized unit with complete alignment to the objective of ‘winning the goal’ or in our case, completing a project task, giving to it the excellence limited only by an individual’s best. We recognize that an individual’s best can be continually bettered with coaching, encouragement, inputs and opportunities to make mistakes. Everyone gets an opportunity to coach and everyone is continually learning. There is no condemnation at Lumière and we make an individual team members success, everyone’s business. At Lumière, the team is engineered to win. We don’t compete against anyone but own work in our last project. No one sits on our laurels and no defensiveness or blaming is allowed. Each individual contributing team member actively and honestly brings her best skills to the table. Learning from each project experience and from one another, the learning is ploughed back every fortnight to create the ‘learning mulch’ for a fertile work-playground where richer yields can be reaped. Team meetings are a place to reap as much as to sow and to celebrate the common wonder of seeing that a little inspiration and the right attitude can go a very long way. Lumière is at best a pilot learning experiment being hitherto too small for serious business thought, study or contemplation. To keep growing and achieve critical mass, touch significantly more lives and business and keep the Lumière team work practices alive, active and robust is the challenge. The happy dream for this unconventional and vibrant work place is the continual creation of significant value and a win-win for businesses, team members and their families and for society at large.
Lumiere,the application of the ‘Fifth Discipline’ framework to the way the organization learns, saves and shares learning.
- by Deepa Soman