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 FifthDiscipline’ 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 andpushing the bounds on possibilities. In this sense, Lumière aspires to be a ‘learning enterprise’ rather than a research firm.
More people have lauded Lumière as a ‘great team’, and a group of people who have come together in a unique and even extraordinary ways. 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 Lumière magic.
While the exhilaration of apresentation that went well is one part of the win, what makes work play, is thehigh of discussion, the resultant flashes of inspiration, the discovery ofinsights, and the richly visible collective intelligence that is significantlygreater 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 isa thinking framework that allows one to see the full pattern or the ‘whole’clearer, rather than seeing parts of a whole. Applying systems thinking to aclient’s problem allows one to see the context in its entirety. Client organizationsvary in their levels of openness of sharing. Where there is mutual trust, deepsharing takes place between client and agency and it allows for sharpness inproblem identification and definition. The longer the association with abusiness and a brand, the deeper is the level of awareness and understanding.
To illustrate, a research project isusually as good as the quality of the briefing. A good briefing takes placeagainst the backdrop of trust and mutuality. The starting point here is thatthe agency will understand and can help refinethe thought process. It is infinitely more productive than a top-down dialogueof the ‘4 focus groups needed’ approach. Discussion, active, deep listening,and empathy for the situation and context are behaviors that help creativity thrive. A briefing discussion helps bringup different viewpoints that deepen perception. The systems thinking world viewis extremely intuitive and the entire projectdelivery process looks at the entire ‘system’ of data in a holistic manner as acontinuum rather than in a fragmented way. Understanding of the body ofknowledge that went before, learning and discussing assumptions, actionstandards and ‘what-if’ scenarios all helps. Working across categories widensperspective and results in inter-linkages across seemingly unrelatedobservations. This increases the possibility for insightful interpretation andrecommendations.
Personal Mastery:Personalmastery is to be interpreted as an acceptable level of skill and proficiency.Every profession and especially the profession of research provideopportunities to gain personal mastery. Most of us enjoy a good conversation,we are innately curious, like to be intellectually stimulated, like to get toknow people, and like a juicy story, especially if it’s a mystery. Learning torefine these skills, and to add to it skills like deep listening, patience,perseverance, objectivity, clear thinking, all feeds in to the desire to becomea life-long learner. It is possible to get skilled and proficient at these withdiligent self observation and comparing the final deliverable with ones owndeliverable at a given point in time.
At Lumière monetary wins areshort-term rewards for achieving small milestones of projects worked on. Whatare more important and significant are the long-term intrinsic rewards of intellectthat is being sharpened, and a personality that is becoming more empathetic, objective,patient, and perceptive. Team-playing, learning, and teaching are all rewardedcreating a virtuous cycle of achieving personal mastery. The assumption here isthat people inherently want to do their best. When they are treated fairly, arerewarded, given opportunities to learn, and have fun at play, in a strictlyapolitical and transparent workplace, they not only give their commitment, butbring in passion, excitement, energy and spirit to the work-place. There is areciprocal commitment that arises between individual learning andorganizational learning.
Mental Models: ‘Mental models aredeeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations… that influence how we understandthe world and take action’. The work processes of Lumière of transparency andholding up ones work for scrutiny via the rigour of reviews at each stage ofwork, whether it be open team mails that put us up for scrutiny allow for acontinual turning of the mirror inwards. It helps unearth our internal picturesto the organization and helps bring about “learningful conversations” whereteam members expose their thinking effectively and make that thinking open tothe influence of others.
Building Shared Vision: A shared vision is aninspiration that binds people in an organization together. To quote Senge, ‘the practice of shared vision …of picturesof 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 thepersonal and professional transformational experience of working at Lumière.Having seen and appreciated its value they become deep believers in the modeland its far-reaching impact.
Each team member has at some stageexperienced deepening perspectives from the discovery of ‘meta worlds’ orworlds beyond the realms of their understanding. They have experienced joy andeven exhilaration at the opportunity to reclaim capabilities that remainedunfulfilled and underutilized. To some, Lumière has given feet, to others,wings, and for yet others, wider skies and new flight patterns to discover andlearn. In that, Lumière is a veritable flying school. “Butterflies and flight”are common motifs here. Recognition that it’s normal for everyone at everywork-life stage to get butterflies, and that everyone can fly with effort andpractice. The shared vision at Lumièreis very real.
Team Learning: A Lumière observerlikened us to a football team with extraordinary capacities for coordinationwithout overt leadership and micro-directing. A football team is aself-motivated intelligent and synchronized unit with complete alignment to theobjective of ‘winning the goal’ or in our case, completing a project task,giving to it the excellence limited only by an individuals best. We recognizethat an individual’s best can be continually bettered with coaching, encouragement,inputs and opportunities to make mistakes. Everyone gets an opportunity tocoach and everyone is continually learning. There is no condemnation at Lumièreand we make an individual team members success, everyone’s business.
At Lumière, the team is engineeredto win. We don’t compete against anyone but own work in our last project. Wedon’t sit on our laurels and no defensiveness or blaming is allowed. Eachindividual contributing team member actively and honestly brings her bestskills to the table. Learning from each project experience and from oneanother, the learning is ploughed back every fortnight to create the ‘learningmulch’ for a fertile work-playground where richer yields can be reaped. Teammeetings and learning sessions are a place to reap as much as to sow and tocelebrate the common wonder of seeing that a little inspiration and the rightattitude can go a very long way.
Lumière is at best a pilot learningexperiment being hitherto too small for serious business thought, study orcontemplation. To keep growing and achieve critical mass, touch significantlymore lives and business and keep the Lumière team work practices alive, active and robust is the challenge. The happy dream for this unconventional andvibrant work place is the continual creation of significant value and a win-winfor businesses, team members and their families and for society at large.