Monday, December 31, 2007

Time and learning

Learning, as I have previously written in posts tagged learning, is (I think) about coping. I argue it is a sort of coping with the dissonance we feel when confronted by things that don't fall into our sense making apparatus with ease. Sense making, or being able to tell ourselves a comforting story about some set of phenomena, is the glue of social interaction. Some call it "a theory of mind." But sense making as Karl Weick, for instance, uses the term, is closer to the right name in my opinion.

We cope in an evolutionary sense to respond to environmental changes. Learning is thus ultimately a branch of evolutionary behavioral biology/ecology. This coping enables us to plan for the unknown to some degree and to respond more flexibly when we encounter the unknown. The advantages are fairly obvious.

In order to facilitate learning, we need to place ourselves in dissonance--places where our world views don't work. Then we adjust. This is a painful paradox because it would seem that comfort is also a foundational objective for humans, and stability sooths like few other things.

Training is a much more basic process of learning how to do a specific task within our world views. It is a more primitive skill, I'd guess, in an evolutionary sense. Training little interests me. It is structural as I use the term and rarely associated with meaningful learning in any direct sense.

What some consultants/scholars, etc. call knowledge management is more akin to what I am calling learning. But KM also incorporates the training on how to replicate basic functions that transfer culture and economic structures from one party to another. It is sort of a bridge concept. Institutions, are, structurally interlinked generation to generation for knowledge management. I've written on all this before, for the most part.

The great variable in knowledge/training/learning (and their variations) is time...time to application of learning; time of relevance of learning; inscrutable time.

Humans organize rationally over time. We call this planning. The best planning integrates learning and expectations for further learning, but few humans or human institutions do very well at this highly complex task. Most plan in a rather static and mindless rather than mindful way. We are so bad at planning that it is now increasingly common to hear it argued we are better off not planning--a discouraging view. But so it may be in some instances.

The crux of time knowledge is a capacity to cope. The crux of leadership is enabling that learning. These together form the great challenges of this century. So far I am not optimistic about the likely outcomes. One would prefer to end the year optimistically, but false optimism is the worst sort of poison to learning.

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