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Archive for the ‘Organizational Learning’ Category

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Finland’s innovation system has previously been one of the world’s top systems. However, recently we have begun to fail in global comparisons of development of the information society and international competitive ability in innovation. What factors influence the capability to produce innovation? How could knowledge intensive work be better supported in Finland? The reasons behind the lack of new innovation may lie in the way that knowledge intensive work is led and organized. The quality and value of knowledge intensive work suffer within corporate structures that aim to control instead of support the metacognitive aspects of individuals’ thinking.

National economic productivity and competitive edge have been defined in the government platform to need new and broader innovation for instance in the areas of technology, research, education and organizations. However, with Finland’s increasing disability to produce new innovation and recent loss of global competitive power in this area, new structures and ways to produce innovation and develop the information society are needed. As national economy comes to rely more and more on innovation instead of industry, the systems supporting development of knowledge intensive work become highly important.

From the individual’s point of view, value creation through enrichment of knowledge requires continuous self-awareness with observation, evaluation and development of own thought processes. With a word, knowledge work is learning. From a structural point of view, knowledge work is acting within networked contexts, which further complicates the cognitive demand of information processing. Successful knowledge intensive work happens through flexible and dynamic arrangement and ongoing learning in cooperation with others. The quality and value of knowledge work are defined through the efficiency of learning and the uniqueness and applicability of the results of learning.

With this definition of knowledge intensive work in mind, the relevant question is: how do current organizational structures support individual learning? It seems that through highly defined management processes, a lot of cognitive activity that is an essential part of the knowledge worker’s thinking is actually defined as the responsibility of management. The over-managed organization contains corporate functions that should be re-internalized into individuals’ thought processes in order to support learning. Processes such as motivation, time management, choice over tasks, communication with others or personal wellbeing cannot be defined by someone else and successfully guided by external structures in a way that would still permit creative and flexible learning. People cannot be creative individuals if they are viewed as human resources that need to be managed. With less management of choices related to work and internal thought processes, individuals’ thinking and learning will become self-led and creative activity happen naturally within the most fruitful interpersonal contexts.

However, only decreasing management functions will not lead to desired results. The whole concept of work needs to change, along with traditional conceptions of work-roles, work places and other structural aspects. Human centric, task-based work is a model that defines knowledge intensive work in a fundamentally different way. The basic idea of the concept is that knowledge intensive work is learning and cannot effectively be defined by work roles, places and organizational structures. Knowledge intensive work is about specific task content and the learning and cooperation of individuals interested in the content. Applying the concept of human centric task-based work to how knowledge intensive work is conducted would provide the needed support for organizational and individual learning that enables creative thinking and new innovation. The concept of human centric work as a new mode of function could also in itself be a step in developing the information society in Finland and supporting national economy through increasing the value of locally “produced” knowledge intensive work.

Thank you Esko Kilpi

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Photo credit: Todd Huffman

Meditation, mindfulness, awareness, consciousness and metacognition are terms appearing in different contexts and defined through different schools of thought. They all refer to processes within the mind that have to do with the mind itself. They all try to increase knowledge about the self and help find some degree of control over or release from the automatic verbal and nonverbal hum generated by neural networks in the brain. The idea is that through self-awareness, release and increased knowledge, more control and autonomy can be experienced. A person can more fully concentrate on the most important thoughts at the moment and choose to feel better by centering on adaptive feelings and mindstates.

The brain never sleeps. It continuously goes over information recorded in activity of neural networks, rearranging and combining it with past experience and producing future predictions. Meditation techniques that aim at silencing the brain usually actually result in immense activation because the brain cannot cease doing what it is built for. The brain does not want to be quiet because the fluctuations of activation and deactivation are what define its existence. And as people typically relate the self to activity of the brain, the brain’s activity defines the existence of the whole person. Trying to silence the brain can therefore result in a quite discomforting feeling of nonexistence.

In addition to endless activity, the brain does not understand the word “no”. When your try not to think of something, the mental image of the “thing” will automatically be produced in the mind. There is then, no sense to try and stop the brain from producing for example maladaptive thoughts or feelings. This will only result in activation of their representations in the mind as well as the negative feelings associated with them. Trying to actively stop thinking depressive thoughts will only result in a mind full of depressive thoughts.

However, the ongoing automatic and responsive activity of the brain naturally contains many levels of control and awareness. When there are maladaptive thought processes or mindstates that a person wishes not to experience, what needs to happen is a shift in the level of awareness and a change in feelings towards indifference. Through recognition of malign thought processes, a person can gradually learn to view them more objectively and detach emotion from thought content, which leads to deactivation of the thought and more infrequent appearance in the mind. Techniques that increase self-awareness are thus also the core of many types of psychotherapy. Problems of the mind can be cured by consciously altering processes of the mind.

Although thinking about the functions of the brain and awareness of thought processes may feel detached from normal life, there is a lot of which people without specific problems can make use.  Approaching the workings of one’s mind in a more relaxed and objective state is beneficial for not only people with thought processes disturbing mental health but for everyone. For example, increasing metacognitive awareness and metacognitive skills can support learning . Becoming more aware of own thought processes helps identify the way that knowledge is constructed in the mind. It helps answer questions like: ”That do I know?” ”What do I not know?” ”How could I understand this better?” and ”Where could I find this information?”.

Information intensive work typically requires functioning within hypermedia contexts. Even the more conservative companies have now evolved into complex organizations with numerous parallel processes through which employees have to define their work. When thinking about the nature of modern work it becomes evident that the amount of specific knowledge that people have is actually less important as flexibility of thought and use of metacognition. To succeed it is more essential to understand how to make use of available resources, how to develop oneself and operate within different contexts. Information contents do not matter as much as the employees’ flexibility in using them and viewing their personal contribution from different points of view.

Developing oneself through meditation, increasing self-awareness and training metacognitive skills are not only for those in therapy or those quitting work and leaving for India to become enlightened. They are ordinary human skills that are already needed in day-to-day work. There are ample possibilities for learning more about self-awareness and a lot of scientific and non-scientific information available from studies on metacognition to yogic philosophy about self-awareness and enlightenment. What is still missing is an integration of this knowledge into leadership and management. Ideas about personnel development and wellbeing are typically somewhat regarded as expendable or additional on top of “real work”. However, as metacognition is becoming a vital skill for knowledge workers, companies should consider integrating more metacognitive and awareness-supporting elements into their basic functions. Luckily with the abundance of different types of software and platforms, there are many possibilities to further this kind of thinking and integrate it into the core functions of work. In the future, instead of arranging for separate personal development programs, working itself can contain functions that increase awareness, wellbeing and learning.

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Photo Credit: kevindooley / Kevin Dooley

A startling discovery was made around the 70’s in psychological research about motivation: money doesn’t cut it. In fact, giving a small monetary reward for completing a task resulted in decrease of intrinsic motivation. Also, what seems to be more important than reward is how the person perceives meaning in the task: if a task is truly intrinsically motivating, by for example producing information about the performer himself, then extrinsic rewards such as money have little effect on subsequent motivation. It seems then, that money as a reward can meaningless or even detrimental for motivation. More recent studies have found the same with some specification.

An intricate psychological event like motivation can of course not be simplified to only an interaction between reward and choice, but research such as the ones cited above do highlight a quite obvious thing that is still, for indeterminate reasons, not completely understood in business: people need more than money to be motivated. More specifically, people need tasks that are personally meaningful.

This is a troublesome and quite inconvenient thought when building incentive systems or trying to lead people so as to increase motivation. Experience of personal meaning at work varies endlessly according to personal and quite immeasurable human logic, not to speak of feelings and emotions. There is no common algorithm available be applied to everyone because motivation is a sum of so many personal dimensions. There can be no common incentive system in the name of equality – it will fail to provide truly compelling incentive.

For corporate motivational or incentive systems to work they should be different for everyone and vary not only pay but also the content and structure of work. This is attainable in small organizations but gets too complicated in bigger ones where there is no sense in expecting leaders or corporate functions to be involved in such a level of detail.

So how can bigger companies support enduring motivation? The answer is that the company shouldn’t actually try to motivate the employees – they should provide support for employees to motivate themselves. People clearly are the best experts themselves when it comes to personal subjects such as motivation and happiness. Choosing the kinds of tasks, teams and environments that support personal motivation and wellbeing is best done by the person whose motivation and wellbeing are in question.

People are however not always fully aware of what they need in order to experience fulfilment. In fact, the bulk of career coaching centers around the question “what do I want?”. Building good self-awareness is a lifelong development process, but support is available in many forms – e.g. coaching and psychological measures can provide a wealth of tools for people to think about their happiness and increase the freedom to have an impact on personal motivation.

Thinking about motivation like this is a definite challenge for management because what is literally needed is less management. Adding freedom of choice about task content, composition of work teams as well as work environments is the only way to support people in building sustainable personal motivation. This requires that companies don’t see people and their knowhow as something they own and must “milk” but as a developing, self-organizing intelligence that is temporarily leant to the organization to achieve a specific goal. If a company is afraid of losing knowledge and strives to incorporate and detain it in itself, it will result in structures that decrease motivation and obstruct development of information. Giving more power to employees, acknowledging the importance of personal factors, sense of meaning and self awareness in motivation will result in more power in thought and action, and since money is a necessity, ultimately be a more cost-effective incentive system.

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Photo credit: Nrbelex / Brett Weinstein

Computer-based information systems are an analogy of the dynamics of the mind and human information processing, just as the steam engine was in its time. However, the human mind is never as direct in its logic and decision-making as information systems seem to be. In fact, human decision-making is full of irrationality and prejudice and is often based on the use of simplification and heuristics. It is the only way that people can cope and balance between the mass of information that comes from the environment and the mass of internal information and activity.

Corners are cut in reasoning especially when complex mind structures attempt to make sense out of other complex mind structures. People tend to group and judge others based on single experiences and make decisions in relationships according to obscure feelings and irrational logic. Situations that are especially full of questionable logic and reasoning are ones where people are required to evaluate each other. Most are familiar with development discussions and job interviews. It has been shown that without specific advice on what to evaluate, the assessment that people make of each other and themselves are influenced by e.g. gender and acquaintanceship or even height. In competitive situations at work, our evolutionary base and survival instincts take control and bias our evaluations in favor of the opposite sex.

The only way to keep objective in situations where people evaluate others is to tie the assessment to some objective measure that directs thought and eliminates the influence of irrelevant factors. Another way to increase objectivity is to develop self awareness so that personal bias can be recognized and questioned or to use experts that have more awareness and objectivity.

One method of the mind that permits function with the amount of information available is creating categories, hierarchies and relationships. Within large groups of people such as companies and other organizations, people are bound to try and organize information about others through perceiving hierarchy. Some people in leading positions would rather not be perceived through power structures but as equal coworkers with only somewhat different responsibilities. However, due to the weight of past experiences and management practices originating from industrial times as well as the nature of human thought processes, equality is just an illusion in most typical organizations.

Perception of authority and leadership can also produce feelings of security. Leaders are expected to take final responsibility which diminishes pressure from others. It is also simpler to think of business occurrences as the result of only one man’s decisions instead of complicated interaction between all the employees involved, global economic customer needs and pure chance.

Perceiving work through task content and not outer structure such as work roles or positions in corporate hierarchy will in itself be a huge challenge for information processing. Luckily, the cognitive burden of this change will be divided among individuals.  Because leaders will no longer have to manage the metacognitive elements of work, they can freely concentrate more on the information content and the potential of people doing it. Also, as work is identified with task content and the people that work on tasks, the bias that people have of attributing the company’s success or failure to single people will diminish.

As business becomes more knowledge intensive, human centered and less computational, there are specific laws that come to effect. Specifically, obscure human reasoning and creative thinking, which cannot be reliably modeled or predicted, will have to be somehow managed and fostered to reach company goals. This requires that leadership incorporate an understanding of human reasoning and offer structure and specific tools to overcome prejudice and oversimplification that are innate to everyone. In addition, tools to assess and support personal development and potential can no longer be viewed as a service for only the few but as essential part of every employee’s work.

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Photo credit: Lauren Manning

Learning constitutes change but is most easily measured by memory. If you can remember something, then it has changed you and become part of your mind’s current information structures and activity. The most efficient way to create change in the brain is to active multimodal neural networks. As an example of the effects of multimodality, it was found that after only two weeks of practicing a piece on the piano, the brain’s preconscious discrimination ability becomes more acute. There is a difference between just listening to music and to listening and trying to play – combining sensory and motor activities levels produces more change.

People will intuitively tell you that the best way to learn something new is by just trying to do it. Peoples’ intuition is excellent and should be listened to more. Reading documents or listening to a presentation do not produce as much activation or steady memory traces as actually participating in creating the knowledge. Pedagogical models, such as problem-based learning incorporate just this idea and have been put to use in some lucky learning-centered organizations. The idea behind PBL is that a learner takes ownership of the learning process so that it fits his thought architecture and uses collaboration with others to produce new knowledge. This brings more meaning to the subject and overall activation to the learning process.

When combining the idea of multimodal activity and problem-based learning, the modern workplace produces the best possible setting for effective, brain-altering learning. People constantly work in hypermedia contexts with different thought-supporting solutions and activate the brain with visual and auditory input about the subject they are working on. Problem-solving at enlightened workplaces is employee-driven, which produces more innovation, freedom of expression and learning in the work community. In the best case, work actions themselves persist in digital form and can be reflected on later which supports development of metacognitive skills.

The makings of greatness are present in many organizations but what is still needed is liberation. When work processes and contents are over-defined to maximize efficiency it reduces the potential of the brain and restrains creativity and learning. It may be a scary thing to decide to rely on the unique capacities that employees have and to let information roam free inside the organization. However, if organizations wish to make use of what is known about efficient learning and the amazing technologies that can easily be used today, a shift in thinking about learning, knowledge ownership and leadership is required, as well as freedom for the mind.

Thank you spring

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Learning ability is one of the most crucial elements that build personal and organizational success in constantly changing environments and hypermedia contexts. How can learning ability be measured and more importantly, how can it be developed?

IQ measurement typically contains a set of tasks that reflect different aspects of intelligence, such as speed, accuracy, working memory span, verbal reasoning or visuo-spatial ability. Many correlates to IQ have been formulated and manifest in practice as tests of logical or verbal reasoning. The idea in using these tests to predict learning ability is that people who can efficiently handle abstract and concrete information and make correct judgments based on it are also good at learning new things and act sharply in a work setting. This kind of measurement and concept of learning reflects the idea that it is a fixed characteristic. However, if learning is viewed in light of what is known about brain function, the development of learning theories, different pedagogical models as well as the characteristics of hypermedia work, it poses new demands on measurement and even definition of intelligent functioning.

When applying the connectivist view of learning to measuring and defining intelligence, it is not important how much information is in store, but what kinds of connections you are able to create within knowledge frameworks and in useful contexts. Instead of focusing on memory of static information, it would be more sensible to concentrate on the ability to form enriching connections, be it with technology or people. Learning ability as a concrete characteristic should be redefined as something more dynamic, such as readiness to connect in a meaningful way which truly reflects the ability to learn.

However, as the huge amount of information and media available leads at times to redundancy, so can new connections be value creating or a pure waste of energy. Creating learning that is of some use requires that a person experiences a sense of meaning in the learning situation / connection. An important quality of someone who wishes to learn more would then be to be more aware of things that are personally meaningful. There is no sense in building connections and learning things that have no personal purpose. This is a fabulous thing, because it means that to develop their learning, people should only do things they honestly find interesting and that take them towards their personal goals.

If learning and intelligent function exist only temporarily and morph with context, they seem quite difficult to grasp with psychological constructs and traditional methods based on their operationalization. Evaluating or measuring learning ability should thus always happen in a reasonable context. Simulations as assessment methods have long been used to elicit intelligent context-based action and interaction and continue to be a functional tool for assessment of complex activities such as learning. Also, taking the importance of context out of the picture, measuring the precursors to intelligent function and successful connectivism such as executive function, working memory and attention would give more valuable information about human capacity than an IQ score. Within an individual, the development of learning ability involves growth of awareness, pursuit of personal happiness and increase of internal and reciprocal connectivist activity.

Thank you Jarkko Mylläri

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An image of "brainbows", neurons in the mouse cerebral cortex. Photo credit: Livet et al/PA Wire

The need for new innovations and the need to foster creativity in teams is manifest in many organizations. What can organizations and their employees do to be more innovative?

Creativity is usually seen as an obscure characteristic that people are or are not born with. As other personal characteristics, creativity is difficult to measure and usually people just arrive at dichotomous observations about it – “that guy is really creative” or “I’m not creative at all”. However, if creativity is viewed as change and learning that occur within people and between them, rather than something that people solely possess, it opens a multitude of possibilities.

Learning always results in change. Every time an individual experiences something, there are changes in the dynamics of brain function. Learning something means that the brain changes on a neuronal level, that new connections are built or old ones activated differently.

Creativity as a learning process implies that individuals within an organization need to engage in conversation to produce change in their knowledge structures. Information and expertise cannot be seen as something people own but something that is open to discussion and development. This requires an open atmosphere and platforms for interaction.

If the people in an organization view their expertise as something they sell to the organization or a lever in negotiation, it is excluded from wider discussion and development. Knowledge that is imperfect or uncertain is often excluded from conversation because of shame. Fear of making mistakes and presenting imperfect knowledge hinders development, because the common opinion is that intelligence is the same as possession of facts and lack of mistakes. However, an organization that is open to imperfection and development of incompleteness is creative and can produce innovation. The employees in such an organization do not strive to impress or be perceived as intelligent by presenting facts but strive to learn from each other and develop imperfect thoughts in interaction.

On an individual level, development of metacognitive capacity increases possibilities to develop thinking and improves learning. Metacognition is defined as “thinking about thinking”. It can be divided into metacognitive awareness and metacognitive self-regulatory mechanisms such as planning and evaluating strategies that are essential for successful problem-solving and efficient learning.

Metacognition can be learned and has many beneficial consequences. Many effective therapies aim at increasing metacognition, awareness of own thought patterns and control over them. Increasing metacognitive capacity in individuals increases the possibility to learn, create new thoughts and develop them. Metacognition also occurs and develops in interaction, and if interaction contains metacognitive elements, it increases learning of all parties involved.

Organizations that wish to produce innovation should first help their employees develop as individuals. Creating and allowing free interaction between individuals in a permissive and respecting atmosphere, supporting their metacognitive awareness and offering structure to work that increases metacognitive skills are all powerful steps to take on the road to creative thinking.

Thank you Esko Kilpi

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