I have spent most of last week in meetings with two very different clients but I have had one huge aha from both. One client is a national restaurant franchise. The other is the Health ministry for PEI.
Why is KM not working? Maybe a block is that when we talk about learning and knowledge, we assume that the pathway is through words. My sense is that we are going to see a revolution in learning as we shift from an exchange of words to an exchange of experience.
Recall the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan. The Captain, and the audience, is overwhelmed at first by the experience of being under fire. But then he comes out of his daze and uses his experience at Kassereine and Anzio to help him "see" what has to be done. No amount of training in the classroom. No amount of reading the manual could have helped him. Only his "procedural memory", hardwired by experience, could enable him to decide and act in time. (OODA) It is the same with driving. Recall when you were a learner - how hard it is to "think" through changing gears and to drive safely at the same time. When confronted with events there is not enough time to logically think your way through. You have to dip into your procedural memory (Intuition)
So why is this important for organizational life? Most training or KM relies on an exchange of words. It also tends to focus on the core process rather than what is really going on. What do I mean by this? In the restaurant we have been looking at how best to train the staff. In the traditional model, we focus on the steps in the process set out by the manual. You meet the customer and the follow the following steps that get the order to the kitchen, the food to the table and the customer out having paid. All chains rely of this idea of a mechanical process.
But we are starting to ask the deeper question of why the customer is really there in the first place? This implies that we need to train to deliver on a series of situations rather than merely the core process of delivering a standard quality of food in a timely manner. We suspect that the meal maybe only the starting point. If you go out with a date - the meal is a background to your romance and your learning more about each other. If you go out with the softball team, you are having a different experience - you are having a tribal celebration If you go out with a client, you have a business agenda and a relationship experience and so on.What the client expects is a social experience not just a meal. The social experience is actually paramount. So merely focusing on the delivering the food is to miss the entire point. The wait staff need to understand what experience the client needs that night and to deliver it deliberately. They have to be able to identify this need immediately and react in a nanosecond. This assessment and reaction can not be obtained from a book or by words alone.
In addition to doing the real job, we have to recognize that while you are trying to create the ideal experience for the diner, you can be sure that things will be going wrong. What is also not taught in the business world is that predictable things go wrong all the time. We expect that things go well. When things go wrong, if you are not prepared, you will panic or freeze as green troops do in combat. The Army understand this. The #1 lesson is that no plan lasts beyond the contact with the enemy or even beyond the start line. The Army therefore trains in the expectation that things will go wrong. The good news is that many bad events can be predicted and experienced. Airline pilots use the simulator so that when they lose all four engines, they don't spend time thinking about what to do - they go into a drilled sequence of steps.
What can go wrong that we can predict in a restaurant? Some of the key staff will not turn up. There will be a fire in the kitchen, a group of drunks will hassle a woman. There is a huge line up for a table and so on. You must experience these things to get above them. We are thinking then of doing what the army does. Developing an NCO cadre, from the key staff, who will train by drilling and simulating core experiences in a restaurant. We hope that the result will be that no matter what happens we can deliver the experience that you want.
How do we do this? We use the best staff who do this anyway, the veterans, to create the operational doctrine and then we use them as trainers and experts and simulation to recreate the experiences for new staff. We use our restaurants off line as simulators where we teach, do , refine do refine etc until the knowledge is "embodied" How do we build on this? We use weblogs and Groove to link the experts between the restaurants across the country so that new situations are brought into the events that we teach from.
In my meeting with the health folks our topic was how poorly we tend to parent today. Again in earlier times we learnt to parent well by doing it and or watching others. No manual, book, video will "teach" us how to deal with the myriad of events that occur with an infant. You have to experience it. So we are thinking of starting a "tupperware" process where expert mums will teach mums with their babies in hand.We will train the session leaders who will then create experiences for the other mums. We will link them with weblogs or Groove so that they can share experiences outside the room and then have access to material that will enhance their experiential learning. As with a restaurant, an issue is time. When you are uncertain about what to do with your baby, you do not have the time or the hands free to go to a book. You have to "know" immediately how to best react.
As we work our way through this I will post more