Working Smarter: Corporate learning in the network era

by Jay Cross on February 8, 2009

This is the thesis of the book I’m working on. It’s not yet beta; this is alpha. Give me feedback and I’ll continue to post as I write.


     In the network era, learning is the work. It is the survival skill and the key to prosperity. This book advocates investing in learning that demonstrably improves organizational performance.
     Pragmatic and grounded in experience, this is a re-think of how organizational learning can increase profits, spur innovation, and help businesses prosper.
     This is a book for managers about applying common sense to build a workforce that improves performance naturally, without prodding. It’s about eliminating training bureaucracy and sacred cows that have failed to keep pace with the times. It’s a new way of looking at how people become competent in their work and fulfilled in their professional lives.
     In today’s volatile, unpredictable times, learning is the key to corporate responsiveness and survival.
     While learning is ascendent, training is in decline, for workers are embracing self-service learning; they learn in the context of work, not at some training event divorced from work.
     Learning and development professionals won’t like this book. It explodes too many myths; it declares training departments obsolete; it deals only with learning that improves organizational performance.
     Learning is not schooling. Quite the contrary. For the most part, the learning we propose does away with instructors, classrooms, report cards, and graduation. In the new business learning, everyone is a teacher, the workplace is our classroom, on-job performance is the measure of success, and learning continues throughout one’s career.
     Embedding learning in work reduces overall spending while improving performance. Abandoning obsolete notions of training cuts costs. Relying on natural, peer-based learning improves business results.

Push and Pull

     Organizational learning tends to be mostly push or mostly pull. Push is the sort of learning you encountered in school, where authorities selected the curriculum and lessons were imposed on you. Pull describes the way you learn from Google or discovered how to kiss a lover. With pull learning, you select what you want to learn and how you want to learn it.
     Pull learning is more cost-effective. It doesn’t require as much in the way of control mechanisms, structure, and outside assistance. Furthermore, lessons learned through pull are more likely to stick because they’re relevant to perceived need, delivered when required, and usually reinforced with immediate application. Pull learning delivers more bang for the buck.
     Organizations that increase the ratio of pull to push can lower their overall investment in learning without sacrificing results. Given the greater payback of pull learning, the objective is to achieve greater results while spending less.



     Why am I advocating cutting the overall spend? Because it’s an easier concept to sell. Managers have been skeptical of the value of training for decades. One hopes that the lure of the Holy Grail of achieving more from less is an offer they can’t refuse.

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