Why isn’t your organization learning faster?

Why can’t your organization learn and adapt quickly to what’s happening? You already have a shared vision and a common purpose. You’ve hired knowledgeable people. People who excel at solving problems inside their area of expertise. People who know what they don’t know in their field–and then go out and acquire that missing knowledge.

So why do your teams still get confounded about how to respond to chaotic or ambiguous circumstances? What stops us from moving forward together?

“Learning From”

Your people learn, individually. To adapt to what’s happening, we need to learn together.

What we individually and collectively know is nothing compared to what we can individually and collectively learn through conversation.

Individually, we bring what we already know (our knowledge) and what we are currently solving for (our expertise) to our work. This is what we were hired for. However, in an environment defined by constant change and increasing complexity, our knowledge and expertise are insufficient relative to what’s emerging. Even the “smartest person” on the team or in the company has a limit to their perspective and what they can offer in the midst of solving for what we’ve not seen before. This is where we have to learn our way forward together.

When we come together to solve our problems, we usually orient towards learning from each other. We look to combine our individual knowledge. As in, let me add what you know to what I know. This is what limits us from moving forward effectively. What we come up with will be, at best, a prescriptive solution based on our combined individual expertise. What we learn from each other can still be insufficient to what’s emerging.

To adapt, we need to do much more than combine our knowledge. What we know isn’t going to solve our problems.

Adaptation calls for a multiplicative approach. To invent and innovate, we need to be in conversations that accelerate what we learn WITH each other.

“Learning With”

Learning with each other takes a certain willingness to be vulnerable.

Talking about what we do know reinforces our personal brand as a “smart” expert. But many of us are uncomfortable talking with each other about what we don’t know. Sharing the limits of our competence and knowledge feels as if we’re making ourselves vulnerable: after all, we risk jeopardizing our brand as “expert” if we admit what we don’t know–or worse, if we discover the limits of our knowledge in the presence of our peers.

Being in conversation beyond the limits of our knowledge takes courage.

Being vulnerable in this way doesn’t mean we are less of an expert. Quite the opposite. It means we are “adaptively” intelligent. We have confidence in our competence. And in the places where we are not competent, we remain confident. We recognize that our identity as “expert” is not compromised by the limits of our expertise. However, recognizing those limits is a source of invention and innovation. In doing so in conversation with others is the source of our collective intelligence. We are open to enhancing our identity as a leader by participating in conversations in which we learn with others.

We need to have sound operational relationships, which allow us to have these “learning with” conversations at the limits of our knowledge and expertise. These relationships are the foundation upon which we can generate collective intelligence in the face of constant change and increasing complexity.