It’s Time to Give Learning’s Greatest Failure a Second Chance (Part 1)
By Dr. Conrad GottfredsonI am blessed to have had a lengthy career which provides me the
ability to view emerging learning insights and initiatives with 35 plus years
of hindsight. This hindsight has proven especially helpful in recognizing
reoccurring patterns of the same or similar ideas. Recently, I experienced this
as I read an article in The Atlantic. I recognized in it
reoccurring patterns of a transformational set of ideas that should have made
their way into every organization’s learning strategy. But for understandable
reasons they fell by the wayside. I believe this miss was the greatest failure
in learning in my lifetime.    

But now, Jerry Useem in the July 2019 online-edition of The
Atlantic (see
At Work, Expertise Is Falling Out of Favor) has
reopened that door in a must-read for anyone interested in improving how their
organization learns.  It’s not the full
story, but It chronicles a 30-year effort by the Navy to implement “minimal
manning” with workers who have “fluid intelligence” with the mental
agility needed to “be all, do all, and pivot on a dime to solve any problem.”
Minimal manning wasn’t a consideration In 1990 when Peter Senge
made a compelling case for companies to become “Learning Organizations.”
Instead, in his book, The Fifth
he challenged leaders to figure out “how to tap people’s
commitment and capacity to learn at all levels in an organization.” Although he
didn’t use the term “fluid intelligence”, he described that a learning
organization is one with the adaptive capacity to learn faster than its
competitors.  He proposed that this
capability would prove to be “the only sustainable source of competitive edge.”
Unfortunately, even though more than 2 million copies of his book
were sold, Senge’s vision failed to gain any real traction in practice. In
March of 2008, the Harvard Business Review published “Is Yours a Learning
Organization?” The authors of the article attempted to explain why “the ideal
of the learning organization”, as envisioned by Senge and others, had not then
been realized.  They proposed that an
underlying reason was the lack of sufficient market forces to compel organizations
to pursue the benefits a learning organization promises.
However, that overarching obstacle absolutely disappeared later
that year when the financial tsunami of 2008 swept world markets in a 24-hour
period.  Corporate burial grounds, since,
have been heaped with the remains of slow learning organizations making Senge’s
warning prophetic. And,
today, disruptive forces of market upheaval, technological shifts,
demographic churn, and political instability are presenting themselves in
combinations of speed and complexity that demand companies either become
learning organizations or perish. There has never been a time when there has
been greater need to pursue this enduring competitive advantage.  This pursuit requires organizations to
develop their capacity to respond to adaptive challenge–whether opportunity,
threat, or crisis–through the acquisition and application of knowledge and
skills. In other words, to become what Senge proposed—learning
So, with these compelling market forces in place now for more than
a decade, why haven’t organizations repurposed and developed the “adaptive” and
“generative” capacity envisioned by Senge?
The 2008 HBR article, after thoroughly vetting Senge’s work, noted
three formable obstacles that gave good reason then and continue to do so now:
Lack of concrete prescriptions
Lack of tactical alignment
Inability to monitor and measure business impact
Here’s the good news.
Everything we’ve been doing to help organizations learn at The 5 Moments
of Need have placed us in position to fully address these challenges.
The 5 Moments response to obstacle 1: Lack of Concrete
From the HBR
: “First, many of the early
discussions about learning organizations were paeans to a better world rather
than concrete prescriptions. They overemphasized the forest and paid little
attention to the trees. As a result, the associated recommendations proved
difficult to implement—managers could not identify the sequence of steps
necessary for moving forward.”
Senge described a learning organization as a place “where people
continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire,
where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective
aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn
together.”  This is a great description
of the key objectives of “workflow learning,” and certainly what was happening
onboard the Littoral Combat Ship 10, the USS Gabrielle Giffords.  How unfortunate that Senge was unable to
connect his work in the 90s to that of Gloria Gery’s. Her contemporary efforts
in tactically supporting on-the-job performance is providing organizations
today the “concrete prescriptions” they need to be truly adaptive. 2-clicks/10
second support to just what’s needed at the moment of need.  That’s what’s been missing.          
Furthermore, The 5 Moments of Need framework has helped us build
upon Gery’s work in crucial ways opening the door to establishing the kind of
workflow learning environment described by Senge.  Organizations can now facilitate learning in
the flow of work while they actually perform their jobs. This performance
support infrastructure enables performers to unlearn and re-learn in the flow
of work as they do their work. 
Here are a couple of blogs that provide deeper detail. If you
haven’t read them, they’ll reinforce what you’ve read so far.


Stay tuned for Part 2 where I’ll address how The 5 Moments can
help overcome the obstacles two and three.   



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