2 years, 10 months ago

Learning at the Speed of Learning

According to a recent survey by McKinsey,  “the great majority of our respondents expect corporate learning to change significantly within the next three years”.

It seems that whatever the topic of the survey, middle managers and management consultants always expect significant change within the next three years, because this is what justifies their existence.

In this case, the topic is corporate learning, which McKinsey recommends should be done “at the speed of business”, whatever that means. (I am not a fan of the “at the speed of” cliche.)

But what kind of change is McKinsey talking about here? The article concentrates on digital delivery of learning material – disseminating existing “best practice” knowledge to a broader base. It doesn’t really say anything about organizational learning, let alone a more radical transformation of the nature of learning in organizations. I have long argued that the real disruption is not in replacing classrooms with cheaper and faster equivalents, useful though that might be, but in digital organizational intelligence — using increasing quantities of data to develop and test new hypotheses about customer behaviour, market opportunities, environmental constraints, and so on — developing not “best practice” but “next practice”.

Richard Benson-Armer, Arne Gast, and Nick van Dam, Learning at the speed of business (McKinsey Quarterly, May 2016). HT @annherrmann

Chris Argyris and Donald Schön, Organizational Learning: A Theory of Action Perspective. Reading, MA, Addison-Wesley, 1978.

6 years, 5 months ago

From Enabling Prejudices to Sedimented Principles

In my post From Sedimented Principles to Enabling Prejudices(March 2013)  I distinguished the category of design heuristics from other kinds of principle. Following Peter Rowe, I call these Enabling Prejudices.

Rowe also uses the concept of Sedimented Principles, which he attributes to the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, one of the key figures of phenomenology. As far as I can make out, Merleau-Ponty never used the exact term “sedimented principles”, but he does talk a great deal about “sedimentation”.

In phenomenology, the word “sedimentation” generally refers to cultural habitations that settle out of awareness into prereflective practices. Something like the “unconscious”. (Professor James Morley, personal communication)

“On the basis of past experience, I have learned that doorknobs are to be turned. This ‘knowledge’ has sedimentated into my habitual body. While learning to play the piano, or to dance, I am intensely focused on what I am doing, and subsequently, this ability to play or to dance sedimentates into an habitual disposition.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Merleau-Ponty)

This relates to some notions of tacit knowledge, which is attributed to Michael Polyani. There are two models that are used in the knowledge management world that talk about tacit/explicit knowledge, and present two slightly different notions of internalization. 

Some critics (notably Wilson) regard the SECI model as flawed, because Nonaka has confused Polyani’s notion of tacit knowledge with the much weaker concept of implicit knowledge. There are some deep notions of “unconscious” here, which may produce conceptual traps for the unwary.

Conceptual quibbles aside, there are several important points here. Firstly, enabling prejudices may start as consciously learned patterns, but can gradually become internalized, and perhaps not just implicit and habitual but tacit and unconscious. (The key difference here is how easily the practitioner can explain and articulate the reasoning behind some design decision.)

Secondly, to extent that these learned patterns are regarded as “best practices”, it may be necessary to bring them back into full consciousness (whatever that means) so they can be replaced by “next practices”. 



Bryan Lawson, How Designers Think (1980, 4th edition 2005)

Peter Rowe, Design Thinking (MIT Press 1987)

Wilson, T.D. (2002) “The nonsense of ‘knowledge management‘” Information Research, 8(1), paper no. 144

 Thanks to my friend Professor James Morley for help with Merleau-Ponty and sedimentation.

6 years, 5 months ago

From Enabling Prejudices to Sedimented Principles

In my post From Sedimented Principles to Enabling Prejudices(March 2013)  I distinguished the category of design heuristics from other kinds of principle. Following Peter Rowe, I call these Enabling Prejudices.

Rowe also uses the concept of Sedimented Principles, which he attributes to the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, one of the key figures of phenomenology. As far as I can make out, Merleau-Ponty never used the exact term “sedimented principles”, but he does talk a great deal about “sedimentation”.

In phenomenology, the word “sedimentation” generally refers to cultural habitations that settle out of awareness into prereflective practices. Something like the “unconscious”. (Professor James Morley, personal communication)

“On the basis of past experience, I have learned that doorknobs are to be turned. This ‘knowledge’ has sedimentated into my habitual body. While learning to play the piano, or to dance, I am intensely focused on what I am doing, and subsequently, this ability to play or to dance sedimentates into an habitual disposition.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Merleau-Ponty)

This relates to some notions of tacit knowledge, which is attributed to Michael Polyani. There are two models that are used in the knowledge management world that talk about tacit/explicit knowledge, and present two slightly different notions of internalization. 

Some critics (notably Wilson) regard the SECI model as flawed, because Nonaka has confused Polyani’s notion of tacit knowledge with the much weaker concept of implicit knowledge. There are some deep notions of “unconscious” here, which may produce conceptual traps for the unwary.

Conceptual quibbles aside, there are several important points here. Firstly, enabling prejudices may start as consciously learned patterns, but can gradually become internalized, and perhaps not just implicit and habitual but tacit and unconscious. (The key difference here is how easily the practitioner can explain and articulate the reasoning behind some design decision.)

Secondly, to extent that these learned patterns are regarded as “best practices”, it may be necessary to bring them back into full consciousness (whatever that means) so they can be replaced by “next practices”. 


Bryan Lawson, How Designers Think (1980, 4th edition 2005)

Peter Rowe, Design Thinking (MIT Press 1987)

Wilson, T.D. (2002) “The nonsense of ‘knowledge management‘” Information Research, 8(1), paper no. 144

 Thanks to my friend Professor James Morley for help with Merleau-Ponty and sedimentation.

6 years, 7 months ago

From research to practice

@danlockton is doing a survey How do actual designers use academic literature?What are the barriers you’ve experienced?What service would you like to see?What would be useful to you?Could academics make their work more easily applicable?Here’s my ans…

6 years, 7 months ago

From research to practice

@danlockton is doing a survey How do actual designers use academic literature?What are the barriers you’ve experienced?What service would you like to see?What would be useful to you?Could academics make their work more easily applicable?Here’s my ans…

6 years, 7 months ago

Expert Generalists and Innovative Organizations

What do the great innovators have in common? Looking at examples from Picasso to Kepler, Art Markman calls these men expert generalists. They seem to know a lot about a wide variety of topics, and their wide knowledge base supports their creativity.

Markman identifies two personality traits that are key for expert generalists: Openness to Experience and Need for Cognition. Can we also expect to find these traits in innovative organizations?

Openness to Experience entails a willingness to explore new ideas and opportunities. Obviously many organizations prefer to stick with familiar ideas and activities, and have built-in ways of maintaining the status quo.

Need for Cognition entails a joy of learning, and a willingness to devote the time and effort necessary to master new things. 

In his post on the origins of modern science, Tim Johnson compares the rival claims of magic and commerce. He points out that good science is open whereas magic is hidden and secretive; he traces the foundations of modern science to European financial practice, on the grounds that markets are social, collaborative, open, forums. But perhaps it makes more sense to see modern science as having two parents: from magic it inherits its Need for Cognition, a deep and passionate interest in explaining how things work; while from commerce it inherits its Openness to Experience, a broad fascination with the unknown. Obviously there have been individual scientists who have had more of one than the other, and some outstanding individual scientists who have excelled at both, but the collective project of science has relied on an effective combination of these two qualities.

Read more »

6 years, 7 months ago

Expert Generalists and Innovative Organizations

What do the great innovators have in common? Looking at examples from Picasso to Kepler, Art Markman calls these men expert generalists. They seem to know a lot about a wide variety of topics, and their wide knowledge base supports their creativity.

Markman identifies two personality traits that are key for expert generalists: Openness to Experience and Need for Cognition. Can we also expect to find these traits in innovative organizations?

Openness to Experience entails a willingness to explore new ideas and opportunities. Obviously many organizations prefer to stick with familiar ideas and activities, and have built-in ways of maintaining the status quo.

Need for Cognition entails a joy of learning, and a willingness to devote the time and effort necessary to master new things. 

In his post on the origins of modern science, Tim Johnson compares the rival claims of magic and commerce. He points out that good science is open whereas magic is hidden and secretive; he traces the foundations of modern science to European financial practice, on the grounds that markets are social, collaborative, open, forums. But perhaps it makes more sense to see modern science as having two parents: from magic it inherits its Need for Cognition, a deep and passionate interest in explaining how things work; while from commerce it inherits its Openness to Experience, a broad fascination with the unknown. Obviously there have been individual scientists who have had more of one than the other, and some outstanding individual scientists who have excelled at both, but the collective project of science has relied on an effective combination of these two qualities.

Read more »