Trends in Organizational Learning concept LO29330

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 10/16/02

Replying to LO29322 --

Dear Organlearners,

Vana Prewitt <> writes:

>What I see happening within organizations (whether they
>intend to apply LO principles or not) is a snowballing case
>of organizational forgetting, corporate alzheimers, or
>institutional it what you will. This situation is
>the result of several trends (analysis of US data only):

Greetings dear Vana,

What a powerful introduction! Be assured that it is the same in South
Africa. Banks, municipalities, hospitals, super markets and service
providers, they all seem to have "organisational alzheimer".

> * failure of KM strategies to break free of the technology
>trap of believing that data=knowledge and that knowledge
>can be stored in machines; this has led to a false sense of
>security for many organizations.

What shall i say? Amen? Hip-hip-hurray? Shame? Do you know how easy it is
to fool somebody in such an organisation to have it your way? I do not
like to do it, but when they cause me problems because of this confusion,
i cannot expect them to solve the problem. Thus i have to solve the
problem self by using them. Long ago in the cold war the Russians had a
name for these useful fools: "fifith columners".

>Smart organizations have already realized this growing
>crisis and are taking steps to capture corporate wisdom
>before it walks out the door. I have thought the problem
>would peak in about 10 years. My colleagues insist it will
>mushroom out of control within 5. Who can tell in this day
>and age?

Your phrase "capture corporate wisdom before it walks out the door" is the
best articulation which I have seen in months. Yes, corporate wisdom walks
with human legs because it dwells within humans, not outside them.

The problem getting out of control depends on the fraction of people in
the organisation who believe that knowledge and information are the same
thing. When a manager of a large organisation says that so-and-so can
solve the problem and when so-an-so then says that nothing can be done
because the computer says nothing, then it is five minutes before

>I am certainly interested in finding organizations that are
>taking proactive and innovative steps to document the
>wisdom of their workforce, especially among older and
>long-term employees at every level in the company (not
>just the senior managers).

Vana, the crucial issue here is that once the wisdom gets documented, it
is not LIVING wisdom anymore, but merely DEAD information. What is needed
is living interaction between the wise and the unwise such that learning
is promoted.

Consider, for example, Nobel prize winners in chemistry, physics or
medicine. People think that they just pop up irregularly among the
scientific community. It is by far not the case. There is a dramatic
"genealogy" among them. For example, Stern "begat" Rabi and Rabi "begat"
Chamberlain, or Compton "begat" Lawrence and Lawrence "begat" Seaborg. It
is because master and apprentice worked in close collaboration together.
It is not because the documents of the master were available to the
apprentice. They talked and they shared their concerns.

This is what the Learning Organisation is about -- learning side by side
rather than pushing bits of information on paper or by computers about. I
seldom become angry, but my vice is that i become raving mad when a
leader/manager says "give them this or that document so that they can
learn and thus become useful". I have often torpedoed what could have
become otherwise a learning event by losing my temper on this "learning by
document" issue. My tollerance for it is zero.

Yet I participate on this list. Am I not a two faced mongrel?

With care and best wishes

[Host's Note: No, At, you are NOT a two-faced mongrel! ..Rick]


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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