With rapidly accelerating rates of change, this observation from Darwin has never been more apt when describing an individual’s or organisation’s ability to keep up.
Why then, when it comes to corporate learning and development (L&D) efforts to support individuals, do I still see most of the focus on helping people be the fittest (ie learning stuff that is currently helpful), but less effort on developing their capacity to adapt and change? Competitive advantage (and sometimes mere survival) comes from learning faster than the other guy.
A useful analogy is that learning is a bit like adding new apps to your phone. Great, but it only gets you so far as these ‘apps’ become out-of-date increasingly quickly.
Development on the other hand, is creating more capacity to deal with (and learn about) complexity, ambiguity and change. It’s more like upgrading your phone’s operating system to deal with ever more sophisticated demands.
Of course we need both – but I think most L&D functions don’t have the right balance. There is too much focus on content, and not enough on capacity.
When it comes to learning, there have never been more resources or opportunities for people who want and have the capacity to learn by themselves, through MOOCs, youtube video, blogs, wikis, forums, content on your LMS and the like. As a result, employees (if motivated and curious) are able to take charge of their own learning.
Given this, I believe the focus for most learning and development teams needs to shift more to the development of our people – developing their capacity through things such as increased curiosity (What’s out there? What should I learn more about?), critical thinking (What’s an alternative perspective? Can I trust this source?) or capacity and emotional resilience to cope with all this change.
Finally, a key element of developing our people is through the actual work they do. For this they need leaders and colleagues who mentor and coach, providing the inspiration, insight and stretch people need. We need to develop our leaders capacity to encourage the development of their people.