Rolling out the Red Carpet

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Illiterates of 21st Century

Futurist Alvin Toffler said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who can not read or write but those who can not learn, unlearn and relearn. In his book Future Shock, he told us that the traditional way of incorporating new information was to learn, learn more, and then learn more. The tasks before us, however complex, allegedly would be solved if we simply worked a little harder, studied a little longer, and applied ourselves more. As Toffler suggests, what's necessary today is to approach your work and life from the perspective of learning, unlearning, and relearning.

When you switch from an old model car to a new model, most of what you know about the earlier model is of little value when it comes to using the new model. You have to unlearn—forget what you have known—and march into completely new territory. Fortunately, the operation will be a success, and you won't go back, but it is painful, and gives you moments of great anxiety.

The next time you need to make a major car change, more fully embrace the concept of learning, unlearning, and re-learning–let go of what you used to know. You'll be far more proficient.

This imperative for learning is clear as we have witnessed in the global corporate world what happened to many so called "corporate dinosaurs" when change surges through faster than their people’s ability and willingness to learn and adapt to the environment.

Learning organizations are therefore those companies that subscribe to the importance of getting all its members to continuously upgrade their skills, knowledge and experience. They provide the necessary support and ensure that learning takes place as a group in the workplace and in the process increases the competencies and capabilities of their organizations to deal with change and compete in the market place.

The learning organization promotes the continuous cycle of learning, unlearning and relearning. It recognizes that the speed of change in the market place will make obsolete some of the knowledge and skills of its people. It puts great value on the ability to constantly innovate and translate learning into new opportunities in the market place.

Leaders of learning organizations have the courage to abandon old assumptions, which are no longer true, although they were the basis of their success in the past. They encourage staff to unlearn outdated ways of doing things, which are no longer suitable in the new market place. They get their people to relearn the latest processes and systems that will enable them to be more competitive. The leaders in a learning organization are not sentimental to old technologies and systems that are no longer effective.

Those leaders realize that an environment of continuous change requires a commitment to continuous learning to prevent their organization from becoming a corporate dinosaur. Let the lesson of failure from the Encyclopedia Britannica be a warning to those who take lightly of the need for change.

Encyclopedia Britannica had their most profitable year ever in 1993 and then went bankrupt in 1995. The company continued to sell only printed encyclopedias, ignoring the powerful CD-ROM technology. They rose to the top of the industry and then became a corporate titanic that sank because they did not see the need for continuous learning and change.

Leaders in learning organizations avoid the tendency to impose their views on subordinates. They understand that leadership is not about monopolizing. It is about liberating. They help employees break free of constraints whether real or perceived to achieve a higher level of performance. They encourage employees to stretch their capabilities to the maximum. They encourage initiative and tap the creativity of their staff to improve work.

To encourage commitment and elevate the self-esteem of employees, they give credit where it is due. They do so because they know that people will be more committed to their responsibilities if they are credited for the ideas or suggestions. They are slow to criticize ideas that do not work and quick to praise those that do. Learning organizations are open to new ideas from their employees as well as those outside such as customers, suppliers, government and even competitors.

Environmental monitoring undertaken by companies help detect early signs of changes in the market place that are about to take place and prepare them to respond swiftly. They study customers, suppliers, competitors, government policies, technology makers and economic conditions of the environment and assess the implications on their business today and the future. They undertake competitor benchmarking and set goals to model after the best companies in their industry. In some areas where they are the market leaders, they innovate and drive the industry by creating the future. Thus they may come up with new products or services, which reinvent the industry and have all other companies trailing their footsteps.

The challenge of learning organizations is to learn and adapt faster than its competitors. The ultimate test of a learning organization is its ability to translate its training and learning into practice. Learning organizations makes it possible for training and learning in the classroom to be translated into practice.

Besides extrinsic rewards leaders also take time to provide people with the intrinsic rewards such as organization-wide recognition, praises, letters of commendations and special dinner invitations.

To keep on in a time of rapid change and also to beat the increasing competition in the market place, Pakistan’s companies are required to produce their products or services faster, better and cheaper. To be able to do this, they need to learn new skills, technologies and processes at a faster rate than their competitors. In fact, to survive the turbulent and accelerating change, and to keep off from becoming the illiterates of the 21st century, they need to continue to learn, unlearn and relearn. (