In the past few months, I have read a number of articles, blogs, etc. on the topic of learning and all of them have discussed both the speed of learning and the concept of informal learning. Given my proclivity for simplification, I believe we are on the cusp of a learning revolution. I think we will finally learn that learning is just like business in the respect that is requires a relationship before it can occur (it is actually pretty amazing that relationships serve as the medium for many of our activities…but i digress). This leads me to throw out the term “tribal learning”. A tribe is defined as, “A unit of sociopolitical organization consisting of a number of families, clans, or other groups who share a common ancestry and culture and among whom leadership is typically neither formalized nor permanent“. I was drawn to this concept due to the fact that the leadership is neither formalized/permanent. This is critical in my concept because that requires each individual to be responsible for their own learning.
Quite simply, this is the way we learn now only it has become institutionalized to the point it is both unrecognizable & ineffective. I am not blaming anyone for this but the fact is that most training & development is owned by those who are trained in designing & delivering the content but may or may not know the content first-hand. We are at a point where mentoring future leaders is not considered a core requirement of those leading and that will eventually erode the future pipeline. This should not be difficult or time-consuming. It was done for hundreds of years under the practice of apprenticing and it worked pretty well. Here is why I believe returning to a more tribal approach would yield better results:
- Skin in the game – It all starts with the potential apprentice stepping up and seeking the opportunity. It has somehow come to the point where all the discussion is around how to select the right people. Why not start with evaluating those who express interest and willingness to do the work and allowing them to self-select out of the process as it moves forward. There would obviously need to be a qualifying event for those who express interest but then it becomes the responsibility of the individual to make the choice of whether they stay or go.
- Longer fuse – This is not a 3, 6 or even 18 month “program”. You are in until the “master” decides you are ready. I know this might seem arbitrary but who better to decide if someone is ready than someone who is doing the work. Also, the master has a vested interest as it is his/her name attached to the performance of the apprentice.
- True mastery – As opposed to a passing understanding or knowing just enough to be dangerous. This means you will learn how all the activities fit together and why each piece is critical.
- Application in a controlled environment – I am quite sure this is not what a master blacksmith would have told his apprentice but it is what happened. The apprentice gets to try his skills in a low impact environment under the supervision of the master until there is proof that the apprentice can correctly perform the task multiple times.
- Appreciation of the relationship – Given the time required, a powerful relationship is created and one that transcends the craft. This puts the correct context on the experience as the master invests time & effort to pass along knowledge and context (which equals wisdom) to the apprentice. So often, we are passing along information under the guise of knowledge and it can never be turned into wisdom by the receiver.
I am not advocating abandonment of any/all formalize training & development but I do challenge us all to form our own learning tribes and invest your time in being both master and apprentice in 2010 – your life will be richer for effort.