Learn Together to Grow Fast


Learning from someone who has been there, done that, it is no longer OPTIONAL to succeed quickly.

I have been fascinated for a long time on the topic of learning in general, and, specifically, the role of conversations with the right people to accelerate learning.

As we speak, Yale University researchers are just now exploring the changes in brain chemistry when two people are engaged in a conversation. We don't have to wait for the research to be concluded, because, in real life, I have experienced that myself. I know for a fact that ONE conversation can change the trajectory of your life, and I have heard this over and over again from other successful entrepreneurs and business leaders.

I have also found from my own experience that new ideas emerge when I am engaged in healthy intellectual conversation with my mentors or students (I teach at Founder Institute in Silicon Valley). It seems to be that we all have amassed an incredible amount of knowledge and wisdom from our own life experiences, books we have read, the conversations we have had or tough situations we have overcome. And my observation was that wisdom remains locked and somehow comes alive and flows out in a conversation.

Thinking some more, thoughtful conversations are when tacit knowledge gets transferred.

Tacit Knowledge resides in us in forms that cannot be easily digitized, such as an Experience, Competence, Thinking, Commitment to a specific activity. It exists within our mind and gets expressed only during teamwork and during engaging conversations.

It is a known fact that top performing employees are a key competitive advantage for any organization and they possess tremendous tacit knowledge that remains heavily under-utilized.

A million-dollar question in every senior leader's mind in organizations is:

Are we fully utilizing our employees' knowledge and expertise?

Sadly, the answer is not pretty in many cases. Since knowledge is locked up in those top employees, it is hard to even quantify, if that 'in-house asset' is being fully utilized.

Let's explore what can be changed so that there is a better and a more definitive answer for the above question. With distributed teams becoming more common, time has come for organizations to find new ways to leverage that tacit knowledge they already have right within their organization for helping other employees improve their skills and capabilities.

Let's think back for a minute:

We learned how to ride a bike or close a tough sales deal or deliver an inspiring keynote not by reading a book but from another person. There are certain industries such as Advanced Manufacturing, Oil and Gas, Biotechnology, Pharmaceuticals, Aviation, Nuclear Science and so on, where this tacit knowledge has a long shelf-life. Such valuable tacit knowledge needs to be effectively shared with the next generation of leaders and specialists for organizations to remain competitive.

Well, one solution is by choreographing conversations between someone who needs that knowledge with someone who has that knowledge. When the quality and frequency of such conversations grow, participating people grow as leaders and learners, and in turn, the entire organization experiences an increase in productivity, happiness and business growth.

Here are 4 ways for organizations to implement processes and systems for tacit knowledge to be shared organically.

1. Leadership

Like many things in life and work, it starts at the top. If the leaders don't recognize the need for such knowledge sharing across their workforce, it won't help the cause. However, leadership and strong executive sponsorship alone is not sufficient to move the needle.

2. Mindset

The mindset of employees is equally important. Employees who are learning should check their ego at the door and the employees who are sharing should never feel that they are walking the extra mile. Both benefit in a conversation when it is centred around learning. Sharer builds depth, and learner gains new knowledge. A meaningful relationship or camaraderie is also established during the process. This kind of a mindset will reduce the friction between employees to share and learn from each other.

3. Culture

Establishing a culture of learning in your organization is key to achieving great results. Laszlo Bock in his book "Work Rules" talks about creating 'an institution of learning.' He talks about employees passionately sharing what they are good at with other employees, and this kind of behavior is highly encouraged at Google, he says. This kind of learning culture in your organization would make it extremely easy for someone to reach out for help without worrying what others think.

4. Technologies

Without proper technology solutions, organizations will not be able to scale their learning across their workforce. Learning Management Systems (LMS) as well as Open Courseware (MOOCs) like Coursera, Udacity have done a great job of making rich content easily available and accessible to individuals. The next generation of platforms, according to John Hagel are 'learning platforms' where participants build long-term relationships and learn from each other. In a recent conversation with Ravi Gundlapalli, CEO of MentorCloud (a company I am also involved with), he talked about companies looking at newer and cost-effective ways to rapidly improve the skills and capabilities of their employees. He added, 'why look outside when the expertise exists right within your own four walls?'

You have to start somewhere and that starts with the need to understand the power of right conversations to unleash the tacit knowledge of your own employees, and accelerate learning within your organization. That leads to the overall growth of the organization, which is a result every organization aspires for.

Photo credit: Anne Davis 773 on Flickr