Man breaks mold! News at 11

I sat down this morning with my little pot of Dilmah tea to read friends’ blogs. This beats curling up with the Sunday New York Times or some other largely useless aggregation of pulp fibre. Much better to get the news of the day from those who are working on things and who need help or have discovered useful insights for the rest of us. And so, sitting before the woodstove with a pot of tea and a laptop is a lovely way to begin a Sunday morning.

And this morning my friend Jon Husband sends me in a couple of directions. First towards Dave Snowdon’s Cognitive Edge methods and open source methods database. And now I am thinking of doing the same around here – compiling meeting and conference designs for use by others. Not at all a bad way to extend learning into the world.

And then I read a great post that Jon finds via backtrack to a young man named Wade who has discovered two truths in the world. First, there is great merit to buying and drinking Dilmah tea. And second, the cubicle-based work culture he finds himself in just isn’t working. Here’s what Wade has to say about that:

From my limited direct experience, as well as second and third-hand understanding, the cubical and the process-worker still seems to be the way most workplaces are run. These structures seem to inhibit enjoyment, co-operation, communication, and happiness and effectively dis-able their employees.

When as people we feel involved, and responsible for our actions and output, we feel happier, and do a better job. When we are allowed to think, we become enabled nodes and peers, no longer following, but helping to shape and create something greater than before. From nothing comes something. The success of peer2peer file-sharing, and wikipedia shows the power of self-coordinating peers, when allowed to act and do.

An employee who feels passionate about his workplace, who enjoys the people and his work, is less likely to be sick, and more likely to stay a part of the developing company. The company gains even greater productivity as well as knowledge retention. Dialogue and communication take places, collaboratively they steer the ship to their common vision, not some top-down management approach that seems illogical to the employee. This is the wirearchy.

To discover this at a young age in his work career is both a blessing and a curse, as Jon also points out. But more than that, to me, it points out something interesting about people entering the workforce directly from the education system.

The education system, right through to the post-secondary level trains people to act alone. Individual effort is rewarded, despite the fact that people participate in group activities throughout their educational career. Even at business schools, the incentives for behaviour tend towards the individual reward, making for lots of pedagogical and cognitive dissonance in group assingments. Teachers I know of in these environments struggle as students compete with their team members, resorting often to command and control behaviours and unsustainable weight puling to ensure a good mark for themselves by way of getting a good mark for their group. This is not collaborative behaviour, and in fact is completely at odds with the world that Wade is describing.

There is some delusion about competition in the world. In the most competitive environments, such as sales or warfare or sports, individuals excel only if they work very well with others. Even mercenaries depend on others to do their jobs well.

The education system in most places I know of turns out people who are good by themselves. It focuses on individual capacities like reading and writing and figuring things out for yourself, that are the basis for effective collaboration, but not the logical progression to working collaboratively. The key capacity for living in a collaborative world is knowing how to be in relationship with others. It’s about knowing what you are good at, being open to learning from others and both offering and accepting relationships to advance to purpose of any given group.

Who knows of an education system that gives marks heavily weighted towards learning how to read and write and makes sense TOGETHER – a practice we call collective harvesting? Who can point me to a school where marks are given for collaborative work as opposed to individual learning artifacts?

What Wade has discovered is that the real world works much differently than school tells us it does but the WORK world more often than not mimics schools, I think to the supreme disadvantage of enterprise in general. If you are taking people and throwing them into cubicles and not providing for the kind of collaboration that is really needed, you are wasting time, resources and energies, and your employees, like Wade, will notice.

Perhaps this can be food for thought as Dave Pollard continues his podcast journey on learning, leadership and enterprise. In the meantime, thanks to Wade for jotting down his experience and triggering some interesting connections.

Time for more Dilmah.

[tags]dilmah tea, dave pollard, jon husband, dave snowdon, schools, business school, workplace, wirearchy[/tags]


  1. Sorry I can’t make a more meaningful contribution, but: you just sent Dilmah tea a new customer. I’d never heard of them before, but I’m giving it a try :)

  2. Chris–

    Perhaps this strongly enculturated notion of cubicles and individualism is what is behind the distrust of many for things like open space. Perhaps people do not trust themselves in collaboration, nor can they picture how collaboration might look. So how could they trust others to come up with good results from collaboration?

    :- Doug.