Monday 21 June 2010

Active Learning

I have worked with a variety of people in many organizations. As consultant, I work with many more. It continues to amaze me how few people use the vast resources of the internet, books and trade magazines to identify their problems and possible solutions.

There is always a minority of individuals who are active seekers of problems and their solution. The vast majority seem to be happy struggling with their problems and experimenting from scratch. Almost as if they are completely unique. Its a big waste of time and resources to reinvent the wheel. In many cases, people are completely unaware that a better solution exists, and which is being actively advertised in the trade magazine.

As an example, when I was working for a BPO start-up, one of our big issues was the organisation of transport for our staff. It was a very complex logistics problem with various teams of people starting and ending shifts are different times, often only 15 minutes apart. Individual team members could live any where in the city. And there were other constraints such as a male must be the first person picked up or the last person dropped off. 

We made headway on this issue when we started looking outside for solutions. The international trade magazines were not too helpful as this was something pretty unique to India. However, when a group of students from the UK visited us, they pointed out that airlines face similar issues. Their team was the crew for a flight. And flights take off and land at all sorts of times. With that as a lead, we visited some of the airlines and learnt many new ways of looking at the problem and alternatives that could improve the overall system tremendrously.

The real question remains how do we nudge or motivate our staff to look outside for solutions. NIH (Not Invented Here) is a problem. A light nudge would be to keep trade magazines around water coolers, conference rooms or the cafeteria. A heavier one would be to make it a point to ask people explicitly what competitors are doing, and what analogies they have found in other industries. Maybe having a program, somewhat like P&G, to explicitly reward people for looking outside and taking in the best ideas would have merit. An expensive route would be to send people to external training programs, where they would meet industry peers in a learning environment. 

Write in with any other ideas you may have to improve Active Learning in your organisation.

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