Can there be ‘original thought’ in the era of the knowledge-age organization?

I think I have only ever applied for one temporary ‘professional’ role.  My logic normally is that with constraints such as a mortgage I would not want to risk a period of unemployment.  However, in the case of this particular role it sounded fantastic so I thought I would apply.  I was pleasantly surprised when I was offered an interview even though I did not have one of the key ‘essential’ criteria of the person specification.  When interview day came I, for some reason, developed horrendous hiccups and generally did not do very well.

Anyway, one particularly awkward point was where I started describing past achievements and relating them to some of the prevalent best-practice theory in the discipline (eLearning).  Now I think I might have come across as suggesting that I (or rather my employer of the time and team) were ahead of the game.  At one point, I think, I even suggested it being a little ‘chicken and egg’ in that practice and theory become so intertwined that it becomes difficult to remember what came first – theory, you implementing an idea, recognized best practice, etc.  At best I think I suggested I was an original thinker and innovator, but without really backing it up as a reflective practitioner perhaps should be able to, at worst I appeared egomaniac-ish saying “I was first” to do various things.

Whilst I did not deal with it very well on that interview day, I would have now suggested that 100% ‘original thinking’ is incredibly difficult in our networked world.  In other words, we are products of our environments and if one has a particularly active personal learning ecosystem the ‘original’ source of an idea is difficult to track.  The challenge then should be to ensure you ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’ rather than reinventing the wheel.  Whilst the Internet has accelerated growth and sharing of ideas contributing to a world that is rapidly changing [I wouldn’t agree with all of this video but it is at least useful for seeing the prevailing mood] it also means that you can quickly appear out-of-date or just rehashing the work of others.  This has been particularly highlighted in the last week or so…

  • This article on big data in Higher Education, for example, makes a number of valid points but few are original.  Where it mentions work being done to track student achievement by their library use, many in HE will be already familiar with examples of such work.  Indeed some institutions already track devices (certainly of guests) to their networks and LMS/VLE data (should) has been used in ways such as those mentioned in the article.  Perhaps the issue the author really alludes to is the potential value in linking data and (I would argue) warehousing data from multiple institutions to see bigger trends.  Indeed this cross-pollination would help improve the data usage, for organisational effectiveness purposes, mentioned in the article.
  • In the L&D space, this week I watched the recording of a recent LSG webinar from Jane Hart.  Now I have followed Jane online for years which makes it tricky to pick out how much she is confirming my hunches/way of doing things as opposed to leading my thinking with original ideas but this recording really hit home.  Whilst I agree that it is fair to say ‘lets not kid ourselves, people are not going to adopt all of this’ (a point approximately made in the presentation) I have to feel that in an office/knowledge/people based business there has to be much smarter coming together of learning, sharing, collaboration, knowledge/information/resource management, etc. in the kind of ways Jane mentions.  I tweeted at an event earlier in the year that Salesforce-centric employees seemed to always be the example given of where some of this works, but surely there are leaders out there who are implementing appropriate organisational development(s)?

I would argue that joined up systems and data are one thing but, realistically, you need an enterprise where learning is fully embedded culturally.  Here is where education organizations have an advantage as learning is their mission but they should also be able to use the LMS/VLE as their organizational platform, alas I would imagine too many break that shared social hub by using separate Intranets, etc.  Yes there remain specialist functions, that need certain software (arguably a Library Management System would be an example), but for being an employee of a collaborative organization that shares, reflects, learns and adapts as one I really do feel we need to move from breaking things into silos of learning, knowledge, resource, etc. management.

Perhaps it is my own environment and ‘professional genetics’ of training and beliefs that sends me down the above road but surely the above should be the case and I am not diving into ‘original thinking’.  However, when you see so many project management, L&D, learning technology and other advertised posts which are clearly based around old models it does make me wonder.

Author: iangardnergb

My name is Ian Gardner and I am interested in various topics that can be seen as related to learning, technology and information. To see what I am reading elsewhere, follow me on The Old Reader ( and/or Twitter (@iangardnergb).

2 thoughts on “Can there be ‘original thought’ in the era of the knowledge-age organization?”

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