1. Editorial: Great leaps of learning
Just imagine a world in which you would grow up in a permanent struggle for survival, have lots of children and, when your children are off your hands, die exhausted.
Then imagine a world in which you grew up, had children and, when your children were off your hands, had energy and life for another ten or twenty years. Not only you, but your friends too.
In the second scenario you might spend time thinking about the world and your experience. You might discuss it with your friends. You might make discoveries or develop new ideas. Longevity and leisure contribute to learning.
Just imagine a world in which you never stray more than ten miles from your own village. Then imagine a world in which people are able to travel around their own country and some people even to travel across continents. Knowledge and ideas travel with them.
Just imagine a world in which knowledge was recorded and transmitted by monks copying books by hand with a quill pen. Then consider the invention of the printing press. Many copies of any text can be manufactured and passed to others.
Consider the impact of mass communication, mass travel and satellite broadcasting. Knowledge is let loose and information and ideas can permeate all corners of the world.
Just imagine a world in which regions and nations have their own language. Then imagine a world in which one language becomes dominant.
Now think of the world that we live in. English is spoken widely across the planet and the Internet not only makes knowledge available to anyone but introduces powerful search facilities, e-mail, newsletters and discussion groups. Now ideas can travel instantly and can be developed dynamically as they travel around the world.
We live at an exciting time. We are living longer, travelling more. We are healthier and wealthier. We have access to unprecedented communications. Knowledge is set free of institutional controls and we can learn for ourselves.
We have seen many changes and developments as a direct result of developments in IT and the Internet. But the greatest changes we have yet meet. For we live at one of the critical stages in history when changes in the political, social and technical environments lead to a great leap of learning.
But, a warning. Such times have occurred before. If we look back on great civilisations of the past like Rome and China and India, the Aztecs, we realise that not only have these civilisations disappeared, but civilisation itself, and knowledge, have disappeared with them. It seems impossible that knowledge can die. But it did.
As a member of the CorporateCoach community, I guess you too are committed to learning and development. The example that we set will influence each of the other communities we touch.
May we all be custodians of knowledge and the practice of learning. May we ensure that the organisations we work in are learning organisations.
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2. Coaching notes: The blue tit and the milk bottle
The United Kingdom has a long standing system of delivering milk in bottles to the door. At the beginning of the 20th century these milk bottles had no top. Birds had easy access to the cream which settled in the top of the bottle. Two different species of British garden birds, the blue tits and red robins, learned to siphon up cream from the bottles and tap this new, rich food source.
This innovation, in itself, was already quite an achievement. But it also had an evolutionary effect. The cream was much richer than the usual food sources of these birds, and the two species underwent some adaptation of their digestive systems to cope with the unusual nutrients. This internal adaptation almost certainly took place through Darwinian selection.
Then, between the two world wars, the UK dairy distributors closed access to the food source by placing aluminium seals on their bottles.
By the early 1950's the entire blue tit population of the UK, about a million birds, had learned how to pierce the aluminium seals. Regaining access to this rich food source provided an important victory for the blue tit family as a whole; it gave them an advantage in the battle for survival. Conversely, the robins, as a family, never regained access to the cream. Occasionally, an individual robin learns how to pierce the seals of the milk bottle. But the knowledge never passes to the rest of the species.
In short, the blue tits went through an extraordinarily successful institutional learning process. The robins failed, even though individual robins had been as innovative as individual blue tits. Moreover, the difference could not be attributed to their ability to communicate. As songbirds, both the blue tits and the robins had the same wide range of means of communication: colour, behaviour, movements, and song. The explanation could be found only in the social propagation process: the way blue tits spread their skill from one individual to members of the species as a whole.
In spring, the blue tits live in couples until they have reared their young. By early summer, when the young blue tits are flying and feeding on their own, we see birds moving from garden to garden in flocks of eight to ten individuals. These flocks seem to remain intact, moving together around the countryside, and the period of mobility lasts for two to three months.
Robins, by contrast, are territorial birds. A male robin will not allow another male to enter its territory. When threatened, the robin sends a warning, as if to say "Keep the hell out of here." In general, red robins tend to communicate with each other in an antagonistic manner, with fixed boundaries that they do not cross.
Birds that flock, seem to learn faster. They increase their chances to survive and evolve more quickly.
Arie de Geus, The Living Company, Nicholas Brealey
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