As our information moves faster, we move faster. And as more of humanity comes online (2.3 billion more people in 2016–2017 alone), it’s causing a fundamental and spontaneous restructuring of our collective behavior. The overlay of our evolving planet wide digital nervous system has taken the perennial drivers of change — human needs, politics, geography, culture — and woven new patterns from them. All of us, especially those who are guiding businesses, need a new framework to understand and adapt.
In Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, author John Medina discusses the importance of sleep (Rule #7: Sleep well, think well):
Why do we sleep? It may be so that we can learn. The brain replays information learned during the day hundreds of times while we saw logs. You’d be more productive if you took an afternoon nap, too.
The “replay” of information that happens while we sleep comes, of course, in the form of dreams (or nightmares). Many of our dreams never make it to our consciousness, while those that do are often quite vivid and may plant the seed of good ideas that we can follow up on. Whether we remember the dreams or not, doesn’t matter, though; we “learn” from all of that crazy activity that takes place while we are asleep.
The typical recommendation for individuals is to get 8 hours of sleep per day – fully 1/3 of the day essentially dedicated to “learning”. Compare this to how most companies operate: maximum effort, maximum efficiency, no room for down-time. The expected amount of “sleep” for an organization? None, zero, zip.*
(In case you are wondering, I don’t consider “after hours” as sleep time since at this point the organization doesn’t really “exist”. Consider it a form of cryogenic sleep, and as Jake Sully reminds us at the beginning of Avatar, “you don’t dream in cryo.”)
The question then is, “Does an organization need to sleep? And if it does, what form would that “sleep” take?” To those questions I propose the following answers:
Yes, organizations need to sleep, and
Meetings are the organizations “sleep”
In his article Meeting of Minds, Richard Veryard talks about the costs associated with meetings:
- The direct cost of conducting the meeting (salaries, travel, etc)
- The opportunity cost of the meeting (lost productivity)
- The cost of not having the meeting
It’s that last one that is relevant here and Richard’s comments on it are part of what inspired me to finally write this article. He says:
Good meetings can make people more productive and creative, and help avoid wasted effort. Good meetings make the organization more intelligent – processes become more efficient, decisions get better, the organization learns more quickly – and this increases the overall added-value of the work done.
* A notable exception is the US Army. Most Army units operate on a 3 phase cycle: deploy, recover, train. At the risk of being overly anthropomorphic – and overly simplistic – you can roughly equate those to “go to work”, “relax in the evening”, “go to bed”.
Here’s another piece from the archives, this one from April 2004. I’ve pulled this one out as part of a response to a discussion between Bill Brantley and Harold Jarche on the question of the work literacy gap and its impact on, and the role of, the organization.
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Employee-employer relations in a knowledge based economy
I’ve long believed that the prevelance of knowledge work in organizations today will (eventually) fundamentally shift the employee – employer relationship. In many ways, knowledge workers will come to be “self-employed” in the sense that they are working to improve themselves and to make an impact on the world at large and not just within the company they happen to be “working for” at the time.
With 401k plans allowing for retirement planning independent of a specific job or pension plan, and for various other reasons that are well documented elsewhere, knowledge workers don’t seem to be staying in the same place for their entire careers anymore. With retirement taken care of, other things today’s employees need to consider include health/life insurance, etc. A truly self-employed knowledge worker also has to worry about the business end of things, such as billing’invoicing, taxes, payroll, etc. etc.
By working “for” a company, knowledge workers are in many ways simply out-sourcing the business end of being self-employed so they can focus on the job itself.
This obviously raises some interesting questions for organizations….
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The emergence of Web 2.0 has definitely had an impact here, since individuals can be more “independent” than ever, even within the confines of being an employee of a company. As Bill writes:
In fact, as the rise of social network-based learning has demonstrated, employees no longer need the company to develop their knowledge, skills, and abilities. In many professions, communities of practice and professional organizations have replaced the shop floor and company mentors as the source of employee training.
The challenge for organizations in this situation becomes not providing employees the training they need to carry out the company’s goals and projects, but rather providing employees with goals and projects that engage the employees and effectively use what they are learning for themselves.
Updated [27 Jun]: Although this post is primarily targeted at the changing role of the organization, it also addresses Michele Martin’s questions concerning changing knowledge workers’ attitudes about learning and training.