Some time ago, I was given a stack of books by two former teachers of mine who were getting ready to move to another state and trying to lighten the load. One of the titles was "Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation" by Don Tapscott. Written in 1998, at the height of the Internet boom and also the year I started working in the industry professionally, it reflects the heady optimism of those times and the feeling I remember having every day as I went to work that we were participating in a revolution that would have as great an effect on people’s lives as the Industrial Revolution did. The book’s primary focus is on the generation just younger than my own Generation X, Generation Y, which the author proposes renaming the Net Generation or N-Gen because growing up with the digital media and the Internet is their defining characteristic. How will the N-Gen change the way we learn, play, work, shop, and live as a result of having developed with
The author argues that one of the things that is changing is that knowledge is becoming capital. The competitive advantages that once went to the companies with the most money or equipment will in the future go to companies with the most knowledge. "There is no sustainable competitive advantage today other than organizational learning. That is, companies can compete only if they can learn faster than their competitors."
If this is true, how can businesses make sure that they are fostering a healthy environment in which learning can take place?
Technology is certainly a big help. At Webinar Resources, we use software such as Xerox Docushare, Google Spreadsheets, and Content Circles to organize documents and make them available to all the employees who need them. We use technology such as Brainshark Presentations and ExactTarget emails to help our clients distribute and archive their important knowledge.
At least as important as technology in my opinion is the organizational attitude toward learning and collaboration. At Webinar Resources we have a culture that allows knowledge to flourish. Knowledge flows from the top of the hierarchy down, from bottom to top, and from peer to peer. Employees are encouraged to write up instructions for whatever new techniques we’ve learned and upload them to our online knowledge base. All employees are allowed to contribute to the shared knowledge of the organization and enjoy doing it (I do anyway). Employees are expected to teach each other, and are given tools and resources for self-directed learning as well.
Contrast this kind of culture with a workplace that you may have been unfortunate to experience, where employees are given incomplete or deliberately misleading information, and employees who refuse to share with each other are tolerated, even to the detriment of customer service. Sometimes this kind of toxic environment results when there are fears that employees will leave the company with important information. Yet the kinds of employees with a lot of knowledge to share are probably the ones who enjoy learning the most. What kind of environment do you think will keep them happier and healthier? Where are they more likely to stay?
In "Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation", the author believes that the influence of digital technology leads to the development of workers who thrive in a collaborative learning environment. That may be true, but whatever generation they are from, I believe that it’s in your best interest to help all of your employees to reach their full potential by providing a fertile and healthy environment for learning in your organization.