Turn a Division of Labor into a Division of Learning


If the image drew you in, then you probably recognized Bull Durham's veteran catcher “Crash” Davis who was brought in to teach rookie pitcher “Nuke” LaLoosh how to get to the majors. Kevin Costner adoration aside, there are real-world lessons to be learned from this movie. (If you haven’t seen the movie, stop reading immediately and go watch it.)


How would you describe the culture of learning within your organization? Traditionally, the veterans have been the mentors and the rookies have been expected to learn the ropes from them. Thanks to the Millennials, the explosion of information, and the constant disruptions in today’s marketplace, the roles of teaching and learning within leading companies are shifting. An organization’s culture of learning, or lack thereof, has never been more significant.


In 1970, Fortune 500 companies cited reading, writing, and computational skills as the top three most desired competencies. Most veterans would probably say those aligned with their educational experience. By 1999, these same top companies identified new skills - teamwork, problem solving and interpersonal skills - as those they most valued in prospective employees.


Fast forward to today. A recent LinkedIn study surveying more than 1,400 U.S. hiring managers at Fortune 500 companies reported that today’s top companies are looking for more than education, experience, and job skills. They’re also considering soft skills and personality traits that demonstrate learning and problem solving abilities.


Beyond education and skill prerequisites, employers identified problem solving as the top skill (defined as the ability to see and create solutions when faced with challenges). The second most important skill is the ability to learn. The most important personality trait that employers look for in professionals is the ability to collaborate. In a nutshell, today’s leading companies want creative thinkers who can troubleshoot and solve problems together. They want people who know howto learn together.


This shift shouldn’t come as a surprise given that the evolution of technology in our daily lives has allowed rapid global communications, immediate access to an exponential explosion of information, and the trend that the disruptions that change the market will continue to accelerate. In short, we’re getting smarter faster, and expectations of employees align with that trajectory.

Rather than find people with a lot of stuff in their heads, we need to find people who know how to find people who know what we need to know.

“Between the birth of the world and 2003, there were 5 exabytes of information created. We now create five exabytes every two days. See why it’s so painful to operate in information markets?” – Eric Schmidt, Google CEO


Almost 30 years ago at the inception of personal computing, Shoshan Zuboff distinguished computer-mediated work from earlier generations of mechanization and automation in her book, In the Age of the Smart Machine. Her conclusion was that there would eventually be a blurring of the demarcation between “work” and “learning,” to ultimate create a cultural shift from a “division of labor” to a “division of learning.”


The biggest obstacle for some organizations may be the force of inertia in a systemic culture that neither promotes nor nurtures opportunities to learn how to learn from one another. While the Millennials may not be in the C suite (yet), they bring an entirely different skill set and mindset. As digital natives, they’ve learned differently, they communicate differently, and they have a strong desire to contribute. The veterans out there are gold mines of information, experience, and organizational history. Despite the shift in the type of skills employers say and the wealth of recent brain-based research illuminating how we learn, a culture of learning doesn’t come from a binder. It begins with both a respect and an expectation to grow the collective capacity to learn, and it must be nurtured within the organization.


In order to actualize a collective ROI from both subsets, organizational leaders must cultivate trust in the contributions of others and respect the reciprocity of a learning community regardless of where people sit on the org chart. Those companies that are able to grow their “division of labor” into a “division of learning” will realize the powerful fusion of the gray knowledge with the green knowledge instead of sacrificing one for the other.

In addition to solving problems more efficiently and growing the body of knowledge, employees will be more engaged and happier in the work they do for the company.


According to the latest Society of Human Resource Management Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement research report, 92% of those surveyed identified contribution of work to organizational goals as important to job satisfaction.

This new division of learning will create a new environment–one of colleagues and co-learners who understand how we learn, how we can most effectively impart knowledge and share ideas, who are inspired to learn and inspire others to learn. The pursuit of learning how to teach and learn collaboratively that is woven into fabric of the business may perhaps be one of the most important facets of workas it will deliver recurring dividends long after the project, product, or campaign is over.


Leaders who put a high market value on learning how to learn set the course. There is a certain prerequisite of knowledge and skills for every job. Every organization has subsets of human resources that collectively define employee productivity, engagement, satisfaction, and ultimately the success of the company. But those companies that cultivate a deeply rooted value for the collective knowledge, talents, skills, and capacity to both teach and learn within the culture of their organization will be powerful forces to reckon with.


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Check out this infographic of the Multi-Generational Workforce to understand who they are and what drives them to success.


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