Musings on Technology and OL-#2
Sun, 18 Dec 1994 01:49:40 -0500

Thanks for the comments on my musings on the intersection between technology
and organizational learning. The reflections of those who have followed this
thread are far ranging:
1. Gray Southon replied to me personally with a fabulous summary of a
process of systems development which assisted learning in a transfer sense
AND in an innovative and cooperative sense. I've asked him to submit this
summary to this discussion. In the case study, he discussed a development
process which used a "consortia" of users deeply committed to the success of
the development (probably a critical success factor).
2. Robert Levi (hi to you too--great to touch base with you again) reframed
my original question to "How can the use of technology promote learning in
such a way as to enable effective action without controlling (i.e. limiting)
the process. He tossed in some feedback based on a comment of Fritjof
Capra's keynote at the Systems THinking conference in SF. "Technology and
sustainability are not compatible because technology is inherently about
*control* (i.e. controlling the computer to accomplish a task, a program
controlling certain functions, etc.). People, on the other hand, do not like
to be controlled, and a sustainable culture would not ??missing word?? strong
elements of control present in it." I have some problems with this
statement---to me technology is a tool, as is a hammer, and the standards
which work for people do not have to work for the tools.
3. George Roth, responding to Robert, suggested that Zuboff's "In the Age of
the Smart Machine" (1988) is an excellent treatise on the
topic--distinguishing use of IT that automate (control) with uses of info
tech that "informate"--enable new and different kinds of work practices
through access to inf. George points out that tools can be used in any kind
of change effort (planned, hierarchical, or authoritarian), "but, its the
philosophy and how that philosophy plays out in practice that makes the
4. Ryan Martens commented on my original question (can technology support
organizational learning) with an example of how at US WEST, a project with a
staff of 4 people and no real budget set out to "help people help themselves"
thru delivering 21st Century communication tools (specifically internet).
They expect to have 20,000 users on their internal internet within one year.
This will provide tremendous support to U S WEST's massive change efforts.
He says, "computer mediated communication is the way in which technology can
be a positive enabler in the creation of learning organizations and
communities of commitment." I'D LOVE to hear more about how this will
happen. What process? Any of the learning organization disciplines being
5. Robert Levi, responding to George, talks about a fundamental difference
between the control necessary to keep technology running and that of working
with people, who don't like to be controlled. If control of technology is
lost, people become wary of using the technology. Certainly true---and it's
difficult, isn't it Robert, for people to see that you are controlling the
technology, and not them?
6. George Roth, ....., in a very education and far reaching answer, points to
the "REAL PROBLEM in business today is that people whose paradigm is in
building info systems are becoming more involved in organizational change
efforts." ...."The issue that I have seen is that those people often seek to
design organizaitonal processes so that the computer can function more
effectively, not the people using the computer. PEople are ultimately more
flexible than technology so they are ofthen the ones asked to make the
He says that the philosophical concepts of infomate and automate are crucial
for people responsible for implementing and maintaining computer systems,
"especially if there is an espoused philosophy which accompanies the use of
that technology in an organization that seeks to become a learning
7. Eric Bohlman says that part of the problem is that many IS thpes grew up
professional when computers were expensive and people were cheap--then it
made economic sense for people to do extra work to same computer time, but
now no sense at all.
8. Mark Tabladillo adds another assumption gone: "computers are only
understood by a few technical experts, i.e. the IS department. Thus the IS
deparmtnet becomes the major "customer" of what the computer can provide,
never mind what others want. This too, will go the wayside as our kids who
grow up on Nintendo, Sega, and Game Boy will be the professional users fo the
future." Gosh, I hope so, but as someone involved in directing
implemnetation of information and technology infrastructures, I'm not too
sure that this USE of technology will lead to an ability to provide for the
technology underpinings.

I am mindful, nevertheless, of how very important the implementation process
is for technology. But, I'd like to go back to my original question: Can
technology support not just the acquisition of knowledge (i.e. thru distance
learning, internet, etc.) AND support people to take effective action. Can
technology actually be a catalyst for organizational learning, that perhpas
will not take place any other way?

One of my colleagues just returned from Indonesia where she was helping
implement "self-picked teams" (the company's name for the equivalent of our
self-managed teams). There, Muslims stick with Muslims, Dayaks stick with
Dayaks. It is a loss of face to ever ask for information. We're going to
implement some information kiosks for people to get information so they do
not have to lose face. Here, technology is culturally neutral. I think this
is an example of technology being used to support the early stages of
organizational learning. Here, technology will model behavior desired of
people. Keep posted for results.

Let me know if this summary is useful. It helps me to do this to get at the
key points. I hope it's useful to you all as well.

Happy, reflective holidays
Lexy Martin
Co-Development International
12950 Saratoga Ave.
Saratoga, CA. 95030
408 366-0466