Emergent Learning LO2148

Tue, 18 Jul 1995 17:22:19 -0400

In LO 2111, Pete Smith comments...

>Now to my request prefaced by the thinking that led to it. I am not sure if
>many sports examples are useful. Sports situations generally are more
>predictable than organizational situations, so the learning and practice can
>designed to cope with a range of predictable events. Also, while good sports

>performers do practice a lot, good organizational performers, or even
>or poor ones, seem not to practice. (With the exception of the military and
>emergency services.)

>So, please help me relate this thread to organizational performance, and
>may be learnt from it in order to achieve good performance in, say, software

>engineers, or sales people. Also, more importantly for me, what can a LO do
>foster and support emergent learning?

I think the sports analogy brings home some important points on the tacit
side of learning, preparation and practice, practice fields, and rates of
learning. The discussion started after a comment in one posting suggesting
that explicit knowledge came first and tacit knowledge was the result of
learning. Having had what I believed an opposite experience with bowling,
I asked if others had experienced similar, rapid learning. From there
spring the sports examples. Many important points come to mind for me
from the sports examples.

Pete, I have a different take on sports being more predictable than
business. In my days of basketball, we usually prepared for each game with
two-three strategies. We would even prepare for a single play to come out
a half-dozen different ways. My coach did not call it practice. He used
the word preparation. He used the word practice to perfect a certain play
- free throws, or fast breaks for instance. Sports look predictable
BECAUSE the coaches and players prepare for multiple ways the game may
play out and are ready for turns of events. When we say predictable as it
relates to sports, it may be so at the system level - patterns, trends.
But at the play by play level , those that win at a high percentage rate
over a long period of time are classically unpredictable. My favorite was
Vince Lombardi having Bart Starr throw long for a touchdown in critical
games on third down with inches to go. To this day, people say that
Lombardi was predictable. I say that was how he fooled them. He got them
to believe he was predictable. Sweep left. Sweep right. Throw short over
the middle.

Sports coaches prepare and play out multiple strategies or a single
strategy playing out multiple ways. So should a business develop multiple
looks at the future and attempt to see how they will play out. I believe
business competitors and conditions are much more predictable within a
range of possibilities than we presently perceive. We just have to work at
it in order to LEARN what these might be. That is one of the lessons from
the sports examples. We need to practice the way our business game is
played out prior to playing it. I pose the question: How good would your
sports team look within the limited range of predictable events if they
did not practice? Just as we take it for granted in business that we
should NOT practice, we take it for granted in sports that they MUST
practice. Interesting!!

Preparation and Practice

One of the concepts for Learning Organizations is practice fields. I could
easily see a practice field for sales folks. Come into a room laid out as
an office, be given a scenario of a sales call, practice it, get feedback,
discuss alternate methods to handle that scene, develop a modified
strategy. REPEAT this exercise from multiple scenarios of sales calls.
Practice. Practice. Practice. Always have a mentor/coach present to
coach, give tips. This mentor could even go on calls with the apprentice.
The mentor of whom I speak should be a senior sales person (instead of a
professional trainer), a master who is recognized as great at the sales
GAME by his or her customers, their own company, and the SUSTAINED results
they achieve. Only the mentor who plays the game PERSONALLY FEELS the
tacit side of any sales situation. The tacit side CANNOT BE ROLE PLAYED or
TALKED about in any DEPTH OF FEELING by a trainer.

Rate of learning:

If I am more natural at some phase of creating knowledge than another
person, I NEED TO UNDERSTAND THIS difference and allow for it in my work
associates. Just as in sports, some will learn faster than others.
Mentoring, coaching, DIALOGUING, and sharing personal models of how a
scene unfolds can help those of us who are not as natural at imagining the
scene. Without taking this extra personal time to acquire or create
knowledge together, important new discoveries may be glossed over. For us
activity based folks, stopping to THINK together is like poison in milk.
We feel it is not healthy for us.

Tacit Knowledge:

Those who readily grasp the "feel of what new knowledge COULD BECOME"
need to be able to pass it along to their work associates. Think of the
implications for this in any complex design job. It may be tempting to
believe that tacit knowledge is less important in the learning
organization than in sports. I will pose it as a breakthrrough when our
Western minds have come to grasp the significance of passing on tacit
knowledge. For the most part, we will say that "you can't do that" because
we individually have never experienced it.

Going back to the sports examples, some coaches continually turn out great
teams and individual players. Why? I argue that they can pass along tacit
knowledge. Another example: In the craftsfield, I have known cases where
apprentice electricians preferred studying with a certain master
craftsperson because of what he could and DID pass on to them. The crafts
people call them tricks of the trade and giving them a feel for the job.
There are teachers, schools, institutions who are renowned for turning out
the best in their field of study - music, art, business, engineering, etc.

So, some thoughts I take away from the sports examples. It was a great
point you brought up about "how does this pertain". Do any of these
comments help? Hope so!

Have a great day!!

Dave Buffenbarger
Organizational Improvement Coach
Dow Chemical Company
(517) 638-7080