Learning as the foundation for Change!

Change requires trust, and trust comes from daily experience in collaborative, purposeful problem-solving,

A $15 minimum wage isn’t just about justice. It’s good economics | Steven Greenhouse | The Guardian

Thanks to Steve Greenhouse for this article. And to the many hundreds of scholars, journalists, and social thinkers who have done the research to provide the foundational facts that describe a failed U.S. state.

There is ample research and writing on what to do.

Today, there are at least three major prisms for change that focus our attention in: racial injustice, climate change, and voice (at home, in the community, at work, and in society more broadly). And again, the debate, prescriptions, policy proposals, and competing versions of ACTION to achieve positive outcomes for all are rich and number in the thousands.

While most agree that we should be forward looking, it seems to me that ,much of what is written about, acted upon, and debated fails to emphasize that which most would agree upon: that all human beings are born with the capacity to learn.

There is not enough attention paid to the role of learning in change.

Unfortunately, learning for most is defined as schooling or training.

I hope by now that most would also agree that schooling in the United States has failed us with its increasingly segregated and class based disparities in quality. But even if we could get schooling right, that is not going to solve our learning problem.

Training has not achieved much in the way of change either.

Learning must be seen as a life long experience. Learning must be seen as problem-solving, continuous, and based in the day-to-day lives of people.

Colleagues in Sweden who are responsible for achieving high performance and continuous improvement live by the following wisdom:

“we must act our way into new ways of thinking rather than think our way into new ways of acting”.

Using this wisdom, let’s focus attention on where we work.

Human beings everywhere know that their individual and family needs and concerns are interdependent with the world around them.  “The world around them” is a very big place.

Indeed, each and every workplace in turn is interdependent with the world around it.

People earn their “daily bread” at work.  We know that in today’s world that “daily bread” is quite unequally distributed, and that the overwhelming majority of people who go to work every day feel quite vulnerable, even for families earning upwards of $150,000/year.

In today’s world, and in many communities and workplaces that vulnerability and anxiety does not foster trust.

We can debate to what extent TRUST exists among people in their daily lives and in their workplaces and more broadly in their communities outside of work.  I think we can  also agree with Charles Heckscher’s foundational observation that:  “A community is a group of people who trust each other. Trust, in turn, is confidence that other people will act , in the future, in ways we think are right.  In a world of great change, that involves more than rule-following:  it requires that others will act properly even in future situations which cannot be foreseen – that they have a generalized disposition to do the right thing.”  ( Charles Heckscher, Trust in a Complex World, enriching community, 2015, Oxford University Press, p. 6)

In the current social and political landscape, we hear much more about polarization than we hear about trust.  Yet at the same time, there is a substantial if not a majoritarian view that the nation must achieve a version of a social compact in which all members of society have an expectation that their vulnerability to social pressures ought to be reduced,  and that we have a responsibility to one another to live safe, productive, healthy lives in a sustainable way.

Let us consider a particular kind of workplace: a “collaborative community”. (“Building a Collaborative Community”, Paul Adler, Charles Heckscher, and Laurence Prusak, Harvard Business Review, July/August 2011).  They advance the idea that it is through development of collaborative communities in work that the building blocks (see below) for sustainability can be achieved.

  • Building a sense of shared purpose
  • Cultivating an ethic of contribution
  • Developing processes that enable people to work together in flexible but disciplined projects
  • Creating a collaborative infrastructure

From healthcare, to education, to manufacturing, and public employment, to all sectors of the economy, we believe it is fair to ask:  what kinds of organizational structures are we building that will be successful not just as enterprises, but as collaborative communities where all participants realize in their daily lives that the shared purpose in work is to create the conditions for a new social compact.?  And I think we can agree that without trust, such a social compact cannot be achieved.

I understand that for many, the notion of collaboration seems far from the center of what will produce change.

I understand and agree that there must be struggle for change to occur.

It is also the case that in workplaces everywhere there is nothing that stops us from implementing well known and succcessful practices of problem-solving. The science of improvement based on day to day problem-solving to achieve continuous quality improvement is a widely accepted practice.

Building a consensus around high performance is also not difficult when that consensus is built on what it best for the consumer of the product or service.

A consensus is building around solving racial injustuce, around climate change, and the centrality of voice in democracy. While there is not a majoritarian view on any of these building blocks for a a new social compact, there is this: investment in fossil fuels is ending, and investment in renewable energy is accelerating.

Moreover, President Biden is driving a comprehensive long term strategy for building a physical and social infrastructure that will sustainably meet the needs of a just and more equitable society. We will not achieve these goals by politics and policy alone.

We must support learning that supports trust that can achieve the building blocks of unity of purpose.

Can we for example eliminate the disparities in health outcomes based on race and ethnicity through politics and policy alone? I suppose we can, but that sounds very long haul and somewhat abstract and far off.

Can we by contrast attain achievable and measurable improvement in health outcomes based on race and ethnicity from an individual health care system? That seems achievable when we empower and rely upon the frontline staff and managers, executives, and physicians all given the opportunity to learn collaborative improvement science and application.

The answer is yes:

Kaiser Permanente researchers develop new prostate cancer risk calculator – NCAL Research Spotlight

This brief article describes what was learned when researchers searched for a better way to diagnose and treat prostate cancer based on the PSA test. They not only learned a better way, but learned about racial and ethnic disparities which increased success in diagnosis and treatment among African-American men who have higher incidents of cancer and death that others.

In daily, repeatable, and specific settings…

We must ask: what is the problem?

We can ask: what are we trying to achieve?

We can ask what can we do differently to see if the change we make will result in an improvement?

We can ask how will we know if that change results in improvement?

We must use data.

We must create environments in which the people who do the work use that data to trigger tests of change.

We must use data to determine if the tests of change result in an improvement.

We must do this continuously.

We can build consensus based on experience.

Trust follows.


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