On Wednesday evening we had the 24th Google Firestarters which took digital transformation as it's subject. The event had been well oversubscribed within 48 hours of registration opening, demonstrating the high level of interest that there is around this topic in agencies right now (this was supported by the IPA Future of Agencies research that I did which revealed the disparate range of agencies and consultancies that are coalescing around this burgeoning area). It's a huge subject but as always with Firestarters we wanted to take some different but challenging perspectives on the theme and we had four excellent talks that I think achieved that really well.
First up we had the brilliant Emily Webber, who has worked with people and organisations in both the private and public sectors to develop their agile capability for sustainable change, and gave a fascinating talk on scaling learning through communities within organisations. Developing a organisational learning culture in the context of transformation is something that I talked about a lot in my book, and Emily brought that to life through the lens of enabling better cross-functional progress and learning at scale within a business. She talked about how the number of connections between people in a team (and therefore communication traffic) increases exponentially as the team grows bigger, and how the organisational response to these kinds of scaling issues relies on hierarchy and the creation of functional silos.
Yet learning across the organisation is an essential element in achieving real transformation: 'learning is done better when it's done together'. Social learning theorist Albert Bandura said: 'From observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviours are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action'. Collaboration is about building on top of each other's ideas, and yet so many organisations treat learning as an individualistic thing. She referenced Simon Wardley's concept of Pioneers, Settlers, and Town Planners, making the point about the different types of people needed in an organisation to bring innovation and transformation to life, and Dan North's thoughts around Delivery Mapping, talking about 'skills liquidity' and the cross-over of business need, current skills and desired skills. Emily's concept of 'Communities of Practice' enables learning horizontally across the business, and a collective intelligence that is greater than the sum of individual intelligence. When combined with a 'safe to fail' environment, fast feedback loops, and an empowered supporting network, people can really fly, it allows for decentralised learning and scales good practice.