Leading Knowledge for the Wiki Age
Modern businesses co-create value with their customers, and the Windsor Leadership Trust may be a model for how to co-create knowledge with participants.
Take a parallel from contemporary businesses. ‘Service’ is becoming the watchword for value-creation: even manufacturing firms derive ever-increasing proportions of their revenues from services rather than the sale of products. For example, Rolls Royce Engines, the manufacturers of aircraft engines, earn 54% of their revenues from service contracts, designed to give the customer value-in-use, rather than simply an ‘input’ to their supply chain. Airlines want reliable flying airplanes – and an engine manufacturer who can provide that outcome is more helpful than one which simply delivers an engine to the assembly plant. Yet business schools – still the main providers of management education in the UK – are often managed as if they are simply selling products – theories, programs and graduates.
This is because they rely on a ‘banking’ model of education. Business schools treat knowledge as a kind of currency, and behave like old-fashioned retail banks. The practical experience of managers and business-people is gathered up by researchers, converted into general models and theories, stored in journals and books, and then sold back to practitioners. Most people have to physically go to a business school to get access to this knowledge – just as they would go to their local bank branch to access their money. Even distance learning is the equivalent of the Automated Teller Machine (ATM): you can download your distance education package over the internet. But this simply configures the issue as one of distribution: the knowledge is disconnected from practice, packaged in discrete parcels posted, e-mailed or uploaded for later consumption. Distance assumes that students – even experienced managers – are at a distance from the source of knowledge – the business school.
Yet if we step back from this image to see where knowledge and wisdom actually reside, we discover that managerial knowledge comes in many types, is already widely distributed, and that real learning comes from creative interchange, not one-way delivery. Recognizing that important knowledge is embedded in managerial and leadership practice, it should be possible to follow the example of the Windsor Leadership Trust ‘consultations’, and to create business education that makes use of this personal and tacit experience. Some have been trying: Exeter University’s Centre for Leadership Studies runs programmes by what it calls ‘close learning’. Students, all practicing managers, use their current leadership roles as the focus for their learning; each has a personal tutor to guide them through a program of sophisticated, challenging and wide-reaching studies, making use of theories and models; encouraging careful reflection, improvements in practice, and ever deeper understanding. Modern communications technology enables us to take the professors to the practitioners; but it requires a new skill set for management educators, and new models of program design.
Wikipedia, the on-line encyclopedia, provides an even more radical metaphor for management education. coachingourselves.com is a new company enabling managers to learn from their own experience. Noticing that knowledge about customer satisfaction, for example, rests with the managers responsible for delivering it, CoachingOurselves pulls together the people with fragments of experience across a company and provides the intellectual frameworks and provocative questions to organize it in well-tested theoretical frameworks. Companies like SAP in Germany and Sasken in India find that managers hugely improve their understanding, solve real problems, and become more engaged and creative in their managerial work. Furthermore, their new insights into managing feed new sessions for the CoachingOurselves portfolio, thus co-creating management knowledge as well as adding value to managerial practice. This is, in effect, the birth of a Web 2.0 version of the business school – we might call it a wiki-school.
Close learning is a new metaphor for management education, and the wiki-school is a new way to think about a business school. Both offer valuable ways to extend the dynamic co-creation of value (the defining feature of WLT consultations), and may be of great help to alumni of the WLT who want to reach more people inside their own organizations and networks.