Learning and change in the real world
by: Alan Arnett
The real world is full of change. We now have cars with more computing power than the lunar space missions, mobile phones which look like they stepped out of an early episode of Star Trek, and the ability if not yet all the skill to genetically modify ourselves and our food. However, we also find that new changes bring new uncertainties, as cars produce pollution and congestion, phones produce radiation, modified genes produce unexpected resistances, and no-one seems to be able to agree on whether these things are problems or not. Gradually, we begin to understand that there is no such thing as zero risk, and being told something is ‘safe’ really just means that, from the point of view of the person advising us, given their current state of knowledge, and compared to other things, this is not something they are worried about … yet.
Since there is so much change about, you might think that we would be very good at handling it, particularly inside organisations whose products, services and actions impose so much change on the world? Yet achieving all the hoped for benefits from changes still seems to elude most of us much of the time. As an example, networked computers and the Internet have enabled global teams, virtual working and rapid reworking of documents, which when used properly are great. However, most people in organisations will also recognise the associated phenomena of fragmented teams, defensive e-mailing and endless reworking of documents. Even if you don’t use computers to work, as a member of the public the much-heralded introduction of call centres to ‘improve customer service’ more often seems designed to challenge customer patience. All around us supposedly good ideas seem to lose something in the implementation.
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