When two persons of unequal power, authority or influence interact, the result is different from those described in my previous blog post (“12 Types of Learning”):
The root causes of human behavior lie in past experiences (extreme left box in the diagram). Therefore the most effective (or most insidious) method of controlling human behavior over the long term is through training (from earliest childhood) and religious or political indoctrination. The social nature of knowledge implies that groupthink and imposed visions and values are the next most effective mechanisms. “Carrot and stick” (or rewards and punishments) methods achieve shorter-term results.
Power differentials exist everywhere. You see this dynamics as it occurs every day between boss and subordinate, between parent and child, between professor and student, between government and citizens, between a person pointing a gun at another person, etc. Most likely you participate in it too, both from a superordinate position and from a subordinate position in the same day and in the same organization! We are part of the problem! I label it a “problem” because vertical dynamics are easily anti-learning.
We often do the above interaction types out of unconscious habit. If we do it to another who is our equal we appear to him as arrogant, presumptuous or disrespectful. For example, criticism triggers an equally unconscious reaction from the other person of defense, counterattack and debate that result more to mutual irritation than to mutual learning. Praise could appear as patronizing.
The terms “knowledge transfer” and “learning” hardly apply to the interactions in the above diagram, unless we stretch our common understanding of those terms to apply them to hierarchical societies such as North Korea and fundamentalist religious-military groups like Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines and Taliban in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas. What happens in these societies is a coerced or indoctrinated replication of belief systems from parent to child, and from leader to follower.
Learning hardly happens or happens slowly. We saw in Q8 (“Wanted: Workable Tools for Voluntary Paradigm Shifting”) that in vertical or hierarchical societies, learning is extremely slow. Below I reproduce the table from Q8. Notice from the table that two factors result to mankind’s very long Unlearning Cycles: (1) institutionalized vested interests and/or (2) institutionalized rules to prevent people from thinking freely.
In real-world organizations, the knowledge dynamics is often a mix of KM-across-power-differentials and KM-across-equals, or what we can call vertical KM and horizontal KM. Leadership and culture affect this mix from organization to organization. Even in development-oriented organizations, this mix shows up clearly in how projects are evaluated. I wrote about the difference between vertical learning and horizontal learning, or between conventional project evaluation and post-project knowledge capture including lessons-learned sessions. Again, the cultural momentum and context of an organization determine how the mix is tilted between vertical and horizontal dynamics:
The challenge is how to develop perspectives and effective tools for conscious shifting of the mix away from vertical towards more of horizontal dynamics. One way is by using military force to shift a nation from dictatorship to democracy, as what President Bush started by invading Iraq and getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Another way is to help organizations voluntarily shift towards becoming learning organizations. In Q26 I will write about how this shift has been unconsciously but inexorably taking place over the last three centuries.
What do you think? Do you agree that we may all be participating in this problem?
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