Flap your wings for the ‘butterfly revolution’ of learning and change


A simple idea: change yourself and you might see entire systems transform.

Change (Peter Downsbrough, 2011)

Aren’t we all butterflies fluttering our wings somewhere and causing tsunamis on the other side of the world? We are connected, and global change starts with individual change. Or perhaps it doesn’t, but what is certain is that without individual change we won’t see systemic change…

So why do we keep chasing the unicorns of this world in such simplistic ways? We want to achieve scaling up, sustainability, social learning, systemic change…but we don’t ask ourselves the right questions. All these unicorns won’t materialise if organisations are not willing and capable of operating together, and organisations won’t manage that if their own staff – individually – are not capable of learning by themselves, of being intentional about the change they want to see happen, of sharing with and caring for others, of connecting deeply. Exactly like the unit 0 of civilisation is the family, the unit 0 of learning and change is ourselves as individuals.

One of the concepts that has taken me recently is ‘process literacy’: the capacity of people to go beyond ‘what has to be done‘ to also understand the fine processes that happen behind those objectives – what process documentation, systematization and capitalisation are trying to do. Being ‘process literate’ means that you constantly pay attention to the channels that are most appropriate to understand the issue you are contemplating. It means you can talk content (dive deep) and connect it with relevant fields and ideas (go wide).

It is through that process literacy lens that a lot of the questions we are grappling with will actually reveal some useful angles. Someone I just met is trying to unpack ‘knowledge management in value chains‘ and it turns out there is very little at the junction of these two fields, but she is adamant that it is in documenting the process of (not) doing KM in value chains that we will find ways to improve knowledge creation, sharing and use in those value chains. Spot on!

So, while social learning remains great, we need to nurture and cultivate that process literacy within ourselves. Social learning, by the way, is also understood by some as individual learning connected – via social media – to others (see the presentation below in its attempt to manage information through that type of social learning).

But the lesson is the same: learning, sharing, change, better livelihoods lives, they all start with each and everyone of us. So get ready to shed your caterpillar skin for the learning and change revolution to happen: we need all butterlies around to flap their wings.

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4 thoughts on “Flap your wings for the ‘butterfly revolution’ of learning and change

  1. @Ewen,
    So, perhaps we are talking 2 instance of ‘knowledge’; one needed to amalgamate data/ measurement into (meaningful) information and one distilled from information as a result of sense making! The first kind can be highly automated with report generators/ business intelligent software etc. IMHO value chains are to process information and for that knowledge sharing is needed, certainly when value chains are building itself and the latter might be pure networking!
    Just Skype when I am green🙂

  2. Hi Jaap🙂

    Interesting the (unconscious or wanted?) analogy between KM and chains?

    Value chains are not as effective as they ought to be – following a very similar track as all the innovation system approaches like learning alliances, innovation platforms and the likes, i.e. slow and disorganised, but progressively learning from various failures and well-used opportunities.
    This is my plea: that value chains end up coordinating their learning, knowledge sharing and information management in a better way… That ‘sense-making’ that you’re alluding to (btw the bottom right hand corner illustration is more explanatory IMHO, because there’s sense-making involved both from data to information (perhaps a more codified sort) and from information to knowledge (internalisation / tacit knowledge)…
    At any rate, there is knowledge (sharing happening) in value chains, but much can be improved in terms of how these actors realise what they’re doing together.

    No one is asking to add another intermediate, just pushing the capability of the value chain – made of more than the sum of its individual actors – to understand, vision, anticipate, adapt, evolve…

    Makes more sense now?
    We need to catch up some time on Skype/Hangouts, it’s been ages!!!

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