Workplace Learning Book Summary - Workplace Learning Book explained in key points
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Workplace Learning summary

Nigel Paine

How to Build a Culture of Continuous Employee Development

4.5 (226 ratings)
21 mins
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    Workplace Learning
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    Learning cultures build connections between individuals.

    In 1995, Nigel Paine, the author, talked to Microsoft’s co-founder and CEO, Bill Gates, about how organizations harness the intelligence of employees. 

    Microsoft, Gates said, employs lots of very smart people. Thing is, though, smart people often think their view is the only one worth considering. It’s got to be, after all, since it’s the correct view! Put differently, they tend to view their smartness in a self-contained way. Everything important is in a kind of silo – their brains. That’s where they look for answers and solutions to problems. 

    But lots of smart people sitting in an office working on their own problems doesn’t make a company. And that’s where leaders come in. Gates’ role at Microsoft, he said, was to make sure that one plus one plus one added up to more than three. That the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. That knowledge wasn’t siloed away in individual heads, but shared around. 

    Years later, when Paine started working on his book, that thought bubbled back up to the surface of his mind. Gates, he realized, had distilled his view of workplace learning into a single idea. That idea is also at the heart of this Blink. It says that workplace learning is collective

    We’ll be exploring that idea at scale – mostly, we’ll be talking about large multinational organizations. But we can start with an analogy that illuminates collective learning at a smaller level: the brain. 

    There are, roughly, 100 billion neurons, or brain cells, inside your head. Each neuron can make 1,000 unique connections. Those connections are the seat of knowledge and intelligence. It’s the density of connections that drives cognition. Viewed at this microscopic level, “learning” is what happens when you build new connections. Billions of neurons on their own don’t cut it – it’s the synapses between them that make the difference. 

    Organizations, Paine thinks, work the same way. Individuals, like neurons, are wonderfully complex cells containing all kinds of potential. But organizational intelligence and knowledge emerges in the spaces between them. The know-how and smarts of each cell has to be activated, and that happens when individuals are connected to one another. When they share knowledge and communicate. 

    An organization which ensures that individuals are better connected and more willing to share, Paine concludes, is an organization with a functioning learning culture. For him, that’s what Gates was describing back in 1995, even if Microsoft's CEO didn’t use that term. And fostering that kind of culture is still the best way to build effective organizations today. As the Canadian scientist Donald Hebb famously put it, “cells that wire together, fire together.”

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    What is Workplace Learning about?

    Workplace Learning (2019) argues that learning and development professionals have to offer more than the usual array of courses and seminars. If you want to help your company compete in today’s fast-moving world, Nigel Paine believes, you have to start building the right kind of organizational culture. That culture rests on two pillars: open communication and knowledge sharing. For Paine, these are the foundation for the kind of constant, day-to-day learning organizations need. 

    Who should read Workplace Learning?

    • Team leaders and managers 
    • HR professionals 
    • Anyone who wants to improve their workplace

    About the Author

    Nigel Paine is a business consultant and author based in London. A recognized expert in topics as varied as e-learning, leadership, and creativity, he regularly works with clients in Europe, the United States, Brazil, and Australia. Paine was formerly the head of training and development at the BBC and is currently an academic director and member of the international advisory board at the University of Pennsylvania. His previous books include The Learning Challenge.

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