Learning, not only in schools and universities, but in all organisations, can only be advanced through cooperative enquiry. Any individual seeking to take in information in isolation inevitably gets stuck in the solipsist trap of not knowing if the information is valid or not. If everything is judged by oneself alone, there is no way to tell when one has judged correctly.
Organisations need educative collaboration because it is when their members habitually share and cross-check ideas with each other, and with those outside, that continuous learning can be sustained. Both the complacency of sticking with what one is familiar with and the unreliability of counting on new claims for the sake of novelty, should be held in check by a culture of seeking, digesting, and reviewing what is put forward as knowledge.
With a cultural norm that celebrates the quest for understanding, and practical arrangements that facilitate discussions to clarify proposed ideas, a business, a network, or society more widely, will benefit from a constant inflow of critical and informed thinking. This will more readily bring to light mistaken or outmoded notions and direct attention to relevant development in any field that can help improve performance.
Organisations that do not promote educative collaboration run three risks that can seriously undermine their own future. First, individuals who feel they are judged on what they find by themselves rather than in collaboration with colleagues, are more likely to keep their exploration to themselves. This reduces cross-fertilisation and cuts down opportunities to build long-term partnerships that strengthen collective learning capability.
Secondly, instead of regarding the pointing out of misinterpretations or flawed evidence put forward by others as a mutually helpful exercise, it can come to be seen as inherently antagonistic. Some may under such circumstances prefer to hold back and not say anything lest well-meant comments are frowned upon as self-serving intervention. And there will be those who are tempted to discredit the findings of others in order to secure greater recognition for what they put forward themselves.
Thirdly, lacking encouragement and support to engage in cooperative learning, individuals fall behind their counterparts in other organisations, where a premium is placed on everyone helping each other learn more that enhances their shared understanding and boosts the capability of their institutions.
Organisations that invest in educative collaboration are more likely to reap the benefit of accelerated learning because people are encouraged to share and check each others’ ideas for necessary revisions and possible improvements. Moreover, the critical understanding developed through the open and thoughtful exchange of interpretations and arguments builds intellectual relationships and bonds of trust so that the applications of ideas are readily tried out, and more cooperatively adapted in the light of feedback gathered from as wide a circle of participants as possible.
Checklist of Appraisal Questions:
Is there a culture of lifelong learning?
Are members supported to engage in deliberative exchanges to inform their beliefs, policies, and practices?
Are members detached from thinking through why or how things are done in their group?
Do they routinely accept or reject ideas & instructions without giving them due consideration?
Is there a notable lack of interest in learning from each other or from other sources?
[For a complete list of essays covering the 9 ‘SYNETOPIA’ elements, look up ‘Guide to Synetopia’]