Can NRCan’s Learning Organization Community of Practice (LOCoP) be thought of as an apprentice program for leaders?
Recently, I attended a half-day session with David Snowden, author of the Cynefin framework for solving problems. Snowden makes a distinction between how one should solve complex problems, versus how one should solve simple or merely complicated problems. I won’t go into details here, but suffice it to say, that in a knowledge-based economy where innovation is required, we need the type of people who can solve complex problems. In other
words, we need chefs, not recipe users!
Snowden made the point that there is a big difference between a chef and a recipe user. Sure, if you have all the right equipment in your kitchen, you lay out all the tools and necessary ingredients and you have a good recipe to follow, then just about any competent person can
produce a reasonably good meal. But only a chef can walk into your kitchen, see what’s in the fridge, and create a truly exceptional meal.
The difference, Snowden asserts, is that chefs possess practical wisdom.
Wisdom is the ability to reflect on one’s knowledge or experience. Practical, here, means it was acquired through the process of practice – in a chef’s case, as an apprentice.
The beauty of the apprentice model is that it allows someone to imperfectly mimic the master and make mistakes. Studies have
shown that people recall far more knowledge when they actually act on their knowledge than when they just think about it. In an apprenticeship program, one practices what one has learned from books, but in an environment where it is safe to make mistakes. The result is a much greater ability to recall and reflect on that knowledge for innovative results.
Snowden also made the point that doctors and lawyers also use the apprentice model, but managers have no such system; instead they have the MBA.
That’s when I stated to re-think the role of our Learning Organization Community of Practice as an apprentice program for leaders. When I first took my LOCOP training, I came out of that training thinking of myself as an apprentice - but an apprentice in facilitation. Now, I recognize that I am really an apprentice in becoming a leader.
Every time I use my LOCOP facilitation tools to develop a shared vision in a team, to think about the whole puzzle at once, to create space for new learning, to foster deep reflective listening and build shared meaning in conversation rather than argument, I am conducting a small, safe-to-fail exercise in which I practice the theory I learned in my original training. The result is that I now have a bucket of tools in my back pocket that I can mix and match and modify to solve all kinds of problems in a collaborative and increasingly innovative way.
Add to that the value of having a community who I can learn new techniques from, who I can validate my own ideas with, and who I can call on to help me solve tough problems, then I think we have many of the essential elements of a low-cost apprentice program for leaders right in my place of work.