Stupendous bronze and the man who didn’t win the National

Collaborative Enterprise‘s blog carnival this month looks at formalizing the informal–are there ways to deliberately harness social media to foster learning without losing the (presumed) value of personal connection?


Now, I tend to slightly resist two of the implications I see here.  First, while it’s true that “training, education, and schooling are not learning,” I don’t think it follows that learning can’t occur where these are present.  And second, learning did not start happening only after the invention of internet-based social media.

I know that Harold Jarche doesn’t think that, and I’m pretty sure Frédéric Domon doesn’t, either.  I just wanted to make my thinking explicit.

I’ve been watching the Winter Olympics and thinking about how it combines individual and organizational goals.  And just as I write this, I see multiple organizations that aren’t all in a single hierarchy:

  • You can't just brush over your goals.Small, individual sport groups (German women’s bobsled)
  • Related-sport groups (sliding sports)
  • National teams (Germany)
  • Judges, referees, and other arbiters
  • Timekeepers, scorekeepers
  • Coaches
  • Trainers
  • Volunteers
  • Fans
  • Reporters, writers, bloggers, and other who opine
  • Local, national, international Olympic officials
  • Technicians
  • Security
  • Sponsors
  • Donors

You couldn’t ever satisfy all these groups, let alone their subgroups and individual members–but they find enough common ground to bring about an Olympics.

I see a dynamic for the competitors: each has his or her personal goal, but each had to fit into a larger structure, especially but not exclusively for team sports.  If you want to compete in Nordic combined, you agree that your performance on the jump will determine your starting place in the cross-country element.

Since we’re talking athletic competition, psychomotor skill comes into play, and “training” (in the sense of focused attention, demonstration, feedback) plays a major role.  You do learn as you train–by which I mean, not only do you build the muscle memory and automatic physical behavior, but you also refine and deepen awareness and the potential to respond to outside stimuli.

Another thought came to mind when I was getting annoyed by local-news people focusing relentlessly on medal count: so-and-so “had to settle for silver” (because she was favored to win gold, but didn’t); someone else “won a stupendous bronze” (because he performed much better than expected).

Those phrases got me thinking about how, if you work within a large organization, you need to find ways to align your personal goals with the organization’s in a way that’s authentic for you and helpful to the organization.  In part, it’s the old concept of the king’s shilling: if you’re accepting the paycheck, you’re granting the organization’s right to set and pursue its goals and to ask you to help achieve them.

When you can’t ethically do that, it’s time to get out.

Another point of view emerged when I was reading an obituary for jockey and mystery author Dick Francis, who died this week.  He wome some 350 races in a nine-year career, and rode as jockey for the Queen Mother’s horse in the 1956 Grand National–where his horse, in the lead and 50 yards from the finish, suddenly collapsed.  In his autobiography, Francis wrote:

I heard one man say to another a little while ago [4 or 5 years after the race], “Who did you say that was?  Dick Francis?  Oh, yes–he’s the man who didn’t win the National.”

I’m sure Francis would have love to win it, just as every Olympian would love to win the gold.  But individuals and even organizations often need to reframe their goals, to redefine what success means.

In the workplace, I think that means organizations have to work harder at finding ways to match their goals with those of individuals within the organization.  I once worked across the hall from an ambitious young guy.  He had some “rules for success” on his wall, including “love the business.”

Me, I didn’t love the business–and I can think of at least one boss who’d agree.  But often I did love helping the customer perform better, and that didn’t mean beating him to death with PowerPoint.  It sometimes meant working with him to apply performance-improvement strategies while calling them “transfer of training,” because at the time helping that transfer occur was a lot more important than fretting about jargon.

CC-licensed photo: Olympic colors by kk+ / Kris Krüg.