Oct 28, 2004

Simulated enterprises, Reworking Intuition

Interesting approach to turning around a failing enterprise.

About 3 years ago, psychologist Lia DiBello surmounted a business challenge that would have stumped Donald Trump. Armed with an unconventional theory of how people learn, DiBello and her colleagues coaxed some key employees at three financially endangered companies to confront their organizational failures and to devise new, successful operations. What's more, these transformations of workplace thinking and culture unfolded in a matter of just months after DiBello's team ran mere 2-day exercises at each site. The National Science Foundation partially underwrote this effort as part of a larger attempt to encourage research on how learning occurs in organizations.
DiBello, who heads Workforce Transformation Research and Innovation, a private company in San Diego, takes a different instructional approach. She designs fast-paced, stressful simulation exercises in which small groups must assemble products, ship them to customers, and turn a profit, at least as determined by computer software that tracks each mock venture.
In line with psychological positions known as activity theory and situated cognition, DiBello holds that what experienced workers understand about their jobs grows out of their daily goals, such as making products on time or quickly satisfying a few major clients' demands.
If a business' goals change, then employees must reorganize what they have come to know intuitively about their jobs, or that company won't succeed.
This type of learning requires a hands-on challenge that mirrors workplace demands and enables employees to tap into their collective knowledge
, in DiBello's view.
Three decades of learning research coincide with this approach, says psychologist Lauren Resnick of the University of Pittsburgh. Evidence indicates that what a person already knows about a subject or an activity lays a foundation for new learning and achieving expertise in that area, she adds. Data also show that knowledge is best cultivated through active participation in relevant tasks, not through memorization or drills.

Read more here. So does this approach work only for organizations that are in the do-or-die situation? Would employees rework their intuitive approach if they knew things were just fine with their organizations?