… or Why it is Good to First Lay the Egg(s), then Let the Hen(s) ”Happen” …
… Or Start with the Seeds, then Let the Plants Grow …

Eggs and Hens are funny things. As the saying goes (”Who comes first, the chicken (or hen), or the egg?”), we do not quite know which one is first. This is probably because there is no first, or last, in the circle (or cycle) of life. All goes into everything else and then comes right out of it.

Yet, there is a certain sequence in terms of some entities preceding others, and others following on them. This sequence is not exactly time-bound as all the entities that are part of a particular circle can be experienced simultaneously at any one time as they are then. Still, they can be influenced, too, which would affect the ones after and before them, and the whole circle (or cycle), and thus the integrated experience of that cycle, at any one time.

You are probably wondering, what is all that about? Well, as I’ve already mentioned in the title of this post, it is about Organisational Learning and Knowledge Sharing, in fact, about enabling, or just influencing, the former through the latter. We can think of knowledge sharing as eggs laid in the organisation (strategically, or not so much). We can also think of it as seeds that you plant here and there, strategically, or not so much. Then the result would be chickens, some of which may be hens which would lay more eggs. To follow the other allegory, the result would be plants which would yield yet more seeds. The chickens, hens, or plants can be seen as the dynamics of learning. To think of organisations, then they can be seen as the dynamics of organisational learning.

There will always be eggs, and seeds which yield chickens and plants. Sometimes, though, we can enable, or just influence the sort of eggs, or the type of seeds, and thus enable, or just influence, the chickens and plants. In the same way, through knowledge sharing, we can enable, or just influence, organisational learning.

Why enabling, or just influencing? Because Organisational Learning, and learning, per se, can not be prescribed, only conditions for it to truly unfold (as it would) can be created. … In other words, you can not tell people to learn. Everything which goes in and out in learning, in this case through people, you can not prescribe. Yet you can create conditions for it, you can enable certain set-ups, bring in components you can bring, then see what happens. Belief in what can happen is useful too, as is steering the course of the process according with your belief. In this though, you should be open to experiencing the process of collective knowing. Unless you do this, you would be switched off from the collective learning process.

Perhaps this helps to understand:

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And this:

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(It is better to try to imagine what is seen, rather than just seeing it. Try.)

(And, in any case, these are just approximations.)

Because the cycles we are talking about here are not exactly, or not only, biological, then any such can also be enabled through the chickens, hens, and seeds. My argument here is that, for an effective organisational learning cycle, and a bigger dynamic system (i.e., complex adaptive system), to come into place, it is necessary to start with the eggs and then let the chickens and hens ”happen”. Or, start with the seeds and then let the plants grow. Should you start with the hens, or the plants, a cycle would be enabled, for sure, yet I would question whether this would be an effective organisational learning cycle (as explained above). Why? Because you would be diverging from what enables a complex adaptive system.

For example, imagine an organisation needs to define its strategic direction for the next five years. I guess it can do this in one of two ways:

1. It will put together a strategy from within the Office of the Executive Director, and then put this on the corporate website.

2. It will state the need for defining a strategic direction. Then it will organise a few workshops, run a few surveys, create conditions for people to talk to each other about this in the context of everything else, try to train people in complexity using the issue at hand. On the overall, it will enable a collective conversation, constantly facilitating that process. In result, the strategic direction will emerge collectively. Various lines of business (or divisions and units, thinking of the more rigid public sector formats) will continue working in this very discursive mode. It may never be written, yet it may not have to be. The organisation will continuously know its strategic direction and work accordingly.

I let you choose which one you prefer.

In the cycle of organisations, somebody is always sharing something with somebody else, and so somebody always gets to learn about something. You can not quite learn something unless somebody has shared something with you, i.e., some information, some announcement, some training, some gossip, some experience. Still, what is being shared, and among whom, has a great importance for what is being learnt, on what scale, and with what potential impact for the work of the organisation. Sharing creates conditions for people to construct their own learning, as individuals and as organisation. Once again, learning needs to take place in this, i.e., enabled, not enforced.

More on how exactly this can happen, i.e., what would be the more concrete descriptors of knowledge sharing, and of organisational learning, in later posts.

To side-track a little bit, following the ’egg -> chickens/seeds -> plants’ model, chickens will not always be hens, and plants will not ever be of one and the same type. This makes for an incredibly complex organisational learning picture. Yet, as it all things that live, this one’s bound to be that way, too, if it were to be that.