A Lean Shared Learning Space

Francis Laleman
We live in a world of poignant dissimilarities.

Author: Francis Laleman

 Us and them. Me and you. Generation Nix and Generation X. Generation Y, Generation Millennials. The management, the staff. The leader, the team. Male, female. The software, the users. Sales, customer service. Quid, quo. You name it.

We live in a world of poignant dissimilarities. Painful antagonisms. Disruptive oppositions.

Oh yes. We do know that dichotomies are unproductive. We do appreciate that usses and thems should not be. And yet, on an almost daily basis, persistently, we add fuel to the dualities. Even in education: The teacher, the student. The school, the PTA. The curriculum, the student’s learning choice. Alpha, beta. Science or history. Mathematics or language. 
And also, just as much, in learning and development: The trainer, the trainee. The training actor, the role-play participant. The classroom, the workplace. What must be learned, what is being learned. Competencies mastered, competencies to be developed.

Now, honestly, just how wasteful can it get? How far away from true, whole learning can one be?

Finding answers 
to this tantalizing enigma, and other questions, was what [西田 幾多郎] Kitaro Nishida had in mind when writing his 1911 masterpiece [善の研究] Zen No Kenkyū (An Inquiry into the Good), articulating an unsettling system of thought and organizational dynamics grounded in the one-ness of Zen Buddhist experience, and yet prepared for a world full of multiple, practical, pragmatical and future-minded modernity.

Pure experience-based learning, attested Nishida, does not contain any cognitive perception of oppositions such as those of subject and object, body and mind, and time and space. Thus transcending the dichotomous approach, Nishida disclosed a novel, sheer metaphysical pathway to the consideration of immediate learning experience, where any kind of intervention by judgmental reflection disappeared. And ultimately, just as his Bengali contemporary [রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর] Rabindranath Tagore, Nishida understood this pure, holistic learning experience to be the realization of true selfhood. The good, then, is the perfection of true individuality, the only foundation for the well-being of the individual, the team, the group, the organisation, humanity.

What more is the good? - The good is when individuals, through a shared learning process, overcome their sense of duality and create one-ness. With one’s self, with the group, with the organisation, with the organizational mission, values, goals, and learning needs.

Well done, you might think, at this point. :-) At last, the nature of the good is established. :-) Stop creating usses and thems in education, in training. :-) Let the big Self, with capital S!, unfold - and collective ownership of the mission and values of the organisation, of society, will automatically follow.

Lah, dah

But how?

How to ensure that holistic learning keeps taking place in organisations? How to guarantee that organisations keep learning? Surely, Sensei Nishida must have locked away an extra piece of advice for us, on that matter? A riddle, somewhere? A line, maybe? A verse? A koan, inscribed in the pebbles of a monastery garden, someplace, tucked away in the bamboo grove of his mind?

Quod non. Kuch bhi nahim kuch nahim. Zilch.

Yet, gratifyingly, in a flow initially quite separate from Sensei Nishida’s, and two full generations later, and of Harvard Business School fame, [竹内 弘高] Hirotaka Takeushi and [野中 郁次郎] Ikujiro Nonaka have pioneered the study of how to keep the ball of organizational learning going, of how to keep turning the wheel of acquisition of accumulating organizational wisdom.

(1) Wisdom, it seems, or knowledge, which is its lesser variance, first getssocialized: It is tacit, existing in the unconscious, and is transferred in one-on-one relationships, often from deva to devotee, from sensei to disciple, from guru toshishya, from master artisan to apprentice.

(2) In order for it to serve the greater good, of the group, it then needsexternalization: From tacit, and through peer-to-peer dialogue, it transforms intoexplicit chunks of transferrable stuff. It is verbalized, reshaped and redefined. It lives on in the chrysalis of metaphor and story, ready to fly out.

(3) And when it is finally ripe to fly out, it combines with other chunks in the knowledge base, steadily finding its place in the greater whole of the organizational brainwaves, whence it is checked and double-checked and validated and made even more explicit and placed into the perspective of other groups within the whole, with other specific learning needs and other particular outlooks.

(4) But organizational wisdom, in its visible, traceable, and outspokenly explicit guise, cannot serve the organization unless it is internalized into some tacit inner stream of consciousness yet again. An inner stillness, this time not existing in the individual mind, or competence, or skillset, or experience of some master, but broadly, in the generic memory of the organic whole. Hence, the acquired wisdom starts its own lifetime: it has become both blood and artery and brain, it is fully owned by a conglomerate of organizational stakeholders, embedded deeply into the life-generating tissue of the group.

So, where?

Where does training occur? – In most of the conservative training or L&D management approaches, it is located almost uniquely in Takeushi and Nonaka’s third phase, where explicit meets explicit, where externalization meets combination.

And is this the phase where it should occur? – Comes in Sensei Nishida, again.

It is not.

In his quest for a space, and the means, in and with which to ensure continuousembedded learning, Nishida had been experimenting with a new kind of mental gamification, a logic of [場所] "basho" (topos), a non-dualistic, concrete framework of thought, constructed to overcome the inadequacy of the subject-object distinction essential to both the subject logic of Aristotle and the predicate logic of Immanuel Kant. 
From this, Ikurijo Nonaka, who was by all means the foremost of Nishida's disciples, retaining only the first syllable [場] ba, established the concept of the four ba’s: an originating ba for the socialization phase of wisdom/knowledge transfer, aninteracting ba for the externalization phase, a cyber ba for the combinationphase and an exercising ba for the internalisation phase.

And guess what? – The words themselves have given away the answer: “training”belongs essentially and primarily to the realms of the interacting ba, reserved for theexternalisation phase, where tacit meets explicit – in a peer-to-peer dialogue.

In other words: “training” should be done predominantly with and from and amongeach other – and not in a third phase classroom set-up, where a know-all teacher/trainer reigns supreme.

Now, what exactly is this "ba"?

Says Nonaka: A ba can be thought of as a shared (learning) place for emerging relationships (between learners). Or – in another place: a ba is a shared context in which knowledge is exchanged, created and utilized – a space in which (tacit) knowledge is converted – a place that invests the team with the ability to make creative discoveries of new learning matter.

Above all, ba is a context, a platform, a meeting space.

Ba is where the learning takes place.
Ba is how the learning takes place.

Ba is a pretty lean ID.

It is the responsibility of the lean learning and development professional, the lean instructional designer, the lean transformation facilitator, the lean learning facilitator, the educator, trainer, teacher, …, to create, sustain and maintain ba – and to situationally suggest, prepare and offer the relevant ba for every step in every single learning process within the organisation.

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