Learning on the 272 Rainbow Steps

Well, I’m back from Asia – specifically Malaysia – and finally all here … I’ve redefined jet lag as my body took a plane and my mind took a train …  I’m still getting over the ride to the KL airport … I’m convinced that Kuala Lumpur taxi drivers are all telepathic … they tailgate by inches, cut each other off abruptly without carnage or death … would drive you crazy before you ever reached the Batu Caves and climbed the 272 Rainbow Steps.

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“The Evolution of Learning: Redesigning Your Learning Experience” the 2-day workshop I recently presented in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, sponsored by Global People Strategies of Malaysia, was very successful. As I climbed the steps to the caves the morning before leaving I thought about the program I’d delivered. Here’s some of what I learned.

Malaysia, as a colony, was a source of cheap labor and resources. The British needed to create a big administrative bureaucracy filled with interchangeable human minds to run the empire. They needed a production-line educational system that could slot teachers in and out, and produce minds that could read write English quickly and legibly, and be as numerate as they were literate. Their minds were identical: you could grab a Brit Bureaucrat from Malaysia and plunk her or him down in Canada and no one would blink.

As an unintended consequence, Malaysia also skipped most of the Industrial Revolution’s approach to managing hands: everything from putting up telephone poles and stringing wires to being addicted to the default sage-on-the-stage way of learning. Malaysian’s are more than ready to jump forward and do what’s needed to manage minds. I’d recommend studying Singapore’s SkillsFuture. It models the changes that the rest of the world needs to quickly adopt as global markets shift from a labor-intensive to a mind-intensive workforce.

Countries like Malaysia know they can leapfrog countries like the EU and the U.S. who are still stuck in their murky smokestack industrial past. Worth noting that they are joined by many other countries in that region including Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China.

In Malaysia, I felt I was truly being heard.  This was a stark contrast to my experiences in the EU and U.S., where I feel like a voice crying out in a “managing hands” wilderness, where command-and-control hierarchies, lack of transparency, “sage-on-the-stage” event-driven training, and a failure of the imagination still prevail.

The participants in my 2-day workshop in Malaysia represented a variety of Malaysian companies and industries.  They listened closely to the stories I told of companies that have learned to managed minds. They were keenly interested in hearing how critical it is today that companies create an environment of collaboration, open communication, and continuous learning, enabled by digital technology.

Even more fascinating to my Malaysian audience were ideas of a fearless workplace that supported and expected frictionless learning.

More than anything, they look forward to embracing the future and making Asia great while business leaders and managers in other parts of the world try and hold onto some romanticized version of a simpler past when we made things with our hands.

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Read the Introduction to my latest book “Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy” to understand the profound differences between the old model of managing hands and the new approach focusing on managing minds.

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