Why MMO?

Why – you may be wondering – is this blog called ‘Motive, Means and Opportunity’ (MMO for short)? The main focus of the blog is learning and development in Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and the title relates to a paper I wrote for the Oxford-based organisation INTRAC entitled ‘Organisational Learning in NGOs – Creating the Motive, Means and Opportunity‘. One of the people I interviewed during the research for the INTRAC paper told me that she felt learning in her organisation was treated as if it was a crime – she felt she had to steal the time necessary for reflecting on her work even though the organisation was the main beneficiary of her learning. That made me think about the idea of trying to create a ‘crime wave’ of learning in organisations.

People with an interest in detective novels and television series such as CSI will know that for anyone to be a suspect in a crime three things must be established: their motive (the reason for committing the crime), means (the knowledge, skills or tools used in committing the crime) and opportunity (the conditions that made committing the crime possible). All three are necessary – just two won’t do. So if we want to encourage our people to commit the ‘crime’ of learning, we need to provide motives, means and opportunities to everyone in the organisation. In reality, the motive is rarely a problem – I believe most people love to learn and naturally want to share their knowledge with others. However, providing the means can be more of a challenge particularly for those of us who don’t value the knowledge we have or can’t find a suitable way of expressing it to others. The biggest challenge for organisations is to loosen up enough to create opportunities – both formal and informal – for learning individually and collectively.

Providing opportunities relates to what I call ‘planned’ and ’emergent’ learning. Planned learning relies more on creating formal opportunities to create and share knowledge that relate to organisational learning ‘agendas’ – longer term focuses for individual and collective learning. Emergent learning requires organisations to create a range of ‘spaces’ (what I refer to in the INTRAC paper as a “rich ecosystem of possibilities”) that provides a fertile environment for people to reflect individually and collectively but with no pre-determined plan for what will emerge. This treats learning as an end in itself or, more accurately, a means to an end which is, as yet, unclear. Both planned and emergent learning are essential in healthy, effective learning organisations. The challenge I intend to explore in future posts is how to encourage both types of learning in ways that lead to organisational creativity, adaptability and sustainability.