Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Real World Learning in a Global Context: Part II--- Avoiding An Extinction Event

An Extinction Level Event is a scientific term to describe a widespread and profound decrease in life on the planet. When we talk about the stages in Earth's history, there have been several points in its history where Extinction Level Events (E.L.E.) have occurred and usually for a variety of reasons.

Extinction Level Events in Business

The question that needs to be asked is:

"Are there extinction level events in the business world and if there are, what brought on these events?"

Many businesses in the digital age are like your grandfather's pocket watch. When they are first wound up, all the parts worked beautifully in harmony with each other. Then as time went on, you noticed that the watch started losing time which may have been caused by minor hits against objects or even dropping it a few times.


So, you re-set it, winding it a little tighter, demanding more efficient performance from all the parts but not changing its overall structure since it has always worked well the way it is, in the past. As the watch suffers more hits and drops and you wind it even tighter, the parts can no longer move in harmony with each other and they become paralyzed or freeze up. The watch self destructs in that it comes apart.
If you apply this analogy to business organizations, the "hits and drops" represents the impact of technology on business and some businesses inability to adapt, to innovate and most importantly, to engage their employees as sources of innovative solutions for a healthy company future.

Examples of Businesses That Failed to Adapt and Innovate

Consider the cases of three companies that are no longer with us, companies that suffered extinction level events:

Kodak: The Kodak Company is an example that I have used before but it is such a clear example of a failure to follow through in adapting and innovating. In 1975, Kodak engineer, Steve Sasson created the very first digital camera. The following quote sums it up:

"...Historically, Kodak was built on a culture of innovation and change. It’s the type of culture that’s full of passionate innovators, already naturally in tune to the urgency surrounding changes in the market and technology. It’s these people – those excited about new ideas within your own organization – who keep your company moving ahead instead of falling behind. One key to avoiding complacency is to ensure these innovators have a voice with enough volume to be heard (and listened to) at the top..." (Forbes, 5/02/2012)

Blockbuster:  Blockbuster had several opportunities to buy a little DVD rental by mail company called "Netflix" back in the early 2000's. The CEO demonstrated a great deal of short sightedness by refusing the Netflix CEO and co-founder Reed Hastings when he proposed that Blockbuster buy Netflix for $50 million. By the time Blockbuster shuttered its doors for good, it had lost $1.1 billion and was valued at $24 million. Meanwhile, Netflix was valued at $13 billion.


Borders Book Sellers: In the 1990's Borders and its competitor, Barnes & Noble combined for a 40% control of the book selling market. However, Borders committed three main mistakes that speaks to an inability to adapt. First, it outsourced their online sales to a little known retailer known as "Amazon" between 2001-2008. Secondly, it neglected E-books while its competitors came out with E-readers such as Kindle(Nov. 2007), the Nook (2011), Apple Ipad (April 2010). Borders didn't release Kobo untill 2011. Thirdly, it robbed its company of vitality by being tied down with long term leases on its physical properties.


Why Do Some Companies Today Face Extinction Level Events?

As an instructional designer or E-Learning advocate, have you ever been asked to give a presentation to high level decision makers on the benefits of an E-Learning strategy? At many of these types of meetings and presentation, its a good idea to be a good student of body language.

 Do their eyes glaze over when you mention E-Learning? Do they sit with a defensive posture with arms folded looking as if they have better things to do with their time than be listening to you? 

Perhaps you need to make the truth of what the company that resists adapting and innovating, really faces. Perhaps, Jack Nicholson, a well known actor can make it crystal clear to them:

We hope that we can make it so that company CEO's will realize that the truth is that engaging their employees is not enough to create a culture of innovation within the business organization. What employees have to offer must be valued and continued collaborative efforts encouraged so that organizations will not only survive the digital age but will prosper in it. Creating an learning culture within the business is the key. So, when there are rumours of an extinction level event within the organization, CEO's and COO's can confidently say: "Not On My Watch!"

Next... A solution that makes use of the collaborative efforts of employees with advice from Steve Jobs

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