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Building the self-driven, agile, digital, exponential learning organisation

Part one: Why we need to transition to the SADEL Organisation
Learning is fast becoming a business-critical priority.  We can all ‘feel’ that the pace has accelerated, but it’s not just a feeling. According to researchers at Deloitte it is the result of operating under Moore’s Law. Deloitte – Global Human Capital Trends 2016.

To keep pace organisations are needing to become increasingly agile not only in how they operate and execute but in their underpinning philosophy too.

With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we need to accept that knowledge no longer only resides with in us it now exists external to us with life of its own. Our physical world still exists but how we relate to it has changed. (*Exponential Organisations)

In order to respond to our changing environment and to meet the demands required of this massive shift from physical to digital, from material to virtual we need a new breed of organization. The solution, at least the best I have seen so far, comes in the form of what Salim Ismail refers to as the ‘Exponential Organisation*.’  According to Ismail, this type of organisation has evolved to manage the limitations of resources that constrain traditional organisations. They do so in embracing an abundance mindset. Their emphasis is no longer on ownership and ‘stockpiling’ of scarce resources but instead on looking for opportunities to access and leverage shared networks.  (*Exponential Organisations)

Think about organsations such as:

  • AirBnB, they have become the world’s biggest temporary accommodation provider and do not own a single property,
  • Alibaba, biggest retailer without owning any inventory,
  • Facebook, most popular media channel but doesn’t create any of its own content,
  • Uber, massive personal transport provider that does not own a single vehicle.

The thing that these organisations listed above have in common is that they got over needing to own assets and instead looked at how to leverage and share assets through the creation of networks. In other words they ‘flipped the VUCA’.

The term VUCA, which stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic and Ambiguous, is bandied around a lot these days, and it is an apt descriptor when referring to our current reality. However what these organisations were able to do was ‘Flip the VUCA’ and what I mean by this is that they reframed their thinking about how to approach this new industrialisation the rest of us are floundering through.  They have moved into this Fourth Industrial Revolution with Velocity, they approach it with Unorthodoxy, they seek Collaboration, and of course they function with Agility.

Flipping the VUCA can’t be achieved with our current way of thinking. We tend to think linearly, from a scarcity mind-set, with high value on beating the competition. Our current level of thinking is still so inspired by Military strategy and views, including the term VUCA, which “is an acronym used by the American Military to describe extreme conditions in Afghanistan and Iraq…” (

This is in stark contrast to the views and thinking held by “Exponential Organisations” and require us to make some key paradigm shifts if we are to embrace this New World and successfully navigate our way through this 4th Industrial Revolution.

I see there being three major shifts that we need to make if we are wanting to establish and grow the Self-driven, Agile, Digital, Exponential Learning (SADEL) Organisation. These include:

  • Shifting towards a Self- Driven Learning culture: Before organisations can truly embrace and benefit from learning we need to develop our ‘self-directedness’ and we need to be empowered to do so.  You see, the potential to be self-directed exists within us, however the capability must be developed and enabled.  Self – Direction is a skill and a learned behaviour. However its development is often stifled within organisations, especially hierarchical ones. Therefore organisations must focus on allowing us to develop this capability and enable it through true empowerment practices.
  • Adopting an Agile Philosophy and Mindset: Agility is now a core competence. Let me clarify, agility and adaptability have always been a core competence, it’s just that the world is changing faster than we ever imagined it could and thereby greater emphasis is being placed on agility. Agility is about how fast we are able to adjust our paradigms and behaviours in response to changes in our environment. To me this means the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn…at a rate of knots these days!
  • Moving from Physical to Digital: Physical training methods i.e. learner guides, training notes, workshops, facilitators etc. are fast being phased out. If I’m honest I don’t really think they received the returns on investment we really hoped for anyway.

With digitisation of everything, we have seen an increase in digital learning technologies. Although digital learning is a silver bullet it does enable learners to grasp concepts faster and gain deeper understanding, connect theory and application more adeptly, and engage in learning more readily. It also helps improve instructional techniques, enable better usage of instructor time and facilitate the widespread sharing of knowledge. (  When organisations digitise learning they allow employees to become proactive and engaged learners who are partners in the learning process. However to harness these benefits we have to enable self- directedness first.

Within the SADEL Organisation digital learning is harnessed effectively because it assumes that we are natural learners and gives learners control over what I call the 4P’s of learning:  Preference, Pace, Place, Path.  This allows us to unlock our learning potential because it encourages Autonomy, Curiosity, and Self – Directed learning.

In the new digital world building a SADEL organisation is critical to survival, and in part two of this series we will be taking an in depth look at the framework required.

In the meantime I hope you share your thoughts and insights through the comments section. – Let’s start a conversation!

Reference: (*Exponential Organisations: Why new organisations are ten times better, faster, cheaper than yours, and what to do about it: Salim Ismail with Michael . S. Malone and Yuri van Geest: Diversion Books: 2014)

This article was first published in TrainingZone

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