Grow Your Learning Pool

“Knowledge is the only instrument of production that is not subject to diminishing returns.” — J.M. Clark.

Do you know things that you can’t explain when someone asks you?

Mathematician-turned-philosopher Michael Polanyi describes this phemenon in his book, “The Tacit Dimension.” That type of knowledge is “tacit knowledge.” Manufacturing executives are worried about the loss of tacit knowledge, as baby boomers retire in the next few years and take that tacit knowledge with them.

This situation need not signal the imminent collapse of American manufacturing, however. There are alternatives—if executives and managers take the necessary steps now.

Dorothy Leonard, professor of Business Administration Emeritia at Harvard Business School, has addressed this issue in “Wellsprings of Knowledge.”

The book cites a large amount of research on how companies can become learning organizations. As an example for manufacturing professionals, Leonard maintains—based on the research cited—that implementation of new processes and systems should be viewed as an opportunity for learning. In addition, employees should improve new processes and equipment as they are installed, to add to the knowledge base of the company.

New learning sources

Magazines have traditionally been a primary source of continuing education. Those of us in the publishing industry have also been trying to find the right way to use the amazing capabilities of the Web. I believe that the three greatest capabilities are search, linking and dialogue. In order for search to be useful, there must be content. Therefore, publishers have been busily transferring content to their Web sites. But even more useful than content are the links we can provide to help you find the information you need.

The rapid rise of Weblogs, or blogs, has greatly facilitated dialog on the Web. For example, you can read my blog at http://radio.weblogs.com/0133292/ and comment as you care to. You can also subscribe to it and get it delivered to your computer on a regular basis at http://radio.weblogs.com/0133292/rss.xml. An even more powerful idea is—you could start your own blog. Then link to mine (and others) and I’d link back. This starts an industry conversation.

There are other ways that we can provide opportunities for you to get valuable information. One is Webcasts. These are ways for you to attend a conference without leaving home. They also provide for dialogue with the speakers, either through voice connections or instant messaging during the presentations. Check out Jane Gerold’s column in this issue for more on our first Webcast.

Forums are also a great learning tool—not so much for the information presented, which is often very good, but more from the ability to talk with the presenters and other attendees. Look for information coming on our first Forum—to be presented jointly with Packaging World in May—on packaging automation.

Finally, get your information-to-go via Podcasts. Taking their name from Apple’s iPod, these are Internet-based audio programs. For example, I have initiated a (somewhat) regular podcast called “Automation Minutes.” You can go to http://automation.libsyn.com and listen on your Windows Media Player. Or, you can go to iTunes (or your aggregator) and subscribe to the RSS feed (http://automation.libsyn.com/rss) to directly download to your iPod. Now you can listen to me while you work out in the morning or on your drive to work.

The point is this: You can sit and moan about how bad things are, or you can get to work building a learning organization. Automation World will be there finding new ways to help you build your knowledge pool.

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