ECOSYSTEM: Is the Concept Jive, Jargon or Justified?

One of the more recent buzzwords surfacing in our L&D lexicon is “Ecosystem”, and I see it as having more significance to a sustainable learning and performance strategy than acceptance. Several pundits like Rosenburg, Mosher and Gottfredson, among others are using “ecosystem” routinely in conversations and presentations. The question that jumps into my brain is “Why seek what you already have?” I say this primarily because every organization already has a Learning & Performance Ecosystem. The question that manifests from “Why seek…” is “It’s not really a question of having an ecosystem; the real question is – Are you managing the one you have effectively and efficiently?”

What is an Ecosystem?

Chances are good that each of us can recite a reasonable definition of ecosystem from a standing start, and that is likely why the concepts of jargon and insignificant jive surface. To put ecosystem into a learning and performance context, consider the graphic in Figure #1.

Figure #1

Our definition should not focus on “what is an ecosystem” as much as it should key on several “environmental’ attributes:

  • Who is in the ecosystem?
  • What are their roles and their tangible contributions toward business outcomes?
  • What do they do, and how critical are those tasks in sustaining the organization?
  • What are the outcomes worth to the organization?
  • Where, when and how do they do their work?

The questions outlined above represent essential discovery that provides the basis to define the environment [the ecosystem] where our workforce learns and works. It is important to note that these questions are not routinely included in a traditional training needs assessment. That said; we already find ourselves outside the scope and charter of the Training paradigm and mission. The 95% vs. 5% distribution you see in Figure #1 are a few years old by now, but a safe bet that the majority of time spent in a 2,000 hour work year is still aligned heavily to activities of work and not formal learning.

Mapping the Ecosystem “Edge-to-Edge”

The first question posed above – “Who is in the ecosystem?” opens the door to a broader discussion related to driving sustainability within the ecosystem. At the risk of introducing more jargon into the discussion, asking “Who?” is truly a “scoping” question because an ecosystem is actually made up of a number of Interdependent, Tactical “Microsystem Solutions”. [See Figure #2]

PWA Performance Road Map
Figure #2

At the core of Figure #2, we find a spectrum of human resources [people] in various roles ranging from individual performers to geographically dispersed work teams. Notice the microsystem defined as “Mobile Workforce”; this segment is parsed out because of the interdependent reliance upon a specific technology. Also note the interdependence of social roles of functions like the Help Desk, coaches, mentors and even peers/colleagues. Can you see the implications of interdependence?

What I just defined for you represents the internal “edge” of the ecosystem. There’s more. Now, step outside of the brick and mortar walls, the firewall, and the VPN network, and you will see that the interdependency of a true ecosystem extends to several microsystems outside of the organization. This external collection of microsystems represents the “other edge” of the ecosystem. I’m not going to define each one because they are a bit obvious in their relationship to the business; however, I think it critically important to understand that any of these should be included in the mapping effort.

Ecosystems Need Intentional Design

The “why” highlights something I’ve written about before – Intentional Design. If we are going to go to the trouble of designing and developing assets to support performance and learning why not make sure the effort is not fraught with redundant effort? While intentional design highlights the re-use of Performance Support [PS] assets in formal learning, consider the implications for re-use in the “edge-to-edge” ecosystem. Are there assets that could be re-used in support of a vendor or supplier that we use to support and train the workforce?

The design mindset is intentionally focused on “Create-One-Use Many Times” when you consider all the potential points of re-use. My point is this – If we do not consider the ecosystem “edge-to-edge” we may well miss the opportunity to re-apply learning and PS assets in other venues and modes than those we traditionally use in Training behind the firewall.

If for no other reason, mapping the ecosystem becomes an essential consideration before we dive into whatever “agile methodology” we are adopting for learning. The emphasis I’ve been preaching about prioritizing performance support over training becomes increasingly important in situation where learning converges with work. This convergence phenomenon involves the entire ecosystem, but only if we expand our scope of discovery edge-to-edge.

Summary Thoughts

Does Training still have a role to play? Certainly, but I argue strongly that is should be secondary to supporting performance regardless where in the ecosystem it deserves our attention. This “de-prioritization of training” message is often seen as a threat within the Training organization. The embedded performance support [EPS] discipline is seen as a disruption. I have to say this about that – Bummer.

Expecting different results from the continuing expectation that training drives sustained capability across our ecosystem is insanity. In spite of that strong opinion, I still believe training has a role, but the role is only supplemental to the mission of creating a sustained capability. Web 2.0 technologies; however, create an opportunity for our workforce to learn and perform on the job where convergence demands adoption of a Performance paradigm. When we overlay disciplines like EPS over the perceived jargon and jive of the ecosystem concept, justification manifests through driving tangible business results at the point of work.

Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Advocate, Coach, Speaker 
(317) 437-2555
Web: Living In Learning