Organizational Learning

These readings were a bit dense and hard to get through in my opinion.

Let’s start with Blackler¹. The part that stood out to me the most was the Activity Theory, Knowing and Doing section. I didn’t quite understand what Vygotsky was getting at but the Xerox example was so spot on to my personal experiences I kind of had flashbacks to working at the call center. As I’ve mentioned before, I trained/coached new agents in my department. When I read what Blackler wrote (referencing a study by Orr):

In the first place the stories they tell you to their serve a key informational function, preserving and circulating essential news about particular problems. Second, the storytelling has an educational function: not only do the technicians learn about particular faults on the machines, they also help the participants develop their diagnostic and troubleshooting skills. Finally, the stories provide an opportunity for technicians to establish their identity within the community of technicians itself; as newcomers contribute to the storytelling process they begin to both demonstrate their identity as professionals and to contribute to the collective wisdom of their group.¹ (pg. 1036)

I felt this chill come over me as I realized the value of how I used to run my training classes. I knew there were reasons we talked about our experiences and told examples from real life. I knew they worked but I didn’t quite understand the impact and importance of doing so. What some people see as water cooler gossip can actually be a way of sharing knowledge and organization learning. That’s really awesome!

The first thing I noticed about the Brown & Duguid² was the term downskilling in the tags the authors placed on the text. This is a term I used at the call center for when we had an agent who was trained for a higher level of call queue, work in a lower call level queue in order to lower the wait time. I had never heard of this queue outside call center work so I was interested to see what these authors had to say about it. They don’t outright define it but they reference it to mean the same thing.

An ostensible downskilling and actual upskilling therefore proceed simultaneously. Although the documentation becomes more prescriptive and ostensibly more simple, in actuality the task becomes more improvisational and more complex. The reps develop sophisticated noncanonical practices to bridge the gulf between their corporation’s canonical approach and successful work practices, laden with the dilemmas, inconsistencies, and unpredictability of everyday life. The directive documentation does not “deprive the workers of the skills they have;” rather, “it merely reduces the amount of information given them” (Orr 1990a, 26).

This is very much what we did at the call center. Corporate would tell us what we needed to do and we would find the easiest most efficient way to do so. Corporate has these ideas sometimes they think are great but in reality don’t really work in the real world. So these ‘corporate demands’ aka the “corporation’s canonical approach” need “noncanonical practices” aka work arounds in order for “successful work practices” to occur.

This reminds me of when I learned about ICTs and how they sometimes don’t work because the company that created the ICT doesn’t take into consideration real life use of the ICT. People are lazy and those in the positions they’re trying to force and ICT on or make corporate demands of, typically already know the best way to meet these demands and don’t need to be told step-by-step what to do. Hmmm… maybe corporations should think about speaking to the people they’re trying to make demands of to see how they actually work.

I liked Huber’s³ discussion of unlearning (defined as purposeful and intentional forgetting of knowledge). It wasn’t long (you should definitely check it out on pls 104-105) but it had some good points like: “unlearning opens the way for new learning to take place”.

Words: 662

Words I Had to Look Up

Downskilling: Downskilling refers to a process of reducing the talent or skill level of a position, job, or vocation primarily for the purpose of decreasing short-term cost (Source).

Prescriptive: Giving exact rules, directions, or instructions about how you should do something. Providing rules and opinions that tell people how language should be used (Source).

Noncanonical: Not included within a canon or group of rules (Source).  The origins of this word are biblical but my understanding of this word comes from fan fiction. Canon from fan fiction means: All of the events which *expressly* happen in the fandom. Meaning, everything, person, event, statement, that happens in the show, movie, or book is canon. For example, Megabyte’s real name being Marmaduke is canon because it expressly says in Origin Story that it is. Everything that happens in the show is canon. This is sort of used like a law for fan fiction. Alternate universes are where an author deliberately ignores, goes against, or stop paying attention to canon in order to create their own canon (Source). So noncanonical practices would be them making their own non-sanctioned workarounds to corporate practices.


¹ Blackler, F. (1995). Knowledge, knowledge work and organizations: An
overview and interpretation. Organization Studies, 16(6):1021–1046.

² Brown, J. S. and Duguid, P. (1991). Organizational learning and
Communities-of-Practice: Toward a unified view of working, learning,
and innovation. Organization Science, 2(1):40–57.

³ Huber, G. P. (1991). Organizational learning: The contributing processes
and the literatures. Organization Science, 2(1):88–115.


10 thoughts on “Organizational Learning

  1. Downskilling…is it meant to be a permanent move or a temporary move? Because I have seen that happen in the libraries (aka 2) that I have worked at, but it was only a temporary thing so not sure it could be really downskilling.


    1. In my experience, downskilling is temporary unless it’s a punishment and you are literally being downgraded a job. Even in the article it didn’t clarify permanence that I remember.


      1. That would be a terrible punishment (I realize that does happen though). I wonder if there is a thing like “upskilling” because I am definitely experiencing that at my job


  2. I’ve been downskilled and unskilled at my last job. They called it ‘temporary job name’ so I was a call center agent but was a ‘temporary coach’ when they needed me. It’s a way to get the spot filled but not have to pay an agent more.


  3. Organizational storytelling as means to share knowledge and develop organization learning is a very cool topic to read about. You offered an excellent real life connection with the call center. By doing so, I began to reflect on my current possession in sales and customer service. I ponder the existence of “upskilling” as well. I wonder if that might be worse though; to be given increased responsibilities but not the actual promotion?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can tell you from my personal experience, getting the job experience to know if you’ll like the job without actually having the job is nice. It’s when they do it for too long and never promote you and then when they do promote you they just place you with an incompetent supervisor because they can trust you to do his job and so they’re still upskilling you but at less pay overall because now you’re salary… That’s when it sucks. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. To make a methodological point — this is why ethnography is such an important skill set to have — findings like the one that Kam writes about in this articles are just not possible otherwise.


  5. Pingback: Knowledge Transfer- The Firm? | rhugenwrites

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