The changes taking place in organizations today create in line management demands for information that are not met by the old paradigms. This note offers as a possibility, a place from which to stand in relation to the changing needs of organizations and the turmoil being experienced by information professionals in today's rapidly evolving environment. The organization of the future will require that information professionals focus on the needs of their users in radical new ways. It will no longer be enough to ask, "What information does the user want?" The new paradigm demands that we answer more difficult questions like "What information does the user need," "How does he assimilate that information," and "How is the information recalled at the moment it can add value to the business process?" It is a market driven perspective focused on the application of information rather than a media driven perspective focused on the accumulation, storage and retrieval of information.
The old business paradigms are collapsing rapidly. The centralized, autocratic, top down, highly controlled organizations of the past are disappearing. "The old, bureaucratic command-and-control model, even in its currently decentralized, supposedly lean and mean version, won't be up to the challenges ahead." The effort of America's corporations to find a new, more effective form is evidence of the decrepitude of the old model. Throughout the 1980s American industry put itself through round after round of restructuring. It is remarkable how the process seems to go on and on, with cutbacks, staff reductions, and downsizing. It has come to the point that management now resists the temptation to say after each new announcement, "This time we've gotten it right."
The old style, bureaucratic command-and-control organization grew out of a mechanical model based on a Newtonian view of the world. In the age of virtual reality, instant communications and the global village, such an organization can no longer react quickly enough to remain competitive. In its place a new organizational model is developing that owes more to quantum theory than Newton and looks more organic than mechanical. In many quarters this organizational model of the future is being referred to as the learning organization.
The implications of the learning organization for the information steward may be profound. Peter Senge, MIT researcher and author of a book called The Fifth Discipline, says that "In contemporary speech, the meaning of learning has been dragged down to 'taking in information.'" He offers an alternative in which we should think of learning as the expansion of one's capacity to create, to produce results. If you accept Senge's definition of learning, a learning organization can be seen as an organization that is continually expanding its capacity to create the future. Indeed, Arie De Geus, the former head of strategic planning for the Royal Dutch Shell group said, "The ability of an organization to learn faster than its competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage." You will recognize the learning organizations as ones that have the ability to manage successive cycles of growth and survival over time and that have managers who respond effectively and collectively to signals from the business environment.
WHAT IS LEARNING AND HOW DOES IT OCCUR?
Gestalt psychologists Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohler, and Kurt Koffka studied the process of learning and the development of insight using apes as subjects. In a typical experiment a hungry ape would be placed in a cage with a stalk of bananas hung from the roof. In the cage would be a long stick and a heavy box. The ape would pace around eyeing the bananas. After a while he would jump up and try to reach the bananas. He might jump again and again, each time failing to reach the bananas. He might take the stick and try to knock down the bananas, try and try and try, but he would fail each time. …