Building The Ultimate Learning Organization

Annie Woodhead

Co. Design recently featured a story on Shelley Evenson and her new role as Executive Director of Organizational Evolution at Fjord. The story details Fjord’s vision of becoming the ultimate learning organization–one that grows curiosity, harnesses creativity, and fosters communication and collaboration.

Fjord’s work is at the forefront of design and technology, and learning is a pre-condition and a strategic requirement. Stagnation is not an option. We challenge thinking, explore how people interact with technology, and predict the future. To do this, we have made a commitment to continuously evolve, and we want to help our clients evolve as well. Our goal is to help the companies we work with out-learn, out-forget, and out-respond to the competition.

We think it starts with integrating a service mindset deeply into an organization’s corporate strategy and operational DNA, ultimately impacting its work, its people, and the people it works with—in our case—our clients.

Our work
Fjord is a global leader in service design. When we talk about service design we’re talking about giving shape to the relationships between people and the products and services they use to build trust and lasting value. This is especially critical in the current transition from designing software solutions to designing service solutions supported by software.

At Fjord, we do this through self-organizing flexible global teams. This means our systems for knowledge creation and management must be extraordinarily fluid, self-documenting and permeate the entire organization. We’ll be creating new collaborative service networks and just in time tools to support those teams throughout the entire service design lifecycle. We’re going for what Asana’s Justin Rosenstein calls a “harmonious symphony.”

The network will become a catalyst for ever-better service design innovation and our evolution engine.

Our people
We know that the market for talent is extremely competitive, especially in the global technology hub cities. The really talented individuals can pick and choose among large or boutique companies, or they can go directly to clients. This is representative of a broader global trend reflected in the book the Intention Economy—what Doc Searls describes as the shift from sellers finding buyers to buyers finding sellers. We aspire to attract curious people, and a design-centric learning organization is likely to be more attractive to talented individuals than a dull and repetitive environment.

We know that in design, the quality of the ideas is dramatically influenced by the quality of stimulation and the individual’s awareness of broader business, technology and cultural trends. We want to be a magnet for the best design talent in the world and help them grow to get even better. We see a need for new kinds of people-centered learning networks. Imagine a tool that really gets at what it means to be “T-shaped” that’s crowd-sourced by the people you work with everyday and can help identify what might make you even better tomorrow—while connecting you with information, teams, and tools to make it happen.

And while finding brilliant talent from outside the organization is fundamental to our growth, we also think that companies that don’t think about nurturing internal relationships with the same vigor as their external ones will be at a disadvantage.

Companies like PreHype are seeing this need too. They help big companies identify entrepreneurs inside their organizations, offer the resources the entrepreneurs need to explore new business concepts as if they were a normal startup. This way the companies retain their best people and deliver the business a productive spin-in or spin-out new company.

At Fjord we understand that entrepreneurs and designers have similar qualities so we’re going to foster experiences for staff and our clients that maintain a start-up mentality.

The people we work with—our clients
To stay at the competitive edge, companies need the ability to be able to continuously sense and respond to changing conditions. We want to help our clients learn how to sense and respond to changing trends in record time.

For example, what if this idea of an Intention Economy where “customers will manage relationships in their own ways” actually takes place? Most companies don’t really have a clue what this could mean for their services and how it could turn their businesses inside out. We want to help our clients understand how they can better learn, internalize, and act as organizations. What MIT Research Fellow Michael Schrage describes as asking the key question “Who do you want your customers to become?”

We’ll take advantage of what we’ve learned from our practice of service design and collaborating with the best companies in the world to create a different kind of learning service–one where the learning comes to the team—rather than the team going to training. We’ll be designing learning sessions for everything from service design basics to experience-driven brand mashups, where we get the best-of-breed brands to work together to innovate around key experiences, such as travel or wellness or financial services.

For example, we’re envisioning trend targeted service design charrettes (take x trend and re-envision a client’s service through the various stages of the lifecycle to see how it might disrupt their business) with the team that would actually have the power to make the change.

This approach allows us to create working prototypes of potential new services. It also helps our clients to champion it within their organizations. Since they don’t have to wait months for a service to come to life, it results in a faster speed to market and greater buy-in. It’s dynamic, fast-paced and has the air of a start-up–traits that all businesses need to demonstrate to become fluid organizations that can adapt and evolve to the challenges ahead.

We’ll be documenting our progress in turning Fjord into the ultimate learning organization, so stay tuned for more. In early 2013, we’ll partner with clients on the types of experiences that we believe will help them to evolve and change to better compete and tackle their internal and external challenges. If you’re interested in hearing more about Fjord’s approach to organizational evolution, please get in touch with Shelley Evenson: Shelley.Evenson@fjordnet.com.

Annie Woodhead

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