The Theory of “Flow” And Its Relevance for Organizations – 5th (final) part from the working paper

Part 4 - Demographic Changes
3. Implications for employee training and learning

Traditional, formal learning systems, in which “students” sit for hours and listen to (often not well crafted and delivered) lectures and take exams are becoming less and less effective because in an ever-growing number of societies young people have mastered learning – primarily of what interests them – by using digital technology. And as students get older (usually by middle school), they become less and less tolerant of traditional learning system, often tune out, reducing the effectiveness of traditional learning. Individuals – younger persons especially – are curious, want to learn, but their learning focuses on what they are interested in, on what they need, including what they need to solve problems at the workplace.


Thanks to leapfrog advances in information on just about anything, and that nearly all can be accessed via the internet, individuals usually find what they need. Maybe they do not always find the “best” information among the huge number of “hits” on any topic, but what they find is adequate for their purposes. Especially so because they reduce the randomness of their search for information by plugging into a variety of networks on work- and non-work related issues, getting timely advice from others who have similar interests and expertise on the topic.

In the modern world, the most basic and important tool of learning – access to the internet via tablets, smart phones and other devices – is the personal property of each individual, whether he or she is at the workplace, engaged in work outside the office, or is doing something else. Neither the content of, nor the access to the information that an organization would like its employees (and other stakeholders) to learn is no longer the exclusive property of the information provider, such as a school or the employer’s training program; most things are available on the internet free, or at a modest charge, for individuals.

These are some of the reasons why the traditional, formal, centrally-decided, employee-group-training programs have been declining in importance. Leading experts are suggesting that employers should offer – to the Millennials and to generation Z members especially — those types of individual skill development programs that are initiated by the to-be-trained themselves. Money spent on programs selected by the beneficiaries themselves (who are often more savvy about what’s out there than are the staff at an organization’s HR unit) is sure to be a more effective use of an organization’s training budget than the still prevalent “top-down” group training programs.

Learning should be “just-in-time” and continuous, making effective use of various expert networks, which includes not just friends, acquaintances and colleagues but the entire personal global network of each and every individual. Organizations have no direct or indirect control over this network of knowledge and experience transfer.

One implication of these changes in technology, information, and culture is that management/leadership is already – and should further become — much more value rather than control oriented. This is the essence of the philosophy that undergirds Flow-based leadership practices. This means, among other things, that managers/leaders haves to create a work environment which enables and supports this type of learning. Since the control over learning is largely absent, trust must replace more and more of old-fashioned control. Traditional organizations are typically based on the power of control (one of the most important and valued source of power for management, not easy for them to reduce significantly).

This is one of the reasons why Flow-based management is not just a nice idea, not just something “extra” to have or to add, but is becoming an essential system of management, rooted in a set of values and principles, issues we’ll discuss in our follow-up Working Paper in this series.