I was at a gig last night at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge, a great venue, with it’s brick arches and high ceiling. As the name implies, whilst these days it plays host to assorted musicians, comedians and performers, it’s original purpose was very different. It’s adapted, from market place to meeting place.
There are other buildings around it that have adapted too: the Fitzwilliam museum being one. When i first went there, twenty years ago, it was a typical colonial museum, display cabinets filled with mummies and muskets. Today, the narrative is different, it’s clearer, more coherent, of it’s time, with a new exhibition showing illustrations by Quentin Blake from the last three years. It’s contemporary.
Adaptation is a key skill: one that we have to exhibit within social learning spaces. Adapting our role and adapting our mindset.
As our relationship with knowledge evolves, to remain successful, to thrive in the new spaces that grow up around us, we need to adapt. We used to be able to develop a professional practice over a number of years and then trade off that knowledge and skill set for the rest of our careers, but no longer: today, we have to continually develop, leveraging the potential of our social learning spaces to catapult us forwards. We have to use knowledge to power transformative action: just knowing things is no longer enough.
But it’s not a bad news story: adaptation isn’t about throwing out what we know, what we do, and constantly reinventing ourselves. Just the opposite, adaptation is about taking the strengths and building upon them. The very things that made the Corn Exchange a vibrant market make it a thriving venue: the massive brick columns are a help, not a hindrance. In our own learning, the foundations we put in place as we learn just help us reach higher, to new understanding, to create and use new meaning. We build upon our own foundations.
The difference is that we can no longer stop: like the curators at the Fitzwilliam, we have to keep building, reinterpreting, ensuring that we stay relevant in the current climate. We have to constantly evaluate what we knew to be true yesterday against what is demonstrably true today.
Social learning communities create meaning: that’s one of the definitions, a space where meaning is created within the group, not inserted into it. They are melting pots of new ideas, places for challenge, support and feedback. It’s within our multiple communities that we can forge and apply our new skills.
Once we take on board the notion of adaptation, the recognition that we curate our careers, that we adapt and create new meaning over time, we will be well placed to thrive. From the organisational perspective, we have to recognise that people need this space to develop in: we have to allow for the creation of social learning spaces and be part of the conversation, whilst recognising that we don’t own it. If you look at the totality of the town centre, there is no master plan: there is variety. Some elements retain their original function, others adapt, others are removed and replaced with something more relevant. So it is within any community space: some skills thrive, others fade away, lose their relevance. We have to curate ourselves to remain relevant in these spaces. Adapt to survive, adapt and thrive.