Warum nicht mal über den Tellerrand schauen? In diesem Beitrag möchten wir Ihnen einen kurzen Exkurs in die Welt des “Organizational Learning” ermöglichen. Wie sehen die Lernprozesse in Unternehmen aus und wie können diese den Lernprozess beeinflussen bzw. für sich nutzen? Warum ist Organizational Learning ein wichtiger Bestandteil für die Bekämpfung des Klimawandels? In einem Gespräch mit Dr. Daniel Vieira beleuchten wir diese fazinierenden Fragestellungen.
Frau Dr. Daniel Vieira kommt ursprünglich aus Brasilien und hat kürzlich an der Universtität Hamburg zu diesem Thema promoviert. Die Doktorarbeit entstand in Hamburg am “Cluster of Excellence CliSAP”. Als Teil der Brasilianischen Delegation arbeitete sie im letzten Dezember auf der UN Klimakonferenz COP 21 in Paris mit.
Daniele, you wrote your PhD dissertation on a special aspect of organizational learning. Could you please explain, what “organizational learning” means?
Organizational learning is the academic domain that analyses learning processes in organizations. It applies the concept of learning to firms, resulting in the term organizational learning. Studies on organizational learning involve various perspectives and theories that explain, among other things, how learning processes occur in, within and among organizations. In my research, the learning literature is used to analyze the diffusion of a mitigation technology in the Brazilian automotive sector. Different from a more traditional view on learning, the social perspective I use recognizes the importance of practice-based and informal initiatives for learning processes to occur. In this sense, learning in firms involves primarily a social process, is affected by contextual factors and requires collective practices of people to occur.
Why is organizational learning so important for our climate and therefore for our future?
Climate change mitigation and adaptation is a topic influencing corporations’ learning initiatives nowadays. Because concerns about the climate and about carbon emissions are obtaining growing space around the world, there is more pressure on companies now to adopt actions towards sustainability than before. Under a scenario of emissions constraint, enterprises are getting more involved with renewable and mitigation technologies as part of their ‘alignment to the environment’ strategies. This is leading to a number of organizational learning and technology transfer situations. Besides, innovation requires efforts towards knowledge acquisition and learning initiatives from the corporations involved. Hence, in order to mitigate and adapt to climate change organizations need to learn.
In addition to that, from a theoretical point of view, it is interesting to know about firms’ learning initiatives towards the development and diffusion of mitigation technologies because research shows that although there is a lot of theorizing about the topic of organizational learning, not much empirical evidence has been provided to support the theories that have risen.
Are there differences in the approaches e.g. in Brazil or in Germany?
I my research I have not compared Brazilian and German firms neither their learning initiatives. However, to a certain point, the literature domain I follow in my research acknowledges learning as a non-generalizing phenomenon since it considers learning can only be explained according to the very specific conditions of the context in which it occurs. So the understanding is that learning occurs in relation to a number of contextual factors, such as culture and political aspects, to name just a few. That means learning is a situated process. Consequently, one can expect differences in the way learning takes place in Brazilian and in German corporations. That does not mean there are no similarities though.
Could you name a country that is a pioneer on this field?
I can’t say there is one country which is a pioneer in learning. Organizations from various countries have the capacity to, and indeed, learn; even if in different ways. Nevertheless, as I briefly mentioned before, I have used the concept of organizational learning to analyze the diffusion of a Brazilian mitigation technology in the automotive sector. The technology I analyzed is called flex-fuel vehicle technology. With this technology, Brazilian vehicles can run on both gasoline and bioethanol.
Gasoline powered vehicles dominate the global car market and while in big auto markets such as France, Germany, and UK, diesel powered cars have a big market share, the traditional fossil fuelled combustion engine with gasoline still accounts on average for half of the market. The only current significant alternative to that is the Brazilian bioethanol-gasoline mix or flex car. The flex technology and industry developed in Brazil is the only case up to the moment of a large-scale, commercialized vehicle which has the possibility of using two fuels.
On the one hand, although in the US many vehicles produced are also flex-fuel (the only relevant production case apart from Brazil), the necessary infrastructure for the technology to be used (such as gas stations with both fuels) is not widely available. On the other hand, the development of electric engines is still in its first steps and has not largely reached the market yet. That means all over the world the still dominating standard is the single-fuel combustion engine and the Brazilian system based on flex-fuel engines ends up being the only actual exception to that.
So, among other factors, Brazil’s widespread use of the flex cars and vast local bioethanol production and related-technologies development made the country a regional and global frontrunner (or pioneer as you say) in biofuels technologies.
How can companies benefit from the organizational learning concept?
As a theoretically-driven scholar, I have tried to show in my research the importance of investing in continuous learning through informal knowledge flows, teamwork, dialogue, and interactions for processes of technology transfer to occur. The research then stresses the importance of situated, contextualized learning practices. After the analysis of the Brazilian flex case I have provided further evidences to the related literature that the meaning of learning in corporations should be further challenged and non-traditional learning activities could be fostered. Simply saying, activities that imply interactions should be promoted. In addition to that, I have concluded that non-traditional, informal learning initiatives can indeed promote the diffusion of mitigation technologies. I have evidenced that a bottom-up phenomenon took place in the Brazilian flex sector and that the diffusion of the flex system in the Brazilian market was primarily a consequence of the organizations’ learning initiatives. The study then calls for approaches that consider more the role organizations can have in leading mitigation actions.
You were at the COP21 in Paris last December. What was the most exciting experience for you in regard to the conference?
My most memorable experience in Paris concerning the COP21 was to see people from all over the world engaging for a common cause. I live in Germany since 2012 and I have the impression citizens here are very much involved with the “green” trend. In Brazil, on the other hand, I think many people have other priorities and problems to care about such as unemployment. So I went to Paris with these national (even political) differentiations in mind. However to have a chance to interact with countless initiatives and individuals from completely different parts of the world, sometimes with totally different demands, and to testify their common ground concerning the climate debate was very interesting.
Do you think that the results of COP 21 give us hope for a better future?