Reverse Engineering for the Value Driven Learning Organisation

Reverse Engineering Workshop 5 Moments of Need

Intelligent collaboration in a human and machine symbiosis is what enables us to thrive in a world of ever accelerating change. This is the starting point of the learning organisations I describe in my latest book The LearnScape.  For business leaders, it’s becoming increasingly urgent to align both employees and organisational strategy with the expectations data and value driven organisations of the future have.

Looking back at the spring of 2020, we were faced with the unexpected, a black swan that suddenly put us all in isolation at home. Working and learning suddenly had to be reinvented in the context where in-person was no longer possible. I looked from a distance at a world that was suddenly ready for change and hoped that this would be the start of many new developments in which the machine would support humans from a perspective of growth and well-being.

A patch on a festering wound

In the first 7 months after the start of the pandemic, we saw an accelerated implementation of digital innovation related to learning and collaboration that was estimated to take 7 years. The resilience of our staff was unprecedented. Yet, more than a year later, this excitement turned to frustration for me and many others, not least the users of these ‘promising’ tools. Most innovations turned out to be like a patch on an increasingly festering wound and will not have a lasting impact for the future of work.

In my search for answers, I found inspiration with Paul McDonagh-Smith and Dr. Steven Shepard.  They inspired me to think with a forever-frontier of Algorithmic Business Thinking and Reverse Engineering. This assumes a value driven opportunity in the future as opposed to dealing with a problem in the now that is not future proof.

Podcast MITSloan with Paul McDonagh Smith and Katja Schipperheijn : Hacking the code to create value in Learning

We write our own future

From a value driven approach exploring opportunities that digital innovation can offer us to make knowledge sharing happen in a lean way.  That is the symbiosis I was looking for between human and machine where technology gives us the knowledge before we even know we need it. Seems futuristic, yet organisations like Colgate are already implementing this fusion between human and technology, providing employees with the knowledge they need at the moment they need it in the workplace.  Lean in all its forms for both employees and the performance management of the organisation itself. A lean learning organisation or Learnscape in development.

‘THE BEST WAY TO PREDICT THE FUTURE IS TO INVENT IT.’

Alan Kay, American computer scientist and futurist

To prepare learning organisation for the future there are many techniques, yet I am a fan of Reverse Engineering because it forces us to let go of the now. Not a problem we are trying to fix, but opportunities for the future.  In the executive workshop I recently supported, this task proved more difficult than expected for many participants. Letting go of what we have always done and looking beyond what we already know requires that we reinvent the world based on the assumption of a desired and achievable outcome where we choose a point in the future with at least a 10-year horizon. This makes it possible to let go of the present and the past and make assumptions that are free of their grip.

Reverse engineering workshop for executive teams

This approach that is very different from Scenario Planning lets us, instead of starting in the present and marching forward, develop a vision that we want to achieve. It then lets us walk backwards, identifying and eliminating any obstacles that would otherwise prevent us from reaching that future state.  This technique helps us to free ourselves from the need to understand everything or we risk getting stuck again. We overplan and work out too many possible future scenarios. We filter out truths using bayesian interpretations (an interpretation of probability as a reasonable expectation) and at the end we are often no closer to understanding where the future is taking us than when we started.

‘It makes us think beyond the limits and invites us to break down barriers and be visionary and creative

Mounia Cherkaoui
Performance and strategy improvement enabler CANON EMEA

The methodology of Reverse Engineering may sound complex, but it is quite simple to implement. Not only is it simple, it is also fun to do when you work with a team composed of a cross-section of all stakeholders in the ecosystem. These diverse stakeholders all have their own backgrounds and goals that often don’t seem to align in the short term. When we look far enough into the future with a value-driven approach, we still come together in a better future for all. Therefore, finding a project is not just the goal that needs to be achieved. The process itself often provides interesting insights into what drives the organisation and how culture affects it.


The book TheLearnScape and many more concepts such as the Lean Learning and Learning Maturity Model for organisations will be presented on November 30th 2021 at “Performance Journey Goes Dutch” in the company of some of the best speakers: Elliott Masie, Donald ClarkBrandon Carson (Walmart) Alfred Remmits and BradWatt (Colgate).
Contact me for a discount package: katja@habitofimprovement

Published by Katja Habit Of Improvement

Lifelong learning and an unstoppable drive for innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship and philanthropy. Katja Schipperheijn is a digital learning strategist and internationally recognized consultant and keynote speaker on learning and engagement in the connected world. Her area of expertise focuses on the interaction of people and technology to achieve sustainable growth based on commitment and well-being. She has worked for more than 15 years with tech companies and learning organizations and holds a Master Degree in Economical Science, an Executive MBA from the Antwerp Management School and Digital Learning Strategy from MITSloan

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