It was OK for the first 240,000 years.
As Homo Sapiens slowly hunted and gathered their way around, “how to do things” was passed from one generation to another by oral tradition.
The oldest people in the tribe would demonstrate technique to the younger people – and so it went, through countless generations.
Things became a little more complicated when the agricultural revolution took place 10,000 years ago.
Instead of wandering, we stuck around to see what this year’s potato or maize crop turned out like. The nuances of climate and soil had to be learned through harsh experience and then, once again, passed down through oral tradition.
Change began with the arrival of machinery.
The Industrial Revolution impacted the workers of Lancashire when, 255 years ago, James Hargreaves introduced the Spinning Jenny. Soon after, steam began to drive engines.
The oral traditions of a new breed of “engineers” were enhanced by print – the instruction manual could assist when the teacher was absent.
Little did we know that this new pace of change would soon become snail-like in comparison to what would happen when, in 1990, Tim Berners-Lee introduced us all to his World Wide Web – welcome the Internet of Things (IoT).
At this point the speed and accuracy of oral tradition is cast in doubt. People cannot keep pace with the rate of change. Books are obsolete soon after they are printed.
Today we are connected – to everybody, everywhere, all of the time.
When that butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon, it no longer creates chaos, as was suggested by James Gleick in 1987 – it creates data that we can all access, analyse and respond to immediately.
Oral tradition still has it’s place when explaining things that don’t change.
In your business – don’t tell me that you are going to work on an ops manual, a system or a protocol – it will be out of date as soon as it is printed.
Tell me that you are going to create a digital platform on which you are going to store the oral tradition, so that your team can access that, wherever and whenever they like, in bite size chunks that can fit into their busy routines. A platform that will allow you to revisit and revise your training in real time, as things change.
Because things are changing, even as you read this.
Welcome to the new world of team training – 250,000 years in the making and moving at the speed of light.