Learn or Die: Every Business Will Be In The Business of Learning

By Edward D. Hess

The velocity of business change will increase over the next decade driven by technology advances making the speed and quality of adaptive learning an organisational strategic imperative. That will require most organisations to use the science of learning to create a learning-enabling culture and to install best learning processes.

Technology and globalisation have dramatically impacted the competitive business environment. Technology has disrupted business models, diminished traditional competitive advantages, democratised raising capital and empowered the customer. Over the next 10 years, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, cheaper and smarter robots, and Big Data will continue to transform how businesses are staffed, operated and managed. The pace of business change is unlikely to decrease. In environments characterised by rapid change, sustainable competitive advantages are likely to be no more than relative competitive advantages, making adaptive learning mission critical. That means that the speed and quality of learning will become a strategic imperative for most businesses.

The organisation of the future will look a lot different than the organisation of today. Most businesses will be staffed by some combination of smart robots, smart thinking machines and people. People will do what technology cannot do well and that is, generally, think critically, creatively and innovatively, and engage emotionally with other humans. Operational excellence will likely become technology dependent and commoditised, making innovation the key organic value differentiator. Developing innovation capability that continuously produces new value requires building a superior learning capability.

An organisation’s ability to learn is dependent upon the ability of its people to learn. Peter Senge wrote a landmark book1 on learning organisations 25 years ago. His systems approach to building a learning organisation still stands as a pillar. What has changed since that book was published in 1990 is that the science of learning has made material advances across the fields of psychology, neuroscience and behavioural economics. Today we know much more about how people learn best and the types of environments that optimise learning. In Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organisation2 I synthesized that research and put forth a new blueprint for building a learning organisation using illustrations of leading-edge learning organisations Bridgewater Associates, LP; Intuit, Inc.; W.L. Gore & Associates; IDEO; and United Parcel Service, Inc.

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