Organizational Learning: 12 Things Your Competitors Can Teach You about It

Organizational learning is not optional anymore if you want to stay ahead of your competition and survive in these disruptive times.

But, as in life, learning is not enough. What you do with the knowledge acquired is also important.

Organizational learning means also to be capable of collecting, generating, and acting upon what the company has learned.

Organizational learning is the process of acquiring knowledge, applying it for a purpose, and learning from the process and the results.



12 Things to Learn from a Learning Organization


1. Your competitors, as a learning organization, are better at creating, acquiring, interpreting, transferring, and retaining knowledge.

Not only because their knowledge management system is better than yours, but because they use it better than you do.

2. They not only have the knowledge, but they also know what to do with it.

They, as a learning organization, know how to modify their behavior based on the new knowledge acquired. And they can do that very quickly.

3. They are capable of generating more ideas than you are.

And they are also able to move these ideas throughout the organization, without losing their initial meaning, and without impacting the overall vision of the organization. This is what organizational learning means.

4. A learning organization uses the new ideas to take action.

Once they went through the point 1, 2, and 3 above, the members of a learning organization know that it’s time to execute on their idea. And they have the knowledge, the tools, and the required resources to do it. Organizational learning doesn’t stop at accumulating information.

5. They have put in place a learning environment that allows room for creativity and experimentation.

Failure is not an option. No, that’s from a different movie. Organizational learning accepts that failure is a possibility. When a project failed, it’s not frowned upon, as long as something useful can be learned from it.

6. Learning is happening at all the levels of their organization.

And the knowledge management system is not the shiny new thing that nobody uses.

7. For organizational learning to happen, your competitors understand the need of creating a “psychologically safe” environment.

We are talking about an environment where asking questions, admitting mistakes, discussing wild ideas, trying new things is not only tolerated, but also encouraged. Again: failure is an option.

8. They know that a learning environment is not about “being nice”.

A learning environment in a learning organization is about respecting the people and talking honestly about what works and what doesn’t.

9. They have understood the “secret”.

The rate at which a company learns may soon become the only competitive advantage. Creating an environment where organizational learning can happen, is the “secret”.

10. They know that if they learn more rapidly than the competition they can get ahead.

Knowledge, for them, is not something you put in your knowledge management system and forget about it. In a learning organization, people understand that, in order to survive and get ahead, they need to build on top of the already acquired knowledge, be creative, and generate new knowledge.

11. They have put in place learning processes.

A learning process needs to allow experimenting, sharing new knowledge, and sharing what has been learned. In other words: they know how to respond to new knowledge and to reflect on what went wrong. A learning process is one of the main elements of a learning organization.

12. As a learning organization, your competitors are not bureaucratic about their learning processes.

Their learning processes are as simple as an AAR (After Action Review): what was the objective, what really happened, why there was a gap between the initial goal and the reality, and what to do next in terms of what activities to keep and what activities to improve.


You may like to read

Chris Argyris – On Organizational Learning

Peter M. Senge – The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization

Donella H. Meadows – Thinking in Systems: A Primer