The Learning Organization

At some level, all institutions and organizations are grounded in permanence and status quo…the innovative ones have learned to transcend that permanence by cascading new learning to scale up their networks and effectively mobilize the entire ecosystem of the organization.

The problem with the majority of today’s learning organizations, is that they’re not learning.

For the majority of the history of our organizational institutions, information was seen as the kingpin to their ongoing progress and success. It was gathered, hoarded and safeguarded, only to be accessed by a select few. Unfortunately, many organizations have failed to understand or come to the realization that this way of working is no longer effective or progressive, though many organizations still tend to operate in this manner.

What many organizations have failed to realize, as the world shifts, is that information is not as valuable as it used to be. In fact, information is everywhere and access to it is available to just about any and everyone. The creative and innovative organizations that are flourishing in today’s change world, have learned that it’s not the information that is valuable, but the ability to access, curate, learn, and apply that information in ways that grow the individual, as well as the whole of the organization.

But, before we go any further, we really need to create a working definition of what a learning organization actually is, or at least should be.

So we will turn to Google for our working understanding of a learning organization, which they define as “the term given to a company that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself.” Let’s really think about that definition. It might even be worth reading again, for there is some heavy lifting in those few words. A learning organization is a facilitator of the ongoing learning of its people in an effort to continuously transform itself.  Just think about how deep and heavy that truly is…

An authentic learning organization is not focused on incremental improvement, but continuous transformation.

The problem is that most ‘learning organizations’ are so steeped in information hoarding, implementation sustainability and replication of best practices that the facilitation of ongoing learning and continuous transformation are not even on their organizational radar. We spend more time trying to do what we already do better (efficiency), than trying to learn, grow and transform ourselves (effectiveness). So much so, that new learning and continuous transformation rarely find a spot on the organizational agenda.

So we focus on sustaining process. However, what we fail to realize is that sustainability is no longer viable option for our institutions and organizations, especially when we need organizations that can learn, process, pivot, adapt and proceed in much more agile ways. The more we face uncertainty, ambiguity and unknowns from the profound shifts that occurring in society, the more we will see the necessity for faster and deeper learning at all levels of an organization that will allow us to push past mere sustainability and towards greater adaptability and agility.

In today’s modern world, the greatest mover or inhibitor for organizational change and growth will be the proficiency of your system to create continuous and intentional learning and idea flow across all levels of your institution or organization.

As you begin to determine if your organization or institution is truly a learning organization, think about applying these three questions…

-Is your organization agile and adaptable? (have you moved past sustainability and replicating best practices towards utilizing new learning to transform your individuals and your organization?)

-Is your organization creative and innovative? (have you created environments and systems that tap into and engage the creative and innovative thinking of your individuals, to effectively increase scale and capacity?)

-Is your organization inquisitive and curious? (have you created networks to infuse and stream continuous flows of new learning and thinking that cascade across and throughout the organization?)

Today’s leaders must be social architects, creating learning environments and cultures that engage and capture the creative and innovative capacity of the entire organization.


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