The concept of putting learning on an equal footing with ‘operating efficiency’ is often talked about, but rarely done. Talking about how your company is a ‘learning organization’ is easy to do, but hard to realize. Despite the long history of research that indicates that learning is one of the most important things a company must do, it remains an activity that most companies do not explicitly devote much time and attention to. It is assumed to happen on the employees own time, in and amongst the numerous meetings and project work that relies on existing knowledge and expertise.
This article makes the case for the competitive advantage of scaling learning capability as opposed to scaling efficiency. As the authors point out
… a compelling rationale for large institutions is scalable learning. The institutions that are most likely to thrive will be those that provide an opportunity to learn faster together. In a world of exponential change, existing knowledge depreciates at an accelerating rate. The most powerful learning in this kind of world involves creating new knowledge.
Most of a company’s efforts (60 – 70%) involve what is commonly called ‘fighting fires’ and most of the knowledge created in these efforts is ultimately lost to the rest of the organization. The authors state that “We have not been able to find a single company that has undertaken (scalable learning) in a systematic and holistic way”.
The author’s claim, that ‘scalable learning … offers the potential to shift to an increasing returns model where the more people who join together to learn faster, the more rapidly value gets created’, seems not only plausible but compelling in a world of increasing complexity and volatility.