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Beyond Brains: The Learning Organization Defined

It has been stated that the the only truly sustainable competitive advantage in business is the rate at which an organization learns. That’s a powerful idea, and one that points to knowledge management as a paramount activity for the organization. In an article for TLNT, Crystal Spraggins ventures to capture the essential characteristics of, and challenges to, the learning organization (LO).

Learning to Change

Put simply, the learning organization is one that creates, acquires, interprets, transfers, and retains knowledge in an effective way. More importantly, according to David Garvin via his co-authored book, Is Yours a Learning Organization?, the smart enterprise is able to modify behavior by acting in response to new insight. That’s a fundamental difference because many organizations who will attempt to “save face” for their employees or will, conversely, punish them for mistakes (risk aversion).

Three Pillars of Intelligence

Garvin says that the learning organization is built upon three sturdy pillars (he uses the analogy of building blocks). It must first have a supportive learning environment. It must uphold concrete learning processes and sound learning practices. Third, the behavior of leadership should support and facilitate the learning aspects of the first two. Seems like fun. Unfortunately, even a company full of Einsteins could be completely dumb. That’s because the LO is about the EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient):

Much of what makes companies so damn dumb is the failure of leadership to set aside ego, bias, and personal interests.

Spraggins has quite a scathing assessment, but it’s nonetheless true. From leaders who are uncertain or who “just don’t get it” to employees without the proper incentive, many things can act as impediments to learning.

Smart Identities

Employees should be encouraged to reflect on their actions, to identify what they got right / got wrong, and to engage in dialogue and share what they’ve learned with fellow employees and management. Culture and personality walk hand-in-hand when it comes to growth. The identity of the organization and of the individual should be one of constant revision and growth.

Read the full article at:

About Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson is a staff writer for CAI's Accelerating IT Success. He is an intern at Computer Aid Inc., pursuing his master's degree in communications at Penn State University.

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