A Learning Organization
Becoming a true Learning Organization is what will enable
a corporation to be the Wisdom Company and the Employer of Choice. In his August
1993 Harvard Business Review article on “Building a Learning Organization”, Harvard Business School
Professor David Garvin defines a Learning Organization as “an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring
knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.”
The key is that change occurs in the way work gets done. Dr. Garvin includes the
following in the activities of a Learning Organization:
problem solving: thinking with
systems theory; insisting on data rather than assumptions;
using statistical tools.
Experimentation with new approaches:
ensure steady flow of new ideas; incentives for
risk taking; demonstration projects.
from their own experiences and past history:
recognition of the value of productive failure
instead of unproductive success.
from the experiences and best practices of others:
knowledge quickly and efficiently throughout the organization:
reports, tours, personnel rotation programs,
At the September 12, 1996 session of the “Worldwide
Lessons in Leadership Series”, Learning Organizations guru Peter Senge
stated that nothing much would get done if only the rules were followed. He said
that the human system is the source of all work that gets done – innovation,
etc. The formal system currently dominates the informal or human system.
Instead, the formal system should be an enabler for the human system.
Transforming the formal system at a corporation into a
Learning Organization will create the environment needed for the human system to
thrive and will give the firm unmatched competitive advantage. As part of this
process, the corporation needs to forget its old ways to make room for the new.
The entire corporation’s ecosystem needs to become one huge classroom. Effective
feedback mechanisms need to be created and deployed that enable new ideas to be
continually absorbed so that the best of them can be turned into action or new
products and services.
The 21st Century Corporation
The Learning Organization is the foundation that will
facilitate continuous innovation and improvement that will produce a World-Class Organic Enterprise. Applying and expanding
one’s wisdom in the enterprise’s ecosystem, while being nimble and flexible, will
enable a firm to gain industry-independent global recognition for its
leadership, excellence, and the principles that guide it. Then, that
corporation, will be synonymous with World-Class.
management concept that has guided us for the better part of two decades is a
belief that an organization’s ability to learn, to transfer that learning across
its components, and to act on it quickly is its ultimate, sustainable competitive advantage. That belief drove us to create a boundaryless company by delayering and destroying organizational silos. Selflessly sharing good ideas
while endlessly searching for better ideas became a natural act."
Former Chairman and CEO, General Electric Company
Presented at the GE 2000 Annual Meeting – April 26, 2000