Investment in learning has never been as essential as in the present age of digitalization. Therefore, it is no surprise that the concept of the learning company is hot again.
The first time I encountered the concept was already in 1990 (‘aauuchh’) reading Peter Senge’s book ‘The Fifth Discipline’. The least to say that the concept of learning company is not new J. However taking into account our VUCA environment, the concept is more relevant than ever.
Talking about a learning company, we need to consider two levels. Organizations learn only through individuals who learn. However, learning individuals alone do not guarantee organizational learning.
Learning on the individual level
It may be clear that organizational learning starts with the individual learning of each of its employees to improve competences and skills and to gain new experiences and insights. Peter Senge goes one step further by calling for personal mastery, the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening one’s personal vision, of focusing one’s energies, of developing patience, and of seeing the context.
Carol Dweck wrote in 2006 in her book ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’ on the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. People with a growth mindset believe their success is based on hard work, learning, training and perseverance. Being convinced their skills and competences can grow with time and experience, they are motivated to invest in expanding their capacities in order to create the results they desire.
People with a fixed mindset believe their success is based on innate ability and that their qualities are fixed and therefore can little be changed. They believe that talent leads to success, and effort to grow one’s competences doesn’t bring much (put rudely).
It may be clear that our VUCA world calls for a growth mindset (alias lifelong learning mindset). Learning is a journey, not a destination.
However, learning individuals do not guarantee organizational learning. For this, we need levers in the organization like
- Openness for trends & changes with a strong outside-in view; to see challenges as learning opportunities rather than threats
- Agile processes & structures to react swiftly to changes
- A culture where new patterns of thinking are nurtured
- Room for experimentation where an error is not a failure but an opportunity to learn
- The workplace as a real-time learning place
- A culture and processes that facilitate open, frank communication, knowledge sharing and collaboration
Only then an organization will be able to adapt quickly and effectively. Only then an organization will be able to excel in their field or market.
Let there be music
As often, I like to illustrate how musicians learn and interact. After all, music is a performing art with physical, intellectual and mental challenges and most of time intensive teamwork.
As an individual musician, one needs to have strong musical fundamentals. This requires daily practice, constantly improving one’s skills and a curiosity to explore new horizons. It’s fair to say that musicians typically have a growth mindset. Belgian “jazz highness” Toots Thielemans already passed the age of ninety and was still eager to learn. The famous Spanish cellist Pablo Casals was asked at the age of 95 why he still practiced six hours a day and answered “Because I think I’m making progress.”
But as a band member it’s where the real chemistry happens. For a rock band this could typically be in the rehearsal room or studio when new songs are written using everyone’s competences, contributions and by building on each other’s ideas. Or in a jazz band, were the creation is often done on stage in real-time when the music is being improvised.
You may be a master musician, but if you are playing together with other musicians the following aspects are important (especially for music not based on written scores):
- Listening and interacting: sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow. However, the added value is created in the interaction and collaboration with the others. This means that one must be able to react swiftly and agile to for instance often very subtle cues from others.
- Dare to experiment: no solo is perfect but good enough. Make the difference between doing things right and doing the right things. Use unexpected outcomes as an opportunity to create new ideas. Many times new, great ideas pop up based on an ‘error’ or something unexpected you or another musician played.
- Dare to think out-of-the-box: be open to new patterns, styles, sounds, try new technology, …
- Have an outside-in attitude: the band is not an island, be aware of the context where you play, know and interact with your audience, be aware of the changes in the music business, …
- Find the right groove: maintain momentum and create continuous progress.
It’s a journey
Remember, even in a VUCA environment in an age of digitalization learning remains a journey, not a destination. Whatever one is learning, practicing or aiming at, don’t forget to enjoy the journey.