How companies that learn will take your lunch money

In an age of constant innovation, it’s important to identify behaviors within your company that may hinder its chances of success.

Do you belong to a learning organization? Is anyone keeping up with innovations? Are employees encouraged to do so? When an employee comes up with a new idea, does that idea make it through the organization and reach the right people?

David Garvin and Amy Edmonson, authors of the HBR article on Learning Organizations, define a learning organization as one “skilled at creating, acquiring, interpreting, transferring and retaining knowledge” and capable of “modifying its behavior to respond to those new knowledges and insights.

So, how does your company cope with innovation? I came up with the following chart to depict what I see as the four types of learning organizations:

The 4 types of Learning Organizations

Is your company an Early Adopter of innovative ideas? An Early Adopter is a company that innovates, stays up-to-date with new ideas and technologies that may impact its operations and has a system in place to reward innovation, experimentation and implementation throughout the enterprise.

A Late Adopter tries to stay up-to-date with innovation on a longer cycle. Late Adopters experiment with innovative ideas when they’re a bit more mainstream and tested. Being a Late Adopter is not necessarily a bad thing, as you can sometimes lose focus of your core business by over-innovating or following too many new ideas without ever integrating them to your operation.

A Laggard company is one that incorporates new ideas when strictly necessary. A Laggard won’t adopt a new technology until it’s vital for its continued survival. While this may work for certain niches with enormous barriers to entry, this behavior eventually catches up with them (or actually, their competition does).

Flunkers are simply blindsided by innovation. Not having any mechanisms in place to look at new ideas, or convinced that their idea is simply the best, they wake up one day to find that a competitor owns their market or that they’ve simply become obsolete.

Ray Stata, cofounder of Analog Devices, Inc once said that:

The rate at which organizations and individuals learn may well become the only competitive advantage.

In order to remain successful, individuals and organizations must learn faster than their competition in order to get ahead and stay ahead of the pack. If the rate of innovation in your particular industry is greater that your rate of learning, you’ll invariably fall behind.

Are you or your company geared for learning? Is someone in your company keeping you informed of new technologies that may affect you? Will you know what hit you?

Leave your comments… I’d love to take this conversation forward and refine some of the concepts presented in this article. Do you have a story to share about how innovation affected your company or life?

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  • Learning Organizations…

    Bookmarked your post over at Blog Bookmarker.com!…

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  • Thanks for this post. It covers what we’ve known, but in an easy to follow format that I will share with my author clients who are not sure how much effort to put into “keeping up”

    Reminds me of Tom Peters telling a crowd that it wasn’t enough just to accept change. You have to be running as fast as you can into the future just to keep up.

  • Thanks for this post. It covers what we’ve known, but in an easy to follow format that I will share with my author clients who are not sure how much effort to put into “keeping up”

    Reminds me of Tom Peters telling a crowd that it wasn’t enough just to accept change. You have to be running as fast as you can into the future just to keep up.

  • Warren, glad you find it useful. Feel free to share and use as needed.

    I also wrote a Spanish-language version of this article at:

    http://technosailor.com/2008/03/20/organizacion

    in case anyone prefers that.

  • Warren, glad you find it useful. Feel free to share and use as needed.

    I also wrote a Spanish-language version of this article at:

    http://technosailor.com/2008/03/20/organizaciones-que-aprenden/

    in case anyone prefers that.

  • Angelo Gugliotta

    I agree with Warren. But I’d like to add that it also depends on WHAT you learn. What if you think you’re beating the rest on what you know (or learn in this case) and it so happens you’re milking a dry cow. Know what I mean? (In a colloquial venezuelan way of saying- que al final te quedes sin el chivo y sin el mecate por pensar que te la estas comiendo). A good example would be learning and selling MiniDisc technology in the 90’s.

  • @Angelo,

    WHAT you’re learning is very important. You make a very crucial point about staying on the cutting-edge of soon-to-be-obsolete technology. Betamax (which was actually superior to VHS), MiniDiscs and HD-DVD are good examples.

    What this underscores is the importance of encouraging a learning culture in organizations. If you listen closely enough, and have the mechanisms in place for knowledge to travel throughout your organization, you’re bound to hear dissenting voices raising red flags. Never put all your eggs in one basket…

    The hard part about all this, is keeping a healthy balance between staying informed and staying focused.

    Anyone know of a good translation of “quedarse sin el chivo y sin el mecate”?

  • Angelo Gugliotta

    I agree with Warren. But I’d like to add that it also depends on WHAT you learn. What if you think you’re beating the rest on what you know (or learn in this case) and it so happens you’re milking a dry cow. Know what I mean? (In a colloquial venezuelan way of saying- que al final te quedes sin el chivo y sin el mecate por pensar que te la estas comiendo). A good example would be learning and selling MiniDisc technology in the 90’s.

  • @Angelo,

    WHAT you’re learning is very important. You make a very crucial point about staying on the cutting-edge of soon-to-be-obsolete technology. Betamax (which was actually superior to VHS), MiniDiscs and HD-DVD are good examples.

    What this underscores is the importance of encouraging a learning culture in organizations. If you listen closely enough, and have the mechanisms in place for knowledge to travel throughout your organization, you’re bound to hear dissenting voices raising red flags. Never put all your eggs in one basket…

    The hard part about all this, is keeping a healthy balance between staying informed and staying focused.

    Anyone know of a good translation of “quedarse sin el chivo y sin el mecate”?

  • Angelo Gugliotta

    @Carlos

    You’re absolutely right. The culture of learning in the organization and on a personal level will undoubtedly reduce the risk of “betting on the wrong horse”. You’ve got to admit though, it’s a gamble (then again, what isn’t?)

    I think the propper translation you’re looking for is “don’t jugle (or take on) more than you can handle”? I’m not 100% sure about that one, but don’t worry, I’ll find it. Even if it’s a chinese proverb. Thank you.

  • Angelo Gugliotta

    @Carlos

    You’re absolutely right. The culture of learning in the organization and on a personal level will undoubtedly reduce the risk of “betting on the wrong horse”. You’ve got to admit though, it’s a gamble (then again, what isn’t?)

    I think the propper translation you’re looking for is “don’t jugle (or take on) more than you can handle”? I’m not 100% sure about that one, but don’t worry, I’ll find it. Even if it’s a chinese proverb. Thank you.

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