Management | Strategy |
Book Review: ORGANIZATIONS THAT LEARNBy
Edward Hess certainly gets your attention with the pithy title of his latest book, Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization. It’s simple, to the point, and full of meaning—just like the book’s contents. As the title suggests, Hess believes that companies need to be constantly learning in order to survive. And in his book, he provides the blueprints for creating what he calls a High-Performance Learning Organization (HPLO).
Building an HPLO involves focusing on how people learn, how the environment impacts learning, and what processes promote learning. It requires having the right people in the right environment and using the right processes. This may sound simple enough, but Hess acknowledges that implementing it poses a challenge. The creation of an HPLO is dependent on people who aren’t always rational and organizations that resist change.
To illustrate what an HPLO looks like in practice, Hess delves into detailed cases studies of three organizations that strive to learn faster and better than their competition: Intuit, United Parcel Service (UPS), and Bridgewater Associates. I found the case study on Bridgewater to be the most interesting. Though it may be the least known of the organizations, its meritocracy culture is fascinating.
Bridgewater’s culture begins with CEO Ray Dalio’s 123-page Principles, which is a manifesto about the importance of having principles, how Dalio applies these principles to everything he does, and how these principles are being lived out at Bridgewater. The essence of Bridgewater’s culture is what Dalio calls “Radical Transparency,” which takes the accountant’s definition of transparency to a whole new level. Every meeting at Bridgewater is recorded and available for anyone at the company to access. Each employee is graded on his or her performance in every meeting, which impacts that individual’s Believability Index. The company is laser focused on learning from its mistakes, which sometimes may inflict short-term pain on the employees for long-term benefit of the company.
Hess argues that being an HPLO can be a key differentiator for any organization. And getting the right mix of people, environment, and processes to be an HPLO boils down to culture. Each organization needs to decide what works best for its culture. I only wish Hess would have addressed how evolving artificial intelligence fits into the HPLO equation. Reading Learn or Die will definitely challenge your perspective on learning and challenge your organization’s willingness to learn from its mistakes.