From Ignorant to Wise – Becoming A Learning Organisation

This Week’s Focus Point

I’ve been spending a bit of time reading through annual reports lately, and you know what word keeps jumping out at me? – Innovation.

Our innovative teams‘,
Innovative practices and processes‘,
One of our key values is innovation’.

It’s an attractive buzzword, sure. But, I do wonder how many of these organisations are consciously learning and growing, or if they just have a glorified suggestion box.

Alan Weiss, author of The Innovation Formula, clarifies that innovation is more than problem solving and idea generation. Problem solving is merely restoration of previous levels of performance. Innovation, on the other hand, is elevation to entirely new performance levels. Alan also notes that innovation is typically incremental, i.e. it happens in small parts, frequently.

The trap that many organisations fall into is the inability to incremently grow performance because there is never active, embedded learning occuring. I have consulted with multitudes of organisations and projects and found that mistakes are repeated, again …and again …and again.

It’s a little scary the number of times that I have commenced a engagement with a client, only to open up their internal drive archives and find three previous failed attempts for this same project. Even worse, typically it’s the same set of mistakes that are responsible for the failure of each those previous times.

There are a number of possible reasons underlying this. Staff turnover, a lack of conscious lesson management, minimal to no time allocated for review, and no process to take the organisation from reflection to lesson implementation.

Your organisation is at one of three levels in The Organisational Learning Journey.

1. Ignorant
Your organisation keeps making the same mistakes, although most of this is unknowingly done. You cannot raise the bar through innovation and reflection as you don’t even have a bar, or if you do, you aren’t sure where it is. There is no conscious effort, time or money dedicated on review, reflection and learning from the past. Any learnings are inside your long-term employees’ heads, and leaves when they do.

2. Intelligent
Your organisation sees the value in capturing learnings at the end of key projects or during periodic reviews. These are normally stored somewhere in a report, then filed away. Maybe, you consolidate these into a list, but then that is typically also filed away. You are intelligent (i.e. with lots of knowledge at your fingertips), but you aren’t translating that into real action and growth.

3. Wise
Your organisation is able to connect the dots and has created a clear path from reflection -> lesson capture -> lesson implementation. You know and have embedded the difference between a ‘lesson logged’ and a ‘lesson learned’. Typically reflection sessions are embedded into your regular processes, and it’s ‘just part of what you do’.

Good news – the progression between each level is simple. The mechanisms are simple. It’s the cultural shift that requires the most focus, however with genuine formal backing and staff empowerment, even that can occur quickly.

So if innovation is your goal, stop spinning your wheels and become a learning organisation first.

Your Weekly Challenge

This week:

Consider which level of learning your organisation or team is at.

If you are at level 1 – Ignorant: 
Start the conversation.
Create space every week or two for active reflection. Book the time and give it priority. Capture the learnings.

If you are at level 2 – Intelligent: 
1. Consolidate your lessons into a centralised spot (removing, but counting duplicates).
2. Keep a tally of the number of times a lesson is found to be a duplicate.
3. Mark each lesson as ‘lesson logged’.
4. Progressively work through the lessons, starting with the most duplicated, to create a plan to prove that lesson has been incoporated into your organisation’s processes and projects.
5. Monitor and review.
6. Once proven, mark the lesson as ‘lesson learned’.

If you are at level 3: Wise
Great work! Now, consider ways to accelerate your learnings – perhaps you can tweak the frequency or content of your review sessions. Or further automate your lesson capture and proof planning. Perhaps your lessons are centralised, and you should consider wider distribution and on-demand availability to your staff.

As always, contact me with your thoughts and findings. I would love to help.

This Week’s Thought Pulses

Leadership & Performance

‘Learning is not attained by change, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with dilligence.’
– Abigail Adams

Momentum & Energy

Taking a moment to stop, breathe and reflect is crucial for maintaining high momentum in teams. The break if often recevied with open arms – as long as it is considered when planning and allocating work.

Delivery & Oversight

Your projects are probably creating and maintaining a lessons learned log.
What happens to it when after the project?
Don’t archive it – use it!


New Free Resources!: 30 new ideas to maximise your people, processes and projects that you aren’t already doing! Find them on my resources page here.