Modern life is nothing if not fast paced and awash with change. Darwin famously said it’s the most adaptable that tend to survive, but whereas evolutionary change tends to happen over incredibly long timeframes, modern shifts are played out in ever shortening periods. It’s created a world in which the speed of learning is a competitive advantage, both for individuals and organizations.
Of course, learning organizations are not necessarily a new thing, but their nature has changed. The first-generation of the learning organization reached its nadir with the continuous improvement movement launched by W. Edwards Deming and encapsulated by Japanese car giant Toyota, whose quality circles, kaizen and takt time quickly spread throughout the manufacturing sector.
A second-generation then emerged to try and enable organizations to leap successfully from their current sphere to new spheres. This is a world that tries to overcome the innovator’s dilemma by learning new things even when their current strength remains powerful. Netflix, for instance, shifted from DVD rental to streaming.
Now however, we’re in a third-generation of the learning organization, with new technologies speeding up the rate at which we can both absorb new information and test our assumptions. This is coupled with a need to deploy that learning over longer timescales as problems take on a global and complex nature.