Organizations Cannot Learn—Individuals Can

“The learning organization”—maybe you’ve heard that term before. It refers to the notion that organizations are capable of learning over time and, in so doing, they refine themselves and become more successful. But what is knowledge, and can organizations really absorb it? Let’s reevaluate our idea of a learning organization and see what really happens in the culture of a successful business.

Knowledge refinement plays a central role in the overall process of becoming more successful faster. The prevalent paradigm based on the famous book The Learning Organization implies that organizations can actually learn. In my point of view, organizations can only remember—and that’s very different from learning. Basically, the culture of an organization is the memory of an organization, but organizations themselves cannot learn. Individuals can learn. Therefore, in the process of incubation, an individual must pull together new knowledge created as a group, throw it back to the group, and let them react to it from time to time.

Library bookshelf full of books. White books on the white shelf.

Very quickly here: The definition of knowledge is “a statement or fact to which people do not object,” which means that if people argue back and forth about a certain fact or situation, then they don’t have knowledge—all they have are opinions. Individuals need to listen very carefully to this ongoing conversation; usually very smart people are involved in how to make new things successful, and sometimes, those are the best people in the organization. They often come with big egos, and so they all have their opinions.

You will eventually experience sitting in these sessions where everybody has a different opinion—how to start, what market segment to approach, which organizational part to engage first. All these kinds of things crop up, but after a while, everyone’s opinions align. At some point, there is even proof—feedback from the market, experiences from sales reps, encounters from insulation teams—that trickle back into the organization, and knowledge is created. Facts are created.

Often, we leave it up to some kind of system to capture these things. But if you want to move fast, it is essential that you capture these nuggets of knowledge, formalize them, and then throw them back to your incubation team. If you did a really good job, your incubation team is going to sit there and nod their heads and say, “Yes, absolutely, sure, nothing new here.” What you then create is a basis from which everybody else who joins the incubation at a later time can absorb and integrate. You are increasing the speed and ability to build responsive scale very quickly.

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