In his 1997 book, The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge introduced us to the concept of a “Learning Organization.” This concept is as relevant today, especially when we speak of innovation.

This is because learning is the catalyst for innovation.

In a recent interview on CBS’s 60 minutes, Bill Gates said this:

“The more you learn the more you develop a framework that knowledge fits into.”

In light of some new projects Gates is undertaking, the implications of this comment are significant. These include a new thermos that requires no energy, used for holding and transporting vaccines in hot climates; a new and more efficient nuclear reactor; and a new toilet that requires no traditional plumbing.

Clearly, innovation is at the heart of Gates’ work: the Gates Foundation is uncovering problems in the world and exploration solutions in creative, unprecedented ways. Ultimately new products, new services, and entirely new industries will emerge.

When it comes to being innovative we need to learn more about our own businesses and industries. Being informed about new developments, technologies, and global events is crucial. When we do, the framework Gates discusses will emerge, perhaps without us being aware of it. We start to become aware of needs that exist. As a result, connections are made and innovative ideas are generated.

How do Organizations get started?

Organizations need to ask themselves some provocative questions that may require some innovative solutions. For example:

  • What are our competitors up to?
  • What do your customers want? What do our customers need?
  • Are there new customers out there?
  • How can we improve the products or services that we currently offer?
  • What new products or services can we offer?
  • How can we improve the way we deliver them?
  • How can we improve the way we manage our business i.e. new and improved processes and systems?
  • How can we better advertise and promote our products and services?


It’s about curiosity

Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse“Around here… we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
– Walt Disney Company

This investigation will ultimately mean that organizations will have to look outside themselves to seek answers. New questions will emerge, such as:

  • How do we learn more about the needs and wants of our customers?
  • What can we learn from other similar businesses or maybe even totally unrelated businesses?
  • What technologies can improve the way we do things?
  • What concepts do we need to know more about?
  • As mentioned in an earlier blog; where can we learn about the innovative ideas of others that we can adopt or adapt for our own use?


So how do Organizations Learn?

In truth, organizations don’t learn. People do. In his book, Learning in Action, Dr. David A. Garvin of Harvard University writes about three different categories of learning that people can take part in. They are: research, experience, and experiential learning.

As academic as they sound, they are far from drab. In fact, each category carries with it exciting activities which present rich opportunities for learning.

An employee sitting alone in isolation, coming up with creative solutions and ideas won’t necessarily benefit an organization. When a dynamic collaborative environment is created, an environment where that person is encouraged to communicate and openly share his or her ideas with others equally intent on coming up with creative solutions, a synergy is created. This symbiosis is what supports a culture from which continuous innovations flow.

How can MLEK help you?

Invite MLEK into your organization to help you develop a culture of learning.

MLEK provides training, consulting and strategic advice to the public, private, not-for-profit and academic sectors. The firm specializes in leadership, communications, innovation, management, ethics and emotional intelligence. The MLEK team connects client needs to leading-edge best practices.

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