May 16, 2019

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The Importance of a Learning Organisation

With the fast-paced evolution of modern businesses, companies are always on the lookout for the next big thing to help them get ahead or stand out from the crowd. However, sometimes the solution you’re after is simpler in concept than you’d expect. It was in 1988 when Arie de Geus, a renowned business theorist who led the Shell Oil Company, claimed that the only sustainable competitive advantage is “the ability to learn faster than your competitors.”1

In the twenty-first century, having already come to inspire immensely popular methods of problem-solving (design thinking and agile design), the importance for an organisation to instill a culture of continuous learning is undeniable.2 What kind of benefits could it mean for your organisation to cultivate this trait?

1. Keeping up with the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The first Industrial Revolution happened in the eighteenth century with the mass introduction of steam engines into industry, the second was the rise of science and mass production in the nineteenth century, and the third was the rise of digital technology in the late twentieth century.3 The Fourth Industrial Revolution is happening right now, with the continuous rise of technologies, such as artificial intelligence, that are blurring of the lines of physical, digital, and biological systems (cyber-physical systems).4

However, it’s not only pertinent to know about the new technologies getting introduced, it’s equally important to track the rate of advancement. Currently, 56.1% of the world’s population is part of the ‘digital population’, which has grown from 2010 when the digital population was a meagre 28.8% of the world population.5 This latest industrial revolution is causing things to change so quickly that it’s crucial to embrace continuous learning, if companies want to stay ahead of the curve.

2. Becoming an industry authority

The world’s most valuable commodity is no longer land, gold, or oil – it’s information.6 In a time of easy access to endless information, not all of which is beneficial, the respect of real industry authorities has grown substantially.7 Being an industry authority means staying abreast of trends and updates in the industry or speciality that your business operates in, and having the skill set to effectively communicate this to your peers and colleagues. With only 42% of companies actually supplying training and development to their staff, the shortage of experts is not surprising,8 which is why encouraging learning as general culture amongst a workforce is so important.

3. Better people, better business

A learning culture means that a company creates an environment for employees to continuously upskill, knowledge share and better themselves. As a result, the business improves overall because a learning culture promotes enhanced productivity and cross-department support.9 It can result in up to 12% higher profit and 7% more engaged customers.10 As Peter Senge, a respected management thought leader in the faculty at MIT Sloan School of Management and founder of the Society for Organizational Learning, explains – a learning organisation fosters employees who “continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire […] where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured”.11

Promoting a culture of learning creates a holistic and positive workplace too. It leads to decreased employee turnover, as staff satisfaction rises due to skill advancement and recognition.12 Learning organisations report employee engagement and retention rates 30-50% higher than other organisations.13 It even allows for teams to adapt to change more easily by instilling an ongoing improvement mindset, encouraging shared ownership for projects and shared accountability for the projects’ results.14

Peter Senge had great insight when he elegantly stated that learning organisations are “where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together”.15 Whether it’s keeping up with the Fourth Industrial Revolution of cyber-physical systems, drawing people to you in the chaos of the information age, or building a more developed and sustainable workforce, learning organisations will assist in achieving these results.

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  • 1 Pennington, R. (Aug, 2016). ‘Pursuing the future; learning faster is no longer enough’. Retrieved from Huffington Post.
  • 2 Svihla, V. (Nd). ‘Design thinking and agile design’. Foundations of learning and instructional design technology. Retrieved from LIDT Foundations. Accessed 28 March 2019
  • 3 (Nd). ‘Meet the three industrial revolutions’. Retrieved from Sales Force. Accessed 28 March 2019
  • 4 Marr, B. (Aug, 2018). ‘The 4th industrial revolution is here – are you ready?’ Retrieved from Forbes.
  • 5 (Nd). ‘Internet growth statistics’. Retrieved from Internet World Stats . Accessed on 28 March 2019
  • 6 Parkins, D. (May, 2017). ‘The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data’. Retrieved from The Economist.
  • 7 Taylor, I. (Nd). ‘How to become an authority in your industry’. Retrieved from Question Pro.
  • 8 Witkin, P. (Jun, 2018). ‘2018 Millennials at work research report’. Retrieved from Udemy.
  • 9 Morgan, S. (Jan, 2018). ‘Why learning culture is so important’. Retrieved from Training Journal.
  • 10 Mann, A. (Jan, 2018). ‘Why we need best friends at work’. Retrieved from Gallup.
  • 11 Senge, P. (Apr, 2010). ‘The fifth discipline’. Retrieved from Slideshare.
  • 12 Morgan, S. (Jan, 2018). ‘Why learning culture is so important’. Retrieved from Training Journal.
  • 13 (Apr, 2018). ‘Employers fear 4.5m workers could be on the move this year’. Retrieved from Robert Half.
  • 14 Morgan, S. (Jan, 2018). ‘Why learning culture is so important’. Retrieved from Training Journal.
  • 15 Alexander, R. (Aug, 2017). ‘The benefits of a learning organisation culture’. Retrieved from Bloomfire.