Cultures That Learn Are Superior

June 14, 2012  |   Posted by :   |   Agile   |   Comments Off»

The notion that “all organizational cultures are of equal merit” is seriously flawed.  If the goal is continuous improvement; that is, Kaizen culture, some cultures are better than others. Business history is littered with stories of organizations that learned slow, did not rapidly adapt to change, and went away.

At the level of civilization, it is clear that the most adaptive cultures get to live, while less adaptive cultures get to be dominated and/or die. Early Rome is a good example. In the business world, highly adaptive organizations take advantage of various forms of change and convert it to cash and market position by responding to change faster than less-aware competitors. Apple is a good example here. Google. Facebook. Zappos. The list goes on. When the learning inside these cultures slow down, they can expect trouble…

Let’s call the goal “identifying and exploiting opportunities”. Cultures that are optimized on learning are more adaptive and therefore superior to those that do not. This is the Lean Startup mindset. Where learning is concerned, all cultures are definitely not equal. Some learn faster than others.

So: let’s stop pretending that all cultures are OK, and good, and everything is beautiful and nothing hurts. Because, that is simply NOT TRUE.

Agile is a culture hack in the direction of more rapid learning, in service to more rapidly responding to change. Agile methods (which INCLUDE Kanban!) are the A-B-C steps that build a small Learning Organization we call a Team. Cultures that resist these A-B-C steps are learning slower than those that more rapidly embrace Agile principles.  As a result they are slower to respond to change. Organizations with premium, protected, “moated” businesses like insurance can pretend they do not have to learn fast. That might work for awhile, while the pace of technological change is slow. No more. The pace of change is SPEEDING UP and mandating more adaptation. That requires more sensing and responding to change.  Therefore, this whole idea that all cultures are OK is seriously flawed. Trying telling it to Google. Try telling it to FaceBook. In the 1990′s tell it to Microsoft. Each of them won big via an adaptive, sensing, responding LEARNING culture.

Let’s stop pretending any business culture is “OK”, even if it is a slow learner. This is a concept that encourages a dangerous disregard for adaptation. Adaptation and learning are tightly correlated. Organizational cultures that are optimized on learning are superior in almost every way to those that are not. When the technology disruption hits your business, you are either ready, or not. This is a major theme of my book, THE CULTURE GAME.

Cultures that learn are superior. Those that learn fast are truly great. Those that learn fastest are magnificent, and eventually have more influence than any other culture in a given context.

(NOTE: I am asking for help. I am looking for books that make the connection between Agile and the Senge’s Learning Organization concept. (Do you know of any??) My book published in 2012. If you know of any book published before 2012 that asserts that Agile methods actually manifest a small Learning Organization, please send me the link so I can honor these people. Thank you !


Related Links:

The Culture Game book (link)






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