Cultivating a Learning Organization

Friday Learning Notes

Roy Steiner
Apr 21, 2017 · 3 min read
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I have an amazing job. I’m not a movie star, astronaut, or ice-cream taste tester. I’m the senior director of learning and impact at Omidyar Network, and my goal is to cultivate a best in class” learning organization.

This of course begs the question: what is a learning organization?

One of the definitions that resonates the most with me is from MIT’s Peter Senge who defined learning organizations as:

“Organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to learn together.

However, rather than rely on academic definitions to navigate, one of the first actions I took when I started my job was to ask colleagues within Omidyar Network what they thought being a learning organization meant.

Here are some of the answers:

What is a learning organization to you?

With an initial conversation started, the next step in this process was to develop a roadmap for our journey. It was clear from the beginning that becoming a learning organization was nothing like winning a marathon — there was no “mission accomplished” point in time when we would sprint forward and tear through a tape denoting victory or an end to our efforts.

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We aim to nurture processes and culture — similar to cultivating an orchard

Rather we felt a much more apt metaphor was that of cultivating an award-winning orchard. In this metaphor, we are required to undertake a continuous process of nurturing systems and culture to produce meaningful results. This will take time, constant effort, and collaboration, and could advance us to a fruitful and healthy organization that embraces learning.

As with the practice of systems thinking, this way of thinking is not about success or failure. It is about becoming more effective.

Becoming more effective requires:

  1. Learning processes like strategy and hypotheses development, reflection, and knowledge management.
  2. A culture of learning which begins with staff that value and recognize learning as a priority, share a common language, and are able to create an atmosphere of trust, curiosity, and exploration.

We embarked on a systematic and phased approach to cultivating the organization we all wanted.

The phases included these conceptual steps:

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Conceptual steps for cultivating our orchard

And so, humbled and excited by the prospect of what was ahead, we began our journey towards becoming a learning organization.

This note is the first in a series of posts that will document some of the insights, frameworks, anecdotes, and questions that have emerged as we encourage the creation and spread of knowledge within our firm.

By extending the Friday Learning Note series here on Medium, it is my hope that greater insights can be shared, generated, and applied to your work and your lives so that we can learn to learn together!

#AlwaysLearning

Roy

Our Friday Learning Notes series is designed to share insights from Omidyar Network’s journey to become a best-in-class learning organization. Grab a cup of coffee and start your own Friday morning learning journey! *warning: side effects of regular reading may include improved mood, upswing in dinner party conversation, and/or increased desire to cultivate learning for social impact

Omidyar Network

A social change venture investing in the creation of more inclusive and equitable societies.

Roy Steiner

Written by

VP of Food@RockefellerFoundation. Director @OmidyarNetwork. Deputy Director @GatesFoundation Scientist by way of @MIT @Cornell. Strategist @McKinsey

Omidyar Network

A social change venture investing in the creation of more inclusive and equitable societies.

Roy Steiner

Written by

VP of Food@RockefellerFoundation. Director @OmidyarNetwork. Deputy Director @GatesFoundation Scientist by way of @MIT @Cornell. Strategist @McKinsey

Omidyar Network

A social change venture investing in the creation of more inclusive and equitable societies.

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