Top companies learn fast, why isn’t yours?

Many large enterprises look at start up companies with envy at their speed of innovation i.e. Learning. There is always a raft of excuses to why the large company can’t move quickly, typically comparing itself to the agility of an oil tanker. In most cases this is total bullshit, most large businesses are more like a fleet of small boats, each if it was so inclined could manoeuvre at high speed.

Learning is the key for success, it is the cause to the effect of improvement. If fatal accidents happen we expect those involved to learn what went wrong to avoid it happening again, for example surgeons, pilots, etc. It doesn’t have to be as obvious life or death if a manufacturer ships faulty products we expect a recall or an software update and we expect future products to work without the same fault.

It is peculiar, we expect others to learn, we recognise that it’s a positive outcome, but few of us actually embrace ongoing learning in the corporate environment, very few organisations are set up to encourage it.

Learning fast drives growth, innovation and builds companies bigger stronger profits. Learning can drive small increments of change or huge disruption. The changes are cross function efficiencies gains from process improvements, or enhancing products, to pivoting the entire business model.

There seems little or no argument that learning is valuable and should be embraced by business.

So why do very few organisations manage to do fail and learn? Does your organisation measure how effective it is at learning? Is there a management kpi for how quickly you learn or how much you are learning? Probably not.

At its heart the LEAN methodology is a learning process. It encourages iterative cycles of learning. In manufacturing LEAN has demonstrated rapid learning and processes improvements to deliver high quality and low costs. The process blueprints exist for businesses to learn.

The failure of large companies to learn and improve is people and culture. In a start up all the staff know the business has a limited runway to make it work. The common goal is to learn quickly what works before the money runs out. In great start ups leadership puts learning ahead of ego, ahead of remuneration and ahead of hierarchy.

The start up culture accepts failure with positivity — because we can’t learn without mistakes. The enterprise culture is polarised to the start up culture. The enterprise only rewards success, it punishes failure and in doing so creates an unsafe learning environment. Promotion, remuneration, ego are all focused on output and not learnings. Many managers receiving promotions have done so by hiding their failures and enjoying the success of learning, obviously this does not scale. The enterprise culture “sweeping it under the rug”, it creates environment where mistakes cost individuals. Adopting lean processes gives organisations a framework to change their culture towards failure.

Leadership need to publicly focus on the organisations lean or agile readiness. Hard work needs to go into helping the culture accept failing to learn is success. No amount of post-it notes, agile software like Jira, communication tools like Slack, consultants, doughnuts and fresh roasted coffee will give your business accelerated value without making it a safe environment to fail and learn.

Like what you read? Give Dave Martin a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.