Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The primacy of learning

I am taking the view more and more that learning is the central thing about business.

What does this mean?

First, learning by itself is not that meaningful. It is learning combined with action. And then that simple seeming dichotomy (between thinking and action) is really not so simple; for example, one of the best ways to learn is to take action and inspect the results.

But is we stick with the simple dichotomy, we want more and faster cycles of thinking and action. Learn, act. Learn, act. (A slightly modified version of the Deming cycle.)

So, in business, my bias is that the key action is providing the best solution you can to the customer's (customers') problem. And learning, in various ways, makes those actions better.

And since the customers are always changing and their problems are changing every minute, there is much to learn. So, what do we need to learn?
  • what the customer's problem really is (now) (which means walking in their moccasins)
  • what they want as a solution
  • who we (the solution providers) are, and what we are capable of (now)
  • how are proposed solution fits into the context of the firm and of society (eg, can we pay our shareholders a good return)
  • what technology we should use and how to get the most out of it
  • how all the changes in people, business, technology and society are affecting this situation (both at micro and macro levels)
  • how to prioritize the things we need to learn now
My premise is that if we consider learning primary, how we organize people and how we do work changes. But I find, even though I have had this thought before (that learning is primary), it has not yet affected my work and my thinking nearly as much as it should.

The team that learns the fastest wins.

To me, this connects to ideas about the Knowledge-Creating Company and to the concept of Ba.

What do you think about all this? Is learning a key principle as you use Agile to produce customer solutions?

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