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Learn or Die

Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization

  • Book Info
    Learn or Die
    Book Description:

    To compete with today's increasing globalization and rapidly evolving technologies, individuals and organizations must take their ability to learn -- the foundation for continuous improvement, operational excellence, and innovation -- to a much higher level. InLearn or Die, Edward D. Hess combines recent advances in neuroscience, psychology, behavioral economics, and education with key research on high-performance businesses to create an actionable blueprint for becoming a leading-edge learning organization.

    Learn or Dieexamines the process of learning from an individual and an organizational standpoint. From an individual perspective, the book discusses the cognitive, emotional, motivational, attitudinal, and behavioral factors that promote better learning. Organizationally,Learn or Diefocuses on the kinds of structures, culture, leadership, employee learning behaviors, and human resource policies that are necessary to create an environment that enables critical and innovative thinking, learning conversations, and collaboration. The volume also provides strategies to mitigate the reality that humans can be reflexive, lazy thinkers who seek confirmation of what they believe to be true and affirmation of their self-image. Exemplar learning organizations discussed include the secretive Bridgewater Associates, LP; Intuit, Inc.; United Parcel Service (UPS); W. L. Gore & Associates; and IDEO.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53827-5
    Subjects: Management & Organizational Behavior, Business, Psychology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XII)

    • 1 Learn or Die: Building a High-Performance Learning Organization
      (pp. 3-8)

      Learn or Die:Is this just a snappy title or is it a business truth? My research, teaching, and consulting with private and public companies has led me to believe that now, more than ever, organizations and individuals must either be continuously learning, adapting, and improving, or risk professional obsolescence.¹ Why—and why now?

      First, many organizations rely on operational excellence—getting better, faster, and cheaper—as the key part of their business models; many also rely on innovation to drive growth. The former requires relentless, constant improvement; the latter requires discovery and experimentation. What is the fundamental process underlying...

    • 2 Learning: How Our Mind Works
      (pp. 9-21)

      Learning involves assessing relationships between stimuli and their effects.¹ If I eat this berry, will it nourish or poison me? More broadly, our learning is geared to systematically match causes to their effects. As we have more experience with stimuli or classes of stimuli, we learn probability—“if this, then likely that.” In other words, I might learn that if I eat one berry, then I’ll likely still be hungry, but if I eat a few handfuls of berries, I’ll likely feel full. The relationships we assess between stimuli and effects become more contextually nuanced over time.

      As our catalogs...

    • 3 Emotions: The Myth of Rationality
      (pp. 22-31)

      Have you ever heard someone say: “Don’t be so emotional—just be logical”?¹ Have you ever been in a business meeting when someone said: “Let’s leave emotions out of this discussion”? Those statements assume that there is a dichotomy between logic and emotions. That dichotomy is false. Cognition and emotions are inextricably intertwined in our mind and behaviors; the two appear to be dynamic, interactive, and interdependent.²

      Research has shown that emotion and cognition jointly contribute to the control of mental activities and behavior.³ The areas of the brain that primarily process and regulate emotions are networked with the parts...

    • 4 Learning: The Right People
      (pp. 32-44)

      Building a learning organization is a lot like building a house.¹ A house needs a supporting foundation, electrical and plumbing systems, a roof, and an insulated structure. These components must be integrated and aligned to work together to produce the desired results. The same applies to the components necessary for building a learning organization. In chapter 1, I introduced the concept of a High-Performance Learning Organization (HPLO) the formula for which has three key components—the Right People, the Right Environment, and the Right Processes that enable and promote learning. Each of the next three chapters focuses on one of...

    • 5 Creating a Learning Environment
      (pp. 45-60)

      Chapter 4 focused on the Right People, the first element of the formula for a High-Performance Learning Organization (HPLO).¹ As I stated in the conclusion to chapter 4, having the Right People with the right learning mindsets along with Theory Y leaders and managers that enable and promote learning is necessary but not sufficient to be an HPLO. Those people need to be in the right environment that enables and promotes learning. The Right Environment, the second element of the HPLO formula, is more than just having a learning culture; the culture has to be supported by an infrastructure that...

    • 6 Learning Conversations
      (pp. 61-73)

      In chapter 4, we focused on the first part of the High-Performance Learning Organization formula: the Right People. Chapter 5 focused on the second part: the Right Environment for creating a learning system. We now move to the third part of the formula: the Right Processes, and specifically in this chapter, the right kind of communication processes. Here, I talk about having learning conversations and what makes them so difficult.¹ I discuss the other right kind of processes—critical thinking processes—in chapter 7.

      First, however, let’s review what we have discovered so far. I would guess that before reading...

    • 7 Critical Thinking Tools
      (pp. 74-88)

      This chapter completes our High-Performance Learning Organization formula by focusing on critical thinking tools as part of the Right Processes.¹ Learning is a process of modifying or completely changing our mental models based on new experiences or evidence. Critical thinking tools are designed to help us identify weaknesses in our mental models and to counteract our human tendencies—cognitive blindness, cognitive dissonance, cognitive biases, and our ego defenses—that make changing our mental models so hard. In their bookCritical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional and Personal Life, Richard W. Paul and Linda Elder set forth what...

    • 8 A Conversation with Dr. Gary Klein
      (pp. 89-106)

      Gary Klein is a senior scientist with Macro Cognition LLC and has spent more than forty years as a research psychologist. He is an expert on how people make decisions in natural settings. Much of his research has occurred in high-velocity environments involving high-reliability occupations and the U.S. military in particular. Gary was one of the founders of the field of naturalistic decision making and is the author of five books; his most recent,Seeing What Others Don’t See: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights(New York: BBS Public Affairs, 2013), is a great read and was named a top...


    • [II Introduction]
      (pp. 107-112)

      In part I, we focused on the science of learning and asked: How do people learn? What environmental factors enable or inhibit learning? What learning processes promote learning?

      In part II, we take an in-depth look at how three very successful companies have operationalized the “science” of learning. These companies range in size from 1,300 to nearly 400,000 employees. Two are public companies and one is private. All are very profitable, consistent market leaders. Their business models range from innovation to operational excellence. Two of the companies are service companies and the other is more of a product company. In...

    • 9 Bridgewater Associates, LP: Building a Learning “Machine”
      (pp. 113-163)

      Bridgewater¹ is the largest hedge fund in the world, and from an investor’s return perspective, one of the most successful over the last forty years.¹ Bridgewater has over $150 billion of funds under asset management for approximately 350 clients. Its client base is nearly evenly split among domestic and foreign institutional pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, and corporate clients. Bridgewater is based in Westport, Connecticut and employs over 1,300 employees. Ray Dalio started the firm almost forty years ago and is still the controlling owner.

      Ray came into my world after he’d published hisPrincipleson the Bridgewater website in...

    • 10 Intuit, Inc.: “It’s Time to Bury Caesar”
      (pp. 164-178)

      Frequently, CEOs or directors of successful companies ask me questions like: “How can we change employees’ behaviors so all of us can be better thinkers?” Changing behaviors and ways of thinking in a successful company is a challenge because many employees will revert to a mentality of “if it’s not broken why change it?” Intuit¹ is a very successful public company that for the last seven years has been engaged in that type of major change initiative. Intuit has created a company-wide innovation culture and made experimentation the key process component of its decision making. To do this has required...

    • 11 United Parcel Service, Inc.: Being “Constructively Dissatisfied”
      (pp. 179-192)

      Whereas the Intuit case discussed in the last chapter concerned a company’s transformation, this chapter on UPS illustrates the development and scaling of a High-Performance Learning Organization (HPLO) from its humble start more than 100 years ago to its current status as a publicly held, global behemoth.¹ I chose UPS for this book because the company is a powerful example of how scale and operational excellence can be achieved through a system that, enabled by employee-centric policies and technology, drives constant learning, improvement, and adaptation. The company’s employee-centric culture was built to meet the human need for autonomy and for...

  6. Epilogue
    (pp. 193-200)

    In the introduction I stated that one of my objectives in this book was to lay out a blueprint for creating a learning organization. As I conclude, I’d like to revisit some of the foundational points to keep in mind as you strive to build a learning organization.

    Learning basically is the process by which each one of us creates meaningful stories about our world—with the aim of making these stories ever more accurate so that we can act ever more effectively. That process is enhanced by three mindsets. First, we have to accept the magnitude of our ignorance....

  7. Notes
    (pp. 201-226)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 227-256)
  9. Index
    (pp. 257-268)