Saturday, July 01, 2017

Learn or Die (Book 1 of 30)

Title: Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization
Author: Edward D. Hess

I'm starting the month-long challenge with this book because it resonates so well with my own work and my own thinking.  No need to provide my own synthesis.  I'll copy the inside cover blurb instead:
To compete with today's increasing globalization and rapidly evolving technologies, individuals and organizations must take their ability to learn -- the foundation of continuous improvement, operational excellence, and innovation -- to a much higher level.  In Learn 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 Die examines 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 Die focuses on the kinds of structures, culture, leadership, employee learning behaviors, and human resources policies that are necessary to create an environment that enables critical and innovative thinking, learning conversations, and collaboration.  ... (Learn or Die --- inside cover blurb)

I have a bias towards organizational learning and I prefer to talk about learning, team learning, project learning,  and the learning organization, rather than knowledge management.  Learning has a more dynamic spin to it.  Even when I talk about knowledge management, I end up emphasizing knowledge flows, which is nothing more than learning.

Two things I liked about this book: 

First, I liked the reflection questions at the end of each chapter.  They're quite telling:

  • What did you read in this chapter that surprised you?
  • What are your top three takeaways that you want to reflect and/or act on?
  • What behaviors do you want to change?

To me, the first question is meant to force you to think about what was new in what you read.  Reinforcing prior learning by reading things you already know is fine, but learning something new is even better.

The second question is an invitation to extract something of value to YOU as the reader and to think about it further.  You don't have to agree with everything you read.  Very often I'll read something that's new to me and I'll come up with new questions, which might drive further readings.

The third question doesn't seem to always apply, but that could be just the root cause of a lot of lessons observed and not learned.  I've learned something new but I don't take any step to either verify it through my own experience or implement it in any way.  I've caught myself writing "to do" notes based on readings but I don't have a rigorous approach to actually doing any of it. Some of it gets done and some of it is forgotten a day later. I've found that the best way (for me) to implement the "to do" list that emerges out of readings is to create a mini-project or mini-experiment.

Second, I liked the early attention to individual learning in the book and the connection to organizational learning.  "Organizations cannot learn unless the individuals within them learn." (p. 3).  It sounds obvious but most of knowledge management ignores the individual aspects and goes directly to organizational level issues and strategies. I feel like a broken record about this.  How much have I actually done in my own professional practice to strengthen learning at all levels, including at the individual level?

1. Apply the three reflection questions to any new book (or article, paper, etc....) I read from now on and document answers;

2. Identify instances where my individual learning has been effectively shared in a group setting to contribute to team or organizational knowledge;  (that can be done in a blog post)

3. Compile a list of  "To Do" items throughout this Book Challenge and post it with a record of actions taken in response.

Related Resources
  • See the Chapter Videos provided by the author if you don't have access to the full book or no time to read the full book.

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