What's the big idea?

I've been asked for further clarification on something I said yesterday:

"Learning organization" is too big an idea. It's most popular with enterprises that cannot learn and need a cover to "look like they are trying".

An analogy may help here. Someone who is immersed in job hunting will be generating leads, setting up interviews and learning of other employment possibilities in the process. She may take a trip to another city in the midst of all this. She would describe the trip as "following up on some leads and interviewing at two companies". No biggie.

Someone else who is supposed to be job hunting will not be immersed in the day-to-day process. He may take a trip to another city to see his favorite band in concert and hang out with some friends. Yet the pressure to be finding a job will require that he "look like he is trying". So he would describe the trip as "a Job Hunting Expedition". Big ideas are a sign of miniscule implementation. People who "get it done every day" say very little about it.

When I'm not blogging, I'm mentoring entrepreneurs. Everyone of them is learning from happenstance, customers, employees, rivals and contractors. Yet none of them call their start-up a "learning organization". They do every kind of learning without mention. They do not need to look like they are trying. They need the results of their learning to better serve their customers, establish a unique market niche and develop viable systemic solutions.

Large bureaucracies, government agencies and corporations need to look like they are learning. Taxpayers, shareholders and legislatures are watching them closely. They expect this learning to be occurring to fulfill the public mandate or to improve quarterly earnings.

Large organizations that "think large" do not want the results of learning. That would mean enduring disruptive innovations, getting changed by outsiders, being proven wrong and "wimping out" from a big fight in public view. Making a show of learning works for them. Really learning does not.

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