How does one become a better and faster learner, and how does one build an organization that is more adaptable and learns better and faster than the competition? Those are the questions which Edward Hess aims to answer in his book Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization. The book aspires to synthesise recent developments in the understanding of how people learn, the role of emotions, and environmental factors which can assist or inhibit learning.
According to the author, a high performance learning organization requires the right kinds of people, in the right learning environment, using the right learning processes, to continuously learn faster and better than the competition. The right kinds of people are those who have the right motivation for and approach to learning. The right learning environment is an organizational culture in which curiosity and creativity are encouraged. The right learning processes include effective learning conversations.
While Part 1 of the book describes the theory, Part 2 tells the story of three different learning organizations, with the major example being Bridgewater Associates, LP. Bridgewater seems to have an extraordinary culture in which every employee’s performance is continually being reviewed. The firm is run according to an extensive list of management principles written by the firm’s founder Ray Dalio. The firm is an idea meritocracy where learning and self-improvement are cultural pillars. However, the author’s description left me with the feeling that the firm’s environment might be a bit too controlling for most people.
The book draws ideas from a number of different management, leadership and educational experts. I suspect that most business leaders do not give organizational learning the priority that it deserves; this book should help to redress the balance.