The Need For Speed And Learning Agility


Your organization’s enduring competitive advantage rests on learning agility.

It must be able to respond to new challenges, opportunities, threats and crisis. New, unprecedented complex challenges constantly present themselves.

Learning At The Speed Of Change

Experienced leaders used to claim that they had seen every problem several times in the past. That’s no longer true today.

To choose leadership in today’s world is to choose change. Today’s leaders will confront a parade of previously un-encountered issues.

The half-life of an organization’s knowledge mirrors its competitive strategy. Organizational leadership faces a more rapid learning requirement. Unless an organization can learn at or above the speed of change in its environment, it faces the risk of irrelevance and failure.

Learning Required To Maintain Competitiveness

Organizations must undergo new learning cycles to maintain competitiveness. They need to constantly retool to endure the competitive pressure.

Each organization has to prioritize its learning needs based on strategic objectives. The challenge is that too few organizations learn fast enough or well enough.

To further complicate the problem, employee retirement is on the rise. When employees leave, they take obsolete knowledge, skills and models best suited for former times. However, they also take enduring insight and wisdom born of experience.

The net result is that the average organization is losing a larger portion of its stock of knowledge capital each year. That only magnifies the learning challenge as it hastens the obsolescence of knowledge and skills assets.

Ultimately, organizations don’t compete beyond the bounds of their ability to learn. One of the biggest organizational challenges today is learning agility, the ability to learn and respond quickly to constant change.

Having a good strategy and being able to execute the strategy is usually what delivers competitiveness. Eventually, that competitive cycle and strategy come to an end. That’s when an organization’s learning agility is put to the test.

Learning Agility Defined

Learning agility is an organization’s ability to respond to adaptive challenges. Adaptive challenges require a change in the system and processes. The solution rests outside of the current operations. Keeping old priorities, habits and processes do not solve adaptive challenges.

Learning agility is the ability to respond to adaptive challenges through the acquisition and application of new knowledge and skills. Some organizations learn quickly and effectively apply the collective knowledge of their employees and members. Some respond slowly and ineffectively.

At the organizational level, agility is the ability to grow, change or innovate at or above the speed of one’s own market. Anything less is not agility.

1. Agility is not competence.

Competence is the ability to meet the challenges of today. The organization possesses the necessary knowledge and skills as well as the ability to apply them effectively.

Learning agility is the ability to continuously acquire new knowledge and skills during or ahead of market changes.

An organization may be highly competent today. Yet today’s competency is not a good predictor of future competency. Learning agility is the best predictor of future success.

2. Organizational learning agility extends beyond the people in the organization.

It is not simply the learning agility of its employees and members. It allows the organization to perform beyond the accumulated learning agility of individuals.

It’s a process that involves both asking for solutions from outside of the organization as well as inviting new ideas from inside. It engages external partnerships to generate innovation.

Agility Responds To Adaptive Challenges

Ultimately, an organization must learn each time it responds to a new adaptive challenge.

The learning implications of today’s global society are breath taking. Enduring competitive advantage must be built on organizational learning agility.

What are some ways to embrace learning agility? What are some characteristics of high-levels of learning agility?

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  1. Chris Roffe says:

    Great post, it does an excellent job of outlining the importance of always increasing your threshold for what you can currently do and the need to be comfortable with operating outisde your curent organizational comfort zone.

    After reading this, I just couldn’t resist posting a Philosoraptor meme that is along the same lines on my blog.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Love your photo and quote by Alvin Toffler! Thanks for sharing…and reading too.

  2. You have provided clear and concise information on the handling adaptive challenges. Ronald Heifetz from Harvard suggests that leaders need to look at challenges from the balcony. The solution has to emerge through support by the leader. As you pointed out, it likely needs engagement outside of the organization.

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