“The ability of your company to be competitive and survive lies not so much in solutions themselves, but in the capability of the people in your organization to understand a situation and develop solutions.” — Mike Rother
Building a culture of innovation for your organization, without continuous learning, would be equivalent to giving a child an iPad with no battery life. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of watching a child’s disposition billow from curious excitement to nuclear melt-down, you’re aware that technology, without the juice to fuel progress, can elicit a DEFCON 1 condition.
A new report reveals nearly seven out of 10 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are failing to reach their full growth potential because their workplace culture is making it impossible for innovative ideas to flourish – turning the battle for progress into a zero-sum game.
“Continuous learning is essentially a simple allusion to continuous integration (in software development) – and it is how our brains works naturally,” explains CEO & Founder at CodeMontage, Vanessa Hurst. “Ever-changing technologies and evolving systems require that we never stop learning.”
Hurst continues to build a case, through research, that a culture of innovation requires continuous learning. Workplace culture needs to provide opportunities to learn, to integrate learning into the workflow, and to avoid completely abandoning the work mission itself.
Related: The Human Constraints of Innovation
This post will describe how continuous learning fuels a culture of innovation within organizations. You will understand how learning can ignite innovation and translate into improved organizational performance. Encourage continuous learning to be more prepared for future demands, more likely to be first to market, and encourage learning habits to develop a high-performance, results-driven team.
With daily learning, the culture of innovation is:
1. More prepared for future demands
Why learn linearly in times of exponential change?
Adaptability is the single most important predictor for successful culture of innovation. Proactive, agile business practices require agile learning habits. If you can’t deliver what your customer wants, someone else will. This mantra requires companies to have the ability to constantly adapt and practice continual change to deliver what customers want.
Iterative processes require your company’s innovators to build, learn and refine. Build, learn and refine. You cannot iterate, without learning. The parallels of continuous learning and continuous deployment are explicitly evident.
“By learning in small chunks over time, you can integrate your learning into your practice,” Hurst continues in her 2014 O’Reilly Velocity conference talk. “You want to be learning and applying to maintain a working version at all times and not get so focused on learning that you stop doing. Learning opportunities like conferences and technology allow us to do this without completely abandoning our day jobs.”
While formal education is important, technology has enabled us to learn as we move – thus changing the way we learn and do work.
“Our relationship to the world is changing fundamentally. Note, that for many of us, our memories aren’t in our heads anymore – they’re buried in our smartphones,” explain the Exponential Organizations authors.“The Internet is now the world’s nervous system, with our mobile devices serving as edge points and nodes on that network.”
2. More likely to be first to market
Knowing how to know fast
Innovation is disruptive and requires your organization’s ‘ignitors of change’ to adopt habits of continuous, agile learning and practice the principles of seeking out knowledge, rather than recalling knowledge to confirm beliefs or predetermined expectations.
You need to be able to learn and pull information at or above the speed of change. Learning how to learn is a critical skill to develop in a culture of innovation.
“The rate at which we can understand and solve complex problems—the key skill for which we still need people, rather than machines—is determined as much by our environment as our own skills. abilities,” explain the authors of Lean Enterprise.
In addition to knowing where to find information quickly, knowing the right questions to ask up-front can yield results-driven productivity. In Leading with Questions, author Michael J. Marquardt explains that taking a learning mindset will open the door to productive, solution-based thinking. By asking why and what instead of who and when, the judgement is removed, and your team will respond in positive accordance.
As a journalism school graduate, I’ve been able to apply my research and sourcing skills, with ease, to all aspects of my career. The school of thought I have been formally molded with, is that of never actually knowing – but rather understanding how to seek information and find the authoritative source to deliver results. I will tell you, blessed with an average level of intelligence, knowing how to know is a game play in the book of life that can be applied to any industry, and any career. These are the kind of skills that can help businesses achieve superior cultures of innovation.
3. High-performing, results driven
Learning and applying knowledge in real-time
Shaping new developers into productive team members takes time. In a culture of innovation, things are moving fast, so reducing on-boarding time is even more important.
“Get past the idea that you have to find the right developer with experience in your exact technology stack,” says Safari’s Chief Technology Officer Liza Daly. “Instead, find the developer who can learn a new technology easily. Give them the right learning resources, rather than relying on their past experience, and train them quickly.”
Few organizations have the budget to fly in technology leaders like Guido van Rossum. As the creator of the Python language, he’s certainly an expert on the subject, but it would be impractical for Daly to bring him into Safari to coach her developers on crafting beautiful generator expressions. Daly does, however, provide her team at Safari with access to conference talks, tutorials, and resources authored by the greats. It then becomes the job of every individual on her team to develop and reinforce a habit of daily learning to continue to improve their technical and soft skills.
Related: Get Your Team to Learn Daily
Your high-performance team will benefit from hiring new staff who can seek and apply information in real-time, minimizing the downtime of your experienced staff. A fast, knowledge seeker will take less time away from what your team is doing, and will naturally encourage results-driven performance.
You don’t learn how to ride a bike by reading about it in a classroom, or observing and documenting from a distance. You learn as you go, pulling information from real-time experience to iterate on-demand. Here at Safari, we have implemented a dogfooding initiative. Each employee is required to access and utilize our library once per day. It’s all tracked and we’re seeing amazing things happen within the organization, in just a short amount of time.
If you’d like to brush up on the importance of learning in cultures of innovation and learning how to learn, check out my personal recommendations here.