Learning Mindset

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Learning Mindset
Organisations that experiment, learn faster than others are those that succeed.

Agile organisations are fundamentally learning organisations at all levels; whether small & specific (e.g. this feature didn’t sell well, so let’s change it) or large & systemic (we need to change our governance model based on this new information). Learning is more than just observing. It’s taking the observations, determining its worth, then internalising & making it the new reality for the organisation.

The application of a Learning Mindset results in continuous improvement. Feedback loops, such as “inspect and adapt”, and practices, such as the retrospective, enable teams, divisions and organisations to improve both what they do and (more importantly) how they do it. Like the woodcutter who refuses to sharpen his axe because he has too many trees to cut down, organisations that do not improve both the way they work and their products themselves will ultimately be out-competed in the market.

Central to the Learning Mindset is the ability to experiment, fail fast (with a small “blast radius”) and recover faster. Failure should not be seen as making a mistake, but rather as an opportunity to learn. Organisations can make is “safe to fail” by recognising that failure is part of daily work and not something you blame or judge people for. From a strategic perspective, you should avoid putting yourself or your organisation in a position where if you don't succeed, your business will fail or someone will die? Unless you’re NASA, the ability to fail strategically and learn prevents catastrophic failure.

Failure, when handled right, can be a brilliant learning experience. It can lead to new ideas & the rapid abandonment of bad ideas. When handled well, failure can save an organisation millions of dollars by avoiding compound failure. Compound failure is the problem. That is, not learning from your mistakes and continuing to invest in them. While there are very few statistics on this, I think it is safe to say that this blindness towards failure, or worse, fear of reporting failure, imposes a significant financial burden on companies.

Some organisations go further by introducing formal or informal support mechanisms like Failure KPI’s[1], parallel experiments (and selecting the highest performing option[2]) or simply providing an environment where failure is easily identified, recognised and rewarded.

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