To compete with today's
increasing globalization and rapidly evolving technologies, individuals
and organizations must take their ability to learn -- the foundation
for continuous improvement, operational excellence, and innovation
-- to a much higher level. In Learn or Die, Edward D. Hess combines
recent advances in neuroscience, psychology, behavioral economics,
and education with key research on high-performance businesses
to create an actionable blueprint for becoming a leading-edge
Learn or Die examines
the process of learning from an individual and an organizational
standpoint. From an individual perspective, the book discusses
the cognitive, emotional, motivational, attitudinal, and behavioral
factors that promote better learning. Organizationally, Learn
or Die focuses on the kinds of structures, culture, leadership,
employee learning behaviors, and human resource policies that
are necessary to create an environment that enables critical and
innovative thinking, learning conversations, and collaboration.
The volume also provides strategies to mitigate the reality that
humans can be reflexive, lazy thinkers who seek confirmation of
what they believe to be true and affirmation of their self-image.
Exemplar learning organizations discussed include the secretive
Bridgewater Associates, LP; Intuit, Inc.; United Parcel Service
(UPS); W. L. Gore & Associates; and IDEO.
The Next Business Revolution Will Be a Learning Revolution
We live in a fast-paced
globalized and technology enabled business environment characterized
by volatility, uncertainty, change and ambiguity (VUCA).
Coming technology advances, such as artificial intelligence, smart
robots, big data and IoT are only going to increase VUCA. To stay
competitive requires continual adaptation and that requires learning
individually and organizationally better and faster
than the competition.
In todays world
of all of us have to become better thinkers, innovators, experimenters
and collaborators and that requires that many of us become more
emotionally and socially intelligent. Our challenge is to become
expert learners. The next business revolution will be a learning
revolution. Learn or Die brings the science of learning
into the business world in an applied manner.
1. What is the purpose
of Learn or Die?
The book uses the science
of learning to answer two important questions:
First, how can we
individually become a better and faster learner?
Second, how can we
as a manager/leader build a team or an organization that continuously
learns better and faster than the competition?
Another purpose of
the book was to review and synthesize across academic disciplines
the developments in the science of learning that have occurred
since Peter Senges 1990 landmark book on learning organizations
and put forth a new blueprint of how to build a learning organization
based on the current science of learning.
2. How should readers
approach this book?
Readers should read
this book with an open mind. A natural reaction will be that
is not me I dont think that way.
Well, the science says it is highly likely that you do. To get
the most from the book, one has to accept the science of learning
and that paints an unflattering picture of how most of us think.
Many people who have read the book and have communicated with
me found it personally a wake up call.
3. Arent most
of us good learners?
Yes, many of us are
good learners but it is highly probable that we are suboptimal
learners. We know from research that cognitively we are fast reflexive
thinkers who seek to confirm what we already know. We are confirmation
machines. Emotionally, we tend to be defensive thinkers protecting
our views and ego. Emotionally, we defend, deny and deflect. The
saboteurs of learning are ego and fear. That is our humanness.
To be a great learner requires one to overcome those natural proclivities.
Learn or Die puts forth a blueprint of how to do that.
4. How did that research
impact you personally?
I have been working
on this project for years and it had a big impact on me. I realized
I had to take my learning game to a much higher level. Even though
all the feedback from my schooling and my work life in the business
world and academia had been very positive, I had areas that I
needed to improve in order to really be a great learner.
So, I started working
on those areas: managing better my thinking and emotions, quieting
my ego, redefining what being smart means, actively
listening with a non-judgmental open mind to others and treating
everything I believe as being conditional subject to stress testing
by new data.
I had to define myself
(my ego) not by how much I knew or by having the right answer
but rather by how well I use best thinking, listening and collaborating
best practices. I created checklists that I use daily to grade
myself and reflect on my learning performance. Overall, I am a
better thinker, listener, and collaborator today than I was before
writing this book but my work is not done.
5. What does a great
learning organization look like?
First, the organization
must accept the challenge that it has to create the right learning
environment, model the right leadership behaviors and put in place
the right learning processes to enable employees to overcome their
humanness and become faster and better learners.
The right environment
is not a command and control environment. It is not a culture
of fear. It is not Theory X leadership as defined by Douglas McGregor.
It is a people-centric emotionally positive work environment.
High employee engagement is necessary something that is
missing today in many companies. The organizations culture,
structure, leadership behaviors, HR policies, measurements and
rewards have to be designed to create learning mindsets and drive
best learning behaviors. Companies have to change their mindsets
about mistakes especially with respect to innovation and experimentation.
The book describes companies that have done this and are leaders
in their industries.
6. Why arent
more organizations great learning organizations?
The purpose of almost
all organizations is to produce standardized, predictable, reliable,
and low variance results. Organizations by their inherent nature
are anti- change. That drives one to view mistakes as bad and
something to avoid. Well, that inhibits innovation, experimentation
and learning. Mistakes and failures are a necessary part of innovation,
experimentation and learning. Most learning comes from mistakes
fixing things or trying things and learning by iteration.
Fear of making mistakes
can become a dominant emotion in a company and fear diminishes
the quality of cognitive processing, creativity, innovative thinking,
judgments, and decision-making. That is why the concept of a learning
culture is so important. Learning underlies both operational excellence
and innovation. The difference between operational excellence
and innovation from a learning perspective is the tolerances for
the amount of variance and risk necessary for success. Learning
is the unifying theme that can allow an organization to be both
operationally excellent and innovative.
You can also add leadership
ego, arrogance, complacency, laziness and hubris to the answer.
7. What does it mean
to take ones learning game to a higher level?
It means becoming a
better critical and innovative thinker, more emotionally and socially
intelligent and a better collaborator. That requires using best
processes, having a learning mindset, managing ones emotions,
quieting ones ego, being open-minded, fair minded, a non-judgmental
listener - all of which require managing self, empathy and humility.
8. In the book you
talk about the learning power of surprises. In doing
your research what really surprised you?
Let me give you some
context - I have had prior educational experience in the fields
of cognitive and educational psychology. First, I was surprised
by the recent research in neuroscience that shows that our emotions
are intertwined in every step of our cognitive system. I had undervalued
the impact and importance of emotions in our thinking. Rationality
is a myth. Managing our emotions is as important as managing our
thinking. The power of positive emotions the research in
positive psychology is quite compelling.
Second, I found the
congruity between a high engagement learning environment and a
high employee engagement business environment fascinating. Third,
I found the congruity of the research findings on building trusting
relationships in business, education and psychological counseling
settings interesting. They drove me to focus on foundational enabling
learning behaviors in the book.
The BIGGEST surprise
was Bridgewater Associates, LP., (Bridgewater) the
largest hedge fund in the world and one of the most successful.
I was very fortunate to have been invited inside to experience
and learn how they have created a learning system that helps people
overcome their natural cognitive and emotional proclivities that
inhibit learning. Bridgewater was the most advanced learning organization
I discovered in my research and I devote 50 pages 25% of
the content to describing in detail how and what they do.
The time spent working on each persons learning inhibitors
at Bridgewater is unique. I believe that the organizations of
the future will be those that focus on developing the best learners.
I am most thankful to Ray Dalio the founder of Bridgewater for
allowing me to take public for the first time so much of their
9. Who are other great
I am highly impressed
by the work being done inside Intuit; IDEO; Pixar; W.L Gore &
Associates; and the Special Operations Forces of the United States
Military all of which are discussed in my book. I am sure
there are more great learning organizations out there and I encourage
readers to send me names of organizations that they believe are
10. Taking everything
you have learned in your research and taking into account the
coming technology advances would you be willing to make some predictions
about the future of business organizations?
Well, here are some
ideas and remember all ideas are not good:
(i) While technology
will displace many human workers, technology will also humanize
many organizations. Why? Because the human workers remaining will
likely be engaged in activities that require higher order learning
and highly developed emotional and social intelligence. Most people
come to the workplace needing lots of developmental work in those
areas. To do that developmental work inside the business will
require many businesses to create a positive emotional work environment
that drives high employee engagement and will require many leaders
to change their attitudes, mindsets and behaviors. Hierarchy and
rank will be devalued. Structures will need to change. Many organizations
will need more candor, humility and empathy. Many organizations
will have to become more people-centric and positive emotional
places to work. They will have to be humanized in order to become
better and faster learners.
(ii) Assuming (i) is
correct, that will require the transformation of many HR functions
into a world class professional personal human development group
that provides individual customized personal development experiences
with mentoring to thousands of employees. The time spent on such
personal development will likely exceed in amount, intensity and
depth of engagement anything the HR group is currently doing.
The Chief HR Officer will become the Chief Human Developmental
Officer reporting directly to the CEO. The mindset will change
from managing human resources to really developing
learners. It is a HR game changer which many HR professionals
will probably welcome.
(iii) At the same time,
business management education will likely have to change to meet
businesses needs for business managers who have strong foundations
in critical and innovative thinking, experimenting, collaborating
and who have begun the personal developmental work to advance
their emotional and social intelligence. Those types of educational
experiences are experiential, done in small teams, highly personalized
and require high engagement faculty competencies in counseling
and mentoring. That will likely require major changes in many
(iv) The management
practices at organizations like Bridgewater Associates, W.L. Gore
& Associates and Pixar will likely become more common
they are organizations of the future, assuming they
continuously improve and do not become complacent or lose their
learning environment or rigor in the pursuit of growth or in leadership
(v) The required humanization
of many business organizations and the increased importance of
soft skills such as empathy, humility, emotional and
social intelligence, mindfulness etc. could be challenging to
many men. Men can learn these skills but many men need
to learn to lean out. I predict the upcoming learning
revolution in business will propel more women into C-level positions
and that will likely accelerate in many cases the humanization
could change the business world in some interesting ways.
"As digital technologies
race ahead there is a growing need for creativity and innovation.
But how can we build organizations that foster the highest levels
of creativity and innovation? Learn or Die is a blueprint for
creating such organizations."
Co-author, The Second Machine Age
"This book does
a beautiful job bringing together the most important ideas in
organizational learning, established by academics and practitioners
over the past thirty years or more, into one place."
Amy C. Edmondson,
Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management, Harvard Business
"I read Learn or
Die and found myself intrigued and frankly, a little uncomfortable.
So I read it a second time and found that it made me rethink many
aspects of my own management style and the guidance I provide
our portfolio companies. What hit me like a ton of bricks from
Ed's research was the realization that the current approach based
on traditional management techniques and performance metrics was
unlikely to be both effective and sustainable in the rapidly changing,
Darwinian world of venture capital investing andtechnology innovation.
His vision of the learning systems and cultural commitments that
define a truly high performance organization is a must read for
any business that wants to prepare itself to meet the challenges
and succeed in todays business environment- before its too late."
Frank H. Foster,
Managing Partner Draper Fisher Jurvetson Frontier and the Gideon
"An excellent book.
In Learn or Die, Edward D. Hess captures a central element to
enhancing and sustaining success as a business organization or
as one of its leadersbeing a high-performance learning organization.
This book is a thought-provoking study of the technological advances
making this need ever more relevant and provides a comprehensive
roadmap of the culture, leadership, employee learning behaviors,
HR policies and other organizational processes necessary to build
and lead such an organization."
Executive Vice President and CFO, FTI Consulting
"The smart money
is on innovation, which depends on personal and group learning.
Ed Hess combines a tour dhorizon of what is known about
individual learning and about conducive environments for organizational
learning with fascinating case studies of companies who use learning
to win. Any leader who needs to encourage innovation will find
information and reflections that will be both humbling and inspiring."
Head of global strategy, Cargill, Inc.
"Learn or Die allows
the reader to not only to visualize the future, but also, and
more importantly, to create the future by unleashing the power
and potential of building a learning organization. It has been
demonstrated that strategies, systems and processes can be copied
by others, yet a companys people, and the way they learn,
are true differentiators. Ed Hess captures the essence of a high
performing organization and shares his secret sauce
through an actionable blueprint for becoming a leading-edge learner
and creating a high performing organization."
Senior vice president and chief human resources officer, Quest
"Ed Hess is doing
some of the most interesting and important work in management
today and his newest book, Learn or Die, is already my personal
favorite. This book is characteristic of all of Eds workproviding
wise but straight-forward and pragmatic advice on finding the
right people, creating the right environment and installing the
right processes to embed learning. In a globalizing world, where
adapting to and learning from difference is likely to be the most
critical source of competitive advantage, Learn or Die is a must
read for any manager interested in solid, research-based advice
on how to survive the increasingly unpredictable, chaotic world
we live in."
Coauthor of Solving Problems with Design Thinking
"This is by far
the best book I've read on the subject of learning."
Farnam Street Weekly
"In Learn or Die
Ed Hess knits an impressive fabric of insights from widely disparate
strands of thought, experience, research, and real cases. Hess
harnesses new evidence to challenge old nostrums. Practical and
provocative, this book ranges across vital issues such as learning,
innovation, team-building, and leadership. Read this book and
prosper; read it before your competitor gets to it."
Dean, Darden School of Business
"Learn or Die makes
a compelling case for the need to create high-performance, human-oriented
learning organizationsand for the remarkable degree to which
we are all capable of succeeding as leaders by following a path
of ongoing, integrative learning. Combining fascinating behavioral
research, actionable advice, and superb analysis of real-world
business examples, Ed Hess has crafted essential reading for those
seeking to prepare their organizationsand themselvesto
thrive in a global marketplace characterized by rapid change,
fierce competition, and a desperate need for leadership based
on principles that are smart, sustainable, and, above all, humane."
Former president, Academy of Management
"Learn or Die in
a masterful manner makes it clear that consistent business growth
can only be achieved through learningthere is no other wayand
that the pace of business change today requires a scientific approach
to building a high performance learning organization. For those
responsible for leading, Learn or Die should be mandatory reading."
Chairman and chief executive officer, Edens Investment Trust
"To achieve and
sustain real business success in the 21st centuryindividual
and organizationalyou need to understand and leverage the
new science of learning. Fortunately, theres Learn or Die
by Ed Hess, who explains the 'why' and 'how' better than anybody.
This deeply informed, yet practical book provides the new road
map for a better you and a better company. Read or
CEO, Way to Grow, Inc.
"Learn or Die is
a thoughtful and easy-to-read synthesis of the leading thinking
on organizational and individual learning. Not only does Hess
neatly summarizes what a savvy business person needs to know,
but he also provides practical suggestions that will allow the
reader to take action. This book contains essential lessons on
an important topicI highly recommend it."
Chief strategy officer, ADP
"Learn or Die is
a tremendous look into the requirements of high performance individual
and team learning. Ed Hess does a masterful job of conveying that
learning happens best in a humanistic work environment, enabled
by leaders who in reality are great coaches striving to serve
others. Learn or Die will help anyone who wants to improve themselvesit
changes the game."
Executive vice president and general manager of Oklahoma City