Willingness to learn promotes organisational change

Here is an interesting extract (with some random commentary by me) from an address by Dr Goran Carstedt (made in 2002, but still very relevant), a former senior executive at Volvo and IKEA.

Organisational learning (OL) is the process of identification and correction of errors in organisations, in which learning takes place through individuals who act as organisational agents. This is sort of obvious, but often needs to be said. An “organisation” does not know anything. Its maximum potential knowledge is the sum of all the knowledge of all of its employees and network. Its actual organisational knowledge is the sum of the actual knowledge used by actual employees when making actual decisions. I’d guess the ratio of actual knowledge to potential knowledge is somewhere in the region of 1:100 for most organisations.

The four integral elements linked to OL are knowledge acquisition, information distribution, information interpretation and organisational memory.


What if people do not mind changing but mind being changed, that people learn and change optimally when it comes from within them? Instead of asking “What is good for our company?” Carstedt dares organisations to ask “What is our company good for?”

It is crucial to know how to interpret and create meaning from all the changes our world is going through. This involves framing and reframing the world we live in. Two different mental models impact on organisational change in this regard. Firstly, that there is no organisational transformation – only personal transformation; and secondly, that organisational transformation is a consequence, not a strategy.

The main implication of his mental models is that organisations need to move from a world of tangible, strategic assets to a knowledge society where strategic assets constitute knowledge, trust, information and relationships; from a world of teaching to a world of learning; from capital growth to people growth; from where we conquered nature to being a partner with nature. I think this point is critical, and I like Carstedt’s list of strategic assets: knowledge, trust, information and relationships – each one of these relies primarily on people, and I’d probably add “talented people” to his list.

The process of co-creating shared mental models requires a ‘letting loose’ of people within the organisation.

Moreover, to sustain the energy for learning, leaders should allow people to make mistakes, as there can be no innovation or development without mistakes. This was one of the most challenging issues in IKEA, to quote its founder’s words: “Only while sleeping we make no mistakes. The fear of making mistakes is the root of bureaucracy and the enemy of all evolution.”

Carstedt reminds leaders that it is their responsibility to build and nurture self-confidence for learning.

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