Learning is a key pillar of company profit growth

Learning is a key pillar for company growth

Insights Learning is an inherent part of our nature as human beings. The natural evolution of life depends on our ability to question the sustainability of the current state, then to actively explore better options for long-term survival.

In many worlds there is an assumption that learning happens in schools, ‘that’s for kids — I’ve got work to do’. The fact is that everything is growing and the opportunity to learn exists every day. It’s just a matter whether you work at repeating the same thing or whether you learn as you work to improve. 

Building upon the inherent learning nature of people within an organisations culture has given companies distinct advantages in the marketplace. Learning is a key pillar of company growth. Companies that have sustained themselves beyond industry disruptions were those that were able to sustain learning throughout the disruption. Companies that have sustained market leadership; such as Toyota who have reporting operating growth year on year since starting in 1939 have embraced learning as a key part of their company psyche and practices.


“There’s no end to the process of learning about the Toyota Way. I don’t think I have a complete understanding even today, and I have worked for the company for 43 years.”

Katsuaki Watanabe


The understanding of learning within a businesses operating model as a distinct market advantage is not a new concept. The Chinese manuscript — the iChing (book of changes) has been a source of wisdom and record of winning methods for many centuries. One of my favourite principles outline that a wise stall holder (business owner along the Silk Road) will test their product within the new market, experience the response with these new people and grow their offering accordingly.


On the surface, this is a logical business model. Inherently this is a learning loop. A repeatable cycle that allows you to act quickly with intention while being responsive to the impact you make with your customers. More modern learning loops you may have heard of are the Lean StartUp — Build > Measure > Learn cycle. Eric Ries essentially boiled down the root cause of accelerator businesses success to the fact they were explorative, engaged with customers to learn immediately and adaptive so that improvement was rapid. 

One of the Militaries more commonly known learning loops is called the OODA Loop. ‘Observe > Orient > Decide > Act. The OODA loop is one worth taking a moment to acknowledge because it exemplifies how a static learning framework can amplify the ability to adapt to disruptive change. The United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd was accountable for understanding why Air combat encounters — more commonly known as dog fights because they appeared on the surface to be messy, aggressive and erratic — were won and lost. Over the decades of investigating, teaching and learning why some were more successful than others he distilled the essence of their success into the fact that some had the agility to react intentionally. He advocated learning and agility as the key indicators for success over raw power and strength — be that in the pilot and/ or the machine. 
 The result of years of study and subsequent military pilot training is the now well known OODA loop: OBSERVE > ORIENT > DECIDE > ACT.


The advantage a learning loop provides are;

  • Takes out the need to know how to engage by behaving in auto-sequence

  • Creates the opportunity to respond quickly without over analysis

  • Builds in improvement into the engagement — learning is part of the engagement and not separate

  • Just like cycling faster on a bike, the more cycles you do, the more momentum you gain so the faster you become

  • Skill and raw power and as much an imperative advantage as is the speed to respond faster than your competitor

After all, if you die in a dogfight there is no second opportunity, no ‘lets take it offline’, or lets book in a course to improve that opportunity later. An incredibly cost-effective way to build in mastery and improvement into the act of doing vs. having to spend lots of time and money to learn theory off-site. 

In the 20th Century, Lean Manufacturing intentionally adopted the OODA loop to be an inherent part of the mindset and management of their delivery processes. The Toyota Ways learning loop is more commonly known as Plan > Do > Check > Act. 

Subsequently in the 21st Century agile and lean methodologies also have learning built into the values, principles and practices. Scrum is an empirical learning delivery process that builds improvement into the product lifecycle — that is if you have the discipline to team it out. 

Regardless of your time in history; being on the Silk Road practising test, experience, grow or part of a startup disruption applying build > measure > learn, a learning loop is a key pillar of a growth strategy. Regardless of your place; being in a dogfight or competitive market disruption learning loops give you the distinct agility to respond faster and improve quicker than your opponent.

I’ve adopted insights from all the above to shape a performance growth learning cycle. It appropriates the best of history successes and is a pillar for us to continuously improve and embrace learning as a competitive growth advantage. A learning loop that shapes improvements according to growth performance objectives:

Intend > Act > Impact > Insight

  • Intend: what do you believe will shift performance and why? what’s your strategic intention?

  • Act: nothing progress unless you do it, how will you do it? what’s your tactical approach?

  • Impact: what was the performance difference?

  • Insight: did you achieve what you set out to, and what will you improve next loop.

Now that businesses are smarter, it’s not enough to be in an action learning cycle alone. It’s imperative that you link your operational learning and product feedback cycles with your business strategy. As the great Sir Winston Churchill once said:

“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”

What’s your learning loop in your company? Are you leading learning by doing as part of the inherent way you think and work? If you aren’t, where would you rate your companies competitive edge compared to those that do?

Happy Exploring!!!

Copyright © 2018 Stephanie BySouth, All rights reserved. 
This article was first published on www.stephaniebysouth.com