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To Avoid Dangerous Plateaus, Create a Culture of Fast Learning

by Guest Writter
Amanda Setili, President, Setili & Associates

When a company has just been through a period on intense change or innovation, it’s tempting to take a breather. Our instinct is to let things settle into a steady state. We reach a plateau of learning, and wish to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

This is dangerous.

Companies that settle in for a period of stability, a comfortable plateau, will stagnate. Knowledge calcifies. People begin to believe that the status quo is the only logical way to do business. When confronted with ideas for change, they mostly see obstacles.

When you are stationary, you are a sitting duck, easy to copy and vulnerable to commoditization. You quickly lose your edge.

To achieve quantum leaps in capability, your company must be able to leap to the next period of rapid learning and innovation—the next S-curve—the moment you’ve achieved each level of success, rather than allowing yourself to plateau. For this to happen you must create a culture of fast and continuous learning. Here are the benefits:

  • You will bring new value to your customers more frequently.
  • You will “get better at getting better,” strengthening the learning muscle throughout your entire organization.
  • You will be more prepared for whatever the future might bring, because you will have the skills to adapt.
  • You will create more differentiated product and service offerings. Competitors will be less able to copy you. You’ll be protected from commoditization, and you will enjoy higher margins.
  • Because you can adapt fluidly to changes in your business environment, such as changes in customer behavior, technology, and regulations, your offerings will be less likely to become obsolete, outdated, or irrelevant. (BlackBerry, Blockbuster, Kodak, and Nokia all led their industries for years, and have each become irrelevant or shrunk to a small fraction of their former size.)
  • You will find and realize new avenues for growth. When entering a new market or offering a new product, skills and knowledge are often a bottleneck to growth. In a fast-learning organization, however, employees across every function break through these barriers fast. As a result, you will increase your odds of success and will ramp up revenues faster.
  • You will be better able to attract top talent because people who are smart, creative, and courageous want to work for companies that try new things and have a robust outlook for growth.
  • Your work will be more fun and rewarding. You’ll certainly avoid boredom!
  • You will shape your own destiny as a company, and as individuals within that company.

Most great strategies are not arrived at through analysis, market research, and PowerPoint presentations. They are arrived at through trial and error. They are forged through constant experimentation, getting out there and seeing what customers are really willing to pay for, what the real value is to them, and how strong their loyalty really is (read more on how to gain extraordinary customer insight here). No amount of analysis can substitute for constant testing and learning in the real world.


About the Author

Amanda Setili is president of strategy consulting firm Setili & Associates. An internationally acclaimed expert on strategic agility®, she gives her clients—including Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, Equifax, The Home Depot, and UPS—unbiased and laser-clear advice on how to respond quickly and intelligently to their changing marketplace. She is the author of Fearless Growth: The New Rules to Stay Competitive, Foster Innovation, and Dominate Your Markets. To learn more, please visit www.setiliconsulting.com.

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