The following is an interview with Edward Hess, author of Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization:
Question: What is the purpose of Learn or Die?
Edward Hess: 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 Senge’s 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.
Q: How should readers approach this book?
EH: Readers should read this book with an open mind. A natural reaction will be “that is not me” – “I don’t 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.
Q: Aren’t most of us good learners?
EH: 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.
Q: How did that research impact you personally?
EH: 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.
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