Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Unlearning Organization

Creativity is a way of thinking that can be learned. Sherwood (2000, p 31-40) describes an organizational climate that will encourage and reward the necessary risk-taking behavior required for creativity. He calls it an Unlearning Organization and relates the key characteristics:

  1. They make time for thinking, exploration, and innovation.
  2. They are always searching for better ways of doing things.
  3. Rules are made to be broken.
  4. "Negligence" (the deliberate departure from an agreed policy) is considered failure but "learning (what happens when an outcome differs from expectations) is not and is not penalized.
  5. They listen, internally and externally. Everyone uses their ears more than their mouths.
  6. They share – information, resources and Risk. Nothing is mine, everything is ours.
  7. They say "yes" more than they say "no"
  8. They only evaluate ideas when there is a full and well-balanced view.
  9. They do not shoot from the hip, or jerk from the knee.
  10. They recognize that innovation is all about managing risk.
  11. They don't expect every innovation to succeed, nor do they place any foolhardy bets.
  12. Their performance measures support innovation, rather than discourage it, such ass measuring inputs (like hours spent on idea generation) rather than outputs (number of ideas put into the suggestion box).
  13. Managing the line and managing projects exist easily side-by-side; being assigned to an innovation project is symbol of regard; and risk-taking is rewarded.
  14. They don't force closure on innovative, open-ended and exploratory tasks.

Unpleasant surprises are the penalty and cost of creative ideas that do not work as expected or intended. Salerno (2003, p 1) says that “When possible, getting buy-in from employees on the front line is a great approach. When [gurus] keep their creative under lock and key they risk leaving employees feeling resentful, confused or disassociated from their [work].”


Salerno, Robert (Septemer 8, 2003). 'We Try Harder:' An Ad Creates a Brand. BrandWeek. Retrieved on September 3, 2008 from EBSCOHOST.

Sherwood, Dennis (2000). The Unlearning Organization. Business Strategy Review, 2000, Volume 11 Issue 3.

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