What is a learning organisation?

“The rate at which organisations learn may become [their] only sustainable source of competitive advantage.”

Arie De Geus, former corporate planning director with Royal Dutch Shell

Although synthesised by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline (Doubleday, 1990), the idea of the learning organisation may be older, and its description best summarised in this Wikipedia article.

What has changed in intervening years is that the tools capable of creating fast-learning, adaptable organisations have arrived in social workplace technologies, such as those of Atlassian and Google, and many others. Managed with purpose, these technologies are now capable of getting the best out of the minds of those distributed across an organisation.

In the architectural realm, the idea of the Activity Based Working environment is also not new, but is now being adopted widely, and is lauded as the way to foster better teamwork and collaboration. In either of these spheres, however, what may still be lacking are the understandings and practices which, in combination, in legacy organisations – those born to neither the cultures nor the tools of the social workplace – can deliver on the promise of the learning organisation. Together these influences will bend out of shape the nature of work, and where and how it will be done and optimised to deliver the best return on built working space and intellectual effort.

Understanding of the learning workspace capable of adapting to the impacts of data-rich, sensor-laden environments connected via the Internet of Things (IoT) has an infinite distance to run. Hence, there is a body of learning to be built concerning the optimisation of the working tools and workplaces to be constructed.

Shiro Architects has decided to couple Hiromi Lauren’s established expertise in getting the most out of built spaces, of which we have measurable proof, with my own interest in management and social technology-driven organisational learning.

As workplaces align themselves with the capabilities the social tools afford, the capacity to enable fast learning may become an ultimate pressure driving the configuration of both the workforce and workplace. In turn, affecting the return on every square metre of working space, the relevance of these advances for developers and owners of commercial properties can not be underestimated.

In attempting to build our own distinctive organisational competency, I’ve begun research about the role of building and workplace design in creating and nurturing organisational learning. I describe what is emerging as the Learning Economy, and as I’ve written elsewhere, it will put to use knowledge your organisation didn’t know it had. I expect it certainly do that with our own.

Finally, apologies, I’ve used the opening quote for this piece more than once in this site, but after many years of reading on the subject, it remains the most succinct and apposite I have come across to date.


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