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Innovation Leadership Series: Celebrate Learning

It has never been easier to be a lifelong learner than it is today.  Free, 24/7 access is available to classes on a wide variety of subjects through MOOCs (massive open online classes).  For example, for learners who need to brush up on business and management concepts for work, MOOC provider Coursera offers a range of classes, including selections from Wharton.

The Wharton School tenders a Foundation Series with Introductions to Marketing, Corporate Finance, Operations Management and Financial Accounting.   Other engaging business offerings from Wharton include Gamification and Total Leadership: Better Leader, Richer Life.   The Wall Street Journal writes of Wharton’s MOOC efforts, “It’s perhaps the most coordinated effort at any business school.”

These business choices are only a small sample of the learning opportunities that are available through MOOCs and other sources.

Celebration of Learning is Key at All Stages of Innovation

Experienced innovation executive Nancy Shea identified “Celebration of Learning” as a critical component for driving innovation in both B2B and B2C environments. It’s one of her five principles:

Five Principles for Innovation

  1. Vision of the business and role of innovation
  2. Purpose and expected value of the innovation
  3. Alignment across the company
  4. Empowered people
  5. Celebration of learning

Shea emphasizes:

“Most companies focus celebrating the launch or in-market success of a new product or service.  While that is important, I believe you also need to celebrate what you have learned when a project fails or uncovers important new information. Specifically, spend quality time on what you learn when a new product project fails, and then share this learning across the whole organization.  This sharing can significantly improve your innovation success rates, along with building a stronger culture for true innovation and creativity.” 

The Learning Organization

To celebrate learning, the organization must first foster learning, and act upon it. Considerable research and insight have been amassed around learning organizations. As explained by Professors David Garvin and Amy Edmondson in their Harvard Business Review article and video interview, the formal definition of a learning organization includes two elements:

  1. Creating, acquiring, interpreting, transferring and retaining knowledge
  2. Modifying the organization’s behavior to respond to new knowledge and insights

Garvin and Edmondson also explain the critical importance of leadership that fosters the learning process and creates a learning environment. They suggest all tiers of leaders should model learning behaviors, from the executive team to managers at all levels.

Johnsonville’s Learning Culture

Innovation Leadership Series: Celebrate Learning


Popular sausage company Johnsonville consistently celebrates learning in its culture. In December 2012, I had the opportunity to share insights from my book about moms with a group of innovation, marketing and insights managers at Johnsonville.  Johnsonville invited me to speak because they recognize moms and dads are important customers for their sausage products.

While I have presented these materials in several different corporations and audiences, I noticed a difference in working with the Johnsonville group.  The group was curious and open to learning, and highly engaged with questions and comments throughout.

As Ralph Stayer and James Belasco write about in The Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring to Excellence, Learning to Let Employees Lead, Johnsonville uses a number of processes to encourage learning throughout the organization for all 1300 employees. While this book was written before MOOCs were available, it is evident that the culture remains highly open to learning. In fact, Ryan Pociask, the leader who organized my learning session, mentioned that he recently enrolled in a Coursera course called Fundamentals of Human Nutrition through the University of Florida.

In addition to its internal culture, the company showed its commitment to learning by sponsoring Best of US Educators, a contest to spotlight educators in the U.S.

In the U.S., Johnsonville is the largest sausage brand by revenue. And a commitment to learning as part of its innovation process has helped pave the way. CEO Ralph Stayer asserts, “We celebrate innovation here.” If this privately-owned company employs learning and innovation to sustain its competitive edge over larger brands, other brands should take note of the success.

Previous article in this series:

Innovation Leadership Series: Get Aligned