Don’t stop learning: a simple business mantra for success

Don’t stop learning: a simple business mantra for success

Success is single most important objective every organisation aspires to. Hence, the ingredients that bring success are what most organisations strive to have.

Many organisations rely on expert hands to navigate, or depend on leaders’ capabilities to guide their people in the right direction. These strategies work up to a point, but research shows that one of the most important sources of competitive advantage is your entire corporate learning strategy. Yes, it’s as simple as that — learning is the key to your success.

Let’s take a look at some infamous examples: Nokia, the one-time global mobile-phone leader that began a rapid decline into irrelevance after Apple introduced the iPhone; or the many search companies (and yes, that would include Yahoo) that have lost out to Google. While these companies didn’t always fail to innovate, at some point they simply failed to learn.

It is true that organisations with a learning culture will have better chance to survive disruptions, stay relevant and remain competitive. For this reason, many businesses have increased their learning and development (L&D) budgets and invested in countless training programmes. Unfortunately, we have seen that failed programmes far outnumber success stories and improvement rates remain distressingly low.

Why? The answer is simple, yet many overlook the fact that a good and sustainable corporate learning strategy goes far beyond developing good courses; rather, it requires a commitment to learning to become a true learning organisation.

A clear definition of learning has proved to be elusive over the years. I myself am not sure which theory about learning is right, but there’s one thing I’ve always believed in, and I frequently share it with my staff in the form of a mantra: “Learn - Unlearn - Relearn”.

Learning is not just about adding information and knowledge to our repertoire; it is also about unlearning the habits and beliefs that hold us back, and replacing them with habits and beliefs that help us to achieve the desired success.

As change has become the new normal, it is impossible for us to know everything; hence, we need to keep learning. But learning alone or acquiring knowledge alone will not take us anywhere. Instead, we must be willing to unlearn and try to find new methods — even if previous approaches brought about great results. That is why unlearning and relearning usually happen together as a consecutive process.

In terms of building a learning culture, my 25 years of experience in the people and organisational development business has led me to realise that corporate learning does not necessarily have to be formal. In fact, we have tried and seen great results from the “flipping the classroom” method, in which we let learners or participants lead the learning session, choose their own topics, and practise applying what they’ve learned to real work situations. This is much more successful than having a trainer standing in a class and lecturing you with a PowerPoint-based presentation on topics that could be irrelevant to your job.

Simply put, the key to success is not to provide a lot of formal training, but rather to create an environment that supports rapid on-the-job learning. Flipping the classroom does just that — it allows people to learn on the job through “formalised informal learning”.

In a Forbes article titled “5 Keys to Building a Learning Organization”, Josh Bersin wrote: “[C]ompanies which adopt ‘formalised informal learning’ outperform those that focus on formal training by 3 to 1 as [the former] doesn’t just train people, it puts in place content and programmes to help employees quickly learn on the job. This means developing training in small, easy-to-use chunks of content and making it easy to find as needed.”

These days, there are a lot of formalised informal learning techniques for you to choose, from coaching to experiential learning. Opt for the one that is suitable to your people, your culture and your direction. But always keep in mind that the most effective learning method (for corporate organisations or individuals) is to let your people make mistakes, learn the lessons and thrive from them.

Before ending this article, I’d like to remind you all that if there’s one thing you should invest in for your organisation this year, make it your organisational culture. In fact, make it learning culture — one that is open to mistakes and the cluttered process of disruption, and one that iterates and learns at the same time as you operate.

All in all, many research studies have shown that companies that adopt a genuine learning culture significantly outperform their peers in innovation, customer service and profitability. This is because in the course of operations, be it solving a problem, introducing a new product or reengineering a process, we all need to see the world in a new light and act accordingly. In other words, without learning, we simply repeat old practices, meaning change will remain impermanent; thus, improvements are either accidental or ephemeral.


Arinya Talerngsri is Group Managing Director at APMGroup, Thailand's leading Organisation and People Development Consultancy. She can be reached by e-mail at or

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