HBR: KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT- “How to Make Experience Your Company’s Best Teacher”


Why did I choose this resource?

I chose to read this chapter because I think we, as a company, can benefit greatly by learning how to retrieve knowledge from others in our past mistakes and successes.

What did you learn from it?

In our personal life, experience is the “greatest teacher”. However, once we take a step into the corporate world, that title is immediately diminished without us knowing it. We need to learn how to revisit our past mistakes and successes to build trust with others, make good decisions, and drive our company in the most profitable way.

Key Knowledge

  • After a major event in a company (downfall, product failure, mergers) many individuals are oblivious to the lessons that could be taken from past mistakes. Most people will often say that they knew exactly what went wrong (or right!), but in reality they don’t see all perspectives of each incident. 
  • Managers’ insights are rarely shared openly to others in company, leaving a stiff environment especially after a tragic incident. 
  • Managers have very few tools with which to capture institutional experience, disseminate its lessons, and translate them into effective actions.
  • In a different way of institutional learning, people should be able to reexperience an event together and learn its meaning collectively, similar to a community storytelling.
  • Learning histories raise issues that people want to talk about but have been afraid to discuss openly.

The “Learning History”

A learning history is a written narrative of a company’s recent set of critical episodes: a corporate change event, a new initiative, a widespread innovation, successful product launch, etc.The document ranges from 20-100 pages, most of it presented in two columns.

  • Right Hand Column: In the right hand column, relevant events are described by the people who took part in them, were affected by them, or observed them close-up. Managers, factory line workers, secretaries, and outsiders (customers, etc) tell their part of the situation.
  • Left Hand Column: The left hand column is very different from the right. It contains analysis and commentary by the learning historians, a small team composed of trained outsiders. These outsiders were typically consultants and academics who specialize in organizational learning, as well as concerned and knowledgeable insiders, usually drawn from the company’s HR department. 

How are you using what was learned from this resource?

I learned that through experiences in the corporate world, we should be utilizing past mistakes and successes as we would treat it in our personal lives; learning how to prevent tragedies through mistakes and driving towards good outcomes through past successes.

How can we as a company use this knowledge?

By having a weekly or periodic reflection time with other coworkers within Anant, we can build trust with each other and learn from past mistakes/successes. More employees will feel comfortable speaking out for themselves in the process, and the company will avoid having reserved members.



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