Is Learning a Competitive Advantage in Your Organization?

Your ability to learn faster than your competition is your only sustainable competitive advantage.”

Arie de Gues – The Living Company 1997

The idea of learning as a core competency or a competitive advantage has been in circulation for more than 15 years now.   Both Peter Senge’s  “The Fifth Discipline” and Arie de Gues’s “The Living Company” were first published in 1997, each making the strong case that the key to an organization’s long-term survival is to learn faster than the competition.  In other words, learning and development need to be thought of as much a core competency or competitive advantage as product design, operations and marketing.


Sure it’s a compelling idea, but I wonder if organizations are getting the point. 

Some training directors may still believe that they’re in the business of providing training – yes, that’s true.  But our real mission is to make sure that the organizations we serve have the skills and the flow of knowledge to stay relevant in the face of overwhelming and accelerating change.  

I saw this video referenced by Nike Chief Learning Officer Andrew Kilshaw in an interview in which he was discussing how crucial learning was to keeping Nike the industry leader.   You remember Nike, don’t you?  They’re the $24 billion dollar software and social media company that makes the Fuelband bracelet and online social community.  They were also recognized as the #1 Most Innovative Company by Fast Company magazine.  Oh yeah, they make shoes too.  Most of all they make learning happen.

Take a look at this video and ask yourself – is your organization is committed to making learning a competitive advantage?   Is it a listed value?  A stated core competency?   Does management know what best practices learning and knowledge exchange looks like at the individual, work unit and enterprise level?   Are learning and knowledge exchange publicly recognized and rewarded?

 If you answered no, what does that say about your company’s prospects for being around in 10 years?

You can follow me on twitter at @CharlieTruitt1



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