Harvard Business Review March - April 1994
Page 14

The Learning Mind-Set

Who's Got It, What It's Good For

By Anne G. Perkins

With all the talk about learning organizations, researchers at the University of Virginia's Colgate Darden Graduate School of Business Administration have been focusing their study on learning managers: those who approach key events as opportunities to learn rather than simple checkpoints in the march forward. It's a mind-set that is both rare (only 10% of the executives interviewed had it) and valued (those with this mind-set received the highest job performance ratings of the entire group).

In her study, Associate Professor Lynn Isabella found a grouping of distinct characteristics that place learning mindset managers apart from their peers.

If you don't recognize yourself in that description, you're not alone. The vast majority of executives in the study approached their work in a far more methodical, linear manner and experienced key events most commonly as points marking their progress or offering choices rather than as experiences that changed their way of thinking.

While those who have it are in the minority, the learning mind-set does seem particularly suited to certain tasks. In a study of strategic alliances undertaken at Colgate Darden, Professor Robert Spekman, Isabella, Professor Tom MacAvoy, and Research Associate Ted Forbes are finding the learning mind-set to be critical to getting these alliances started and to weathering difficult times during their evolution. "There is something about the learning mind-set that allows the alliance manager to walk in and out of different cultures or situations with ease and to understand the intricate set of relationships needed for the alliance to succeed," explains Isabella.

While the learning mind-set may be useful to individuals and valued by compan- ies, Isabella warns that it is not a shortcut to organizational change. One Fortune 50 corporation that she and her colleagues studied had created an evaluation structure that rewarded people with a learning mind-set above all others. "But I wouldn't call this company a learning organization by any stretch of the imagination," notes Isabella.