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Relearning How to Learn Across the Organization


Karasevich, Lawrence P.1, Marilyn Darling2 (1) ExxonMobil, Houston, TX (2) Signet Consulting Group, Boston, MA


Building on the concept of Emergent Learning presented by M. Darling, ExxonMobil has been rethinking the whole concept of learning. Using a definition of learning adapted from the US Army, “a lesson is learned when it actually results in a change in behavior, and that change in behavior produces results predicted by a team’s thinking.”

The weak link in the learning cycle is making the connection between what we learned from past experiences and planning our next steps. This requires a new paradigm for learn­ing that focuses learning toward the future, not the past. What is the question that if answered would lead to improved performance on our next project? Answering that ques­tion requires synthesizing our past experiences and what caused them into a testable hypothesis. The learning happens not with creating the hypothesis, but with testing and val­idating it on our next opportunity. We believe that consistent use of emergent learning tools at a team’s project milestones can lead to improved performance. Several examples of applying emergent learning at ExxonMobil will be described as well as our own learning about the challenge of learning across a large organization.

Based on our observations of the Army and our own experience, learning also requires developing the right leadership climate where leaders lead change through learning, set expectations, make it safe to learn, and hold people, including themselves, accountable for learning.