New Book From UVA Darden Professor Provides Blueprint for Creating a Leading-Edge Learning Organization

By Matt Charles

With the advancing technological revolution in which robots and artificially intelligent smart machines will likely replace human workers at a rapidly increasing clip, University of Virginia Darden School of Business Professor Edward D. Hess has authored the forthcoming book Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization (Columbia University Press), which provides insights on how to compete successfully in this new environment. Hess also serves as Batten Executive-in-Residence at Darden’s Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Learn or Die explores two critical questions: How can individuals become better and faster learners? How can organizations create learning systems whereby they can continuously learn faster and better than the competition? The book also provides a blueprint for what Hess calls “the organization of the future.”

Hess’ work related to his findings and recommendations from Learn or Die has appeared recently in several notable publications, including WiredInc.Forbes and The Huffington Post.

“Winning in a globalized technology-enabled world demands continual adaptation and that requires being able to learn — individually and organizationally — better and faster than the competition, which will include smart machines,” said Hess. “All of us have to become better thinkers, innovators, experimenters and collaborators and that calls for us to become more emotionally and socially intelligent. Thus, our challenge, and the challenge for our children, is to become expert learners.”

Learn or Die examines the process of learning from both an individual and an organizational standpoint. From an individual perspective, the book discusses the cognitive, emotional, motivational, attitudinal and behavioral factors that promote better learning. It is by being able to think more critically and innovatively with highly developed emotional and social intelligence, Hess predicts, that individuals will survive a technological revolution, where the business of the future will be comprised of some combination of humans, robots and smart machines. Organizationally, the book focuses on what kind of culture, leadership behaviors, HR policies, measurements and rewards are necessary to drive best learning behaviors and enable critical and innovative thinking, candid learning conversations and effective collaboration.

The book confronts the reality that humans are naturally reflexive, lazy thinkers who seek confirmation of what they think to be true and are emotionally defensive protectors of self-image, a reality that makes seeking both the truth and high-quality learning difficult.

Top learning organizations discussed in Learn or Die include Intuit Inc., United Parcel Service, W. L. Gore & Associates and IDEO. The book also provides unprecedented access to the unique, leading-edge learning system at the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates LP.

Hess will share some of the lessons learned from Learn or Die in the Darden Executive Education program Drive Business Growth and Innovation: Mindsets, Behaviors and Tools, which he will co-teach with United Technologies Corporation Professor of Business Administration Jeanne Liedtka from 12 to 17 October. Learn or Die will also be the program textbook in the new Executive Education course Learning:The Key to Individual & Organizational Innovation from 17 to 22 May 2015.

“In Learn or Die, Hess knits an impressive fabric of insights from widely disparate strands of thought, experience, research and real cases,” said Darden Dean Robert F. Bruner. “Hess harnesses new evidence to challenge old nostrums. Practical and provocative, this book ranges across vital issues such as learning, innovation, team-building and leadership. Read this book and prosper; read it before your competitor gets to it.”

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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Darden School of Business
University of Virginia