The organization is an entity which can be both viewed and assessed through a multitude of lenses, this includes the organizational learning approach. The organizational learning approach focuses on how individuals, groups, and organizations notice and interpret information and use it to alter their fit with their environments (Aldrich & Ruef, 2009, p. 47). The varying schools of thought around viewing organizations included lenses for viewing each as an ecosystem, as a combination of symbolic interactions, and as a series of transaction costs. This view looks specifically into organizations as a network of persons learning and growing according to their environment. Aldrich & Ruef (2009) continue, “The adaptive learning perspective, pioneered by Cyert and March (1963), treats organizations as goal-oriented activity systems that learn from experience by repeating apparently successful behaviors and discarding unsuccessful ones… From the adaptive learning perspective, variations are generated when performance fails to meet targeted aspiration levels, triggering problem-driven search routines” (p. 47).
The above suggests that we seek ‘a better mousetrap’ not only when we feel the current has gone stale, yet when targets are not met as well. This should come as no surprise, yet what does require reinforcement is determining when targets are missed in the first place. How do we determine we’ve missed the mark, if the mark is not plainly labeled before we begin? In short, we do not know in advance, and therefore cannot always know when the mark has been unintentionally averted. Adaptation then requires not only the ability to alter course according to outcome, yet is equally predicated on knowing the outcome sought to begin with. This appeal to clarity reverberates throughout both management process and strategic clarity. Once ready, we have just one consideration left for the moment before action, recognizing how much we can achieve based on what we’ve already done to-date.
Aldrich & Ruef (2009) complete the thought with, “Prior organizational learning creates knowledge structures and sets of conceptual categories that filter subsequent information and thus influence further learning. Cohen and Levinthal (1990) borrowed the term absorptive capacity from industrial economics to refer to the level of stored knowledge and experience that make organizations better able to learn from further experience.” (p. 48). Absorptive capacity is then this final consideration. We take into account where we want to go as an organization, what benchmarks will alert us to whether progress is being made, while taking into consideration what we’ve accomplished/learned in the past, and we have a further informed determination of just how adaptable we can be collectively.
Aldrich, H.E. & Ruef, M. (2009). Organizations evolving. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.