Friday, September 23, 2016

WD-40: Building a Culture of Learning Maniacs

Bill Taylor has written a terrific article for Harvard Business Review about what he learned from studying WD-40 and its CEO, Garry Ridge.  Taylor explains that many managers at established firms struggle with the "paradox of expertise."  By that, he means that the more experienced and knowledgeable you are in a particular field or industry, the more challenging it can be to see emerging trends, opportunities, and developments in that domain.  You become trapped by conventional wisdom, well-established rules of thumb, and implicit assumptions.   How do you overcome the paradox of expertise?  Taylor argues that you must become an insatiable learner.  As an example, he turns to Ridge and the culture he has created at WD-40.   The company has a long track record of success with an iconic brand.  One could easily see how such a firm could become complacent.  Ridge knew that the paradox of expertise could become his organization's undoing.  He set out to create a powerful learning culture.  Taylor explains:

Indeed, Ridge is so serious about the commitment to learning that he insists everyone at the company takes the “WD-40 Maniac Pledge,” a solemn vow to become, in his words, a “learning maniac”:

I am responsible for taking action, asking questions, getting answers, and making decisions. I won’t wait for someone to tell me. If I need to know, I’m responsible for asking. I have no right to be offended that I didn’t “get this sooner.” If I’m doing something others should know about, I’m responsible for telling them.

Ridge even sends a subtle message to employees with each email that he writes. According to Taylor, his electronic signature contains a phrase often attributed to the great Italian artist and sculptor, Michelangelo: "Ancora imparo." In English, that means, "I am still learning." People used the phrase in the 16th century to describe how one could and should continue to learn in old age just as he or she did as a child.

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