Experience Is a Commodity: Getting the Most Out of Organizational Learning


Experience is a Commodity. Wait, a what? What does that even mean? It’s not oranges, gold, or crude oil; how can this be? Well, bear with me a moment – a commodity is defined as a good or service that is useful or valued and widely available. Doesn’t that sound like something you may have around your office in spades? The question is; why are you not using this plentiful commodity to better your organizational learning? How can you benefit from the experience of those around you today? The answer is likely more simple than you may think.

As a Navy SEAL, we had to learn from the lessons of those who went before us. We did not have the time nor manpower to learn each lesson individually. We had to benefit from those who went before us in order to scale our experience. Whenever we went into a foreign country, we could very simply log into our lessons learned database and seek out best practices from those who have gone before us.

We knew we were not the first ones going into a particular country and in most cases, none of us had personally been there before. It was invaluable to have this aligned strategy that could help our team scale this experience. Each time we planned to go somewhere, we consulted these lessons; it was a crucial portion of our process.

Even as a Supply Officer in my later years, this lesson learned step in the strategic planning process was invaluable. There was a time when I was responsible for loading out an entire ship that was soon to be commissioned. This meant coordinating with 26 Navy divisions, 6 civilian and government entities, as well as the contractors building the ship, to bring ALL the equipment on board. This was over 3,500 pallets of equipment worth over $35M. How would I, a lowly junior officer accomplish this task? With the lessons learned I incorporated from all the other ships built at this shipyard, that’s how. Due to these lessons, or organizational learning, my team and I were able to accomplish our mission and save half the time from the previous load out of this size. This 3-week savings was valued over $635K to us taxpayers.

Include Experience In Your Strategic Planning Process

Can you imagine the cost of having each member of your organization learn each lesson experiencing it for themselves? If you do not have a solid lessons learned database, you don’t have to imagine, you are finding out. Power plants experience maintenance outages periodically. If they are lucky, these are planned events that have been scheduled for months if not years in advance. During the time from the last planned outage, these plants likely experience a 20-30% turnover. This means that nearly 1/3 of their team is seeing this event for the first time.

Your business is not too different from these power plants. You likely struggle with the strategic planning process as well. Combine this with the fact that nearly 30% of baby boomers are expected to retire within the next 5 years and you may have an experience crisis leading to Task Saturation and other costly events.

Having a solid platform to share lessons learned with your entire organization is critical to scale experience. You need to commoditize organizational knowledge and make it as widely available as possible. The great shift change is coming. If you do not capture all the experiences from those who have gone before you, you will lose it and have to pay for it all over again. This sharing of experience sounds a lot like GOLD to me.