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Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization (Columbia Business School Publishing) Hardcover – September 30, 2014

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Editorial Reviews


As digital technologies race ahead there is a growing need for creativity and innovation. But how can we build organizations that foster the highest levels of creativity and innovation? Learn or Die is a blueprint for creating such organizations.

(Erik Brynjolffson, Co-author, The Second Machine Age)

In Learn or Die Ed Hess knits an impressive fabric of insights from widely disparate strands of thought, experience, research, and real cases. 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.

(Robert Bruner, Dean, Darden School of Business)

This book does a beautiful job bringing together the most important ideas in organizational learning, established by academics and practitioners over the past thirty years or more, into one place.

(Amy C. Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management, Harvard Business School)

An excellent book. In Learn or Die, Edward D. Hess captures a central element to enhancing and sustaining success as a business organization or as one of its leaders--being a high-performance learning organization. This book is a thought-provoking study of the technological advances making this need ever more relevant and provides a comprehensive roadmap of the culture, leadership, employee learning behaviors, HR policies and other organizational processes necessary to build and lead such an organization.

(Roger Carlile, Executive Vice President and CFO, FTI Consulting)

Learn or Die is a thoughtful and easy-to-read synthesis of the leading thinking on organizational and individual learning. Not only does Hess neatly summarizes what a savvy business person needs to know, but he also provides practical suggestions that will allow the reader to take action. This book contains essential lessons on an important topic--I highly recommend it.

(Joe Timko, chief strategy officer, ADP)

Learn or Die is a tremendous look into the requirements of high performance individual and team learning. Ed Hess does a masterful job of conveying that learning happens best in a humanistic work environment, enabled by leaders who in reality are great coaches striving to serve others. Learn or Die will help anyone who wants to improve themselves--it changes the game.

(Sam Presti, executive vice president and general manager of Oklahoma City Thunder)

The smart money is on innovation, which depends on personal and group learning. Ed Hess combines a tour d'horizon of what is known about individual learning and about conducive environments for organizational learning with fascinating case studies of companies who use learning to win. Any leader who needs to encourage innovation will find information and reflections that will be both humbling and inspiring.

(Michael Balay, head of global strategy, Cargill, Inc.)

Learn or Die in a masterful manner makes it clear that consistent business growth can only be achieved through learning--there is no other way--and that the pace of business change today requires a scientific approach to building a high performance learning organization. For those responsible for leading, Learn or Die should be mandatory reading.

(Terry S. Brown, chairman and chief executive officer, Edens Investment Trust)

Learn or Die allows the reader to not only to visualize the future, but also, and more importantly, to create the future by unleashing the power and potential of building a learning organization. It has been demonstrated that strategies, systems and processes can be copied by others, yet a company's people, and the way they learn, are true differentiators. Ed Hess captures the essence of a high performing organization and shares his "secret sauce" through an actionable blueprint for becoming a leading-edge learner and creating a high performing organization.

(Jeffrey S. Shuman, senior vice president and chief human resources officer, Quest Diagnostics)

Ed Hess is doing some of the most interesting and important work in management today and his newest book, Learn or Die, is already my personal favorite. This book is characteristic of all of Ed's work--providing wise but straight-forward and pragmatic advice on finding the right people, creating the right environment and installing the right processes to embed learning. In a globalizing world, where adapting to and learning from difference is likely to be the most critical source of competitive advantage, Learn or Die is a must read for any manager interested in solid, research-based advice on how to survive the increasingly unpredictable, chaotic world we live in.

(Jeanne Liedtka, coauthor of Solving Problems with Design Thinking)

To achieve and sustain real business success in the 21st century--individual and organizational--you need to understand and leverage the new science of learning. Fortunately, there's "Learn or Die" by Ed Hess, who explains the "why" and "how" better than anybody. This deeply informed, yet practical book provides the new road map for a better "you" and a better company. Read or miss out.

(Andy Fleming, CEO, Way to Grow, Inc.)

Learn or Die makes a compelling case for the need to create high-performance, human-oriented learning organizations--and for the remarkable degree to which we are all capable of succeeding as leaders by following a path of ongoing, integrative learning. Combining fascinating behavioral research, actionable advice, and superb analysis of real-world business examples, Ed Hess has crafted essential reading for those seeking to prepare their organizations--and themselves--to thrive in a global marketplace characterized by rapid change, fierce competition, and a desperate need for leadership based on principles that are smart, sustainable, and, above all, humane.

(Ming-Jer Chen, former president, Academy of Management)

I read Learn or Die and found myself intrigued and frankly, a little uncomfortable. So I read it a second time and found that it made me rethink many aspects of my own management style and the guidance I provide our portfolio companies.

What hit me like a ton of bricks from Ed's research was the realization that the current approach based on traditional management techniques and performance metrics was unlikely to be both effective and sustainable in the rapidly changing, Darwinian world of venture capital investing and technology innovation. His vision of the learning systems and cultural commitments that define a truly high performance organization is a must read for any business that wants to prepare itself to meet the challenges and succeed in todays business environment--before its too late.

(Frank H. Foster, managing partner, Draper Fisher Jurvetson Frontier and the Gideon Hixon Fund)

This is by far the best book I've read on the subject of learning.

(Shane Parrish Farnam Street Weekly)

Learn or Die is a book everyone who is serious about learning and growth - personally or organizationally - should read. If you thought you were serious about it, Learn or Die will take you to a whole new level with tools, case studies, and insights that will challenge your commitment to learning.

(Leadership Now)

A must-read for learning professionals.

(TD: Talent Development Magazine)

Hess does the great service of examining the processes of both organizational and individual learning.... [He] conducts a dialogue with readers that is refreshingly unobscured by jargon and cant.... How refreshing it is to have a serious discussion of these important issues. Bravo!

(Choice 1900-01-00)

Book Description

A cutting-edge synthesis of behavioral psychology, cognitive science, and educational theory that teaches businesses how to learn better and faster.


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Product Details

  • Series: Columbia Business School Publishing
  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (September 30, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231170246
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231170246
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #74,452 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Edward D. Hess is a Professor of Business Administration and Batten Executive-in-Residence at the Darden Graduate School of Business, The University of Virginia.He spent over 30 years in the business world prior to joining academia as a lawyer, investment banker, strategy consultant, and entrepreneur.

He is the author/editor of 11 books, over 60 business school cases, and over 60 articles dealing with high performance learning organizations, growth, values-based leadership, and family businesses. His current research is in the areas of learning cultures, systems and processes. His work can be found @ www.EDHLTD.com. His work has appeared in over 300 media outlets worldwide the last 4 years including WSJ Radio, Dow Jones Radio,Bloomberg Radio, CNBC, NPR, Fox Business News, Forbes, Bloomberg, Business Week, Investor's Business Daily, CFO Magazine, Leadership Excellence, Chief Learning Officer, Washington Post, Financial Executive,Big Think, Business Insider, MSNBC Radio, and Money Magazine.

He has extensive experience advising and financing growth companies and multi-generational family businesses. He also has extensive research and consulting experience in the areas of public company organic growth and is the co-author of the Darden Growth/Innovation Model. His organic growth research has produced the concepts of The Growth System, The Growth Risks Audit, The Organic Growth Index financial model, and The Organic Growth Progression.

His business experience includes tenures with Warburg Paribas Becker, Boettcher & Company, The Robert M. Bass Group, Jones Lang Wooten, and Arthur Andersen Finance.

He is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of the University of Florida, and obtained a J.D. from the University of Virginia and an LL.M. ( Taxation) from New York University.

He was raised in Carrollton, Georgia and worked his way through college as a student football mathematician for the Florida Gators. He is happily ( most days) married, loves to cook, travel, read, and play with his grandchildren and two tibetian terriers.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Katherine Ludwig on October 7, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Although intended for organizational leaders, this book has become my new parenting manual. The author explains how organizations must enable the kinds of environments, processes, mindsets, and behaviors that facilitate continuous learning and innovation, which he says organizations increasingly need to survive in a world of rapid technological change and uncertainty. He goes on to describe how those processes and environments encourage learning by enabling humans to overcome their innate lazy thinking and cognitive biases and to manage their egos and emotions. This is exactly what we should be teaching our children how to do! We need to help them become the type of critical thinkers and collaborators that organizations increasingly need. According to the science that the author lays out, that means teaching our children how to spot their biases and understand when their emotions are getting in the way of thinking clearly. We need to help them have the right kind of mindset that allows them to persevere and learn from failure. In addition, as the advances in smart machines, robotics and the like continue to displace more and more humans from a growing variety of jobs and professions, it seems tantamount that we arm our children with the tools they will need to
compete with the automatons. What this book shows is that those tools and skills are higher-order thinking, emotional intelligence, and ego management. That is not necessarily what today's schools or parents are prioritizing. I hope this book will help more people get the message.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By John Gibbs TOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover
How does one become a better and faster learner, and how does one build an organization that is more adaptable and learns better and faster than the competition? Those are the questions which Edward Hess aims to answer in this book. The book aspires to synthesize recent developments in the understanding of how people learn, the role of emotions, and environmental factors which can assist or inhibit learning.

According to the author, a high performance learning organization requires the right kinds of people, in the right learning environment, using the right learning processes, to continuously learn faster and better than the competition. The right kinds of people are those who have the right motivation for and approach to learning. The right learning environment is an organizational culture in which curiosity and creativity are encouraged. The right learning processes include effective learning conversations.

While Part 1 of the book describes the theory, Part 2 tells the story of three different learning organizations, with the major example being Bridgewater Associates, LP. Bridgewater seems to have an extraordinary culture in which every employee’s performance is continually being reviewed. The firm is run according to an extensive list of management principles written by the firm’s founder Ray Dalio. The firm is an idea meritocracy where learning and self-improvement are cultural pillars. However, the author’s description left me with the feeling that the firm’s environment might be a bit too controlling for most people.

The book draws ideas from a number of different management, leadership and educational experts. I suspect that most business leaders do not give organizational learning the priority that it deserves; this book should help to redress the balance.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Lisa Cannell on October 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover
"Learn or Die" resonated greatly with me and represented my observations as a business leader and 20 years as an HR/OD professional. It cuts to the important questions organizations need to face and provides real life examples that readers can use to think "how would that work in my organization?" It is more than a how-to book and is provocative and forward thinking. I highly recommend for all leaders and HR/OD practitioners who are concerned about the future of their organizations.
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Format: Hardcover
As a practicing leader, executive coach and global leadership professor, I really liked how well and clearly the book connected today's complex leadership and organizational development challenges with research-based insights as to "how". It unfolds masterfully as to how one develops a learning mindset, and, in the process, can create a learning environment that enables innovation and sustains high-performance.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By JKDaum on October 6, 2014
Format: Hardcover
In a world that will continue to be transformed by technology, the Internet, 3-D printing, Artificial Intelligence and smart robots, Hess explains that to remain relevant, we humans will need to adapt and to learn.

Learn or Die explains how you can become a better, faster learner and build an organization that learns better and faster than the competition.

On a personal level, Hess explains that leadership is not about getting gold stars and all A’s, all the time; it’s about being human, engaging with people, setting aside ego and fear, admitting mistakes, tolerating failure and showing humility.

At the organizational level, Hess gets an inside look at high-performance companies such as Bridgewater Associates (the world’s largest hedge fund), Intuit and UPS to share their learning cultures and techniques.

Extensively researched and easy to read, the book offers critical thinking tools and tips for creating a learning environment and hiring and training the right people.

This book will change the way you think.
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