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Sightings: What Does an African Look Like?

HR: You're Doing It Wrong - Your Colleague Smells Bad. And?

How far should your company go to address touchy workplace issues?

Workspace: The Check Is in the Mail

When you don’t pay on time, your business is bound to pay some bad consequences.

Theory to Practice: Thinking With Emotions

Learning new things demands resolving old conflicts between feelings and logic.

Openers: Just Say Yes?

Avoiding groupthink begins with what’s in your own head.

What Have We Learned?

Fall 2012

Soundings

What Have We Learned?

By Eric Ries

Eric Ries is author of the entrepreneurship blog Startup Lessons Learned. From The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses (Crown Business). ©2011

As an entrepreneur, nothing plagued me more than the question of whether my company was making progress toward creating a successful business. As an engineer and later as a manager, I was accustomed to measuring progress by making sure our work proceeded according to plan, was high-quality, and cost about what we had projected.

After many years as an entrepreneur, I started to worry about measuring progress in this way. What if we found ourselves building something that nobody wanted? In that case, what did it matter if we did it on time and on budget? When I went home at the end of a day’s work, the only thing I knew for sure was that I kept people busy and spent money that day. I hoped that my team’s efforts took us closer to our goal. If we wound up taking a wrong turn, I’d have to take comfort in the fact that at least we’d learned something important.soundings8

Unfortunately, “learning” is the oldest excuse in the book for a failure of execution. It’s what managers fall back on when they fail to achieve the results they promised. Entrepreneurs, under pressure to succeed, are wildly creative when it comes to demonstrating what they have learned. We can all tell a good story when our job, career, or reputation depends on it.

However, learning is cold comfort to the employees who are following an entrepreneur into the unknown. It is cold comfort to the investors who allocate precious money, time, and energy to entrepreneurial teams. It is cold comfort to the organizations—large and small—that depend on entrepreneurial innovation to survive. You can’t take learning to the bank; you can’t spend it or invest it. You cannot give it to customers and cannot return it to limited partners. Is it any wonder that learning has a bad name in entrepreneurial and managerial circles?

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The Conference Board Review is the quarterly magazine of The Conference Board, the world's preeminent business membership and research organization. Founded in 1976, TCB Review is a magazine of ideas and opinion that raises tough questions about leading-edge issues at the intersection of business and society.