Oops I did it again – Britney Spears and learning companies

I commented on the concept of a learning company in my posts on Lady Gaga and David Bowie recently.  The idea of a learning company is a company which learns faster than its competitors and speed of new product / service delivery is vital in today’s business world.  Many academics, such as Peter Senge, Chris Argyris and Peter Senge have commented on this idea, which Britney Spears unwittingly stumbled upon in her classic hit “Oops, I did it again”.  Let’s see Ms Spears in action:

In the context of business, “oops I did it again” refers to the tendency of businesses to repeat themselves, sometimes in the face of compelling evidence telling them to change course.  Organisational learning can mean several things:

Single loop learning – Where we keep existing values and introduce new behaviours – this is often dubbed ‘continuous improvement’, where we look for better ways to do existing things.

Double loop learning – A fundamental reassessment of the way we operate – often more radical and therefore even more difficult.

Companies find it intensely difficult to institute learning at an organisation wide level, be it single or double loop learning.  Marks and Spencer nearly went out of business through having such a strong culture that it did not learn from its customers.  Manifestations of this included a refusal to accept credit card payments for many years and their disastrous initial expansion into Europe.  On the other hand, Toyota have based much of their growth in recent years on behaving as an organisation that learns, alongside other approaches such as lean thinking.  This has given them an incredible edge compared with their competitors.  I have just come back from giving a keynote on this very topic at the 7th International HR Leadership Conference in Athens on this topic, which is central to a turnaround in the way in which businesses operate in the new world order.  I also met Evan Davis from the BBC programme Dragons’ Den last week, where we discussed the need for some new thinking if we are to create a sustainable turnaround in the economy and I shall post separately on this topic soon.

Lessons from Britney:  Don’t repeat yourself.  Learn and adapt.

I have scoured Britney Spears back catalogue for other songs that have a business leadership lesson in them and, frankly, I have failed.  “My perogative”, “Everytime”, “Toxic” – not one transferable business lesson, unless someone can spot something I have missed.  So, I have no particular reason for including the video of “Baby one more time”, except for its own value!

p.s. My new book ‘Punk Rock People Management – A no-nonsense guide to hiring, inspiring and firing staff’ is available FREE via the Punk Rock People Management webpage.   A print and e-book version are also available at PUNK PM.  Britney Spears gets a mention as an honorary punk rocker in the book, even though she is not one.

HR without all the boll...cks - Photo courtesy of Lindsay Wakelin Photography

Finally, let’s hear a Louis Armstrong mashup of Britney’s masterpiece:


11 responses to “Oops I did it again – Britney Spears and learning companies

  1. If they had music videos when Satchmo recorded his version, where might the setting have been? Hopefully the French Quarter of NOLA. Thanks for that superb juxtaposition of ‘Pops’ and Pop. Yes, my friend Peter, change is truly hard for companies of all sizes (read: for human beings).

    Talk soon!


  2. This from Linkedin:

    Simon Strong • Organisations are specifically designed to drive out new thinking. That is why they ave to outsource innovation and creativity to external agencies, or external business departments in a different geography way from the main thrust of the business. Why? Imagine if everyone did their work their own way? Each product or experience won;d be different. And consistency is at the heart of business building (efficiency, branding etc). That is why process and procedure is installed. And managers ensure that people do not deviate from those rules and regs.

    A couple of thought starters to create learning organisations we need to move away from the idea of ‘training’ people to do things, and into creating opportunities for people to apply their talents and learn within the organisation. We need to redefine the role of management (or delist the role).

    Ultimately, I think we need to redefine the role of business from ‘making money’, to something like ‘sustainably interesting’ (most people go to work and do not have the opportunity to do something that is interesting to them).

    Peter Cook • Thanks for your thought starters on how to encourage people to think and apply that thinking at work. I feel that I’ve had a lucky life in working for The Wellcome Foundation and the Open University, both places that encouraged a culture and climate of personal and collective learning, but I agree with the general tenor of your para 1 – it’s pretty uncommon etc.


    • “Why? Imagine if everyone did their work their own way?”… I know this causes all kinds of fear in management but I think as long as the ‘interfaces’ are well defined then how and individual or team achieve the goal could (and should) be up to them.

      I think the import think for companies is to know which teams and doing well and those not so well and have an education program (brown bags etc) that allows everyone to move at the maximum ‘velocity’.


  3. This from Linkedin:

    Ed Trayner (aka PJM) • Hi guys

    Seeing this post prompted me to refer back to one of my degree books: The Fifth Discipline, The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization (Peter Senge). I opened the book (first time in years) and was intreagued by the page I landed on and wondered if there was some significance. The chapter was Personal Mastery, one sentence was ‘When personal mastery beccomes a discipline – an activity we integrate into our lives…

    According to past surveys done by TrainerBase, it appears that the majority of learning and development practitioners came to be what they are by accident; they did not set out to be trainers, coaches, facilitators or whatever other label they pin to themselves (myself included). As such, to many, their quest for personal master is vested in other ‘career’ channels/topics (what they qualified as) and not in the activity they now find themselves doing. And as a result of this, those individuals neither have the expertise nor more likely the inclination to push for their adopted (or more likely imposed) profession to be at the forefront (that would require far to much effort). I have heard that in some organisations the route to advancement is to spend a period of time in training; this diversion seen as an unwarranted distraction to the individual and one they have no wish to defend or develop.

    Whilst I may be portraying a rather downbeat view of learning and development practitioners I have seen evidence of the unparalleled contribution to survival and success of business (one such case being against all the odds within a public sector organisations that had shelved its training and development budget). I cannot deny that well positioned learning and development activities at the core of behavioural change within organisations make a huge difference. I would suggest that these successes are the exception rather than the rule.

    Learning and development is an ill defined and possibly undefinable service (ask 10 people what L&D is and for and you will likely get 15 answers) as such it and the practitioners within it struggle to put forward a coherent voice (each disperate voice being a valid and robuts as the next). Many a body has endeavoured to ‘speak’ for the sector (my own failed attempt included) and some do shout from the rooftops. To a large extent I believe that much of the shouting falls on the deaf ears of a group of individuals who have opted or been forced out of ‘mainstream’ careers. Those who have entered the freelance world have often done so for a lifestyle reason (and I am not decrying this as there are some damn good trainers in this group, many are on TrainerBase) and as the term freelance suggests; they are beholdent to themselves and are unregulated (and to the most part wish to stay so).

    And where am I going with this diatribe? Nowhere in particular other than I do believe learning and development has a great opportunity to beat the recession and transform organisations (beat the competition into dust) but it is its own worst enemy for no individual or particular fault of its own. What a quandry.

    Sorry to ramble.

    AKA Ed
    Found for TrainerBase
    Helping trainers find business and business find trainers.
    The Perfect place for Trainers


  4. “oops I did it again”… how many times have a seen this before I started working for myself. After outsourcing and it going really wrong arguably because of lack of control and communication was… to outsource more and deliberately communicate less and control them less… “oops I did it again” just a lot worse!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.