Use a systematic mechanism of learning — have a bias towards data (Learning I)

Marcus Guest
2 min readOct 26, 2023

Birds are born altricially, which means they are still underdeveloped at the time of birth so, in order to survive, their parents have to feed them. But this creates obstacles when the birds venture out into the outside world on their own. As you can see from the video this crested myna bird assumes it need only open its beak for food to jump into it. If it’s going to survive it’s going to need to learn.

Business are also born altricially, underdeveloped at the time of their founding. Founders often have knowledge and experience they can draw on and, as their business becomes more successful, they can hire others with different knowledge and experience they need. However, as companies grow they fall for the business equivalent of relying on food dropped into their mouths — copying industry best practices — as this seems like a tried and trusted way to develop the business further.

But there are some serious problems with copying ‘best practices’ — one of the main ones being that copying someone else’s past practices (which, incidentally, may not work in your conditions) means you you are destined to always be playing catch up and never getting ahead (because those whose past practices you are copying are busy developing new breakthroughs).

However, the 2020s have created another, existential problem for those who rely on ‘best practices’ — uncertainty. What do you do when the world changes in dramatic and unexpected ways that no-one in your market has dealt with before, meaning there are no ‘best practices’ to follow? Do you, like the myna bird, keep opening your beak hoping things magically jump into it?

The answer is, of course, to learn how to do things yourselves. Yet, if your organisation has a long history of relying on ‘best practices’ you may not have developed the capabilities to explore and experiment that is required for learning. Untested ideas may get shot down early as people fear being the first to do something or the return on investment can not be estimated yet. But, if you haven’t cultivated the ability to be a learning organisation, you’ll be out-competed by one that is.

Developing the ability to systematically learn, quickly, effectively and inexpensively should be high up on your lists of main strategic challenges for 2024. Are you up for it?

This principle — use a systematic mechanism of learning — is part of the Wardley Mapping method for helping organisations communicate more clearly, develop effective teams, improve operations, accelerate learning, lead more decisively and structure themselves to constantly adapt to change. For more on this principle watch the video.

Crested myna video h/t @rainmaker1973



Marcus Guest

Govern the state by being straightforward; And wage war by being crafty. — Laozi, Tao Te Ching