Subba’s Serendipitous moments

February 11, 2007

What determines learning behavior?

Filed under: Business,Competition,Innovation,Learning,Stories,Winning strategies — Subbaraman Iyer @ 10:36 pm

Someone sent me the following story and this led me thinking:

In early 1900s, milkmen in England, would deliver bottles of milk to the door of each country home. As the bottles didn’t have any cap, the titmouse and the red robin (2 British garden songbirds) siphoned the rich cream from the top.

Then somewhere around WW II, the milk bottles started having aluminium caps. Well, for a start both the bird species occassionally figured how to pierce the seals. However by the early 1950s, the entire titmouse population almost a couple of million birds had learned how to pierce the seals. And as far as the red robin was concerned, though some individual birds managed to pierce the seals, as a group they could not break the seals.

The scientists were clearly intrigued because both the titmouse and red robins being songbirds, they had the same range of communication. It was after a long time, that they figured out the reason.

The difference between the titmouse and the red robins was not in their communication abilities, but in their social organizations. Red robins are intensely territorial in nature, do not allow another male bird easily and the communication style is clearly antagonistic. The titmouse on the other hand are very social birds, who move from garden to garden in groups. Their communication is a lot more friendly and they seem to learn faster. They hence increase their chances to survive and evolve faster.

Learning and adaptation can only proceed only so far independently. As organizations try to become learning organizations, it pays to watch what and how information is shared between groups. If best practices need to be shared and adapted, is it because of a top down approach or because there’s a shared identity and a shared view of the future amongst people in the trenches.

Will learners "flock"or will they be dictated or mandated to fly in a particular direction?

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