Creating a Learning Obsessed Corporate Culture – WD 40 Case Study


The Harvard Business Review recently published an interesting article about creating a “learning obsessed corporate culture” featuring a case study on WD40, the lubricant supplier whose straw equipped cans help loosen bolts and make metal slide more easily. Tough minded optimist Bill Taylor has written about leadership and innovation cleverly over multiple issues by asking questions that most management consultants fail to ask – such as why entrepreneurs should be missionaries, not mercenaries. In Simply Brilliant, Taylor asks why is it so hard for subject matter experts to be innovative in the fields they know so well? 

“It’s the “paradox of expertise”: The more closely you’ve looked at an industry, the more successful you’ve been in a company or a profession, the harder it can be to see new patterns, prospects, and possibilities.Which is why the best leaders are the most insatiable learners. And why all leaders, wherever they are in the organization, have to keep asking themselves, Am I learning as fast as the world is changing?”

For CEO Garry Ridge, the key is to embrace “learning moments” and shed fear. Ridge defines a “learning moment as “a period of frustration, a burst of inspiration, a breakthrough of collaboration in which people stumble upon a problem, unearth an opportunity, or fail miserably at an initiative, and then communicate what they’ve learned without fear of reprisal.”

“Learning moments can be positive or negative, but they are never bad, so long as they are shared for the benefit of all,” Ridge says. “I want people to be inquisitive, I want people to ask questions and take chances. My job is to create a company of learners. I like to ask my people and myself, When’s the last time you did something for the first time?

Punch line for Ridge and his employees is to admit that they don’t know something so that triggers a “Maniac Pledge” when they all agree to learn something new together – that’s a group bonding experience that we should all have in our workplaces beyond mere collaboration.

Taylor notes, “you can download my in-depth case study on the “culture of learning” at WD-40 from my website for free.” THANKS!