Learn or Die by Edward D. Hess
  • Title: Learn or Die
  • Subtitle: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization
  • Author(s): Edward D. Hess
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Year: 2014-09-23
  • ISBN-10: 0231170246
  • ISBN-13: 9780231170246


“Learn or Die” by Edward Hess is a thought-provoking book that explores the critical importance of continuous learning and adaptability for individuals and organizations in today’s rapidly changing world. Hess argues that in the face of technological advancements, global competition, and uncertainty, the ability to learn and adapt is the key to survival and success. Through a combination of research, case studies, and practical insights, the book provides a compelling argument for fostering a learning culture and embracing a growth mindset.

The book highlights the challenges and barriers that hinder effective learning, such as fear of failure, ego-driven behaviors, and a focus on short-term results. Hess emphasizes that to truly learn and grow, individuals and organizations must be willing to embrace vulnerability, take risks, and learn from mistakes. He introduces the concept of “learned humility,” where individuals acknowledge their limitations and actively seek feedback and new knowledge to continuously improve. “Learn or Die” offers actionable strategies for individuals and leaders to cultivate a learning mindset, build a culture of curiosity and collaboration, and foster innovation and creativity within their organizations. Overall, “Learn or Die” is a compelling and inspiring call to action, urging readers to embrace learning as a lifelong journey and positioning it as a critical driver of personal and organizational success.

Book Review

“Learn or Die” by Edward Hess is a compelling and timely book that delves into the significance of continuous learning and adaptability in the face of a rapidly changing world. Drawing from a wealth of research, case studies, and practical insights, Hess makes a compelling case for the necessity of learning and growth for both individuals and organizations. The book provides a thought-provoking exploration of the barriers to effective learning, the power of a growth mindset, and the strategies to cultivate a culture of learning.

One of the key themes in the book is the concept of “learned humility,” which Hess argues is essential for effective learning and personal growth. He presents the example of Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup Company, who transformed the company by fostering a culture of humility, vulnerability, and openness to feedback. Conant’s leadership style encouraged employees to learn from failures, seek continuous improvement, and embrace a growth mindset. By fostering a culture of humility and learning, Campbell Soup Company achieved remarkable improvements in innovation, employee engagement, and business performance.

Hess also emphasizes the importance of embracing failure as an integral part of the learning process. He shares the example of Pixar Animation Studios, where the culture of accepting and learning from failure played a crucial role in its success. Pixar’s co-founder, Ed Catmull, encouraged a culture of openness, where employees felt comfortable sharing their ideas and even their failures. This approach fostered a creative and collaborative environment where learning and innovation thrived, leading to the creation of some of the most successful animated films in history.

Throughout the book, Hess addresses the fear of change and the resistance to learning that many organizations face. He provides practical strategies for leaders to overcome these challenges and create an environment conducive to learning and growth. For example, Hess suggests that leaders must model a learning mindset themselves, showing vulnerability and a willingness to learn from their mistakes. He also emphasizes the importance of encouraging employees to take risks, experiment, and learn from failures without fear of punishment.

“Learn or Die” is a powerful reminder that learning is not just a one-time event but a lifelong journey. It calls upon individuals and organizations to embrace continuous learning and adaptability as a competitive advantage in an ever-evolving world. Hess’s insightful analysis, supported by relevant examples, offers valuable lessons for leaders and individuals seeking to thrive in today’s dynamic and uncertain business landscape. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in personal growth, organizational development, and building a culture of innovation and resilience through the power of learning.

Word Count: 431

Target Audience

The book “Learn or Die” by Edward Hess is recommended reading for a diverse audience, and its target audience includes:

  • Business Leaders and Managers Business leaders and managers seeking to foster a culture of continuous learning and adaptability within their organizations will find “Learn or Die” highly relevant. The book provides practical insights and strategies for creating an environment that encourages innovation, risk-taking, and learning from failures. It urges leaders to model a growth mindset and cultivate a culture of humility, vulnerability, and openness to feedback, all of which are essential for driving organizational success and resilience in a rapidly changing world.

  • Human Resources and Learning & Development Professionals HR professionals and learning specialists will find “Learn or Die” a valuable resource for designing and implementing learning programs that drive employee growth and development. The book offers insights into overcoming the barriers to effective learning, such as fear of failure and ego-driven behaviors, and provides guidance on creating a learning culture that nurtures curiosity, collaboration, and continuous improvement.

  • Individuals Seeking Personal Growth The book is recommended for individuals interested in personal growth and self-improvement. “Learn or Die” inspires readers to embrace a growth mindset, be open to feedback, and continuously seek opportunities for learning and development. It encourages individuals to view failures as learning experiences and to approach challenges with a sense of curiosity and resilience.

  • Educators and Academics Educators and academics will also find value in “Learn or Die.” The book challenges traditional education models and advocates for a more experiential and growth-oriented approach to learning. It raises important questions about how educational institutions can better prepare students for the challenges of the future by fostering critical thinking, creativity, and adaptability.

Overall, “Learn or Die” is recommended reading for anyone interested in the power of learning and adaptability in personal and organizational growth. Edward Hess’s insights and examples from real-world experiences make the book accessible and applicable to a wide range of audiences. Whether you are a business leader seeking to drive innovation in your organization, an HR professional designing learning programs, an individual looking for personal development, or an educator shaping future generations, “Learn or Die” offers valuable lessons and actionable strategies for thriving in an ever-changing world.