By R. Christopher Haines, President and CEO

Albert Einstein once said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.” While I’m not sure what he was referring to, this could not be more true of a business. If your business becomes complacent, things can start to fall apart. Ongoing learning is key to a successful operation.

Training and education are important to a business’s ongoing success. But that’s not what I’m talking about. What I mean is learning from the operation of your business. Gauging all aspects of the operation at all times to know its pulse. Looking at mistakes and successes as learning opportunities.

I’m a big fan of Eric Ries and the philosophies conveyed in his book, The Lean Startup. Ries considers learning to be the ultimate measure of success for a company, especially a startup. As I mentioned, the learning Ries refers to is not training or formal education. It’s learning what your customers think of your offerings. It’s knowing how you’re doing in their eyes. It’s learning what the market really wants from your company. It’s knowing if anyone even wants what you’re trying to sell. It is looking at a mistake or an error and determining the root cause.

While Ries is primarily focused on startups, these same concepts apply to all businesses. To paraphrase Einstein, your business starts to die once you stop learning. Personally, I think too many companies have lost sight of this. They believe they’re established, have been doing what they do for years, and it’s worth something. I’ve seen older companies present their offerings with a this-is-who-we-are, take-it-or-leave it mentality. That doesn’t work for long.

One thing I find ironic is that many of these same companies try to convince the market they’re built on innovation and cutting-edge technologies. They try to create the impression that they’re constantly learning and moving forward. But all the while, they ignore what they could be learning from their customers, their prospects, and the market in general. They ignore the value of looking at their current deficiencies as a method of strengthening their future selves.

True learning comes from listening and measuring the results of your offerings. Once you quit doing that, you might as well write your company’s obituary.