Organizational Learning, Knowledge, and Dynamic Surprises  

Welcome to the Homepage of COMM 590B(003)

Prof. Martin Schulz

2015-16, Term 2

Organizational learning is an evocative concept that has inspired many scholars, researchers, students, and practitioners. At its core, it captures the idea that organizations can adapt to their contexts and that their adaptation can reflect some level of intelligence. It entails the possibility of ‘advantage’ that might arise from organizational learning and that shapes the success and survival of organizations. It portrays organizations as entities that can learn and articulate and retain knowledge (and perhaps even develop understanding and meaning). It has intriguing strategic implications, and it offers powerful explanations of social and organizational order and change.

Organizational learning – though powerful – is not perfect. There are limits to learning, and they can lead into severe pitfalls. Learning can go wrong and can produce undesirable outcomes. For that reason it is important to understand how, when, and why organizational learning can fail. In this course, we will build on notions of bounded rationality to develop a solid understanding of myopic learning processes and acquire techniques that can help to analyse and manage them.

Organizational learning is inherently dynamic – it is a process that unfolds as organizations develop new knowledge and encode it into their structures. It transforms organizations and shapes their performance (e.g., producing characteristic learning curve trajectories). Organizational learning processes at one time and place can produce surprising outcomes at other times and places. Understanding the dynamic surprises of organizational learning processes is not easy, but necessary to harness organizational learning processes successfully. We will study the dynamics of organizational learning processes to understand how they unfold and when and how they produce surprises.

This course is not about “The Learning Organization”, nor about the virtues (real or imagined) of becoming one. We will stay away from the popular (nebulous and naive) literature on organizational learning, and instead focus on the more rigorous academic discourse on the subject to develop a more accurate understanding of organizational learning processes, their causal structures, their limitations, their intriguing implications, and dynamic surprises.

This course is open to everyone who is interested in the topics of this course. We will read a fair amount of introductory pieces, but also several papers that pursue more intricate issues and use advanced methodologies. The readings and assignments offer diverse opportunities to learn for course participants on all levels.

The class room is HA 432; we meet Wednesdays 14:00 to 17:00


Course Resources

For the first class on January 4, please read the assigned readings. You can download them directly from these links:

Teece, The Knowledge Economy  

Schulz, Logics of Consequences and Appropriateness  

You can reach me by email at

My homepage at UBC Sauder is here.  
Download Syllabus of this course (pdf format)(UPDATED)  
Location of the Downloading Directory for this course
My administrative assistant is Nancy Tang. Office: HA666. Email:


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