Downtown Organizations Need to be Learning Organizations

Peter Senge has been one of my favorite management gurus. In 1990 he published The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Senge focused on the need and methodology for companies to become learning organizations. While the group systems approach to problem solving he put forward would serve all of our downtowns well, the concept of learning organizations would particularly serve our downtowns and independent retailers well. A learning organization accepts that it never knows enough, facilitates the learning of its members, and continuously transforms itself in response to new knowledge of the changing world.

Major traditional retailers and big box merchants are in the midst of adjusting their business models in response to the continually changing marketplace. Some of the leading big box merchants are now opening smaller stores. Major retailers each invest millions of dollars a year in developing their on-line presence, not just with on-line stores but by interacting with their customers through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Yet, many of our small downtown retailers have minimal on-line presence if any and don’t even have processes for capturing the basics of customer information that would enable them to do out-dated snail mail marketing.

Those of us professionally involved in downtown revitalization have an opportunity to make our downtown organizations learning organizations that enable our retailers to, in turn, be learning organizations. Of course, in the term “independent retailer” the operative descriptor will always be independent, but we can’t let that deter us. As a profession, we need to draw together to strategize ways to create learning organizations in our downtowns and of our retailers. Involvement with Downtown New Jersey is a good foundation for sharing the information that it will take to be learning organizations that are continually transforming. We look forward to your active participation in Downtown New Jersey.

Michael Redpath | President, Downtown New Jersey

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