Our intent in this chapter has been to outline an argument for an adaptive relationship between organizational identity and learning. Contrary to (the few) current treatments of this relationship, we have attempted to articulate the case that changes in an organization’s identity do not necessarily inhibit organizational learning, nor that organizational learning most often facilitates the maintenance of organizational identity. We believe, instead, that by focusing on changes to an organization’s identity at the level of meanings (not language or labels), it is possible to see that organizational identity change and organizational learning are mutually facilitative and can help the organization in its adaptation to changing environments.

Focusing on this adaptive relationship has also led us to explicate a heretofore underspecified form of organizational learning, subtle learning. Subtle learning involves changes to the intersubjective meanings underlying a collective’s labels and actions. Contrary to most treatments of organizational learning in the managerial literature, subtle learning is found only at a collective level, is more covert and tacit than previously conceived types of organizational learning, and provides insight into alternative relationships between organizational phenomena (such as our example of the adaptive nature of the organizational identity–learning relationship).

The implications arising from subtle learning and the interrelationships among ...

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