We were naïve. I had to admit that I made a mistake.
I figured that was part of my job…
admit mistakes and move on quickly.”

– Ryan Carson, CEO, Treehouse.

Now this is a corporate Learning Culture in action.

In 2013, Portland online-education company Treehouse generated national buzz when it made the radical decision to eliminate managers and let employees self-manage. At the time, Treehouse won praise in some quarters for experimenting with a completely flat organization structure.

Treehouse wasn’t alone. San Francisco software project hosting company GitHub tried it. Las Vegas online clothing retailer Zappos is trying it.

It didn’t work. Last week, CEO Ryan Carson went public with the news with exceptional candor. He announced that a layer of management had been reinstituted.

Regardless of whether a flat organizational structure was a good decision to begin with, this is a great example of a corporation being a Learning Culture. Here’s why:

Innovated. Treehouse had a vision for the kind of company it wanted to be. It identified a way to operationalize its values. After examination, it tried something different for reasons it considered solid.

Admitted. “It didn’t work.” No dragging it out. No papering over the reality. No blaming others. No issuing a press release full of obfuscation. Just a straight-up admission from the top.

Pivoted. After giving its model time to work, and then some time trying to fix it, Treehouse reinstated a management structure quickly. It didn’t reintroduce management incrementally or hesitantly.

Shared. By going public, Treehouse provided an opportunity for the rest of us to reflect on and learn from their experiment. The company also garnered praise for its candor.


Let’s discuss ways your business or organization can be a Learning Culture by learning from mistakes.

  • Koyie

    Thanks for the great info. I owe you bigtime.

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