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Learning, Methods, Mindsets, Principles



In the early 2000, I partially read the book The Learning Organization also known as The Fifth Discipline written by Peter Senge (1990). Since 1994, I had been a devotee and practician of W. Edwards Deming’s Total Quality Management (TQM) and his System of Profound Knowledge which is a wonderful approach to learning the organization and it never occurred to me that the natural next step was not only to share this knowledge with an organization’s people but empower those very people to significantly augment the knowledge of and about the organization. It was a wonderful realization.

The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (Senge 1990) is a book by Peter Senge (a senior lecturer at MIT) focusing on group problem solving using the systems thinking method in order to convert companies into learning organizations. The five disciplines represent approaches (theories and methods) for developing three core learning capabilities: fostering aspiration, developing reflective conversation, and understanding complexity. (From Wikipedia).

According to Senge learning organizations are:

…organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.

This sounds very much like unleashing the full potential of an organization through the power, resources, intelligence and creativity of its people. In order to refresh our memory about the Fifth Discipline, I reproduced the 5 Disciplines and it’s 11 laws directly from Wikipedia.

The Five Disciplines

The five disciplines of what the book refers to as a “learning organization” discussed in the book are:

  1. “Personal mastery is a discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively.”
  2. Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures of images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.”
  3. “Building shared vision – a practice of unearthing shared pictures of the future that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance.”
  4. Team learning starts with ‘dialogue’, the capacity of members of a team to suspend assumptions and enter into genuine ‘thinking together’.”
  5. Systems thinking – The Fifth Discipline that integrates the other four.”

Senge describes extensively the role of what it refers to as “mental models,” which he says are integral in order to “focus on the openness needed to unearth shortcomings” in perceptions. The book also focuses on “team learning” with the goal of developing “the skills of groups of people to look for the larger picture beyond individual perspectives.” In addition to these principles, the author stresses the importance of “personal mastery” to foster “the personal motivation to continually learn how […] actions affect [the] world.”

The Learning Disabilities

In addition to “disciplines,” which Senge suggests are beneficial to what he describes as a “learning organization,” Senge also posits several perceived deleterious habits or mindsets, which he refers to as “learning disabilities.”

  1. “I am my position.”
  2. “The enemy is out there.”
  3. The Illusion of Taking Charge
  4. The Fixation on Events
  5. The Parable of the Boiling Frog
  6. The Delusion of Learning from Experience
  7. The Myth of the Management Team

The 11 Laws of the Fifth Discipline 

  1. Today’s problems come from yesterday’s “solutions.”
  2. The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back.
  3. Behavior grows better before it grows worse.
  4. The easy way out usually leads back in.
  5. The cure can be worse than the disease.
  6. Faster is slower.
  7. Cause and effect are not closely related in time and space.
  8. Small changes can produce big results…but the areas of highest leverage are often the least obvious.
  9. You can have your cake and eat it too —but not all at once.
  10. Dividing an elephant in half does not produce two small elephants.
  11. There is no blame.

Huge benefits!

Most of us relate to what we know and take for granted that what we know is what everybody knows and vice versa but nothing can be further from the truth, it is not a generalization that serves us well. We know stuff some people don’t and some people know stuff we don’t and building a learning organization is actually expanding into a diversity of knowledge and specialized knowledge too like from a person, your employee who has developed knowledge around her skills and to which you don’t have a real appreciation and leverage therefore mastering the disciplines Senge outlines in the book will significantly help your organization.

Moreover, a learning organization will:

  • Fulfill people’s need to learn
  • Identify confining assumptions and mindsets and develop more empowering ones
  • Leverage your people and tap into their creativity
  • Focus them on what truly matters
  • Learn system thinking meaning seeing the whole and the parts
  • Develop more meaningful work environments
  • Etc.

According to Senge:

in the long run the only sustainable competitive advantage is your organisation’s ability to learn faster than the competition.

I strongly believe that building a learning organization is the only way that it can really walk the path of the future with ability and agility.

Learn the Organization then build the Learning Organization

Again my path to the The Learning Organization, was through ”Learning the Organization”. You can read it here.