The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation Peter M Senge (Random House, 1992, 424 pages) My thoughts about application to the Kirk are in italics. For those who can’t face 12 pages, The first chapter forms a summary of the rest of the book. I. HOW OUR ACTIONS CHANGE OUR REALITY... AND HOW WE CAN CHANGE IT 1. ‘Give me a lever long enough... and single-handed I can move the world’ We aretaught to break problems down into component parts and then ‘see the big picture’ by reassembling them. Organisations need to be learning – not just have one visionary learner at the top. We all love learning, and being part of a great team. People today have a different view of work: they don’t just want the money to survive, but intrinsic benefits. There are five ‘component technologies’ of alearning organisation, like the five technologies which had to come together to enable commercial air travel (these were the variable-pitch propeller, retractable landing gear, a lightweight moulded body, radial aircooled engine, and wing flaps), each of which enables the others to be effective: Systems thinking: seeing the big picture Personal mastery: deepening the vision and qualities of everyindividual Mental models: working out what our assumptions and prejudices are and what they should be Building shared vision: something for everyone to be passionate about Team learning: how to use dialogue (genuine ‘thinking together’ rather than ‘discussion’, batting ideas around until one wins) to build a team with more, not less, intelligence than its members. As an organisation you willeither be learning or getting worse. Practising the disciplines is an ongoing state, you don’t reach ‘excellence’ and stop. It’s not the same as emulating best practice, always imitating and catching up. Systems thinking is the fifth discipline: the one which ties all the others together. Learning is ‘metanoia’ – a shift of mind, not taking on information but learning what the world is about, howto be creative. Most of our problems come from our inability to see the big picture and how things relate. Our attempts to alleviate symptoms, for example ecological problems, often just make things worse. Businesses have the freedom to experiment which the public sector and non-profit organisations often lack, and this is why the disciplines developed here. 2. Does your organisation have alearning disability? Few large organisations last more than forty years, although in most of them the problems have been seen coming years in advance. Most organisations suffer from seven learning disabilities: 1. ‘I am my position’: people don’t see themselves as part of a bigger structure, they just do their own job. 2. ‘The enemy is out there’: as a consequence, when things go wrong you blame someoneelse (not doing their job properly), rather than seeing it as a failure of the system of which you are a part. 3. The illusion of taking charge: taking aggressive action against problems makes you feel ‘proactive’, although you are actually just ‘reacting’ to the problem. True
The Fifth Discipline
4. 5. 6. 7.
proactiveness means stepping back to see how you are creating your ownproblems and how you can solve them. The fixation on events: we have a short-term view of things, and think every event has one cause. The media makes this work. The parable of the boiled frog: if you put a frog in boiling water he’ll jump out, but if you heat his water up very slowly he’ll just sit there happily until he boils. We tend to miss seeing gradually growing problems because we go at such afrenetic pace. The delusion of learning from experience: you can’t learn from experience when decisions affect other areas of the organisation with which there is little real interaction, or when it is a few years before they take effect. The myth of the management team: too often these ‘teams’ quash dissent, produce watered-down compromises, and break down under pressure.
3. Prisoners of the...