Chris Argyris James Bryant Conant Professor Harvard Business School
© 1991 Harvard Business Review. Distributed by The New York Times Special Features/Syndication Sales.
ny company that aspires to succeed in the tougher business environment of the 1990s must rst resolve a basic dilemma: success in the marketplace increasingly depends on learning, yet most people don’t know how to learn. What’s more, those members of the organization that many assume to be the best at learning are, in fact, not very good at it. I am talking about the well-educated, high-powered, high-commitment professionals who occupy key leadership positions in the modern corporation. Most companies not only have tremendous dif culty addressing this learning dilemma; they aren’t even aware that it exists. The reason: they misunderstand what learning is and how to bring it about. As a result, they tend to make two mistakes in their efforts to become a learning organization. First, most people de ne learning too narrowly as mere ‘‘problem solving,’’ so they focus on identifying and correcting errors in the external environment. Solving problems is important. But if learning is to persist, managers and employees must also look inward. They need to re ect critically on their own behavior, identify the ways they often inadvertently contribute to the organization’s problems, and then change how they act. In particular, they must learn how the very way they go about de ning and solving problems can be a source of problems in its own right. I have coined the terms ‘‘single loop’’ and ‘‘double loop’’ learning to capture this crucial distinction. To give a simple analogy: a thermostat that automatically turns on the heat whenever the temperature in a room drops below 68 degrees is a good example of single-loop learning. A thermostat that could ask, ‘‘Why am I set at 68 degrees?’’ and then explore whether or not some other temperature might... [continues]
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