The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization
Peter M. Senge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
hange. Like it or not, it’s the predominant fact of our age. Patricia Fahey, lead trainer for the 1995 Head Start Phase III management training institute said, “Shift Happens!” None of us can prevent it. We can only deal with it. That institute drew heavily on the work of MIT’s Peter M. Senge of the Sloan School of Management and his 1994 book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization. Senge’s five key disciplines are 1) systems thinking, 2) achieving personal mastery, 3) shifting mental models, 4) building shared vision, and 5) team learning. Senge says that the five disciplines’ convergence creates new waves of experimentation and advancement—and, hopefully, “learning organizations” in which “people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire.” The training program focused on helping create or enhance agency environments that engage “systemsthinking,” challenge our self-limiting “mental models,” fosContinued on page 9
Learning...and Staying Calm!
ur traditional ways of thinking are breaking down” says Peter Senge. That’s why we’re seeing Washington, D.C., “gridlock,” the demise of huge corporations, and the crisis in our schools, he says. Having been taught to break problems down and see things laterally and sequentially, we’ve lost a sense of the whole. And when we try to gather the pieces we’ve created and see the “big picture,” it’s futile. “It’s similar to trying to reassemble the fragments of a broken mind to see a true reflection,” he says. We must learn to think, interact and see the connectedness of all things in new and different ways. Before we can re-think and redesign, though, we must see things differently. Everything we “see” and “know” is filtered through our internal structures Senge calls “mental models.” We accept the things that “fit” our preconceived notions of right/wrong, good/bad. Anything that doesn’t fit, we just do not see and accept. Senge reminds us of the adage, “The eye cannot see the eye.” So, we must learn to see new things Continued on page 10
Editor / Distiller’s Introduction...
I try to read a good volume and variety of material. I read new things; I read old masters’ works—Chaucer and Shakespeare are as relevant to our times as they were to their own. I also try to digest a significant amount of contemporary business writing. I am committed to “life-long learning,” but in this “transformational era,” to use a Peter Drucker description of our times, it’s necessary just to do just to “keep pace,” “stay afloat,” and have any hope of successfully guiding our businesses and organizations through these exhilarating, perilous, and challenging times. No book on business, organizational and social science, or “self-help” which I have encountered has impressed me more than Peter M. Senge’s seminal work The Fifth Discipline, published in 1990. It is so profound and rich that any attempt to summarize it is inevitably fraught with enormous challenges. But I have tried. Following is my admittedly woefully inadequate attempt to “distill” Senge’s work for the consumption and benefit of my own staff and organization. It is my fervent hope that this Senge synthesis (or “extract”) will simply entice readers to get their own copy of Continued on page 2
MANAGING CHANGE—Changing Management
Background on This AACS Publication
Regional Head Start Institute on Learning to Master Change
ead Start today needs high-functioning management teams able to respond quickly and appropriately in an environment of rapid change. “To meet the challenge of rapid expansion, reduced funding, and/or federal policy changes such as welfare reform or block grants, management teams need training of a particular kind: not training that will give them the answers to the many and...