The Fifth Discipline
Peter M Senge Publisher: Currency Doubleday – 1990
The organizations that will truly excel in the future will be those that discover how to tap people’s commitment and develop the capacity to learn at all levels in an organization. Deep down, people are learners. No one has to teach an infant to learn. In fact, no one has to teach infants anything. They are intrinsically inquisitive, masterful learners. Learning organizations are possible because at heart we all love to learn. Through learning we re-create ourselves and are able to do something we were never able to do earlier. Through learning we reperceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life. There is within each of us a deep hunger for this type of learning. This seminal book by Peter M Senge explains how learning organizations can be built.
The building blocks
Business and other human endeavours are systems of interrelated actions, whose full impact may be seen only after years. Since we are part of these systems, it’s hard to see the whole pattern of change. Instead, we tend to focus on snapshots of isolated parts of the systems, and wonder why our deepest problems never seem to get solved. Systems thinking is a conceptual framework, to make the full patterns clearer and to help us see how to change them effectively.
Mastery means a special level of proficiency. People with a high level of personal mastery are able to consistently realize the results that matter most deeply to them in effect. They approach their life as an artist would approach a work of art, by becoming committed to their own lifelong learning. The discipline of personal mastery, starts with clarifying the things that really matter to us, of living our lives in line with our highest aspirations.
Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures of images that influence how we take action. Very often, we are not consciously aware of our mental models or the effects that they have on our behavior. Many insights into new markets or outmoded organizational practices fail to get put into practice because they conflict with powerful, tacit mental models. Institutional learning is the process whereby people change their shared mental models of the company, their markets, and their competitors.
Building Shared Vision
If any one idea about leadership has inspired organizations for thousands of years, it’s the capacity to hold a shared picture of the future we seek to create. When there is a genuine vision, people excel and learn, not because they are told to, but because they want to. But many leaders have personal visions that never get translated into shared visions that galvanize an organization. All too often, a company’s vision revolves around the charisma of a leader, or around a crisis that galvanizes everyone temporarily. But, people must pursue a lofty goal, not only in times of crisis but at all times. What is needed is a discipline for translating individual vision into shared vision – not a “cook book” but a set of principles and guiding practices.
The discipline of team learning starts with “dialogue,” the capacity of team members to suspend assumptions and enter into a genuine “thinking together.” Dialogue also involves learning how to recognize the patterns of interaction in teams that undermine learning. The patterns of defensiveness are often deeply engrained in how a team operates. If unrecognized, they undermine learning. If recognized, they can actually accelerate learning.
Assessing the organization’s learning disability
Most organizations learn poorly. The way they are designed and managed, the way people’s jobs are defined, and most importantly, the way people have been taught to think and interact, create fundamental learning...
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