They all Claim to be LOs LO26053

From: Don Dwiggins (
Date: 02/03/01

Replying to LO26029 --

Harriet, thanks for your comment:
> Don't organizations get "graded" all the time as reflected in the value of
> their stock or their sales or their ability to attract clients/customers
> and provide service? If they haven't "learned" something in their
> organizational lifetime, they're not likely to have survived, are they? Or
> at least not as well as their competitors who have learned.

This is good as far as it goes, and works reasonably well in a stable,
little-changing environment. The feedback that surviving, thriving
companies get tells them that they're doing the right things, and maybe
only need to do more of the same (or make minor adjustments to minor
changes in the environment). This is the kind of learning that At has
called "digestive".

The real test of a LO, it seems to me, is survival through serious
changes, when the old lessons begin to fail. In those circumstances, it
becomes clear whether the organization is capable of deeper learning
(emergent learning, double loop learning, etc.). Porras and Collins'
"Built to Last" explored this territory to some extent -- any company that
has survived 50 years has surely weathered some storms.

Notice, though, that "has survived 50 years" is not equivalent to "can
survive the next 50 years". I don't think you can tell a LO by looking at
a snapshot of an organization (being) at some time; the "Learning
Organization" concept is essentially dynamic. Think of the conventional
organizational metrics, key performance indicators, etc. Now think of
their "first derivatives with respect to time". (At has given examples of
this using the "/_\" notation.) What is the direction of a change, what
is the rate of change, is it linear, is it periodic, etc.?

Next, consider the time scales of the changes. For example, what time
scales are appropriate for looking at individual human learning?
Probably a few days or so at the lower limit, to decades at the upper.
The larger the organization, the longer the scales you need to use to
understand their changes.

For example, in software development (the industry dear to my heart), a
small organization with good leadership and followership can learn a new
way of doing things and evolve it to standard practice in a few weeks, if
it's not too radical. A large organization will take considerably longer.

I guess the basic take-away of this message is, instead of asking "is X a
Learning Organization", ask "how has organization X evolved/how is it
evolving in its ability to learn the crucial lessons". (Sigh... it's hard
to turn that into a nice, pithy sound bite; oh well.)


Don Dwiggins "It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be. . . . This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman must take on a science fictional way of thinking. -- Isaac Asimov (1920-1992)

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