LOs and Metanoia - Peter Senge and the Learning Organization LO27130

From: Artur F. Silva (artsilva@mail.eunet.pt)
Date: 08/07/01

Linked to LO25939

Dear Lo-learners

Please see below my next post of the series on "LOs and Metanoia"



A Search for LO's and Metanoia

Part II - Two Conceptions of LO's

II.2. Peter Senge and the "Learning Organization"

Summary of previous mail

In a previous mail we saw that, according to the Shell Study of "company
longevity", most companies have a short life span (20-30 years for most
companies), but some others have a life span of 200 years or more. Since
his seminal 1988 HBR article de Geus talks about the importance of
changing the shared mental models of the executives of companies, namely
through the use of scenario planning. He claims that the longer living
companies that are able to adapt and survive must have strong learning
capabilities and can be considered "learning companies" (he also claims
that they shall be considered "living beings", "as only living beings can

The major characteristics of the long living companies (that explain their
learning capabilities) are:

 1 sensitivity to the environment they are "open";
 2 sense of identity they have a "persona";
 3 tolerance they tolerate and promote innovation;
 4 they are conservative in finance.

Those are "a posteriori" characteristics of a "Learning Company" - "a
posteriori" in the sense that those characteristics have been observed in
companies that really exist, learn, adapt and survive. They are not stated
as "a priori" characteristics or disciplines that a company (or
organization) shall study or develop to be or become a learning

Senge's "The Fifth Discipline"

As you all know, in his book "The Fifth Discipline" (FD), Peter Senge
introduces the concept of "Learning Organization" in a completely
different way.

"Perhaps the most salient reason for BUILDING learning organizations is
that we are only now starting to understand the capabilities such
organizations MUST possess. For a long time, efforts to build learning
organizations were like groping in the dark until the skills, areas of
knowledge, and paths for development of such organizations become known.
What fundamentally WILL distinguish learning organizations from
traditional authoritarian 'controlling organizations' WILL BE the mastery
of certain basic disciplines. This is why the 'disciplines of the learning
organization' are vital" (FD, pg. 5) in this and other quotations the
capitals are mine.

A discipline is defined as "a body of theory and technique that must be
STUDIED and mastered to be put into practice" (FD, pg. 10). And the 5
disciplines are, as you all know, Systems Thinking, Personal Mastery,
Mental Models, Shared Vision and Team Learning. System Thinking is called
the "Fifth Discipline" as in Senge's opinion "it is the discipline that
integrates the (five) disciplines, fusing them into a coherent body of
theory and practice" (FD, pg. 12).

Senge dedicates the major part of FD (from page 55 to page 272) to explain
the 5 disciplines, beginning with the "Fifth", Systems Thinking, presented
under the title "A Shift of Mind". The 5 disciplines have later been
developed in the more practical "The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook" (FD-F,
1994). The Subject of LOs have been more recently presented in a slightly
different ay in the Dance of Change (DC, 1999).

In this post I will not summarize the 5 disciplines described in FD and
FD-F, nor the concepts presented in DC. I believe that the majority of the
subscribers of this list know well the 5 disciplines and many have
probably already applied some or all of them. I will concentrate only on
some points of the Introduction and the Conclusions (Coda) to FD, namely
the ones that refer to subjects that can now be better analyzed (metanoia)
or that open the possibility for complementary "disciplines" (a 6th
discipline?). Those topics will give the leitmotif for future posts.

Senge's Introduction to LOs

The five discipline are introduced in a way that has two interesting
characteristics. First, they are not presented as if they were observed in
any real learning organizations that evidenced part or all of these
characteristics. On the contrary, they are presented in an "a priori way":
Senge claims that if an organization studies and practices these
disciplines it will become a LO. LOs themselves are presented as something
that must be built. Second, the disciplines are introduced through an
explicit metaphor to other "component technologies" used to product a
"mechanical" object in the case the DC-3 aircraft. It's interesting to
follow the idea.

"Engineers say that a new idea has been 'invented' when it is proven to
work in the laboratory. The idea becomes an 'innovation' only when it can
be REPLICATED RELIABLY on a meaningful scale at practical costs" (pg. 5)
... "In engineering, when an idea moves from an invention to an
innovation diverse 'component technologies' come together..." ... "The
DC-3, for the first time, brought together FIVE critical component
technologies that formed a successful ensemble. They were..." "Today, I
BELIEVE, five new 'component technologies' are gradually converging to
INNOVATE learning organizations. Though developed separately, each will, I
BELIEVE, prove critical to the other's success,..." (pg. 6).

Engineering creates mechanical things like a bridge, a factory or an
aircraft. On the other hand, when engineers innovate something, like the
DC-3, we can see if the engineer's "component technologies" fulfill its
purposes or if they fail. That is not the case with organizations, at
least directly.

The Metanoia Concept

In the beginning of the book, Senge introduces the concept of Metanoia
(pg. 13-14). It is defined as a "profound shift of mind", and stated in
relation to "being part of a great team" and also as synonymous to "deep
(generative) learning".

This small chapter is very interesting indeed. From that chapter and from
the chapter on "Systems Thinking" ("A Shift of Mind") it is clear that to
Senge a metanoia (at least from mechanical to systems thinking) is a
precondition for an organization to become a LO. But it was not clear to
me if he also thinks that LOs must be able to continuously, or at least
regularly, enter to states of metanoia, being open to many "paradigm
shifts". Also the question of how a metanoia or paradigm shift takes place
at the individual and organizational levels is not addressed in this
chapter. But we can get more information in other parts of the book.

In Part II, dedicated to System Thinking, the second chapter (chapter 5)
is called "A Shift of Mind" and begins with the title "Seeing the World
Anew". From this chapter, I conclude (maybe wrongly) that the author
thinks that the most important "shift of mind" is a cognitive one from
mechanical unsystematical thinking to systems thinking. Are there non
cognitive counterparts of these shifts? How can a paradigm shift be
obtained? What are the organizational resistances (defenses) created by
the older paradigm? I will refer to these questions in Part III of this

The 7 Learning Disabilities

The question of organizational learning disabilities opposing metanoia and
LOs is addressed in a short introductory chapter (chapter 2, pg. 17-26)
"Learning disabilities are tragic in children, especially when they go
undetected. They are no less tragic in organizations, where they also go
largely undetected. The first step in curing them is to begin to identify
the seven learning disabilities". And then the seven learning disabilities
are explained. They are "I am my position", "the enemy is out there", "the
illusion of taking change", "the fixation of events", "the parable of the
boiled frog", "the delusion of learning from experience" and "the myth of
the management team".

Are those 7 disabilities independent from each other? Can we eventually
find any "deeply engrained model" that can be the cause for all or some of
them, so that those 7 disabilities would only be symptoms?

A Sixth Discipline?

The last part of the book (Coda) begins with a very small half page
chapter that repeats the analogy with the DC-3. "The DC-3 revolutionized
commercial air travel, but the airlines industry didn't become a major
industry until the widespread use of TWO ADDITIONAL technologies...".

"The 5 disciplines now converging appear to comprise a critical mass. They
make building learning organizations a systematic undertaking, rather than
a matter of happenstance. But there will be other innovations in the
future. If the airlines analogy is apt, perhaps one or two development
emerging in seemingly unlikely places, will lead to a wholly new
discipline that we cannot even grasp today."

Admitting that "the airlines analogy is apt" then a 6th or 7th discipline
is likely to appear an be as important to LOs as the jet engine or the
radar to commercial air travel. Have you any ideas about what such 6th and
7th disciplines would be? Would such a 6th discipline better explain and
allow individuals and organizations to bypass learning disabilities or
allow for better understanding and facilitation of "paradigm shifts" and
metanoia? I will offer some suggestions (and nothing more than
suggestions) in future posts.

Rewriting the Code?

Another clue for a better understanding of the conditions of metanoia or
for an eventual 6th discipline is given in the 20th Chapter, titled
"Reinventing the Code". The expressions "metanoia" or "paradigm shift" are
not used, but the chapter relates to system thinking and also to the
"tacit dimension" and the "subconscious".

Senge uses the expression "subconscious" "to suggest an aspect of mind
that lies 'below' or 'behind' our normal mental processes. Other labels
are possible, such as 'automatic mind' or 'tacit knowledge'" and he says
that "It is also important to recognize that the subconscious can be
'trained'. In fact, all learning involves an interplay of the conscious
mind and the subconscious that results in training the subconscious".

The example of learning how to drive a car is given. "We begin driving in
a parking lot... and “gradually more and more of the task is TAKEN OVER by
the subconscious shifting gears becomes 'automatic', 'natural'".

"This is why practice is so important. For any meaningful interplay of
conscious and subconscious, practice is essential. Conceptual learning is
not enough, any more that it would be for learning a foreign language or
for learning to ride a bicycle." (FD, pg. 365)

So, to Senge, learning a skill doesn't end at the conscious level, when we
make explicit what previously was tacit; when we fully master a skill it
has been internalized (made tacit, or became part of the subconscious) so
that it is near automatic. It seems that Senge doesn't think that the
learning process ends when something that was tacit becomes explicit; on
the contrary, it ends when something that we, eventually, first understood
only conceptually, through practice becomes tacit or subconscious. This
relates to some past discussions in this list.

Among the many ways by which "the subconscious gets programmed", Senge
mentions three: culture, beliefs and language. (pg.366)

The chapter ends with the idea that "building LOs involves developing
people who learn to see as systems thinkers see, who develop their own
personal mastery and who learn how to surface and restructure mental
models collaboratively. Given the influence of organizations in today's
world this may be one of the most powerful steps toward helping us
'rewrite the code', altering not just what we think but our predominant
ways of thinking".

If there is a need to "rewrite the code", one must assume that some other
"code" was previously in action. If culture, beliefs and language can
program the subconscious one would expect the subconscious of people of a
certain culture (for instance occidental Christian culture) to have a
certain number of similar programs (at least at the operating system
level...). And indeed techniques that could allow us to reprogram our
minds (eventually correcting some of our bugs) would be very welcome...

Some comments on other disciplines and concepts

Even if my objective is not to summarize the five disciplines, let me call
your attention to some points I will want to refer in future posts.

In the introduction to "Mental Models" Senge says: "Mental Models are
deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or
images that influence how we understand the world and how we
take action. Very often, we are not consciously aware of our mental
models or the effects they have on our behaviors... Many insights... fail
to get put into practice because they conflict with powerful tacit mental
models." These tacit mental models being the ones for which it would
be interesting to "rewrite the Code", I think.

In the chapter on Personal Mastery, Senge quotes Bill O'Brien, from
Hannover Insurance, as saying "People enter business as bright, well
educated, high energy people, full of energy and desire to make a
difference. By the time they are 30, a few are on the "fast track" and the
rest 'put into their time' to do what matters to them on the weekend. They
lose the commitment, the sense of mission and the excitement with which
they started their careers. We get damn little of their energy and almost
none of their spirit". It could be interesting to try to understand if
there are any "deeply engrained personal mental models" that are
responsible for giving up ideals and if there are rules and procedures of
current organizations that also contribute to that result. By the way, in
the HBR article "The Learning Company" de Geus suggested that companies
that are "economic machines", putting profits and assets over people,
don't treat employees as full members of the corporation ("insiders") and
one can't expect those "outsiders" to put passion to their work.

Finally, in relation to Systems Thinking, Senge made a comment that maybe
we can also use in the analysis of future mails:

"Beware of symptomatic solutions. Solutions that address only the symptoms
of a problem, not fundamental causes, tend to have short term benefits at
best. In the long term, the problem resurfaces and there is increased
pressure for symptomatic response. Meanwhile, the capability for
fundamental solutions can atrophy".

References to Argyris and Schon

As we have seen in a previous post, speaking of learning companies, de
Geus never used the expression disciplines, nor referred to system t
hinking as an important characteristic of long living companies. But he
referred often to mental models, team learning, and shared mental models,
and explicitly referred to Argyris about those matters.

As one could expect, Argyris is also frequently referenced by Senge in FD,
especially in the chapters on Mental Models (pgs. 175, 182-3, 185-6, 195,
198) and Team Learning (pgs.237, 244-252, 254, 257). As I want to refer
extensively in future posts to the concepts of Argyris (and Schon), I will
give below a summary of those references.

Senge expressly attributes to Argyris concepts like:
 - "defensive routines" (pgs.182, 237, 249, 254)
 - "left hand column" (pgs.186, 195)
 - "distinction between espoused theories and theories-in-use" (pgs.175,
186, 198)
 - "leaps of abstraction" (from data to generalization the ladder of
inference is not referred in FD, but it is in FD-F)
 - "balancing inquiry and advocacy" (pgs.186, 198)
 - "action science" (pg. 182)
 - "skilled incompetence" (pg.182)

Five different books from Argyris are referenced, one co-authored with
Schon ("Organization Learning: A Theory of Action Perspective"). Also
Schon has four separate references, all to his book "The Reflective
Practitioner" (mainly about the importance of practice and the concept of
"reflection-on-action"). The 1974's book from Argyris and Schon "Theory in
Practice" is NOT referenced. The book "Action Science" (1985) from
Argyris, Putman and Smith IS referenced.

Argyris and Schon's concepts of Model I / Model II theories-in-action
(which are central to "action science" and all their other writings) ARE
NOT referred to.

I can't remember having seen any references to Argyris and Schon's Model I
(nor to metanoia) in FD-F and DC. I have not the time now to reread the
books to confirm that, but there are no entries on "Model I" nor on
"Metanoia" in the indexes of any of those books.

Two quotations that Senge (in FD) made of Argyris seem particularly

"Chris Argyris who has worked with mental models and organizational
learning for thirty years put it in this way 'although people do not
always behave congruently with their espoused theories (what they say)
they do behave congruently with their theories-in-use (their mental
models)'" (pg.175 of FD) (words between (.) are from Senge).

"In the mid 1970's, the ideas of Argyris and his colleague were beginning
to provide an answer. In 'action science' they were developing a body of
theory and method for reflection and inquiry on the reasoning that
underlies our actions... We trap ourselves, says Argyris, in defensive
routine that insulate our mental models from examination, and we
consequently develop 'skilled incompetence'..." (pg. 182)

So, Senge explicitly references Argyris for contributions to the
discipline of Mental Models, mainly, the distinction between espoused
theories and theories-in-use, the left hand column, the combination of
inquiry and advocacy, the defensive routines, etc. But he refers to tools
and concepts created by Argyris with no explicit reference to Model I /
II. We will come back to this point in future posts (part IV of this


Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline -- The Art and Practice of the Learning
Organization (FD), 1990 (UK edition, Century Business, 1993)

Peter Senge and others The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook -- Strategies
and Tools for Building a Learning Organization (FD-F), 1994, Doubleday

Peter Senge and others The Dance of Change -- The Challenges
of Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organizations, 1999 (UK edition,
Nicholas Breasley)


"Artur F. Silva" <artsilva@mail.eunet.pt>

[Host's Note: Thanks, Artur, for this continuing exposition.

In assoc w/Amazon.com, these links...

The Fifth Discipline : The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization by Peter M. Senge http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0385260954/learningorg

The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook : Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization by Peter M. Senge (Editor), Art Kleiner (Editor), Charlotte Roberts, Rick Ross, Bryan Smith http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0385472560/learningorg

The Dance of Change: The Challenges to Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organizations by Peter M. Senge, Art Kleiner, Charlotte Roberts, George Roth, Rick Ross, Bryan Smith http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0385493223/learningorg

Also, the team which has produced the "fieldbooks" has a web site http://www.fieldbook.com ..Rick]

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <Richard@Karash.com> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <http://www.learning-org.com>

"Learning-org" and the format of our message identifiers (LO1234, etc.) are trademarks of Richard Karash.