From OO to LO in 30 Minutes LO27349

From: Winfried und Kirstin Dressler (
Date: 10/04/01

Dear Consultants, Trainers and Facilitators,

Last week I was on a training and one experience really stuck out. I don't
remember what it was meant to illustrate but for me it was experiencing
the transition from an ordinary organization (OO) to a learning
organization (LO) within 30 minutes - well the transition was even faster.
No, not a quick fix, of course not, but the experience may trigger
something within those who go through it.

We were six participants and one facilitator. Each of us got a number from
1 to 6 on post-its of three different colours. Those with the same colour
should stand next to each other and we formed a circle. The sense of those
different colours post-its was nothing but to get a nice mix of numbers in
the circle. No 1 got 10 tennis balls and we all one rule: All balls have
to be touched by all persons in order of increasing numbers. The goal was
to accomplish the task as fast and with as little mistakes as possible.
The facilitator had a stopping watch and counted the mistakes.

First round, just to try and see how it works: No1 threw the first ball to
No2, No2 passed it to No3 but missed to catch the second ball (thinking
what an idiot No1 was, while everybody was looking at him, laughing). The
round ended after the tenth ball reached No6. Score: 47 seconds, 6
mistakes. Ok, we got it. Second round score: 25 seconds, 0 mistakes.
Great! Can we do any better? Trying harder doesn't bring better results
and we ended with 29 seconds and 3 mistakes - and some quite directed
frustrations. The latter did come out with laughter after the facilitator
asked what we thought about the others in the group.

Then the facilitator asked us to give a guess of how good we could become,
given the rule and our experiences so far. 4 guessed 20 seconds, 0
mistakes (one asked the facilitator how much seconds one mistake would
cost...), one guessed 10 seconds (anticipating that the rule allow for a
much different set up), one guessed 5 seconds (admitting that he was
joking). The 10 seconds one tried to argue about lining up with increasing
number and passing more than one ball at a time, but none listened. The
situation changed completely when the facilitator said that the benchmark
for this exercise is 5 seconds. This means, another group of six people
managed the task in 5 seconds. This required a change of mind. The change
was small enough so that everybody could easily accomplish it (compare
"Fitness Landscape and other landscapes. LO27222"), yet it was not obvious
in the beginning which set up would do the trick. We lined up and passed
two times five balls at a time. No mistake, but still 12 seconds. More
balls would have meant to take all ten - impossible without many mistakes.
Then we put the balls on the table and passed one by one touching all the
balls in a row. Not bad: 6 seconds. Then another break-through idea: put
all balls in one circle and touch them at once with both hands - try, yes,
it works. Ready, steady, go. After 3 seconds all of us in the right
sequence have touched all the balls.

It is not the gain in efficiency that struck me most. I have experienced
two different kind of systems, in fact, I wouldn't call the OO-setup a
system anymore, although it also consisted of elements, relations and a
common goal. The elements (the individuals) were systems, connected to a
surrounding of other individuals. These elements did not form a system,
because the relations were poisened by good/bad judgement. This became
clear during retrospective reflection on the LO-setup: One idea triggered
the next, everything was tried out imediately, no time for blaming, only
learning and doing better. We did NOT act as elements with relations and a
common goal, we simply, complexly acted as a system, a learning

It is clear that this experiment cannot be copied to real life situations,
where the free energy barrier is much higher and requires much dedicated
learning effort by all members and stepwise progress will take days and
weeks and not seconds and minutes (compare "Fitness Landscape and other
landscapes. LO27257"). But it can give a more vivid imagination of what
the vision of a learning organization is about.

Should you know this experiment and/or try it in your work I would be
interested to hear about your experiences and conclusions.

Liebe Gruesse,

-- (Winfried und Kirstin Dressler)

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