Uncovering the Act of Organisational Learning LO28819 (Part 2).

From: AM de Lange (amdelange@postino.up.ac.za)
Date: 07/10/02

Replying to LO28818 --

Dear Organlearners,

Greetings to all of you.

Part 2. From the Individual to the Organisation

The object for IL (Individual Learning) is the event itself whereas the
object for OL (Organisational Learning) is the information produced by
others having learnt from the event itself by IL. The result of IL based
on the event is personal knowledge, i.e., knowledge which lives within.
Each participant then can and usually will produce information on the
event. This information which exists outside forms the main object for OL.
Since the information (on the same event) which the members supply differ
as their fingerprints differ, the OL gets impaired when there is no way
how to match these various sources of information coherently.

OL is not exclusive to humankind. Certain species of animals like
dolphins, elephants, baboons and meerkats also rely much on OL. Take
elephants as example. Cows and juvenile elephants wander together as a
tight herd. The bulls wander solitary, but always in their vicinity to
serve them. The leader of the herd is a female, the matriarch. She decides
on when a bull should visit the herd. She decides on what and how the
young calves should be taught. She decides when a maturing bull should
leave the herd. She often has to evict him by force. The bulls, although
wandering solitary, teach the younger bulls how to behave elephantly. For
example, a young bull wanting sex and flirting with an older bull or an
animal of the same size like a rhinoceros is quickly shown how to behave.

Elephants communicate frequently by sound and sight (body language), but
also to a greater extent by touch and smell than humans. For example, a
elephant will remember not only the sight, but also the smell or touch of
a human doing good or bad to it for many years. Consequently, we have in
our mother tongue a saying "that person remembers like an elephant".
Likewise humans also communicate most frequently by hearing and seeing,
but less in terms of the other sense organs. Furthermore, their
communication are in terms of complex actions called speaking for hearing
and symbolising for seeing.

These acts in humans of speaking intuitively and symbolising formally are
far more advanced than in any other kind of animal. This had been the
basis for human OL. One human tells another human what he/she has learned
and the other human responds by telling what he/she thinks of the
information produced. In other words, they set up a dialogue ("thoughts
exchanging") in a spoken language which both learn to know. This begins in
a family where the new born baby is introduced to the speech of the rest
of the family members. The language is usually that of the mother -- hence
the name "mother tongue".

The significance of speech (not writing) should never be under estimated
in OL. It is the primordial way of conveying what one human knows to
another human. The sounds, once uttered, is not knowledge anymore, but
information. The other human has to disseminate this information by
his/her own knowledge derived from IL (Individual Learning). In order to
make a correct interpretation of this information, a feedback loop is
needed, called the dialogue. In the dialogue every mental activity brings
greater sureness like proposing, questioning, speculating, reflecting and
even imagining. They are called collectively double loop learning. The
responses of other humans are needed to evaluate their interpretation of
information transmitted to them.

This OL of humans is not restricted to speech (dialogue="thoughts
exchanging"). Family members will begin to explore with the new arrival
exemplars around him/her, play games with him/her, solve problems with
him/her, sing, dance and draw with him/her and a host of other things.
Thus the new arrival within the family is introduced to becoming humane.
Without the security and sponsorship of the family the new arrival has
little chance to become a responsible adult.

This brings me to ESCs (Elementary Sustainers of Creativity). I have two
criteria for any activity before it can qualify as an ESC. (1) It must be
practised by most humans whatever their label (age, culture, sex, etc.).
(2) It must be practised by at least one other kind of animal, despite
our ignorance to what it means for such a kind of animal. Through the
years, what is a tedious task requiring immense reflections, I have
managed to identify five ESCs. They are:- thoughts-exchanging (dialogue)
exemplar-exploring problem-solving game-playing art-expressing

In IL (Individual Learning) these ESCs sustain the learner's creativity
and thus all which emerge from it, especially learning. But in OL
(Organisational Learning), they play an additional role, namely that of
an anchor or umlomo ("mouthpiece"). When two humans learn together,
any ESC provides them with the means for such learning. The ESCs
allow all those who participate in OL to explore any of the 7Es to its
fullest extent. They transform the "me", the "you" and the "it" into one
whole, rich in diversity and ready to accommodate any stranger or
alien thing. They are needed to set up the associative pattern of
me *ESC * you

But when this pattern is prescribed as
ESC * me * you
information begins to take over as the primary means to drive
Individual Learning rather than the events provided by the ESC. It is
as if the ESC becomes covered (veiled) by a cloud of dubious
information. Uncovering an essence of such an ESC becomes

When people in their masses talk about something (11/9/01), flock to an
artistic event (pop concert), try to solve a common problem (global
heating), view or play a game (WC soccer) and explore something unknown to
them (tourism), we should try to understand the significance of what they
are doing. The organisation needed may be temporary and plasmodial, but it
still involves OL (Organisational Learning). All involved in such a common
event learn together from each other, each one for his/her own purpose.
Creating formal organisations with a clear organogram may and indeed have
speeded up the process of OL. But it may also retard the OL when the
organogram becomes prerequisite to OL rather than that which is
prerequisite to IL, namely the 7Es.

There is no doubt in me that OL is as valid as IL. In fact, I see OL as
the next step emerging from IL -- from "I learn by myself" to "we learn
from each other". As with any emergence, the "back action" of OL is to
enrich IL. OL makes in IL things possible what the individual seldom, if
ever, could accomplish alone. In this sense OL is like Organisational
Creativity, having the power law of wholeness. However, the great danger
in OL is that one individual in terms of his/her own IL may prescribe or
judge the IL of another individual. This happens because of the mental
model "all must be like me". The desire "I want to become you" prevents
the precipitation of this mental model.

Another mental model inhibiting both IL and OL, perhaps the most
serious of them all, is "information is knowledge". Knowledge living
within is needed to produce information existing outside for whatever
sense organ and not merely the eyes or the ears. For example, when
I want to treat someone with a delicious dinner to convey my
appreciation, I will use spices which address taste. The dish with its
taste is not knowledge, but "taste information". When I hug someone
to convey my compassion, I will use my body which addresses touch.
This bodily contact is not knowledge, but "touch information".
 Neither the dish nor the hug will have any effect when the person is not
physically nor emotionally hungry. The same applies to other senses like
hearing, seeing and smelling.

To communicate to someone who is not hungry to hear or to read is a waste
of free energy, entropy production and thus time. This telling or writing
as well as the responses of the other person too such information are part
of OL. But the hunger for hearing and reading is a result of IL alone, not
OL. This hunger begins with noble thoughts which emergence within
beginning with sensations -- mental babies needing nourishment to mature
-- the kernels of knowledge which need to digest upon further information.
Humankind has succeeded in the physical realm to perform artificial
conception as well as artificial carriage to some extend, but in the
spiritual realm it is a vastly more complex issue. Trying to force
learning artificially by a deluge of information is a shotgun approach
which fails miserably.

When one person supplies information to another person, it has to be done
with great respect for the ruggedness of that person's IL. When a new
crucial thought ("knowledge kernel") has to emerge, the information
supplied is little since experiences count. Firstly, should that person
lack the experience on which the new thought is founded, the information
merely guides that person into such experiences. Afterwards the
information is of a "draw out" nature to guide the articulation of tacit
knowing. Here questions work the best, formulated on information supplied
by that person self. When the person begins to expand that thought in a
digestive manner, the amount of information which the person can digest
steps up. But as soon as a back log builds up, inappropriate information
erodes the rugged landscape (Steigerung) of IL.

There are two kinds of Organisational Learning (OL). In the
"senior-junior" (or sequential) kind of OL the knowledge of the senior
person is far more advanced than that of the junior person. The senior
uses this knowledge (by way of information) to guide the IL of the junior
in some topics so that the junior's IL becomes more creative. Meanwhile
the senior continues with his/her own IL on the topics involved as well as
the act of learning, individual and organisational. When the flow of
information from the senior gets superimposed on the ruggedness of IL in
the junior member, his/her IL becomes flat so that little progress is
made. A dissonant cacophony overtakes what could have been a harmonious

The "senior-junior" kind of OL can have many different manifestations like
that of teacher-learner in education, master-apprentice in a job and
mentor-follower in a stewardship. Each of such manifestations requires its
own organisational setup. This organisational setup can be informal or be
institutionalised. Through the centuries the teacher-learner manifestation
has become institionalised immensely in schools, colleges and
universities. This made them attractive tools for social engineering or
window dressing qualifications. As such engineering tools the pressure for
rapid learning as well instructing large numbers of learners are often
given as reasons for deluging learners with vast amounts of information to
which they have to respond with rote learning. Those learners not making
it are usually shrugged off as unintelligent or unmotivated, often with
extensive measurements to proof their incapacity. Such audits prove
nothing, except that an institutional system have gotten astray.

In the "peer-peer" (or parallel) kind of OL the knowledge of the members
are at similar level. As each member learns something new, it is shared as
information and disseminated by the other members of the team. The aim is
not to arrive at the same knowledge for all members, but to let the
knowledge of each fit together with those of the others. Like in the
"senior-junior" kind of OL, the 7Es help making "peer-peer" kind of OL
more successful. Thus the members of the team invariably begin to learn
more of the 7Es too. How to act rather remain static -- liveness. How to
explore the self in context -- sureness. How to unify through associations
-- wholeness. How to connect to gain something new -- fruitfulness. How
not to exceed the limits -- spareness. How to obtain quality from
diversity -- otherness. How to give and take for the benefit of others --

The "peer-peer" kind of OL can also have many different manifestations
like that of clubs, societies, "open spaces" (Owen), task groups and care
groups. They can also be informal or become institutionalised. The
institutional ones can also become pirated for some opportunistic reasons
-- political, financial or even religious. However, they are less prone to
such piracies because of the role which at least one ESC usually plays in

I have depicted the act of organisational learning in figure 2. Please see


Here we have two "wine glasses", that of the learner and of the co-learner
(one or more of them). The co-learner can be a "senior" or a "peer". Here
signals from the co-learner begins to supplement, overtake and even
substitute signals from the event itself. Hence the learner is
increasingly subjected to information from other learners what they have
learned from the event or a similar event rather than learning from the
event itself.

It is argued that when the learner learns from information produced by
co-learners rather than the signals derived from the event itself, the
learner will much more rapidly proceed in knowledge. It is also argued
that many learners may benefit from the learning and hence the information
produced by a senior co-learner. But all these and other arguments for
replacing events by information lack in one essential property -- the
feedback loop within spontaneous, irreversible self-organising systems.
The learner just has to be content with the information produced by the
co-learner. The learner has no say on how such information should be dealt

Learners are not fools. Not all of them can be controlled by information.
Some of them develop remarkable ways of dealing with information. They
will sift through it, taking what is appropriate to them. They will modify
it to suite their own requirements.

Figure 2 is also typical of OL in a hierarchial, authoritarian
organisation. Here the "co-learner" is always somebody's boss. What the
boss says is beyond modification and even questioning. Obviously, when the
boss makes the subordinate learner the event, this leads to serious
victimisation and thus traumatic stresses.

I have corrected figure 2 into figure 3 to provide for a feedback loop.
Please see


It is similar to figure 2 except for introducing the vital link TL (Team
Learning) -- the five broken curves. TL is not a uniform, linear process,
but rich in different mechanisms such as questioning, challenging,
contemplating and imagining.

Yet there is still something hindering in figure 3. It is that the information
produced by the learner does not get the same emphasis as the
information produced by the co-learner. This skew emphasis makes
Information Managment ("knowledge managment") difficult. Thus I
have transformed figure 3 into figure 4. See


Here we see clearly that the feedback loop has a O-O (the number 8 laid on
its side) configuration. Just follow with the eyes the six arrows defining
it this loop.

Second last to consider, is the role between OL (Organisational Learning)
and the LO (Learning Organisation). OL in an organisation does not make
the organisation a LO. Similarly IL for each member in an organisation
does not make the organisation a LO. But a LO has to have at least IL and
OL. The IL in a LO is better known as the discipline "personal mastery"
while the OL in a LO is better known as the discipline "team learning".
However, Senge described three other disciplines which also have to be
present in a LO, "mental model", "shared vision" and "systems thinking".
It is for this reason that any organisation with OL, cannot be
automatically a LO.

The last to consider is IL and OL together. OL cannot happen without IL.
(It would be like cutting the left side of figure 3 out.) But can IL
happen without OL? I think it happens occasionally, but not indefinitely.
Most crucial to understand this is the emergence of tacit knowledge to
formal knowledge by way of speech. All natural languages are the result of
OL. We are usually not aware how we learned to speak our mother tongues as
infants and toddlers. But should we want to learn to speak another
language, we will have to do it together with a speaker of that language.
I once tried to do it with Spanish without a natural speaker of it and it
was a disaster. Speech and thus language invokes OL. Likewise it
symbolising into writing.

Even though IL happens occasionally without OL, I think it should be
encouraged to happen more frequently. It is like the relationship between
the cells of an organ and the organ itself. The cells together function as
the organ. But each cell function primarily as a cell. If some of the
cells stay underdeveloped or become misformed, the organ's function
becomes impaired. This put additional stress on the cells functioning

Figure 4 shows nicely how "information and its management" of OL
rests upon the events of IL. Without such learning events for each
individual, "information and its management" hangs in the air. The
effect is far too often an ossification which may cause cracks in the
wine glasses. See
< http://www.learning-org.com/graphics/LO27847_impai7Es.gif >
These ossifications may even turn the wineglasses over.

Lastly, what shall we call IL and OL together? Through the years I have
referred to them together as "authentic learning". But perhaps it is time
to consider them together as merely Learning. (Notice the capital letter.)
In other words, Learning unfolds into two categories, first Individual
Learning (IL) and then Organisational Learning (OL), rather than IL and OL
adding together to Learning. I have also used "authentic learning" to
distinguish it from "rote learning". But I think this gives some
legitimacy to rote learning as the second best to Learning when it cannot
be "afforded" as a result of how we have organised ourselves.

Rote learning is for me personally the clearest indicator that the
organisation in which it happens, has an inferior organisational
creativity, i.e.
[C(1) + C(2) +....+ C(N-1) + C(N)]^a
a < 1
Here the whole is less than the sum of its parts. In fact, the whole is
reduced to those few who control or train the rote learners. It is their
creativities which fix the boundaries for the creativity of the whole
organisation. Rote learning can come in many disguises like
information=knowledge or authority=security. It is up to us to become
aware of each disguise which it takes. But the disguise which it cannot
take, is that which Rousseau and Pestalozzi sketched to us -- it cannot
be "spontaneous, irreversible self-organisation" having a sequence of
emergent levels. Another disguise which it cannot imitate is that which
Goethe sketched to us -- Steigerung in each of the emergent levels --
a rugged entropy landscape. See once again:
< http://www.learning-org.com/graphics/0109_landentropy.gif >

I have tried to give to you fellow learners a description of my own
understanding how the act of Learning unfolds into IL upon which OL may
follow. My description is mingled with my own observations and
speculations which I cannot avoid completely, trying as hard as I can. I
went through this contribution several dozen of times, trying to remove my
own prescriptions or any hint to instructional design or information
management. What I could do, I did do. But this essay is only information
on my own IL (Individual Learning). As information it also requires our OL
(Organisational Learning) to become useful. I await in great expectancy
your comments so as to respond to them in terms of what I know. Some of
your comments will be based on what you have learned self and the rest
will be what you have been informed of, but do not know self in terms of
events. I do not mind because your knowledge is as important as mine in

I know by experience that you fellow learners will respond in manners
which defies my mind -- except silence which means I have rather been
storming the wind mill in a Don Quixote manner. Sanches, where are you?
Let us storm those windmills which parade as Learning.

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <amdelange@postino.up.ac.za> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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