Uncovering the Act of Organisational Learning LO28818 (Part 1).

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

Replying to LO28708 --

Dear Organlearners,

Greetings to all of you.

This essay is a sequel to
"History of Uncovering the Act of Learning LO28708
< http://www.learning-org.com/02.06/0049.html >

This essay is long so that I had to break it up in two parts. The first
draft was short. But as I rethought every sentence over and over again,
taking into account a maze of information, the essay just grew and grew.
Perhaps some fellow will make a nice summary of it.

Part 1. Reflections on the Learning of an Individual.

In the essay "History of Uncovering of the Act of Learning" the focus has
been on individual learning. I mean with such learning that primordial act
of any individual upon which knowledge, information, teaching, education
and even the management of organisations depends. I use the word
"uncovering" in the sense of direct disclosing, describing and
explicating. I do not use the word in the sense of speculating,
prescribing and advocating.

Let me give an example of what I mean. When I want to uncover the act of
flying by a bird, I do not want to go into all which a bird accomplishes
through flying. I just want to know what the flying of a bird involves and
where possible an explanation of it. A definition of the flying of a bird
or a prescription for it are about the worst descriptions I can get on it.

I have been doing research on and contemplating the "Uncovering of the Act
of Organisational Learning" for a long time. The concept "Organisational
Learning" (OL) came into use in the eighties of the 20th century. Studying
this concept in literature (traditional and later Internet) revealed to me
that within a decade it became the bandwagon for selling treasure maps
under names like Knowledge Management. Some even gave their definition of
OL, but how can anyone define the flying of a bird? Some even proposed
theoretical models of OL, but how can anyone evaluate OL without knowing
what it involves? It is this dealing and wheeling in the vague which made
me to compose first the essay "History of Uncovering of the Act of
Learning" to give an indication what we are up to.

The essay covers a period of some 5 000 years. In 1767 the book "Emile" by
Rousseau was published, depicting the act of learning "theoretically".
Rousseau had no dedicated terminology to make use of so that he described
the act of learning by way of a story. With today's terminology we can say
that according to his story the act of learning is "spontaneous,
irreversible self-organisation".

In 1801 the book "How Gertrude teaches her Children" by Pestalozzi was
published, depicting the act of learning from the practical point of view.
Pestalozzi, like Rousseau, had no dedicated terminology to make use of.
Hence he also used a story to uncover with even greater clarity the act of
learning, especially the emergent levels in it.

How do we know that they were the first to uncover the act of learning?
Because much (but not all) of what they wrote were descriptively rather
prescriptively. Should they have known that every science begins with a
description of its objects, they would have taken greater care to avoid
prescriptions in their work.

Should we take 1800 as a cut-off point, it took humankind 96% of its time
since documenting its thoughts (from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt) to
uncover the act of learning for individuals. The act of learning for
organisations is even more startling. In 1978 "Organisational Learning: a
Theory of Action Perspective" by Chris Arygris and Donald Schon was
published. In 1990 it was followed by the "Fifth Discipline: The art and
practice of the Learning Organisation"" by Senge. It took humankind 99.6%
of its time since documenting its thoughts to articulate of the act of
organisational learning.

Did Arygris and Senge succeed in describing the act of Organisational
Learning (OL)? I wonder because the "spontaneous, irreversible,
self-organisation" in "Organisational Learning" and "Fifth Discipline" is
for me not as clear as in the stories "Emile" or "How Gertrude teaches her
Children". The "spontaneous" today means technically that the organisation
uses primarily its own free energy F to sustain its learning act. It does
not import free energy from external support systems to do so, leaving its
own free energy intact. The "irreversible" means that the organisation
produces entropy which will also change the environment forever. It
corrects this change in the environment through mutualistic symbiosis. The
"self-organisation" (autopoiesis) means that organisation depends on its
own organisation for organisational changes. It does not get forced by the
environment what it must do, except by taking hints as soon as possible.

In both "Emile" and "How Gertrude teaches her Children" the act of
learning in the individual were described as proceeding from sensations to
experiential awareness and then to its articulation as speech. It was
described as a uniform process from less to more complex understanding
without any peculiar rhythm in it. Only in 1958 was tacit knowing
uncovered by Polanyi, a level between experience and speech. After speech
follows further formalisation in writing, drawing, exploring, numbering
and measuring.

The only person to realise in those days that the act of learning is not a
uniform process, was Goethe, living about the same time as Pestalozzi. He
stressed that it had for himself a curious rhythm which he called
"Steigerung". His efforts to describe this "Steigerung" satisfied nobody
because they had no awareness to it. Eventually he had to give up, saying
that others have to do what he did to become aware by experiences what it
means. What did he do? He studied as many different kinds of subjects as
possible -- a Jack of all sciences, but master of none, some would say. He
did not study the information on these subjects as much as he studied
their objects. From this he derived a kaleidoscope of experiences which
caused Steigerung within himself.

Sensations in a individual are generated by the five sense organs. These
sensations are not always regular and familiar, but change like a rugged
landscape with hills and valleys. As a consequence of this very peculiar
change these sensations emerge into new experiences. These experiences
themselves also do not have a uniform sequence, but again follow the
pattern of a rugged landscape. Sometimes they follow each other quickly up
like ascending a mountain to form a kaleidoscope of chaotic impressions.
In between they follow each other up more calmly in an ordered fashion
like dwelling in a valley. Because of their changing pattern and by
unifying them coherently with the whole of past experiences, new tacit
knowledge emerges. Again this pattern of a rugged landscape is also
manifested in the tacit knowing. Consequently this pattern of change makes
the subsequent articulations of tacit knowing possible, first in speech
and then in other forms like drawing and writing. Once again the rugged
landscape manifests itself in these articulations of formal knowledge. For
example, tell an artist that his/her creative outputs are uniform and
he/she will tell that you know nothing of art.

For most people the act of learning has four (or less) levels: sensations,
experiences, tacit knowing and formal knowing. But for me there is a fifth
and last level, namely wisdom. Focussing on this level is better known as
philosophy -- thinking about knowledge. Wisdom has the same rugged
landscape as the other levels of knowing below it, sustained by free
energy and the 7Es (seven essentialities of creativity). When someone
makes derogatory remarks on philosophy or even ban its pursuit, it points
to insufficient free energy or impaired 7Es to explore wisdom. The effect
is like a sky scraper collapsing. A lack of wisdom leads to a lack of
formal knowledge, then to a lack of tacit knowledge and eventually to a
lack of experience.

All these levels in learning are sustained by the entropy landscape of
creativity. See an example at
< http://www.learning-org.com/graphics/0109_landentropy.gif >
and a discussion of it in
"Fitness Landscape and other landscapes. LO27257"
< http://www.learning-org.com/01.09/0053.html >

On the ridges where free energy is rapidly consumed and the entropy
production is high, ordinate bifurcations happen, leading to emergences or
immergences. In the valleys where the entropy production is low, the new
emergent orders mature. This rugged rather than uniform entropy landscape
is basic to all creative/self-organising systems, including systems which
learn. Kauffman prefers to call them CASs Complex Adaptive Systems) and
calls the pattern a fitness landscape. Again Kauffman's work, like Senge's
work, is a radical departure from what humankind believed the past 99.8%
years of its documented anthropogenesis. Should we jump from one ridge to
another, the effect is nothing else than Goethe's Steigerung.

Unfortunately, this ruggedness (Steigerung) of the act of learning may
erode into a flat landscape when it is not driven by inner knowledge, but
by external information. This will happen especially when the information
is smooth and supplied in a uniform manner. Consequently it becomes
difficult for a rote learner to recognise the rugged landscape in the act
of learning for all its levels. It even becomes difficult to distinguish
the act of learning from the act of informing as well as its outcome
knowledge from information.

I have depicted the act of learning of an individual in figure 1. Please see


It consists of a series of signals arriving upon one or more of the sense
organs of a learner from participating in any event. (This depicted by
five lines.) It leads to a series of consecutive INNER emergences from
sensations to sapient knowledge. Only at the level "formal knowledge" will
anybody else become aware of learning in a person when that person begins
to produce EXTERNAL information addressing one or more sense organs of
other people. (This is again depicted by five lines.) Please notice the
"wine glass" form of the act of learning. Should one or more of the 7Es
become impaired, the "wine class" will not hold its content. Please study
"Constructive Creativity and Leadership. Part 7. LO27847"
< http://www.learning-org.com/02.02/0109.html >
and its accompanying figures
< http://www.learning-org.com/graphics/LO27847_incre7Es.gif >
< http://www.learning-org.com/graphics/LO27847_impai7Es.gif >

The act of learning for an individual is far from simple when driven by
inner knowledge as Goethe became aware of. But how does the act of
learning for an organisation proceeds? Anthropomorphising the act of
organisational learning will not do. An organisation does not have, except
by way of its individuals, the sense organs sight, hearing, touch, smell
or taste. An organisation also does not have a brain in which knowledge
directs further learning. So what act as the inputs and the control for
organisational learning? I think that before answering this question, we
first ought to know why humans create organisations.

For me an organisation is formed to increase collectively the creativity
of its individuals. If the creativity of the N individuals can be expressed
symbolically by C(1), C(2), ...., C(N-1), C(N), then the creativity of
the organisation can be expressed by
[C(1) + C(2) +....+ C(N-1) + C(N)]^a
The very reason why any organisation is formed is that for the exponent
"a >1", i.e., the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Should "a = 1",
the whole would be equal to the sum of the parts. Should "a < 1", the
whole would be less than the sum of the parts.

Often the exponent "a" may become "a < 1", i.e., the whole is less than
the sum of its parts. It means that the organisation inhibits the
creativity of some of its members. How does this happen? The creativity of
each member is determined by two kinds of conditions, the necessary and
sufficient conditions. In the necessary condition the individual must have
the free energy to create, thus producing entropy. In the sufficient
condition the individual must not be impaired in one or more of the 7Es.
The 7Es are liveness ("becoming-being"), sureness ("identity-context"),
wholeness ("unity-associativity"), fruitfulness ("connect-beget"),
spareness ("quantity-limit"), otherness ("quality-variety") and openness

When there is sufficient free energy and all of the 7Es are functioning
at the requisite level of complexity for the organisation as a whole, the
exponent "a" becomes "a > 1" so that the organisation is in a
constructive mode. But when structures and processes prescribed for
the organisation impair seriously one or more of the 7Es for some of its
members, it will be in a destructive mode so that "a < 1". To keep the
organisation in the constructive mode, its members learn together
authentically. In other words, constructive organisational learning
changes the sum
[C(1) + C(2) +....+ C(N-1) + C(N)]
to the whole
[C(1) + C(2) +....+ C(N-1) + C(N)]^a
a > 1

I have often experienced from a young age how organisations either
promote my creativity when "a > 1" or inhibit my creativity when
"a < 1". At first I did not understand it at all. I was able only to revolt
in such organisations or to exclude myself from them when "a < 1".
But as I grew older and wiser, I began to promote the constructive
creativity of the organisations to which I belong. After I discovered
the 7Es, I began to use them systematically to change "a < 1" into
"a > 1". But this is a long process requiring much patience. Knowledge
of the 7Es comes by way of experiencing events, not by a deluge of
information about events.

Do these 7Es and internal free energy tell how the act of Organisational
Learning (OL) proceeds? No, they merely stipulate what conditions have to
apply to creativity and learning, whether individual or organisational.
Senge also stipulated such conditions, but as the 11 essences of a LO.
(See the appendix to the Fifth Discipline.) It is possible to combine
these 11 essences together in a manner which resembles the 7Es.

When we want to uncover the act of Organisational Learning OL), where will
we begin? A study of existing traditional literature as well as internet
files reveals a busy market place where the majority try to capitalise on
the authentic and seminal work done by Arygris and later Senge. Here and
there someone describes something of OL, but it is flooded by either
prescriptions for OL or information how to put OL to use.

I think we will have to begin with the act of Individual Learning (IL) for
its members. I cannot perceive how organisational learning is possible
without the individual learning of each members. Thus once again OL begins
with the sensations experienced by each of its members. But here we must
be careful not to narrow the sensations which can easily happen and did
happened far too often. Let me explain.

The most frequent sensations employed in IL (Individual Learning) in
Europe and Little Asia are those of hearing and seeing. It is not a modern
tendency, but more than two millennia old. This is a pity because in
Africa and the America's before colonisation took place, touch, smell and
taste also played important roles.

I have on purpose explored the sensations derived from feeling, tasting
and smelling. Today I am relatively good at making identifications by
touch, taste and smell. For example, I can identify many species of plants
by merely feeling them or smelling them. I can identify the status of a
soil or an aquatic filter by smelling and tasting them. It is not funny --
tasting a soil tells me in seconds much of what elaborate chemical
analysis taking several days and requiring costly instruments will tell
me, after having integrated all the results. As a chemist I am also able
to identify many compounds by merely smelling or tasting them. I know that
this is dangerous because compounds can be poisonous or corrosive, but I
have learned to use micro quantities to do this.

As I grew older, I became deeply under the impression to rely on all my
sense organs for swift and effective action. It is even more the case when
I am all alone in pristine nature, usually deserts, without the support
systems which technology can provide me. The more I focus on what all my
sense organs tell me, the less the risk of me getting into trouble. Here I
learned to live like the San people (Bushmen). My sense organs are the
only way in which the "world-inside-me" can make effective contact with
the "world-outside-me". I have no extrasensory abilities and any belief in
such a thing would bring sure death to me in a desert. I have no codes of
instruction telling me how to act since the deserts are lonely places. Few
dare to experience them.

When exploring a desert alone, it is impossible to have any OL
(Organisational Learning). What counts there is IL (Individual Learning)
ans IL alone. But on occasions I also took some people with me on some of
my desert explorations because they begged me and promised to help pay for
expenses. In most cases I was very disappointed and strangely amused.
Their mental models on learning prevented them from adapting to an
environment alien to them in order to stay alive. My advice to them (as
OL) fell on deaf ears and their own reactions (as IL) were often a recipe
for disaster. Were it not that I kept a close watch on them, they would
have perished.

Seeing me doing and hearing me talking had little effect on them. My
strategy then would usually be -- get self the sensations of what is
happening to you like dehydration, mineral depletion, low glucose level,
cramps, skin ulcerations, dizziness and mental distortions. Only after
such experiences did they appreciate in my telling (hearing) and actions
(seeing) something sensible. But without their own IL, our OL later on
would have had no meaning to them.

But does Organisational Learning (OL) also begin with sensations? It
indeed begins with the sense organs, but in the way how other humans act
according to their own individual learning of the same or a similar event.
Most frequently it is seeing what they do and hearing what they say. In
other words, OL does not begin with sensing the event itself like in IL,
but sensing how other learners react to such an event. Their actions to
such an event become the source of own experiences, sensations, tacit
knowing and its articulations (formalisation) rather than sensations
derived from the event itself.

To be continued in Part 2....

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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