Why a learning organization? LO29171

From: Fred Nickols (nickols@safe-t.net)
Date: 09/13/02

Replying to Alexis Boisson in LO29169 --

Alexis writes:

>In answer to the need for a learning organization... let's agree that an
>organization is a living organism, consisting of humans.

I agree that organizations (and I have in mind corporations as the
particular form of organization in question) can, from one perspective, be
viewed as "consisting of humans." There are other perspectives as well:
Organizations can be viewed as consisting of physical assets (e.g., plant,
equipment, buildings, etc.). Organizations are often legal entities but
not always. They are also profitably viewed as complex networks of
processes. My favorite perspective is to view them as cycles of events
per the notions of Katz and Kahn in The Social Psychology of

I do NOT agree that "an organization is a living organism." To speak of
organizations (e.g., corporations) as "living" or "dying" is to use a
figure of speech.


>Where mistakes affect the profitability of an
>organization, sustainability becomes an issue.

I think that depends on the magnitude of the effect. Minor mistakes
affecting the profitability of an organization happen all the time. They
are overlooked, ignored, tolerated and compensated for. (Now that you
refer to profit, I assume your use of "organization" refers to corporation
as well.) Major mistakes can also be accommodated without affecting the
"sustainability" of a company. It is only when mistakes (or even factors
other than mistakes) alter the "fundamentals" of a business that its
sustainability comes into play. If, for example, its products lose favor
with its customers, sustainability is an issue. If a new technology makes
its products obsolete, sustainability is an issue. If it acquires a
reputation such that insufficient numbers of talented people are willing
to work on its behalf, sustainability is an issue.

>It is therefore imperative
>that organizations learn, in doing so they put themselves in a position to
>proactively take whatever action is necessary to ensure their continued

Who says they should continue? What is wrong with organizations "dying"
(to use a figure of speech)? Some where, some how, there seems to have
arisen this notion that organizations should go on forever. Why is that?
Frankly, I think that's a bad idea. Think about it this way:
Organizations, as you say, consist of people. Organizations are, then,
marked by patterned behaviors that we call corporate or company or
organizational "culture." Were all organizations and their "cultures" to
continue forever, I suspect that our larger societies would become
stagnant and moribund.

So, although I agree that effecting the adaptation of an organization to
its environment is healthy and proper, I don't believe it can be done
under all circumstances nor, were it possible, I don't believe it should
be done in all circumstances. Moreover, in some circumstances, I believe
organization should be torn down, so to speak. I am glad, for example,
that certain political regimes are no longer with us. I hope that certain
others will soon disappear.


Fred Nickols
"Assistance at a Distance"


Fred Nickols <nickols@safe-t.net>

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