learning organizations LO30316

From: AM de Lange (amdelange@postino.up.ac.za)
Date: 06/26/03

Replying to LO30307 --

Dear Organlearners,

William Kranjcec <billhere@in-tch.com> wrote:

>Please advise the steps on how to become learning
>organization as well as its benefits.
>[Host's Note: Williams, I fear it's not quite so easy,
>but we'll see what people on the list have to say in
>response to your question. ..Rick]

Greetings dear William,

I will try to answer the first part of your question..

What a question! It seems so naive, yet notice the "how" in stead of the
usual "what". This question begs for an operational answer. If we cannot
provide it, then what are we doing here? However, my experience in all
operational ("how") questions is that they are difficult to answer, for
myself and for others to whom I put such questions. I will formulate an
answer based on my own experiences so far rather than basing it on what
Senge documented in the Fifth Discipline and with co-authors in the Field

My first bit of advice will be to find yourself one or more mentors when
you have never experienced before guiding the emergence of an OO (Ordinary
Organisation) into a LO (Learning Organisation). Furthermore, while
excusing me for being so blunt, avoid anyone who will help you on the
condition of payment. How often someone with a rare medical syndrome have
to shop from doctor to doctor without getting the help really needed.

My second bit of advice will be to make sure what will be the main
advantage after having emerged into a LO and always keep it in mind
yourself. For me it is to have metanoia and act accordingly. Metanoia are
profound changes in thoughts, i.e., a sort of overhauling of knowledge
which gives rise to mutual symbiosis between members of the LO and between
them and all members of society with whom they interact.

My third bit of advice will be to "hunt with only willing dogs" (an
African saying). Hunting, for example a lion or a buffalo, is very
dangerous. An unwilling dog will cause devastating trouble at any crucial
moment. By this saying I mean that you have to gather together spontaneous
learners in the organisation who also want a LO. A spontaneous learner
need not to be forced or rewarded to learn anything. A spontaneous learner
learns as if there is no other purpose to life.

My fourth bit of advice will be to team up these willing dogs in what I
prefer to call "LO-cells". All living species begin life as single cells.
The multicellular ones increase by cell division rather than growing as
one cell into gigantic proportions. A "LO-cell" will have to begin with at
least three members and will have to divide when reaching about twelve

My fifth bit of advice will be to convince the management team that
cellular transformation of the OO into a LO, nor the final LO itself, will
have any negative consequences to them. The best strategy is to tell them
that they have the authority at any time to kill this cellular
transformation and that the "LO-cells" will accept it with no bad
feelings. It is important to let them feel that they are in control, even
when they know nothing about what they must control.

My sixth bit of advice is connected to the fifth. It is that every member
of each "LO-cell" will strive not to jeopardize the well-being of any
member of the organisation. Their honesty, integrity, commitment,
compassion and authentic learning are vital to the cellular transformation
until most of the OO has emerged into a LO. A "LO-cell" which does not act
according to the five disciplines as have been expounded by Senge, is a
cancerous cell which will eventually take over all other "LO-cells" so
that death will set in.

My seventh bit of advice will be to arrange for frequently open dialogues
within a "LO-cell" and between all the "LO-cells". These open dialogues
(exchanging of thouhts) build up connections between the "individual
(personal) knowledge" of every member of each "LO-cell" so that an
"organisational knowledge" emerge through it. Indiviual mastery will then
become enhanced by organistional learning.

My eighth bit of advice will be to expect and allow a change in the
operation of these LO-cells as they advance towards maturity. In the
beginning they will operate very much like Barry Owen's concept of Open
Spaces. But as they grow into maturity, they will each acquire a unique
functionality. This entails that it is counter productive to expect all
the "LO-cells" to function the same or to some preset schedule.

My nineth bit of advice will be to do the brave thing whenever in doubt.
Do not confuse bravery with intimidation by force or rocking the boat.
Bravery is rather the working towards a higher ideal in the face of even
deadly perils while never causing perils self. Often the brave thing has
never been done before, but that is no reason for doing it.

My tenth bit of advice will be to promote the constructive creativity of
everybody within the organisation while refraining from negative
discussions and actions. LOs thrive upon constructive creativity whereas
any destructive creativity is like a disease to them. Both constructive
and destructive creativity are amplified throughout the organisation.
Constructive creativity has the advantage that its amplification persists.

My eleventh and last bit of advice is to walk the talk step by step.
Whatever any "LO-cell" has talked about and reached concensus on, has to
be put into action as soon as possible. This action is vital to gain the
experience which will be needed in the next step. Without this walk of the
talk the talk will dissipate into noise which leads to nothing.

Finally, I am concerned about two things. The first is that the great
majority of experts on LOs think of it as a milestone on the long journey
of the theories of organisational management, just to be superseded by the
next milestones. I think differently because I want to get the job done
successfully. LOs existed long before Senge succeeded in articulating them
with concepts taken from organisational management. Senge's awareness to
them emerged as a result of his interaction with Arie de Geus who
identified the Living Organisation as one which has a longlevity. I myself
had been involved with two LOs some twenty years before his book the Fifth
Discipline appeared. I also know of a glorius LO here in Pretoria having
no member who knows anything of Senge's seminal work. I call each of them
a "tacit LO" because they have not yet articulated what they have become.

The second thing is that most experts believe that the transformation of
an OO into a LO is gradual. I think differently. For example, in biology,
at least since Lamarck and thus even before Darwin, biologists thought of
the evolution of species as a gradual transition. It was only late in the
twentieth century, after enough information has accumulated, that the
theory of evolution by "punctuated equilibrium" was formulated. At first
it was attacked vehemently just as Copernicus' theory of heliocentricity.
But now more and more biologists accept it as the most plausible theory
for evolution. A punctuated equilibrium means that slow changes taking a
lot of time are interspaced with drastic changes happening in a very short
periods of time.

This gave me the idea that an OO has to transform into a LO through cell
division. The formation of each new cell, actually two of them in each
event, is a relatively fast step on this long path of punctuated
equilibrium. To the outsider only the long path of gradual change is
apparent. It may take up to three years! But to the insiders, especially
of the "LO-cells", the relatively fast emergence of such cells afford
experiences which are impossible to forget. Do not think that this is a
modern insight. Already two centuries ago the writer Goethe, who among
others, also studied the biological realm, came to the same insight. What
is today called as "punctuated equilibrium", he called "morphogenesis" and
describe it with profound clarity for his time. He used it to great effect
in his poems and dramas, especially the epic drama Faust. Even Homer, two
millennia before him, did the same in his own two epic dramas.

William, after all which I have written, you will have to walk your own
path, despite the advice of fellow learners on this list. Do not conform
to such advice, but do keep it all in mind when taking every step. Do
whatever your own unique situation requires. And please scrutinise the
Fifth Discipline because it has crucial information often not appearing in
its headlines.

I did not give you any steps as you requested. Out of the bits of advice
above you ought to figure out the sequence of steps. The growth of a
"LO-cell" by getting new members and its subsequent division into two
cells willl be the main sequence of steps getting thhe OO transformed.

May you have success.

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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