My Theory of Organizational Learning LO30820

From: Mark W. McElroy (
Date: 12/01/03

Replying to LO30809 --


Thanks for the clarifications. Now I see the following issues as
having arisen:

 1. You cite the basis of your theory as your own experience with a
group of colleagues over the past 13 years. Was this group an
organization, per se? If not, what your model describes may not be
organizational learning at all; rather, it may be community learning,
since it sounds as though you and your colleagues are a community, not
an organization. We should explore this further.

 2. Is your model descriptive or prescriptive; or both? Ideally, it
would not be both. You stated your intent to focus on what people
actually do, which implies a descriptive model, but as I read your
account, I sensed a bit of normative argument here and there, implying
that this is, at least in part, your account of what people ought to
do. In any case, I think it might be interesting to get you to make
the descriptive/prescriptive distinction more explicitly, so that you
end up with two models, not one: one that you think describes the
world as it is, and another that describes the world as you think it
ought to be in order to maximize OL.

 3. I have become extremely sensitive to theories of truth and
evaluation in accounts of knowledge production. Other than your
references to competition between communities as a vehicle for
resolving differences between competing knowledge claims, it's not
clear to me what epistemology, so to speak, your account subscribes
to, in terms of how competing knowledge claims are actually resolved
(i.e., is it by consensus, coherence, correspondence, utility, etc.?).
Or maybe your account is neutral on that issue, I don't know.

 4. One other point on the communities issue: competing claims are
not only resolved in competitions between communities, they are also
resolved within communities.

 5. As you point out at the end, we do seem to hail from different
points of view on the learning/knowledge issue. But I did not think
that we differed in our understanding of what it means to learn.
Rather, I thought it was in terms of our conflicting points of view on
what 'knowledge' means. You subscribe to the 'capacity for effective
action' definition; I subscribe to the 'beliefs and claims that have
survived our tests and evaluations' view. My problem with the
'effective action' scheme is that it (a) seems to overlook other
things required for effective action, and (b) doesn't adequately
account for false information that may also lead to effective action.
Thus, false information is just as likely to pass for knowledge in the
'effective action' school as true information is; and because of (a),
true information, or knowledge, may not always lead to effective
action, because other resources are often required to do so.

 5. (cont.) I also get the sense that the 'effective action' school
seems to believe that what's effective can be known with certainty,
and that therefore knowledge can be known with certainty. But to say
that an action has been effective is to make a knowledge claim. And
if claims about how effective actions have been are themselves
UNcertain, which I believe is true for all claims, then how can we
ever use that criterion to tell knowledge from not-knowledge.
Further, how are we supposed to resolve disputes in opinion over
whether or not particular episodes of action have been effective?
No, we need something deeper than that. At least that's how I see it.



Mark W. McElroy
President, KMCI, Inc. []
CEO, Macroinnovation Associates, LLC []
(802) 436-2250
>Mark, this is a very fair question. As you noticed, I wrote mostly
>about things that happen largely in an individual. And, I want to
>note that one of the points most directly about shared knowledge
>(#13. Communities of thought... competition among ideas...) arose
>from my prior conversations with you. I like your notions about how
>contradictory knowledge gets resolved.


"Mark W. McElroy" <>

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