Strategic Learning LO19777

Mark Feenstra (
Tue, 10 Nov 1998 11:13:27 +1300

Replying to LO19759 --

Hi folks, a few thoughts in response to Fred Nickols notion that if
strategic planning is done properly it constitutes strategic learning. I
must confess that strategic learning is close to my heart as it is the
basis of my working life as is indicated by the name of my company -
Strategic Learning Systems.

First, an outline of what I understand the terms strategic and learning to
refer to. My interpretation of the term "strategic" is that it is
concerned with the capacity of whole systems to meet the needs of their
stakeholders over time in a changing environment. With regard to learning,
I take it to be a cyclic process that occurs over time and includes
experiencing the outcomes of our intentions.

On this basis no matter how clever our planning processes become they
cannot produce learning - with the exception of learning about planning
itself. In order to learn strategically IMO we need to include the
implementation of strategy in our description. Strategic planning does not
meet this requirement. Scenario builders and model makers may argue that
learning takes place in terms of the content of a given plan as it is
tested against simulations of the real world - but the map and the
territory are not the same - given that the product of testing our
theories produces (at best) improved theories, not improved performance.

The key to strategic learning from my perspective is that it is a cyclic
process that follows the same basic pathway as learning in an individual
ie from reflection to theorizing thru planning and acting back to
reflecting again (a la Kolb et al). I have mapped this cycle at an
organizational level as follows:

- review performance
- raise strategic questions
- strategy development
- strategy selection
- strategy communication
- operational planning
- implementation
- performance measurement

and back to reviewing performance again. (I have a graphic of this cycle
which sets out more clearly along with a couple of other related diagrams
which I can forward directly to interested readers - just let me know - nb
they are quite large documents).

In my view this cyclic process describes how strategic learning takes
place (or not as the case may be) in organizations. For the past few years
I have been applying this cycle as a way of focusing organizational
learning on an organizations strategy. I have begun to understand that one
useful way of kick starting this is to assess organizational learning
disabilities by exploring where in the organization this cycle is
typically breaking down, and what sorts of effects these breakdowns are
producing. This sort of exploration clearly needs to be complemented by
exploration of related capacities but does provide one useful focal Point
for strategic learning initiatives.

Within the strategic learning cycle, the role of strategic planning is to
transform strategic questions into strategic intentions. In this sense it
may be fair to propose that, unlike strategic planing, strategic learning
is an end in itself, given that it is concerned with how organizations can
meet the interests of their stakeholders over time in a changing

In working with the strategic learning cycle I am learning that whilst
there are many advantages to conceiving of organizations as strategic
learning systems, that there are also some fundamental requirements to
enabling this transition in consciousness and practice to take place,
which are difficult to meet in today's environment. At this stage in my
understanding of these requirements includes being able to practically
address how:

- Our worldviews (civilization mental models) limit our capacity for
organizational self-renewal (not just our own mental models and/or those
inherent in our organizational culture or industry)

- To relate harmoniously to the natural processes of self-organization in
which we are embedded (ie managers do not manage, self-organization is a
naturally emerging phenomenon with which we can learn to cooperate rather
than seeking to artificially impose due to its absence)

- To support and encourage the emergence of self-referentiality by people
working in organizations so that we are each increasingly able to surface
and work creatively with the tensions between the shadows in our being and
the light of our becoming (in this way we become inwardly free to
cultivate the relationship between our own potential and the potential of
the larger wholes within which we are embedded)

No doubt there are more requirements that I have not understood as yet -
but these represent a very brief summary of what has presented itself to

My reason for mentioning these related issues is that while I have found
that strategic learning has plenty of promise as an intellectual
abstraction my practice with it is gradually revealing that it is a seed
that will only express its potential life when its basic needs are met.

Warm regards

Mark Feenstra


"Mark Feenstra" <>

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>