Our Founding Discipline LO20353

John Gunkler (jgunkler@sprintmail.com)
Mon, 11 Jan 1999 10:23:04 -0600

This may be an appropriate place to make a point I've been wanting to make
since first I began reading this list. System dynamics is the foundation
discipline of Peter Senge, the person most responsible for popularizing
the concept of a learning organization. It is the ideas of system
dynamics, with emphasis on feedback loops and trying to understand reality
in ways similar to the way those who live in it understand it, that gave
rise to the idea of creating a learning organization. And it is system
dynamics that offers hope that we, simple creatures that we are, might be
able to actually understand and control (to some degree) the complexity in
which we find ourselves.

That's why I am continually surprised to notice how many people
contributing to this list seem unaware of system dynamics. I commend to
all of you that you take a(nother) look at system dynamics as you try to
understand how organizations do and don't work and learn. Many of the
difficult questions posed on this list find answers, or at least find hope
of creating answers, in the discipline of system dynamics. Other
disciplines (chaos theory, general systems theory, analogies from
biological and other sciences) have much to contribute -- but, at this
early stage, I think system dynamics is the only one that comes close to
providing real tools, structure, and the ability to handle complexity in
an understandable way. The other disciplines provide analogies, language,
creative ways of thinking about things -- but few solutions, few process
descriptions, and little practical help.

I have copied, in another post to this list, an extensive page of sources
for system dynamics provided by Dr. Jay Forrester, who created the

If we ever want to move "learning organizations" beyond being a Kaffee
Klatch of opinions and musings toward a discipline that actually, itself,
learns and accomplishes, I believe we must start by applying system
dynamics principles to our problems and using system dynamics tools to
help understand and solve them.

Please don't misunderstand -- I enjoy dialogue, here and elsewhere, as
much as any of you, I'm sure. But dialogue itself, when it was described
in the early LO literature, was an attempt to put feedback loops into the
way people talked with each other when trying to accomplish some mutual
goal. That is, it arose from thinking systemically about how we use
language and was an attempt to apply systems principles to that endeavor.

So, let us continue to dialogue about whatever seems helpful in creating
learning organizations. But those who need more directly practical help
can't do better (at least for now) in turning to the principles, methods,
structures, and tools of system dynamics.


"John Gunkler" <jgunkler@sprintmail.com>

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <rkarash@karash.com> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <http://www.learning-org.com>