Our Founding Discipline LO20396

AM de Lange (amdelange@gold.up.ac.za)
Fri, 15 Jan 1999 16:47:27 +0200

Replying to LO20353 --

Dear Organlearners,

John Gunkler" <jgunkler@sprintmail.com> writes:

>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.

Greetings John,

The above quote entails that System Dynamics comes first in order and
Learning Organisations second. It means that without SD we would not have

I think differently. No discipline, not even SD, comes forever first.
People develop a discipline when studying objects of a certain kind. They
develop the discipline as a coherent and consistent account of all those
studies. Thus a discipline (subject) is a great help in managing the
changes of natural objects to which that discipline pertains. The
discipline may even help to create artificial objects of the same kind. It
is only in this latter sense that the discipline comes first -- closing
the loop.

   [natural object] -->-- [study] -->-- \
           |                                          [discipline]
   [artificial object] --<--[study] --<-- /

As I see it, it is the natural occurance (even though rare) of LOs which
led Peter Senge develop his five disciplines with System Thinking (System
Dynamics optimised for LOs) as the one discipline which unify the rest.
The idea is that they will help and imbetter the emergence of LOs. But the
five disciplines also make it possible to create artifical LOs. Is that
possible? What is the difference? Which one will it be?

Think of beer. Because of scientific understanding and technology it is
now possible to produce natural beer and artificial beer. Natural beer is
still produced by fermentation, but in a much better fashion by avoiding
certain things and promoting other things. Artificial beer is produced by
mixing water, alcohol, hop extract, malt and dye and carbon dioxide. (In
South Africa about 90% of all beer produced is artifical.) Is there a
difference? Ask beer drinkers, expecially those who know about the
"Reinheitgebot". I myself can clearly taste the lack of irreversible
self-organisation in artificial beer.

>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

If we do not make sure that System Dynamics is developed to cope with
complexity, then it will be as useless as Newtonian Dynamics when we
encounter real complexity. In my opinion any version of Systems Dynamics
which do not give an account of creativity will not cope with complex
systems of human organisations. That is why I spend so much time on a
systems thinking in which creativity plays an essential role.

>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.

To use my metaphor of beer above, I think that the dialogue was and still
is an attempt to avoid creating artificial LOs.

>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

Many of the contributions to our ongoing dialogue are concerned with
systems thinking (system dynamics), although few say so explicitly. It is
those contributions to the dialogue which help us to understand system
dynamics better and even improve on system dynamics. It is up to us to
identify them and order them coherently and consistently into our systems
thinking. We cannot do any better without these dialogues. Furthermore,
dialogue helps us to prevent the SUBJECT system dynamics turning into an
OBJECT and eventually making a doctrine of it.

Best wishes


At de Lange <amdelange@gold.up.ac.za> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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