Our Founding Discipline LO20405

Artur F. Silva (artsilva@individual.eunet.pt)
Sun, 17 Jan 1999 22:25:40 +0000

Replying to LO20353

Dear org-learners

At 10:23 11-01-1999 -0600, John Gunkler wrote:

>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 popularising
>the concept of a learning organisation. 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 organisation.

Thank you, John, for your mail. I only could read it today, but suddenly I
became obsessed with a lot of ideas, many of them "divergent" and, I am
afraid, even contradictory between themselves. The fact that you stated
your point so clearly, allowed me to make explicit a lot of doubts that
until now were only implicit. ( I prefer, implicit to tacit, in this
context, because it was, and it is now, not even "knowledge" - can we talk
about "tacit doubts"?). I hope that with the help of all of you, I will be
able to clarify some of them.

I suspect that this will be a long mail, and I know that my English will
not help. Sorry, for that, please try to understand...

Let me begin with the Subject: "Our Founding Discipline". I have problems
with all the words ;-(

"Our" relates to what ? Are we searching for the "founding discipline" of
a LO? of the LO consultants and practitioners ? of this list ? of Peter
Senge ? of the "systems dynamics" practitioners ? All of these questions
are interesting, but I would say that finding the "founding discipline",
or the "founding principle" of a LO is of utmost importance.

And, if we are talking about that, is there such thing as the "founding
discipline of a LO"? Or the beginning, the creation, the emergence of a LO
implies something that is not, and can not be, a "discipline"? That is
much more a "principle", or a "process" than a "discipline"?

You refereed to Peter Senge, as "the person most responsible for
popularising the concept of a learning organisation". You have used, very
correctly, in my opinion, the word "popularising", and not "founding".

If someone was the "founder" of the LO concept, Senge himself says it was
not him. But one can claim that "learning organisations" have bean there
for some centuries, that A. de Gues first understood their importance ( in
his seminal HBR article, "Planning as Learning", of March/April, 88), and
that Senge later "formalised" some disciplines to try to help
organisations to learn ( "The fifth discipline" was published in 1990). I
am not underestimating the importance of Senge's work to all of us; I only
think that we must clarify that he is not the "founder", if we want to
understand what are the "founding disciplines".

I do not think that we need to argue about this subject; let me quote
Peter Senge, in the beginning of his Foreword, to Arie de Gues, "The
Living Company", of 1997.

"It was through Arie de Gues, whom I met over 15 years ago, that I first
became seriously acquainted with the concepts of organisational learning.
This meeting began the journey of a life time.

He introduced me to the famous study done at Royal Dutch/Shell ( and
refered in Gues's HBR article - my note AS), where he was the coordinator
of planning world-wide, which found that the average life expectancy of
Fortune 500 firms, from birth to death, was only 40 to 50 years. The study
also found many companies over 200 years old. Arie convinced me that most
corporations die prematurely - the vast majority before their 50th
birthday. Most large companies, he said, suffer from learning
disabilities. They are somehow unable to adapt and evolve as the world
around them changes."

So, if organisations capable of learning, changing and adapting have been
there for more then 200 years, when Systems Thinking, or Systems Dynamics,
were not invented, some different founding discipline, or principle, must
be found to explain the fact.

I think that Senge can be again of some help here. I will only refer two

First, in the chapter "A sixth discipline?" he mentions the possibility of
a sixth or even 7th discipline to be needed; how can we be sure that an
eventual 6th discipline will not prove to be the "fundamental one"?

Second, and more important, in the first chapter, there is a sub-chapter
titled "Metanoia - a shift of mind" where Senge closely relates the
emergence of a LO to a "metanoia". Let me quote again:

"The most accurate word in Western culture to describe what happens in a
learning organisation is... *metanoia*, and it means a shift of mind... To
grasp the meaning of metanoia is to grasp the deeper meaning of learning
for learning also involves a fundamental shift or movement of mind".

So I would argue:

1. that the founding principle of a LO is metanoia;

2. that in the LO community, I don't know of any study that tried to
understand the "collective metanoia" needed to allow the emergence of a LO
- maybe it is only my ignorance, but you will correct me if it is the case
( really, apart from Alberoni's book, "Genesis", I don't know any study to
try to understand metanoia at a collective level );

3. all of us have been talking much more about the "disciplines" because
that is something one can "teach"... And one can not teach "metanoia"...

And there is where I came back to Arie's "Planning as Learning", and also
to our discussion of "LOs in Higher Ed". I quote :

"In this role as facilitator, catalyst, and accelerator of the corporate
learning process, planners are apt to fall in several traps...The third,
and MOST SERIOUS, is that to often wee communicate our information by
teaching. This is a natural trap to fall into because we've been
CONDITIONED TO all our lives. But teaching as John Holt points out is
actually one of the LEAST EFFICIENT ways to convey knowledge. At best, 40%
of what is taught is received, in most situations, it is only about 25%."

So, the "founding article" on LOs, clearly states that learning is not
what happens when someone teaches others, and can be exactly the contrary.
Interesting, isn't it ?

I look forward to see your comments.

Best Regards

Artur <artsilva@mail.eunet.pt>


"Artur F. Silva" <artsilva@individual.eunet.pt>

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