MT Masterclass - The Learning Organisation

What is it? According to MIT's Peter Senge (author of The Fifth Discipline), a learning organisation is one 'where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.' So building one has huge potential but obvious pitfalls. Senge insists that without 'systemic thinking' - seeing the big picture - it will fail. But you also need inspiring leaders and an engaged, informed workforce.

Where did it come from? Work by US writers Donald Schon and Chris Argyris in the 1970s revolutionised understanding of how organisations learn and develop. They pioneered analysis of 'single-loop' and 'double-loop' learning. In the former, we learn from our mistakes and change our day-to-day action as a tactical response. In the latter, a profound grasp of what has gone wrong alters the basis of our strategic approach. If these processes can be supported and reinforced - bingo! - you have a learning organisation.

Where's it going? During the new-economy boom, learning and knowledge became hot ideas. Firms appointed chief knowledge officers; knowledge management was in: we were all knowledge workers, and information was an asset to be managed and it formed the basis of our human capital or value. But managers clung on to an older mantra: knowledge is power. Information rarely flows freely up and down the business, making it hard to build a genuine learning organisation. We might have known it would end this way. When will we learn? Bemoaning his fate, a Scotsman went to Hell crying: 'I didna ken, I didna ken', to which the Devil replied: 'Well, ye ken noo.'

Fad quotient (out of 10) Six and falling.

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