Peter Senge (1947- )
Senge (pronounced Sengee) is a professor at the Sloan Business School at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology and the world’s best known expert on organizational learning (pictured right).
The Fifth Discipline
Five disciplines make learning effective:
1. Personal mastery
An individual’s continual learning from:
- visionary purpose (what you want to create).
2. Mental models
Ways of thinking and basic assumptions.
3. Shared vision
A desired future ideal shared within teams and the whole organization.
4. Team learning
Learning by doing in small groups.
5. Systems thinking
The fifth and most important discipline, because it:
- sees a problem as a whole.
- emphasizes the interrelationships between relevant issues and areas of knowledge
that can be illustrated by “causal loops”.
Causal loops can be:
a) virtuous circles
Where one good thing leads to another - like
Employee satisfaction, leading to...
Customer satisfaction and more profit, leading to...
More employee/customer satisfaction.
b) vicious circles
Where things get worse and worse - like
Redundancies, leading to...
Lower employee/customer satisfaction, leading to...
The five disciplines can overcome the main obstacles to organizational
1. Blaming other people, not yourself
- seeing how you contribute to your own problems.
2. Tackling symptoms, not causes
3. Failure to consider less obvious solutions and all the interrelated
issues of a problem.
4. ‘I am my job’ mentality
Failing to learn things outside your job.
5. Obstacles to change
- inflexible attitudes and beliefs.
- short-term thinking (so overlooking longer-term causes of change).
6. Inability to learn from experience
Leaders and managers must be learners (valuing reflection) and
encourage others to learn by being:
(of the organization’s vision and purpose).
(through inspirational communication and being servant leaders who serve people's needs).
3. Designers - of effective learning processes by:
- applying the five disciplines.
- removing the fear of failure (with a ‘forgive and forget’
- seeing the organization as a system that is changed by both internal and external
Creating a learning organization requires patience, because it is a never ending journey of self-improvement and
Key quotes on the learning
Organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire (Senge’s
definition of a learning organization).
Organizations learn only through individuals who learn.
The more you learn, the more acutely aware you become of your own ignorance.
Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions.
The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, 1994 (written with
Art Kleiner, pictured right, Charlotte Roberts, Richard Ross and
Two useful learning tools are:
a) the container
People put their assumptions, beliefs and intentions in this container, so that they can see:
- a problem with a fresh outlook.
- other people's point of view.
b) the ladder of inference
This outlines the stages in learning:
2. Select data from observation.
3. Interpret the data (add meaning).
4. Make assumptions.
5. Draw conclusions.
6. Adopt beliefs about the world.
7. Take action (based on beliefs)