wisdom to win

 Wisdom to Win
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Peter Senge (1947- )Peter Senge


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).


Key book


The Fifth Discipline (1990)


Five disciplines make learning effective:


1. Personal mastery 

An individual’s continual learning from:

  • self-motivation.
  • creativity.
  • 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...

More redundancies.


The five disciplines can overcome the main obstacles to organizational learning:


1. Blaming other people, not yourself  

Learning involves:

  • self-analysis.
  • 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:


1. Stewards 

(of the organization’s vision and purpose).


2. Teachers 

(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’ philosophy).
  • seeing the organization as a system that is changed by both internal and external factors.


Creating a learning organization requires patience, because it is a never ending journey of self-improvement and learning.


Key quotes on the learning organization

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.

 Peter Senge

The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, 1994 (written with Art Kleiner, pictured right, Charlotte Roberts, Richard Ross and Bryan Smith)

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:

1. Observation.

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)


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