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The Fifth Discipline
by Peter M. Senge

Summary: ""

LEARNING ORGANIZATIONS. Organizations 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 how to learn together. Learning organizations are fundamentally different from traditional authoritarian "controlling organizations."

The 5 Disciplines of the learning organization are:

  1. Systems thinking: The world IS created of related forces. Individuals have difficulty seeing the whole pattern. Systems thinking is a conceptual framework, a body of knowledge and tools to make the full patterns clearer, and to help us see how to change things effectively and with the least amount of effort --to find the leverage points in a system.

  2. Personal mastery: Clarify the things that really matter to us and living our lives in the service of our highest aspirations.

  3. Mental models: Turn the mirror inward and learn to unearth our internal pictures of the world, to bring them to the surface and hold them up to rigorous scrutiny.

  4. Building shared vision: Practice unearthing shared "pictures of the future" that foster genuine commitment and enrollment, rather than compliance.

  5. Team learning: Team learning starts with the capacity of members of a team to suspend assumptions and enter into a genuine "thinking together." "Unless teams can learn, the organization cannot learn."

The 7 Learning Disabilities which are responsible for organizational failure are:

  1. I am my position
  2. The enemy is out there
  3. The illusion of taking charge
  4. The fixation on events
  5. The parable of the boiled frog
  6. The delusion of learning from experience
  7. The myth of the management team
The disabilities can be overcome through mastering the disciplines.

The Beer Game shows how rational individuals that are part of a system but that act in isolation can get trapped in problems related to their own thinking and behaviors. Interestingly, in the beer game and in many other systems, in order for you to succeed others must succeed as well. Moreover, each player must share this systems viewpoint.

Metanoia --A Shift of Mind: At the heart of a learning organization is a shift of mind --from seeing ourselves as separate from the world to connected to the world, from seeing problems as caused by someone or something "out there" to seeing how our own actions create the problems we experience. A learning organization is a place where people are continually discovering how they create their reality and can change it.

Structure Influences Behavior: More often than we realize, systems cause their own crises, not external forces or individuals' mistakes. In human systems, structure includes how people make decisions --the "operating policies" whereby we translate perceptions, goals, rules, and norms into actions. Structure produces behavior, and changing underlying structures can produce different patterns of behavior.

The 11 Laws of the Fifth Discipline:

  1. Today's problems come from yesterday's "solutions"
  2. The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back
  3. Behavior grows better before it grows worse
  4. The easy way out usually leads back in
  5. The cure can be worse than the disease
  6. Faster is slower
  7. Cause and effect are not closely related in time and space
  8. Small changes can produce big results --but the areas of highest leverage are often the least obvious
  9. You can have your cake and eat it too --but not at once
  10. Dividing an elephant in half does not produce two small elephants
  11. There is no blame

All of which become clear once we let go of our linear, unidirectional causation way of thinking, and adopt the systemic perspective--where relationships are not always linear, and where causality may be traced through a feedback loops back to its original source and effect it, as well as be effected by it.

Feedback loops: Any reciprocal flow of influence. In systems thinking it is an axiom that every influence is both cause and effect. Almost nothing is ever influence in just one direction. Distinguish "reinforcing" from "balancing" feedback ("positive" and "negative" feedback loops, respectively). There are different patterns of behavior of reinforcing and balancing phenomena. Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing the "structures" that underlie complex situations, and for discerning high from low leverage points. Situations where cause and effect are subtle, and the effects over time of interventions are not obvious. Conventional forecasting, planning, and analysis methods are not equipped to deal with dynamic complexity.

Systems Archetypes --generic structures which embody the key to learning to see structures in our personal and organizational lives. Two archetypes exist: (1) limits to growth and (2) shifting the burden.

  1. balancing process with delay
  2. shifting the burden to the intervenor
  3. eroding goals
  4. escalation
  5. success to the successful
  6. tragedy of the commons
  7. fixes that fail
  8. growth and under-investment