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The Fifth Discipline

The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization by Peter M. Senge. Doubleday. New York. 1994.

The author: Senge was the director of the Center for Organizational Learning at the MIT Sloan School of Management and is a senior lecturer for MIT. See http://www.solonline.org/aboutsol/who/Senge/ for more, including other publications.

First lesson: Do your research before you go to the bookstore, buy the book, spend weeks reading it, only to discover that there is a newer “completely revised� edition.

Lessons from the book (the older edition):

What are the Five Disciplines?

Systems Thinking: a way of thinking that sees beyond individual patterns to the whole pattern of patterns, the whole of wholes.

Personal Mastery: “continually clarifying ..our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing our patience, and of seeing reality objectively.�

Mental Models: we all have them, the assumptions that are beneath our awareness, that drive our worldview and thus, our decisions.

Building Shared Vision: bringing people together toward a common future (rather than simply a goal).
Team Learning: the whole is smarter than the sum of the parts. Learning as a team becomes synergistic. The example here of a sports team that seems to play better than the sum of the individual talent on the team was illuminating.

Senge’s position is that being great (as an individual, an organization, a company) in any one or two of these disciplines will not mean success. Even “mastering� team learning, mental models, personal mastery, and shared vision will not mean success, at least not in the long term, because the problems we face today are those of complexity. He says there are two types of complexity: detail complexity which means many variables, and dynamic complexity which means that cause and effect are not close in time and space. He asserts that most of our organizations only know how to respond to effect that is closely linked to cause. If effect is too far down the time/space line we no longer see what caused it. Also, that many things are not linear at all (of course) but cause-effect-cause relationships.

The Fifth Discipline of Systems Thinking is offered as a language that organizations can use to (start to) talk about/expose what is really going on (“current reality�). This allows for models (paper or computer) to be developed that shed light on where the leverage point/s really exist. Then, using the “creative tension� between the “current reality� and the “shared vision� we can find creative solutions.
A Learning Organization is one that fosters personal mastery so that individuals continue to grow their own vision and can contribute that to a shared vision (which is not a majority rules, but an outgrowth of truly sharing the various visions which then build on one another). In order to grow that shared vision, the organization must examine its corporate culture mental models as well as individual’s mental models, holding them up to scrutiny in an environment that supports that risk, and discard those that no longer apply. This process can be part of the team learning process, because as the mental models are exposed and dealt with, the team can discover the underlying systems at work. With individuals committed to their own and each other’s growth, a common vision for the future (which continually examines itself), a team is born that can learn together using their common language of systems thinking to understand the current reality, the gap between that reality and the shared vision, and how to leverage their systems to create a new reality ever closer to their vision. (hopefully you see the disciplines in loops interacting with each other)

"Practicing" the disciplines is the emphasis. This may be frustrating to people who want/need a problem fixed right now. What is helpful is that at least they'll be working on the right problem. (For those who have familiarity with other "practices" like meditation, this emphasis will be familiar.)

If you haven’t read it, I recommend it, if just for Appendix 2: System Archetypes. That Chapter contains the systems pictures of every problem I’ve encountered be it in a corporate, governmental, non-profit, or personal setting. It gives the structure, the early warning signs, the business principle and some examples. This is a handy reference guide.

Having your colleagues read it will mean they won’t look at you so funny when you are talking about feedback loops.

PS. Happy I can post!


Hi Jody - did the author give any tips on personal mastery - this seems to be learned behavior....