Review of The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization by Peter Senge

The Fifth Discipline Book Cover

I started reading “The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (Senge 1990) is a book by Peter Senge (a senior lecturer at MIT)” for one potential client who believes their company should transform itself to a “Learning Organization”. I am planning to read the book, summarize it here and then provide my insights on the trans-formative aspect of this book. (Well, one issue I can tell right away is that the book has been published on 1990 which is a 13 years back that means the professor has been conceiving this theory and his analysis much longer than before. So right away I am a little skeptical as to how relevant it is after 15 years and when the world has changed significantly due to the advancement of technology and the depression in economy)

Peter Senge believes there are 5 disciplines that makes a company to become a “Learning organization”. Here they are:

The five disciplines functioning together

The five disciplines functioning together

1. Systems Thinking

2. Personal Mastery

3. Mental Models

4. Shared Vision

5. Team Learning

Here they are more elaboration on the above points:

1. Systems Thinking:

The practice of systems thinking starts with understanding a simple concept called “feedback” that shows how actions can reinforce or counteract (balance) each other. It builds to learning to recognize types of “structures” that recur again and again. Ultimately, it simplifies life by helping us see the deeper patterns lying behind the events and the details.

Systems Thinking Visual Model

Systems Thinking Visual Model

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Business and other human endeavors are also systems. They, too, are bound by invisible fabrics of interrelated actions, which often take years to fully play out their effects on each other. Since we are part of that lacework ourselves, it’s doubly hard to see the whole pattern of change. Instead, we tend to focus on snapshots of isolated parts of the system, and wonder why our deepest problems never seem to get solved.

The Habits of Systems Thinker

The Habits of Systems Thinker

2. Personal Mastery:

It must always be remembered that embarking on any path of personal growth is a matter of choice. No one can be forced to develop
his or her personal mastery. It is guaranteed to backfire. Organizations can get into considerable difficulty if they become too aggressive in promoting personal mastery for their members. Still many have attempted to do just that by creating compulsory internal personal growth training programs. However well intentioned, such programs are probably the most sure-fire way to impede the genuine spread of commitment to personal mastery in an organization. Compulsory training, or “elective” programs that people feel expected to attend if they want to advance their careers, conflict’ directly with freedom of choice.

Personal Mastery Discipline

Personal Mastery Discipline

What then can leaders intent on fostering personal mastery do? They can work relentlessly to foster a climate in which the principles of personal mastery are practiced in daily life. That means building an organization where it is safe for people to create visions, where
inquiry and commitment to the truth are the norm, and where challenging the status quo is expected—especially when the status quo includes obscuring aspects of current reality that people seek to avoid.

Such an organizational climate will strengthen personal mastery in two ways.

  • First, it will continually reinforce the idea that personal growth is truly valued in the organization.
  • Second, to the extent that individuals respond to what is offered, it will provide an “on the job training” that is vital to developing personal mastery.

As with any discipline, developing personal mastery must become a continual, ongoing process. There is nothing more important to an individual committed to his or her own growth than a supportive environment. An organization committed to personal mastery can provide that environment by continually encouraging personal vision, commitment to the truth, and a willingness to face honestly the gaps between the two.

3. Mental Models: The discipline of working with mental models starts with turning the mirror inward; learning to unearth our internal pictures of the world, to bring them to the surface and hold them rigorously to scrutiny. It also includes the ability to carry on “learningful” conversations that balance inquiry and advocacy, where people expose their own thinking effectively and make that thinking open to the influence of others.

Mental Model Discipline

Mental Model Discipline

4. Building Shared Vision: The practice of shared vision involves the skills of unearthing shared “pictures of the future” that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance. In mastering this discipline, leaders learn the counter-productiveness of trying to dictate a vision, no matter how heartfelt.

Shared Vision Discipline

Shared Vision Discipline

5. Team Learning: How can a team of committed managers with individual IQs above120 have a collective IQ of 63? The discipline of team learning confronts this paradox. The discipline of team learning starts with “dialogue,” the capacity of members of a team to suspend assumptions and enter into a genuine “thinking together.” To the Greeks dia-logos meant a free-flowing of meaning through a group, allowing the group to discover insights not attainable individually. Interestingly, the practice of dialogue has been preserved in many “primitive” cultures, such as that of the American Indian, but it has been almost completely lost to modern society. Today, the principles and practices of dialogue are being rediscovered and put into a contemporary context. (Dialogue differs from the more common “discussion,” which has its roots with “percussion” and “concussion,” literally a heaving of ideas back and forth in a winner-takes-all competition.)

Team Learning Discipline

Team Learning Discipline

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