Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization

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An MIT Professor's pathbreaking book on building  "learning organizations" -- corporations that  overcome inherent obstacles to learning and  develop dynamic ways to pinpoint the threats that face  them and to recognize new opportunities. Not only  is the learning organization a new source of  competitive advantage, it also offers a marvelously  empowering approach to work, one which promises that,  as Archimedes put it, "with a lever...

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Overview

An MIT Professor's pathbreaking book on building  "learning organizations" -- corporations that  overcome inherent obstacles to learning and  develop dynamic ways to pinpoint the threats that face  them and to recognize new opportunities. Not only  is the learning organization a new source of  competitive advantage, it also offers a marvelously  empowering approach to work, one which promises that,  as Archimedes put it, "with a lever long  enough... single-handed I can move the world."

Senge's pathbreaking book draws on science, spiritual wisdom, psychology, and the cutting edge of management thought to show how businesses can overcome their "learning disabilites" and beat the odds of failure. The book provides a searching personal experience and a dramatic professional shift of mind.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A director at MIT's Sloan School, Senge here proposes the ``systems thinking'' method to help a corporation to become a ``learning organization,'' one that integrates at all personnel levels indifferently related company functions (sales, product design, etc.) to ``expand the ability to produce.'' He describes requisite disciplines, of which systems-thinking is the fifth. Others include ``personal mastery'' of one's capacities and ``team learning'' through group discussion of individual objectives and problems. Employees and managers are also encouraged to examine together their often negative perceptions or ``mental models'' of company people and procedures. The text is esoteric and flavored with terms like ``recontextualized rationality,'' but the book should help inventory-addled retailers whom the author cites as unaware of their customers' desire for quality. Macmillan Book Clubs selection. (Aug.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385260947
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/1/1990
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.59 (w) x 9.53 (h) x 1.44 (d)

Read an Excerpt

1
Give Me a Lever Long Enough... And Single-Handed I Can Move The World

From a very early age, we are taught to break apart problems, to fragment the world. This apparently makes complex tasks and subjects more manageable, but we pay a hidden, enormous price. We can no longer see the consequences of our actions; we lose our intrinsic sense of connection to a larger whole. When we then try to "see the big picture," we try to reassemble the fragments in our minds, to list and organize all the pieces. But, as physicist David Bohm says, the task is futile--similar to trying to reassemble the fragments of a broken mirror to see a true reflection. Thus, after a while we give up trying to see the whole altogether.

The tools and ideas presented in this book are for destroying the illusion that the world is created of separate, unrelated forces. When we give up this illusion--we can then build "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.

As the world becomes more interconnected and business becomes more complex and dynamic, work must become more "learningful." It is no longer sufficient to have one person learning for the organization, a Ford or a Sloan or a Watson or a Gates. It's just not possible any longer to figure it out from the top, and have everyone else following the orders of the "grand strategist." The organizations that will truly excel in the future will be the organizations that discover how to tap people's commitment and capacity to learn at all levels in an organization.

Learning organizations are possible because, deep down, we are all learners. No one has to teach an infant to learn. In fact, no one has to teach infants anything. They are intrinsically inquisitive, masterful learners who learn to walk, speak, and pretty much run their households all on their own. Learning organizations are possible because not only is it our nature to learn but we love to learn. Most of us at one time or another have been part of a great team, a group of people who functioned together in an extraordinary way-- who trusted one another, who complemented one anothers's strengths and compensated for one another's limitations, who had common goals that were larger than individual goals, and who produced extraordinary results. I have met many people who have experienced this sort of profound teamwork--in sports, or in the performing arts, or in business. Many say that they have spent much of their life looking for that experience again. What they experienced was a learning organization. The team that became great didn't start off great--it learned how to produce extraordinary results.

One could argue that the entire global business community is learning to learn together, becoming a learning community. Whereas once many industries were dominated by a single, undisputed leader--one IBM, one Kodak, one Xerox--today industries, especially in manufacturing, have dozens of excellent companies. American, European, or Japanese corporations are pulled forward by innovators in China, Malaysia, or Brazil, and they in turn, are pulled by the Koreans and Indians. Dramatic improvements take place in corporations in Italy, Australia, Singapore--and quickly become influential around the world.

There is also another, in some ways deeper, movement toward learning organizations, part of the evolution of industrial society. Material affluence for the majority has gradually shifted people's orientation...

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Table of Contents

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