Chapter 2: At The Heart of the Practice of A Learning Organization

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 give up this illusion – we can then build “learning organizations”.

Peter Senge

Learning Organizations are organizations where people continually expand their capacities to create the results they truly desire , where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free and were people are continually learning how to learn together.

Peter Senge

It is 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.

Peter Senge

At its essence, Learning Organizations make the practice of building the capacity of a human community for collective action, individually and collectively, its priority.  It works hard at shaping its destiny and, in particular, bringing forward new realities and results that are in line with people’s deepest aspirations.

And here’s the biggest part of the catch. The collective includes those both within as well as outside the organization. That can now become the sector, country or even the region and the world the organization is operating within.

This would mean only one thing happening. We see the community funnel their greatest sources of energy mentally, emotionally and physically as a group into what they really care to bring about. It builds collective awareness (and therefore what they truly want as) not just what they want for today but in times to come for generations of the people by the people, i.e. initiate and sustain deep-seated change and results. That becomes the true essence of sustainable works.

It’s practice is in uncovering and learning to resolve persistent or systemic issues.  There are three parts to the works:

  1. Conduct of training on the five disciplines of Learning Organization and their practices;
  2. Research of systemic issues to uncover behavior over time charts, and systemic causalities, and;
  3. Facilitated sessions for the development of systemic strategies and action plans.

At the core of the presentations we do are two good pieces of work.  First, The Art and Practice of Learning Organizations by Dr Peter Senge and second Action Science by Dr Chris Argyris, where the works of Learning Organisations are rooted.

This program goes deeply into the domains of mastery of personal and shared aspirations, collaborative inquiry, and the systems perspective applied to sustaining real change.  When change happens, it does not go back.

Much of the learning occurs through the interactions as a group which if it includes personal relations and family can have profound impact on self-development as well as development between participants.

Participants initially comes away with a deeper understanding of how they may facilitate change, both within their organizations as well as their personal lives to create results that matter.  People become clear together what they want as a collective, and so very little time is wasted to get to the result and they become truly amazed at how it is done with such great gusto!  The delay is in reaching a clarity in their minds, of what people want as a collective.


This understanding, however, does not necessarily lead to change as an organization till individuals within the organization have had sufficient time to apply the work on to themselves and learn to let go of any deep-seated fears that grip them in their efforts to forge ahead as a whole, while letting go of their pasts.


The source of the definition of Learning Organization was H. Thomas Johnson, one of the world’s leading accounting theorists.  Johnson is the co-inventor of the Activity-Based Costing (ABC) and co author of Relevance Lost: The Rise and Fall of Management Accounting, sited by Harvard Business Review as one of the seminal management books of the past 75 years. Though ABC was considered a significant contribution, Johnson himself thought of it only as a first step in radically rethinking performance management and devoted himself in the following decade to in-depth study of a small number of industry-leading firms. One of these is Toyota, whose approach to cost-management he documented in Profit Beyond Measure, a heretical book that suggested that Toyota’s extra-ordinary long-term success was due in part to carefully limiting the use of performance metrics by managers. In particular, Johnson argued that when performance metrics was reported to those at higher levels in the management hierarchy, managers are incycleduced to use them to set numerical targets and drive change – what W. Edwards Deming called “meddling”. Johnson, like Deming, claimed that continual learning and superior performance actually depend on connecting metrics and target-setting with in-depth process knowledge at the front lines.  This directly contradicts what many managers consider their primary task – setting numerical targets and driving results – which may be why so few competitors have been able to match Toyota’s long-term performance. But sensing and acting locally is exactly how complex living systems work – indeed, it was through studying living systems that Johnson came to understand Toyota’s approach to cost management.  No one is “in charge of a forest”.  Your body does not wait for orders from the brain to flow coagulants to a cut on your finger. Whatever “centralized” control does exist in nature is possible precisely because of complex networks of local control.  We have no idea how we walk, but once this “body of knowledge” is developed, the body responds to our conscious directives without that body of knowledge, all the central directives in the world with be ineffectual. Johnson realized that Toyota’s approach to performance management embodied the essence of living systems: company managers were engaged in continually building and deploying locally embedded know-how and then trusting front-line workers to manage and improve cost performance.  In effect, Toyota’s approach to localized performance management amounted to discovering and embodying nature’s patterns, and that is why Toyota’s team were superior learners.

Peter Senge

This simple definition of learning illuminates a wide range of potentially profound changes in social systems, from how we work together to the nature of industrial systems as a whole.  For example, Plug Power’s “zero-to-landfill” vision for manufacturing fuel cells is inspired by a transcendent law of living systems, zero waste.  Or, put differently, “waste equals food”.  Every by-product of one natural system is a nutrient for another natural system.  I’ve just returned from China, where the president and prime minster regularly talk now about the “circular economy” based on this principle.

Peter Senge