National Systemic Strategy Development Programmes – A Reflection and Proposal for SoLs Around The Globe

The thoughts here present a basis for ways SoLs (Societies for Organizational Learning that currently operate across various countries across the globe) may operate by as of itself or in collaboration with each other.

But more importantly it talks to the question:

How do more persons assimilate knowledge of this work but more importantly learn to turn ‘the theory’ into practice’ in ways that allow the work to affect the world?  Yes, just those two questions.





To me, the notion of adult learning and therefore one does not need hand-holding particularly in regards to the five disciplines (it does not help that the words ‘Learning Organization’ that follows closely conjures notions of self-learning) is misinformed.

Such reactions quite possibly are remnants of and therefore pushbacks from unpleasant experiences of the school education system one endures when younger. Most times we build on existing assimilated knowledge. In the case of the five disciplines, nothing quite prepares us to receive and work with it. SoLs are in a unique place to help more appreciate this subtle difference.

I read a lot but because of the anti-thesis, there is a period of hand-holding needed for the ‘cross-over’ that is critical and helpful as well as allow us to seek confirmation if we have got it right, with the one who is holding your hand.

Else just as the pendulum would have it, most ‘taught’ (but not learned) would swing right back to “where things were” or even worse ‘twist’ the purpose of the work. That is bordering on ‘dangerous grounds’ as the reactions to the misuse and misunderstanding of this work, in the instance of the five disciplines, are far stronger (I know that is a strong word to use, but I have lived to tell it) than is the case with the other tools.

This is where the disillusionment and push-backs (also given competing themes, capacity to focus, the linear framing of our world and language, and not to say massive low value but addictive forms of entertainment) tend to happen and eventually leads to the work dying out.  And therefore we are not realizing its potential of what it can be.  The work would get lost totally. Instead of investing the time it needs to build the five as disciplines for us.  Faster is not faster.  Faster is slower.

The truth is, self-discipline is a learned and acquired skill. It is not an innate characteristic.  One that comes with emulating an elder or practitioner. It’s clear for many, we don’t know how to increase self-discipline, however. … instead, the only way to improve is through intentional and dedicated practice.  That comes with harnessing the power of visions – that we learn to grow into becoming the person we need to become so that we are ready to hold the responsibilities that come with using the five disciplines when we get to the finish line as we are destined to cross it.  So, that is the price of what happens if you do not give up?  Keep trying. Keep trying.  As we pace ourselves on this journey to our aspirations, we grow and become the version of ourselves to handle the finish line as we cross it. Going faster, in the instance with Peter Senge’s work on The Fifth Discipline, is, unfortunately, giving up.  Take the time instead to build the discipline for you. Make it a part of you so that you are living it just as you would be as you breathe air.  Do not fear the word ‘no’.  Going fast does not mean that we will end up going faster, necessarily.  Resist that temptation.

The five disciplines of Learning Organizations work at their best when we learn to work the five together, just like the way it is when our palm brings the five fingers of our hand together.  In that space, it allows each of the fingers to become more powerful, able to do much more together than they were able to achieve while being separate from each other.  There is a ‘magic’ in that space that is not as easily defined or even recognized when we handle the five disciplines separately.  Sometimes, it will take years of practice to notice that is happening.  No kidding!

This becomes more apparent when we appreciate that the disciplines of Systems Thinking and Shared Vision requires a space that is unencumbered by roles and organizational mandates to work at their best.  The best way that I can describe this are shared spaces and even at times, no-man lands. Often that is a lonely space occupied by the Head of the State or of the public service who is tasked to navigate the complexities of the “badlands”, with dry rocks, jagged and uncompromising.

Despite so, most consultants and leaders, who attempt to work these disciplines from within organizations will very soon typically, begin to hit a dead end with either of those two disciplines.  That has been my experience as well. We may force-fit them and participants often react to it by recognizing that the process was good for them to know but not serving them of much practical use.

Often we can get away by saying it was just a vision and not really as such, shared visions. Or deal with remarks such as “I shall try them with my own family. Or when I have my own organization”.  As consultants, we often face silence or a dead wall and then navigate this silence by not talking to it or slide our attention to the other three disciplines, in particular, the ones on mental models (coaching, mentoring) and team learning (or loosely team building).

However, from my experience, when I work with organizations at national and regional spaces, those two disciplines, will come alive for the participants and begin to operate differently and often behave at their best.

And so, with time, I have worked at learning to position the five disciplines at national and regional strategy development efforts. It took me a while to gather enough case studies as well as to speak the language of public government officials and economists and understand the concerns of those positions so that the works of the five disciplines can also be made meaningful for them.

With time given to understand and to build trust with each other, we do get there. I would typically provide focus on their persistent national issues. That is how I often find my feet through the door and the client.

They do often welcome the idea as they are issues that have bothered them for a long time. The ones that do not leave their inbox. Not many consultants or strategists necessarily give it the systemic focus that it deserves. That is where SoLs come in!

These are issues that despite efforts to deal with them, they do not go away. It would look like some things are happening by way of programmes and activities and sums of money being thrown at them. However, they usually only serve to determine the extent these issues persists nationally. We would sometimes work at it until we are ready for a job transfer or even retire.

A case in example would be national unemployment. Whatever name we may call it by, youth unemployment, structural unemployment, and so on, the bottom line is as long as the nation’s capacity to create jobs does not match the need the nation’s has for jobs, we have a persistent issue in our hands. And this “problem” is not unique to any nation. It is global!

Some do’s and don’t to understand before you attempt to go on the journey into this space:


  1. Refer to the work SoLs or organizations do always to “The Fifth Discipline” or “the five disciplines of Learning Organizations”.
  2. SoLs help more of the world understand what this work is not and therefore why it is different from others. Learn more to understand the difference. The work has its own unique competitive advantage that is mired and lost when it is positioned as one of more of the same. It is not. SoLs are therefore in a unique place to help more appreciate the difference. This way, clients learn better so as to be led by SoL practitioners and not the other way around.
  3. Pay attention always and give to the work the time it deserves and is needed to develop the skills for learning practitioners. Think the Fold Arm exercise. There are no-short-cuts. The five disciplines are anti-thesis. Nothing quite prepares us to receive and work with it. Not even our existing knowledge that we have assimilated. Doing it as part of a half-day programme or as tools skills set does not help to overturn what has become habits and therefore consequences that have been formed over lifetimes and sometimes centuries. We have lost hundreds of years of time. The faster we go at it today, the worse it will become. And so, what is a few years today? Chose to cut down instead on the management fees and encourage the client to go in for the long-haul and therefore pay for the long-term.
  4. Provide the beginner 40 hours (5 days of 8 hours each) of teaching and practice hours for each discipline before the practitioner embeds the discipline and embarks on the research programme. That is a total of 200 hours. Or a two-year post-graduate study. Unfortunately, there are no short-cuts. If anyone has said there is, they are duly misinformed or have misjudged this work. Develop a competency development framework that allows all aspirants to learn to advance themselves through from novice. advanced beginner, competent, proficient and on to expert levels of competencies in the field.
  5. Pay attention to working in sectoral, nation, regional and even global spaces. Pay less attention to working in organizational spaces.
  6. Showcase the process that was used in the building of case studies but also ways the work of the five disciplines assimilate for the people (not necessarily of organisations – do not force it). Encourage, where that happens, the growth of the work outside of the organization.
  7. Publish showcases not in print but online so as to save costs and to allow the thoughts on the case to continue to grow with time.
  8. Complete the post-graduate programme for all practitioners who aspire to develop either a life-long practice or want to carve out their professional practice in the space.
  9. Encourage the following activities as SoLs that pay attention to the five disciplines to a point of exclusion of the others. Country-wide, regionally and globally. Just because I do not understand the five disciplines are or to learn to make it work that does not make them less effective as tools. Focus instead on bringing their “magic out”, every time:
    – Conduct of Webinars for budding practitioners
    – Conduct Face Talks (workshops, programmes, media briefs, symposiums, forums, conferences, plazas, watering holes, book clubs, Ted Talks, dialogues sessions) for newcomers to the practice. Invite sponsorships, where it is possible
    – Conduct Media Talks to build up communities of practices, encourage it. Do not push it.
    – Conduct programmes on the CEO’s Tables for the CEO and his senior management teams that focus on three disciplines: mental models, team learning and personal mastery and for consultants also deepening the practice of the Systems Thinking discipline.
    – Develop post-graduate programme (master’s level), for preparing CEOs, with state tertiary education institutions and embed research teams with the programme for the conduct of the research


  1. Encourage lead practitioners (facilitators, trainers and researchers) that place their personal short-term needs on time (financial needs, schedules, resources) above that of the time it needs for someone other than themselves to develop the practice. It is not as important to show to others that you are being kept busy. Not now.
  2. Model SoLs along the lines of international consulting management bodies such as ICFs or other leadership and management programmes (e.g. Centre for Creative Leadership, Balanced Scorecard, Performance Management System, WITs, Lean Management, The Seven (Eight) Habits, and so on). Each operates on the basis of very different principles. The Fifth Discipline is an anti-thesis. Continue to accord the respect the disciplines deserves and show the difference and the need for the difference to exist and so set it apart. It is ok. It has a purpose for the world. That purpose needs meeting.
  3. Mix the tools and practices of the Fifth Discipline with tools and practices of other streams of works. They do not mix. When we do so, the practice disrupts the market and disillusions the client. They may not be able to name the confusion but they stay that way nevertheless and tell on potential clients that way. The five disciplines can stand by themselves in any situation. Learn and discover what it would take to get to such levels of mastery.
  4. That practising consultants do not just land “from the outside”. They would show accreditation in the ways they understand and present the five disciplines as a whole (not separately) before seeking affiliations with SoLs. Not adaptations or variations of it. Shaping an individual within a learning organization is not just another facelift. When we do not get the use of the tool right, that does not mean the tool is at fault.
  5. Say it is Learning Organization or organizational learning. The two terms have become overused and have therefore lost its meaning in the context and intended purpose of the five disciplines


    • Draw up and develop global data capturing systems.  Draw up and develop post-activity global monitoring and evaluation systems.  Collate and monitor the draw up lessons and co-publish results with national / state universities.  Support the operational and administrative tasks of the unit and organization.
    • Reach out jointly with local SoL organization to national or state universities to develop and run post-graduate programme on the five disciplines and participants will need to conduct and submit research papers on live national issues to qualify for the certification.  Be the competency accreditation body for monitoring quality of standards of competency of trainers, consultants and researchers who lead programmes with state tertiary education institutions.  Produce and publish regional and global studies.
    • Conduct of reach outs to prospective global clients e.g. UN, EU, AU, SADC, ASEAN, APEN, and so on. Position national SoLs for joint collaboration across and within sectors, regions and global as well as significant subject matter experts who can throw lights on the findings of the systemic studies generated by the team.



There are three arms to the organization structure:

    • Draw up and develop data capturing systems.
    • Draw up and develop post-activity national monitoring and evaluation systems.
    • Draw up lessons and co-publish results with national universities.
    • Support the operational and administrative tasks of the unit and organization.
    • Reach out to national or state universities to develop and run post-graduate programme on the five disciplines and participants will need to conduct and submit research papers on live national issues to qualify for the certification.
    • Develop programmes geared at preparing CEOs for all sectors, government, NGOs, communities, private sector, consulates.
    • Graduands become qualified to lead the study of persistent issues under their charge with the SoL body.
    • Conduct of reach outs to prospective clients.
    • Tailor programmes with research and training units to prepare the client for conducting the study and develop national strategies.
    • Position SoL for each unit to collaborate effectively across the national university, the government of the nation as well as significant subject matter experts who can throw lights on the findings of the systemic studies generated by the team.
    • Collaborate across SoLs for each nation for conduct of regional studies.



Given the above, SoLs act as the meeting point for the following works to happen for each of their countries at national levels:

  • #1 Make approaches to the Prime Minister’s Office to position and leverage SoL’s services to work with their national strategy organ on the persistent issues facing their nation. Indicate that this is not an exercise at spending national budget. Most interventions of systemic issues need concerted hands and time to do reach outs and not money. In most instances, it can usually work with existing resources that are already budgeted for the nation.
  • #2 Present the impact that using the five disciplines have had on an example of a national issue and helped throw a better light on the issue at hand.
  • #3 Prepare to make similar approaches to regional development platforms the country belongs to do the same, e.g. ASEAN for South East Asia or SADC for southern Africa nations, AU for the African nations, EU for European nations and so on.
  • #4 Present the five disciplines as a series of introductory programmes and with a view to building on them concurrently as the research efforts are underway.


  • #5 Identify persistent issues (National Development Plans (NDPs) often present opportunities to learn what these may be) for the nation (not just for the government). The Head of the State or of the public service are typically in a unique place to suggest what these issues may be as a state.
  • #6 Develop stratified databases (by population, education, employment, natural resource, economic sector demographics) to capture data over time as much as it allows the team to identify Behaviour Over Time (BOT) graphs that can then point to underlying systemic structures (system archetypes) that are operating. As more demographics are used, ensure persons or organizations who have a stake in that part of the data sets are apprised of steps 2 to 6 above here.
  • #7 Line up the archetypes based on the Onion.
  • #8 At this stage, both the SoL team as well as the Strategy Office would begin to become clearer on what has been holding the nation back from achieving what it wants, e.g. low or perhaps even no unemployment.


  • #9 Gear the team to share the findings with persons affected by the issue at each iteration and round of stakeholders. Additionally, this would refine the process in Steps 6-8 above here.
  • #10 Repeat this process with the next persistent issue.
  • #11 As the country and its SoL gathers more sets of case studies, it can now begin to gear the country to institute post-graduate programmes on the five disciplines at their state and national tertiary institutions. The programme will focus on preparing leaders at different segments of society, be the private sector, government and non-governmental sectors and communities to undertake the study of the five disciplines.
    Each participant will be required to complete a research paper on a live national issue to qualify for the certification of the programme.
  • #12 These persons eventually become organizational leaders who lead the research study, community involvement efforts and observe and guide the monitoring and evaluations of the works on the ground. They in time become practitioners of this work within their societies and contribute to the growth of SoL in their country as well as across the globe.

The more these issues are understood and worked at, the better the nation begins to enjoy national growth on different sides.

Ideas in the making …. please add your comments below. Love to hear them!