The Seven Disabilities for Learning

What is a learning disability?

– a condition giving rise to learning difficulties, especially when not associated with physical disability.

Few large corporations live even half as long as a person.  In 1983, a Royal Dutch/Shell survey found that one third of the firms in the Fortune “500” in 1970 had vanished.  Shell estimated that the average lifetime of the largest industrial enterprise is less than forty years, roughly half the lifetime of a human being.

In most companies that fail, these is abundant evidence in advance that the firm is in trouble.  Perhaps under the laws of “survival of the fittest”, this continual death of firms is fine for society.  But what if the high corporate mortality rate is only a symptom of deeper problems that afflict all companies, not just the ones that die?  What if even the most successful companies are poor learners  they survive but never live up to their potential?

It is no accident that most organizations learn poorly.  The way we have been taught to think and interact create fundamental learning disabilities.  The consequences are tragic.  The first step in curing them is to begin to identify the seven learning disabilities.  The second step, mastering the five management disciplines of the learning organization, I believe, can act as antidotes to these learning disabilities.  But first, we must see the disabilities more clearly – for they are often lost amid the blister of day-to-day events.

According to …

Peter M. Senge.  (1990).  The Fifth Discipline. Doubleday

Organisms and organizations are susceptible to the following learning disabilities:

I am my position


“I AM MY POSITION” – with this disability, individual units in the organization focus too closely on their own positions and responsibilities, thus missing out on bigger pictures and inter-unity.



The enemy is out there



“THE ENEMY IS OUT THERE” – the disability enables us to find an external agent to blame (“no one can catch a ball in that darned field”, “the customers betrayed us”)



The illusion of taking charge.jpg





“THE ILLUSION OF TAKING CHARGE” – when reactivity is mistaken as proactivity




Fixation on Events

“THE FIXATION OF EVENTS” – when conversations and media are dominated by short-term events, leading to “event” explanations (instead of “pattern” explanations that describe longer-term events)






“THE PARABLE OF THE BOILED FROGS” – where we do not see gradual changes, much like a frog in a pot will relax into drowsiness as its water is slowly heated



Delusion of Learning from Experience


“THE DELUSION OF LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE” – because some effects are beyond the current limits our awareness (e.g., effects in time, non-linear effects), we do not experience many of the effects of our actions,


Myth of the Management Team1

“THE MYTH OF THE MANAGEMENT TEAM” – with this disability, management protects itself from the threat of appearing uncertain or ignorant in the face of collective inquiry, resulting in “skilled incompetence” (“people who are incredibly proficient at keeping themselves from learning”)