The Un-Learning Organization

Mike Gurstein (
Sat, 12 Nov 1994 09:33:04 -0500 (EST)

Equal I think, to the problem of how to get an organization to learn is
how to get an organization to "un"learn the lessons, drills, practices,
memories of its past.

Most organizations don't spring fully formed from Medusa's brow, they
arrive at a point where they (or at least some within them) believe that
they should begin to adapt more effectively, to change more rapidly, to
respond more sensitively.

But such organizations, having reached this level of self awareness
nevertheless carry within them--in the memories and behaviours of their
employees, in their manuals and rules and procedures, in their
structures, in their technology supports--the learned responses of their

Very often, before they can proceed to learn new things they must forget
as Claudio Cibbora has wisely noted, some of the old things.

I suspect that before we can become highly useful instruments for the
promotion of organizational learning we must come to understand the
processes for getting organizations to "unlearn" the much of what they
already "know".