Re: Def. of Learning Org LO3846

andy rowe (
Sat, 25 Nov 1995 12:56:46 GMT

Replying to LO3827 --

On Thu, 23 Nov 1995 17:48:21 -0500 wrote:

>> Date: Thu, 23 Nov 1995 17:48:21 -0500
> Subject: Def. of Learning Org LO3827
> To:
> I have been searching vainly for definitions of a "learning
> organization." The only thing I can find is Peter Senge's
> statement of meaning: "an organization that is continually
> expanding its capacity to create its future."

[...quote of prev msg trimmed by your host...]

> Nowhere that I can find does Senge suggest that the
> term "learning organization" refers to an organization that
> learns in the same sense in which people learn. Indeed,
> my reading of Senge suggests that he is saying the exact
> opposite, that learning organizations are organizations in
> which people are learning.

I wonder if you have read an article in the 'Systems Thinking' journal (I
believe it is a 1995 edition). In this article, Jackson (who has been
developing critical systems theory here in the UK for many years).
Jackson's article lambasts the 'Fad' theories of Guru theory (Peters,
Kanter et al) and the Learning Organization work of Senge. He attacks
generally the fad nature of Senges work, pointing (as with Peters etc.) to
the complete lack of an academic, theoretical base; which inhibits further
development of the ideas in 'The Fifth Discipline'. Also, apart from
being dissmissive of the term 'discipline' for the five part schema,
Jackson notes an apparent CONTRADICTION/TENSION between the VOLUNTARISTIC
position of the first four disciplines (mental models, personal mastery
etc.) and the DETERMINISTIC nature of the Fifth discipline: the idea that
there are inherent 'system archetypes' that should be applied by managers
to investigate/solve problems with learning. Fundamentally, Jackson is
concerned that Senge has simply 'dabbled' with systems theory (system
dynamics) and ignored the more critical, theoretically grounded work, in
favour of a few obscure references to Eastern mysticism (a typically
'guru' approach!).

Personally, I must also follow a rather critical stance, although the
ideas have validity, there is still the danger that we could all fall into
the trap of adopting another 'flavour of the month' concept, from an
albeit very marketable 'cureall' (I can't help being reminded of Morgan's
'Images of Organization', which developed a very interesting new line of
attack to organization theory, but which blew it all in the last chapter,
when simplistic, positivistic answers were generated after ten chapters
describing the inherent subjectivism of analysis through metaphors;
possibly an 'add-on' to give a 'nice ending'!)

Andrew Rowe (PHD student, University of Essex UK