Re: LO only half an answer? LO3912

John Woods (
Mon, 27 Nov 1995 22:30:01 -0600 (CST)

Replying to LO3897 --

> I'd like to hear comments on an indirect quote from Leif Edvinsson,
> Director of Intellectual Capital for Skandia AFS; from "Elusive
> Assets" by Anne Stuart, in CIO: the magazine for information
> executives, 11/15/95, p.34.
> --The indirect quote:
> The learning organization is obsolete, yielding only half an answer to
> the question of how to best manage knowledge and neglecting to deliver
> any value added. What we need are intelligent organizations that
> focus on both learning and teaching.
> Competitive advantage goes to organizations that reduce the turnaround
> time between learning and teaching, and information technologies can
> help close that gap.
> --end quote

Whenever I read a quote like this I kind of cringe. Why? Because such
statements are so dependent on what we mean by the term learning
organization. We have a bad habit of turning really good insights and
techniques into fads and then we trash them. That's what is happening to
TQM right now. It's sad because from my perspective TQM is what you do if
you understand that an organization is a system. It's how you best manage
a system to continuously improve its processes to deliver quality outputs
to customers. If the learning organization is a limited view of these
basic ideas of what an organization should be doing, well of course it
will become obsolete and relatively fast. However, my sense of this idea
is that it is characterized by openness and change to make the system
operate better and better. If that's the case, then it can hardly become

There is a basic set of principles at work in organizations--people
interact together to create mutually beneficial relationships between the
organization, customers and other stakeholders. That's what organizations
have always done since the beginning of time. We keep coming up with
methods for managing these interactions and calling them new answer.
That's the history of management. Every theory is just a variation on a
theme. The learning organization is relevant and valuable to the degree
that it makes us aware of what it is that are organizations and the people
who make them are doing and gives us direction for managing effectively.
I think it does a pretty good job of that. It's a very useful metaphor in
other words.

TQM or the learning org or any other insight into management practice will
become obsolete if we become rigid, thinking this or that is the "truth."
However, I believe that TQM and LO ideas are about the exact opposite of
that. They are about being open and making intelligent changes in
response to and as part of a constantly changing world.

John Woods