LO a means or an end? LO6140

William J. Hobler, Jr. (bhobler@cpcug.org)
Wed, 20 Mar 1996 16:28:33 -0500

In the short respite from this conversation I reflected about it and the
whole concept of Learning Organizations. My first conclusion was the
subject question. Is the Learning Organization concept an end to be
achieved or a means to achieve other ends? At the risk of being a heretic
in your company, I suggest that an LO is simply a means. More about this

A second question surfaced. If one goal of leadership is to establish a
LO, what should the organization be learning about? Our conversation on
this list seems centered about learning how we communicate with each
other, find out about each others assumptions etc. In many ways this list
considers how people relate with each other and with the organization.

My thinking went back to the corporation and its objectives. IMHO a
corporation exists to survive, and will do most anything to make that
happen. If the corporation is a business, then being able to successfully
compete in the market is the goal. A charitable corporation must compete
for donations and political organizations for constituents. Human
relationships and learning are only one contribution to this success.

A corporation is part of a larger system, the global financial and
commercial system, the transnational governments and local governments are
two co-existing larger systems in which corporations exist. Moreover,
within a corporation there are systems, I can name five internal systems
and six 'boundary' systems in the make-up of corporations. By boundary
systems I mean systems that are a part of the corporation but are the
boundary between the corporation and the larger system (the environment).
You may envision this concept as a six pointed star. The points are the
six boundary systems.

The internal systems include the core technology of the corporation, the
physical plant, the product or services, the human system and the computer
system. There are others to be sure. These make up the center of our six
point star. Since each internal system interacts with all of the boundary
systems there is no particular structure to assist understanding.

The ability to compete is dependent on all of the corporate systems, not
just the human system which is the subject of LO. This is a very complex
set of dependencies. I am reminded of the complexity dealt with in
Shoshana Zuboff's "In the age of the Smart Machine" a 1988 publication.
It is not a smart machine that is central to success, it is the knowledge
of the whole system gained by exposure to the dependencies that is

My thinking about what the LO should be learning parallels Zuboff's
conclusions. What is needed is understanding of the relationships that
effect performance. This is an understanding deep enough to be intuitive
in nature. Isn't this the subject for the LO? To be able to understand
our corporate system well enough to anticipate reactions to certain

Perhaps thinking of creative artists as a model of corporations is
helpful. Creativity is built on consummate knowledge of the art. The
creative artist is first a great mechanic. A guitarist cannot be
concerned about where the frets are and where to pluck the string, those
have to be embedded in the motor system before he or she can express the
feeling of the music creatively.

To extend Zuboff's concepts to the whole organization is a hugh step. It
means learning the corporation as a system of relationships and absorbing
them into, IMHO, the beliefs on the organization's ladder of inference.
As beliefs the corporation is able to operate the reflexive loop and seek
data needed for the next action.

I believe that in smaller corporations people can more easily gain this
level of understanding. It amy be a natural outgrowth of working together
for years and years. In a large organization it may well be that the
openness and honesty of the LO concept is an only hope for fully
understanding the relationships. But the human system must also provide
for longevity of people so that there is time to adsorb the volume of
experience needed. Similarly all the other systems must support learning.

Please help me think these concepts to truth and clarity. What is the task
of a Learning Organization? Is a LO a means or an end? And a follow on
question comes to mind, if an LO is a means then what stages does it
experience as it provides its value to the corporation?

bhobler@cpcug.org ( William J. Hobler, Jr.) Bill


"William J. Hobler, Jr." <bhobler@cpcug.org>

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>