The Unlearning Organization LO9759
Thu, 5 Sep 1996 23:02:26 +1200

Replying to LO9727 --

John Zavacki wrote:

"It appears to me that the "unlearning" term is used fairly consistently
to refer to situations in which the "normal" or "learned" response is met
with negative feedback. (GM's strategy, tugging on the sari, etc.)

In the general case, the feedback mechanism has been reprogrammed
(informed consumer), or replaced (new CEO). In the special case, the
goals of the system have changed. The learner responds to a known dynamic.
The system responds negatively due to an added or modified variable. Once
the learner discovers the change in the system and adjusts response to the
new programming, the system responds positively again. Seems more like
learning to adjust to the dynamics of balancing and reinforcing loops than
"unlearning" to me."

I think that's a great summary. This describes the cycle of expansive
learning which moves: steady state --- into a needs state (business as
usual becoming sub optimal) ----- need for change state (contradictions in
the emerging conditions become unsustainable) ----- devising a new story
----- implementing the new story--- new steady state (systems analysis to
find if the new story actually met the need) --- back into the loop again.

This cycle does not need to refer only to major paradigmatic change. It
can also help us understand the sorts of responses to day to day
disturbances which threaten to unbalance a fundamentally satisfactory
steady state. Double loop learning involves interrogating the history of
such minor disturbances to discern if they are early warning of an
environmental shift of such proportions that a fundamental change needs
state is developing. Failure to do this leads to a purely reactive (not
learning) organisation.

In a fast paced and evolving industry like IT, or in any industry going
through a major change event, even seeking the steady state is a strategy
for disaster (I recall the Doonesbury software CEO who made the fatal
mistake of going out for lunch and found that the industry had left his
company behind by the time he got back), so each new story is merely the
way in which the next needs state is defined. This is how I understand the
concept of 'beyond equilibrium' systems.

Phillip Capper


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