The Unlearning Organisation LO9919
Thu, 12 Sep 1996 02:42:55 -0400

Replying to LO9889 --

I think Brock made some good points in "The Unlearning Organisation
LO9889" but have a couple thoughts I'd like to add about this comment:

>The question that I was raising is whether our pre-occupation
>with rapid change (in literature, consultant advice, in
>discussion lists) and the assumption that everyone is
>struggling with it, makes it difficult for these organizations
>to relate to what is being said about current organization

I think it is important to differentiate between product/techonolgy change
and organizational change. I will give my own example:

I'm in Motorola's Semiconductor Products Sector. If you want to talk
about changing technologies and rapid additions to product portfolios, I
think that any semiconductor company will qualify, and we are no

This, however, does not equate to an ability to deal with organizational
change. We have been very successful for a very long time with more or
less the standard industry formula (i.e. mental model):
- push the technology envelope
- manufacture in quantity for low cost
- use quality manufacturing to cut scrap

Lately, however, our markets are placing more emphasis on customer service
and shorter lead times. We are also seeing a great deal of pressure to
learn and communicate faster and more efficiently, since we are a larger
and larger organization dealing with increasing product and market

Currently, we are failing to change rapidly or effectively (just read our
corporate announcements about profits).

The result is that now, when it seems that rapid change is required, we
have two generations of upper management who have never had to change
their mental models despite vast changes in their products and production

Ironically, the reason they have never had to change is because the old
model was so successful for so long. To go back to the ladder of
inference concept, I believe that they are filtering out a great deal of
information that conflicts with their old model and, thus, they do not see
a compelling need for change.

Thus, until the old mental model is displaced, they cannot see the
information telling them it needs to be replaced. I am exaggerating a
little to make my point here, but only a little.

People who are new to SPS, however, are often appalled at our information
systems and customer service practices. Since they have not been schooled
in the old mental model, they see the need for change immediately.

So, my two points are:

1. organizational change can be much faster or much slower than a company
or industry's rate of product/technology or environmental change

2. When a mental model ceases to function effectively, learning does not
follow a linear track where knowledge is just added incrementally to an
existing store. It is necessary to somehow discard the old mental model
first (call it unlearning, moving down the ladder of inference,
unfreezing, or whatever).

I think that the key here is that an incorrect mental model not only
produces negative results, it also acts as a filter that makes it
difficult to perceive those negative results.
This is why trying to learn while burdened with an incorrect mental
model is fundamentally more difficult, and thus arguable different, than
learning even with no mental model at all. I believe that some of the
desire to have a term like "unlearning" stems from an understanding
(explicit or implicit) of this.

Robert L.


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