First Principles of LO LO11664
Sun, 5 Jan 1997 10:27:25 -0500

Replying to LO11621 --

Rol wondered aloud:

>Jan Lelie says you can't keep from forgetting the lessons gained in the
>course of our reflections or experiences, nor can we identify the most
>timeless lessons that we would benefit from remembering. I wonder. In
>Math and Science a huge amount can be reconstructed pretty easily from
>first principles. That is the core of much education in these fields,
>particularly in Germany and Japan. This makes me wonder if there are
>'first principles' of LO. It may be too soon to identify them, but
>perhaps not too soon to think about them. Certainly Senge's 5 disciplines
>are relevant to a re-learning mode.

I have a thought about this question and Rol's last comment:

Given my limited understanding of the sciences, I believe one of the
defining characeristics of a first principle in, for example, math and
science, is that once you understand the principle, it becomes fairly
evident if and how a given operation eminates from a given principle. If I
were able to define a new operation that works (i.e., gives me predictable
results), a trained mathemetician should be able to discover the principle
or principles that govern that operation. The relationship between the
operation and the principle, in other words, should be testable and
describable. Further, once the principle is understood, I should be able
to discern the set of operations that eminate from that principle, right?
Sort of like the tests many of us took in our early schooling -- "Which of
the following does not belong in this set?" -- I should be able to tell
if an operation belonged in a set emanating from a principle and if some
other operation was possible, given that principle.

With the above in mind, I have always struggled to understand how the Five
Disciplines comprise a set that emanates from some principle. They feel
somewhat random to me. I am unable to make a case for these five
disciplines versus another five. Or to argue that another "discipline"
does not fit. This is not to say that they don't have value, but I would
have a hard time taking the Five Disciplines as a given and then try to
define first principles from them. To me, that mental model would make it
difficult for me to "hear" the elegant relationships between operation and

I think the core OL idea, expressed in many different ways, is that an
organization is learning when it is able to "create its own future" -- to
learn to recognize unpredictable changes in its environment and to learn
how to continue to get effective, predictable (and continuously better)
results in that changing environment. If I were to take up a quest for
finding first principles of organizational learning, I would start with
organizations (or analogous systems) that are accomplishing this and, like
the mathemetician who has coined a new, predictable operation, try to
describe why, and under what conditions, that operation is successful.

Has anyone out there tried to do this?

Marilyn Darling
Signet Consulting Group


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