First Principles of LO LO11696

Rol Fessenden (76234.3636@CompuServe.COM)
06 Jan 97 21:54:37 EST

Replying to LO11664 --

Marilyn Darling, in response to my meanderings on possible first
principles of LO, says:

"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 mathematician 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?"
== end quotes ==

A wonderfully profound exploration you have started here. Let me see what
I can add. To clarify the relationship between first principle and
outcome, let's use Newton's laws. Newton defined three laws, and then
defined a bunch of tests which would come out in a well-defined way if his
principles were correct. The test results fit very well with his
principles, so they became 'first principles'. However, if the principles
were not articulated, and if you carried out the same experiments, you
would get the same results, and you probably would not be able, based on
the tests, to identify the first principles. that's why Newton was a
genius. So we can define possible test results if we have potential first
principles. We may not be able to elucidate the first principles if we
have the test results. This does not mean to imply that your approach is
wrong, but only to point out the risks.

My guess is that Senge might define his 5 disciplines as candidate first
principles, which if followed in a rigorous fashion, would lead inexorably
to a LO. It is important to note, though, that Newton was approximately
right, but ultimately WRONG in his first principles. Einstein corrected
them many years later, and Einstein may still need further correction.
Therefore, Senge does not need to be _exactly_ right, just "right" within
our limits of observation. We may some day define additional principles,
or refine some of his. both would be fair game. The real question is, do
his 5 disciplines lead inexorably to LO, and are there also other ways to
get there? If there are other ways, then we do not have first principles
in the mathematical sense. On the other hand, in the messy real world,
there may really be more than one way to arrive at a given end point, so
we may have more than one approach.

I like the idea of starting with organizations that "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." Of course, since we allow and encourage
individuals to make mistakes, we have to allow the same of organizations.
So consistently improving performance is not necessary. However, I would
guess some level of inconsistency would betray an org as a non-LO. What
do you think?

Shell Oil is the business archetype we hear so much about. Do they still
qualify? What about performing arts organizations?


Rol Fessenden LL Bean, Inc 76234,

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