As a Program Quality Fellow, I put a premium on working on Organizational Learning. I’ve been working on projects that are mostly reflective of transforming the prevailing system of management using the rich and profound knowledge of the organization’s core learning capabilities. The transformation towards putting learning into practice requires a metanoia or a shift of mind. However, before an institution can do that it should deeply reflect on what it’s learning disabilities are. Peter M. Senge in The Fifth Discipline (2006) outlines this 7 learning disabilities that organizations experiences. These learning disabilities are not so far from how we operate as a human being. Here are 7 learning disabilities to reflect upon.
- “I am my Position”
Most people describe the task they perform every day, and not the purpose of the greater enterprise in which they take part in. When people in the organization focuses only on their position, they have little sense of responsibility for the results produced when all positions interact. Moreover, when the results are disappointing, it can be very difficult to know why. All you can do is assume that someone screwed up.
- “The enemy is out there”
Unfortunately, there is in each of us a propensity to find someone or something outside ourselves to blame when things go wrong. It is the by-product of “I am my position”. When we focus only on our position, we do not see how our own actions extend beyond the boundary of that position. The syndrome is not limited to assigning blame within the organization; out there and in here are usually part of a single system.
- “The Illusion of Taking Charge”
All too often, “proactiveness” is “reactiveness” in disguise. If we simply become more aggressive fighting the “enemy out there”, we are reacting. True proactiveness comes from seeing how we contribute to our own problems. It is the product of our way of thinking, not our emotional state.
- “The fixation on events”
Our fixation on events is part of the evolutionary programming. The irony is, today, the primary threats to our survival, both of the organizations and societies come not from sudden events but from a slow gradual process. Generative learning cannot be sustained in an organization if people’s thinking is dominated by short-term events. If we focus on events, the best we can ever do is predict an event before it happens so that we can read optimally.
- “The parable of the Boiled Frog”
If you place a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will immediately try to scramble out. However, if you place the frog in a room temperature water, and don’t scare him, he’ll stay put. As the temperature rises, the frog will do nothing because the frog’s internal apparatus for sensing threats to survival is geared to sudden changes in his environment. Just like the frog, learning to see a slow, gradual process requires slowing down our frenetic pace and paying attention to the subtle as well as the dramatic threats.
- “The delusion of learning from experience”
Learning horizon is a breadth of vision in time and space within which we assess our effectiveness. When actions have consequences beyond our learning horizon, it becomes impossible to learn from direct experiences. Traditionally, organizations cope by breaking themselves up into components to “get their hands around”, but it becomes fiefdoms – what was once a convenient division of labor, now becomes “stovepipes”. And then it becomes a perilous or nonexistent exercise.
- “The myth of Management Team”
Management teams are conventionally the collection of savvy, experienced managers who represent the organization’s different functions and areas of expertise. And together, they sort out complex cross-functional issues that are critical to the organization. Unfortunately, some of these management teams may at times fall into becoming a team of “skilled incompetence” who are incredibly proficient from learning.
In reflecting and recognizing these learning disabilities, it is important to note that an organization can never transition the prevailing system of management without transforming the prevailing system of education. Learning organizations are possible because deep down we are all learners. Therefore, managers need to make learning an expectation and not an option.