Open Future NZ "Both Individuals and companies are strangled by learning disability"

Peter Michael Senge

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See also Peter Senge - Society for Organizational Learning

Peter Michael Senge (born 1947) is an American scientist and director of the Center for Organizational Learning at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He is known as author of the book The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization from 1990.

He is the founding chair of the Society for Organizational Learning (SoL).

Organizational development

Senge emerged in the 1990's as a major figure in organizational development with his book The Fifth Discipline where he developed the notion of a learning organization. This views organizations as dynamical systems (as defined in Systemics) in a state of continuous adaptation and improvement .

Too many businesses are engaged in an endless search for a heroic leader who can inspire people to change. This effort creates grand strategies that are never fully developed. The effort to change creates resistance that finally overcomes the effort.

Peter Senge believes that real firms in real markets face both opportunities and natural limits to their development. Most efforts to change run directly into interpersonal and cultural issues embedded in the prevailing system that resist change. No amount of expert advice is useful. It's essential to develop reflection and inquiry skills so that the real issues can be opened for discussion.

Deep changes in how people think and what they believe can never be achieved by creating new rules and demanding compliance. People will always resist being forced to change by outside forces.  But once the change is underway they often adapt vey well. 

If individuals can't learn, if the culture of the company isn't a learning culture, no amount of effort will deliver lasting change.  Senge makes a plea for organizations to "emphasize core learning capabilities: aspiration, reflective conversation and understanding complexity.

Many studies show the importance of internal networks and internal networkers to the culture of the firm. The enthusiastic participation of people who have no official power to demand compliance is a powerful influence. Their messages spread organically across the organization only because they and those others who spread the messages believe it's worthwhile. These messages are "seeds" and the people who spread them and "seed carriers".


According to Peter Senge, there are four challenges in initiating changes. There must be a compelling case for change. There must be time to change and help during the change process. Lastly, as the perceived barriers to change are removed, it's important that some new problem, not before considered important or perhaps not even recognized doesn't become a critical barrier.

"In this increasingly networked world ... people are continually forming and re-forming working groups. ... Their skills in prioritizing and coordination their efforts grow directly from learning to increase time flexibility.