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The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization

The Fifth Discipline is a powerful synthesis of theory, philosophy, and good business sense and describes an array of tools and methods that can be applied in organizations to bring about increased learning. Eventually, Senge cautions that people may need to give up their illusions and after that people can then build learning organizations. The author illustrates that top managers should be the change agents who should embrace the learning organization as a logical and their practical goals. This means that they must anticipate and be prepared for this eventuality.

Since we live in a world defined by reductionist thinking, it is significant to be driven to break things down into component parts than see the whole. This will enable people to articulate the importance of embracing the learning process within organizations. This requires that individuals have the willingness of leaders throughout an organization to take risks and learn from putting daring new ideas into practice. It is only through learning organization that successful innovation emerges from synergy between learning at many levels that is technical, market oriented, strategic, and operational and that eventually fosters new thinking and new practices that are widespread and lasting.


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While the author notes that the key to the adoption of learning organization is that learners should create and use the indicators and metrics, in any learning process it is believed that learners will want to know how well they are doing so they can get better. The most powerful learning processes are both individual and collective. Learning organization seems very simple but in fact most people do not do it because they do not have a deep enough understanding of how to approach the domains of organizational vision. There is a lot of important learning that really occurs collectively within organizations and therefore it should be adopted.

Senge says that businesses and organizations develop adaptive capabilities in a world of increasing complexity and change. As a result Peter Senge is typically viewed as a guru in the field of organizational learning, not leadership but the two areas overlap. The fifth discipline explorer's five disciplines of a learning organization can also be called the disciplines of leadership hence individuals who have mastered them will be the natural leaders of learning organizations. Senge says that leadership is an act of stepping ahead and of doing so in a way that can inspire others. Liu (2003) says that a deeper understanding of leadership as action as opposed to leadership as position, illuminates capacities that people have always valued.

Kaye (2004) says that Peter Senge tries to respond to the modern explosion in the information technology and the reshaping of the institutions of corporate life in the western world. Senge draws attention to the way in which intellectual disciplines have tended to suggest that reality is made up of a series of separate, individual, fragments of insights and understanding.

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In his book Peter Senge says that there are five disciplines in the learning organizations. Kaye (2004) says that the first four are personal mastery, which is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, building shared vision, team learning and mental models. Conceptually these are the deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action (Kaye, 2004).

The fifth discipline is a systems thinking and thus a conceptual framework, a body of knowledge and tools that have been developed over the past fifty years, to make full patterns clearer and to help us see how to change them effectively. Kaye (2004) indicated that this discipline integrates all the others and enables them to be fused together in an overall conception. Senge is also concerned with the activities of business corporations and his analysis is shaped by that context.

Theoretically, Senge says that today's problems are yesterday's solutions and that to replicate the solutions is only likely to replicate the problems. From the fifth discipline we note that the harder you push the harder the system will push back. As a result short-term remedies might work in a local sense, but they will not affect the overall operation of the system (Kaye, 2004). He points to the importance of having an approach to the reinvention of organizations which addresses fundamental questions and looks to the long term not to the immediate.

According to Bloomsbury Publishing the fifth Discipline brought the attention of the world a simple message that the learning organization believes that competitive advantage derives from continued learning both individual and collective. In this context the new challenges of the information age demand that not only businesses as well as educational institutions and governments to transform them.

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From Peter Senge's fifth discipline we note that he is a idealistic pragmatist and therefore he spend much of his time building learning organizations with the top leaders of companies, education and government (Bloomsbury Publishing 2003). With the five basic components of fifth discipline Senge outlines the need to adopt a learning organization culture.

Consequently, Peter Senge's system thinking gives us an understanding of the systems approach. With this individuals should view organizations as a living entity which has behavior and learning patterns. Bloomsbury Publishing established that the idea of system archetypes help managers to spot repetitive patterns that lead to recurrent problems and therefore limits the growth (1046).

Personal mastery is the second ingredient of the fifth disciplines. This means that managers in organizations should articulate the importance of developing skills and competencies in individuals. Senge does not ignore the fundamental importance of spiritual growth in the learning organization. Bloomsbury Publishing further indicated that true spiritual growth exposes people to have a deeper reality and therefore enable people to see the current reality more clearly. Learning organization gives workers the capability to create their future to ensure that individuals produce results they care about.

A clear understanding of mental models requires that managers construct mental models that are significant for driving forces behind the organization's values and principles. This means that from Peter Senge's mental models individuals should impact of acquired patterns of thinking at the organizational level and the need to develop non-defensive mechanisms for critically examining the nature of these patterns (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2003).

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However, Senge determines that shared vision is fundamental so as to enable true creativity and innovations are based on group creativity. This facilitates sharing of vision to be seen by the team members as separate from the self. Team learning is also a major Senge's fifth discipline as it entails dialogue and discussion. Dialogue is exploratory and therefore it widens possibilities and narrows down the options to find the best alternative for future decisions for organizations.

It should be acknowledged that the fifth discipline ensures that people will be able to put aside their old ways of thinking. With a learning organization individuals learn how to be open with others and at the same time have a good understanding of how the company really works, form a plan for everyone and then work together to achieve the organizations vision (Bloomsbury Publishing 2003). Wallace (2007) indicated that Senge's exposition on system thinking is largely anecdotal and has few ties to the extensive literature on systems analysis and operations research. It is very difficult to understand how any of these component technologies or their convergence.

By saying that dividing an elephant in half does not produce two small elephants. This implies that Senge makes effective use of colorful metaphors to explicate and illustrate the applicability of the laws to both societal and business problems. Wallace (2007) indicated that many of the metaphors and examples are extremely limited in durability and breadth of applicability. The use of example and metaphors frequently gets in the way of the message.

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Where else Peter Senge views organizations as 'super organism', their behavior patterns also profoundly influence the nature of its constituent members. Nanda (2006) indicated that Senge was one of the first management gurus to make the accepted beliefs of a whole generation of social scientists, biologists, and environmentalists credible to the corporate world. It is because of this that Senge says "We live under a massive illusion of separation from one another, from nature, from the universe and from everything" (Nanda, 2006).

The fifth edition has been proved very influential. This is because its concepts have stimulated the debate and acceptance of issues such as self managed development, empowerment and creativity. According to Nanda (2006) the books practical impact can be seen in modern human resource management strategies, teamwork principles and in quality models. In this context it is important to recognize that in life all the most profound truths are deceptively simple, yet almost impossible to apply in practice. Mangers should however realize that the difficulty experienced in applying Senge's ideas does not invalidate them and therefore they confirm their importance for organizations of all types in this millennium.

Readers should understand that Peter Senge is right because people best understanding of our human situation today is not found in conceptions developed in watertight silos of particular disciplines. Instead we articulate that they are found at the cutting edge of each of these disciplines. Wallace (2007) indicated that Senge that the tendency for dedicated employees to over associate with their jobs and become incapable of seeing the organizational forest as a result of influence as a challenge of learning organizations. At some point we can say that Senge has missed the mark in terms of its implications for learning organizations by saying that the tendency of externalizing blame results to failures because they too can be internally related. Wallace (2007) says that "in the human situation, the tendency of blaming some external source for a problem as a function of frustration with not being able to control the situation" (p. 86).

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Senge further rejects the principle of proactively addressing problems by posing the question. Wallace (2007) established that this begs the question since there are probably very few advocates of pro-activity who have ever defined proactive behavior in terms of either an enemy or aggressive action. Peter Senge is thus against the strategy of coping problems by individuals with explicit tactics for proactively taking charge of their own behaviors. The fifth discipline elaborates that the more common human learning disability in organizations is experienced in their setting coupled with the inability to associate events with causes (Wallace, 2007).

Consequently, considering the metaphor of the boiled frog is one of Senge's attractive fables although it is factually incorrect. Wallace (2007) says that it is undoubtedly the case that people are more prone to respond to suddenly emerging crisis situations than to problem situations that evolve over time. The implication is that one of the most common problems facing individuals with learning disabilities is the inability to recognize situations that present an immediate threat and s resulting inability to cope with emergencies.

A major learning disability comes from the delusion of learning from experience. Wallace (2007) says that Senge acknowledges that the most powerful learning comes from direct experience. He further notes that the problem of consequences that are so distantly linked to the actions that precede that the individuals responsible for those actions have no opportunity to experience the consequences. In addition Senge says that expresses grave concern about whether typical management teams can surmount.

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Wallace however notices that the divergence of Senge's organizational learning disabilities from the realities of human learning disabilities is not necessarily a fatal flaw in the fifth discipline. Wallace (2007) indicated that "the metaphor would have been richer and more meaningful, however if the author had analyzed and adopted knowledge about human learning disabilities and had couched his argument in terms of a deeper, more systematic understanding of the nature of individual learning disabilities rather than merely adapting and essentially misappropriating the term" (p. 87).

It is unfortunate that the author "Senge" does not provide any meaningful guidance on how the laws should be used and how to overcome the learning disabilities. Wallace (2007) further indicated that to his credit Senge does not present simple solutions and therefore the book leaves a definite sense of unresolved complexity. This means that The Fifth Discipline is strong on ideas but less so on practical applications.

According to Wallace (2007) some people have described the book as neither novel nor original and emphasized that at the time of its publication it was one among several competing visions of the learning organization. They thus suggest that Peter Senge's book power lies in its underlying social master analogue. This means that it has a rhetorical vision with a social master analogue that reflects primary human relation, as its keys on friendship, trust, caring, comradeship. Compatibility, family ties, brotherhood, sisterhood and humanness (Wallace, 2007). As a result Senge's vision of the learning organization is based not on what is pragmatically necessary or what is morally right but on what is intrinsically good.

It is important to note that the value and appeal of Senge's work resides not so much in the persuasiveness of the content of the fifth discipline in the dramatic qualities of his socially rooted vision that is its ability to inspire followers to see themselves actively engaged in building a learning organization (Wallace, 2007). In this vision Senge says that the individual can realize his or her full self only through social interaction with other individuals who are working towards a common cause.

While it has been noted that Peter Senge was the only author who was working on the development of the concept, Jackson (2001) indicated that Senge positions the five disciplines of the learning organizations as the means by which American managers can move into the second wave and ultimately surpass Japanese management. This implies that Senge's mind risks being fragmented into isolated initiatives and slogans and is hamstrung by the authoritarian, command and control hierarchy that still predominates in the United States.

Eventually, learning organization has been greeted with great enthusiasm by the members of the training and development community. Jackson (2001) quotes that in addition to helping to make the word learning not only acceptable but also fashionable within the business lexicon; Senge is alone among management gurus in at least agreeing to the role of the training and development specialist in organizational transformation efforts.

It has been established that Peter Senge's learning organization is a double edged sword. This is due to the increased scrutiny of the human resource development function which the learning organization promotes may result in more rewards and recognition but with these would come high performance expectations and radical changes in the way that function is conducted (Jackson, 2001). From the book we realize that organizations will have to become localized in that they will have to seek to extend the maximum degree of authority and power as far away from the top or as center as possible.

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Through investing in the five disciplines of the learning organization, Senge suggest that organizations can maintain control at the local level through a process of control by learning. Jackson (2001) indicated that the book adds rhetorical weight to his argument for local control by suggesting that the traditional perception that someone up there is in control is based on an illusion that it would be possible for anyone to master the dynamic and detailed complexity of an organization from the top.

Critically looking at his arguments we notice that Senge has some very important new work for these managers to be ding within the learning organization which is considerably more meaningful than the work that they have traditionally done within hierarchically based organizations (Jackson, 2001). By likening the organization to an ocen liner, Peter Senge observes that most senior executives readily relate their role to the captain, navigator, helmsman, engineer, or social director.

From the book the author denotes that the underlying barriers to implementing a learning organization which are the fragmentation of problem solving, an overemphasis on competition to the exclusion of collaboration and a tendency to organizations to experiment or innovate only when compelled to change by outside forces (Jackson, 2001). Jackson also noted that Senge provides managers with a powerful setting theme within which they could find a safe haven for dealing with and regaining control of a world that has seemingly gone out of control (2001, p. 143).

The book "The Fifth Disciplines" additionally presents managers with an opportunity to transport themselves out of their immediate time and space situations to the relative comfort of a world in which problems can be properly managed and even played with alongside one's colleagues in a safe and sealed off environment (Jackson, 2001). As we note that proponents of the learning organization have stressed the control and plurality of the learning process, the question of who should and should not exercise that control might be destined to become yet another mechanism through which managerial control is improved under dramatically changed external circumstances.

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Though Senge provides us with exciting ways of perceiving organizations and their problems systematically from new paradigm and post Cartesian epistemologies, he writes with a mechanical perspective about gaining leverage to the organizational learning in a way that dualistically separates us from that which we are trying to control (Jackson, 2001). People should acknowledge that the profound changes that are offered by the learning organization are seldom achieved in practice because of the reluctance or inability of corporate leaders to confront the central issue of the transformation of power relations within their organizations.

Based on Peter Senge's activities, we uncover that he has been more concerned with sustaining the rhetorical vision among his consultant and practitioner followers. In this context, Jackson (2001) says that "Senge appears to prefer to be loosely linked with numerous organizations in which he assumes a comparatively lower profile role and works in a collaborative mode" (p. 147). This means that managers should be committed to creating new organizational forms through which he has woven an intricate web of academics, executives, consultants and practitioners who are committed to preserving and extending the vision of the learning organization (Jackson, 2001).

Since Peter Senge is mindful of the political dimension, he acknowledges that the prospect of dialogue as a generator of useful learning from experience does presuppose the willingness for or inevitability of, a degree of power sharing both in dialogue and its consequence. Jackson (2001) further indicated that on balance he appears to be mildly optimistic about the possibility of this coming to pass with his comment that the post modern pluralization of desire and motivation does level the playing field and itself represents a break-out from modernist control.

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Becoming a learning organization is not about achieving a goal and then moving on, but instead it continually learns how to learn and it never finishes learning. Hernando (1999) says that this one of the most fundamental points to be made about the practice of learning organizations and if missed also lost is the opportunity to become a learning organization. This is then seen as the integrating force which ties the disciplines together.

In the today's business environment, system thinking is necessary today because of the overwhelming complexities with which humans are faced. Hernando (1999) says that it is also important to understand that there are two types of complexity detail and dynamic. Senge also wants the public to be aware of what they are getting into when they decide to embrace the learning organization concept. On the other hand individuals hope that the followers of Senge to be more likely to resist the inevitable rejection phase of the cycle and persist with his concepts long after they cease to remain fashionable (Hernando, 1999). We should thus notice that the idea of being the learning organization is too important to be treated as another passing fad.



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