Disciplines of a Learning Organization: Peter Senge

If there is one book that has influenced my business thinking the most, it is Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline – The Art and Practice of Learning Organization” and I have referred to it many times over past years on this blog. Written in 1990, the insights contained in this book are even more relevant today when the rate of change has only accelerated – probably a reason why HBR identified this book as one of the seminal management books of the previous 75 years.

A couple weeks ago, I posted a sketch note on Why Organizations Don’t Learn? based on an HBR article by the same title and someone ended up asking me,

“How do organization’s learn?”

This question immediately reminded me of five disciplines of learning organizations that Peter Senge outlines in this book.  They are:

  • Personal mastery is a discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively.
  • Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures of images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.
  • Building shared vision – a practice of unearthing shared pictures of the future that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance.
  • Team learning starts with dialogue, the capacity of members of a team to suspend assumptions and enter into genuine thinking together.
  • Systems thinking – The Fifth Discipline that integrates the other four.

Source: Wikipedia

In the book, Peter Senge offers a wonderful analogy to introduce systems thinking:

A cloud masses, the sky darkens, leaves twist upward, and we know that it will rain. We also know that after the storm, the runoff will feed into groundwater miles away, and the sky will grow clear by tomorrow. All of these events are distant in time and space, if they’re all connected within the same pattern. Each has an influence on the rest, and influence that is usually hidden from view. You can only understand the system of rainstorm by contemplating the whole not any part of the pattern.

Businesses and other human endeavors are also systems. They, too, are bound by invisible fabrics of interrelated actions, which often take years to fully play out their effects on each other. Since we are part of that lacework ourselves, it’s doubly hard to see the whole pattern of change. Instead we tend to focus on snapshots of isolated parts of the system, and wonder why our deepest problems never seem to get resolved.

While the book is a must-read if you want to gather better understanding and context behind these disciplines, here is a short summary of five disciplines of a learning organization in form of a sketch note. 

Hopefully, this will help others in acknowledging the foundation of what it takes to create a learning organization.

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Commitment and Power of Daily Practice

In 2010, one of my goals was to publish on this blog thrice a week – on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. By committing completely  to this schedule, I eliminated the self-discretion associated with it. I did not have to think if I should write on a particular day, because I had to show up and write. No one would have punished me if I failed to write but I still wrote as if someone would. It lead me to read more, connect more and explore more.

What did I learn from this experience?

In situations where we have a choice of not doing  and no external penalties associated, we end up compromising. Isn’t this the reason why most people find it difficult to keep their own resolutions? We need an external force to be disciplined in areas that we ourselves feel are important!

One of the themes that occupies me is the power of daily practice. Can I do something everyday about things that matter to me? We grow in our careers and learn because we show up for the work and do it daily. We sleep everyday. We eat everyday and it nourishes us.

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” – Zig Ziglar

I believe that daily practice is as nourishing– it forms a pattern of activities and these patterns are powerful. They inculcate habits. They ‘train’ us. They help us focus. Whether it is writing, learning a new skill, physical exercise, eating right or pursuing your hobbies, there are few things as powerful as a commitment to do it daily. When we eliminate the choice of doing it, we create space for creativity. We can focus on “how” we do the thing. We can alter our ways. We can make it better. We can adapt and optimize. And then, we learn.

“I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.” – Haruki Murakami (via Brain Pickings)

So, here are my first two steps in this journey of daily practice.

  • Identify (or acknowledge) things that matter the most.
  • Do them daily.

Sometimes, simplifying our lives is just about making things binary – either we do it completely with the whole heart in it or not at all. It is a commitment to overcome the first hurdle – our own resistance. A commitment to do, adapt and learn.

I am keen to see what lessons does this journey manifest!

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In the Photo: Graffiti art at abandoned factories in Tampere, Finland (Jan 2015). Artists use these dead walls as a canvas for their art to give them a new lease of colorful life.

Carnival of Leadership Development and 4 Years of Blogging

2836828090_d44f5278bd[1] This month’s Carnival of Leadership Development is hosted by Sharlyn Lauby at HR Bartender blog. I am happy to have my post 3 Lessons in Building Great Relationships with Customers featured there along with some of the best posts on Leadership Development. If you are looking for some fantastic reading on leadership and allied subjects, you should quickly check out the latest Carnival.

Sharlyn and Mr. Bartender are celebrating their 23rd anniversary and hence, the posts in this month’s carnival are organized according to the blog anniversary. During the submission process, I was asked “How long have you been blogging?”

That is when I realized that I will be completing 4 years of productive blogging later this month. When you immerse yourself in doing what you love doing, all ‘metrics’ take a backseat. You just keep doing it without any expectations, simply enjoying the process.  That, to me, is the cornerstone of all success and satisfaction.

My blogging has taken me places without going anywhere. I have some great friends across the globe with whom I share ‘thought-based relationship’. We are connected by our thoughts. I am no where near to being famous or earning money through this blog (and that is not even a distant ambition!). I just love doing it – everything else is a by-product.

I started blogging in April 2006 and wrote my first post titled “Solutions Perspective”. I have come a long way since then experimenting new stuff, overcoming my own resistance to write and sometimes overcoming the “writers block”.

Why did I start blogging?

  • because I was passionate about sharing lessons I learned while doing my work.
  • because I always wanted to get better at writing and expression.
  • because I wanted to ‘explore’ this new fad called ‘blogging’.

How has it helped me?

  • It sharpened and shaped my thinking. I became an ‘observer’ to my own thinking patterns and happenings around me.
  • It helped me become a better writer and get good at expressing myself clearly.
  • I had a heightened awareness about my areas of focus and learned a great deal about them. Lessons I wrote came from things that worked for me and also from reading/thinking.
  • Blogging helped me increase my reading, subscribing to other great blogs and discovering new blogs.
  • Blogging encouraged me to do more – more reading, more writing and more thinking.
  • I understood the power of ‘contributing’ – comments, link love, guest posts and so many other ways of adding value.
  • It opened up new opportunities for me through people I came to know via blogging.
  • I get immense satisfaction after I write a good post that resonates well with so many people. If any of my blog post so far has helped even few individuals for better, I think all the effort so far is worth it.

So this month is special in more ways than one. Stay tuned for special offerings this month – to mark the 4th anniversary of this blog. I am super-excited.

Have a wonderful week ahead!

Photo Courtesy: Kristina’s Flickr Photostream