Human beings are born to learn. An infant learns to sit, walk and talk through trial and error. Regrettably the learning does not remain for long and it changes when a child goes to school. The first lesson to the young learner is to bring the right answers and not the mistakes. This keeps on continuing till one’s entry to a professional life. It is a myth of society that the focus remains on learning through rewards rather learning as a natural curiosity. According to Peter Senge people are born with intrinsic motivation, self esteem, dignity, curiosity to learn and finding joy in learning. Unfortunately learning for reward is a common practice in our society. Getting a golden star in kindergarten, gold medal in school, striving to become head boy / head girl in college, scholarship in university, and Pay rise, bonuses, paid vacations in our professional life are all examples from our practical life.
The good news is that now learning is much appreciated in organizations and a new concept has emerged known as the ‘learning organization’. Before I get into the details and help you understand more about the learning organization concept let me quote an example, some years ago there was a study done by Shell, in which a former planning director said “a full one third of the fortune 500 industries listed in 1970 had vanished by 1983”. On the other hand there were some small companies that continue to exist for 75 or more years. The reason behind their existence was ‘Experimentation’ i.e. to constantly look for opportunities that can help them grow. Unpredictability of the world has changed the old thinking model that was used to say ‘the top thinks and the local acts’ to a much newer form as said by the former CEO of Citibank Mr Walter Wriston ‘ The person who figures out how to harness the collective genius of the people is going to blow the competition away’
According to Peter Senge, the founder of learning organization defined it as “…. a place where people continually expand their capacity to create results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn” According to him organizations should be such place where people start realizing their highest aspirations. Peter Senge defined the baseline of a learning organization by giving his famous five learning disciplines which are:
1. Personal Mastery
Personal Mastery is the core discipline of a learning organization which is based on an individual’s learning. Untill or unless there is an individual learning, there can’t be organization learning. The two very important components of Personal mastery is the clarity about the goal and a clearly defined measurement of how close one is to the goal. In a learning organization the top management acts as a coach who helps its team know their potential and help them dig out the creativity inside them.
2. Mental Models
Mental Models is defined as the cognitive process that takes place in one’s mind or simply it is the way one looks at the world. It basically consists of assumptions and generalization one makes, while building the world image internally resulting in the actions we take and decisions we make. The need is to bring the world image on surface and then thoroughly scrutinize it. According to Senge we should opt for ‘creating scenarios’ which means we should use our imaginations to predict the future. Although future prediction cannot always result accurately, the need is to bridge the gap between our present and our probable future.
3. Building shared vision
The base of the shared vision is an individual’s vision and individual vision is the truth one believes in. The shared vision of an organization is the combination of each and every employee’s individual’s vision. The leadership also shares their vision and most of the time this sharing starts from them that encourages others to do so as well. Organizations cannot change overnight and the vision cannot flow from top to bottom. In short learning organization asks for bringing all on the same platform and helps them share their vision.
4. Team learning
‘Dialogue’ is highly encouraged in team learning and expels the idea of ‘thinking together’. Team learning is very important because in organizations employees work in group and dialogues help each and every employee to get out the assumptions. In modern organization teams are the learning unit thus making team learning essential.
5. System Thinking
System thinking being the last discipline combines in all the other disciplines and is a result of theory and practice. It is actually how we were used to see ourselves as a separate entity from world and later a connection is developed between us and the world. The paradigm shifts and so do our thinking pattern changes. The way we were used to see others doing a mistake turns around and we start seeing how we did a mistake and thus face its consequences.