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Thoughts on creating a learning organization

Compiled by Jon Bergstrom The following thoughts have been extracted from the book Organizing For Learning by Daniel Kim that describes learning organization concepts and practices. I have attempted to capture some major themes that should be considered in developing a learning organization. I believe it is particularly interesting to consider how we might design an organization starting from a blank slate. y this I do not mean development of an organization chart. !hile this is important" the objectives of this creation and the concepts we might use would appear even more important in our thinking. I believe our consideration of these objectives and concepts is our greatest challenge as few organizations have been successful in becoming a true learning organization. I believe the rewards are real and substantial. #ur organizations can be a place of great challenge" opportunity" and fun only if we make this kind of place a reality. $ew of our organizations today have characteristics that make them very successful over a sustained period of time. If they are successful today" it is often because of a few special people %who may be gone tomorrow& or good fortune in development of products that truly serve their market. $ierce competition is assured in any market" and their good fortune could be a thing of the past very 'uickly. (ost businesses today are going out of business. )ome are dying slowly* some 'uickly. (ost businesses that exist today will not be around in +, years. (ost organizations have very little chance of retaining employees more than -,.-/ years because their environment cannot meet the needs of their employees over a sustained period of time. (any employees are not motivated because they do not find that their aspirations have a match in their work place. I believe the following thoughts will provide the context to have important conversations about what a new work place might become. 0ach person who reads these thoughts will have different views about how effective these concepts would be and how difficult it might be to make them a reality. It embodies new thinking and some thoughts are likely controversial to those who have not had the opportunity to experience their power.

founder of 1egasus 2ommunications" and co. 7esearch continually generates new theories about how our world works. b# (ractice -. In essence" we are interested in understanding what it means to organize for learning" to focus on developing the knowledge . !here I have added additional thoughts" I have noted these as Jon Bergstrom (JMB) thoughts. Daniel Kim is co. 8. I believe we will enrich our understanding by challenging ourselves and others to think through the opportunities they present. It is the application of energy" tools" effort to achieve something practical. c# Capacity)building . 8. 4e is an internationally recognized leader in helping managers apply the power of organizational learning and systems thinking to tough issues.8 My suggestion is that we use these thoughts to ask ourselves "What if these concepts are true !ow might we use these to design our organizations " I believe the conversations that this can generate are the first step in gaining greater understanding of our own mental models about how organizations can and should work. %# There are three core functions of learning communities& a# 'esearch -.founder of the (IT 2enter for #rganizational 3earning %now the )ociety of #rganizational 3earning&. 1ractice is anything that a group of people does to produce a result. "# $ocus on creating new knowledge# $rom a systems thinking perspective" we want to shift our focus from managing existing knowledge to a focus on the creating of new knowledge. creation side of our work. 7esearch is any disciplined approach to discovery and understanding which has a commitment to shared learning. 5ll of the thoughts from Organizing For Learning are Daniel Kim6s.

Deming once said. .creation business. In a learning community" the team conceives of initiatives as a way to maximize learning for itself as well as for other teams in the organization. If we are interested in innovation and in the vitality of large institutions" then we are interested in creating learning communities that integrate knowledge instead of fragmenting it.+ -. Those involved in the research process are integral members of the team" not outsiders who poke at the system from a disconnected and fragmented perspective.arguably constitute the most important force shaping the fate of our organizations. no learning" 9:o theory" no learning9 Dr. even if there are negative ramifications for a particular sector. 4owever" it is vital to the long term health of the enterprise. JMB Thoughts : ill ellows of 1ratt and !itney 7ocketdyne describes enterprise thinking as a global intent throughout the organization to improve the overall organization . our theories about how the world works. 5s this book maintains" only by articulating" testing" and" if necessary" changing our mental models can we create a work culture in which learning can thrive. Thinking about organization first and our own needs second is not common to most large organizations. 2apacity.nterprise Thinking . building. /. -nnovations# rilliant innovations won6t spread if there is no way for them to spread. This is the central message of the book Organizing for Learning by Daniel Kim that ties the three core functions firmly together.building links research and practice. They cannot spread unless there is a way for the organization to extract the general lessons from such innovations and to develop new methods and tools for sharing these lessons. 8.creating process functions in real time with the organization" in a seamless cycle of practice" research" and capacity. The knowledge. #ur mental models . *# "+o theory. This re'uires that we not only think differently" but also frame problems in whole new ways" a capacity that is essential for those who are interested in being in the knowledge. . <. It includes the development of new methods and tools that help make theories practical.

2onceptual learning deals with issues that challenge the very nature or existence of prevailing . The cycle is complete when the environmental response" in turn" leads to individual learning and affects individual mental models and organizational memory. Individual actions are taken based on individual mental models. >et in most organizations" individual mental databases are not 9backed up"9 nor is the transfer from individual to organizational learning well managed. The intangible assets of a company reside in the individual mental models that contribute to the organization6s memory. operational and conceptual. an organization will be incapacitated in both learning and action. /n organizational learning model .stages@ individual learning" individual mental models" and organizational memory. This includes a four stage process" with organizational learning composed of three distinct sub. These actions" in turn" translate into organizational action" and both actions produce some environmental response. A. 5 simple model of organizational learning is outlined on page 88 of Organization for learning. $rom -ndividual learning to organizational learning . #perational learning deals with the changes in the way we actually do things. !ithout these mental models . that is" it has to do with the thinking behind why things are done in the first place. The essence of an organization is embodied in its people" not its systems. /n integrated organizational learning model# 5n integrated model of organizational learning is provide on page 8+ of Organization for learning. which include the subtle interconnections that have been developed among the member . It suggest that there are at least two fundamentally different levels of learning at which an organization must be e'ually adept .< =. ?. 2onceptual learning emphasizes the why of doing things . 5 critical challenge for a learning organization is understanding the transfer process through which individual learning and knowledge %mental models& become embedded in an organization6s memory and structure. #nce we have a clear understanding of this transfer process" we can actively manage organizational learning to be consistent with an organization6s purpose" vision" and values. The simple model captures the transfer of individual learning to organizational memory via changes in individual mental models.

We'd then tell everyone to try to a!!ly what they'd learned. Managing the whole learning cycle# (anaging organizational learning means managing the complete cycle. -nvestment in new skills# !e seldom seem to create the appropriate time perspective when investing in the ac'uisition of new skills. JMB thoughts! !e know from our own experience and from many studies that becoming an expert in anything re'uires continuous and dedicated learning and practice over many years %usually more than five years&. Improving each of the pieces is not enough. These include tools like system achetypes" action maps" learning laboratories" scenario planning and idealized designs %as outlined by 7ussell 5ckoff&. If" on the other hand" we are interested in developing capabilities that are 'uite different form our current base of experience and skill this approach is likely to produce disappointing results. These tools include dynamic systems that help make mental models explicit. We'd send everyone off to a three day intensive !rogram. In order for organizational learning to be effective" conceptual learning must be operationalized into specific skills that can be learned and executed. )ending people to short skill." !e tend to want things to be available in bite. We'd undoubtedly then conclude that this 'calculus stuff' wasn't all it was made out to be and go and loo$ for something else to im!rove results. In order to make mental models explicit" we need appropriate tools to capture the type of knowledge that is being mapped. B.the link between individual learning and individual mental models. In all of these tools" the role of mental models is key.building workshops may be ade'uate for adding to a base of knowledge they already possess. 2losing the loop on situational learning. our organizations would not be able to learn it. .the links between the pieces must also be managed. in The Fifth Discipline Fieldboo ! "If calculus were invented today. !e need ways to test" inspect" and understand our mental models./ conditions or procedures..sized chunks that we can conveniently fit into our busy schedule" and we want to see immediate results from those investments. "fter three to si# months we'd assess whether it was wor$ing. -. This is well represented by the 'uote from 1eter )enge et al. explicitly. re'uires developing individual6s ability to transfer specific insights into more general maps that will guide them in the future.

(urpose# 5 purpose answers the 'uestion@ !hy do we exist. The three legged stool# The three legged stool represents the interdependence of three core capabilities to support organizational learning@ 5spiration" Cenerative 2onversation" and Dnderstanding 2omplexity. Direction can be many things and could include the following %1lease note that these are my personal definitions&@ a. b. 2ision# 5 vision answers the 'uestion@ !hat will we strive for over the long termF c. f. Mission# 5 mission answers the 'uestion@ !hat will a team attempt to achieve during its time together. usually the next one to three years. !hen we understand the organization6s direction and our place in it" we can determine if this is coherent with our own aspirations for the future. -8. 2alues& Galues answer the 'uestion@ 4ow will we act in our environment. 3trategies# )trategies answer the 'uestion@ !hat will the organization do to achieve the purpose and vision. Together" these three capabilities allow us to learn together and to create the future we desire.= --. d. E( thoughts@I find it useful to think of aspiration in terms of direction. The 0earning 1rganization# 1eter )enge defines a learning organization in %he &ifth Disci!line as those that continually enhance their capacity to create the results they truly care about. -+. 5oals& Coals answer the 'uestion@ !hat do we plan to do to meet the objectives.legged stool model. g. e.stage model of skill ac'uisition that provides a useful starting point in answering this 'uestion. !hen we determine that it is" we recognize a powerful internal motivation to achieve this direction. The five 6 stage model of skill ac7uisition# It is useful to think about how we are doing in developing a balance of capabilities in using the three. . Dreyfus and Dreyfus" in their book 'ind (ver 'achines " offer a five. 1b4ectives& #bjectives answer the 'uestion@ !hat do we expect to achieve in the short term .

Instead of organizing in a way that taps into the thinking capacities of people" most organizations are designed around getting the most doing out of their people. If we only dabble in ac'uiring systems thinking skills and send people off to attend two.day workshops" most will reach only the novice level of capability. #ne of the critical re'uirements for any learning to occur is to have the space and the capacity to reflect on one6s actions" decisions" and policies.? This includes advancing in our skill level in each category from novice to advanced beginner to com!etent to !roficient to e#!ert . !hile one can argue that good teams can and do learn as they perform" most learning there is likely incremental rather than path. >ou won6t likely see teams trying something they6ve never tried or practiced before in the middle of a real game. The challenge for our organizations is to develop an internal capacity for skill building and a commitment to learning that can be sustained over many years.breaking. !e are right back to the dilemma of learning calculus posed earlier.to. 4owever" if we hope to benefit from ac'uiring new organizational learning skills as an organization" we must be able to get a critical mass of people to at least the competent level. If an organization is serious about developing its ability to create its own future %to become a learning organization&" it must find a way to help a critical mass of employees reach the competent level in a set of skills. )ince we usually do not have the expertise to provide internal training" we usually need to provide some outside expertise to help build internal competence. -<.five. Individuals" teams" and organizations can measure progress by assessing their own skill levels. Dr Deming6s observation applies@ 9:o . !hat is noteworthy about these time estimates is that there are virtually no public programs yet available to systematically %might we say systemically& elevate a person to the competent stage. If we want an innovative culture" we need to create structures that make innovation a part of everyone6s life" such as +(6s policy that everyone should devote a specific portion of their time to new product ideas. Dreyfus and Dreyfus define the meaning of each skill level. Dnfortunately" what we usually have are performance fields" where people are supposed to both perform and learn in real time. !hat is often needed is the e'uivalent of a sports team6s practice field in which to learn. Building a learning infrastructure# !hile every organization says that people are their most important assets" this proclamation is rarely supported by the infrastructure that exist. The proficient and expert stages fall into the range of time re'uired to earn a doctorate in the field of system dynamics.

The manager8s new role& 'esearcher and Theory)builder# (anagers need to become theory. -=. 4owever" these are not extensive and other resources should be consulted. 1ur perception of "problems"# 1roblems are nothing more than a formal statement of a set of assumptions about the world. In most cases" however" the leaning is done at an individual" not organizational" level. These assumptions" however" are often not made explicit.building process. In short" there is no theory. !e must design these processes for our own organizations. In order to facilitate and accelerate learning" we need to design opportunities for making mistakes. !e cannot rely on outside experts or others to do this for us. 5s theory . >et they may be the single most important factor for creating sustained competitive advantage because they can provide an organization with the ability to continuously learn about itself. 3earning infrastructures provide the means for an organization to develop its own theory %or set of principles& of how it works in a way that is comprehensible and actionable to all its members. Kim provides a model of the organizational theory . y conversing and making decisions at the level of tacit .A theory" no learning9. builders" managers must have an intimate knowledge of how their organization works as a whole . -?. but they also re'uire some guiding theory and methodology to make sense of their experience and leaning. Kim would say" 9:o theory building" no organizational learning9. $or most organizations" such infrastructures do not exist. -/. JMB thoughts @ Kim6s book provides suggestions for useful infrastructures that have shown to work. Theory building should not be done as an academic exercise but as a process grounded in reality that continually helps provide a framework for interpreting one6s competitive environment. This includes 3earning laboratories" behavioral decision theory building" dynamic theory building" and grounded theory building. Theory 6 building process# ecause individuals are continually learning in organizations" one can argue that organizations are very supportive of learning.builders within their own organizations. #ftentimes" there is no coherent process for integrating the learnings of many individuals into a form that can benefit the whole organization. building cycle on page <?.

The leverage lies in going to a more fundamental level . 4e believed that the . Deming used spc in several experiments to help people understand whether the experimental system was in or out of control. -A. 1roblems do not exist independently of the person who sees them. Deming acknowledged the limited role of statistics in the larger arena of organizational transformation. 4e identified three other theories that were important@ systems theory" psychology" and theory of knowing.B assumptions" we can get very good at defending our point of view at the expense of learning. which may prompt a re. Working with multiple theories# In the field of Total Huality" statistical theory was translated into a methodology called statistical process control %spc&. to look beyond the problems themselves and re. we become very skilled at dancing around the issues.examine the paradigm that gave rise to them. It provides a framework for exploring mental models by graphically depicting the process we use draw conclusive opinions and judgements from data" showing that individual evaluations are" in reality" highly abstract and inferential. This can lead to what 2hris 5rgyris call 9skilled incompetence. In order to create a new 9reality9" we must discover how our current worldview affects the way we perceive and respond to problems. $red Kofman suggests that deconstructing a problem and finding a way to re. )12 provided a set of steps for distinguishing between special and common causes of variation. articulate it can provide much more leverage than trying to double our efforts to solve the problem as currently stated. This revealed the important impact of systems on the outcome of complex processes. JMB thoughts! I have a number of processes that can assist individuals and teams that allow them to reveal their assumptions and to test them in a group setting. #ne of these processes is the 3adder of Inference developed by 2hris 5rgyris. )tatistics become less useful when we venture into the domain of social systems because many of the assumptions about predictability" repeatability" and linearity are not appropriate.articulation of the problem . These processes almost always provide surprises to those who participate and allow everyone to become a witness to their own thinking.9 7ather than looking at the real data and real issues . This allows most people to let go and become less consumed by their own desire for a particular direction. 4ow we think" act" and value are all associated with our particular view of reality.

. set of four were essential for developing what he called 9profound knowledge9.building greater understanding of how to do things.start innovation and creativity. !ith respect to learning" TH( proved particularly strong in operational learning. In his book The $ifth Discipline" 1eter )enge presented five disciplines. oth Deming6s and )enge6s approaches draw on multiple theories" and both highlight the importance of understanding systems. Innovation and creativity re'uire that we develop new theories and get out of existing grooves in thinking.building process. This is the exciting promise and potential of organizational learning.builder. 5nd theory building is essential to building organizational learning. Causal 0oop Theory Building# 2ausal loop diagrams not only provide a language for representing dynamic structures" but they also provide a way for us to make explicit and share the individual views of the world that govern our actions. uilding a learning organization appears to be one of the great opportunities to jump. shared vision" personal mastery" team learning" mental models" and systems thinking .developing richer theories about why things work the way they do. that embody a range of theories about how to develop the capabilities of a learning organization. y surfacing our individual assumptions about our organization" we can work toward building a coherent and consistent working theory about our organization and our environment. Cetting started with causal loops re'uires some coaching and practice.-. #ur ability to develop new theories will allow us to get out of existing grooves in thinking" to envision a whole different future" and then to take the necessary steps toward creating that future. )ystems thinking is relatively strong in conceptual learning. In this way" both systems thinking and TH( are essential to the theory. 2ausal loop diagrams and systems archetypes provide us with a way to construct our theories* statistical tools can help us test the validity of the causal connections we have identified. It is suggested that organizations get some professional help as they embark on this journey. -B. In fact" systems thinking plays a particularly important role in organizational learning because the tools and methods of system dynamics enable you to not only be a user and interpreter of theory" but also an active theory.

This would re'uire that managers become 9learners9 rather than 9knowers9 in their environment. Dsing this definition of theory" we can say that creating a long. 4ence" managers often dismiss theory as too academic and irrelevant to the pragmatic conduct of business. ut the "merican )eritage Dictionary " )tandard 0dition" defines theory as "systematically organized $nowledge a!!licable in a relatively wide variety of circumstances. and rules of !rocedure devised to analyze. (any managers associate theory with universities and research institutions" which they view as too insulated from the real world. In other words" theory building has every thing to do with running a successful business. Theory building can no longer be seen as a separate activity from the practice of management.-- 8. es!ecially a system of assum!tions. 5ll good theories therefore help provide guidance by increasing our predictive power about the future.. In this sense" theory building is about developing a better understanding of our organizations and improving our capacity to predict the future. !hen we talk about predictions based on theory" we are more interested in the accuracy of the underlying assumptions and less in the numerical accuracy of the predicted result. or otherwise e#!lain the nature or behavior of a s!ecified set of !henomena. In a complex world that is inherently unforecastable" only understanding of interrelationships can guide us in making the course corrections inevitably re'uired in an environment of rapid and continual change. E( thoughts@ !e must recognize the uncertainty and fear that managers might face in considering that they should spend time theorizing about the organization and testing their work through these theories.lived" successful organization means managers must develop systematically organized knowledge that represents the system of assumptions" accepted principles" and procedural rules they use to make sense of their past experience and to predict the future. $or these managers" significant training %including change . acce!ted !rinci!les. !redict. )ome might be uncertain and fearful simply because they have not been re'uired to do this in the past and have no particular skills in developing theories.it must become an integral part of a manager6s job." This definition clearly shows that there is nothing strictly academic about the concept of theory at all. The -mportance of Theory# 7egrettably" the corporate world has little appreciation for the importance and power of theory.

uilding true shared vision operates on a theory of maximum engagement through a process of sharing one6s own passionate vision" inviting others to articulate their own" and trusting the process to work without the need to overcontrol. 9ey 3uccess 0oops# To create long. 4owever" it is absolutely essential for the head of the organization. If the concepts of a learning organization are completely foreign to the head of the organization" they would not be a suitable choice for an innovative and creative organization. They can play a major role in helping their organization develop their direction and building an organization and structure that can learn together. #ther managers may have become so comfortable as the 9knowers9 or 9controllers9 in their organizations that they could hardly conceive of an environment where they must think with others and reveal their concepts and decision making processes. They may be very uncomfortable to have people challenging their thinking and beliefs. 8-. If these managers do not think they have the capacity to change" they would be unsuitable as choices for coaches and theorizers in a learning organization. They simply have to have the confidence in themselves and trust in others to become a learner with all others in the organization. !e no longer initiate actions on any factors until we distinguish the critical loop or loops involved. !hen we take a systemic approach" we realize tha the lowest meaningful units of analysis are loops" not individual factors %like key success factors&. 1rganizational 2ision# If we are interested in creating enduring change" what we need is a very different theory about building shared commitment and vision to produce lasting results. !e need to take a systemic view of the larger change process and cultivate both a wide and deep understanding of where we want to go %desired future reality& and be able to talk honestly about where we are %current reality&. Danial Kim proposes ways to use K)36s on pages ?8. !e also need to shift from the cascading top.-8 management training& will need to be provided to assist them in the transition. .A. of Organizing For Learning. I do not believe that this person must be fully aware of all the concepts" tools and theories. bottom approach to one of multidirectional engagement at all levels.in short" to identify the Key )uccess 3oops %K)36s&.to.lasting success" we need to extend our factors approach and identify the interrelationships among the factors that drive the dynamics of the system. This is critical at every level. 8-.

-+ JMB thoughts! $or those interested" I can articulate the powerful response of a real organization following their engagement in purpose" vision and values. I believe this short book %-. . 8+. 88.< pages& is one of the finest books available to assist us in understanding concepts and re'uirements of a learning organization.. I have attempted to capture some of the highlights so that the more important items could be 'uickly considered. 5fter many years" the individual commitment of almost every person in the organization remained very strong. www. The Gision Deployment (atrix I offers a schema for strategically planning how to cross the 9chasm9. In between vision and current reality lies and enormous 9chasm9 that we must cross in order to realize the desired future. people %-. <& / $ramework for 0arge)3cale Change# Designing a process for involving people in sharing a vision is only one part of the formula for success. In my company" we engaged -8. $inal Thoughts . 2ision :eployment Matri. Important details are reviewed that could not be included in this summary. JMB thoughts! I have used the matrix on many occasions and have found it to be a very powerful process to assist everyone with the conversations that are re'uired in vision development. $or anyone who wishes to better understand these concepts and re'uirements" I highly recommend purchase of this book from 1egasus 2ommunications .. 4e not only has significant personal experience in this development" he has worked with many other consultants and can help in identifying others who can assist in these efforts. I also have many other suggestions for vision development and for engagement strategies. JMB thoughts! Daniel Kim has consolidated ideas from eleven articles from the )ystems Thinker to write the book Organizing for Learning .com . I also believe that Daniel Kim would be an excellent consultant for any organization that is contemplating the development of a learning organization. at a time& in finding themselves %finding what was important to each person& in the purpose" vision" and values. Gisioning also re'uires a commitment to articulating current reality with clarity and honesty. pegasus com. Organizing for Learning by Danial Kim.

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