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Review of: The Fifth Discipline
(The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization)

The author: Peter M. Senge

            Peter M. Senge is Director of the Center for Organization Learning at MIT's Sloan School of Management, and a founding partner of Innovation Associates in Framingham, Massachusetts, and Toronto, Canada. He has introduce thousands of managers at Ford, Digital, Procter & Gamble, AT&T, Herman Miller, Hanover Insurance, Royal Dutch/Shell, and at major corporations to the disciplines of the learning organization through the seminars offered by Innovation Associates.

            The Fifth Discipline has 5 parts, 21 chapters, and 423 pages. This book talks about "learning organization." Learning organization is a buzzword covering roughly covering the ideal of an organization built on vision, teamwork, openness, flexibility, ability to act under changing conditions, and etc. The tools and ideas presented in this book are for destroying the illusion that the world is created of separate, unrelated forces. When we give up this illusion, we can then build "learning organization," organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the 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 to gather. As the world becomes more interconnected and business becomes more complex and dynamic, work must become more "learningful." It is no longer sufficient to have one person learning for the organization, a Ford, a Sloan or a Watson. It is just not possible any longer to "figure it out" from the top, and have everyone else following the order of the "grand strategist." The organizations that will truly excel in the future will be the organizations that discover hoe to tap people's commitment and capacity to learn at all levels in an organization.

            Learning organizations are possible because we are all learners. No one has to teach an infant to learn. In fact, no one has to teach infants anything. Learning organizations are possible because not only is it our nature to learn but we also love to learn.

            They are the five disciplines.

            Systems thinking is based on system dynamics; it is highly conceptual; it provides ways of understanding practical business issues; it looks at systems in terms of particular types of cycles (archetypes); and it includes explicit system modeling of complex issues. The ability and practice of consistently examining the whole system, rather than just trying to fix isolated problems. "Systems thinking is a conceptual framework, a body of knowledge and tools that has been developed over the past fifty years, to make the full patterns clearer, and to help us see how to change them effectively."
            The practice of systems thinking starts with understanding a simple concept called "feedback" that shows how actions can reinforce or counteract (balance) each other. The "beer game" is the good example of system thinking. I like one sentence of this book that is "we have met the enemy and he is us."
            Personal mastery is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively. On a personal basis, working on developing one's visions, one's abilities, one's focus of energy. A spiritual inner drive to pursue mastery, to be the best that one can be. People creating the results in life that they truly seek. This is where the spirit of the learning organization is from. People with high level of personal mastery are continually expanding their ability to create the results in life they truly seek.
            Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or image that influence how we understand the world and how we take action. Many insights into new market or outmoded organization practices fail to get put into practice because they conflict with powerful, tacit mental models. The discipline of working with mental models starts with turning the mirror inward; learning to unearth our internal pictures of the world, to bring them to the surface and hold them rigorously to scrutiny. It also includes the ability to carry on "learningful" conversations that balance inquiry and advocacy, where people expose their own thinking effectively and make that thinking open to the influence of others.
            Mental models can be simple generalizations such as "people are untrustworthy," or they can be complex theories. Developing an organization's capacity to work with mental models involves both learning new skills and implementing institutional innovations that help bring these skills into regular practice. System thinking is equally important to work with mental models effectively.             The practice of shared vision involves the skills of unearthing shared "pictures of the future" that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance. If the members of a group truly share their pictures of the future, if they are excited about what they are creating together, then they will act out of inner motivation and will voluntarily go out of their way to contribute.
            A shared vision provides a rudder to keep the learning process on course when stresses develop. Learning can be difficult, even painful. With a shared vision, we are more likely to expose our ways of thinking, give up deeply held views, and recognize personal and organizational shortcomings. Shared vision fosters risk taking and experimentation. My favorite sentence on this part is "I discovered that the reality we have is only one of several possible realities."             The discipline of team learning starts with "dialogue," the capacity of members of a team to suspend assumptions and enter into a genuine "thinking together." The discipline of dialogue also involves learning how to recognize the patterns of interaction in teams that undermine learning. The patterns of defensiveness are often deeply engrained in how a team operates. If unrecognized, they undermine learning. If recognized and surfaced creatively, they can actually accelerate learning. The ability of a group of people to suspend their assumptions and freely think together. That involves dialogue in the true meaning of the word, as a flow of meaning. It means going beyond personal defensiveness and presenting ideas openly, even when one is going out on a limb.

            The Fifth Discipline offers an alternative philosophy and strategy. This book applies to relationships, to bringing up kids, to community groups, to all of society. Senge's book (The Fifth Discipline) is the good book to read for getting more idea about management.

            The Fifth Discipline (The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization) by Peter M. Senge has 423 pages. The price of this book is US $ 18.95, and published in 1990 by Currency & Doubleday in New York, New York.