The Five Learning Disciplines

  The Fifth Discipline brings word of "learning organizations," 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 together. Five disciplines are described as the means of building learning organizations. Case studies are provided to show how the disciplines have worked in particular companies  
Systems Thinking 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. 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. Also, The essence of the discipline of systems thinking lies in a shift of mind: • seeing interrelationships rather than linear cause-effect chains, and • seeing processes of change rather than snapshots The practice of systems thinking starts with understanding a simple concept called "feedback" that shows how actions can reinforce or counteract (balance) each other. It builds to learning to recognize types of "structures" that recur again and again: the arms race is a generic or archetypal pattern of escalation, at its heart no different from turf warfare between two street gangs, the demise of a marriage, or the advertising battles of two consumer goods companies fighting for market share. Eventually, systems thinking forms a rich language for describing a vast array of interrelationships and patterns of change. Ultimately, it simplifies life by helping us to see the deeper patterns lying behind the events and the details. Systems Archetypes are basic and understandable cycles that systems go through. The archetypes from The Fifth Discipline are - Balancing Process with Delay Limits to Growth Shifting the Burden Shifting the Burden to the Intervenor Eroding Goals Escalation Success to the Successful Tragedy of the Commons Fixes that Fail Growth and Underinvestment Systems thinking uses archetypes for modeling the cycles that systems go through. Consequences at a distance - keep us from easily seeing cause and effect. Complexity and understanding - we need methods to increase understanding. Leverage - is to find the point in the cycle where effort is most effective or to change the structure of the system. Personal Mastery 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. Continually focusing Vision, current reality, and creative tension If we have a personal vision and we also see current reality objectively, then the difference between the two causes "creative tension". That tension can be used to draw us from where we are - in current reality - to the vision. What the vision does is to bring about the creative tension that is used to move a person toward the reality of the vision. Commitment to the truth is the other part of the process. Understanding of current reality as well as a vision are necessary for creative tension to begin to work. Using the subconscious is important in personal mastery. The author says that people committed to continually developing personal mastery practice some form of "meditation." Whether it is through contemplative prayer or other methods of simply "quieting" the conscious mind, regular meditative practice can be extremely helpful in working more productively with the subconscious mind. The following words are the first from the "Introduction to the Paperback Edition" of The Fifth Discipline. The vision that became The Fifth Discipline was born one morning in the fall of 1987. During my meditation that morning, I suddenly became aware that "the learning organization" would likely become a new management fad. The author decided that he wanted to take advantage of the fad and do something that would establish systems thinking, mental models, personal mastery, shared vision, and team learning and dialogue as inescapable elements in building learning organizations. People creating the results in life that they truly seek This is where the spirit of the learning organization is from. Mental Models "Mental models" are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action. 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. Balancing Inquiry and Advocacy Scenarios Leaps of Abstraction Left-hand Column Espoused theory versus theory-in-use Shared Vision The practice of shared vision involves the skills of unearthing shared "pictures of the future" that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance. Openness Pictures of the future Team Learning 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. Dialogue The discipline of team learning involves mastering the practices of dialogue and discussion, the two distinct ways that teams converse. In dialogue, there is the free and creative exploration of complex and subtle issues, a deep "listening" to one another and suspending of one's own views. By contrast, in discussion different views are presented and defended and there is a search for the best view to support decisions that must be made at this time. Dialogue and discussion are potentially complementary, but most teams lack ability to distinguish between the two and to move consciously between them. Emphasis added. David Bohm's necessary conditions for dialogue are as follows: 1. all participants must "suspend" their assumptions, literally to hold them "as suspended before us"; 2. all participants must regard one another as colleagues; 3. there must be a "facilitator" who "holds the context" of dialogue. The following information about dialogue is from Organizational Dynamics. Autumn 1993. "Taking Flight: Dialogue, Collective Thinking, and Organizational Learning", William N. Isaacs, director of the Dialogue Project at MIT's Organizational Learning Center. Dr. Isaacs mentions these first steps and four Levels and Stages of Dialogue. • Early requirement - people developed an initial grasp of inquiry skills, such as how to detect an abstract statement and invite people to explain their thinking. • gradually people recognize that they can either begin to defend their points of view, finding others as somewhat or totally wrong, or suspend their view, and begin to listen without coming to a hard and fast conclusion about the validity of any of the views yet expressed. They become willing to loosen the "grip of certainty" about all views, including their own. • At this stage, people may find themselves feeling frustrated, principally because the underlying fragmentation and incoherence in everyone's thought begins to appear. Extreme views become stated and defended. All of this "heat" and instability is exactly what should be occurring. The fragmentation that has been hidden is surfacing in the container. They ask: "Where am I listening from? What is the disturbance going on in me (not others)? What can I learn if I slow things down and inquire (to seek within)?" • People notice, for example, that they differ in their pace and timing of speaking and thinking, and begin to inquire into and respect these facts. Sometimes in this phase the flow takes on a powerful and undeniable intensity. Inquiry within this phase of the container is subtle; people here can become sensitive to the cultural "programs" for thinking and acting that they have unwittingly accepted as true. In these later stages of dialogue, the term "container" becomes limiting. It is more accurate to describe it as a kind of shared "field" in which meaning and information are being exchanged. This phase can be playful and penetrating. Yet it also leads to another crisis. People gradually realize that deeper themes exist, behind the flow of ideas. They come to understand and feel the impact that holding fragmented ways of thinking has had on them, their organizations, and their culture. They sense their separateness. While people may understand intellectually that they have had limits to their vision, they may not yet have experienced the fact of their isolation. Such awareness brings pain--both from loss of comforting beliefs and from the exercise of new cognitive and emotional muscles. People recognize that their thoughts--in the form of collective assumptions and choices--create and sustain fragmentation and separation. Moving through this crisis is by no means a given nor necessary for "success" in dialogue. Groups may develop the capacity for moving to the final level of dialogue over a considerable period of time. It is a deep and challenging crisis, one that requires considerable discipline and collective trust. • If this crisis can be navigated, a new level of awareness opens. People begin to know consciously that they are participating in a pool of common meaning because they have sufficiently explored each other's views. They still may not agree, but their thinking takes on an entirely different rhythm and pace. At this point, the distinction between memory and thinking becomes apparent. People may find it hard to talk together using the rigid categories of previous understanding. The net of their existing thought is not fine enough to begin to capture the subtle and delicate understandings that begin to emerge. This too may be unfamiliar and disorienting. People may find that they do not have adequate words and fall silent. Yet the silence is not an empty void, but one replete with richness. Tabling or suspending assumptions

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