The History

The history of  “The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of Learning Organizations”

It is an area few management concepts have dared to venture into.

The author does not say it.

But many who read his works, begin to appreciate the anti-thesis of this work.

The five disciplines of the work represent anti-thesis to most concepts of management as we know it.

However for us to appreciate the anti-thesis, we need to appreciate where did most concepts of management come from.

Well, what do you think?

Should one think carefully, one begins to realize that most concepts of management as we know today were the product of a slew of ideas, concepts and frameworks that emerged post World War II.

When the war ended, many of us who were leaders in the military as we found jobs outside the military (be it the private or public sector) enjoyed similar positions in the new sectors given their leadership positions in the military.

So, how then do you think they ran their ships.

Well, you are right!  Like the military!

So most concepts of management as we know today came from the military.

While most organizations strive to last for as long as we could so that earnings are realized and sustained (that’s the whole premise of  organizational score-cards and goals and visions we set for organizations) and so long-term growth is an important goal for most organizations, the military on the other hand is not designed for the long-term.

What would it be primarily designed for?

It is to going in, kill the enemy and get out.   It is designed to create results for the short-term!  With an iron fist!

Should we be successful in eliminating the enemy (notice the parallels we draw in the corporate world when we say we should strive to ‘eliminate the competition’), then we say we are successful.

But, … if the enemy does not die, then what happens?  Well, you don’t want to die either.

So what happens?

We prolong the war.

Except should the war be prolonged, what now happens to the cost of running the military?

It chalk up a huge cost!

Trying running the private sector at huge costs.

What happens to it?

It goes under pretty soon.

The research for this work was a response to seeing the corporate world were floundering some ten to twenty years after World War II.

In trying to understand, what it takes for an organization (or for that matter a country) to grow and sustain its growth over time, the research began to uncover five acts of disciplines that helped an organization to reach that stage.

This gave rise to the writing of the book “The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of Learning Organizaitons” and its eventual publication in 1990 by the author, Dr Peter Senge.

What sets a Learning Organization apart from others?

A Learning Organization will question the mandate it has been found in, and question the cause of the continued relevance of the mandate.

Most mandates set for an organization or even a vision (to increase market share and raise revenue / funds / capital from sales) is a response to our past.  Typically these are an event (or events at repeated frequency) from the past.  Rise in crimes or rise in illnesses or rise in the number of citizens succumbing to HIV/AIDs or land conflicts or labour or spousal disputes or poverty and so on.

In questioning the cause of the continued relevance of the mandate, these organizations work upstream in determining and dealing with the causality.  In doing so, as we cut the effects of the causality, it helps to cut the costs of sustaining the institution setup for the mandate.

This goes up against most concepts of management.  Most ideas of management do not question the mandate.  Just like the military.  We ask, “Who is the enemy?”.  We do not ask, “Why is he the enemy?”  We do not ask, “Why jump?”.  We ask, “How high?”

However, this approach to management will eventually allow the organization to see the cycles of causality that has trapped the organizations in the myriad of endless circles of ‘running around’ it finds itself in.  This is key in helping the organization see that as these cycles spin, they take us through the ups and downs on the journeys of our realities.  The military usually thinks ‘it has no time for thinking’.  It says, “Charge!” (before the enemy charges at us!)

We think we are leading the journeys in our realities. These vicious circles prove to us that we are not doing so.  These cycles are leading us on.   In reality, these circles of causality appears on the surface (we say the tip of the iceberg) and manifest themselves as problems and conflicts that span individual (personal relations and health) to global (global relations and health) issues.

A Learning Organization learns to get to the answers at the bottom of this puzzle!


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