On The Fifth Discipline

I recently read The Fifth Discipline – The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization by Peter M. Senge.

The main premise of the book is best summarized by the author in the opening chapter: “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 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.” The development of such an organization is based on five pillars: “Today, I believe, five new “component technologies” are gradually converging to innovate learning organizations. Though developed separately, each will, I believe, prove critical to the others’ success, just as occurs with any ensemble. Each provides a vital dimension in building organizations that can truly ‘learn,” that can continually enhance their capacity to realize their highest aspirations: Systems Thinking…Personal Mastery…Mental Models…Building Shared Vision…Team Learning.”

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “At the heart of a learning organization is a shift of mind—from seeing ourselves as separate from the world to :ted to the world, from seeing problems as caused by someone or something “out there” to seeing how our own actions create the problems we experience. A learning organization is a place where people are continually discovering how they create their reality. And how they can change it. As Archimedes has said, “Give me a lever long enough . and single-handed I can move the world.”

2- “It is no accident that most organizations learn poorly. The way they are designed and managed, the way people’s jobs are defined, and, most importantly, the way we have all been taught to think and interact (not only in organizations but more broadly) create fundamental efforts of bright, committed people. Often the harder they try to best efforts of bright, committed people. Often the harder they try to solve problems, the worse the results. What learning does occur takes place despite these learning disabilities—for they pervade all organizations to some degree.”

3- “All of the learning disabilities described in Chapter 2 operate in the beer game: • Because they “become their position,” people do not see how their actions affect the other positions. Consequently, when problems arise, they quickly blame each other—”the enemy” becomes the players at the other positions, or even the customers. • When they get “proactive” and place more orders, they make matters worse. • Because their overordering builds up gradually, they don’t realize the direness of their situation until it’s too late. • By and large, they don’t learn from their experience because the most important consequences of their actions occur elsewhere in the system, eventually coming back to create the very problems they blame on others. The “teams” running the different positions (usually there are two or three individuals at each position) become consumed with blaming the other players for their problems, precluding any opportunity to learn from each others’ experience.'”

4- “Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes, h is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static “snapshots.” It is a set of general principles—distilled over the course of the twentieth century, spanning, and management. It is also a set of specific tools and techniques, originating in two threads: in “feedback” concepts of cybernetics and in “servo-mechanism” engineering theory dating back to the nineteenth century.”

5- “The primary insights in shifting the burden will come from (1) distinguishing different types of solutions; (2) seeing how reliance on symptomatic solutions can reinforce further reliance. The leverage will always involve strengthening the bot¬ tom circle, and/or weakening the top circle. Just as with limits ) growth, it’s best to test your conclusions here with small actions—and to give the tests time to come to fruition. In particular, strengthening an atrophied ability will most likely take a long period of time.”

6- “The art of systems thinking lies in being able to recognize increasingly (dynamically) complex and subtle structures, such as that at WonderTech amid the wealth of details, pressures, and cross currents that attend all real management settings. In fact, the essence of mastering systems thinking as a management discipline lies in seeing patterns where others see only events and forces to react to. Seeing the forest as well as the trees is a fundamental problem that plagues all firms, as is illustrated in the next chapter.”

7- “When personal mastery becomes a discipline—an activity we integrate into our lives—it embodies two underlying movements. The first is continually clarifying what is important to us. We often spend too much time coping with problems along our path that we forget why we are on that path in the first place. The result is that we only have a dim, or even inaccurate, view of what’s really important to us. The second is continually learning how to see current reality more clearly. We’ve all known people entangled in counterproductive relationships, who remain stuck because they keep pretending everything is all right. Or we have been in business meetings where everyone says, “We’re on course relative to our plan,” yet an hon;st look at current reality would show otherwise. In moving toward a desired destination, it is vital to know where you are now. The juxtaposition of vision (what we want) and a clear picture of current reality (where we are relative to what we want) generates what we call “creative tension”: a force to bring them together, caused by the natural tendency of tension to seek resolution. The essence of personal mastery is learning how to generate and sustain creative tension in our lives.”

8- “The ability to focus on ultimate intrinsic desires, not only on secondary goals, is a corner stone of personal mastery.”

9- “Organizations intent on building shared visions continually encourage members to develop their personal visions. If people don’t have their own vision, all they can do is “sign up” for someone else’s. The result is compliance, never commitment. On the other hand, people with a strong sense of personal direction can join together to create a powerful synergy toward what I/we truly want. Personal mastery is the bedrock for developing shared visions. This means not only personal vision, but commitment to the truth and creative tension—the hallmarks of personal mastery. Shared ion can generate levels of creative tension that go far beyond individuals’ “comfort levels.” Those who will contribute the most toward realizing a lofty vision will be those who can “hold” this creative tension: remain clear on the vision and continue to inquire into current reality. They will be the ones who believe deeply in their ability to create their future, because that is what they experience personally.”

10- “Enrollment is a natural process that springs from your genuine enthusiasm for a vision and your willingness to let others come to their own choice. Be enrolled yourself. There is no point attempting to encourage another to be enrolled when you are not…• Be on the level. Don’t inflate benefits or sweep problems under the rug. Describe the vision as simply and honestly as you can. •Let the other person choose. You don’t have to “convince” another of the benefits of a vision.  In fact, efforts you might make to persuade him to “become enrolled” will be seen as manipulative and actually preclude enrollment.”

11- “Bohm identifies three basic conditions that are necessary for dialogue: 1. all participants must t “suspend” their assumptions, literally to hold them “as if suspended before us”; 2. all participants must regard one another as colleagues; 3. there must be a “facilitator” who “holds the context” of dialogue.”

12- “In a discussion, different views are presented and defended, and as explained earlier this may provide a useful analysis of the whole situation. In dialogue, different views are presented as a means toward discovering a new view. In a discussion, decisions are made.In a dialogue, complex issues are explored…A learning team masters movement back and forth between dialogue and discussion. The ground rules are different. The goals are different. Failing to distinguish them, teams usually have neither dialogue nor productive discussions.”

13- “The neglected leadership role is the designer of the ship…Lao-tzu also illuminates part of the reason why design is a neglected dimension of leadership: little credit goes to the designer. The functions of design are rarely visible; they take place behind the scenes. The consequences that appear today are the result of work done long in the past, and work today will show its benefits far in the future. Those who aspire to lead out of a desire to control, or gain fame, or simply to be “at the center of the action” will find little to attract them to the quiet design work of leadership. Not that this type of leadership is without its rewards. Those who practice it find deep satisfaction in empowering others and being part of an organization capable of producing results that people truly care about. In fact, they find these rewards more enduring than the power and praise granted to traditional leaders…The design work of leaders includes designing an organization’s policies, strategies, and “systems.” But it goes beyond that. Designing policies and strategies that no one can implement because they don’t understand or agree with the thinking behind them has little effect.”


Omar Halabieh

The Fifth Discipline


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