Is this true?

Every organisation is a learning organisation.
It’s just that most aren’t very good at it at all.

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Yes, I said it.

A learning organisation is just any organisation, whether it chooses to learn how to get better at pursuing its stated purpose, or chooses to learn how to avoid embarrassment by creating a culture of fear and double speak, either way it learns.
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This entry was posted in learning, systems thinking, very short posts and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Is this true?

  1. Organisations don’t learn. People do.

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    • ThinkPurpose says:

      Organisations don’t do stupid things, people do?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I suppose it depends if you take a functionalist or interpretive view. Is an organisation a cohesive entity with a distinctive way of thinking and acting, or a collection of groups and individuals with quite different ways of thinking and acting…or something in between, or either depending on whatever?

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        • ThinkPurpose says:

          I can predict what a performance person in my place is going to say about a situation, not because of who they are but because they’re a performance person. They’ve absorbed the unspoken rules, probably without knowing it. I wish i could remember a great quote about dictatorships and tyrants, went something like the point of dictatorships is that you obey and act accordingly when nobody can see you and the dictator may as well not exist. It’s internalised totally and unconsciously. I don’t think organisations are dictatorships, or fascist or anything like that. Least I of all mine, it’s a day care centre for guardian readers. But there’s no other part of your life where you adopt with such passion and precision the correct way to think.
          But I don’t think mine is a cohesive unified whole at all, so I wouldn’t want to say same about other ones. Cos I’ve never met them all.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I work with organisations with very different sub-cultures. Many or most organisations are pretty similar in that respect. The sub-cultures do have shared patterns of thinking and doing and these are shared more with similar occupations in other organisations than with different occupations in the same organisation. If that makes sense. So learning of course takes place in each of those as they learn from real or imagined consequences, but the lessons are very different from these different perspectives and it’s hard to say what the organisation has learned as the lessons might be contradictory, disparate and transient. This is kind of what I meant.

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            • ThinkPurpose says:

              Someone said recently that the purpose of a Local Authority was to avoid embarrassment. Whether that’s something horrific like Rotherham or Baby P, or just getting a poor Ofsted, either way thats something that penetrates and permeates local authorities so much that everybody “knows” what to do to avoid creating internal embarrassment, cos that is thought to be if not the same thing as then least a causal factor in creating external embarrassment.
              I don’t believe in the idea of the RUGS organisation, Rational Unitary Goal Seeking. cos that’s just silly. I’ve got a different purpose from people on my own team let alone two floors up. Theres probably a hundred different organisations in my organisation. But there’s a VERY definite “my organisation” still. At the very least, whenever anybody meets somebody who had left through voluntary redundancy they all say without exception…”best thing I ever did”.
              Makes me think they all left the same organisation.

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              • Oh yes, there is certainly a ‘my organisation’. It’s primary purpose, as you allude, is survival. And my experience is that morale or mood is one of relatively few things (along with pressure) that seems to permeate organisational boundaries (even between office- and non-office roles). Most other things – customs, dress, ways of communicating, attitudes, ways of learning, etc – vary, a lot.

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  2. bazhsw says:

    I think the statement is a little cynical but largely true. I think it’s somewhat accurate to say ‘our organisation is not an unlearning organisation’ (horrible double negative but let’s run with it). By that I mean, despite grandiose and well meaning efforts to ‘continuously improve’, to ‘engage and listen to staff’ to ‘listen and learn’ etc. management thinking is rooted in targets, improvement plans determined from top down etc. The structures and behaviours of the typical management factory constrain and impede the success of the ‘lofty learning goals’. This drips down to the operational area where the learned behaviours are ‘fudge the figures to boast about the performance’, ‘write absolute bollocks that is never referenced again to satisfy the inspection’ and ‘have a back pocket of a trillion reasons why this isn’t your fault and is ‘theirs”.

    Said organisations are incapable of unlearning, prior to learning if that makes sense.

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    • ThinkPurpose says:

      I had to look up “cynical”, when you said it was ALSO largely true. Cos I’ve always thought that cynicism and truth were mutually incompatible. Cos if it’s true then it’s just true. Ignoring that truth isn’t NOT being cynical, just ignorant.
      But then I looked up cynicism and I LEARNT!
      ” common misapplication of this attitude involves its attribution to individuals who emote well-thought-out expressions of skepticism. Such miscategorization may occur as the result of either inexperience and/or a belief system in which the innate goodness of man is considered an important tenet or even an irrefutable fact. Thus, contemporary usage incorporates both a form of jaded prudence and (when misapplied) realistic criticism or skepticism. ”
      I’m not saying my stuff is well thought through, but as someone often accused of cynicism, it’s useful to find out that refuting or challenging something that is attached to or is a pillar of “the innate goodness man”, that IN ITSELF is seen and defined as cynicism.
      I’ve always thought cynicism and idealism were actually the same thing, believing something or NOT believing in something purely because of how you felt about the subject matter rather than the truthfulness of the subject matter. Turns out i was wrong, thanks Wikipedia! TIL, etc

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      • bazhsw says:

        I wouldn’t read too much into my individual choices of words ha ha. Wikipedia has thought about this much more than me….

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        • ThinkPurpose says:

          i wasnt really, honest, just the word “cynical” got me interested.
          That wikipedia article showed me that just showing evidence about something that offends people’s beliefs about how people should behave is a real affront to something they value, not an interesting thing worth exploring

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          • bazhsw says:

            In practical terms this happens a lot to me when I suggest doing things differently. A common reason for not doing something is, ‘they need to shift their thinking’ which may be true but doesn’t get things done.

            For some people, ‘shifting their thinking’ will never happen because once they’ve looked ‘over the edge’ they’ve realised that 90% of what they / their team does is a massive waste of time.

            It’s natural to want to feel safe and secure, but this systemsy stuff is a real challenge to peoples perceptions as to what work is and isn’t hence my original comment about organisations struggling to ‘unlearn’.

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  3. The article has a point. In both cases, a culture develops to get the work done. Senge’s learning organisation culture is complex, emergent, self-organising, edgy and explains why hardly anyone works in one! Our cultural tendency is to build organisations based more on rules, compliance and accountabilities…perhaps this is learning (the dull stuff) but it is more like not learning in the positive sense intended. In schools we build complicated (linear) organisations when complex ones capable of handing a multitude of feedback loops are needed,

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    • ThinkPurpose says:

      Perhaps culture develops not necessarily to get the work done but to meet the “what do managers pay attention to” question. Which might be activity worth the name “work”, or just pleasing activity.

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  4. jaqueslecont says:

    This is dangerously close to a linkedin conversation. Someone will be asking where the sixth why is next.

    For what it’s worth, I think most organisations are like me when I was in sixth form. Just turning up, going through the motions and hoping to avoid the shame of kicked out. Not actively trying to learn anything. Just copying everyone else really.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ThinkPurpose says:

      I never “like” comments on my blog, but that one’s a cracker. Totally correct. I can stop blogging now, you’ve stated the final truth.
      I’d got a post in draft about “my model of work!” which is what you say there, except waffily and like a bleedin LinkedIn post. i can ditch that now, going through the motions and trying to avoid the shame of being kicked out is basically it.

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      • ThinkPurpose says:

        when i say i dont “like” comments i mean click the like button.
        As a narcissist i LOVE comments on my blog.
        validate me

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        • jaqueslecont says:

          Hey, you’re worthy man, get up.

          You’re actually very good at not sounding like a Linkedin chat. It’s one of the reasons I like your blog so much!

          It’s a real skill to be able to talk about anything to do with organisational improvement without boring the tits off everyone. You’ll be please to know I read all your posts and mine are still firmly in place.

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  5. Ambrose Bierce says:

    Cynic, n: a blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be.

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  6. Bob Ainsworth says:

    Every organisation is indeed a learning organisation, but it all depends on what they are learning and how they are learning it. And by ‘they’ I don’t mean the top brass learning it and passing it down the ranks as is the bloody norm these days.

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