The Business Book

(Joyce) #1


Argyris joined forces with MIT
professor Donald Schön to write
the highly influential book
Organizational Learning: A Theory
of Action Perspective, which
explored theories such as double-
loop learning.
Going further back, the first
scientific studies of learning within
an organization were conducted in
the mid-20th century. Two theories

in particular emerged to dominate
thinking in this area. The first, from
Yale professor Charles Lindblom in
1959, was that action taken in
organizations is based on historical
precedent rather than on
anticipating the future. The second
was set out by Richard Cyert and
James March, who in 1963
published their observation that
behavior in organizations is based


on routines: the procedures,
conventions, or technologies
through which companies operate.
These perceived negatives became
the focus of scholars such as
Argyris and Senge. Interest in the
concept of the learning
organization grew in the 1990s, as
business conditions became more
uncertain and companies more
dependent on technology.
In 1993 management innovation
expert Mark Dodgson, then senior
fellow at the Science Policy Unit of
the University of Sussex, UK, linked
economic uncertainty and rapid
technological change to an
increased need for learning at all
levels in a company, citing the view
of psychologists that learning is the
highest form of adaptation.
Dodgson, like other scholars, made
a distinction between
“organizational learning”—when
organizations learn a lesson from a
particular event—and “the learning
organization,” which embraces a
continual process of education and
implements strategies to initiate
that process. In Senge’s opinion,
organizations focused on continued
learning will gain a competitive
advantage in the marketplace. ■

Organizational learning involves both single-loop
learning, where errors are identified and corrected, and
double-loop learning, in which the assumptions that
underlie specific actions are questioned and improved.

Peter Senge A world-renowned expert on
management and organizational
learning, Peter Senge was born in
Stanford, CA, in 1947 and studied
aerospace engineering at Stanford
University. He went on to obtain
an MA in social systems and a
PhD in management at MIT, and
is now a senior lecturer at MIT’s
Sloan School of Management. He
is also the founding chair of the
global Society for Organizational
Learning (SoL).
Senge pioneered the concept of
“the learning organization”—an
organization structured in a way
that is conducive to new ideas,

reflection, and engaging its
employees. As he said on one
occasion, a learning organization
“is continually expanding its
capacity to create its future.”
In 1999, the Journal of
Business Strategy named Peter
Senge a “Strategist of the
Century”—one of the 24 people
who had had the greatest
influence on business strategy
in the 20th century.

Key works

1990 The Fifth Discipline
1999 The Dance of Change

Single-loop learning
Results show what needs
to be fixed or improved.



Double-loop learning
Results also reveal the bigger picture: the
culture of the organization—the values
and assumptions that govern behavior.
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