The idea of a learning organization is typically associated with companies that continuously transform and adapt to remain competitive in business. Peter Senge coined the idea from his research of systems at the MIT Sloan School of Management and work with colleagues. A learning organization has five main features: systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision and team learning. The idea encourages companies to shift to a more interconnected way of thinking similar to communities where people can feel more commitment to the company. When companies grow they lose their capacity to learn, individual thinking becomes rigid and solutions to problems are short-term and re-emerge later. Companies, like people and organisms in nature have to adapt to provide the opportunity to carry on into the future. Death is near when systems no longer adapt.
At work, home, or in our relationships we can observe whether the systems we integrate with learn or not. Do people seek self-improvement? Do people try to be more effective and efficient? Is training or mentoring a focus of the company or in the home? Does management encourage trial by fire or coach? Are the leaders we work for open to suggestions or rigid in their thinking? Are the components of the business, home or social systems understood? Do the people in our lives understand the assumptions behind their thinking? Is there an idea of what the future will become if we work together? Are the goals linked to objectives or a vision? Is expertise readily shared so problem solving occurs quickly? If we just take some time to observe the interactions going around us we can see whether we are in a learning system or not. We can see the development of our relationships and whether they have long term viability. More often than not there will be some parts of our work, home or social life that learn and others that do not. The key is to look around and see who learns and who doesn’t. Learning is the primary means people and the organizations we create adapt to our ever-changing environment.
Like I told my kids the other night, “I hope to be learning until the day I die.”