Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline is divided into five parts. Part I is devoted to laying out the argument that we are the creators of our own reality, i.e., that the solutions to the problems that we face are at our reach, that we have the power to control our destinies.

Chapter 1 discusses the concept of "a Lever," or leverage points in a system --where the smallest efforts can make the biggest differences. It also introduces the five disciplines of the learning organization (systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, building shared vision and team learning). It highlights systems thinking as the 5th discipline --the one which fuses them into a coherent body of theory and practice.

Chapter 2 contains a description of seven learning disabilities which are often responsible for organizational failure:

1 - I am my position

2 - the enemy is out there

3 - the illusion of taking charge

4 - the fixation on events

5 - the parable of the boiled frog

6 - the delusion of learning from experience

7 - the myth of the management team

It relates these disabilities to the core disciplines, and argues how the disabilities can be overcome through mastering the disciplines.

Chapter 3 crowns the argument through an example: the beer game --which shows how rational individuals that are part of a system but that act in isolation can get trapped in problems related to their own thinking and behaviors.

Chapters 1, 2 and 3 are essential to understand Senge's argument. Some of the concepts which flourish out of these three chapters are:

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.

Today and in the future, the organizations that will truly excel will be the ones that discover how to tap people's commitment and capacity to learn at all levels in an organization. Learning organizations are fundamentally different from traditional authoritarian "controlling organizations."

SYSTEMS THINKING. The world IS NOT created of separate unrelated forces. However, individuals have difficulty seeing the whole pattern. Systems thinking is a conceptual framework, a body of knowledge and tools that has been developed over the past fifty years, to make the full patterns clearer, and to help us see how to change things effectively and with the least amount of effort --to find the leverage points in a system.

PERSONAL MASTERY. It is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively. The discipline of personal mastery starts with clarifying the things that really matter to us, of living our lives in the service of our highest aspirations.

MENTAL MODELS. They are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action. the discipline of working with mental models starts with turning the mirror inward; learning to unearth our internal pictures of the world, to bring them to the surface and hold them rigorously to scrutiny.

BUILDING SHARED VISION. The practice of shared vision involves the skills of unearthing shared "pictures of the future" that foster genuine commitment and enrollment, rather than compliance.

TEAM LEARNING. The discipline of team learning starts with "dialogue," the capacity of members of a team to suspend assumptions and enter into a genuine "thinking together." (Dialogue differs from the more common "discussion," which has its roots with "percussion" and "concussion," literally a heaving of ideas back and forth in a winner-takes-all competition.) Team learning is vital because teams, not individuals, are the fundamental learning unit in modern organizations. "Unless teams can learn, the organization cannot learn."

METANOIA --A SHIFT OF MIND. Systems thinking needs the disciplines of building shared vision, mental models, team learning, and personal mastery to realize its potential. Building a shared vision fosters commitment to the long-term. Mental models focus on the openness needed to unearth shortcomings in our present ways of seeing the world. Team learning develops the skills of groups of people to look for the larger picture that lies beyond individual perspectives. And personal mastery fosters the personal motivation to continually learn how our actions affect our world.

But systems thinking makes understandable the subtlest aspect of the learning organization --the new way individuals perceive themselves and their world. At the heart of a learning organization is a shift of mind --from seeing ourselves as separate from the world to connected 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.

STRUCTURE INFLUENCES BEHAVIOR. More often than we realize, systems cause their own crises, not external forces or individuals' mistakes. In human systems, structure includes how people make decisions --the "operating policies" whereby we translate perceptions, goals, rules, and norms into actions.

The reason that structural explanations are so important is that only they address the underlying causes of behavior at a level that patterns of behavior can be changed. Structure produces behavior, and changing underlying structures can produce different patterns of behavior. In this sense, structural explanations are inherently generative. Moreover, since structure in human systems includes the "operating policies" of the decision makers in the system, redesigning our own decision making redesigns the system structure. Based on an essay By Aldo Santos

From Sri Lanka, Kolonnawa

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