Bottom-up approaches LO75

Michael McMaster (
Sat, 11 Feb 1995 19:14:29 GMT

Michael McMaster

The language of this conversation I think is unfortunate and hides much of what we are all looking for. "Bottom up" is as unfortunate as "top down". They imply the domination of hierarchy in our thinking as well as our systems. If we are dealing with a complex adaptive system, then "center out" might be a better term where center is wherever you are.

I've noticed in a few communication in this conversation that care has been taken to distinguish organisational learning from "the learning organisation". I think this is useful distinction. The phrase the learning organisation implies either that there are organisations which don't learn or that there is an ideal. In the first case, there might be temporary conditions that we might call pathologies where no organisational learning takes place - but they can be counted on to be temporary and not a major concern or focus. In the second case, we are inviting frustration and a small following of a conversation remote from real world concerns.

It seems to me that an organisation is a complex adaptive system (ie. its nature is to learn) and therefore, while we might suppress its capacity to learn, we cannot prevent it from learning. The opportunity this approach provides is that we can stop worrying about "What is a learning organisation?" and "Are we a learning organisation?" and begin to wrestle with the much more pragmatic questions of "How can we increase organisational learning?" and "What are we currently doing to inhibit organisational learning?"

The final inquiry I find most interesting is to explore the distinctions between organisational learning and individual learning. Most efforts seem to be exploring organisational learning as the sum of individual learning. The view of organisations as complex adaptive systems suggests that learning can take place at a level far beyond the sum of the individuals.

Mike McMaster