Re: Fadism (long) LO109

Joe Kilbride (
Tue, 14 Feb 95 17:22 CST

The recent thread re: "fadism" and "quick fixes" reminded me of an article
I began sometime ago and never finished. Here are the beginning paragraphs.
Hit "delete" now if not interested.

The Learning Organization and Total Quality: Similar Fates?
The term Learning Organization has gained widespread use since the
publication in 1987 of The Fifth Discipline: Art and Practice of the
Learning Organization by Peter Senge. Since that time, the concept of the
Learning Organization has been both exalted and derided. The cover of the
first edition of The Fifth Discipline carried this quote from Fortune
The most successful corporation of the 1990s will be
something called a learning organization.

Seven years later, the October 3, 1994 issue of Fortune said:
Hip companies call themselves "learning organizations,"
a vague vogue term for a culture that cherishes continuous

Does this pattern seem familiar? Remember it was just 1980 when quality
became fashionable in America, made so by the airing of the PBS special
"If Japan Can Why Can't We?" This prompted a flood of interest in the work
of W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran, and Armand Feigenbaum, who are often
credited with teaching the Japanese about quality in the 50's. American
business preceded to spend billions of dollars implementing quality
improvement programs in the years that followed and, despite the
impressive results of a few companies, many have since exiled Total
Quality Management (TQM) to the ash heap of management salvos. Time
magazine ran a headline in 1990 announcing the death of Quality, just 10
years after its widespread adoption began in earnest in the United States.

A similar fate seems likely for the Learning Organization. At the very
least, it seems certain the term "Learning Organization" will be passe by
the turn of the century. American managers will have moved on to something
else, claiming that the Learning Organization was a failure, just like the
quality movement that preceded it. And this will occur, as with the
quality movement, despite significant gains by those companies who most
fully embraced the concepts.

I believe the reason for this pattern of elevate, invest, and discard is
the same in both cases: it is the unwillingness of American managers to
make fundamental changes in the way they think. That is what both Total
Quality and the Learning Organization have in common. Both are stepping
stones in the radical transformation occurring in business and society at

Understandably, few organizations recognize the extraordinary change
required at the outset of such a journey. How could they? And so programs
to institute Quality or Learning Organization concepts and tools begin
with the best of intentions, but limited understanding. At first, such
programs are collateral to the "real work" of the organization. Even still
it does not take long for them to bump up against the organization's
existing structure, and its systems for strategy development, management
by objectives, performance appraisal, quotas, and rewards. At this point,
rather than questioning the underlying assumptions behind these existing
systems so as to better understand how they conflict with these new ways
of thinking, the natural tendency is to modify the new to better mesh with
the old. We try to dress up the old in new terms, so that we feel we are
embracing the latest thinking, but without having to challenge our deepest
assumptions about work and people.

Article would have gone on to:
- describe some of the hybrids that try to mesh the
new with the old (e.g., Crosby's quality, BPR)
- offer criteria for distinguishing between truly new
approaches and old ones dressed up in new clothes

One of the reasons I didn't finish is that I haven't figured this latter
part out yet....


_ __________________________________________________
/ )| Joe Kilbride -- Kilbride Consulting, Inc. | ( \
/ / | PO Box 64 Downers Grove, IL 60515 | \ \
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