Michael McMaster (
Fri, 17 Feb 1995 12:53:03 GMT

Replying to LO114:

Is it necessary to have been "wrong" to learn or to prove that learning
has occurred? I don't think so. What about absolutely new areas of
knowledge? What about enrichment of what went before? I suspect most
learning is cumulative, co-evolving, inclusive of experience and
developmental - even when major - than a matter of having been wrong.
Ptolemaic astronomy has been replaced by better (ie. more efficient
systems) but that doesn't make the original wrong.

> Commenting on Stever's previous comments, Jim Michmerhuizen said: "Once
> again, dead on. Shouldn't we measure what we've truly learned, in any
> space of time, by the number of times we saw we were "wrong"?"
> This is my understanding of "double loop learning" as described by Argyris
> and others. Indeed, if you are "right", you may be demonstrating prior
> learning, but, in the instance, you have learned nothing. Those of us who
> WANT to learn NEED to make mistakes...

A distinction between the first and second paragraphs is one of
temporality or time perspective. Discovering that we _were_ wrong (in the
past) is not to say that we've learned much. And demonstrating that we
_are_ right is not to say that we have learned nothing. Each time I
discover a new and useful insight from what I'm working on, I valid the
"rightness" of both past and present. (Keeping in mind the postmodern
position that there is no "right" whatsoever, and that everything "right"
will very likely be disproved and/or replaced at some time in the future.)

I think a key is that if, looking back, we see that we _always_ were
right, then we might suspect that we haven't been learning. This does
imply that if we want to learn then we need to be prepared to make
mistakes - even to make them on purpose from time to time. (Are they then
"mistakes"?) But that does not imply that we should promote mistakes.

The importance of these ways of speaking, for me, is that we have to
conduct effective dialogue with executives and managers and there are ways
of talking which we might understand "in the club" but which will not
assist us in engaging managers in the dialogues that we think are
important. I don't think that we need to talk about "needing to make
mistakes." We _will_ make mistakes if we are acting in a complex world -
we can count on it. Its our relationship to mistakes, to knowledge, to
truth, to right/wrong that is the problem.

Michael McMaster <>