Re: Bottom-up approaches LO158

Kent D. Palmer, Ph.D. (
Sat, 18 Feb 1995 13:26:38 -0800 (PST)

Replying to LO139:


I found this distinction between an organization that fosters learning
and one what is actually learning itself very useful. Thanks.

Experience is the accumulation of what we learn -- not all experience is
good. Many times we learn most from bad experiences. Learning is not all
sweetness and light -- does not take place in classrooms except as a
rare exception but mostly takes place when we try to do hard things and
either succeed or fail. Similarly learning is hard for organizations. A
lot of time they fail and projects are racked up to experience. In that
case the individuals learn from the organizations death. This is
probably the most prevalent kind of learning. For organizations to learn
is for them to survive. But that is very difficult because it goes
against all our inclinations to control and suppress what does not agree
with our worldview, episteme, paradigm, theory, and constructed facts.

Thank you for making this thoughtful message available to us.


Kent D. Palmer, Ph.D. :Administrator of ThinkNet {aka DialogNet}
Software Engineering Technologist :philosophy and systems theory email lists
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On Thu, 16 Feb 1995, Mariann Jelinek wrote:

> Michael McMaster wrote in LO75:
> >
> >
> >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.
> [snip]
> >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.
> This was a problem I struggled with in writing my dissertation,
> 'way back in 1979. What I came to was the idea that one could usefully
> speak of "organizational learning" if and only if the learning (which had
> to initially be an individual phenomenon, although individualS could assist
> one another and learn together), were accessible to others not originally
> part of the party. That is, is I learn something, and then my learning is
> somehow captured and made accessible to others in the organization, who use
> this learning, then we've got organization learning. (Published in M.
> Jelinek, INSTITUTIONALIZING INNOVATION, 1979 (!) - ye gods, that makes me
> feel old!)
> Back then I was fascinated by an organization that seemed to quite
> effectively marshall the learning resources of its people, succeeding in a
> number of important innovations. Subsequently, that organization, TI, Texas
> Instruments, was both praised and blamed, experiencing both successes and
> serious failures. The system's methods were both "bureaucratic"
> (procedures, rules and templates for addressing innovation efforts) and
> "cultural" (norms and beliefs and attitudes that supported learning). The
> system succeeded when the culture continued to support investigation and
> the procedures rewarded candor; it fell into difficulties when procedures
> were perverted to "punish those who didn't succeed" (thus increasing the
> risk level and driving innovation out) and the culture became cynical.
> TI wasn't the only high technology firm that had such experiences;
> indeed, the "best" of the high techs, those that continue to develop new
> and better ideas and products, those that succeed against the competition,
> are those that continue to keep the faithin the value of learning. More
> specifically, those that continue to reward and cherish the truth-tellers
> and information sharers, seem to prosper; those that reward the bearers of
> good news only, and suppress information sharing, seem to fail. A key
> issue: maintaining organizations' penchant for learning (creating the
> learning organization, as opposed to creating organization learning) means
> addressing the entropy, expediency and discomfort that encourage
> replicating the past while shutting down learning and thus the future.
> It's old news that innovation and learning are "unnatural acts" and
> thus illegitimate in many organizations because the underlying philosophy
> for the past century has been hierarchical, rooted in assumptions of
> control (of "those below" by "those above"), permanence (according to the
> rules, the records and so on), and stability. The new inquiry, it seems to
> me, is how to build an organization that encourages on-going inquiry (but
> yet somehow brings people together in coordinated activity). The dynamic
> tension between stability and control, and between making use of the past
> and calling past insights into question, are at the heart of the matter.
> Sam
> Mariann Jelinek
> Richard C. Kraemer Professor of Business
> Graduate School of Business,
> College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA 23185
> Tel. (804) 221-2882 FAX: (804) 229-6135