Re: Bottom-up approaches LO194

Michael McMaster (
Tue, 21 Feb 1995 20:38:05 GMT

Mariann Jelineck wrote in LO139:
> 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!)

This is an important but not all-inclusive requirement for organisational
learning. That is, if the knowledge stops at those who participated, it
may still be accessible to the organisation and thus qualify as
organisational learning - at least as long as the original people are
there. But the far greater organisational learning is if the knowledge
moves and transfers.

However, I want to go beyond that. It is possible that there was not
"learning together" in any recognised sense. The individual acts of
learning may happen independently and come together (say in a procedure or
diagramme) where the individual participants didn't learn together in the
first place. Even more remote but also more common and probably more
powerful, the slow flow and interaction of information and dialogue
through many communicative transactions may generate new knowledge and
insight that can't ever be traced to "original" learning experiences nor
meetings of any kind. That is sort of like most of our individual
learning occurs - by the action and interaction of life itself.

A model that I have developed which might lend insight into the follow
apparent contradiction is something I generated from information theory.
That is that the flow of organisation is to take information from the
relatively unformed and useless "edge of chaos" and continually organise
it into useful tools and increasingly rigid structures. The flow of
information, energy and learning, however, is from the rigid and
predictable center towards the "edge of chaos" where there is maximum
information, learning and innivative opportunity. Both of these forces
are operating at once.

The "contradictions" of all organisations are the misunderstood tension
between these two forces. What has us make one "wrong" and one "right" is
that we want or expect it to be one or the other. We fail to see the
nature of the flows of information.

Mike McMaster <>