The answer I came up with is that the dimension of abiliity to
constantly learn and use learning in practice has become an essential
characteristic of complex adaptive systems that are able to be
sustainable with the transition into and the dawn of the Knowledge Era.
How do complex adaptive systems learn? In describing commonalities
between learning and thinking in animals and human beings and the
evolution of societies Murray Gell-Mann writes:
>...the common feature of all these processes is that in each one a
complex adaptive system acquires information about its environment and its
own interaction with that environment, identifying regularities in that
information, condensing those regularities into a kind of "schema" or
model, and acting in the real world on the basis of that schema. In each
case, there are various competing schemata, and the results of the action
in the real world feed back to influence the competition among those
schemata. > (The Quark and the Jaguar, p17. W. Freeman Pub. 1994)
Organizations are complex adaptive systems and as such to be sustainable
( that is to develop and be generative for a long time ) they must
constantly learn and effectively apply their learning.
But that has always been so, why then has learning become so
significantly essential in the times we are living in?
I think the answer to this is that in the advanced, developed countries
of the world, we are on the threshold of the Knowledge Era. We are in a
transition period in human history, in the midst of a chaotic
transformation from the Industrial to the Knowledge epoch.
In the growing uncertainty and amplifying complexity of the transition
between eras the ability to learn fast and well and apply learning
effectively - decides whether the organization will survive.
In the coming Knowledge Era learning ability becomes the hallmark of
How do we know that we are in the transition period from the Industrial
to the Knowledge Era?
Of course we cannot be sure. But a significant number of trends point in
this direction. Here are some of these:
> The advent of the knowledge era comes to expression in a variety of
* The advance of human knowledge in the last few decades of this
century has outstripped all the combined discoveries and advances of
human knowledge throughout history.
* Production based mainly on knowledge and information is becoming
the major source of human wealth.
* The development and advance of new directions of production
(e.g., biotechnical or new materials) depends foremost on their
* The knowledge element becomes the crucial factor in the advance
and success of agriculture, services, and industry.
* Knowledge ("gold-collar") workers become a growing important,
essential element of the workforce.
* Power shifts into the hands of those who have control over
knowledge. They also control resources of force and wealth.
* With the rise in centrality of knowledge and information comes
the growing importance of the media and others who handle and direct the
flow of information.
* Wealth loses its material form of money and takes an
informational nonmaterial form of numbers stored in the memories and
transferred by computers.
* The success of an enterprise depends increasingly on the
quality of its people in terms of the level of knowledge, information,
and know-how at their disposal.
* Societies with a greater and faster ability to acquire
knowledge and information advance more and outstrip other societies.
* Knowledge is substituting saving and replacing other resources
such as energy, materials, warehouse facilities and transportation.
* The free flow of knowledge, information, and immediate internal
and external feedback and sensors are becoming critical factors in the
successful running of an enterprise.
* Knowledge is becoming the key factor in global power struggles
replacing power conflicts over material and energy resources.>
(From: Coping With Uncertainty: Insights from the New Sciences of Chaos,
Complexity and Self Organization. Uri Merry. Greenwood Pub. 1995).
So while learning has always been an important element for the
sustainability of organizations now it has beome possibly the most
essential feature that determines their survival and growth.
Which brings us back to the Learning Organization list and the foregoing
at least partly explain the quality and growth of this list.
To sum up:
1) Learning has always been an important element in the sustainability
2) This element becomes central and crucial with the growing complexity
and increasing uncertainty accompanying the transition period into the
Knowledge Era and the advent of the Era itself.
3) The Learning Organization mailing list successfully addresses the
many dimensions, features and aspects of this crucial dimension of
Dr. Uri Merry
Uri Merry <email@example.com>
Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <firstname.lastname@example.org> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>