First Principles of LO LO11832
Sun, 12 Jan 1997 09:11:43 -0500

Replying to LO11806 --

Rol responds to Tony with:

>As I use the term "first principles" it is synonymous with the way you use
>the phrase "empirically valid theory". Newton's first principles form
>exactly an empirically (and analytically) valid theory.

This was also my understanding of your meaning of the term "first
principles." We are awash in social constructs. I attended two Cape Cod
Institute sessions this summer. (They were a wonderful way to spend a
week, by the by.) In one of them, I was overwhelmed by the number of
different mental/social constructs represented in the room, filled as it
was with organizational consultants, therapists, educators, etc. You might
have observed that we were "blind people describing an elephant," but I
would say we were more blind people describing other blind people's
descriptions of an elephant. As a group, we seldom talked about our
personal experiences or those of the people with whom we worked. We spent
our floor time advocating for adding our own social constructs to whatever
the speaker was describing.

>From what I know of Tony DiBella's work, I think it is, indeed, focused on
the kind of quest Rol has described. He commented:

>My interest is not in first principles of the LO, since the latter is not
>real but a social construct. My interest is in developing an empirically
>valid theory of learning in organizations that will stand the test of

First principles, as Rol described them, should be testable and
replicable. IMHO, the field of OL would be well served by constantly
keeping in mind the ultimate objectives and results of our work, from the
point of view of the organizations we represent or work with.

The real challenge here is related to Tony's comment that "the Learning
Organization" is a social construct. Much of what organizations try to
accomplish is a social construct -- even financial returns to
shareholders, and how we measure them, are based in large part (especially
in the short-term) on social constructs and shared perceptions. How are
organizational/corporate objectives and results defined, and by whom?
Unlike first principles in physical domains, the result of our
interactions as "organizations" are less concrete and more subject to
social definition. Thus how we test our hypotheses about "first
principles" or "theories of learning" are subject to tremendous

So we come back to an important question: what IS organizational learning
and how would we know if we saw it happening?

Marilyn Darling
Signet Consulting Group


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