Have we learned to be Learning Organizations?

In 1990, Peter Senge wrote the first edition of The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization. Whether or not he was ‘inspired’ from above (I think he was), he took Deming’s idea that the “prevailing system of management” was broken and needed to be transformed. Like Deming, Senge believed in 1990 that our management system was “dedicated to mediocrity” (p. xviii). Senge proposed a paradigm shift with the recognition that organizations and businesses should be viewed as learning organizations and that individual learning and growth should be fostered within them. Moreover, research since then has shown that the learning organization is the beginning of competitive advantage (Evans & Wolf, 2005). Managing from a holistic view (within relationship), both corporately and individually, can transform an organization from a compartmentalized structure to a living, growing organism. However, 23 years later I wonder if we have witnessed this shift as dramatically as Senge (and Deming) had hoped?

Although communities of practice, action research, knowledge management, sharing, and creation, just to name a few, have been researched and written about for at least two decades,  I have not seen it practiced on a large scale. Academia gives us article after article, supporting the usefulness of knowledge sharing, but mostly individual employees are given a manual to guide their responsibilities, with very little opportunity for collaboration to discover best practices. In fact, “best practices” are usually discovered interorganizationally, rather than mining the valuable resources within an organization. Simply, we appear to continue the mediocrity and are giving lip service to exciting new practices, but never really changing. What do you think?

GMA