Aren’t all organizations “learning organizations”?

In The Fifth Discipline, author Peter Senge describes the concept of “Organizational Learning” and the “Learning Organization.” I think the book is a great resource, with great ideas (the obvious being the fifth discipline itself – Systems Thinking) and is a must read for anyone trying to improve their organization.

I can’t argue with the idea of Organizational Learning, but I feel the term “learning organization” was an unfortunate choice of words. As described in the book, a “learning organization” is an unusual thing, a good thing. It seems to me, though, that all organizations are “learning” organizations – just as all people learn things everyday, good and bad, whether they are trying to or not, organizations are always learning.

You can track the history of any organization and see it “learn.” This learning presents itself most commonly as the “habits” the organization learns, most of which are unfortunately bad habits. Just as with an individual person with no goals or direction in life, an organization with no leadership to guide it in learning “good” habits will be left to the whims of the individuals in the organization.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any better labels to offer for what Senge calls the learning organization, at least not yet. (I’m in the same pickle with Knowledge Management, another unfortunate choice of words that doesn’t really seem to accurately describe the concept.)

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