Peter Senge, fully Peter Michael Senge

Senge, fully Peter Michael Senge

American Scientist, Director of the Center For Organizational Learning at MIT Sloan School of Management and Author

Author Quotes

When I entered graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1970, I was already convinced that most of the problems faced by humankind concerned our inability to grasp and manage the increasingly complex systems of our world. Little has happened since to change my view.

When placed in the same system, people, however different, tend to produce similar results.

Whenever I?m trying to help people understand what this word ?system? means, I usually start by asking: ?Are you a part of a family?? Everybody is a part of a family. ?Have you ever seen in a family, people producing consequences in the family, how people act, how people feel, that aren?t what anybody intends?? Yes. ?How does that happen?? Well? then people tell their stories and think about it. But that then grounds people in not the jargon of ?system? or ?systems thinking? but the reality ? that we live in webs of interdependence.?

Where then is the leverage in dealing with structural conflict? If structural conflict arises from deep underlying beliefs, then it can be changed only by changing the beliefs. But psychologists are virtually unanimous that fundamental beliefs such as powerlessness or unworthiness cannot be changed readily. They are developed early in life (remember all those "can'ts" and "don'ts" that started when you were two?) For most of us, beliefs change gradually as we accumulate new experiences - as we develop our personal mastery. But if mastery will not develop so long as we hold un-empowering beliefs, and the beliefs will change only as we experience our mastery, how may we begin to alter the deeper structures of our lives?

World problems are becomingly increasingly complex and interconnected.

You cannot have a learning organization without a shared vision...A shared vision provides a compass to keep learning on course when stress develops.

You look down there and you can't imagine how many borders and boundaries you crossed again and again and again. And you don't even see 'em. At that wake-up scene - the Middle East - you know there are hundreds of people killing each other over some imaginary line that you can't see. From where you see it, the thing is a whole, and it's so beautiful. And you wish you could take one from each side in hand and say, "Look at it from this perspective. Look at that. What's important?

When any of us acts in a state of fear or anxiety, our actions are likely to revert to what is most habitual: our most instinctual behaviors dominate, ultimately reducing us to our ?fight ? or ? flight? programming of the reptilian brain stem. Collective actions are no different. Even as conditions in the world change dramatically, most businesses, governments, schools, and other large organizations continue to take the same kinds of institutional actions that they always have. This does not mean that no learning occurs. But it is a limited type of learning: learning how best to react to circumstances we see ourselves as having no hand in creating. Reacting learning is governed by ?downloading? habitual ways of thinking, of continuing to see the world within the familiar categories we are comfortable with. We discount interpretations and options for action that are different than ones we know and trust. We act to defend our interests. In reactive learning, our actions are actually re-enacted habits, and we invariably end up reinforcing pre-established mental models. Regardless of the outcome, we end up being ?right.? At best, we get better at what we have always done. We remain secure in the cocoon of our own world view, isolated from the larger world.

When executives lead as teachers, stewards, and designers, they fill roles that are much more subtle and long-term than those of power-wielding hierarchical leaders.

Most people's eyes glaze over if you talk to them about "learning... Little wonder--for, in everyday use, learning has come to be synonymous with "taking in information." "Yes, I learned all about that at the course yesterday." Yet, taking in information is only distantly related to real learning. It would be nonsensical to say, "I just read a great book about bicycle riding--I've now learned that."

Sometimes, the knottiest dilemmas, when seen from the systems point of view, aren't dilemmas at all. They are artifacts of "snapshot" rather than "process" thinking, and appear in a whole new light once you think consciously of change over time.

The long-term, most insidious consequence of applying non-systemic solutions is increased need for more and more of the solution. This is why ill-conceived government interventions are not just ineffective, they are "addictive" in the sense of fostering increased dependency and lessened abilities of local people to solve their own problems.

These learning disabilities have been with us for a long time. In The March of Folly, Barbara Tuchman traces the history of devastating large-scale policies "pursued contrary to ultimate self-interest," from the fall of the Trojans through the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. In story after story, leaders could not see the consequences of their own policies, even when they were warned in advance that their own survival was at stake.

It's common to say that trees come from seeds. But how can a tiny seed create a huge tree? Seeds do not contain the resources need to grow a tree. These must come from the medium or environment within which the tree grows. But the seed does provide something that is crucial : a place where the whole of the tree starts to form. As resources such as water and nutrients are drawn in, the seed organizes the process that generates growth. In a sense, the seed is a gateway through which the future possibility of the living tree emerges.

Mutual reflection. Open and candid conversation. Questioning of old beliefs and assumptions. Learning to let go. Awareness of how our own actions create the systemic structures that produce our problems. Developing these learning capabilities lies at the heart of profound change.

Systematic structure is concerned with the key interrelationships that influence behavior over time.

The more you learn the more acutely aware you become of your ignorance.

Though the tools are new, the underlying worldview is extremely intuitive; experiments with young children show that they learn systems thinking very quickly.

It's not what the Vision is, it's what the Vision does.

Nobody likes to throw stuff away. It's just antithetical to our sense of being a person. But we're all habituated to that way of living today.

Systems thinking is a sensibility--for the subtle interconnectedness that gives living systems their unique character.

The most powerful learning comes from direct experience... But, what happens when we can no longer observe the consequences of our actions? What happens if the primary consequences of our actions are in the distant future or in the distant part of the larger system within which we operate? We each have a "learning horizon," a breadth of vision in time and space within which we assess our effectiveness. When our actions have consequences beyond our learning horizon, it becomes impossible to learn from direct experience.

Three Characteristics Of A Systems Thinking Approach: 1. A very deep and persistent commitment to ?real learning.? 2. I have to be prepared to be wrong. If it was pretty obvious what we ought to be doing, then we?d be already doing it. So I?m part of the problem, my own way of seeing things, my own sense of where there?s leverage, is probably part of the problem. This is the domain we?ve always called ?mental models.? If I?m not prepared to challenge my own mental models, then the likelihood of finding non-obvious areas of leverage are very low. 3. The need to triangulate. You need to get different people, from different points of view, who are seeing different parts of the system to come together and collectively start to see something that individually none of them see.?

Language shapes perception. What we SEE depends on what we are prepared to see.

Nothing will change, no matter how fascinated you are by a new idea, unless you create some kind of a learning process. A learning process is a process that occurs over time whereby people's beliefs, ways of seeing the world, and ultimately their skills and capabilities change. It always occurs over time, and it's always connected to your domain of taking action, whether it's about relationships or about your professional work. Learning occurs ?at home,? so to speak, in the sense that it must be integrated into our lives, and it always takes time and effort. That's the whole reason for emphasizing this notion of ?disciplines.? And discipline means commitment, focus, and practice. Most things that really matter in life take discipline and years of practice. But the concept of discipline has really drifted out of our culture. We've come to believe that anything we need that's important, we can go out and buy. This is not true in other cultures. There's a very deep appreciation for discipline and the idea that learning occurs over time. In fact, the very term learning in Chinese is made up of two symbols. One translates as ?study,? to take in new information or new ideas. The second is ?practice constantly.? You cannot think or say the word ?learning? in Chinese without, in effect, thinking and saying ?study and practice constantly.?

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Senge, fully Peter Michael Senge
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American Scientist, Director of the Center For Organizational Learning at MIT Sloan School of Management and Author