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 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.

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?

Many European cities have avoided the problems of crime, entrenched poverty, and helplessness that afflict so many American inner cities because they have forced themselves to face the balances that a healthy urban area must maintain. One way they have done this is by maintaining large "green belts" around the city that discourage the growth of suburbs and commuters... By contrast, many American cities have encouraged steady expansion of surrounding suburbs, continually enabling wealthier residents to move further from the city center and its problems.

Problems only appear as rigid "either-or" choices, because we think of what is possible at a fixed point in time.

The first principle of systems thinking [is that] structure influences behavior.

There are no simple rules for finding high-leverage changes, but there are ways of thinking that make it more likely. Learning to see underlying "structures" rather than "events" is a starting point... Thinking in terms of processes of change rather than "snapshots" is another.

We say school is about learning, but by and large schooling has traditionally been about people memorizing a lot of stuff that they don't really care too much about, and the whole approach is quite fragmented. Really deep learning is a process that inevitably is driven by the learner, not by someone else. And it always involves moving back and forth between a domain of thinking and a domain of action. So having a student sit passively taking in information is hardly a very good model for learning; it's just what we're used to.

Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action. Very often, we are not consciously aware of our mental models or the effects they have on our behavior. For example, we may notice that a co-worker dresses elegantly, and say to ourselves, "She's a country club person." About someone who dresses shabbily, we may feel, "He doesn't care about what others think."

Seeing only individual actions and missing the structure underlying the actions... lies at the root of our powerlessness in complex situations.

The fragmentation that exists in the education process is extraordinary. Part of it is embedded in our theory of knowledge. Our theory of knowledge puts knowledge in cubbyholes; in our society we consider an expert to be someone who knows a great deal about very little. So part of the problem here has to do with very deep issues regarding the fragmentation of knowledge and our incapacity to really integrate. A second dimension of the problem is that educational institutions are designed and structured in a way that reinforces the idea that my job as a teacher is as an individual teaching my kids. I have literally heard teachers say, ?When I close that classroom door, I'm God in my universe.? This focus on the individual is so deeply embedded in our culture that it's very hard for people to even see it.

There are two fundamental sources of energy that can motivate organizations: fear and aspiration. The power of fear underlies negative visions. The power of aspiration drives positive visions. Fear can produce extraordinary changes in short periods, but aspiration endures as a continuing source of learning and growth.

What Is The Fundamental Rationale Of Systems Thinking? [The fundamental rationale of systems thinking] is to understand how it is that the problems that we all deal with, which are the most vexing, difficult and intransigent, come about, and to give us some perspective on those problems [in order to] give us some leverage and insight as to what we might do differently.

Metanoia means a shift of mind... a fundamental shift or change, or more literally transcendence. To grasp the meaning of "metanoia" is to grasp the deeper meaning of "learning," for learning also involves a fundamental shift or movement of mind.

So long as such myths prevail, they reinforce a focus on short-term events and charismatic heroes rather than on systemic forces and collective learning.

The further human society drifts away from nature, the less we understand interdependence.

There is always a huge difference between individual capability and collective capability and individual learning and collective learning. But this is rarely reflected in how schools are organized, because education is so highly individualistic. Many people are advocating cooperative learning for kids, but the idea that teachers and administrators ought to learn together really hasn't gone too far.

Most leadership strategies are doomed to failure from the outset. As people have been noting for years, the majority of strategic initiatives that are driven from the top are marginally effective - at best.

Solutions that merely shift problems from one part of a system to another often go undetected because, unlike the rug merchant, those who "solved" the first problem are different from those who inherit the new problem.

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