The Capacity to Reflect – Peter Senge on Larger World Learning

Who out there thinks about water while you’re thinking about the future of your business? Anyone? At Global Learning Partners I know we don’t. (A good Scotch, maybe, but not water.)In this compelling clip, Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline – a book that put the idea of ‘learning organizations’ on the map – uses the example about the world shortage of water to illustrate a point about how narrowly-focused organizations can be when it comes to strategizing about their futures.

Water, for instance, is used in great amounts for making aluminum. And soda (of course) and . . . well, bottled water. What about hospitals? And agriculture. And city management. How many of these entities are talking about water when strategizing about their future success? (Let’s hope the bottled water people . . . ) Senge shares that in order for organizations to truly be open to learning, they need to do three things:

  1. See the larger world picture;
  2. Have the capacity to reflect on that picture; and
  3. Check our assumptions in order to be creative about imagining our organization’s future.

The first one is fairly easy to do – albeit sometimes frightening. We’re used to looking at the big picture and how it might effect our business:  you know, the old SWOT analysis sort of thing. But the second – having the capacity to reflect – isn’t quite as easy and Senge maintains that this is where “fear cramps imagination.” We can name what we see in the world at large, but often what we see is so daunting that we simply don’t have the capacity to make sense of it. This can frighten us, and cause us to hunker back down in our own little organizational worlds; forget about the larger world!

But if we can learn to see with fully open and inquisitive minds, and if we know to check all our former assumptions based on the new reality we see before us, we can truly open our creative minds and steer our businesses in a new direction that reflects the world we’re in, and the world we’re entering. Do you and others in your organization have the capacity to reflect? What does that look like and how does it impact your work? Is your organization truly learning?

This blog post by Joan Dempsey