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Section III - Transformative Learning
Chapter 1 - Learning Organization


The reality each of us sees and understands depend on what we believe there is.

Peter Senge


How might we organize differently to learn what is necessary to achieve a sustainable planet?

When I read Dr. Peter Senge's, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization as a graduate class text in the Spring of 1992, my overwhelming thought was, "We should have learned this as we were growing up!" We could have benefitted greatly by exploring the five disciplines: Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Team Learning, Shared Vision, and Systems Thinking. If you're not familiar with The Fifth Discipline or could use a refresher, I suggest you Google 'Learning Organizations.' There are several very good sites.

I wrote a term paper for my class on implementing the System Archetypes portion of the book in Kindergarten through 12th grade curricula. Each System Archetype describes a common process in terms of the cause and effect of generic activities and the resulting behavior over time. Several of the System Archetypes are germane to this book - Fixes that Fail, Tragedy of the Commons, and Escalation to name three. I will explain more below about the two types of loops that are combined in different ways to model the System Archetypes, but first I'd like to share some other important activities and learning that came from this work.


A few weeks after the class ended, I was sitting in a meeting and a gentleman introduced himself as Bob Stensland, an Intel employee responsible for implementing Learning Organizations. After the meeting, I introduced myself to Bob and asked him if he knew of Peter Senge and his work. He said he did and that he worked with Peter regularly. I told him of my class, my strong interest, and my paper, and we made an appointment for lunch. He read my paper, and said something about, ‘you really get this stuff'. He asked if I'd like to work with a group of business folks and K-12 educators to bring Peter, and a small group he was working with from a Tucson middle school, to Portland for an Educators' In-Service' day. I jumped at the opportunity, and in the Fall of 1992 Peter and the middle school team arrived. Others focused on the In-Service day while I focused on setting up a dinner the night before in which local education, business, government and visionary folks could meet Peter, participate in a dialogue he facilitated, and begin to formulate how we might transform our public education system from primarily training to learning organizations. Paraphrasing James Carse's definition to distinguish between these organizations - 'we train people so there won't be surprises in their lives; we learn so that people will welcome surprises in their lives'. Obviously we need both training and learning. The question is how do we shift our emphasis from training to learning, and provide combinations of the two so our students will find greater relevance and meaning in their lives.

Following Peter's visit to Portland in the Fall of 1992, Bob and I formed a non-profit, Regional ‘Organizational Learning Center -NW', that focused on supporting K-12 educators. The work we did was transformative for me, and I believe for many of the people and schools with whom we worked. Inevitably, people grasped that they needed to work on their own ‘Personal Mastery' before they could help others; that we each have ‘Mental Models' that greatly affect our listening, and how we develop our little ‘t' truths that then shape our understanding of a capital ‘T' Truth; how we ‘Team Learn' by blending training when ‘experts' convey their knowledge and wisdom, and mutual learning when we operate non-hierarchically in some form of dialogue and grow our individual and collective intelligence; and ‘Shared Vision' where we share our deepest individual and communal aspirations of who we wish to be in terms of virtues, and what we wish to do in terms of outcomes. The ‘Systems Thinking' awakened something dormant in me - my Worldview took some quantum leaps as my primary view of systems shifted from mechanical to organic.

There was a transformative learning primarily associated with Mental Models called ‘suspending disbelief' that has had a profound influence on my listening, and led me to discern the World very differently. In the mid-1990's, I took a course in ‘Mysticism', and the professor told us on the first evening of class that every mystical experience we discussed was real to the person experiencing it. When I ‘suspended disbelief', it opened my mind to the possibilities of channeling, past lives, different views of time and space, and that there are whole cultures who have far more access to the mystical than is available to me, or most of us in predominantly Caucasian cultures. I became more in touch with my spiritual quest, and opened my eyes to the beauty and elegant simplicity of Nature on one hand and its complexity and mysteries on the other.

It is also worth mentioning that it was my Learning Organization work that introduced me directly to Dialogue and Human Dynamics, and significantly aided in my understanding of the Transformative Learning such as Living Systems, Panarchy, BioMimicry that follows in this Section.

It is the fifth discipline, Systems Thinking, that is arguably the least understood, the most integral if we are to understand our World, the most critical in dealing with 21st century problems, and the discipline to which I immediately focused my attention when I wrote my term paper, ‘System Archetypes for K-12'.

All ‘System Archetypes' are made up of just two types of loops, ‘Balancing' and ‘Re-enforcing'. There is a convention of ‘+' and ‘-‘ where '+' indicates that the impact of one variable on the variable that follows it is the same -- if the first variable is increasing, the second will also increase. A '-' indicates that the impact of one variable on the variable that follows it is the opposite -- if the first variable is increasing, the second will decrease. The precise language that is used as we proceed from one variable to the next is when there is ‘+' sign then "An increase (or decrease) in one variable causes an increase (or decrease) in the next variable"; and when the sign is ‘-‘ then "An increase (or decrease) in one variable causes a decrease (or increase) in the next variable".

One of the archetypes, ‘Escalation' is the picture that immediately came to my mind when I described the arms race between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. in Chapter I-1. The ‘Escalation' archetype is made up of two re-enforcing loops, and you can see that if there is an increase in ‘Perceived Activities' of the USSR by the USA, there will be a corresponding increase in ‘USA Fear' followed by and increase in ‘USA (escalation) Activities'. The same sequence holds true by the USSR if there is an increase in ‘Perceived Activities' of the USA by the USSR. Both these re-enforcing loops are called ‘Vicious' cycles assuming they are causing behavior we don't believe to be good. It should be noted that by changing any one of the three variables in either loop we create ‘Virtuous' cycles. For instance, if the USSR perceived the USA to be decreasing its escalation activities, this would result in a decrease in their ‘Fear' followed by a decrease in their ‘Activities', and the USA would then perceive a decrease in USSR ‘Activities' causing a decrease in our ‘Fears' and a subsequent decrease in our ‘Activities'. We would have ‘De-Escalation' -- an Appreciative Archetype with two re-enforcing Virtuous cycles.


In the ‘Fixes That Fail' archetype below, a ‘Balancing Loop' is shown as the upper loop that shows that as problems come into an organization, they are addressed by management and seemingly go away. Thus, an increase in ‘Problems' causes an increase in management ‘Directives' that then leads to a decrease in 'Problems'. But as is often the case in life, business decisions can be short term in nature, and have negative long-term affects. The lower loop is a re-enforcing loop where over time there are "Unintended Consequences' and instead of diminishing ‘Problems', those affected by the ‘Directives' are now the source of a whole new set, often more troubling, problems.


Three very powerful uses of the System Archetypes are:

* Discerning of consequences over sometimes long periods of time;
* Discovering new intervention points for difficult problems; and
* Hearing 'the music of the archetypes' gives great insight into processes and behaviors

Although the ‘Archetypes of Sustainability ' shown in the next Section don't use this systemic format, the application of causality and behavior over time will be very germane. In Section VI where we'll look at the exponential nature of our problems and their solutions as well as our own culpability, the Chapter VI-2 will use another classic system archetype, the ‘Tragedy of the Commons '.


Please take a moment to reflect on a time in your life when you 'suspended disbelief', and developed a very different truth or attitude about a 'past truth'.

What is the new belief to which you became open?
Was there some pain involved in letting go of a previous belief?
Was their some teaching and/or mutual learning involved?
How did your world-view and your life change?

Rev. 2009-02-10 MOM



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