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The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization Paperback – Deckle Edge, March 21, 2006
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It stands out in the genre of systems thinking literature by addressing the point that’s been bothering many of us: If everyone wants people-centered learning organizations; why don’t they exist? Senge claims it’s because we have no idea the kind of commitment to change that is necessary.
That really engaged my attention; I wondered “what exactly does it take to break the vicious cycles?” I don’t want to spoil the experience for you, because the book is certainly worth the short time it takes to read, but here are two ideas that really stood out and may motivate you to find the many others.
On the discipline of building shared vision: “It's not what the vision is – it’s what the vision does.”
And, surprisingly drawing on the work of theoretical physicist David Bohm during the discussion of Team Learning: ‘Dialogue and discussion are the mechanisms of team learning. Dialogue allows us to expose our thoughts to ourselves; discussion lets us defend them.’
We are then given an in depth description of the 5th discipline, systems thinking. Systems thinking is the idea that we are all part of a larger system, it wants us to view ourselves as part of nature and not just an observer separate from every other living thing. The author wants us to understand that our problems aren’t caused by some external source but instead caused by our own actions and our inability to find the root cause of our problems. He shows us how to identify naturally reoccurring patterns in nature, how people normally react to these patterns, and how to counteract the negative effects of these patterns by teaching us how to attain leverage on each type of pattern. Based on the lessons taught in this book I feel that these disciplines can be used in making effective changes in not only the workplace environment but in my community and in my personal life.
While this might seem obvious to those (like myself) in research, much of this runs counter to traditional American management thought. Senge, like many others in new management culture, says that not a hierarchy but the ability to learn across all levels is the distinctive feature of organizations that win. Like Deming and the Gemba Kaizen movement, he cites the productivity of the Toyota automobile corporation over prior decades as his proof. (He writes before Toyota had safety troubles that needed to be addressed.)
As a multi-disciplinary professional, I like Senge’s appreciation of the flatness of organizations. Knowledge, not positions, are what drive organizations forward. By applying a psychology of learning to business and management, he catalogs the practices in which knowledge forms and in which social organizations (not just individuals) learn.
The last full section (which is new to this edition) contains use cases of the application of systems thinking to real organizations in time and space. In it, Senge refines many of his concepts in response to feedback and so demonstrates the quality of learning that he so much espouses.
Engaging, accessible, and creative, this book speaks to those tired of mere control at work and to those who seek mastery at all spheres of life – not at just pleasing the boss. It promises to point the way to future learning and future productivity. It will expand the thoughts and refine the practices of any worker at any level who thumbs through this work.
Top international reviews
It is a very insightful book about the problems in implementing learning organizations, driving us into the causes and consequent needs of behaviour change.
I wish I had obtained them thirty years ago.