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The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization Paperback – Deckle Edge, March 21, 2006

4.3 out of 5 stars 251 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Forget your old, tired ideas about leadership. The  most successful corporation of the 1990s will be  something called a learning organization." --  Fortune Magazine.

From the Inside Flap

An MIT Professor's pathbreaking book on building "learning organizations" -- corporations that overcome inherent obstacles to learning and develop dynamic ways to pinpoint the threats that face them and to recognize new opportunities. Not only is the learning organization a new source of competitive advantage, it also offers a marvelously empowering approach to work, one which promises that, as Archimedes put it, "with a lever long enough... single-handed I can move the world."
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 445 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; Revised & Updated edition (March 21, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385517254
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385517256
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (251 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,257 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Graham Lawes on September 12, 2006
Format: Paperback
Since I read this book 15 years ago, the idea of the learning organization has embedded itself in my brain and not let go. I've been on a search to find or create the learning organization ever since. I've never been sure that it really exists in practice, so it's good to see that the revised edition adds the reflections of some successful practitioners, demonstrating that learning organizations have emerged, even if they are almost as rare as they were before the first edition of Senge's book was published.

But learning may be about to become less rare in our organizations. The 21st century brings a networked world of business -- and in this era only living, learning organizations will be able to adapt and survive. All companies will be linked in a global ecosystem. No company will know when and where the next competitor will emerge. To sustain themselves, all organizations will need to constantly innovate and learn.

Senge's book is worth having and keeping on your bookshelf because it gets to the essence of what's needed to create a learning organization. Senge describes five disciplines that must be mastered at all levels of the organization:

1. Personal mastery -- clarifying personal vision, focusing energy, and seeing reality

2. Shared vision -- transforming individual vision into shared vision

3. Mental models -- unearthing internal pictures and understanding how they shape actions

4. Team learning -- suspending judgments and creating dialogue

5.
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Format: Paperback
I read many business books-this is the best I've read in years, maybe ever. Now I know why so many other business books, methods and cultures leave me feeling empty. The insight in Fifth Discipline aligns with my mental models and suggests a path for achieving great things, rather than for getting promoted or making a buck.

Here's my take on a couple of the disciplines:

Systems Thinking: Believing in myths about business leads us to make the same mistakes again and again. We cannot escape these bad cycles unless we see the whole system of how problems occur and then change the structure that create the problems.

Shared Vision: Forget work-life balance. Think work-life integration. Know why the work you are doing is important to you. Transform your work and workplace to create a learning organization where everyone strives to accomplish a shared vision. That vision sounds idealistic, but it is more realistic than trying to lead two separate lives-work and home.
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Format: Paperback
The Fifth Discipline contains some great concepts which are very usable in the day to day management of an organization.

Unfortunately, the author is very long-winded and over-explains concepts repeatedly - taking what should have been less than 50 pages of information and turning it into a 400 page behemoth that is difficult to slog through.

Several people to whom I have recommended this book have suggested that one order the fieldbook instead, as it contains all of the original work's raw information and models in a 17 page executive summary at the beginning. Most people seem to find that more usable than this book.
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The Fifth Discipline is Peter Senge's management book about building learning organizations. I first read it in the 1990s, and recently read the new edition again. Re-reading it again nearly 20 years later is definitely an experience that's different from the first time.

As a writer, The Fifth Discipline is verbose, meanders all over the place, repeats itself frequently, and name-drops obscure people that you'd never have heard of. These properties makes it a difficult and frequently frustrating read.

As a manager, however, the fifth discipline encodes some ideas about leadership that I've found nowhere else, and hammers home certain ideas in ways that not only make sense, but have you excited about putting them in place.

The central premise of the book is that human organizations are dynamic living systems which have non-linear behavior in response to events and change. This includes several properties that make leadership challenging:
Many incentive systems improve performance in the short term but decrease performance over the long term.
Many feedback cycles are extremely long, far beyond what humans were evolved to deal with, and exacerbate human tendencies to either blame individuals for poor performance or put in place patch after patch to try to solve problems rather than deal with an integrative approach to problem solving. In particular, who you hire, who you fire, and who you promote has performance impact on your organization measured in years, making it difficult to get better because the feedback cycle takes so long.
Most long term solutions and systems approach to problem solving are counter-intuitive and difficult to sell to short-term oriented business cultures.
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