The Fifth Discipline

by Flemming Funch, 31 Jan 95.

I only recently discovered "The Fifth Discipline" by Peter M. Senge. Well, I had heard it mentioned, and I had passed by it in the bookstore a few times, but the cover hadn't tipped me off as to what it was about.

Anyway, this is a must-read for systems-thinkers, or for anybody else who would like any mutual activity to work better, I would say. It is very easy and enjoyable to read.

Senge describes five "disciplines" that are vital for a learning organization. "Learning organization" is a buzzword covering roughly covering the ideal of an organization built on vision, teamwork, openness, flexibility, ability to act under changing conditions, and so forth. It is an organization where people don't just cultivate their limited territory and privileges, but where they stick their neck out and together take responsibility for their shared future, working on creating maximum synergy and maximum ability to deal with the whole situation.

These are the five disciplines:

TEAM LEARNING - The ability of a group of people to suspend their assumptions and freely think together. That involves dialogue in the true meaning of the word, as a flow of meaning. It means going beyond personal defensiveness and presenting ideas openly, even when one is going out on a limb.

BUILDING SHARED VISION - If the members of a group truly share their pictures of the future, if they are excited about what they are creating together, then they will act out of inner motivation and will voluntarily go out of their way to contribute.

MENTAL MODELS - The ability to separate the map from the territory. Being capable of identifying previously hidden mental models or assumptions, bringing them out in the open, and working with them. Going beyond simply holding on to one's beliefs as absolute, examining which models one is actually operating on.

PERSONAL MASTERY - On a personal basis, working on developing one's vision, one's abilities, one's focus of energy. A spiritual inner drive to pursue mastery, to be the best that one can be.

SYSTEMS THINKING - The "fifth discipline". The ability and practice of consistently examining the whole system, rather than just trying to fix isolated problems. Using the conceptual framework and tools of systems thinking to clarify the full patterns and to understand how to change them most effectively.

To work on acquiring and improving these disciplines is, of course, excellent advice in just about any context. This is certainly not just a business matter. This applies to relationships, to bringing up kids, to community groups, to all of society.

And it applies to this mailing list, needless to say.

Anyway, put it on your list, those of you who might still not have read it.

Peter M. Senge: "The Fifth Discipline", ISBN 0-385-26095-4, Doubleday, 1990.