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Learn faster than your competitors



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Reading essay, The Fifth Discipline by Peter M. Senge

The Fifth Discipline is a book written by Peter M. Senge. Senge is the director of the center for organizational learning at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. The book discusses how today’s organisations are learning organisations and how they should change in order to maximise the efficiency of every employee in the organisation. In this book, Senge wants to end the traditional thought in organisations that the management is the part where the learning happens and then it is just transformed to the lower levels of the organisation. Senge describes the organisations that consist of employees that continuously try to expand their knowledge and work towards the goals of the organisation a learning organisation. Not only do the employees work towards the goals and try to expand their knowledge and patterns of thinking, they do it while they are learning how to learn together, as a team. He also claims, that as today’s business environment changes almost constantly, it is now more important than ever to adapt to these ongoing rapid changes. According to Senge, when an organisation utilizes the benefits of a learning organisation, it will reach greater success and extraordinary results. A learning organisation will surpass whatever obstacle occurs in their way.

“The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage”. – Arie De Geus, Royal Dutch/Shell.

In the book, Senge mentions that in order to be a learning organisation, the management of the organisation must first learn to detect the seven organisational learning disabilities. After detecting these seven disabilities, they must use the five disciplines as countermeasures to defeat the learning disabilities. The seven disabilities include for example employees thinking only about themselves and their job (rather than the whole company and its benefits), employees thinking that the management will solve problems and that they will do the thinking, etc.

The five disciplines that Senge mentiones in the book are the following (they are not in an order, as they are all equally important):

(1) A shared vision

  • This means that all employees in the company should share the same vision of where the company should go, and not a vision that is a statement written by the management.

(2) Personal mastery

  • This describes one of the key factors of making a company achieve greater results. When every employee is as active and keen on learning something new and developing their skills as possible, the company can learn as a whole, and achieve greater results.

(3) Team learning

  • Senge claims in this book, that when people work in a productive and efficient team, they can reach results that they may not have reached on their own. In addition to this, individuals may learn more and also faster than what they would without the team.

(4) Mental models

  • This describes the fact that people have assumptions that affect their decisions and actions. Employees should be open minded and develop their way of thinking and not generalize things.

(5) System thinking

  • This is the so called “fifth discipline”. This discipline connects the disciplines together, as Senge refers in the book, the organisation should be managed as a living organism. If it is, the organisation will reach greater results. What this means is that the organisation must be managed as a whole and everything must be taken into consideration when making decisions. You must also remember that different decisions will affect differently, and that the organisation should be viewed always as a one rather than many little manageable organisations.

All in all, I think this book was a good read and gave many important tips on how an organisation should be managed. I also learned what are the key factors that the management should focus on in order to reach the ability to be a learning organisation. In my opinion, these disciplines should be taken into consideration especially in larger organisations, but I think the overall way of thinking and taking the disciplines into account are important in start-ups as well. I would say that the tips and knowledge that Senge mentions in the book should be considered by everyone who is interested in management or interested in how a company should be run. I also think it could help many organisations and the way that they perform at the moment.

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