Organizational learning (Schön, 1995)

24 October 2010

In general, the more an organization depends for its survival on innovation and adaptation to a changing environment, the more essential its interest in organizational learning. On the other hand, formal organizations also have a powerful interest in the stability and predictability of organizational life. An organization is a cooperative system in which individuals depend on the predictability of one another’s responses. Managers must rely on the predictable behavior of their subordinates. Surprise, which is essential to learning, is inimical to smooth organizational functioning. Thus organizations evolve systems of error detection and correction whose function is to maintain the constancy of variables critical to organizational life. They are “dynamically conservative.”

Significant organizational learning – learning which involves significant change in underlying values and knowledge structure – is always the subject of an organizational predicament.  It is necessary to effective organizational adaptation, but it disrupts the constancies on which manageable organizational life depends …

Reflection-in-action is both a consequence and cause of surprise. When a member of a bureaucracy embarks on a course of reflective practice, allowing himself to experience confusion and uncertainty, subjecting his frames and theories to conscious criticism and change, he may increase his capacity to contribute to significant organizational learning, but he also becomes, by the same token, a danger to the stable system of rules and procedures within which he is expected to deliver his technical expertise.

Thus ordinary bureaucracies tend to resist a professional’s attempt to move from technical expertise to reflective practice. And conversely, an organization suited to reflective practice would have features very different from those of familiar bureaucratic settings.

(Shön, 1995, p. 327ff)


The disappearance of creativity (Ackoff, 1978)

18 October 2010

Most of us take for granted both the creativity of children and its subsequent loss. We do not try to understand, let alone prevent, this loss. Yet the disappearance of creativity is not a mystery; the explanation lies in a query that Jules Henry (1963), an American anthropologist, once made: What would happen, he asked,

if all through school the young were provoked to question the Ten Commandments, the sanctity of revealed religion” the foundations of patriotism, the profit motive, the two party system, monogamy, the laws of incest, and so on …. (p.288)

The answer to Henry’s question is clear: society, its institutions, and the organizations operating within it would be radically transformed by the inquisitive generation thus produced. Herein lies the rub: most of the affluent do not want to transform society or its parts. They would rather sacrifice what future social progress creative minds might bring  about than run the risk of losing the products of previous progress that less creative minds are managing to preserve. The principal beneficiaries of contemporary society do not want to risk the loss of the benefits they now enjoy. Therefore, they, and the educational institutions they control, suppress creativity before children acquire the competence that, together with creativity, would enable them to bring about radical social transformations. Most adults fear that the current form and functioning of our society, its institutions, and the organizations within it could not survive the simultaneous onslaught of youthful creativity and competence. Student behavior in the 1960s convinced them of this.

(Ackoff, 1978, p. 4)