According to Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, a “learning organization is a type of organization in and of itself that has ‘learned’ to react and adapt to its environment, continually expanding its capacity to create the future. At its heart is a shift of mind—from seeing ourselves as separate from the world to connected to the world, from seeing problems as caused by someone or something ‘out there’ to seeing how our own actions create the problems we experience. It is a place where people are continually discovering how they create their reality—and how they can change it.
Would the same definition, with some minimal modifications, be a good fit for a learning organism—aka, a human being who is constantly learning and applying new information and insights?
After all, human beings must “learn” to react and adapt to our environment. We must continue to grow in order to make progress, and see how we are necessarily interconnected to others, to institutions and to the culture at large.
Yet, I’ve observed that the human race often is woefully unaware of how it creates and changes reality. Or maybe quite aware, but apathetic. Either case is less than satisfying, and less than hopeful.
So, practically speaking, how does a person make the shift from a stagnant reactor to a “learning organism” right now?
Read. I can think of no better way to keep growing and stretching one’s perspectives. It doesn’t matter what format you use to read (traditional books, digital, etc.) but that you read. It does matter what you read, of course; a limited diet of popular magazines from the grocery store checkout counter isn’t going to take you very far.
Brainstorm. Discuss your insights with others, and listen to theirs as well. Seek to find common ground toward applying the synergy of diverse ideas to common problems. Take a look right now at your key circle of influence: has the same small cluster of friends, relatives and work colleagues been filling your brain with opinions and tips for years on end? Maybe it’s time to introduce some fresh voices to the mix.
Apply. The follow-through on reading and brainstorming! Take the chance to do something different, to dare to seek a different result. Remember, inertia and possibly the agendas or insecurities of others who don’t want you to change might hinder your application. Persevere, with respect to them—but do persevere.
And then read some more!