Article Review – Teaching Smart People How To Learn

Article by Chris Argyris, Harvard Business Review, Reprint 91301

Synopsis:  Argyris asserts individuals in an organization must be effective learners in order to succeed as business becomes more and more competitive.  He identifies typical symptoms of non-learning organizations, the effects of non-learning behavior and strategies to become learning organizations.  He describes two types of learning: single loop and double loop.  Single-loop learning involves solving problems within the constraints of current assumptions and values.  Double-loop learning involves analyzing values and assumptions before solving problems.  The primary symptom of single-loop learning is defensiveness.

This article is very insightful and accurately describes why organizations stagnate.  The primary reason why they stagnate is because they do not adjust to changes in markets regarding customer needs, efficiency and technology.  Organizations achieve moments of success and assume that success is due to a superior position over their competitors.  While it is true they have an edge for a moment, competitors and markets adjust.  Markets become accustomed to the elevated quality, reduced cost or quicker time to market.  Competitors learn from example and mimic the successful behavior.  Whatever assumptions and values enable an organization to become successful will likely not be the ones that enable it to remain successful and the organization needs to apply double-loop learning in order to keep ahead.

Besides the obvious strategies regarding top-down cultural change and always telling the whole truth, one point that struck me was that statements and assumptions need to be backed up by data and examples.  It is not enough to blame others or deflect criticism; every assertion must be substantiated by objective analysis.  If one knows that their statements will be challenged regarding facts, they will likely think longer about what they have to say even if convinced that deflecting responsibility is the best strategy.

Ultimately, Argyris implies that the key to learning is introspection.  One needs to accept responsibility for their own shortcomings by acknowledging and overcoming them.  When one is challenged or criticized, the first reaction should be to determine if there is any truth to the challenge.  Criticism and external challenges are perfect opportunities for accepting responsibility.

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Explore posts in the same categories: BADM 720 - Organizational Behavior

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