The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation is a management book by Peter Senge that uses a systems thinking framework to tie together five team disciplines that convert traditional, authoritarian organisations into learning organisations. Systems thinking is the process of understanding how interdependent elements within a system influence one another. The book is premised on the idea that in the long-run, the only sustainable source of competitive advantage is your organisation’s ability to learn faster than its competitors.
This is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read. Although it was published in 1990, the ideas are still relevant today, and apply to both the individual and the organisation.
On mental models…
Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalisations, images, stories and biases that influence people’s understanding of the world and their decision-making.
Senge says the problem with mental models is not that they are right or wrong – all models are simplifications or approximations of the truth. The problem is when they exist below the level of awareness.
He says that because the world is constantly evolving, it is important to be intellectually rigorous, seeing reality objectively by learning to suspend our assumptions and unearth our own internal pictures of the world. For me, developing this skill is about practicing the art of listening and asking the correct questions.
“To practice a discipline is to be a lifelong learner.”
“Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we never were able to do. Through learning we re-perceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life”
“Small changes can produce big results – but the areas of highest leverage are often the least obvious.”
“In the presence of greatness, pettiness disappears. In the absence of a great dream, pettiness prevails.”
The book ends with a paragraph about the Gaia Hypothesis – the theory that all life on earth is itself a single, living organism. This touches on one of the key ideas of the book: that we live in a world of extraordinary interdependence.
This recent talk by Peter entitled “Systems Thinking for a Better World” has inspired me to learn more actively.
Peter Senge Wikipedia