Tag Archives: Peter Senge

Senge Got Learning Right Years Ago

At the First Friday Book Synopsis, we continue to stress the value of lifelong learning, asserting that exposing oneself to books is a powerful method to doing just that. 

We are not alone in emphasizing the value of learning.

Peter Senge, who wrote the book, The Fifth Discipline (Doubleday, 1990), had these things toSengePicture say about learning:

“Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we never were able to do. Through learning we reperceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life”  

“The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition.”  

“Breakthroughs come when people learn how to take the time to stop and examine their assumptions.”  

“Taking in information is only distantly related to real learning. It would be nonsensical to say, “I just read a great book about bicycle riding—I’ve now learned that.”  


Do You Know Anyone Who Is Fully Developed? – Are You Really Working On Your Own Development?

Do you know or know of anyone who is “fully developed”? I don’t.
Bob Morris, in a comment he left on this blog post: A Training Session is Just the Beginning


Bob Morris is witty.  And knows how to get to the point quickly.  In my blog post, I had written this line:

The problem is simple.  Too many employees are not fully developed.

And Bob left his comment:

The problem is simple.  Too many employees are not fully developed.

I thought about a snarky response:  Yes, I know of one fully developed person.  Jerry Jones is certainly fully developed as a General Manager in the NFL.

Then I thought about a serious response.  Is there anyone that I know of that we could say ever fully developed?  I thought of Michael Jordan’s dominance, and that last shot he perfected as his physical skills began to fade (if only a little.  I wrote about this in this blog post:  But We Can’t All Be Michael Jordan – The Challenge: Building Success with Average Folks.

I thought of Meryl Streep, surely as close to “fully developed” as any person in any field in history.  (Or, Daniel Day Lewis).  To read about their preparation, to read about their immersion in their roles….  Well, that sounds pretty fully developed to me.

But, of course, Bob’s point is clear, and one I agree with, and have tried to write about often.

We are, none of us, fully developed, and we know it.  In fact, I would propose that the very existence of this blog is testimony to the fact that people in all aspects of their work lives, (and their personal lives), know that there is always another new thing to learn, another new skill to work on, or another long-neglected improvement that maybe it really is time to tackle.

We live in a world where the best keep trying to make the best better, and that means constant development of every resource that an organization has – including the most importannt resource, the person at work.  And it is each person’s responsibility to work on constant improvement – constant “development” of his or her skills, capabilities, abilities.  Aiming at getting better, perpetually.  Tweaking, improving, discovering…

Peter Senge wrote:  “People with a high level of personal mastery are acutely aware of their ignorance, their incompetence, and their growth areas.”  And within that short sentence we find a lifelong agenda.  Be aware of your own ignorance; be aware of your own incompetence; be aware of your own growth areas.  And, after progress is made, even great progress, there will always be more to tackle in these three challenging areas.

So I have a little challenge for you (and for me).  Think hard about this one.  You have discovered in yourself, or someone has pointed out to you, one of your deficiencies – one of your “growth areas.”  If your reaction is, “I don’t want to change that,” or, “I probably never will change that about myself,” then you have just identified the right starting point.

So, get to work.

Lifelong Learning – One Life-Long String of Refresher Courses

“The only job security is found in your own ability to keep learning!”
Peter Drucker

“Through learning, we re-create ourselves.”
Peter Senge


We all know the challenge – to keep learning.  But, in most cases, learning is not learning something new, but instead, remembering what we knew, but forgot — or remembering what we knew, but never actually implemented.  (back to that knowing-doing gap).

Thus, one way to look at the lifelong learning challenge is as one life-long string of Refresher Courses.

I thought of this as I was perusing CoxToday (the Spring, 2011 issue:  you can download the issue here), the publication of the Cox School of Business at SMU.  In “What Do Recruiters Look For In BBA Graduates?”  Paula Hill Strasser, MBA Business Leadership Center and BBA Leadership Institute, describes key skills, especially “soft skills,” that are quite important in landing those first jobs, and then succeeding in those jobs.  She lists 4 primary ones, and then a few others:

1)    Good presentation skills (“Communication is first”).
2)    Excellent writing
3)    Leadership Skills
4)    International Immersion
5)    and those soft skills like:  professionalism, strong work ethic, negotiation skills, conflict management skills, team building skills…

Strasser:  “There is a belief that soft skills have become the hard skills for many new hires because it’s easy to measure quantitative skills.”

Here’s my thought.  SMU may realize that these are critical to their graduates as they start out in their business careers, but in our experience (my work with Karl Krayer, and others), this list represents the perpetual curriculum for the business refresher course learning that can never stop.

Think about it:  have you ever sat through a less than stimulating presentation; have you ever heard of a poorly functioning team; have you ever seen the effects of a mediocre (or worse) leader?  These cry out for some serious, ongoing refresher work.  None of these are skills that you can learn, master, and then never need to refresh.

Companies provide training, mentors, “CEUs,” but it really is up to the individual to take advantage of such opportunities.  And each individual has to take the opportunity seriously – that is, actually learn.  You know:  you can lead a horse to water….

And if a company or organization has not built a culture of lifelong learning, you will see these skills diminish.  It simply takes constant attention, with regular, perpetual, ongoing refresher efforts.

What about you?  Are you regularly refreshing your knowledge, practicing your skills, and staying current?  If not – it’s time to start.  So…start!


(disclosure:  I am an instructor in the Edwin L. Cox Business Leadership Center at the Cox School of Business — a wonderful program for their students).

Keep Learning – It’s Your Only Job Security (Macrowikinomics reinforces this ever-more-true truth)

Yesterday you graduated and you were set for life – only needing to “keep up” a bit with ongoing developments in your chosen field.  Today when you graduate you’re set for, say, fifteen minutes.  If you took a technical course in the first year of your studies, half of what you learned may be obsolete by your fourth year…  What counts more is your capacity to learn lifelong, to think, research, find information, analyze, synthesize, contextualize, and critically evaluate; to apply research to solving problems, to collaborate and communicate.  This is particularly important for students and employees who compete in a global economy…  given networked business models, knowledge workers face competition in real time.  Workers and managers must learn, adapt, and perform like never before.
Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World

{Peter Drucker said it first:
“The only job security is found in your own ability to keep learning!”}

{And Peter Senge:
“Through learning, we re-create ourselves.”}

Do You Know Your Weaknesses/Deficiencies? – (David Brooks says that this is our “Underlying Problem”)

(William Baldwin): “What is one big mistake that you’ve made in your life and what did you do to make it right?
(Miss Philippines, Maria Venus Raj): “…There is nothing major, major, I mean problem that I have done in my life…”
(at the 2010 Miss Universe Pageant)


There is one theme that crops up again and again– in business books, in newspaper columns, even in the Miss Universe Pageant.  Here is the theme:  people do not know (or understand, or grasp, or “face”) their own weakness(es).

I first grasped the depth of this problem in reading Peter Senge years ago.  He worded it this way:

“People with a high level of personal mastery are acutely aware of their ignorance, their incompetence, and their growth areas.”

And in a recent revisiting of the great book Encouraging the Heart: A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Pozner, I read of it again:

We saw, over and over again, that leadership doesn’t depend on mystical qualities or inborn gifts but rather on the capacity of individuals to know themselves, their strengths, and their weaknesses, and to learn from the feedback they get in their daily lives – in short, their capacity for self-improvement.

Leadership development is self-development…  To know what to change in our lives, we need to understand what we’re doing that is getting the results we want and what we’re doing that is not.

And now, again this week, David Brooks, in his NY Times column A Case of Mental Courage, has these paragraphs (excerpted):

In this atmosphere, we’re all less conscious of our severe mental shortcomings and less inclined to be skeptical of our own opinions. Occasionally you surf around the Web and find someone who takes mental limitations seriously. For example, Charlie Munger of Berkshire Hathaway once gave a speech called “The Psychology of Human Misjudgment.” He and others list our natural weaknesses: We have confirmation bias; we pick out evidence that supports our views. We are cognitive misers; we try to think as little as possible. We are herd thinkers and conform our perceptions to fit in with the group.

But, in general, the culture places less emphasis on the need to struggle against one’s own mental feebleness. Today’s culture is better in most ways, but in this way it is worse.

To use a fancy word, there’s a metacognition deficit. Very few in public life habitually step back and think about the weakness in their own thinking and what they should do to compensate. A few people I interview do this regularly (in fact, Larry Summers is one). But it is rare. The rigors of combat discourage it.

Of the problems that afflict the country, this is the underlying one.

Here are my reflections:

#1 – You do have deficiencies. There is some error, some mistake, some incompleteness in the way you think, act, work.  If you think you are perfect, then I hate to tell you, but people will not trust you, you will not be as successful as you could be at helping others grow and develop, and you will not win the Miss Universe crown.

#2 – Spotting your weakness(es) takes great courage. Good luck.

#3 – Spotting your weakness(es), and then working to correct it/them, is the best thing you can do for the next chapter of your business and personal life.

#4 – And, I hate to tell you this, but when you spot that next weakness, there will be another one to tackle after that, and then another, and still another….

And, yes, this post is, of course, written to me also.

Here It Is — The Number One Barrier to Personal Success at Work (and in Life)

Let’s say that you are not as effective as you would like to be.  It does not matter what your deficiency is, but let’s say that you know what your area of weakness, need, deficiency is.  If you know where you are weak, if you know what you need to work on, then consider yourself ahead of the pack.  Way ahead.  Because, I am now convinced that I know the number one problem that can derail you on your path to success.  Here’s that number one problem:

A lack of awareness of your weak areas – your ignorance, your incompetence, your growth areas.

Here’s a quote from Peter Senge that points this out rather vividly:  “People with a high level of personal mastery are acutely aware of their ignorance, their incompetence, and their growth areas.” And I wrote along a similar vein in this blog post, Michael Jordan, Defensive All-Star — A Business Lesson For Us All, describing how Michael Jordan recognized his defensive weaknesses, and how he tackled that challenge with such focus and resolve.  After describing how he developed great defensive skills, I asked: But what should you add?

So what prompted this blog post, and spurred me on to state the “number one problem” with such certainty?  It was this passage in the book, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman.

Perhaps one of our biggest surprises was realizing how few Diminishers understood the respective impact they were having in others.  Most of the Diminishers had gown up praised for their personal intelligence and had moved up the management ranks on account of personal – and often intellectual – merit.  When they became the “boss,” they assumed it was their job to be the smartest and to manage a set of “subordinates.”  …As one executive put it, “When I read your findings, I realized that I have been living in Diminisher land so long that I have gone native.”

In other words, a Diminisher does not know that he or she is a Diminisher.

I think if I had a chance to visit with Liz Wiseman, I would ask her, “why in the world were you surprised?” Because, if we have learned anything by now, it ought to be this – very, very few people know their own weakness(es) well enough to even identify and acknowledge such weakness, much less to develop a strategy and then follow that  strategy to actually make the needed changes.

If you want another word for this, you can call it laziness, thinking of the word the way Scott Peck used it.   Laziness is not “doing nothing,” it is “avoiding what you need to focus on” (my paraphrase of his idea, as I remember it, from his book The Road Less Traveled).

Think of the beginning of the 12 Steps, the one that prompts this introduction, “Hello, my name is ___, and I am an alcoholic.” You know, the first step: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable..

Maybe we need many more groups, which all begin with a parallel “first step,” like:

I admitted I was a Diminisher – and this derailed me on my path to success.
I admitted I was a:
poor team player
poor time manager
poor money manager
poor encourager of others…

The list could be rather long.  But the solution for any and every weakness/deficiency goes back to that first step:  I saw my weakness/deficiency, I acknowledged my weakness/deficiency, and then, and only then, could I design a path to overcome that weakness/deficiency.

To Wiseman, she focuses on a specific failure:  the failure to become a leader who is a Multiplier.  And that failure is exacerbated by an individual’s own blindness to his or her own tendency to be a Diminisher.

Let me quote again Senge’s wisdom: “People with a high level of personal mastery are acutely aware of their ignorance, their incompetence, and their growth areas.”

Do you know yours?  If you do, you are ahead of the pack – now get to work on it.

If you don’t know yours, then discovering it, identifying it, is definitely the new item on your to do list!