01 March 2015

The Problem with Models

This is a second post on the concept of “best practices.”  (See "Are Best Practices Stupid?" 1 February 2015 for the first article).

The insights below come from Peter Senge's best-selling classic, The Fifth Discipline.  Do they make sense to you? 

1.    If a learning organization were an engineering innovation such as the airplane or the personal computer, the components would be called technologies. 

2.    For an innovation in human behavior, the components need to be seen as disciplines. By "discipline" I do not mean "an enforced order" or "means of punishment," but a body of theory and technique that must be studied and mastered to be put into practice.

3.    A discipline is a developmental path for acquiring certain skills or competencies.

4.    As with any discipline, from playing the piano to electrical engineering, some people have an innate "gift" but anyone can develop proficiency through practice.

5.    To practice a discipline is to be a lifelong learner. You "never arrive" as life is spent mastering disciplines. You can never say, "We are a learning organization," any more than you can say, "I am an enlightened person".

6.    The more you learn, the more acutely aware you become of your ignorance. Thus an organization cannot be "excellent" in the sense of having arrived at a permanent excellence; it is always in the state of practicing the disciplines of learning, of becoming better or worse.

7.    These disciplines of how we think, what we truly want, how we interact and learn from one another are more artistic disciplines than traditional management disciplines.
Senge’s concluding thoughts

Practicing a discipline is different from emulating "a model". All too often, new management innovations are described in terms of "best practices" of the so-called leading organizations. While interesting, I believe such descriptions can often do more harm than good leading to piecemeal copying and playing catch-up.

I do not believe great organizations have ever been built by trying to emulate another, any more than individual greatness is achieved by trying to copy another "great person".

© Bredholt & Co.