Tacit Knowledge

From Tacit Dimension, Polanyi (1966):

…the notion of tacit “knowing”: here, the outcome of the action is the focal, or proximal, point and the doing (achieving the outcome) is characterised as a distal process. Through practice, the attention of the doer is focused on the outcome rather than the means of achieving the outcome.

Foundations for Leadership training course

Writing about The Fifth Discipline got me thinking about it all over again. I have to admit that the last time I read the book as a whole was well over a year ago, and it has been several months since I’ve even referenced it. As a result, everything I said in my last post is likely a load of hooey. Since I don’t have the book handy, I did the next best thing and went to the Society of Organizational Learning‘s site to see what is new in the area of organizational learning.

The leading item was the Foundations for Leadership course of the subject of this post. From the site, who should attend:

This course is intended for everyone commited to deepening their capacity for effective leadership – including those in senior management positions and those with no formal authority. Teams are encouraged to attend to further develop their collective leadership.

I’ll leave the rest of the site for you to explore…

What if the “organization” doesn’t want to learn?

Anticipated learning from the Foundations for Leadership course mentioned before:

The special contribution of this leadership course comes as people discover the profound connections between personal mastery and systems thinking, seeing that deep change in our social systems and in oneself are inseparable from each other.

For the target audience of the course, this is perfect. Anyone willing to take the three days and spend the tuition obviously wants to gain personal mastery and affect a deep change in themselves and social systems. And these people are typically the leaders, whether formal or not, of an organization that they want to change.

Unfortunately, the members of an organization – especially a large and well established (ie, old) organization – may not have this same desire. How does an organization overcome this lack of interest and turn it into the burning desire to grow and excel that is the trademark of a learning organization?

In a word: LEADERSHIP.

Aren’t all organizations “learning organizations”?

In The Fifth Discipline, author Peter Senge describes the concept of “Organizational Learning” and the “Learning Organization.” I think the book is a great resource, with great ideas (the obvious being the fifth discipline itself – Systems Thinking) and is a must read for anyone trying to improve their organization.

I can’t argue with the idea of Organizational Learning, but I feel the term “learning organization” was an unfortunate choice of words. As described in the book, a “learning organization” is an unusual thing, a good thing. It seems to me, though, that all organizations are “learning” organizations – just as all people learn things everyday, good and bad, whether they are trying to or not, organizations are always learning.

You can track the history of any organization and see it “learn.” This learning presents itself most commonly as the “habits” the organization learns, most of which are unfortunately bad habits. Just as with an individual person with no goals or direction in life, an organization with no leadership to guide it in learning “good” habits will be left to the whims of the individuals in the organization.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any better labels to offer for what Senge calls the learning organization, at least not yet. (I’m in the same pickle with Knowledge Management, another unfortunate choice of words that doesn’t really seem to accurately describe the concept.)

Negative feedback as model for “training”

Negative feedback…is a way of reaching an equilibrium point despite unpredictable and changing external conditions.

The above quote is from Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steve Johnson, who goes on to say that negative feedback is a way of indirectly pushing a fluid, changeable system toward a goal.

Though not the context in the book, this definition and description of negative feedback is also an excellent definition of training (and, for that matter, learning). For what is training if not the process of getting to a point you want to be at based on continued refinement of what you are doing?

Blogs as Waste Book

I first read of Sir Isaac Newton‘s “Waste Book” in James Gleick‘s biography, titled simply Isaac Newton. Fascinating stuff. Of course, once I read this biography – which, by the way, I strongly recommend – I had to read the classic The Principia : Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, a new translation by the recently deceased I. Bernard Cohen. Very difficult reading at times, but the history and explanation of the Principia is almost as interesting as the book itself.

I’ve always kept notebooks for random thoughts and jottings, writing things down that seemed worth keeping, though in no particular order except chronological. Makes it somewhat difficult to search, but then again the point of the notebooks, as it seems with Newton’s Waste Book, is not so much to be able to go back and find things as it is to write the things down in the first place. Some things are worth going back to, most of it is just a part of a process of figuring things out.

Not sure why, but while reading an interview with Neal Stephenson about how he researched and prepped for his current book, Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1), I had what can only be called an epiphany about blogs and blogging – in many ways, basic blogs are nothing more than a modern Waste Book. Sure, you can make a blog much more, with lots of fancy stuff, categories, searches, archives, etc etc etc, but when you get down to it, many blogs are just a way for people to write down the things they have figured out about life.

Strategy by design…

…or strategy by default? Where do you stand?

Do things just happen to you, are you just along for the ride? Are you getting where you want to go, or are you simply getting where you are going? A couple of old proverbs (I forget where from):

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.


If you stay on the road you are on, you will end up where it takes you.