The Limits to Learning

The learning project

As long ago as the late 1970s, the Italian industrialist and management philosopher Aurelio Peccei set up a learning project to deal with the whole question of societal learning.

Tangles of mutually reinforcing old and new problems, too complex to be apprehended by the current analytical methods and too tough to be attacked by traditional policies and strategies, are clustering together, heedless of boundaries. There is a desperate need to break these vicious circles. An entirely new enterprise is thus required. Focusing on people, this new enterprise must be aimed at developing the latent innermost capability of learning so that the march of events can eventually be brought under control. (Botkin et al., 1979: 17)

Maintenance learning

The American Jim Botkin, who headed Peccei's learning project, and two colleagues, from eastern Europe and north Africa respectively, distinguished between two forms of learning. The first, maintenance learning, involves the acquisition of fixed outlooks, methods, and rules for dealing with known and recurring situations. This is the realm of the analytical manager, suitably at home when internal and external environments remain the same. Maintenance learning, therefore, is indispensable for the stability of the individual, the organization, and our societies.

Innovative learning

For long-term survival, however – particularly in times of turbulence, change, and discontinuity – another type of learning ...

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