Peter M. Senge is a senior lecturer
at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology’s Sloan School of
Management. He is also founding
chair of the Society for Organizational
Learning (SoL), a global community of
corporations, researchers, and consul-
tants dedicated to the interdependent
development of people and their insti-
tutions. He is the author of The Fifth
Discipline: The Art and Practice of the
Learning Organization (Doubleday,
1990), which the Harvard Business
Review has described as one of the
seminal management books of the past
seventy-five years. In Senge’s new
book, Presence: Human Purpose and
the Field of the Future (SoL, 2004), he
and co-authors C. Otto Sharmer,
Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue
Flowers explore their own experiences
and those of 150 scientists and social
and business entrepreneurs in an effort
to explain how profound collective
change occurs.
Feature articles in BusinessWeek,
Fortune, Fast Company, the Sloan
Management Review, and other lead-
ing business periodicals have high-
lighted the work of Senge and his col-
leagues at MIT and SoL. The Journal
of Business Strategy in 1999 named
Senge as one of the twenty-four peo-
ple who have had the greatest influ-
ence on business strategy in the past
one hundred years. The Financial
Times in 2000 called Senge one of the
world’s top management gurus, and
BusinessWeek in 2001 rated him as
one of the top ten management gurus.
Senge has lectured extensively
throughout the world, translating the
abstract ideas of systems theory into
tools for our better understanding of
economic and organizational change.
His areas of special interest focus on
decentralizing the role of leadership in
order to enhance people’s capacity to
work productively toward common
goals, especially the creation of more
balanced patterns of economic, social,
and environmental health. He has
worked with leaders in business, edu-
cation, health care, and government.
Karen Dyer, manager of CCL’s
Education Sector, recently inter-
viewed Senge about his ideas on the
theory of learning organizations.
KD: You have described yourself as
an idealistic pragmatist. What does
that mean?
PS: I guess I consider my core
work—what I spend most of my time
doing and what I care most about—to
be about how people can achieve sig-
nificant changes. I’m not really a
book writer; I got roped into writing
The Fifth Discipline after years of
resisting it. I’m much more interested
in how we actually achieve the kind
of changes that are needed rather than
just talking about them.
KD: In your books, including The
Fifth Discipline, you talk about the
paradigm shifts needed for organi-
zations to become learning organi-
zations. And learning organizations
seems to be the buzzword right
now. But what are the paradigm
shifts that can actually enable
organizations to learn collectively?
PS: We can talk about this on many
different levels, and the very term
paradigm shift probably trivializes it a
bit because it makes it sound like a
single change. At the individual level,
it’s easy for any of us to espouse
learning, but we’ve been conditioned
by years of institutionalization. It real-
ly starts when we’re six or seven years
old; as schoolchildren we learned that
success is all about getting the right
answers, not about learning. If we had
approached walking the way we
approached learning in school, we
never would have learned to walk.
The only reason you actually learn to
do something new is because it’s
something you really care about and
you’re willing to stick your neck out
for, and you make a ton of mistakes,
but you have to embrace that mistake-
making mode. Children by their
nature are marvelous learners because
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Living and Learning:
A Conversation
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