The Fifth Discipline


Book         The Fifth Discipline Author       Peter SengePublisher   Random House, 1990

Rating        5-Star

Leverage often comes from new ways of thinking

Organisations that excel will be those that discover how to tap their people’s

commitment and capacity to learn at every level in the company.

Peter Senge, in his seminal text, The Fifth Discipline, presents a systems theory approach to addressing the challenges within organisations today to shift them to learning organisations.  A learning organisation is an organisation that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future.

The five disciplines represent the theories and methods for developing three core learning capabilities – fostering aspiration, developing reflective conversation, and understanding complexity.  These five learning disciplines differ from more traditional management disciplines in that they are “personal” disciplines.  Each has to do with how we think, and what we truly want, and how we interact and learn with one another.

The five disciplines of the learning organisation are:

1. Systems thinking – businesses and other human endeavours are bound by invisible fabrics of interrelated actions, which influence each other.  These influences can often take years to fully manifest their effects on each other, and because we are part of the system it can be doubly difficult for us to see the pattern of change.  Most people tend to focus on the isolated parts of the system and wonder why their deepest problems never seem to get solved.  Systems thinking is a conceptual framework, a body of knowledge and tools developed to make the full patterns clearer, and to assist us in seeing how to change them effectively.

 2.  Personal mastery – the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively.  The roots of this discipline lie in both Eastern and Western spiritual traditions, and also in secular traditions.  This begins by clarifying the things that really matter to us, of living our lives in the service of our highest aspirations.

 3. Mental models – are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalisations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.  These mental models are often unconscious and therefore we are not aware of their affects on our behaviour.  The discipline of working with mental models begins with looking inwards to uncover our internal pictures of the world, to bring them to the surface and hold them to rigorous scrutiny.

 4. A shared vision – the capacity to hold a shared picture of the future we seek to create.  When there is genuine vision (as opposed to a vision statement) people excel and learn, not because they are told to but because they want to.  The practice of shared vision involves unearthing shared pictures of the future that foster genuine commitment and enrolment rather than compliance.

 5. Team Learning involves harnessing the intelligence of the team and where teams develop extraordinary capacities for coordinated action.  The discipline of team learning starts with dialogue – the capacity of the team to suspend assumptions and enter in to a genuine “thinking together”.  Dialogue differs from discussion in that discussion is a “heaving of ideas back and forth in a winner-take-all competition”.  The discipline of dialogue also involves learning how to recognise the patterns of interaction in teams that undermine learning.

At the heart of the learning organisation is a shift of mind – from seeing ourselves as separate from the world to connected to the world, from seeing problems as caused by someone or something “out there” to seeing how our own actions create the problems we experience.

 Real learning gets to the heart of what it means to be human.

Through learning we recreate 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.

There is within each of us a deep hunger for this type of learning.

 PS – If you are interested in exploring this further I cover the five disciplines in detail in Transformational Leadership Master Class.  For more information go to

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