Review of: The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge

“[…] vision without systems thinking ends up painting lovely pictures of the future with no deep understanding of the forces that must be mastered to move from here to there.”

Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization

The Fifth Discipline is pretty much on the required reading list for Systems Thinkers. It proposes a vision of a organisation as a group of people who are continually enhancing their capabilities to create what they want to create to the benefit of all.

In the book, Peter Senge provides his description of Systems Thinking, and the disciplines he believes are required to support a Learning Organisation approach.

  • Personal mastery; looking at reality objectively, and acknowledging our personal vision.
  • Building shared vision; ensuring the organisation has one shared goal that was created by the people; deals with the difference between commitment and compliance.
  • Mental models; the epistemological constructs created by our experiences and understanding..
  • Team learning; adoption of open dialogue over discussion or being told what to do.  Letting the team decide the best way forward as a entity and through suspension of assumptions.
  • Systems thinking; the concept of looking at the entire picture and how behaviors and actions feed back into the system and cause effects.

I particularly liked the description of the MIT Beer Game. This game brings into sharp focus the ‘What You See Is All There Is’ notion described in a previous post. 

This book is a classic – used and referenced by management studies the world over. Having listened to it now on Audible I fully understand why.

It is vital that the five disciplines develop as an ensemble. This is challenging because it is much harder to integrate new tools than simply apply them separately. But the payoffs are immense.

This is why systems thinking is the fifth discipline. It is the discipline that integrates the disciplines, fusing them into a coherent body of theory and practice. It keeps them from being separate gimmicks or the latest organization change fads. Without a systemic orientation, there is no motivation to look at how the disciplines interrelate. By enhancing each of the other disciplines, it continually reminds us that the whole can exceed the sum of its parts.

Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization