Friday, August 26, 2011

The Anatomy of a Corporation

Almost two decades ago, I used to worship idolize the book "The fifth discipline" and the concept of a "Learning Organization" popularized by Peter Senge. I did enjoy some one-way exchanges with above mentioned author - email was not a preferred mode of communication, so you can imagine how painstakingly I composed and wrote and mailed my "snail mail" -- on all topics Learning Organization. These were organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.Senge familiarized us with five key concepts -
(A) Personal Mastery : How to effectively align personal vision & energies to the shared organizational vision. People with a high level of personal mastery live in a continual learning mode. They never ‘arrive’
(B) Mental Models : How our personal vision is shaped by our  - assumptions and our scaled down blue print of reality. The discipline of mental models starts with turning the mirror inward; learning to unearth our internal pictures of the world, to bring them to the surface and hold them rigorously to scrutiny. It also includes the ability to carry on ‘learningful’ conversations that balance inquiry and advocacy, where people expose their own thinking effectively and make that thinking open to the influence of others.
(C) Shared Vision : How we integrate our individual (A) and (B) to create (C) which helps us scale the organization and move it forward successfully
(D) Team Learning : the sum is larger than the parts and focusing on the we vs. me
(E) Systems Thinking  is a summation of A-D and the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole
Systems thinking also needs the disciplines of building shared vision, mental models, team learning, and personal mastery to realize its potential. Building shared vision fosters a commitment to the long term. Mental models focus on the openness needed to unearth shortcomings in our present ways of seeing the corporation and its goals. Team learning develops the skills of groups of people to look for the larger picture beyond individual perspectives. And personal mastery fosters the personal motivation to continually learn how our actions affect our corporation.
What I have realized in the past 2 decades is that all of the above is BS the following few truths -
(A) Theories are lovely but without an actual process/blue-print of "How To" what it remains is just that - a sounded wonderful but all too vague and difficult to implement
(B) Corporations in today's world have very clear mandates - Financial Survivability, Market Share and and investing in personnel  is ancillary. The simple logic would then be that personal goals need to be aligned to one's success.
(C) In reality few people can voice their opinions/views in all honesty in a corporation - their exists a web of politics and power structure with norms and rules that they need to play within...
Apple has a lot of things going for it but essentially one person's vision for the company drove the company's success. Yes, yes and they got their customers and their user experience kicked some serious ass --- but so does that of a lot of the Hi-Tech companies out there.
Dilbert was onto something when he said - For every person who thinks up a magnificent breakthrough idea, there are a hundred who are nothing more than mindless and unimportant implementers of the idea. The reason for the imbalance in numbers is that the implementers tend to kill the people with the great ideas in order to cut down on the workload.

And it is way too late on a Friday evening to be thinking mundane things like a Learning Organization...I am going to go down and pour myself a glass of cold chill beer (Ginger Beer I mean :-) )

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