What It Means to Be Human


Almost 20 years ago, Peter Senge published The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. This is one of only a few “management” books that I think adequately addresses the significance of personal learning and development within organizational settings (another is Peter Vaill’s Learning As A Way of Being — which I touched on in an earlier post).

Though no longer considered “current,” in many ways a lot of what Senge claims seems timeless, and in every organization in which I’ve worked since first reading this book, I’ve tried to bring his ideas to action to the extent that I could. Once, when in a job interview, I was asked what kind of work environment I thrived in, and I answered “the kind that Senge describes – an organization comprised of people who learn.” Pat answer? Could have been, but I was totally serious and still am. I left a good-paying job because it was not an organization that learned, nor were its employees interested in learning, and as a result I felt like I was totally suffocating.

Of course there’s more to Senge’s ideas than this simplistic summary — it’s deeper than just this, if you will — and I also truly believe that the ideas are broadly applicable: from for-profit companies, to non-profit agencies, to volunteer settings, to educational institutions, to family life– these are all organizations that require the kinds of learning and thinking that Senge suggests.

In any case, I revisited Senge’s book this past week as I’ve been giving some thought to a course I am developing and teaching for our Teacher Leadership Certificate Program. Low and behold, I ran across this gem again:

Real learning gets to the heart of what it means to be human. Through learning we re-create 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 us a deep hunger for this type of learning. (p. 14)

Can you suggest other organizational development books that speak about this kind of learning as well as Senge has? If so, I’d love to know about them. In the meantime, here’s the cite:

Senge, P.  (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. London: Random House.


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