The Fifth Discipline

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The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization
AuthorPeter Senge
CountryUnited States
Publication date
1990 (first edition) 2006 (second edition)
ISBN0-385-26095-4 (first edition) ISBN 0-385-51725-4 (second edition)

The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization is a book by Peter Senge (a senior lecturer at MIT) focusing on group problem solving using the systems thinking method in order to convert companies into learning organizations that learn to create results that matter as an organization. The five disciplines represent classical approaches (theories and methods) for developing three core and timeless learning capabilities: fostering aspiration, developing reflective conversation, and understanding complexity.[1]


The Five Disciplines[edit]

The five disciplines of what the book refers to as a "learning organization" discussed in the book are:

  1. "Personal mastery is a discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively."[2]
  2. "Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures of images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action."[2]
  3. "Building shared vision - a practice of unearthing shared pictures of the future that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance."[2]
  4. "Team learning starts with 'dialogue', the capacity of members of a team to suspend assumptions and enter into genuine 'thinking together'."[2]
  5. "Systems thinking - The Fifth Discipline that integrates the other four."[2]

Senge describes extensively the role of what he refers to as "mental models," which he says are integral in order to "focus on the openness needed to unearth shortcomings" in perceptions. The book also focuses on "team learning" with the goal of developing "the skills of groups of people to look for the larger picture beyond individual perspectives." In addition to these principles, the author stresses the importance of "personal mastery" to foster "the personal motivation to continually learn how [...] actions affect [the] world."[2]

The Learning Disabilities[edit]

In addition to "disciplines," which Senge suggests are beneficial to what he describes as a "learning organization," Senge also posits several perceived deleterious habits or mindsets, which he refers to as "learning disabilities."[2]

  1. "I am my position."
  2. "The enemy is out there."
  3. The Illusion of Taking Charge
  4. The Fixation on Events
  5. The Parable of the Boiling frog
  6. The Delusion of Learning from Experience
  7. The Myth of the Management Team

The 11 Laws of the Fifth Discipline[edit]

  1. Today's problems come from yesterday's "solutions."
  2. The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back.
  3. Behavior grows better before it grows worse.
  4. The easy way out usually leads back in.
  5. The cure can be worse than the disease.
  6. Faster is slower.
  7. Cause and effect are not closely related in time and space.
  8. Small changes can produce big results...but the areas of highest leverage are often the least obvious.
  9. You can have your cake and eat it too ---but not all at once.
  10. Dividing an elephant in half does not produce two small elephants.
  11. There is no blame.

The Architecture of a Learning Organization[edit]

How do we learn to create learning organizations?

[Extracted from the TFD Fieldbook, pg 15-83. A compelling essay on the conceptual map to guide your own decisions on how to proceed to build Learning Organisations by Dr. Peter Senge]

How do you know what to do first, second, or third in thinking strategically about building learning organizations?

At its core, learning organizations build great teams – the trust, the relationships, the acceptance, the synergy, and the results that they achieve. It has a strong ability to learn, adjust and change in response to new realities. It can alter functions and departments when demanded by changes in the work environment or by poor performance. The distinguishing characteristics of a learning organization include a learning culture, a spirit of flexibility and experimentation, people orientation, continuous system-level learning, knowledge generation and sharing, and critical, systemic thinking.

When we look more closely at the development of such teams, we see that people are changed, often profoundly. There is a deep learning cycle.

Team members develop new skills, and capabilities which alter what they can do and understand. As new capabilities develop, so too do new awareness and sensibilities. Over time, as people start to see and experience the world differently, new beliefs and assumptions begin to form, which enables further development of skills and capabilities.

This deep learning cycle constitutes the essence of a learning organization – the development not just of new capacities, but of fundamental shifts of mind, individually and collectively. The five basic learning disciplines are the means by which this deep learning cycle is activated. Sustained commitment to the disciplines keeps the cycle going. When this cycle begins to operate, the resulting changes are significant and enduring.

The real work of building learning organizations occurs within a "shell", an architecture. What makes up the architecture?

- Guiding Ideas. - Theory, methods, and tools. - Innovations in infrastructure.

Without guiding ideas, there is no passion, no overarching sense of direction or purpose.

Without theory, methods, and tools, people cannot develop the new skills and capabilities required for deep learning.

Without innovations in infrastructure, inspiring ideas and powerful tools lack credibility because people have neither the opportunity nor resources to pursue their visions or apply the tools.

Leaders intent on developing learning organizations must focus on all three of the architectural design elements. Without all three, the triangle collapses.


In 1997, Harvard Business Review identified The Fifth Discipline as one of the seminal management books of the previous 75 years.[3]

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