The education we receive has a profound impact on our professional careers. As a human resources professional, education is important and directly related to our work. Today’s students are future employees, CEOs, and elected officials.
That’s why I wanted to share with you this rationale on incorporating focus-related skill sets into education. We talked here on HR Bartender before about the increasing amount of noise and distractions facing today’s workers. Focus is more important than ever.
Dr. Peter Senge is the founding chair of the Society for Organizational Learning (SoL) and senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He is the author of “The Fifth Discipline”, named by Harvard Business Review as one of the seminal management books of the previous 75 years. The Journal of Business Strategy has said that Dr. Senge is “one of the 24 people who had the greatest influence on the way we conduct business today.” I’m absolutely thrilled he agreed to share his thoughts with me.
The book has grown out of a long-term mutual interest on the part of Daniel and me, and how to knit together our respective areas of focus in education. Dan has committed much of his time and energy to the founding, development, and support of the CASEL network over the last 20 years.
I have been the cheerleader and helper in the background for a remarkable network applying systems thinking principles in both pedagogy and curriculum and in school management, likewise over the last 20 or so years.
After doing a webinar with Daniel in February, it was very clear that we should get the basic ideas out that comprise this new book, the gist of which is that there is a core of clear and simple notions that together could have wonderful synergy in the ongoing process of transforming primary and secondary education.
In the book, you describe the need for students to understand our relationships with the larger world. How will this understanding help a person in their future career?
In two ways. First, as citizens. We live in a world of increasingly complex and intractable problems. These are especially evident in the environmental and social domains. They range from climate change and destruction of ecosystems, to scarcity of water and other critical natural resources, and to the disproportionate effects these growing scarcities are having on the poor of the world.
We have deep intractable social issues, such as youth unemployment around the world and the growing gap between rich and poor. All these ultimately are economic in the same sense that all social and environmental issues ultimately show up in our economic system. No one is very happy with the ability of their economies to establish pathways of sustainable progress. For over two hundred years, we have been harvesting social and natural capital to produce financial capital. The new emerging economies in China and India have accelerated this process, both locally and globally. No one really believes that this is sustainable. These will all be issues that our students will have to confront as citizens in their lives.
In terms of people’s careers and opportunities both as employees and entrepreneurs, I believe the combined foundation of social, emotional, and systemic intelligence will be pivotal. Most of my experience in the last 30 years has been in the world of business, and I can say in no uncertain terms that good businesses know very well that the skill sets they need today and in the future are very different than those in the past. Yes, they need workers who have basic skills in literacy and numeracy, but much more than that they will need students who can think for themselves, work in teams, work with cross-cultural boundaries, and especially work together to solve complex ill-defined problems.
I believe the requirements for successful contribution as a professional in the coming century will be radically different, and those students who are well prepared with these deeper learning skills will have great advantages over those still trained for the 20th century.
For professionals who have not had the benefit of learning systems thinking, how can they develop those skills after their formal schooling?
In a sense, life is always teaching us to be a systems thinker. A family is a system. A team in any organization context is a system. The larger organization itself, as well as the industry in which it exists is a system. So, we are always surrounded by systems. Therefore, our opportunity to be lifelong learners of systems thinking is unlimited.
But for most of us, the way to take advantage of these opportunities is to start locally. What does it mean to grow a healthy family? How are my own actions part of helping my family grow and develop or suffer? Most all of us in our business lives work in teams. How do we deal the conflicts that naturally arise in these teams? How can we foster reflection, so that people can begin to think about their thinking, starting with ourselves?
Without reflection, people tend to just assume their point of view is the right point of view and defend and argue from that point of view. Reflection is a key gateway that opens people to beginning to think together and move from just arguing for about who is right to collaboratively solving the problems we all face.
I was first introduced to your work in “The Fifth Discipline” which explains the concept of a learning organization. For our readers who aren’t familiar, what’s a learning organization and why is it important?
To talk about a learning organization has always been a way to simply talk explicitly about something that all people tend to strive for implicitly. Everyone wants to work in a setting where they and the people with whom they depend upon and who depend upon them get better and better at doing what they really want to do.
We all want to ‘learn,’ that is enhance our capacities to produce the outcomes, which we really want to produce. When we first started talking about learning organizations over 25 years ago, the aim was simply to make explicit these innate aspirations that we all hold in our work lives. We also wanted to show that there was an emerging body of tools and methods that could support these aims. These tools and methods were collected into ‘five disciplines.’
Since then, the idea of learning organizations and the usefulness of the five disciplines has been advancing around the world. There have been more copies of “The Fifth Discipline” sold in China than any country in the world, including the United States. The Society for Organizational Learning has chapters in over 25 countries. The most recent Global SoL Forum in Paris attracted about 400 people from 35 countries. So, the basic ideas of “The Fifth Discipline” have spread widely. That said, there is still a long way to go in translating the ideas into robust practices in a majority of work organizations.
I can see a definite connection between the new approaches to education in “The Triple Focus” and the concepts of change and adaption in “The Fifth Discipline.” Is there a way for organizations to benefit from this new thinking?
Our hope is that everyone who reads “The Triple Focus” will find it beneficial. We’re always operating in a web of interdependence, where understanding yourself and others is crucial to what we can accomplish. Even though our focus of the book is our students and teachers and school administrators, our hope is that it will inspire people in other settings to see the similar challenges they all face, and a similar need for the triple focus.
Again, sincere thanks to Dr. Senge for sharing his expertise with us. If you would like to learn more, you can join the Society for Organizational Learning group on LinkedIn or connect with them on Twitter. Dr. Senge’s latest book, “The Triple Focus: A New Approach to Education” is available from More Than Sound.4