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Answer to Learning Disability with a Focus on Systems Thinking

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Answer to Learning Disability with a Focus on Systems Thinking

Systems Thinking:

Answer to Learning Disabilities


The average life expectancy of traditional organizations is only about 40 to 50 years (Stephen, 2000). This is because they usually have tendencies to be retrospective and reactive, instead of being prospective and proactive (Cathon, 2000). ‘Retrospective' in a sense that organizations respond to agents that are only currently present in their situation, similar to a passive treatment of issues where nothing has been done unless an agent for change is perceived as threatening. And 'reactive' in a sense that organizations react to stimulus and not anticipating them in the first place –the reason why most organizations thrive only for a short duration, and not a lifetime, according to economists. While the deeper rationale for this behaviour and has something to do with what Peter Senge called as ‘learning disabilities'.

These kinds of behaviour are existent in all organizations to some degree. Certainly, it is also existent in all individuals making up the organization, as each member contributes to the characteristics of the organization as a whole. While being retrospective and reactive is considered a negative characteristic, being prospective and proactive is considered a positive one. The need for elaborating the negative characteristics or the so-called ‘disabilities' must be tackled precisely by organizations and be made visible to their employees if, as an organization, they aspire to thrive in the business more than the average span.


An organization is a system. This statement is derived from the logic behind ‘systems thinking', where a ‘system' is defined as a "set of things interconnected for a purpose" (Cathon, 2000). Looking at the features of a business organization in specific, we can directly derive the correlation of this definition to that statement.

Therefore, by this definition, what cripples the employee, cripples the organization where he belongs to –considering the organization as a system and the employee as part of that system and noting Ackoff's (Lane, 2000, pg. 41) definition of a system, where one of the conditions states that "the behavior of each element has an effect on the behavior of the whole".

The main problem with traditional organizations is that problems are being solved in a way that others had tried to solve it before, with minimal success and much failure. This is because, organizations, or rather, employees, solve their own predicament according to their impulse, either due to inexperience or their capacity to learn, thus, the term ‘learning disabilities' coined by Peter Senge, that organizations have. Mostly, people are turned down by their way of thinking. Either it is skewed or looked at an angle where the more complex views are hidden. Thus, how things are being taken into view varies widely among employees in all levels of the organization.

Learning Disabilities

Peter Senge identified seven learning disabilities which caused employees in an organization to decline in efficiency or, largely, a failure in the organization. Note that each component is significant to the whole, since the organization is considered as a single system. Thus, a deficiency in a component of the system can cause a deficiency of that system. It is also necessary to emphasize that such deficiencies are human in origin which means that it is all about the behavioral aspects of the persons belonging to the organization. Senge identified them as:

"I am my position" is when employees focus only on their position within the organization while having diminutive sense of responsibility for the results they produce. When employees become overly sterile in their own personal assumptions that their identity is bound by which course they finished in college or what previous jobs they had taken, thus limiting themselves single-mindedly with particular sets of jobs that were supposed to be for them, to the point that if another type of job has been offered them, immediate refusal would likely happen. This is a self-sealing behavior that restricts people from reaching their potential by refusing to learn outside the scope of one's ‘position'.

"The enemy is out there" is another self-sealing behavior, similar to having prejudices or misconceptions, where one segregates himself from others. This is called an "offshoot of the ‘I am my position'" (Cathon, 2000, pg. 5) because it is another manifestation of the selfish characteristic demonstrated by the same person. When

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