The Organizational Development Muse

Loop de Loop de Loop: leading toward organizational wisdom

Posted by Mark L. Vincent

We don't do a lot of reprints, but want to make sure our blog readers are acquainted with The Appriser, our monthly resource for business leaders. This article on organizational wisdom is good fodder for upper management and board conversation. To receive The Appriser each month ( a FREE resource), you can subscribe here.

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I enjoy relating in conversation with a variety of small groups. A recent session brought up the discussion of wisdom in organizations. We began with the difference between single, double and triple-loop learning. 

Single loop is mere observation. We could call it data or information. An example is getting my hand pinched in a door. Oww! That hurts!

Double loop is information that I carry forward to future possibilities. We call this knowledge. I avoid getting my hand pinched in future situations by keeping my hands clear from closing doors. Whew, I avoided that one!

Triple loop is working backwards to understand the physics involved and working forwards to apply my knowledge in new situations. This is where wisdom is on display. I not only avoid getting my hands pinched, I help others avoid it too. Also, I notice other ways that pinching can happen and learn to avoid them without getting hurt, continuing to pass my insight along to others for their benefit. And, I notice how this works figuratively, as in relationships, and not just physically. Wow!  Look what we got done together!

In my small group discussion, one friend pointed out that one must believe there is wisdom to be gained or they would not take the time to find it. He went on to observe that we must also be committed to wise use of that wisdom (at which I wondered if one can be considered wise if they do not act wisely).

It begins with being others centered—a commitment to help others perform well, an openness to learn from the experience of others and a love for working with others to generate knowledge that can be passed along. Without this value, one works solely for themselves and uses others in ways that benefit selfish desire. There may be short-term benefits from acting in totally self-interested ways, but the long term organizational and personal benefit is ultimately sacrificed.

If I am not others centered I cut off a major flow of information from which I might benefit. If I refuse to listen to the wisdom of others, I end up in single or double loop learning only. Single and double loop learning become more expensive to the organization. Leaders and line workers end up flailing around and learning by bumping into things, and through accidental discovery.

May we be cursed with happy accidents, but may we not become dependent upon them! Wisdom demands our deliberate attention to the matters at hand for the benefit of those who come this way after we do.

-mark l vincent

(c) Design Group International. All Rights Reserved.

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Topics: organizational development, emell vee, process consulting, organizational consulting, process design, Design Group International, Mark L. Vincent, Whorled Viewz, organizational learning, organizational wisdom, triple loop learning