• Personal mastery: Toward a learning organization

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    LAST week we presented five conditions for change to take place, whether related to our personal or work-world. These are, first, there are alternatives to replace what we wish to change. Second, there is the most promising alternative which is doable. The last two conditions, the alternative is beneficial and is non-threatening to those who want to change and to those related to the desired change. High power distance dominant in Filipino culture moved my class to suggest a fifth condition (which I actually find as a refinement of the fourth) that the preferred alternative is welcomed by a significant other/s. These refer to the higher-ups — the bosses, owners or major stakeholders.

    In such cultures, people accept as a fact of life that among them, there are those above the rank and file formally and informally — who in many ways hold the future of the latter. Similarly applied in one’s personal world, a son accepts the change of degree program he enrols in upon encouragement from his favorite uncle (a significant other). In his Dance of Change, Peter Senge (et al. April 1999, p. 11), quotes what he captions as “the myth of the Hero-CEO” that “nothing will happen without top management buy-in.” In our language, this points to the critical importance of the significant other.

    My presentation to the class of the conditions for change may sound simplistic. As lecturer to young masters students some having just graduated from their first degree, I begin where they are. However, I assigned them to read the books on change, so they will realize why processes and considerations to create an organization’s desired future are important. To this end, we invoke the five disciplines which change guru Peter Senge stress as the “means of building learning organizations” (The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization,1994, paperback edition, xxiii, 413 p.). Mr. Senge defines a learning organization as “a place where people are continually exploring how they create their reality. And how they can change it.”… where “people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together.” Thus the five disciplines “provide a process and a language to help people develop their capacity to hold and seek a vision, to reflect and inquire, to build collective capabilities and to understand systems.”

    “Continuous improvement requires a commitment to learning” says David Garvin of Harvard University. Thus, for us to create the future we desire, we need continued learning to enable us to do “something significantly or fundamentally different from what we have done before.” Even if we know by heart our organization’s philosophy, mission, vision and goals (PVMG) we are liable to understand differently our organization’s PVMG because we have our own identities, are individually different from one another and underwent different experiences. Even if such experiences are similar, we may likely differ in the assumptions, beliefs and lessons we draw from these experiences. We have to journey together, and as one of my students said, the pathway to achieving a collective desire is much like that of a wedding aisle along which the bride and groom march together — their eyes drawn towards the altar. The five disciplines are our pathway to where we want to be.

    Given our role in our respective organizations, continuing learning enhances our capacity to perform excellently our duties and responsibilities. Competitive environments shall not catch us napping because we continue to learn and think together. We learn to anticipate, focus our energies to create, not wait for opportunities. We develop the capacity to assess our actions with objective distance; see beyond the surface because our strategic steps will continue to expand our outlook even as we pause to reflect on the soundness of our decisions.

    Today’s world creates its own time and space but which could be ours if we keep learning. For the more we learn, the more we truly realize how much we do not know; hence, we have to keep learning, reflecting whether we are advancing or straying from the future we desire. When things go wrong, we don’t lose heart. There could be yawning gaps, systems breakdown –– and depending on our how creatively we fill the gaps, a punctuated equilibrium (a comma, a dash; you can feast on the metaphor!) regains its balance. Our deepened knowledge of, and passion for, our vision energizes us. Creative tension pushes us on rather than pulls us down. We are undaunted; we continuously expand our capacity as persons “creating an organizational environment which encourages all (of us) members to develop” ourselves “toward the goals and purposes (we) choose.” More, on the dynamics of second order change in Philippine culture.

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    Teresita Tanhueco-Tumapon PhD, is one of the Philippines most accomplished educators and experts on institutional management in colleges and universities. Her studies have included not only education and pedagogy but also literature. She has studied not only in the topmost universities in the Philippines but also in Germany, Britain and Japan. She is currently the Vice-President for External Relations and Internationalization of Liceo de Cagayan University (in Cagayan de Oro) after serving as its VP for Academic Affairs for six and a half years concurrent to her ten years as dean in the Graduate Studies of the same university. She holds a Lifetime Professional Achievement Award from the central office of the Commission on Higher Education.

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