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on 17 April 2009
The Learning Organization remains one of the most talked-of management concepts in today's business world, and nobody is as capable of explaining exactly what is a Learning Organization or what are the requirements for such an elusive concept than Peter Senge.
Senge's main thesis is that for an organization to become a Learning organization, it must embrace five disciplines:
1) Building Shared Vision so that the organization may build a common commitment to long term results and achievement.
2) Mental models are a technique that can be used to foster creativity as well as readiness and openness to change and the unexpected.
3) Team Learning is needed so that the learning is passed on from the individuals to teams (i.e. the organization as a whole).
4) Personal Mastery is the individual's motivation to learn and become better (hence the term Mastery).
and Finally
5) The fifth discipline is that of Systems Thinking which allows to see a holistic systemic view of the organization as a function of its environment.

However, this is not simply a book about management practice.. though it was written primarily for the use managers. This is a book about growth, improvement and continuous development. If you wish to achieve these results for yourself, your home, or your organization, then you MUST read this book.

Senge introduces his ideas and concepts smoothly and in an absorbing style. He is able to explain difficult concepts simply and by the end, you find that you have whole-heartedly embraced his belief in the Learning Organization, in fact, you find yourself yearning for it!
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All too often, I find myself acting cynically about my field and ready to dismiss just about anything as mediocre, no matter how popular or praised. Well, this is one book that I think is really excellent - for content, for clarity, for sincerity, for the stories reported in it.
When I plow through a business book, I try to see if I can remember the central ideas, the essence of what the author has to say from the mass of details and stories that make up every business book. Most often, they are appalingly banal and pathetically over-applied, touted as able to solve just about every problem, in particular if a fee is paid to the authors to come and talk about it in person. I was preparted to treat this book the same way, and was simply delighted to find a truly excellent and useful book. And gee, I am glad that I can get inspired by a book in my chosen field, rather than bored!

As I see it, this book has three principal ideas. First, we must think of organizations and their missions as complex systems rather than as conglomerations of isolated problems. It is pitch for the development of a holistic view - how everything interacts and what factors act upon what other factors. This is an analytical tool that can pinpoint what should be done, breaking mental habits of looking only at the bottom line of sales revenues, for example, rather than the need to provide better service or delivery times. Second, employees must be empowered to make their own decisions locally, requiring honesty and openness throughout the organization as standard practice. This enables them to question and learn, not just individually but as part of a unified team, hence the subtitle of a learning organization. Mistakes are part of this process and should be allowed as valid experiments. Third, the task of a leader is to design an organizational system within which this can all be accomplished. Rather than control all decisions in a centralized manner in accordance with a rigid plan, the leader must develop a vision of where they organization should go and then allow his employees to pursue that vision as a team with great autonomy.

I have wanted to read this book for almost ten years. It was first pointed out to me by a remarkable business leader in mainland China, Zhang Ruimin, the founder of the Haier Group, as a seminal text for him. He said that he had built a learning organization in accordance with Senge's prescriptions, and after so many years, I see that indeed he did. What this book did for me was to give me a better idea of Zhang's mind and what went on in it. But it has also given me a clearer idea of many other remarkable entrepreneurs whom I have had the pleasure and honor to meet over the years in my work. As Senge explained, these men had a vision, but used the gap that existed between their vision and current reality to inspire their workers to achieve remarkable things. And they created self-reinforcing systems to do so.

Another fascinating aspect of this book is that, in spite of being nearly 25 years old, it felt fresh and its examples did not feel stale and in need of updates. Many books that old extoll Japan as the model to emulate and explain why that country does everything better than everyone else. Just take a look at Porter's books! While this book has some examples from Japan, it does not fall into that trap - for me, that means its analyses have stood the test of time.

This is one of the best business books I ever read - and I have read way way too many of them! Warmly recommended.
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on 27 May 2007
I found this book highly simulating but required heavy study to transfer the ideas into the working environment. I found the framework was incomplete especially around the issues of creating a learning environment. Senges' framework for Systems is best described in terms of 'systems dynamics' which leads onto a more developed theory by others on system complexity and emergence.

He describes what might be an end state without detailing how to get there, the later follow up field book on tools and methods now fills this gap neatly. Both books together are perfect.

This book sets out theory very well, it also provides Thought Leadership, Breakthrough ideas and Inspiration. Its well written and enjoyable.
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on 13 January 2010
This book is of biblical importance to any 'systems thinker' and/ or a life long learner, specifically in a organizational context as opposed to a lone ranger situation.

The book traces the endemic learning disabilities that plague most organizations, expounds on the fundamental laws of the fifth discipline, and describes typical `system archetypes' that constitute dysfunctional patterns which impede performance.

Upon that foundation, it goes to describe each of the five disciplines: personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, team learning and systems thinking. Beyond just the core concepts of each discipline, there is an emergent synergism that weaves all five disciplines into an inter-connected whole.

This edition goes on to provide a practitioner's handbook for implementation: the impetus for change, strategies for learning organizations, the new role of leadership and the recipe for systems citizenship.

The appendices are very useful as they contain a full list of variants of the system archetypes, and a short snapshot of the `U process' which is dealt with in greater detail in his next book `Presence'.
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on 17 July 2016
I read tons of business books, and I can assure you that this book is very strange. I would not recommend this book to most business practitioners.

The book serves a narrow purpose, it's very non-mainstream book. Think carefully before buying it, it might not be the book you are looking for. However, if you are the right audience for the book - you will find it great, it is a book that deserves 5 stars!

You will not find almost any directly applicable practice recommendations; you will not find a single coherent framework for building a learning organization that is ready for deployment (even though the book claims a single coherent framework). To me, the framework looked more as one good way of thinking on how to build learning organizations on a strategic level. Which is not the same as 'the way to implement learning organization practices'.

What you will find however is valuable conceptual ideas (note that those will be presented in a very abstract manner) that would inspire your thinking and provide deeper understanding. It's an achievement worth admiration. There are some unique ideas worth exploring, and the book has the power of revolutionizing your thinking on how to build organizations.
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on 29 November 2006
Over 15 years and a few hundred more pages later this book remains number one on the list of management must reads.

Systems thinking remains, in my opinion the way to go and the idea of learning organizations is still valid today. What is really special here is the idea that it's all about people. Some say the concepts are a bit too "new age" and Senge acknowledges this and admits that the term "carries a lot of baggage". W Edwards Deming spoke of a new economic age which was his terminology.

Great book, will alway be near at hand for me.
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on 23 October 2011
A classic. Lots of great little diagrams of systems.

It is possible to read this and misunderstand what systems are though.

He tries to explain but because of the diagrams I think it is easy to miss the point that systems are "alive".
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on 13 May 2013
This masterpiece latest edition by Peter Senge is a classic but also a futuristic guide to solving any problem by applying a Systems Thinking approach. What is Systems Thinking? Get the book (even if it's from your local library) and DISCOVER this common sense but highly sophisticated method of looking at problems from the outside not the inside. Senge also brings forward management wisdom in transforming organisations from a bureaucratic or tick box mentality to what the calls the LEARNING ORGANISATION. This alone is worth the time to read and ingest a new (for many) way of developing a culture of cooperation, creativity and long term sustainability.
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on 21 February 2013
A fantastatic book which explaines the principles of learning organisation and help you decide whether or not your organisation is a learning one and what needs to be done to make it an effective and constructive learning organisation. In my opinion, you must read this book if you want to promote learning in your workplace. Ir promotes dialogue, learning together, etc.
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on 19 January 2015
Both books are great, giving the reader a profound background of the theory ( textbook) and many interesting ideas of putting the ideas into practice (field book).
I wish I had obtained them thirty years ago.
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