Friday, 4 May 2007

Is Ignorance Bliss? 9 - On Organisational Learning

Within discussions on organisational learning, reference is often made of the metaphor of the organisation as an organism or brain to convey the concept that it is alive, an open system, adaptive, and capable of learning – and presumably in the same, capable of being ill and dieing.

Taking this metaphor a little further it seems that there is the possibility for threats to the health of the organisation to exist without the organisation necessarily ‘feeling ill’ or exhibiting any obvious outward signs of trouble. In this way an analogy can be made with ‘raised blood pressure’ or hypertension’ which can only be detected by deliberate measuring and which in medical circles is known as the ‘silent killer’ for that very reason. I am suggesting therefore that organisational ignorance is analogous to ‘hypertension’, and whereas ‘unintentional ignorance’ might be more open to ‘treatment’ by organisational learning, ‘deliberate ignorance’ is far more resistant to such treatment.

Experience strongly suggests to me that ‘deliberate ignorance’ by individuals is a very real organisational phenomenon, difficult to confront, hard to pin down, counter-intuitive seemingly irrational, and capable of creating catastrophic consequences for organisations and individuals where it is present.

These ‘feelings’ and ‘experiences’ suggest this is an important (possibly un-discussable) area in which practising managers could increase their sensitivity in order to better understand how individual learning becomes or doesn’t become organisational learning.

Organisational Ignorance – the manifestation of individual character?

Why do we assume that 100% organisational health is everybody’s concern when they go to work? Certainly it is politically expedient and good personal income insurance to say so. Nevertheless I am confident that a ‘straw poll’ of conversations with friends and colleagues will reveal numerous examples where:

Informed advice is ignored
Solutions to problems aren’t sought because dealing with a problem creates ongoing work
Superiors spring un-helpful surprises on sub-ordinates
Self-esteem is undermined
Public humiliation is not uncommon
Credit for work done by others is stolen
There is unnecessary pedantic and irrelevant task setting
Information is withheld
Intentions are veiled

It seems difficult to argue that these behaviours are in any way conducive to organisational learning.

What might be going on here?

I also recommend that you visit workplace survival for some intersting views and opinions on the themes discussed in Is Ignorance Bliss?

Workplace Survival

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