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Personal Mastery & Learning Organization


[ Peter Senge's vision of a learning organization as a group of people who are continually enhancing their capabilities to create what they want to create has been deeply influential. We discuss the first of the five disciplines (i.e.Personal Mastery) he sees as the core or essential part to learning organizations. "Personal mastery is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively." ]


Organizations cannot learn without their component members beginning to learn. A Learning Organization has therefore to consist of learning individuals or personnel. This in brief is the gist or subject-content of 'Personal Mastery', expanded as a core discipline needed to build a learning organization. According to Senge 'Personal Mastery' consist of two components

  1. first one must be clear as to what he must achieve (setting a goal) In personal mastery, the goal, or what one is trying to achieve, is much further away in distance. It may take a lifetime to reach it, if one ever does. (Senge, 1990) Vision is a more accurate word for it. Senge refers to the process of continual improvement as 'generative learning'as distinguished from tradition process of Adaptive Learning

  2. Second, one must have a true measure of how close one is to the goal. The gap that exists between where one is currently functioning and where one wants to be is referred to as 'creative tension.' Senge illustrates this with the image of a rubber band pulled between two hands. The hand on the top represents where one wants to be and the hand on the bottom represents where one currently is. The tension on the rubber band as it is pulled between the two hands is what gives the creative drive. Creativity results when one is so unsatisfied with the current situation that one is driven to change it.

Personal Mastery.

The following information about "Personal Mastery" is Reproduced from the informal education encyclopedia/forum.www.infed.org

'Organizations learn only through individuals who learn. Individual learning does not guarantee organizational learning. But without it no organizational learning occurs' (Senge 1990: 139).

Personal mastery is the discipline of 'continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively' (ibid.: 7). It goes beyond competence and skills, although it involves them. It goes beyond spiritual opening, although it involves spiritual growth (ibid.: 141). Mastery is seen as a special kind of proficiency. It is not about dominance, but rather about calling. Vision is vocation rather than simply just a good idea.

People with a high level of personal mastery live in a continual learning mode. They never 'arrive'. Sometimes, language, such as the term 'personal mastery' creates a misleading sense of definiteness, of black and white. But personal mastery is not something you possess. It is a process. It is a lifelong discipline. People with a high level of personal mastery are acutely aware of their ignorance, their incompetence, their growth areas. And they are deeply self-confident. Paradoxical? Only for those who do not see the 'journey is the reward'. (Senge 1990: 142)

In writing such as this we can see the appeal of Peter Senge's vision. It has deep echoes in the concerns of writers such as M. Scott Peck (1990) and Erich Fromm (1979). The discipline entails developing personal vision; holding creative tension (managing the gap between our vision and reality); recognizing structural tensions and constraints, and our own power (or lack of it) with regard to them; a commitment to truth; and using the sub-conscious (ibid.: 147-167).

If we have a personal vision and we also see current reality objectively, then the difference between the two causes "creative tension". That tension can be used to draw us from where we are - in current reality - to the vision. What the vision does is to bring about the creative tension that is used to move a person toward the reality of the vision.

Individuals who practice personal mastery experience other changes in their thinking. They learn to use both reason and intuition to create. They become systems thinkers who see the interconnectedness of everything around them and, as a result, they feel more connected to the whole. It is exactly this type of individual that one needs at every level of an organization for the organization to learn. (Senge, 1990)

Traditional managers have always thought that they had to have all the answers for their organization. The managers of the learning organization know that their staff has the answers. The job of the manager in the learning organization is to be the teacher or coach who helps unleash the creative energy in each individual. Organizations learn through the synergy of the individual learners. (Senge, "The Leader's New Work," 1990)


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