An important insight gained from some of the more recent projects in member companies of the Society for Organizational Learning has led to the distinction between two different sources or processes of organizational learning: one that is based on reflecting the experiences of the past (Type I) and a second source, one that is grounded in sensing and enacting emerging futures (Type II). Each of these processes is based on a different temporal source of learning and requires managers to work with fundamentally different learning cycles.
The temporal source of Type I learning is the past, or, to be more precise, the coming into presence of the past–learning revolves around reflecting on experiences of the past. All Kolb-type learning cycles are variations of this type of learning (Kolb 1984). Their basic sequence is action, concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and action again (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: The Kolb Type Learning Cycle (Learning From the Experiences of the Past)
The temporal source of Type II learning is the future, or to be more precise, the coming into presence of the future. Type II learning is based on sensing and embodying emerging futures rather than re-enacting the patterns of the past. The sequence of activites in this learning process is seeing, sensing, presencing, and enacting (see Figure 2).
Fig. 2: The Other Learning Cycle (Learning From Emerging Futures)
While OD and organizational learning have been mainly concerned with how to build, nurture, and sustain Type I learning processes (Argyris, 1992; Schein, 1987; Senge et al, 1994), some more recent experiences suggest that today’s business environment presents most companies with challenges that require a new source and process of learning. These challenges are concerned with how to compete under the conditions of the new economy–that is, how to learn from a reality that is not yet embodied in manifest experience.
In dealing with the new economy challenge, Type I learning is no longer effective as the single source of learning, because the previous experiences embodied in the leadership team are no longer relevant to the challenges at hand. And the experiences that would be of relevance are not yet embodied in the experience base of the leadership team. The issue for management is how to learn from experience when the experience that matters most is the not-yet-embodied experience of the future.
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