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A Business Case For The Learning Organization
by John Dicus

How do I make a business case for ”The Learning Organization?”

In regards to making a business case for a Learning Organization... this may not be the answer you're looking for. But the question asked is not an easy one to answer. I think the reason has much to do with where the ”asker” is with respect to the shift in consciousness.

Let's use the term ”Learning Organization” to designate the pattern for the new type of organization we wish to create. Few people have had the experience of working in such an organization. (Although I do believe that many people have had experiences, however brief, that are consistent with such an organization.) We now are faced with convincing another person that it would be beneficial to change into something we can't fully describe. In addition, we can't fully anticipate nor articulate what's involved in making the transition, both personally and organizationally.

But if we could look back from the future on the shift from our ”old” organization to our ”new” Learning Organization, it would probably feel like common sense and require no explanation. The real challenge is to hold the ”turning point” (the point of ”shift in consciousness”) in our minds and be able to talk about it. It would be like remembering the exact moment you were first able to ”ride a bicycle” and then describing to someone who could not ride a bicycle what you felt and realized -- what you were beginning to be able to see that you couldn't before. If we wait too long after the shift in consciousness, we'll forget where we've been.

In helping organizations along their journey to becoming an LO, we usually have two groups of people. Those who can't imagine what it means, and those who believe they see it so clearly that they can't relate to those who can't.

One way to help an organization learn why making the ”shift” is so beneficial is to take a look into the future by talking about what it could be like -- how it would be different -- why it would be better. Don't skip over the conversations that deal with the pain and fear of changing. For many, the shift will not be easy.

Peter Senge once wrote a short article on what it would feel like to work in an LO. The title of the article was ”How Do You Know If Your Organization Is Learning?” He described the working climate as he imagined it. He described the human interactions and their consequences. It would be a good exercise for the members of an organization to take that as a starting point and expand on it until it feels right for their own circumstances.

It is beneficial to talk very openly about the ”consequences in inaction” as well -- the consequences of NOT working towards the shift to an LO.

To help an organization become more in charge of their own learning path, I favor giving them experiences in what living/working in an LO feels like -- how the teams preform and are supported -- how systems behave. These experiences put LO's into their own terminology and tie them to their own concerns and business issues.

© CCA 1998

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