Did you miss the 2017 Currie Best Practices Summit? Not to worry – this quarter’s Currie Article Recommendation is a piece which captures the spirit of Currie’s “learning organization” theme as we move forward into 2018. In a comprehensive analysis, Mark Smith presents a central theory of Chris Argyris, and the prolific work on learning which Argyris was so dedicated to. Smith’s article: Smith, M. K. (2001, 2013). ‘Chris Argyris: theories of action, double-loop learning and organizational learning’, the encyclopedia of informal education, can be found on the infed website at http://infed.org/mobi/chris-argyris-theories-of-action-double-loop-learning-and-organizational-learning/. [Retrieved: December 18, 2017]. In anticipation of clients’ requests for my version of “The Cliff Notes”, here is my review and summary, plus a few of my own viewpoints. Thank you, and happy reading!
First are the theories. In this piece, we learn that Argyris is all about “mental models”. The theories, and mental models, are employed in order to execute necessary activities and attitudes, which are critical to participating and contributing to a “learning organization”. These are but a few of the dozens of valuable ideas that Argyris contributed to the business, academic, and leadership worlds.
One of Chris Argyris’ profound principles is called theories of action. His discovery reveals what he, and his colleague Donald Schon, call mental maps. The notion is that our mental maps define our natural responses to a given set of circumstances. Mental maps, unique to everyone, drive behaviours.
According to the developers of theories of action, mental maps dictate actions, and oftentimes the actions are performed without conscious awareness. As stated earlier, they are natural reactions, and can also be described as tendencies. Further, the theory also suggests that one’s natural response in a given situation, is not always aligned with one’s stated beliefs. This theory makes for an interesting dilemma, as it smacks of the “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. Thus, mental maps are considered to be drivers of behaviours and responses that may very well be in opposition to consciously held convictions. This indicates that self-awareness is an important, albeit missing, factor in many response/react processes. Self-awareness is the first, critical step toward self-mastery. Argyris’ discovery of mental maps describes automatic responses, somewhat lacking in cognizance.
Chris Argyris defined theories of action by creating two categories: theory in use, and espoused theory. As mentioned above, theory in use represents the natural behaviour or response. Espoused theory represents what the reacting person actually believes, or actually knows is a correct response. These ideas of “mental maps”, theory in use, and espoused theory bring to mind a couple of other important models.
In the Currie Leadership Development Program, participants learn about their personality type according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. This method helps to provide clarity to someone who is interested in identifying (and developing) their preferred style through an analysis of a psychological profile. Let us now couple this concept with Situational Leadership theories, which assist managers and executives in identifying their natural response to a hypothetical situation. By identifying their natural response, leaders can learn to adjust, and can then adapt a more appropriate response consistent with the circumstances of their actual situation. MBTI, and Situational Leadership, are two models that are all about self-awareness, and the journey toward making conscious, and intentional, decisions for a specific set of circumstances.
This article continues with two models of “loop” learning—single-loop learning, and double-loop learning. These systems are discoveries which depict what happens when theory in use creates an undesirable outcome. Along with the principles of single-loop and double-loop learning, the author breaks down the theories further, and present two models, representative of Argyris’ work. All of this information can be found in Smith’s article.
Where are we going with all of this theory? Organizational learning. That’s the name of the game this year, and the theme for Currie Management Consultants, Inc.’s 2017 Best Practices Summit in Dallas, Texas. As mentioned in Bob Currie’s remarks: “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” This is a quote from the brilliant work of Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass. Distribution continues to change, technology marches forward at an alarming rate, and we find ourselves running faster just to keep up. We are working harder, and working longer. Thus, the way to not only survive, but to thrive, is to become a learning organization of the highest caliber. All of the tools and resources are here at our fingertips, at our disposal. What is required of us is determination, commitment, vision, and endurance. There is no other option.
More stream of consciousness ideas from the Currie Think Tank…
The ripple effect is a concept which is less quantitative. The smallest shift can create that first movement, and can create momentum to learn, to understand, and to change.
Immense power lies in the observation of the theories at work, and of the right brain stimulation which Argyris’ ideas create, whether intentionally or not. Student comments (including those of Peter Senge) and other descriptions create a picture of Argyris as a visionary who taught people how to make connections through deeper thinking.
Albert Einstein, inspired creativity, the methodology of the discovery of benzene ring structure, the esoteric genius of Carl Jung: these elements stray from the (somewhat) pragmatic business theories of Argyris, and deliver us into a unique dimensional platform. Studied independently, these ideas and others, present to us vast opportunities to enter into deeper levels of the drivers of organizational success. Today, more than ever, it’s all about talent. And, as any good team leader knows, talent needs visionary leadership; rigorous development; dedicated coaching; and a shared commitment to success. So Argyris, at least to me, is less about strategy, and more about the quest for understanding and clarity surrounding the factors which propel people forward in their journeys. Argyris now becomes the persona of a skilled and patient guru, guiding us to the critical practice, and mastery of, discernment.
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