The Fifth Discipline

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The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge

This is a seminal book on the topic of systems thinking. Peter Senge has brought together various concepts from the field into a single book. Reading the book feels almost like listening to the Buddha if he would have preached to organizations today.

The key premise of systems thinking is that you cannot understand one thing in isolation. It can only be understood as part of the whole. And the whole has its own movement. If we are able to understand these patterns, then we can know where our leverage lies in dealing with the situation. Without a systemic understanding, we will continue to exert in the wrong direction constantly perplexed why we are not seeing results for our efforts.

The book introduces systems archetypes like limits to growth, shifting the burden, growth and under-investment, explains them with real life examples from various organizations. The systems archetypes are equally valid in the realm of personal growth and that is what makes them very powerful.

The five disciplines of a learning organization as put forward in the book are

  1. Personal Mastery
  2. Mental Models
  3. Shared Vision
  4. Team Learning
  5. Systems Thinking

Quotes from The Fifth Discipline

Seeing that our actions create the problems we experience is at the core of a learning organization


When placed in the same system, people, however different, tend to produce similar results.


The Laws of the Fifth Discipline

  1. Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions
  2. The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back
  3. Behavior grows better before it grows worse
  4. The easy way out usually leads back in
  5. The cure can be worse than the disease
  6. Faster is slower
  7. Cause and effect are not closely related in time and space
  8. Small changes can produce big results but the areas of leverage are often the least obvious
  9. You can have your cake and eat it too but not at once
  10. Dividing an elephant in half does not produce two small elephants
  11. There is no blame

The best ideas fail because they conflict with mental models of people involved. Mental models, when tacit, are the most dangerous.

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