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date: 19 June 2021

(p. v) Preface

(p. v) Preface

When I started many years ago, as a PhD student, to take interest in the idea of the learning organization, I was relatively skeptical towards the idea, not least because I found it so difficult to understand what was actually meant by “learning organization.” At that time I tended to agree to a large extent with those who argued that the learning organization was “only” a fashion. When I spoke with organizational actors about the idea, it was quite often that they showed interest in the idea and were aware of Peter Senge’s bestselling book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (1990). Many of the people I talked to had not read the book, though, even if there was a Swedish translation of it.

In fact, I am still interested in and occupied with what is meant by “learning organization.” However, today, while I still think of myself of being skeptical, in a healthy sense, I can more clearly see the many benefits there are to the idea of the learning organization. It is both interesting and astonishing that so many organizations not only are quite bad at learning, they also seem not to be really interested in such activities—some organizations even seem to actively avoid learning. Actors in such organizations often talk about how important continuous improvement as well as innovation is, but do not really prove by action that it is important.

In fact, today I am actually a bit skeptical towards those who doom the idea of the learning organization for being “only” a fashion—to me, such argumentation seems to come from an interesting kind of fashion followers, namely researchers who disparage the “practitioners” and consultants who stick to a certain fashionable management idea, while they themselves either avoid studying the fashion because it is, as they argue, “only” a fashion, or stop researching the idea when it is no longer as popular as it once were. Researchers should, of course, critically examine ideas whose popularity reasonably could be explained in terms of fashion, but it would be wrong to ignore any idea for such reasons. Any idea has both strengths and weaknesses, no matter whether it gains interest from extremely many or extremely few people. In the present book, the reader will find both praise and criticism of the idea of the learning organization.

Since I am currently also the editor-in-chief of a journal called The Learning Organization (published by Emerald), I hope to see many contributions to the journal on the issues dealt with in this book, and where the authors of the works submitted to that journal build on and take further what is dealt with in this volume. Moreover, I hope to organize a workshop or conference at some point in the future, a research conference purely on the learning organization. It would be wonderful to meet as many of the contributors to this book as possible, at such a conference.

(p. vi) By bringing together, in the present book, both well-known figures in the learning organization area and those who are newer to the area, and to both include more mainstream contributions and those with a more critical touch, a dream has come true. The vast majority of previous publications on the learning organization have been either uncritical or critical, while the present book includes both. Thus, I want to whole-heartedly thank all the contributors to the book for their highly important contributions and for their openness for other perspectives and, thus, for being ready to be criticized by other contributions—all for the sake of developing the idea of the learning organization.

Anders Örtenblad


March 2019