The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization

ISBN: 0712656871
ISBN 13: 9780712656870
By: Peter M. Senge

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About this book

Leading management guru Peter M Senge defines the five business 'disciplines' which together help to build learning organizations. These companies will be the successful ones in the coming decade because of their ability to learn, to absorb new ideas, theories and practices at all employee levels and use them to competive adventage. Shared vision, teamwork and leverage are the main themes of this book.

Reader's Thoughts


This might very well be a seminal book in organizational performance theory, but holy moly what a convoluted mess. I am certainly not arguing that the 5 disciplines are each a cornerstone of high performance in organizations. The way Senge presented this and wrote the book really makes it fairly difficult for useful information to pop out at you. There is a lot going on here and I've always found it interesting that a proponent of team learning and personal mastery did not write his theories concisely. Be that as it may, I've used a few of these disciplines in my career to limited success (particularly systems thinking). Maybe that's because I have a hard time articulating Senge's complex thoughts to people who are manifestly not capable of hearing them. By the way, if you think "The "5th Discipline" is a handful, try his book "Presence"...he goes completely around the bend in that one.

Paul Signorelli

Peter Senge's much admired book on building learning organizations and communities of learning is essential reading for trainers and anyone else interested in how successful learning is fostered. He introduces his key themes--systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, building a shared vision, and team learning--in the first several pages of the book, then takes us on an engaging exploration of those themes as he shows us how successful learning organizations develop through what he terms the "core learning capabilities for teams": aspiration, reflective conversation, and understanding complexity. Chapter 14--"Strategies"--is particularly helpful through sections on integrating learning and working, connecting with the core of the business, building learning communities, and developing learning infrastructures.


When I first started reading this book, it was one of those books that I really wanted to like. I understood that there were important lessons to learn, but they weren't coming in clearly to me. I started to get the hang of it towards the middle and end of the book, but the writing is definitely dense enough to warrant another read through, both to pick up more of the content but also to slowly ponder how to apply some of these to my own work organization. The content deserves 5 stars, however I feel like Peter M. Senge could have done a better job and write more clearly and concisely in order to get through to more people.

Helena Ruiz fabra

the organisation bible. :-) third time i have read this book and always get something new. I feel very humble in front of this text.

Glenn Van

Vijf disciplines die je nodig hebt om een lerende organisatie te worden. Personal Mastery, Shared vision, Mental models, Team learning en Systems thinking. Wat ik er uithaal is dat alleen kunt komen tot een gedeelde visie als je persoonlijke visie helder is. Daar gaat het volgens mij al snel mis bij alle veranderingen in organisaties. Ook het onderdeel over Systems thinking is blijven hangen. In onze taal zijn we heel doel gericht: Ik schenk water in. Klinkt logisch, lineair. Senge laat ons zien dat elk systeem uit vele cirkels bestaat in plaats van uit lineaire handelingen. Want ik kan alleen water inschenken als ik continu feedback krijg over de hoeveelheid die uit de kraan komt, de stijging van het water in mijn glas en de mate waarin de kraan openstaat. Door een feedback loop zorg ik ervoor dat het glas niet overstroomt. Zo werkt het met alles. Beseffen dat je onderdeel uitmaakt van een systeem, waarbij jij een onderdeel bent van een complex geheel maakt een groot verschil.

Paul Boos

This book describes what I would hope most organizations aspire to be, particularly those that want to be known as 'Agile'. Learning Organizations are the organizations that take leadership in the creative economy. This book describes the key characteristics these organizations will have and how these will make the organizations more effective. It's still as relevant today as it was in the 90s.


This book sort of rocked my world. My first introduction to systems thinking, Senge's work has given me a new paradigm for thinking about organizational change and development, as well as individual professional development. The first four disciplines (mental models, shared vision, team learning, and personal mastery) were very interesting to read about, but developing the (basics of the) language of systems thinking and beginning to understand the structural diagrams was the most rewarding part of reading this book.

Gajula Praveen Kumar Naidu

"Recommended reading! The organizations that will truly excel in the future will be those that discover how to tap people�s commitment and develop the capacity to learn at all levels in an organization. Deep down, people are learners. No one has to teach an infant to learn. In fact, no one has to teach infants anything. They are intrinsically inquisitive, masterful learners. Learning organizations are possible because at heart we all love to learn. Through learning we re-create ourselves and are able to do something we were never able to do earlier. Through learning we reperceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life. There is within each of us a deep hunger for this type of learning. This seminal book by Peter M Senge explains how learning organizations can be built. Highly Recommended!"


What does it mean for a company to be a "learning organization"? Previously, I though it only had something to do with knowledge transfer. Ie. documentation and making the information available. Boy, was I wrong. Senge identifies 5 disciplines, all required for successfully enabling organizational learning. The disciplines are personal mastery, mental models, building shared vision, team learning and the fifth, systems thinking.This was the book that introduced me to systems thinking. It was an eye opener.It provides tools for gaining insights to the problems of an organisation (or any other complex system) that couldn't be achieved using linear thinking. It helps uncover patterns that are invisible or next to impossible to be noticed with traditional methods.

Chris Little

I first met systems theory in ministry training post-theological college. This was in connection to pastoral care for people, taking note of the systems in which they live (family, workplace, peer group, church, etc).This book is all about systems thinking and its use particularly in management. It is an effort to shift our thinking from simple linear cause-effect. In its stead is the more useful conception of two-way and mutual effect. For example, a business downtown might lead to cost-cutting, which causes further profit loss. Or a spouse might flee a difficult marriage by extra immersion at work, worsening the relationship problems.There may be simple loops like these (positive or negative feedback). Of course many are far more complex, and systemic patterns will overlap to 'interfere' with each other.The contention of Senge is that modern organisations must learn how to learn these systems. The 'learning organization' of the subtitle is not an educational organisation. It is one that observes, reflects and can thereby perceive deeper systemic behaviour behind the obvious surface data.That all sounds a bit tech gibberish - showing I don't really understand it yet. But that's ok, because it's about a way of thinking rather than being able to understand everything.I think this book, and the ideas in it, is very useful for any kind of team or leadership.

Paul Courtney

This was my first exposure to the ideas of complexity and non-linear systems in the everyday world of business. My other readings to that point in time had been from the scientific perspective. So I enjoyed reading how Mr. Senge applied those concepts to workshops where he had business people experience systems first hand.


This book is definitely 5-star quality, but in my opinion it is far too expansive for one book. Unless you view it as a reference book, it is at least five books in one, if not more. The primary drive of the book is the importance and mechanics of big-picture, systemic thinking. In addition to understanding these universally occurring systems, Senge unpacks how to identify them in your context and create positive change by utilizing your understanding of the relevant system.I took a great deal from the book, but got frustrated about half way through when it felt like I was at my capacity for learning, and each subsequent chapter felt like "Oh, yeah, and you should do this too; oh, and this is an important point as well; while you're at it, you should probably focus on this, too."


Though this is NOT an easy read, it IS a must-read for everyone in a leadership position, and that really does include teacher-leaders. I think I started it four or five times before I was able to finish it. I would pick it up read a few chapters and then drop out. I'd pick it up again, start over, and then drop out again. It was Wyllis Terry who finally said, don't start it over, just keep reading from where you left off which allowed me to finally finish it. I'm glad I did. It is such a basic leadership book and really helps with looking at the whole system and not just the piece that you are working with.I heard Senge a couple of times speak to systems thinking. The first time was at a National Staff Development Conference in Boston. He had many of the 1,000 educators there in tears about their own influence on the environment before he was done, very moving. The second time was at the Upper Valley Educators Institute under the direction of Rob Fried. Senge used the earth as the ultimate example of a system. Very effective and influential. This book truly is worth getting through. Don't give up, keep reading!


This book has been around for a long time but it seems that the main messages it contains (My major take-aways): - cause and effect are about large numbers of interactions at many levels that are not necessarily proximate in time.- people really listening to each other and being motivated by each other is how things really get doneare only now starting to really be internalized and popularized.It's not the Human Genome Project, it's proteomics and the epi-genome (how the genes express themselves, interact and are regulated). It's not about giving massive aid to govts to "fix" a country with a single top-down plan, it's about micro-finance to let a community build itself from the bottom up.It's not the broadcasting of information one-to-many that makes things happen, it's the social web, web 2.0, twitter, facebook. Groups of people acting many-to-many to allow society to change course (think Presidential election 2008).This is not about technology or management tricks. It is about changing the way you think about problems so that you can get out of the way, organizationally and personally.It's as much a self-help book as a business book.Definitely one to re-read from time to time.


Rarely would I use this term to describe anything but the good book itself but here goes..."this book is the bible for any leader/manager".Or maybe a better description would be "the canon", since it is a definitive work but one, as by the theme of the book suggests, that can and should be improved upon.The book is both frustrating and refreshing for the same reason - it doesn't try and present it's ideas in an "easily" replicable framework. Though an outlined framework or step-by-step process/venn diagram would make the reader feel more at ease, the author continually states that stuffing these ideas into an ubiquitous framework is next to impossible. There is no panacea diagram that can be turned into a power point slide when building a learning organization.Thus with the above point in mind, this book quickly undermines most other strategy books/papers and points out missed themes in other books - like Good to Great Good to Great. The point being that the underlying long-term source of success in an organization is not its present strategy but its people and culture. Only the quality of its people and a culture of openness allow an organization to continually, adapt, learn and grow. James C. Collins James C. Collins touched on this idea in G2G when he discussed "getting the right people on the bus" but he made the fatal consulting mistake of seeing the overall results as static and linear, rather than dynamic and self-reinforcing.However, there are five main points that can summarize Senge's Peter M. Senge requirements for a learning organization:1. Systems thinking2. Self-awareness/emotional intelligence3. Vision4. Clear Communication5. Bottom-up solutionsThese requirements are more requirements for the organizations leaders but should be encouraged throughout the organization as well.Unfortunately for most organizations and people, Senge's ideas are easy in theory but hard in practice. I believe they are difficult to implement because once an organization hits a certain critical mass, the needs of the individual start to diverge from the needs of the organization and at certain organizational sizes a horizontal and efficient structure always seems to teeter on the brink of pure chaos.For now, organizational design is an art and a science and needs constant innovation and more books like this one to help keep driving it forward until we can unlock the true secrets.

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