Learning Ecosystem: What Is It and How to Create One
Like a learning organization, a learning ecosystem makes it possible to change the future based on the recognition that our actions have created the past. A learning organization can continually expand its capacity to create its own future.
According to Peter Senge, the ecosystem that supports organizations that can learn must master the following basic disciplines:
- Shared Vision
- Personal Mastery
- Mental Models
- Team Learning
- Systems Thinking
The Fuel for a Learning Ecosystem
In our view, a shared vision is the aspirational future that gives purpose to our actions. It reflects what all participants can believe in and are energized to excel and learn because they want to be part of it. But as Robert Cooper has emphasized, the vision must be so great that only your heart can hold it. That means that it elevates your spirit beyond your perceived capability. In the words of Robert Browning, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”
Connecting Personal Vision with Shared Vision
To accomplish a shared vision, we must be equipped for the mission. Here is where the discipline of personal mastery must be embraced. Here we must continually clarify and deepen our personal vision and align it with our organizations shared vision. This involves focusing our energies, developing patience, and seeing reality objectively.
The Core of Personal Mastery
At its core, personal mastery requires that we work towards changing our mental models. Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations or images that influence how we make sense of the world and how we act. They are often subconscious which ensures that their influence operates outside of our conscious awareness. Profound learning may be thought of as changing your mental models. It is this kind of learning that makes it possible to achieve levels of personal mastery that exceed expectations and contribute achieving big audacious goals based on a powerful shared vision.
Being able to identify and see the operation of tacit mental models in our business life and life in general is almost impossible through introspection alone. The best way to become aware of how unconscious mental models affect our lives and relationships is by having a trusted other help us to see that we are getting in our own way. At the beginning this level of self-awareness is hard to see and even more difficult to accept. But this endeavor is more than worth the commitment. Probably the most effective way to accomplish self-awareness is through a highly trained executive coach of high character. A helpful addition is the organizational discipline of team learning.
Transformation Through Communication
Team learning relies on the power of colleagues who hold diverse perspectives and ideas are willing to share them with colleagues at the level of “dialogue.” As describe by Senge, communication at this level can be transformational (influence mental models) and relies on the capacity of team members to suspend assumptions and enter a genuine “thinking together.” In this respect, teams are seen as the fundamental learning unit in modern organizations.
Understanding the Connection Between Ecosystems
Systems thinking is the fifth discipline. This is the recognition that organizations are based on multiple eco-systems (underlying structures) and like all systems in nature are integrated. Appreciating this dynamic complexity empowers the leader to know the difference between high- and low-level change. Changing any part of a system affects the whole system and the wise leader expects and correctly interprets resistance and balancing feedback. In making desired change it is vital to hold to critical performance standards which are those that are most important to the customer. The essence of mastering this discipline lies in seeing underlying patterns where others see events and forces to react to.
Learning Ecosystems Have a Ripple Effect
All of this represents the disciplines that must be mastered in a learning ecosystem. But the stakes are even higher than that. We live in many eco-systems and creating just one ecosystem that is capable of learning has implications for all of them. A better leader is a better wife, husband, parent, friend, community volunteer etc.
The common denominator for creating learning ecosystems in our lives is based on changing our mental models. The goal is to move from self-awareness to self-knowledge. Here is where effectiveness and humility meet. This is the level of personal mastery and optimal performance we seek.
Below are additional resources that will help you create a learning ecosystem:
- Check out our books
- Get in contact to learn about our programs
- Sign up for our 5-Minute Mastery Newsletter below