Teaching Smart People How to Learn

8766 WordsJul 10, 201136 Pages
Teaching Smart People How to Learn Chris Argyris A Chris Argyris James Bryant Conant Professor Harvard Business School 4 © 1991 Harvard Business Review. Distributed by The New York Times Special Features/Syndication Sales. ny company that aspires to succeed in the tougher business environment of the 1990s must rst resolve a basic dilemma: success in the marketplace increasingly depends on learning, yet most people don’t know how to learn. What’s more, those members of the organization that many assume to be the best at learning are, in fact, not very good at it. I am talking about the well-educated, high-powered, high-commitment professionals who occupy key leadership positions in the modern corporation. Most companies not…show more content…
I also assumed that such professional consultants would be good at learning. After all, the essence of their job is to teach others how to do things differently. I found, however, that these consultants embodied the learning dilemma. The most enthusiastic about continuous improvement in their own organizations, they were also often the biggest obstacle to its complete success. As long as efforts at learning and change focused on external organizational factors— job redesign, compensation programs, performance review, and leadership training—the professionals were enthusiastic participants. Indeed, creating new systems and structures was precisely the kind of challenge that well-educated, highly motivated professionals thrived on. And yet the moment the quest for continuous improvement turned to the professionals’ own performance, something went wrong. It wasn’t a matter of bad attitude. The professionals’ commitment to excellence was genuine, and the vision of the company was clear. Nevertheless, continuous improvement did not persist. And the longer the continuous improvement efforts continued, the greater the likelihood that they would produce ever-diminishing returns. What happened? The professionals began to feel embarrassed. They were threatened by the prospect of critically examining their own role in the organization. Indeed, because they
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