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Teaching Smart People How to Learn

In the May-June of 1991 issue of Harvard Business Review (yes, it's pretentious and they do a good job), Chris Argyris gets to the heart of the matter when it comes to leaders in organizations making poor choices. He makes the distinction about "single-loop" and "double-loop" learning. Chris passed away in 2013, however his wisdom and knowledge have been used to make our world a better place.

What is single and double-loop learning: [Insert easy to understand metaphor here]

"A thermostat that automatically turns on the heat whenever the temperature in a room drops

below 68°F is a good example of single-loop learning. A thermostat that could ask, "why am I set

to 68°F?" and then explore whether or not some other temperature might more economically

achieve the goal of heating the room would be engaged in double-loop learning." Chris Argyris

Human beings (you and me) are able to ask ourselves the all important "Why?" question about anything we see or do.

Most leaders are great at problem solving, single-loop learning and most are horrible at double-loop learning. If you don't trust this statement, ask yourself if you reside in an organization (home, community, state, country, world) that learns.

The reason for the prevalence of single-loop is that the human beings at the top have not experienced failure.

"When single-loop learning strategies go wrong, [leaders] become defensive, screen out criticism,

and put the “blame” on anyone and everyone but themselves. In short, their ability to learn shuts

down precisely at the moment they need it the most." Chris Argyris

I have made many choices that in hindsight could have had more desirable outcomes had I applied double-loop learning. I am grateful for Mr Argyris and his article. There is much to learn from him.

A picture of Mr. Argyris

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