Teaching smart people how to learn (Chris Argyris)

Originally from HBR. Summary:

Professionals are good at “Single loop” learning (solving problem at hand), bad at reflexive (“double loop”) learning (asking about causes of the original problem) because of defensive reasoning. Motivation is not enough to entice reflexive learning.

Theory of action vs theory in action: we don’t act like we think we should act. Theories in action that explain defensive reasoning seem to follow four values “to avoid embarrassment or threat, feeling vulnerable or incompetent”:

  • Remain in control.
  • Maximize winning and minimize losing.
  • Suppress negative feelings.
  • Define clear objectives and evaluate their behavior on whether they were achieved.

“Companies can use these universal human tendencies to teach people how to reason in a new way”: “behaving consistently and performing effectively”.

My consequences for a network of knowledge specialists:

  • Establish the benefits of reflexive learning: new business opportunities, ways of improving the customer experience, lowering costs, leveraging knowledge across the organization.
  • Establish a specific appreciation of reflexive learning by participants (e.g. points, contribution to solutions).
  • Establish an organization wide map of what we have been learning.
  • Establish the same standard for everyone, transparently.
  • Attract people who value reflexive learning, filter out people with destructive attitudes, beyond single loop reasoning.
  • Establish a clear plan to help people move from single loop to reflexive learning.
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