The difference between double-loop learning and single-loop learning is self-reflection, whether organizational or individual. Looking for root causes in double-loop learning can be directed outwardly or inwardly. Outwardly-directed double-loop learning looks at possible root-causes of ineffective action such as:
- Organizational policies and assumptions behind policies
- Standards of work performance and assumptions behind such standards
- Organizational culture: communication practices (e.g. “undiscussables”), informal norms and roles, interpersonal relationships
- Leadership styles and their effect on staff behaviors
Outwardly-directed double-loop learning can also be called “organizational self-reflection.” On the other hand, inwardly-directed double-loop learning is “individual self-reflection.”
Inwardly-directed double-loop learning works faster and better when the knowledge worker is a reflective person, or when he practices internal attention. Learning is a feedback process, and learning is facilitated when the knowledge worker installs a feedback loop within himself. The key to this feedback loop is internal attention.
In an ordinary day in the office, the knowledge worker’s attention is mostly directed outward:
- Listening to what the boss is telling him
- Attending to a phone call
- Reading a memo
- Calling your secretary
- Signing a letter
- Checking your emails
- Looking at lunch options in the company cafeteria
The above is very common.
Inwardly-directed attention happens when:
- You check your reactions, mentally and emotionally, during a phone call
- Being aware of your judgments as you weigh the possible implications of a memo
- Detecting a hint of irritation in you as you call your secretary
- Seeing a momentary hesitation on your part just before you sign a letter, and reflecting shortly afterwards where the hesitation is coming from
- Thinking about the option of asking an important and urgent question to your boss instead of continuing to attend to your emails
- Sensing that today your body seems to be craving for protein and a less hurried pace of eating.
The ideal situation is constant or moment-to-moment external-plus-internal attention.
A person who is 99% externally attentive will learn more about things outside himself. When action or its result goes wrong, he will look for external causes or blame others. If he is part of the problem, he won’t see it because his attention is externally-directed. He can still perform double-loop learning, but the root causes of problems that he will see are only external organizational root causes and not internal or personal root causes. He observes external data but not internal data. In effect, he sees only 50% of the world.
The common habit of external attention can be an effective block to total learning.
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