Double Loop Learning

Robin Sharma wrote “The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari” in 1999 and sold millions of copies. Then he wrote ten more books, earning enough to buy a few Ferrari’s out of the income from each. He lectures internationally on leadership and trains people of top organisations like Nike, FedEx and Panasonic. Are his seminars expensive? Entry for a talk he gave at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi on 22 Feb 2012 cost Dh3,000 (US$816) per person. In today’s conversion rate, it is Rs. 40,677 for a glimpse of Robin Sharma’s wisdom. Compared to the fee of Rs. 25,000 per person he charged about 10 years ago at Bangalore, the price at Abu Dhabi does not seem much.

There are many gurus – religious and otherwise – making rounds, preaching and creating magic. We get regular doses of ancient wisdom through people and trees that speak. We learn management theories and practices from Hindu, Buddhist and Western philosophies and religious writings. There are scores of popular courses that hope to improve our behaviour.

Tech Gurus like Kristen Nygaard, Grady Booch, Ivar Jacobson, James Rumbaugh, and Martin Fowler visited Bangalore. Many of us considered ourselves fortunate to listen to their inspiring talks and vowed to become better professionals.

Training Managers of companies with ISO certification or CMM assessment regularly hunt for good trainers to fulfil the annual quota of hours-of-training per employee. How to speak, how to listen, how to write, how to behave … We teach the whole lot of things to our people.  Institutes call visiting faculty to interact with teachers and students.

Some retired defence officers conduct leadership training with outward bound activities, making people jump from tree top, swing like Tarzan, row a raft on rough waves, and cross burning coal. Participants find a lot of leadership qualities and very few weak points in themselves and in others, little qualities and plenty of weak points. Then what? Business as usual back in the office.

Lakhs of people attend self-improvement courses conducted by Landmark Forum, which has become a kind of cult. The Art of Living course and related activities of Sri Ravishankar made him so popular that people considered him worthy of a Nobel Prize. There are courses on Transactional Analysis and Emotional Intelligence.  I have met many who have attended such wonderful courses, but did not find life-transforming changes in them after these courses. People attending religious sermons on loving-kindness do not bring home harmony and seem to fight even more on returning home.

I too teach a few courses and give a few talks. From my perspective, what I talk make sense. However, when I correct answer papers or look at the skills in my students, I know that the courses have not been effective enough.

Various study reports lament that fresh graduates are not employable and a large part of the employed lack skills essential to succeed. We see lack of desirable qualities like basic courtesy, self effort, accountability, language skills, communication skills … 2.68% of engineering graduates are employable in IT products companies, states a recent National Employability Report.

Double-loop learning” is a phrase coined by Chris Argyris in an article “Teaching Smart People How to Learn.”  The classic example he provides is that of a thermostat. In single-loop learning, a thermostat set to 20o C cuts-in power when the temperature drops below 20o C. In double-loop learning, however, one asks why the thermostat is set to that temperature in the first place. Is that the best temperature? Single-loop learning solves immediate problems, but double loop learning attempts to discuss the root causes of problems.

Double loop learning corrects the belief system. If a student’s belief system is only to pass examinations, his examination score would give a feedback to find methods to score better – not to nurture curiosity and commitment to learning. if an employee’s goal is good salary, he is not likely to become a good professional. If a company uses quality certificates as a means to attract new customers, an NC report in quality audit would trigger tampering of procedure and not an inquiry to the quality. Hiring more consultants and trainers without a belief in quality system won’t take the company far. Changes can only be superficial.

Einstein said “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” However, the first step still can be to reach the belief system that created the problem and not superficial actions, imperfect and shallow results.

Belief system supports the underlying assumptions. Corrections to these assumptions should not be blocked by defensive reasoning. If we limit to immediate goals and tactics to achieve them,  we cannot get lasting results.

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About pgbhat

A retired Naval Officer and an educationist. Has experience with software industry. A guest faculty at different institutes and a corporate trainer with software development companies.
This entry was posted in Everyday Life, Profession, Social Issue. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Double Loop Learning

  1. pgbhat says:

    From: P V Maiya [mailto:pvmaiya@gmail.com]

    I would rate this as one of your best—very thoughtful and thought provoking. There is enough number of books,web sites [Google it: is like ready to eat stuff, it has replaced hard work and contemplation in life] to go round the world many times for self-improvement, but key to sustained improvement is practicing whichever system/ author appeals to one. The summing up at the end of your blog is well put.
    “However, the first step still can be to reach the belief system that created the problem and not superficial actions, imperfect and shallow results.
    Belief system supports the underlying assumptions. Corrections to these assumptions should not be blocked by defensive reasoning. If we limit to immediate goals and tactics to achieve them, we cannot get lasting results”.

    Like

  2. Capt.(I.N) KR Reddy, Retd. says:

    Dear PG, Thank you for the thought provoking article. Perhaps our education system places too much emphasis on mere gathering of knowledge and less on acquiring the necessary life skills. What is missing is the experiential aspect. Some where along the line, we need a mechanism to convert the knowledge into skills.

    Like

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