My ICSI colleague Claire Neely recently mentioned that the classic Chris Argyris article “Teaching Smart People How to Learn” had been an “aha” moment in her efforts to learn how to better teach and reach physicians. While I don’t think I have ever read that article, I had been impressed with Chris Argyris, especially his work with Donald Schoen. Claire emailed me the article, and it really is a classic that needs to be read.
Originally copyrighted by the Harvard Business Review in 1991, Argyris’ article succinctly outlines the challenges we all face in a knowledge economy, and he concludes that learning is imperative for individual and organizational success in such a global marketplace. People have to master technical skills, work effectively in teams, form productive relationships with clients, and critically reflect on and change their own organizational culture. Managers and leaders have to guide and integrate the autonomous but interconnected work of highly skilled people.
Argyris distinguishes between single loop and double loop learning. “A thermostat that automatically turns on the heat whenever the temperature in a room drops below 68 degrees is a good example of single loop learning. A thermostat that could ask, ‘Why am I set at 68 degrees?’ and then explore whether or not some other temperature might more economically achieve the goal of heating the room would be engaging in double loop learning.”