“The Fifth Discipline” by Peter Senge

Executive Summary

The following paper is aimed to explore the findings of the article ““The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization” by Peter Senge. The issue discussed in this article is related to learning organizations and their significance for the modern-day society. Analyzing this article, the reviewing study design was implemented. The main results of this analysis are in understanding the importance of creating learning organizations which is absolutely necessary for the progress and development of the modern-day human society.


In his article “The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization’, Peter Senge discusses the importance of learning in our modern-day reality. He explains that the world is getting more complicated which requires well-educated specialists able to achieve excellent results under difficult circumstances. Senge states that people need learning organizations which will help people ascend to the new heights of development and progress. Overall, speaking about good points in the article, detailed description of five technologies for development or five learning disciples should be emphasized; among the bad points of the article is the lack of information on practical measures which can be implemented to create learning organizations.

Learning Organizations Definition

Reasoning on the situation in the modern-day world, Senge makes a conclusion that people need new ways of achieving good results in the development of civilization. He explains that some of the most effective ways to progress lies through establishing learning organizations. According to Senge, learning organizations are organizations “where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together” (1990, p.484). Learning organizations significantly differ from traditional authoritarian controlling organizations, and this is especially apparent on the reason of five disciplines discussed by the author including systems thinking, personal mastery, mental model, building shared vision, and team learning.

The Five Disciplines

Addressing the five disciplines which Senge describes in the article, it should be stated that all of them are very important features of learning organizations, and without any of them the organization may not be considered a learning organization. First, systems thinking discipline assumes that any problem people face is a part of a bigger problem, and together these problems form a system; if the person addresses the parts of the system separately these problems will be endless. Thus, the first discipline assumes that learning organizations address problematic issues in their system.

Secondly, personal mastery discipline means that an individual should continue mastering one’s skills and enlarging the body of knowledge during one’s entire life. “Personal mastery is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, or developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively”, explains Senge (1990, p. 486). This discipline means that the desire and aspiration for learning in the learning organization will be no bigger than combined individual motivation by its every member. Therefore, each member of organization should be motivated to build up his or her personality. Unless each person develops a hunger for progress and development, the whole organization will lose its commitment and the sense of mission (Hagen, 2011).

Thirdly, mental model discipline assumes that for a learning organization to achieve significant progress, it is important to change a number of inappropriate mental models existing nowadays. In modern-day society, just as in previous cultures and societies, people are governed by mental models putting them to limits which they cannot violate. However, such limits are often unbalanced, and are even deprived of common sense. Thus, it is important for learning organizations to have relevant mental models. “The discipline of working with mental models starts with turning the mirror inward; learning to unearth our internal pictures of the world, to bring them to the surface and hold them rigorously to scrutiny” (Senge, 1990, p. 487).

Fourthly, building shared vision discipline is in the importance of shared vision of goals, company mission, and priorities which can be observed in all the levels of the organization. “One is hard pressed to think of any organization that has sustained some measure of greatness in the absence of goals, values, and missions that become deeply shared throughout the organization” (Senge, 1990, p. 487). The examples of such companies with shared vision are IBM with its service, Polaroid with its instant photography, Ford with its public transportation for everyone, and Apple with its idea of computing power for the masses. All these companies are unique because their leaders were able to organize thousands of people around some strong idea or mission. The results of fourth discipline implementation can be hardly underestimated judging on the achievements by the above-mentioned companies which managed to become world corporations known to people in every country, and having their products as the most celebrated offerings among the other competitors at the market even despite their considerable prices. Genuine vision guaranteed by the implementation of the fourth discipline helps company’s employees achieve much more because they are not pushed to do more, but they are encouraged and motivated to do more, and their inspiration is able to “move mountains” (Senge, 2008).

Finally, team learning discipline can be explained as the effectiveness which can be achieved by team members as a result of their combined efforts. It is rather surprising, but numerous researches prove that the intellectual level of company achieved as a result of corporate educative programs often exceeds the individual level of intellectual potential of team members. This suggests that as social beings, humans are able to do much more when they are together even in such area as education and development of intellectual potential. Noteworthy is the fact that many ancient societies knew about the effectiveness of “dialogical” learning practices including ancient Greeks, Indian tribes and Slavonic nations; but in our modern times this practice was forgotten. “Team learning is vital because teams, not individuals, are the fundamental learning unit in modern organizations” (Senge, 1990, p. 488).

The Importance of Learning Organizations in Our Rapidly Changing World

The author explains the importance of such organizations in our rapidly changing world. He states that the only way for individuals and corporations to achieve better results than their competitors is learning faster than they. The author mentions a number of facts showing that only those business organizations that are able to educate their employees in a better way than the others occupy primary positions among the other companies in their area. He also mentions that among those employees who should be better educated are top managers and directors, and actually companies’ leaders should be educated better than all the other employees in the company (Bodaken, Fritz, & Senge, 2012). “The organizations that will truly excel in the future will be the organizations that discover how to tap people’s commitment and capacity to learn at all levels in an organization”, affirms Senge (1990, p.484).

Learning Organizations are Possible at the Current Period of Time

The author explains that establishing learning organizations is not a new practice, and it is far away from being problematic. This is because people are learners from their birth. When an infant is born, the process of learning with the duration of life is begun. Then the person continues to learn until the end of one’s life; and the more the person knows the better life he or she may have even despite difficult circumstances that one may face on the reason of his or her origin. Besides, people love learning according to Senge. This becomes obvious when people cooperate in a group to achieve some incredible results, and in this group the spirit of support and encouragement is observed. In such groups, people feel great; they feel a part of an important accomplishment, they feel that they are valued by the others. The fact that many people would sacrifice much to appear in such company again proves that love to learning is an essential part of a human personality. This fact also proves that learning organizations are possible, and they do exist at least for some period of time when people engage in sports competitions, art performances, business projects, hospitality projects, volunteer movements, and so on. Moreover, the other important phenomenon which occurs in the industrialized society after the nineteenth century proves that learning organizations are possible in modern conditions. This phenomenon is the evolution of the industrialized society pushing humanity to move ahead to progress (Kelly, 2009). Under the influence of this phenomenon, many people created organizations mostly business ones which in their main concepts resemble learning organizations. Senge’s explanations of this phenomenon can be seen in the following comment:

I find a growing number of organizational leaders who, while still a minority, feel they are part of a profound evolution in the nature of work as a social institution. “Why can’t we do good works at work?” asked Edward Simon, president of Herman Miller, recently. “Business is the only institution that has a chance, as far as I can see, to fundamentally improve the injustice that exists in the world. But first, we will have to move through the barriers that are keeping us from being truly vision-led and capable of learning” (1990, p. 485).

What is more important, according to Senge, modern society is ready for establishing learning organizations because the preparation period with its peculiarities of developing learning technologies is over. “For a long time, efforts to build learning organizations were like groping in the dark until the skills, areas of knowledge, and paths for development of such organizations became known” (Senge, 1990, p.485).

The Factors Preventing from Achieving a Learning Organization

In the majority of cases, organizations have a row of features of a learning organization; however, it often happens that some of the important features or disciplines are not present in the organization. As a result, it appears to be impossible to achieve a learning organization for this group of people. Thus, a conclusion can be made that the first and the most important factor for achieving a learning organization is the necessity to implement all the five disciplines mentioned by Senge (Mohanty & Kar, 2012).

Besides, at times organizations are able to implement all the important techniques or disciplines, but they forget about system thinking which is important for coordinating the actions of all the team members. Senge comments, “without a systemic orientation, there is no motivation to look at how the disciplines interrelate. By enhancing each of the other disciplines, it continually reminds us that the whole can exceed the sum of its parts” (1990, p.489). In practice, when the organization has a blind pass with system thinking, its leaders are able to depict bright future in the minds of their employees, but they are not able to explain particular methods which are to be used in order to make a dream-like picture of future prosperity a reality come true (Hagen, 2011). To illustrate the importance of system thinking, it can be compared to living water which is absolutely necessary for growing a seed into a beautiful flower. In parallel, it is very pity, but sometimes it happens that an organization develops a wonderful mission concept or a seed, but as system thinking technology is not implemented in this company, this seed never grows into a beautiful flower of prosperity and wellness.

It also happens that some organizations fall victims of their mental models. For example, when the employees of such organizations face a problem they think that it is caused by the other people. They become discouraged on the reason of the situation which is inconvenient for them and lose their motivation. Such organizations’ members do not change their reality; they believe that reality changes them. However, such way of thinking is a trap because people should control their reality, and not vice versa. To illustrate this, we can imagine a dog. We know that it is quite normal when the dog wags the tail, but it is also known that is very strange if the tail wags the dog. This illustration helps make a conclusion that it is normal when people change their circumstances, but it is very bad when people are changed due to the effects of their circumstances.

Critical Reflections

The findings of Sedge’s articles are very important in modern-day society. Due to the conclusions made by the author in 1990, the business industry went far ahead and experiences dramatic progress. However, now the moment came when people need new motivation because they became discouraged on the reason of political and economical developments in the world such as wars and economical crisis of 2008. It seems that the ideas proclaimed by Sedge in the article under consideration should be advocated among all the people who are not indifferent and dream about the progress and prosperity of the humanity.

The article is full of positive points; however, negative ones can be also found. In particular, the really bad fact is that the article is lacking the information on practical means of implementation its findings to create learning organization.


Concluding on all the above-discussed information, it should be stated that Senge’s article presents a number of important findings. The most significant point in this article is a detailed discussion of five technologies which can be implemented for organizing successful business including systems thinking, personal mastery, mental model, building shared vision, and team learning. The negative point in the article is the lack of piece of advice on the implementation of its findings in practice.


Bodaken, B., Fritz, R., & Senge, P. (2012). The Managerial Moment of Truth. Managerial Moment Of Truth, 1.

Hagen, T. M. (2011). LEADERSHIP BEST PRACTICES. Five Steps to Becoming a Learning Organization. EMS World, 40(12), 91-92.

Kelly, D. (2009). From Senge to Habermas: Reconceiving “Discourse” for Educational Learning Organizations. Philosophy Of Education Yearbook, 104-112.

Mohanty, K., & Kar, S. (2012). Achieving Innovation and Success: Organizational Learning. SCMS Journal Of Indian Management, 9(1), 36-42.

Senge, P. (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Random House, Inc., 484-491.

Senge, P. (2008). Anatomy of Inspiration. T+D, 62(8), 52.

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ChalkyPapers. ""The Fifth Discipline" by Peter Senge." February 16, 2022. https://chalkypapers.com/the-fifth-discipline-by-peter-senge/.