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The Power of Collaborative Leadership:
Lessons for the Learning Organization

Talking Revolution: Reflections by Two Early Explorers

Travel is the universal metaphor for change.
—Daniel Boorstein

Why a book by two senior line managers talking about Organizational Learning?

There are three reasons:

First, the topic is, we believe, extremely important because the business world is in great need of change. If the recent burgeoning of trends and "fads" in the field of business management tells us anything, it tells that the field of management is in flux. To the observer, it seems that business management is searching for new ideas and quickly jumping from one to the other, hunting for the magic bullet. Yet, simultaneously, there is a sense that much in the world of business management is intransigent, staying the same despite a need for change and despite solid evidence that supports change. It is a contradictory image. On another front, the cartoon "Dilbert" depicts the corporate environment as a place where people are frustrated, even defeated, by insidious and virulent nonsense, as if Alice's tea party were no longer the exception, but the rule. The popularity of "Dilbert" sends a frightening message, that a certain kind of madness is global.

In sum, the picture painted of many business organizations is that they are at a chaotic turning point—challenged by enormous change without, and enmeshed in inconsistencies and a good deal of personal pain within.

This leads us to our second reason for this book. We believe that we have a potent response in Organizational Learning (OL). As a new management field, Organizational Learning seems to offer great promise—but we have a very incomplete picture. There is a rich body of thought on organizational learning, some research, and much incisive philosophy, but the bridge from here to there has not yet been built. Although some of the elements have been defined—such as the five "disciplines," tools, and techniques—there is not yet a blueprint for that bridge. There is no proven "architecture of engagement" and no guaranteed method for successfully including the doubtful, the indifferent, and the adverse. There is a vision, but a clear pathway to that vision is uncharted.

Can we re-create our business organizations, making them more effective and saner, or is this just a pipe dream? What will it really take to bring about this transformation? These are questions an increasing number of people in the business world are beginning to ask, but where will the answers come from?

We believe that the answers will not come from the academics or the consultants. Ultimately, these answers can come only from the people within the business environment, businesspeople who are willing—and courageous enough—to engage with the questions. So say the authors of this book. After the visions have been articulated and the theory formulated, the job of bringing about the learning organization ultimately falls to the businesspeople who see in this concept the potential for re-making their corporations. The transformation of business organizations lies in their hands.

Therefore the third reason for this book is that the OL field needs to hear the voices of actual businesspeople. We need to close the gap between academics, consultants, and the businesspeople. We need to hear our own voices.

Most management books are written by well-informed and accomplished academics or consultants who suggest a new theory or a different approach to business issues. Generally, this new theory is based on research into a small number of cases, and many of the assumptions which underlie the theory are not clearly in view. The next step is for the business community to test the theory and see if it works. In this model, the business community stands to benefit greatly from the wisdom of these external experts, but businesses also bear the lion's share of risk and consequences.

But books are different from practice. While books stir hope, help create vision, and energize passion, they often fail to discuss the enormity of the challenges intrinsic to organizational transformation efforts. Because of their theoretical nature, these books chart new territory, but they cannot address the very inadequacy of the untested navigational tools they provide. And they generally do not address the very real risks to both self-concept and career that practitioners who embark on these journeys may experience.

What is needed, the authors believe, is greater dialogue and a more equal share in accountability between the theory-makers and the theory-testers. To start that dialogue, we must begin to hear more of the voices from "the trenches." Little has been written about organizational change from the viewpoint of those involved. This book will fill a crucial void.

We also need to engage in generative conversations with each other. Like early explorers, we believe that we can only learn about the Organizational Learning territory by telling each other about our journeys. Those who have gone before can illuminate the parts of the path they understand so that others can find their way. We need the empirical research, but we also need the stories and the personal reflections on those stories. We need to learn to talk aloud about our failures and our subsequent learnings.

For all these reasons, this book is written as a conversation. It is our hope that the conversation will have a familiar ring, that we will say the things that you are also thinking, ask the questions that you are asking. And we hope that we provoke your thinking further, that you will raise the issues we haven't raised and ask the questions yet unspoken. We believe that the path to organizational transformation is a journey to be traveled and spoken, argued and walked, told and charted. In time, through dialogue, we will understand the territory—and, through learning, we will transform it.