Do you recognise learning disabilities in the systems you are part of?

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Disability 1: ‘I am my Position’

I am planning to write the first series of articles about ‘Organisational Learning Disabilities’ the concept introduced by Peter Senge his book ‘The Fifth Discipline, 1990.

He starts Chapter 2- ‘ Does your organisation have learning disability?’ with:

“Few large corporations live even half as long as a person. In 1983, a Royal Dutch/Shell survey found that one-third of the firms in the Fortune “500” in 1970 had vanished. Shell estimated that the average lifetime of the largest industrial enterprises is less than forty years, roughly half the lifetime of a human being!”

In this book, he talks about seven Learning disabilities that human organisations or systems inherently have. The first one is : “I am my position”, a tendency to over identify with one’s role in a system, but not with the purpose or the vision of the system.

The place where you can see this in a social context is how most of us introduce ourselves to strangers ‘I am head of engineering in ….’ Or ‘I am project manager in …..’ And so on. This is so deep and unconscious that we over identify with the position or role we hold in a system.

What happens due to this disability:

  • We become blind to other people’s views.
  • We do not see the whole system.
  • We get stuck with ‘my truths’.
  • We start ‘blaming others’.
  • We focus on ‘local optima’ not the ‘global optima’.
  • We start focusing on ‘departmental goals’, team goals’ and one’s own KRAs / KPIs, but not on the ‘organisational objectives’.

All these lead to members of an organisation playing Zero-sum games at the cost of organisational goals.

As Peter says in his book “Learning disabilities are tragic in children, especially when they go undetected. They are no less tragic in organisations, where they also go largely undetected. The first step in curing them is to begin to identify the seven learning disabilities.”

Can we observe how we play ‘I am my position’ everyday in different systems we are part of including our own families?

Please do share your reflections.

With inputs from Deepa Ram Bhat

The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of the learning organisation:Peter M. Senge

Originally published at




I enable transformation of systems - be it individuals, organisations or communities. I believe in creating a borderless, sustainable, world.

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Raja Chidambaram

Raja Chidambaram

I enable transformation of systems - be it individuals, organisations or communities. I believe in creating a borderless, sustainable, world.

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