The successful adoption of business process management (BPM) and its use as a new source of competitive advantage requires individual, team and organizational learning. After all, BPM isn’t something a company can go out and buy -- it’s a way of doing business. How does a company learn this new way of competing for the future? It takes a lot more than just acquiring new technical skills. It also takes leadership, and demands that IT professionals help the overall business organization gain the knowledge and skills it needs to succeed, for IT professionals have a unique expertise in general systems thinking that must be fostered throughout the enterprise. BPM is, indeed, about systems thinking.



Peter Senge, a senior professor of behavioral policy science at MIT and author of The Fifth Discipline, is a leading proponent of the concept of the learning organization. Senge describes four core disciplines, in addition to the fifth discipline of systems thinking, that are required to build such an organization: personal mastery, working with mental models, building shared vision and team learning. These disciplines have yet to be written into the personnel manuals of today’s corporation, but are vital to building a process-managed enterprise.

Teams and organizations can learn, just as individuals can, but the learning process is more complex. Personal mastery is a prerequisite for team learning, just as team learning is a prerequisite for organizational learning, but learning disabilities abound in all three domains: individual, team and organizational.

The process of individual adult learning is a compound challenge because learning new ways of doing work requires “unlearning” existing, ingrained thinking and work patterns. Learning is often a painful experience, as it disturbs existing deeply held assumptions, beliefs and generalizations (mental models) people use to get through the day, at home and at work. The pain level can be so significant that adults practice defensive procedures in learning situations that threaten their existing mental models.

Successful corporations of the 21st century will systematically manage their mental models. The discipline of working with mental models is a vital enabler of change, the kind of change needed for corporate transformations. Individuals are not simply updating or adding to their current knowledge. Instead they are fundamentally altering the way they think about problems, and altering the way they view their world. Companies will no doubt need to take specific steps to help individuals think “outside the box” of existing mental models. A first step is to embrace the field of creative thinking. A classic book on creative thinking is Roger von Oech’s book, A Whack on the Side of the Head. This classic takes a refreshing look at the ten mental locks that keep us from being creative.

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