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Double loop learning

According to the cybernetic principles of articifial intelligence, a system as a whole has to learn how to handle negative feedback from the environment in a rational and intelligent way. The need to survive means it cannot not just carry on blindly.

In essence the core components of an organisation (the human beings) have to be able to carryout four distinct steps:

1. Sense, check, and study any significant elements in their environment that could have an impact on the system in some way.

2. Relate new information to the existing operating norms that are already controlling system behaviour.

3. Detect significant deviations from the operating norms, (negative feedback).

4. React quickly to this negative feedback by initiating corrective actions.

In other words stakeholders must develop the ability to question, challenge, and then change operating norms and assumptions. The system as a whole has to allow the emergence of both an appropriate strategic direction and an appropriate pattern of organization from the understanding accumulated from real time comprehensive feedback.

This questioning faculty is termed “double-loop” learning and is seen as a preference to the simpler “single-loop learning” faculty seen in simpler systems such as in a bureaucracy.

Quick definition

Single-loop learning is the facility to make appropriate corrections from negative feedback.

Double-loop learning is the ability to question the underlying assumptions about what is correct or not in the first place; then carryout the appropriate response.

Example: A thermostat will alter the heat output into a room when it breaches predefined levels. This is ­ single-loop learning.

However it is not able to determine what would be an appropriate temperature in the first place. To do that would require double-loop learning.

How can we facilitate double-loop learning within an organisation?

Integrate a collaborative leadership style into the organisation's structure

Where necessary, all parts of a system need to be able to modify their own actions. This is to take into account of new situations as they arise, without constant referral to a third party or higher authority.

The structural implications of this are that the “thinking” part of the organisation cannot be confined to just the board of directors and or a corporate planning department. The thinking part of the organisation needs to be dispersed right across the organisation. The whole organisation has to be smart not just the management. This is a key tenet of TBD's system of collaborative leadership.

For more information about TBD's ability to get the whole organisation thinking read "The secret to TBD's rapid organising power".

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