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Learning Organisations & Failure to Learn

One of the best critical analyses of learning organisations is John Nagl‘s book comparing the British and US armies in Asia post World War 2.

The specifics of each organisation in its particular context are interesting from a historical perspective. However, of more importance are the general principles of learning organisations. It is interesting that Nagl identifies socio-cultural factors as important in both the ability of the British army to adapt to the situation in Malaya and in the failure of the American army to adapt to the situation in Vietnam.

Nagl brings real life military experience to his analysis (having served in the Gulf War & Iraq). But it is his understanding of the ‘soft’ issues that really stands out for me. For example, the British class structure – where everyone knew their relative position – is seen as freeing people up to accept new information. It is typical of the challenges we face in the workplace today.

Those of us who wish to democratise and empower the workplace are fighting against the forces of coercion and control. This kind of change is all about ‘soft’ issues and this book is worth a read in that light.