MIT's Senge says that change must begin with new approaches by business
March 24, 2007
Phil Brozynski, Media Relations Manager
Peter M. Senge, Ph. D., senior lecturer in Behavorial and Policy Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, doesn’t want to sound like a fatalist.
But he warns that the planet faces a bleak future if we don’t change the way we do things.
Senge recently lectured at Benedictine University as part of the Contemporary Trends in Change Management Lecture Series sponsored by the Department of Management and Organizational Behavior (M.O.B.) and the Ph.D. program in Organization Development. He chastised business for not taking a more active role in preserving the environment.
“This country generates one-third of all the greenhouse gases in the world and we have only 5 percent of the population,” he said. “In their haste to mass produce food, large farming combines have destroyed enough topsoil to cover India and China. Today, the average pound of food travels 2,000 miles to reach its destination.”
Environmental problems are not proprietary to the United States, however.
“Glaciers that feed rivers in northern India are disappearing, creating wide areas of drought,” Senge said. “In Africa and Asia, people who used to farm and produce their own food are being chased off their land.”
Large corporations have contributed to the world’s environmental problems.
“Businesses run on electricity, and most electricity comes from burning coal,” he said. “We’ve got to change. The question is how?”
Change won’t come from governments or even large groups of citizens, Senge said. Ironically, the source of many of the world’s environmental problems is also the best hope for its salvation.
“The source of innovation in modern society is business,” he said. “Business is really important in how things change in society.”
Senge said that many companies have aggressively changed the way they do business. Automobile manufacturers like British Motor Works in Great Britain have learned to literally recycle their cars. Others have moved to eliminate lead and mercury from their products.
“Some companies lead and others don’t,” Senge said. “Companies have learned that by getting there first, they have an advantage. It all comes down to organization. Now the question is, ‘How does a company get proactive?’ ”
Senge, who has lectured extensively throughout the world, was named one of the 24 people who has had the greatest influence on business strategy over the last 100 years by The Journal of Business Strategy. The Financial Times named him one of the world’s “top management gurus.” Business Week rated Senge one of the top 10 management gurus.
He is the founding chair of the Society for Organizational Learning and the author of several books including the recently revised “The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization.” Senge and his research associate, George L. Roth, shared their ideas with more than 140 people at the Tellabs Lecture Hall.
Senge said that companies must learn to change. Change, and more specifically how organizations think, was the topic of Senge’s presentation at Benedictine.
“What we are doing is looking at different approaches to change,” Senge said. “In particular, the importance of systems thinking and looking more broadly at systems.”
Systems thinking is based on system dynamics. It provides a way of understanding practical business issues, looks at systems in terms of particular types of cycles (archetypes), and includes an explicit system modeling of complex issues. Also, systems thinking sees interrelationships rather than linear cause-effect chains and sees processes of change rather than snapshots.
Ultimately, systems thinking simplifies life by helping people to see the deeper patterns lying behind the events and the details.
“Organizations that fail to learn usually don’t survive,” Senge said.
Benedictine University is an independent Roman Catholic institution located in Lisle, Illinois just 25 miles west of Chicago. Founded in 1887, Benedictine provides 56 undergraduate majors, 16 graduate and four doctorate programs. The Chronicle of Higher Education
recently ranked Benedictine University as the seventh fastest-growing campus among private nonprofit master’s universities, and Forbes
magazine named Benedictine among the top 20 percent of America’s colleges for 2011. Benedictine University’s Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) program is listed by Crain’s Chicago Business
as the fourth largest in the Chicago area in 2011.