“The Necessary Revolution”

1 06 2008

Peter Senge is a well regarded thinker, strategist and writer currently serving as a senior lecturer at MIT.  His new book, The Necessary Revolution, to be released next week, appears to go far beyond what he was saying in 1990 in his highly acclaimed and widely read book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization.  The focus of The Fifth Discipline is how organizational structures need to change from hierarchical structures to learning teams:

“Almost everyone agrees that the command-and-control corporate model will not carry us into the twenty-first century. In a world of increasing interdependence and rapid change, it is no longer possible to figure it out from the top.  In the knowledge era, we will finally have to surrender the myth of leaders as isolated heroes commanding their organizations from on high. Top-down directives, even when they are implemented, reinforce an environment of fear, distrust, and internal competitiveness that reduces collaboration and cooperation. They foster compliance instead of commitment, yet only genuine commitment can bring about the courage, imagination, patience, and perseverance necessary in a knowledge-creating organization. For those reasons, leadership in the future will be distributed among diverse individuals and teams who share responsibility for creating the organization’s future.”  (See also Communities of Leaders and Learners, Harvard Business Review (Sept/Oct, 1997)).

Senge’s new book is about the need for much bigger shifts in organizational structures – shifts that are revolutionary – not just changes to what currently exists.  It should be an interesting read.  From the blurbs I have found on the book, Senge is convinced that very significant and lasting transformative changes are happening now and these changes are beginning to dramatically affect all of us.  His perspective of the world is much different than in 1990.  In 1990 organizations could be reshaped from within – now they must change more radically if they are going to flourish:

“A revolution is underway in today’s organizations. As Peter Senge and his co-authors reveal in The Necessary Revolution, companies around the world are boldly leading the change from dead-end ‘business as usual’ tactics to transformative strategies that are essential for creating a flourishing, sustainable world. There is a long way to go, but the era of denial has ended. Today’s most innovative leaders are recognizing that for the sake of our companies and our world, we must implement revolutionary-not just incremental-changes in the way we live and work.

“Brimming with inspiring stories from individuals and organizations tackling social and environmental problems around the globe, The Necessary Revolution reveals how ordinary people at every level are transforming their businesses and communities. By working collaboratively across boundaries, they are exploring and putting into place unprecedented solutions that move beyond just being ‘less bad’ to creating pathways that will enable us to flourish in an increasingly interdependent world.”

My interest in Senge’s research is the implication for the church – particularly how we do church in North America.  The term “working collaboratively across boundaries” strikes a strong intuitive chord in the direction I think we need to head.  I’m sure there are some that would raise the question – what does a book(s) like this have to do with the church – the church is not a business.  That thought is exactly what has the church stuck!  We have a modern history of viewing the church far too narrowly – as just another thing we do – fragmented and compartmentalized.  We need to be about so much more than just doing church.  What needs to change individually and organizationally is frankly not an easy process – and not something most of us want to experience.  But should we reach the point where we make a decision to really change what follows will be best described as revolutionary.

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