Essay on Teaching Smart People How to Learn

8769 Words Jul 1st, 2011 36 Pages
Teaching Smart People How to Learn
Chris Argyris

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Chris Argyris James Bryant Conant Professor Harvard Business School

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© 1991 Harvard Business Review. Distributed by The New York Times Special Features/Syndication Sales.

ny company that aspires to succeed in the tougher business environment of the 1990s must rst resolve a basic dilemma: success in the marketplace increasingly depends on learning, yet most people don’t know how to learn. What’s more, those members of the organization that many assume to be the best at learning are, in fact, not very good at it. I am talking about the well-educated, high-powered, high-commitment professionals who occupy key leadership positions in the modern corporation. Most companies not
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Teaching people how to reason about their behavior in new and more effective ways breaks down the defenses that block learning. All of the examples that follow involve a particular kind of professional: fast-track consultants at major management consulting companies. But the implications of my argument go far beyond this speci c occupational group. The fact is, more and more jobs— no matter what the title—are taking on the contours of ‘‘knowledge work.’’ People at all levels of the organization must combine the mastery of some highly specialized technical expertise with the ability to work effectively in teams, form productive relationships with clients and customers, and critically re ect on and then change their own organizational practices. And the nuts and bolts of management—whether of high-powered consultants or service representatives, senior managers or factory technicians—increasingly consists of guiding and integrating the autonomous but interconnected work of highly skilled people.

How Professionals Avoid Learning
For 15 years, I have been conducting in-depth studies of management consultants. I decided to study consultants for a few simple reasons. First, they are the epitome of the highly educated professionals who play an increasingly central role in all organizations. Almost all of the consultants I’ve studied have MBAs from the top three or

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