The Role and Value of Diversity to Learning Organizations and Innovation

The Role and Value of Diversity to Learning Organizations and Innovation

Viviane S. Lopuch (Marist College, USA) and Daniel Cochece Davis (Illinois State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6006-9.ch011
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Abstract

Learning organizations are environments promoting individual and team learning capabilities. Learning organization concepts, embraced by a growing number of organizations throughout the world, are strategies for competing in dynamic economic environments. Globally, leaders across varying industries continue to strive to build learning organizations that improve effectiveness and possess an ability to continuously evolve. Learning organizations depend on effective communication, a chief component of leadership influence. They also require thinking from as many perspectives as possible, in order to change and grow in response to anticipated and existing external pressures. These perspectives emerge from the variety of experiences coming from diverse individuals, and leaders must recognize these as critical resources in organizations' ability to learn, manage change, and facilitate innovation. This chapter explores learning organization variables, arguing that diversity and leadership communication are important co-factors in successfully implementing learning organization principles leading to innovation.
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Introduction

With the publication of the book The Fifth Discipline, Senge (1990) introduced the business management community to the concept of the “learning organization:” an organization “that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future” and is “engaged in a deep learning cycle” (Senge, 1990, p. 14). The learning organization concept incorporated ideas pertaining to organizational learning from “pioneering work conducted by Chris Argyris at Harvard University and Donald Schon at MIT” (Morgan, 1997, p. 88). Argyris was also influenced by Schein’s (1997) works, “one of the founders of the field of organizational psychology” (Hesselbein, Goldsmith, & Beckhard, 1996, p. 59), and author of Organizational Culture and Leadership (Schein, 1997), as well as the ideas of Arie De Geus, “coordinator of worldwide planning at Royal Dutch Shell” (Fulmer, Gibbs, & Keys, 1998, p. 8), who explored learning from an institutional perspective. Senge (1990), influenced by their collective ideas about organizational management, organizational culture and organizational learning, made those ideas accessible to business managers and leaders by combining them into one concept: the learning organization. The Fifth Discipline “popularized the notion” (Yeo, 2005, p. 369) that learning is fundamental to contemporary organizational survival and growth, and that organizations’ future viability clearly depends on their ability to learn. The present work extends this understanding to include the role of “innovation” in learning organizations. Innovation is often defined in terms of an ability to find new solutions to given challenges, or improving process by finding different ways of approaching a situation, rather than “improvement” that incrementally changes the efficiency of a process or product (Davila, Epstein, & Shelton, 2006; Salge & Vera, 2012). Although innovation is often viewed as an outcome of creative organizational processing (Rogers, 1962), innovation can only occur through the type of learning occurring during the presence of diverse perspectives, and at the organizational level, an appreciation, if not celebration, of that diversity. Perhaps more directly, Khan (1989) notes that innovation is greatly dependent on the organizational culture. As such, learning organizations are inherently more innovative than organizations not possessing learning organization elements.

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