Double loop learning

If there is one thing  that is critical to business it is change.

Every product or service sold helps a customer to create change. Whether it’s a hedge trimmer that helps them to change from a messy garder to a tidy one; a sandwich that changes them from feeling hungry to feeling full; a haircut that takes them from looking scruffy to feeling good about themselves; a car that takes them from A to B; or a consulting firm that takes its customers from being unprofitable to profitable. For example.

Businesses make more money when they learn how to cut costs or improve their products/services.

So learning is at the heart of business success.

Gregory Bateson, and later Argyris and Schön, pointed out that there are two types of learning. 

The first, called single loop learning, is like a thermostat: it compares where the business is now with where we want it to be, and then takes action to close the gap.

The second, called double loop learning, is about realising that maybe the thermostat is set to the wrong temperature and we need to change the dial. Or even that temperature is not the right thing to be measuring. We need to switch to tracking air pressure or oxygen levels or something different.

Double loop learning is always more difficult, especially for people who have become used to focusing on the thermostat. But it offers the potential for the greatest improvements.

Permabusiness is focused primarily on single loop learning — more efficient and effective ways to focus on the key thermostats that matter:

  • customer satisfaction
  • use of resources
  • making money
  • balancing of these
  • changes over time
  • strategic positioning
  • strategic connectivity

But the possibility that there is some deeper truth that we have overlooked, the possibility that we are measuring the wrong things or missing something key, is important to keep in mind as well.

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