The concept of a “learning organization” is broad and cannot be covered satisfactorily in a column such as this one. However, the simple message that the proponents of this concept present is that meaningful learning within organizations cannot take place without individual learning. They go further to tell us that even though individual learning is very important, it is just one of the ingredients needed to move organizations to another level. The most important thing that organizational leaders have to do is to embrace “single and double-loop learning” for their entities to be viewed as “learning organizations.”
Single-loop learning, on one hand, deals with an organization’s ability to respond to internal and external changes without being forced to change its norms, principles and values. In responding to problems, the organization is not compelled to change its culture. This calls for the existence of internal mechanisms that can be used to assist organizations to retain their identity as they respond to the demands of their environment.
Double-loop learning, on the other hand, occurs when an organization’s response to internal and external problems leads to a change in its norms, strategies, assumptions and culture. In other words, the organization has to change or amend its basic assumptions failing which it will not be possible for it to resolve the issue(s) raised. This also calls for the existence of mechanisms that can be used to facilitate the transformation process brought about by changes in both the internal and external environment.
It is important for us to note that single and double-loop learning can take place if leaders of an organization appreciate the fact that learning is an on-going process. It is not a one-off occurrence. It seeks to assist individuals to identify their strengths and weaknesses in their pursuit of organizational goals. And most importantly, the learning process goes a long way in assisting individuals and the organization as a whole to avoid repeating mistakes which may compromise the achievement of organizational goals. It is about changing the mind set of individuals with a view to enhancing cooperation, teamwork, smooth attainment of organizational goals and maintaining the relevance and attractiveness of the organization in society. I am fully aware of the fact that unlearning old ways of thinking and doing things can be a painful exercise. But a fact of life that we have to accept is that learning has to be done one way or the other if organizations are to achieve their goals and if they are to remain relevant in our modern society. Learning is an integral part of all serious-minded organizations, hence I expect all opposition political parties in Botswana to strive to turn themselves into learning organizations. Our political landscape changed following the formation of the BCP. It changed when a new partnership was forged between the BCP and the BAM. It changed when the BMD was formed. The ascendency of Lt Gen. Khama to the leadership of the BDP and the presidency also contributed to a change in the political landscape of our country. The expectations of the citizens are also changing and so are the economic, social and cultural spheres of our society.
Despite changes in the political landscape, our opposition parties have failed to change their strategies and tactics with a view to building a credible opposition bloc or collective that can genuinely challenge and remove the BDP from power. They are self-destructive. And to borrow the words of Karl Marx when he talked about the imperfections of a capitalist system, one can say that our opposition parties are pregnant with the seeds of their own destruction. The sad reality is that they never learn from their mistakes.
They always shoot themselves in the foot because they focus on short-term personal gains rather than on the bigger picture which is that of taking power from the BDP. They are led by people who are self-centered; people who believe that they have the monopoly of wisdom. The underhand tactics that were used by some of the party representatives at the negotiation table and the current finger pointing exercise regarding the failure of the umbrella project is a clear example of political organizations directing their missiles at the wrong target. Some political activists are spitting venom at political rallies directed at other members of the opposition bloc and not the main enemy which is the BDP. Talk of organizations lacking the capacity to learn!
The collapse of the umbrella also indicates that even though some people have been active in partisan politics for many years, they have only learnt to be destructive and are therefore not contributing positively to the development of their political parties and to the efforts geared towards assuming the reigns of power. Instead of assisting their parties to respond appropriately to changes in the environment, they are the main trouble makers. As Plotinus, a Greek Philosopher, once said, “All things are filled full of signs, and it is a wise man who can learn about one thing from another” (Cook et al, 1997, p 4).
People in the opposition collective are still making the same mistakes that they made as far back as 1998. The big brother mentality that was displayed by the BNF prior to the 2009 elections which resulted in the failure of opposition cooperation talks is now used by the BCP against the BMD and the BPP. The BCP does not seem to have learnt anything positive from their talks with the BNF in 2008 except to bully the so called “small political parties without manifestos.”
The question that I asked in this column two weeks ago is: why did the BCP, as a big party led by very intelligent people, waste its precious time and resources negotiating with small parties like the BMD and the BPP over a period of eight months? The latest media reports indicate that the BCP is becoming more isolated as it does not want the umbrella project to be resuscitated whereas other stakeholders (including the BNF that they have all of sudden fallen in love with) are of the view that the umbrella is the only way forward. Fact: the BCP alone cannot wrestle power from the BDP. Fact: a pact between the BCP and the BNF can never be formed for reasons that are well known to people who understand the history of the two parties. Time is nigh for all our opposition political parties to introspect and chart the way forward. Their decisions on how they move forward must be based on the lessons that they learnt from the umbrella negotiations and its collapse. They must differentiate between what they say they will do in a hypothetical situation and what they actually do if that situation becomes a reality. As Winston Churchill once said, “To look is one thing. To see what you look at is another. To understand what you see is another. To learn from what you understand is something else. But to act on what you learn is all that really matters” (Cook et al, 1997, p 4).
May God bless the mighty Zebras.
Dr. Mothusi teaches Public Administration at University of Botswana