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« Academy ot Managemeal Learning and Education, 2002, Vol. 1, No. 2, 206 -218.

Double-Loop Learning,
Teaching, and Research
Harvard University and Monitor Company Group

A new genre of case methodology is described that can be used to help participants
diagnose and increase their competence in helping themselves and others to become
more effective leaders, learners, and facilitatoTS of double-loop change. The case
methodology can, at the same time, test features of theory using a quasiexperimental

Learning may be defined as the detection and cor- how the learning context can be used as a test of
rection of error. SingJe-Joop learning occurs when the very features of the theory used to design the
errors are corrected without altering the underly- learning experience.
ing governing values. For example, a thermostat is The article is divided into three parts. The first
programmed to turn on if the temperature in the describes the learning experience wherein the
room is cold, or turn off the heat if the room be- methodology was used. The description draws
comes too hot. Double-loop learning occurs when heavily upon transcripts of the tape recordings
errors are corrected by changing the governing made of the entire learning experience. The sec-
values and then the actions. A thermostat is dou- ond introduces the relevant theory-of-action con-
ble-loop learning if it questions why it is pro- cepts that were used to design and implement the
grammed to measure temperature, and then ad- learning experience. The third part explores how
justs the temperature itself. the learning experience can also serve as a
quasiexperiment to test features of the theory of
Double-loop learning occurs when errors
are corrected by changing the governing
values and then the actions. A thermostat PART 1
is douhle-loop learning if it questions The Case and the Learning Experience
why it is programmed to measure The group described in this paper was composed
temperature, and then adjusts the of 34 chief executive officers (CEOs) who were at-
temperature itself. tending a 3-day conference on leadership and
learning. My component consisted of three 2-hour
We find that many people espouse double-loop sessions.
learning, are unable to produce it, are blind to their The participants read the "Andy Case" ahead of
incompetencies, and are unaware that they are time. It tells the story of how Andy failed to become
blind. This pattern is so common that we call it a a CEO in a company that hired him on as the COO
generic "antilearning" pattern (Argyris, 1993; Argy- fully expecting that he would become the CEO.
ris & Schon, 1996). The case describes the authors' diagnosis of the
This article describes a new methodology to help errors Andy made that led to his demise (Ciampa &
individuals gain insight into and enhance their Watkins, 1999). The authors state:
competence for helping themselves and others to
detect and correct difficult, potentially embarrass- First, Andy did not learn enough about the
ing, or threatening, problems. Second, it shows organization. He failed to use the time before
entry to jump-start his transition. Once
aboard, he did not learn enough about the
I thank Professors Clay Alderfer, Richard Hackman, and An- politics and culture of the company. When he
drew Pettigrew for their very helplul comments and advice. did focus on learning, he concentrated on ar-
2002 Argyzis 207

turity caused him to make several bad judg-

ments. A need to be seen as competent and in
control blocked learning and prevented him
from building supportive coalitions. His fail-
ure to manage stress, combined with his be-
lief that his plan was correct, led him to
blame others and kept him from recognizing
warning signs or seeking advice (Ciampa &
Watkins, 1999: 9).

The faculty member (FM) introduced the case by

stating that its purpose was to help participants
become more aware of their effectiveness in help-
ing others—in this case Andy—to become more
effective leaders.
The FM would role-play Andy, striving to make
his behavior consistent with that of Andy in the
case. If, at any time, people doubted the validity of
his role-play, the FM asked that they please feel
free to surface those beliefs.
The role-play by FM has two major components:
(1) A genuine acknowledgment that he (Andy) did
produce the aforementioned errors, and (2) a gen-
uine desire to learn not to repeat these errors in
some future opportunity. There are several reasons
for these components. The first is to create a situ-
ation where the participants are not facing an
"Andy" who is strongly resistant to learning. This
Chris Argyris should help reduce the likelihood that, if the par-
ticipants fail to help Andy, it is not caused primar-
ily by Andy's resistance. The second is to use
eas he already knew well and assumed prob- Andy's responses as explicit cues to the partici-
lems elsewhere could be resolved easily. pants about their helpful and unhelpful actions.

Second, he overemphasized action at the ex-

pense of understanding what it would take to Illustrations of What Happened
make changes. He moved ahead with his
agenda rather than combining what he be- The following material is taken from transcripts of
lieved to be important with what was impor- two sessions. Each session lasted about 2 hours.
tant to Ted (the CEO). In the process, he forgot The first illustrates how Andy {role-played by FM)
who was the boss. introduced his request for help and the dialogue
that followed. The second session illustrates what
happened when the FM asked the participants (PI,
Third, Andy failed to motivate others, espe-
P2, etc.) to reflect on their experiences of the first
cially the senior managers in Manufacturing
and Engineering, to abandon their comfort-
able habits and work patterns.
Session 1
Fourth, he became isolated. Andy never built
coalitions to support his efforts to transform Andy (role-played by FM) begins.
the organization. He also misread existing co- Andy: You know folks, I was sucked into man-
alitions, overvaluing his initial mandate from aging this company, especially during
a key board member and failing to build a the courting period. They said they
constructive working relationship with Ted. needed me, that I was the best candidate,
and they promised that I would be the
Finally, Andy did not manage himself well. next executive. Now, I did some things
His overconfident personality and lack of ma- wrong. And, that is what I want to focus
208 Academy oi Management Leaming and Education December

on. I do not want to repeat this experience that this was a fat and happy organiza-
again. tion. These attributes had to be changed ...
PI: I think you should have spent more time P2: I would say that you can't believe every-
interviewing your direct reports, learning thing you hear. You have to be careful;
their skill sets— you can't be naive.
Andy: I have two reactions. One is that I did a lot Andy: I am not sure that I understand. Are you
of that. But, as I now see it, I probably saying that I, Andy, am naive?
behaved ineffectively during those inter- P2: Yes.
views. I need to learn how I should be- Andy: Well, what is it that led you to this con-
have during these sessions. What is it clusion, that I am naive?
that you think I should have done more P2: Just because the CEO and board said that,
of? it doesn't mean that you should accept it.
PI: Show a simple force of strength . . . de- Andy: Well, you are right. I was naive. I didn't
velop measures for a baseline. think that he was playing games with me.
Andy: No, I didn't do that. When I develop these Reflection. Andy defends his actions by placing
measures, what do I do with them, do I the blame on the CEO and certain board members.
give them to my immediate reports? For example, Andy states that he was acting to
PI: Sure. satisfy the CEO and the board's demands for
Andy: Then what do I do? growth and for changing the "fat and happy" organ-
PI: Measure their performance. ization. P2 responds that Andy was being naive.
Andy: And how would this help me to overcome Andy eventually admits that this may be true, but
the errors that I made? says he acted consistently with the demands that
PI: Well, you could then back up your deci- he be decisive and shake up the organization.
sions, for example, with firing the two ex- As the dialogue becomes repetitive, some mem-
ecutives, with quantifiable evidence. bers try a different strategy, namely, that Andy
Reflection. The FM strives to identify any gaps and should have paid more attention to the organiza-
inconsistencies in Pi's advice that are likely to tional defenses and politics. This provided Andy
make the advice—from Andy's perspective—less the opportunity to project the blame on the CEO
effective. For example, PI does not specify the ac- and the board, saying that he acted in ways to
tual behaviors he has in mind when he advises fulfill his promises to both bodies. From Andy's
Andy "to interview," "to learn," and "to show a perspective, he acted decisively.
simple force of strength." Up to this point, we have a dialogue where Andy
PI does not appear aware of these gaps. When expresses that the participants' advice was not
"Andy" asks him to make his advice more concrete, helpful, and he defends his actions.
he remains at an abstract level. When Andy asks Andy: I think you are telling me that I screwed
PI how he believes his advice would help to over- up. It may be true—yes, it is true, but I
come the errors that he made, PI responds that he don't find what corrective action that you
could fire the two executives with more legitimacy believe I should take.
because he had quantifiable data to support such P3: Andy, if you could go back and do one
actions. Such interactions begin to build the case thing differently, what would it be?
that Pi's actions are counterproductive to the very Andy: I would not have taken the job. If I had
learning he advises Andy to produce, and that he known that Ted was not ready to give up
is unaware of this counterproductiveness. the CEO position, I would never have
taken the job. When a board member
P2: You should have learned more about the
bangs his fist on the table while he is
workplace culture, especially his position.
telling you to grow the company and an-
For example, learn more about the rela- other tells you the organization is fat and
tionships these executives had with the happy, and a third tells me explicitly that
CEO. Ted is ready to leave, then I acted. I think
Andy: Yeah, but the CEO, Ted, and the board some of you are saying I should have
kept telling me to focus on growth, done a better job of due diligence. But
growth, and growth. Also, they told me how?
P3: You were making changes that harmed
the organization.
' The participants are numbered sequentially as they speak. PI Andy: No, I don't believe that for a moment. I
in this section may not be PI in another section. was helping the organization.
2002 Argyris 209

P3: Well then, I don't think that you will learn P5: But you didn't go directly to the CEO and
much from our trying to help you. pose any difficult questions, such as "If
Andy: Are you telling me that when I tell you we move to replace these people who will
what I honestly believe, you can conclude support my actions?"
that I can't learn? What is the reasoning Andy: You are right. It never dawned on me that
behind your conclusion? they would not have supported me. Not
Reflection. The dialogue appears to be a recipe for with all the stuff they told me about being
creating feelings of frustration for both the advisee decisive and move the fat and happy or-
and advisors. If such feelings were brewing, they ganization. See, I said that I am going to
were not voiced. At some point, however, they are show them what I can do.
likely to surface, if no other reason than Andy is P6: Maybe you should have studied the rela-
evaluating the advice negatively and acting de- tionship between the CEO and his imme-
fensively. At the end of the P2 episode, for exam- diate reports more carefully.
ple, Andy states: "I think you are telling me that I Andy: Yes, I think that the board told me that the
screwed up. It may be true . . . but I don't find what CEO built the company, and there is a lot
corrective action (you specify) that I should take." of loyalty to him and he feels a lot of
Reflecting on P3's interventions, the advisors for loyalty to people. I also heard from the
the first time began to focus on the ineffectiveness board that this is part of the problem.
of their dialogue with Andy. The focus was upon Remember, they told me that they had two
what was going on in the room. The second feature or three good inside candidates, but they
was that P3's advice was crafted in ways that decided that they had to look outside.
made it easy for Andy to place the blame on others. PI: Andy, as I hear you, you decided that you
P4: I hear you using a lot of "you" statements, didn't really need to hear from the old
but not a lot of "I" statements. How does guard. It was like you made a decision
that help you to learn? that they were not going to change, and
Andy: I started this by saying that I needed help. they had to go right from the beginning.
So far the advice that I am getting tells What chance did they have under your
me: "You did create the errors (listed in regime to catch your vision and for you to
the case material), you should start by bring them on board the team?
correcting the errors," but how do I correct Andy: Well, I admit I was biased against poor
the errors? You tell me I should have got- performance.
ten close to the CEO. I don't disagree with P8: Maybe you are trying to protect yourself.
that. I'm just trying to figure out what I Andy: There is plenty of data that I protected
could have said. myself and got myself in trouble. I want to
P4: Ask the CEO, "What do you do when you learn how to not repeat that.
take care of these people that you say are P9: Maybe you should have talked more
fat and happy? What would you like to openly and frequently with board mem-
see done?" bers.
Andy: Well they told me, "Energize these people, Andy: Yes, what would I have said? And how do
you run the show." I deal with the CEO? What do I say?
Reflection. Of interest is the fact that P4 was a The dialogue continues with escalating differ-
faculty member of another CEO workshop de- ences on behalf of all the participants, for exam-
signed to help the attendees become more effec- ple, P8 attributes simplistic solutions to Andy.
tive leaders. One of the bits of advice in his frame- Andy responds that he is getting simplistic advice.
work was that successful executives should first P8 counters that Andy seeks to protect himself.
take responsibility for their actions (hence make Andy replies that he wants to learn. P9 advises
more "I" statements). Indeed, P4 showed a lami- Andy to overcome his blind spots. Andy counters,
nated card that included this advice. He used the "How?"
card to help him craft advice. P4 said that this When one participant's advice focused away
episode helped him to see that using the card as he from what is happening in the room, the FM de-
did, in fact did not help Andy to take on more cided it was time for him to intervene. The criteria
responsibility for these actions. He also realized that he used to do so included:
that he never thought of using the advice on the
card to help him to see that the way he used the
card actually helped Andy to reject that he needed 1. Data were generated that the advice was
counterproductive and that the way it was
such advice. crafted was also counterproductive.
210 Academy ol Management Learning and Education December

2. Similarly, data were generated that Andy's ac- Andy during their role-play. The reactions were
tions led the advisors to attribute that Andy quick and strong.
was closed.
3. Every time the advisors or Andy said some- • "We doubt that Andy is genuinely interested in
thing that focused on the here-and-now inter- changing."
action, the group dealt with it by going back to • "Andy espouses that he wants to learn, but he is
the situation in the firm. closed to learning."
• "Andy seeks that advice that will make it pos-
The FM concluded that these features recurred sible for him to blame the others."
• "Andy seeks absolute contiol of the situation."
so often that it was unlikely that the advisors or
Andy would act in ways to interrupt or reduce the The second objective was to use their replies to
escalating counterproductive dialogue. help the group members begin to examine the ex-
tent to which they had some responsibility for the
frustrations they experienced, such as placing all
the blame for their ineffectiveness with Andy upon
Session 2
Andy. For example, after several evaluations and
The FM says, "I should like to stop the role-play attributions that Andy was closed to learning, the
and ask us to do some reflecting on the past half FM asked if anyone heard Andy say that he agreed
hour or so. How do you feel about Andy? How does with their advice, but he did not know how to
Andy feel about you?" implement it. The group members responded by
PI: He is a very frustrating individual. He says blaming Andy. Andy, in turn, responded to their
he wants to learn, but I doubt it. There is help primarily by blaming the board and the CEO
really no discussion, no sharing of ideas. He for his troubles. The FM points out that they appear
listens to a statement, then issues a defen- to be dealing with their own failures by blaming
sive, "you just don't understand." Andy. Andy dealt with his failures by blaming the
P2: I felt that Andy was waiting for the answer CEO and the board. They were dealing with Andy
he wanted to hear. He kept saying to me that in the same way that they criticized him.
he was not open to our advice. A second line of intervention with Andy could
FM: Did you ever hear Andy say, "I agree with have been to examine his claim that their advice
your advice, but I don't know how to imple- was abstract. No one responded to the criticisms
ment it?" by saying that it was not their intention to be
P2: Yes, he said that, but when he had an op- unhelpful about their advice, or about the way that
portunity to react, he was not open to learn- they crafted the advice. The group members
ing. agreed that no one made such inquiries. The rea-
FM: What did Andy say that illustrates that he son given was that Andy was closed.
was closed? These replies illustrate features of defensive
P3: He kept changing the topic, blaming the reasoning. They begin with the premise that Andy
board and the CEO. was wrong when he claimed that the group's ad-
P4: I am confused when he says to me that my vice was abstract and unhelpful. When asked
advice is abstract, and therefore he cannot what led them not to test this conclusion, they
put it into practice. responded, in effect, that there was "not much
FM: Did anyone hear someone say something sense in doing so because Andy was closed." This
like, "Andy, if I am going to help you, I need is not a valid test of their claim that Andy was
to know more about what it is that you find closed to learning, because the claim was part of
unhelpful about my advice?" I do not recall their premise.
hearing any such comment. FM: May I ask, how do you think Andy feels
P5: To me, Andy was saying, "yeah, that is a about us?
great idea," and then he dismissed it. He did P7: He is a victim.
not say, in effect, "let's explore that further," P8: Not understood.
it was a closed door. FM: And, that is what Andy said about the board
FM: Perhaps Andy feels that way about you as members and the CEO. They didn't under-
consultants. He asks for your advice to be stand him, that he was a victim, etc. So, as
more concrete. He feels that this was not Andy, I am trying to figure out how I am
done. going to get the help that I need.
The FM had two objectives during this second P9: I go back to an earlier remark. What Andy
session. The first was to ask the group members to needs is quantifiable information [that
express publicly any feelings that they had about could be used to back up his firing].
2002 Argyris 211

PIO: My feeling Is that I can't offer anything to blindness and increasing his skills. The first ques-
this guy that will work. tions to ask are "How come Andy was so blind?"
FM: May I reflect on what is being said to Andy? and "How do we explain his lack of skills?"
Let us begin with Andy's beliefs about what is
Andy, 1 tried to give you helpful advice; effective leadership behavior. Andy gives us many
1 did it vi/ith the best of intentions: cues about his beliefs, for example, to be an effec-
1 was immediately told that it wouldn't work; tive leader:
1 tried to figure out why it would not work;
• Be action-oriented, i.e.. make getting the job
You told me that you could not trust the CEO; done a very high priority. Give of yourself for
You didn't give me any reason or didn't illus- the sake of the organization.
trate your attribution about the CEO; • Hire managers who hold the same beliefs and
So Andy, 1 am left with the feeling that I know degree of commitment.
of no way that 1 can help you. • Reward such managers.
• Reduce the barriers that are obstacles to the
So when you ask for help, 1 say (to myself) aforementioned, e.g., try to help individuals
not me. with poor or mediocre performance to improve.
If they do not improve, remove them. It is
Is this a fair summary of your views and not lair to saddle good performers with poor
perhaps of others?
PIO: You said it better than I did. Three important features characterize these be-
(Two other voices—"Yes") liefs. First, the beliefs are in the form of causal
FM: This illustrates an important puzzle. What I claims. Andy claims if he behaves consistently
said [above] came from comments made by with each belief, (hen he will be an effective
members of this class. You know what to leader. The second feature is that the causal
say, but you do not say it. How come? claims form a moral basis for effective leadership.
Before we return to this puzzle, the FM notes a For example, Andy values personal responsibility,
pattern in the actions of the members with Andy, tough performance standards, and being action-
that is, the dialogue took on the features of esca- oriented. The third feature is that the claims are
lating errors and defensiveness, which became crafted in ways such that their validity is difficult
self-reinforcing and self-sealing. These features to test because they are stated in abstract terms.
did not help to produce effective learning on any- They do not specify the behavior required to im-
body's part. Moreover, the features were kept pri- plement them. For example, are there not condi-
vate and unvoiced until the frustration became tions where being focused primarily on the task
intolerable and the FM intervened to make all this might lead to ineffective leadership? Or where hir-
discussable. ing managers who are like him could create a
This pattern has been found frequently. We have conformity-oriented culture that limits exploring
labeled it as a generic counferproducfive anti- significantly different ideas?
learning pattern that occurs when human beings The next question is, "To what extent do Ted and
are trying to solve problems that are potentially or the board bear some responsibility for the prob-
actually embarrassing, or threatening to their lems?" They also held beliefs about what the com-
sense of competence in solving such problems (Ar- pany needed. Recall, for example, their call to:
gyris, 1993; Argyris & Schon, 1996).
• Shake up the place.
• Get rid of the complacency.
PART 2 • Transform the management mentality from "fat
and happy" to lean and tough.
Using a Theory of Action Perspective to • Focus on innovation.
Understand and Explain the Story in Part 1
Their beliefs are causal claims about the leader-
The "Andy" Case describes the errors he made that ship the company requires to enhance its perfor-
led to his demise. The participants in this example mance. Moreover, as in the case of Andy, their
(as well as those in six other settings in which the claims are stated in abstract terms.
Andy Case has been used) see the source of his We have identified two basic causes of the prob-
errors as a lack of knowledge and skills, for exam- lems between Andy, Ted, and the board. First,
ple, Andy did not deal effectively with politics, Andy's theory of effective leadership contains sev-
culture, and motivating people. But Andy made it eral important gaps. It spells out effective results
clear he had become aware of his blindness. The as he defines them. It does not spell out how—if he
help that he was seeking included reducing his acts according to his views of effective leader-
212 Academy of Management Learning and Education December

ship—he might alienate key people and reduce If we step back and look at the entire case dis-
the likelihood of getting necessary feedback to be- cussion, we find that:
come aware of counterproductive impact. Andy's
theory of effective leadership does not spell out • Andy was ineffective as a COO in the com-
how to deal with those individuals who cannot pany.
meet his standards—other than getting them out of • Ted and the board members were ineffective in
the way. dealing with Andy.
• The participants in the class were ineffective
Ted and the board members' view of effective in helping Andy.
action specified the results they wanted for the • Andy was inefiective in helping the partici-
organization; however, they also failed to make pants provide him with the advice that he
explicit the extent that they would tolerate Andy needed.
(or anyone else) acting as he did. Nor did they spell
out what they knew at the outset, namely, that their Thus we see that interactions between Andy,
strategy for dealing with differences would be to Ted, and the board, Andy and the class, and the
bypass the differences and cover up that bypass. class with Andy, created conditions that were not
As was true ior Andy, their position of how to only counterproductive to learning but also were
reduce any barriers to their views by Andy's (or self-reinforcing and self-fueling of this lack of
anyone else's) ineffective actions was to ask him to learning.
leave. As in the case of Andy, they [the CEO and How can we explain these observations?
board members] were unaware and unaware that
they were unaware, due to skilled incompetence.
A Theory of Action Perspective
[The CEO and board members] were We have found that beliefs or espoused theories
unaware and unaware that they were vary widely. Theories-in-use do not. The theory-
in-use that is most prevalent is labeled Model I. To
unaware, due to skilled incompetence. date, the use of Model I is consistent, regardless of
gender, race, culture, education, wealth, and type
They recommended the following to help Andy: of organization (Argyris, 1990, 1993, 2000; Argyris,
Putnam, & Smith, 1985; Argyris & Schon, 1996).
• Help Andy make explicit his views about effec- Briefly, Model I theory-in-use is composed of four
tive leadership and then help him to identify- governing variables: (a) be in unilateral control; (b)
any inconsistencies in these views. strive to win and not lose; (c) suppress negative
• Help Andy to specify the features, if any, of his feelings; and (d) act rationally (see Figure 1). These
theory of effective leadership that inform him actions must be performed in such a way that
about how to deal with these inconsistencies
so that they do minimal damage. satisfy the actors' governing values—that is, they
• Help Andy to specify the features of his theory achieve at least the minimum required level of the
of effective leadership that inform him about governing values such as being in control and
how to deal with his own and others' actions winning. Model I tells individuals to craft their
that are seU-protective and counterproductive positions, evaluations, and attributions in ways
to learning. that inhibit inquiries into and tests of them with
It is fair to conclude that the participants in the the use of independent logic. The consequences of
class were not effective in implementing their rec- these Model I strategies are likely to be defensive-
ommendations. In this connection recall that Andy ness, misunderstanding, and self-fu]fi]]ing and
kept telling the participants their advice was not self-sealing processes (Argyris, 1982; Argyris &
helpful because it was abstract and did not con- Schon, 1996).
tain advice about how to implement it. Moreover, Model I theory-in-use requires defensive reason-
in all cases, when Andy stated this complaint, the ing. Individuals keep their premises and infer-
CEOs either blamed him for not understanding or ences tacit, lest they lose control. They create tests
ignored him. of their claims that are self-serving and sell-seal-
The FM stopped role-playing and asked the par- ing. The likelihood of misunderstanding and mis-
ticipants how effective they felt they were in help- trust increases. The use of defensive reasoning
ing Andy. All agreed that they were not effective. prohibits questioning the defensive reasoning. We
The participants explained their failure by blam- now have self-fueling processes that maintain the
ing Andy. During the role-play Andy frequently status quo, inhibit genuine learning, and reinforce
blamed the participants. the deception.
2002 Aigyiis 213

Governing Variables Action Strategies Consequences

Control the purpose of the Advocate your position in • Miscommunication

meeting or encounter order to be in control and
win, etc. • Self-fulfilling prophecies
Maximize winning and
minimize losing ' Unilaterally save lace • Self-sealing processes
- Own and others' • Escalating error
Suppress negative feeling
Be rational

Model I Theory-in-Use

tive process. Not surprisingly, they learn to dis-

Model 1 theory-in-use requires defensive tance themselves from taking responsibility,
reasoning.... We now have seU-fueling losing, and they suppress negative feelings, espe-
processes that maintain the status quo, cially those associated with embarrassment or
inhibit genuine learning, and reinforce threat. Individuals use behavioral strategies con-
sistent with these governing values. For example,
the deception. they advocate their views, making evaluations
and attributions in ways that ensure their control,
Human beings learn their theories-in-use early winning, and suppression of negative feelings. In
in life, and therefore, the actions that they produce short, individuals learn theories-in-use that are
are highly skilled. Little conscious attention is re- consistent with producing unilateral control.
quired to produce skilled actions. Indeed, con- It is true that organizations are hierarchical and
scious attention could inhibit producing them ef- based on unilateral control. It appears equally true
fectively. The lack of awareness owing to skill and that individuals are even more so. Place individu-
the lack of awareness caused by our unilaterally als in organizations with structures designed to be
controlling theories-in-use produce a deeper lack more egalitarian, and individuals will eventually
of awareness; namely, we become unaware of the make them more unilateral and authoritarian. The
programs in our heads that keep us unaware. most massive examples of such situations of which
The results are skilled lack of awareness and I am aware are the so-called alternative schools
skilled incompetence (Argyris, 1982). For example, and communes of the 1970s. Most have failed and
when individuals have to say something negative slowly faded away (Argyris, 1974).
to others {e.g., "Your performance is poor") they
often ease in, so as not to upset the other. Two oi
the most frequent easing-in actions that we ob-
serve are (a) nondirective questioning, and (b) Organizational Defensive Routines
face-saving approaches. For these to work, the in- Organizational defensive routines are any action,
dividuals must cover up that they are acting as policy, or practice that prevents organizational
they are, in order not to upset the other. For a participants from experiencing embarrassment or
cover-up to work, the cover-up itself must be cov- threat and, at the same time, prevents them from
ered up. discovering the causes of the embarrassment or
Under these conditions, we find that the recipi- threat. Organizational defensive routines, like
ents are wary of what is happening. They sense Model I theories-in-use, inhibit genuine learning
that there may be a cover-up. Because they hold and overprotect the individuals and the organiza-
the same theory-in-use, they also cover up their tion (Argyris, 1990).
private doubts. The result is counterproductive A fundamental logic underlies all organizational
consequences for genuine problem solving. All of defensive routines. It can be illustrated by one of
this occurs with the use of skillful behavior; hence, the most frequently observed defenses, namely,
the term skilled incompetence. sending mixed messages, such as, "Mary, you run
When organizational worlds are dominated by the department, but check with Bill," or "John, be
these consequences, human beings become cyni- innovative, but be careful." The logic is as follows:
cal about changing the self-fueling counterproduc- (1) send a message that is inconsistent, (2) act as if
214 Academy of Management Learning and Education December

it is not inconsistent, (3) make Steps 1 and 2 undis- stead of merely espousing it, they will begin to
cussable, and (4) make the undiscussability undis- interrupt organizational defensive routines and
cussable. create organizational learning processes and sys-
Organizational defensive routines are caused by tems that encourage double-loop learning in ways
a circular, self-reinforcing process in which indi- that persist. These are called Modei // learning
viduals' Model I theories-in-use produce individ- systems {Argyris & Schon, 1996).
ual strategies of bypass and cover-up, which result
in organizational bypass and cover-up, which re-
inforce the individuals' theories-in-use. The expla- Moving Toward Model II
nation of organizational defensive routines is Space does not permit a description in detail of the
therefore individual and organizational. This next steps taken to help the participants move
means that it should not be possible to change toward Model II, but their essence is practice (Ar-
organizational routines without changing individ- gyris, 1986, 1993; Argyris, Putnam, & Smith, 1985;
ual routines, and vice versa. Any attempts at doing Argyris & Schon, 1996). The learning occurs in the
so should lead to failure or, at best, temporary following sequence.
First, most of the new craftings are consistent
The governing values of Model II are valid infor- with Model I. This activates discussion of the rea-
mation, informed choice, and vigilant monitoring soning individuals use to create Model I. It also
of the implementation of the choice to detect and activates discussion about recrafting. Second, the
correct error (see Figure 2). As in the case of Model new conversations are more like hybrids. They
I, the three most prominent behaviors are advo- contain features of Model I and Model II. Again, the
cate, evaluate, and attribute, Unlike Model I be- reasoning used to produce the hybrids is dis-
haviors, however. Model II behaviors are crafted cussed. New crafting then follows. The third phase
into action strategies that openly illustrate how the is that individuals begin to produce Model II con-
actors reached their evaluations or attributions, versation.
and how they crafted them to encourage inquiry
As the participants begin to craft new and more
and testing by others. Productive reasoning is re-
effective conversation, they realize that existing
quired to produce such consequences. Productive
Model I organizational defensive routines could be
reasoning means that the premises are explicit,
used to evaluate the new dialogue as ineffective,
the inferences from the premises are also made
immature, politically foolish, and so forth. This
explicit, and finally, conclusions are crafted in
leads to dialogue about their responsibility to be-
ways that can be tested by logic that is indepen-
gin to change their defensive routines.
dent of the logic used by the actor to create the
conclusion. Unlike the defensive reasoning, the
logic used is not self-referential. As a conse- PART III
quence, defensive routines that are counterproduc-
tive to learning are minimized, and genuine learn- The Andy Case as a Quasi-expehment
ing is facilitated. Embarrassment and threat are
Campbell and Stanley (1963), define an experiment
not bypassed and covered up; they are engaged
(Argyris, 1982, 1993; Argyris & Schon, 1996). as "any experimenter-controlled event or 'treat-
ment' in the lives of respondents where probable
To the extent that individuals use Model II in- consequences can be empirically assessed" (p.

Governing Variables Action Strategies Consequences

• Valid (validatable) Advocate your position and Reduction of seli-fullilling,

information combine with inquiry and self-sealing, error-escalating
public testing processes
• Free and informed choice
Minimize unilateral Efiective problem solving
• Internal commitment to the face-saving

Model II Theory-in-Use
2002 Argyris 215

224). I should like to show that the "Andy Case" three actions will be crafted in ways that do not
learning experience could be used to test features include illustrations of their meaning, will not en-
of the theory used to design the learning experi- courage inquiry into them, and will not encourage
ence. Transforming the learning experience into a robust testing of the claims being made by the
quasi-experiment requires some relatively simple actors (see Table 1).
and straightforward actions that I describe below, A Model II crafting would include illustrations,
such as minimizing threats to internal validity. would encourage inquiry, and would encourage
testing. A somewhat more complicated scoring
procedure has been found to have a respectable
Develop A Priori Hypotheses degree of interobservable ratings (Argyris, 1965).
The first requirement is to develop a priori hypoth-
eses. The following are some examples of hypoth-
eses: Time-Series Observations
1. To the extent that participants hold a Model I Campbell and Stanley (1963) advise that a time
theory-in-use, they will produce actions that series of observations will enhance the credibility
are consistent with that theory-in-use. of the findings. The observers or analysts scoring
2. Under these conditions, the participants will the participants' actions in 15-minute (or longer)
not produce actions consistent with Model II segments can fulfill this requirement. Thus, in-
theory-in-use, even if they espouse that theory.
3. Under these conditions, participants will be stead of the one-shot feature of the Andy Case as
unaware of any discrepancies that they pro- presented in this paper, it is a relatively straight-
duce between their espoused theories and forward procedure to strengthen the claims signif-
their theory-in-use while they are producing icantly by reducing these threats to internal valid-
them. ity overcome by a time-series design.
4. If the participants become aware of the dis-
crepancies, they will automatically and spon-
taneously blame others or the system in which
they are embedded. Independent Measures of Model I and II Actions
Recall that the theory-in-use is a causal design The hypotheses above conjecture that the partici-
activated by actors that produce the actions that pants hold a Model I theory-in-use. It is necessary
they intend. The design is programmed to produce to have a measure of the degree of "Model One-
these actions and no others. This means that we ness" of each participant before he or she enters
should not find exceptions to the predictions. As the classroom.
Lewin (1935, 1936) pointed out, one exception serves Measures such as these have been obtained by
to disconfirm the hypothesis. observing the participants in their home settings
(Argyris, 1993; Argyris & Schon, 1996).
Accordingly, we developed a case methodology
Creating Observable Categories Derived From to assess the participants' theory-in-use in the
the Theory home setting. Before they arrive we ask the partic-
Using a Model I theory-in-use, we suggest that ipants to complete a short case that illustrates an
advocating, evaluating, and attributing these important challenge that the writer of the case is

Scoring Conversation
Conversation Scored As

1. "Andy, you failed. You mis-assessed the situation." Negative evaluation. No illustration, no
encouragement oi inquiry, or testing.
2. "Andy, you are very good at talking, but not at all good at Same as above.
3. "Andy, you should study the culture carefully, especially how Advocacy, no illustration, inquiry, or testing.
the CEO communicates with the organization."
4. "You believe that you have a messianic right to organize, Attribution, no illustration, inquiry, or testing.
without contemplating the effect on others."
5. "You have a strong need to be seen as competent and to be in Attribution, no illustration, inquiry, or testing.
6. "Concentrate on areas that you do not know well." Advocacy, no illustration, inquiry, or testing.
216 Academy ol Management Learning and Education December

facing or is expecting to face. The cases typically onlookers in a separate session, or in sessions with
require 30 to 45 minutes to complete (Argyris, 1982; members of the experimental group.
Argyris & Schon, 1996). The contributions of Campbell and Stanley (1963)
The cases can be scored by the faculty member were based on a systematic inquiry into the ways
(FM) or by raters who were not fxirticipants in the in which threats to internal validity and external
leaming experience. The latter provides an indepen- validity can be reduced. I suggest that meeting
dent assessment that can be compared with the one these requirements is necessary but not sufficient
made by the FM. An additional set of data can be for producing scientific knowledge, especially if
obtained by asking the CEOs to score their own scientists intend to produce knowledge that is us-
cases toward the end of the workshop. Indeed, leam- able. In order for this claim to be credible, the
ing to score their cases becomes an opportunity for knowledge that we produce should show imple-
them to leam to reflect thoughtfully on their actions. mentable validity. As White (1959) indicated years
The cases and the analysis of the transcripts ago, the key to competence is effective action. Ef-
from home meetings on everyday organizational fective action requires implementing the action.
issues are valuable in dealing with the possibility It is possible to produce knowledge with a high
that the "treatment" in the Andy Case session degree of internal and external validities that has
could either be the case by itself or the case and low implementable validity. For example, there
the FM. If the home cases indicate Model I theory- are many studies showing that trust has a high
in-use, the claim that the Model I actions during degree of external validity. Yet, the studies do not
the Andy Case are caused by the CEOs is then prescribe the theory-in-use behavior and condi-
supported. tions required to implement trust.

Random Assignment to Experimental and Implications for Creating New Learning

Comparison Group Experiences
Another challenge to threats of validity is to create All these considerations lead to the hypothesis
control or, more accurately, comparison groups that that the programming and the skilled lack of
do not receive the experimental treatment. This is awareness (when producing action) create the ap-
even more effective if individuals can be assigned pearance that actions are "wired-in." This, in turn,
randomly and secretly to each type of group. suggests that the model in good currency about
This requirement is difficult to fulfill because the unfreezing the old, introducing the new, and freez-
human beings who attend the courses do so be- ing the new, should not be taken to mean that
cause they are promised, and they expect, to learn Model I is permanently unfrozen and somehow
to increase their effectiveness. How do you lie to eliminated. I cannot, to date, conceive of a process
one group and cover up that you are doing so? How that "unfreezes" some designs-in-use that are al-
do you do this in a learning environment designed ready programmed. I believe that a more accurate
to reduce lying, cover-up, and cover-up of the explanation will someday be shown to be that
cover-up? unfreezing means that individuals become aware
Some strategies begin to approximate this re- of their skilled incompetence and skilled lack of
quirement. For example, the FM used in the Andy awareness. A new process then accomplishes
Case may also be used in a primarily lecture- learning Model II. The end result is that individu-
based session describing the theory-of-action ap- als have two theories-in-use stored in their heads.
proach. One could compare the home results with This provides human beings with two degrees of
those at the lecture session in home meetings. One freedom in choosing how they will act. Model I, for
could also ask the participants to write left- or example, may be preferred when learning single-
right-hand column cases that they believe illus- loop skills that are part of the existing routines.
trate how they implemented their leaming in the Model II may be more appropriate for solving the
home situation. These cases should show no change nonroutine potentially or actually embarrassing
in theory-in-use, even if the participants claimed that problems. For example, a Model I production of the
they learned Model II and intended to use it. social virtues is quite different from a Model II
production (see Table 2). Most human beings do
Another possibility is to have the experimental not realize the differences, because typically, they
group go through its re-education in a fish-bowl are not required to produce Model II social virtues
setting where a larger group observes but does not in a Model I world (Argyris, 2000).
participate. Beer and Eisenstat (2000) have used a
version of this strategy. However, they involve the Returning to the Andy Case, we now have a
2002 Argyris 217

Social Virtues

Model I Social Virtues Model II Social Virtues

Caring, help, and support

Give approval and praise to other people. Tell others what Increase the others' capacity to confront their ideas, to
you believe will make them feel good about themselves. create a window into their minds, and to face their
Reduce their feelings of hurt by telling them how much unsurfaced assumptions, biases, and fears by acting in
you care and, if possible, agree with them that the others these ways toward other people.
acted improperly.
Respect for others
Deier to other people and do not confront their reasoning or Attribute to other people a high capacity for seK-reflection
actions. and self-examination without becoming so upset that they
lose their eitectiveness and their sense of self-
responsibility and choice. Keep testing this attribution
Advocate your position in order to win. Hold your own Advocate your position and combine it with inquiry and
position in the face of advocacy. Feeling vulnerable is a self-reflection. Feeling vulnerable while encouraging
sign of weakness. inquiry is a sign of strength.
Tell other people no lies or tell others all you think and feel. Encourage yourself and other people to say what they know
yet fear to say. Minimize what would otherwise be subject
to distortion and cover-up of the distortion.
Stick to your principles, values, and beliefs. Advocate your principles, values, and beliefs in a way that
invites inquiry into them and encourages other people to
do the same.

better understanding of the difficulties involved in Argyris, C. 1985. Sfrafegy, change and defensive routines. New
advice that is "abstract." Both Model I and Model II York: Harper Business.
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lustrate the designs-in-use required to implement ing organizational learning. Needham, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
it. A review of current examples of best practices Argyris, C. 1993. Knowledge for action. San Francisco, CA:
that claim to produce leadership, learning, and Jossey-Bass.
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not do so. These programs may have the virtue of York: Academic Press.
taking less time in terms of days required to attend Argyris, C, Putnam, R., & Smith, D. 1985. Action science; Con-
cepts, methods, and skills for research and intervention. San
a course or participate in a change program, but a Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
closer examination indicates that they may incur
Argyris, C, & Schon, D. 1974. Theory in practice. San Francisco,
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them and then cover up the resistance. More im-
Argyris, C, & Schon, D. 1996. Organizational learning II. Read-
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Beer, M., & Eisenstat, R. 2000. The silent killer oi strategy imple-
ing the human side of organizations and helping mentation and leaming. Sloan Management Review, 41(4):
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218 Academy of Management Learning and Education December

Chris Argyris is the lames Bryant Conant Professor Emeritus of Education and Organizational
Behavior at Harvard University. He received his PhD from Cornell University in 1951. and has
received 11 honorary doctorates. The Chris Argyris Chair was recently established at Yale
University. His current research interests are learning, leadership, theory, methods of inter-
vention, and organizational change.