© 2013 ellathompson


I’m not gonna lie. This week’s reading about Argyris was painful. I think I took 6 days to get through it because I had to keep re-reading bits and taking breaks so that I could re-group and give myself a pep-talk before attempting another attack at it. So. Many. Words. Completely meaningless, repetitive words which made me feel like I was either horrendously stupid, or attempting to read a different language.

BUT there are some decent ideas buried in there. This is my own mental summary / interpretation of the reading. I’ve still got the concepts a bit tangled, but this is as clear as I can make them at the moment.



  • Espoused theory – What someone says they would do in a situation
  • Theory-in-use – What someone actually does in a situation

We need to reflect upon the nature of the ‘fit’ of the theory-in-use with the espoused theory. Like Tetris.



  • Governing variables – Factors people are trying to keep within acceptable limits.
  • Action strategies – Actions people take to try to keep governing variables within such limits.
  • Consequences – Result of an action (intended/unintended, for self/others). If consequences were desired, then theory-in-use is confirmed.


  • Single-loop learning – Learning leads to amending of governing variable via same action strategies.
  • Double-loop learning – Learning leads to questioning and amending of governing variable (and action strategies?). Used to resolve incompatible organisational norms.


  • Model I – Action strategy attempts to control environment/task, protect self/others, win and avoid embarrassment. Defensive actions (avoid vulnerability) which are counter-productive because they make person move away from something they want to avoid, rather than move toward something they want to achieve. Leads to lack of freedom. Human beings are socialised in a Model I world.
  • Model II – Fosters double-loop learning, which is better. People espouse Model II. Dialogical. More likely to be found in settings of shared leadership. High freedom of choice.


People seek understanding of their place in the organisation.


Organisational learning involves detection and correction of error.

Model I creates Organisational I (O-I) learning systems.

O-I learning systems inhibit detection/correction of error and foster defensiveness, self-fulfilling prophecies, escalating error.

Model I can thus inhibit learning.


Organisational II (O-II) learning systems – intervention strategy with six phases.

  1. Mapping problem (defining problem and its relationships within organisation).
  2. Internalising map (clients accepting responsibility for map).
  3. Testing model (what are its strengths? what are its limits?)
  4. Invent solutions to problem (test their potential for success).
  5. Produce intervention
  6. Study impact (reflection)


These are psychologically-based concepts. They lack empirical evidence to support them. But they’re still extremely valuable in informing us as to how we may be thinking, and how we may improve our thinking.

The reference to ‘trial and error’ learning reminded me of taking psychology – learning about Thorndike’s cat with the fish and the box and such. Ha. Fun times.

I think these concepts were initially intended for professional thinking/management in organisations. But they can be applied in other settings (e.g. academia). YAY.



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