Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Outlearning the Wolves

This is a summary of a fable (by David Hutchens) which I have read many years ago and re-read recently to my elder boy. Fables are very powerful as they can teach difficult concepts in a simple manner.

For many years, the sheep were told by their ancestors that wolves ate sheep and that was accepted as the way things were always so.

One day, one sheep Otto challenged this belief. This got the flock thinking. That night the flock huddled and slept in a circle, with Otto guarding alone beside a tree. Next morning, Otto was missing.

Another young sheep Marietto rallied the flock, saying that they should think of a way to outsmart the wolves, building upon Otto's vision - no sheep shall ever die due to wolf.

The flock started thinking. There was a barbed wire surrounding the flock. In fact it has been raised to keep wolves out. There was no way for wolves to jump over the barbed wire. Marietto adjourned the meeting and asked the sheep to go back and think on themselves before meeting again in the afternoon.

At the start of the afternoon meeting, the flock were discussing aloud.

"I notice that the wolves seem to come more often after rain and not so if there is a drought."

"If I were the wolf, I will come everyday to feast on a sheep."

"COME HERE, COME HERE." Curly shouted, trying to catch his breath as he was running frantically from the river.

The flock followed Curly to the river side, where the flock used to get their drink.

Curly pointed his hoove at the lower end of the barbed wire. There was a clump of sheep wool.

"I got it. The wolves were crawling under the barbed wire!" Some sheep exclaimed.

"I guess they cannot swim."

"Ha, they are not so smart afterall"

The sheep laughed.

"But waited, previously, we were at the mercy of the wolves. Now we are at the mercy of weather, I mean there is no way we can control the weather." Some sheep lamented.

"Hey, I think we got it wrong. We cannot control the weather. But we CAN CONTROL the flow of the water." Gigi said as she began digging a circle around the river. The other sheep joined in, and Jeremeh pushed the stones with his nose to build a dam.

After that day, the flock had a beautiful pond to drink their water, play and enjoy. More importantly, the sheep stopped disappearing mysteriously.

But, maybe not for long - remember like the sheep, the wolves were also learning.

But then, that will be another story.
Morale of the story.

This fable teaches us about the five disciplines of the learning organisation by Peter Senge:

1. Systems Thinking - the problem exists in a wider context. The sheep disappearing is a function of not just the wolves but also the weather. If we can elevate our thinking to a higher level, we can see things from a far wider and new perspective.
2. Mental Models - we all have mental models. This is the way our brain helps us to filter the enormous information that is around us. It helps that we are aware of their existence 'cos not all mental models are always true.
3. Personal Mastery - in simple terms, it refers to people who are able to question long-held belief or assumption like Otto and Marietto in the fable. It takes courage to challenge these beliefs.
4. Shared Vision - not just a vision that is tossed out at us but a shared one. In the fable, the flock shared the Otto's vision that no sheep shall ever die due to wolves.
5. Team learning - each of us is capable of learning but if we could come together and put our skills together, we will excel even more. That's the power of synergy.

What I have written is based on my shallow understanding of the book. If you are interested, grab a copy and enjoy :)

No comments: