Society for Organizational Learning, North America

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The Society for Organizational Learning North America was founded in April of 1997 as the successor to MIT's Center for Organizational Learning (OLC)


1991-1995: The Center for Organizational Learning (OLC) at MIT

In 1991, the Center for Organizational Learning was founded at MIT by Peter Senge with a mission of fostering collaboration among a group of corporations committed to fundamental organizational change and advancing the state of the art in building learning organizations; its initial focus was on developing new learning capabilities in the areas of systems thinking, collaborative inquiry into tacit mental models, and nurturing personal and shared vision.


By 1995, the center consisted of 19 organizational partners including Amoco, AT&T, Chrysler, EDS, Federal Express, Ford Motor Company, Harley Davidson Motorcycle Company, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Intel Corporation, Lucent Technologies, Merck & Company, National Semi-Conductor, Pacific Bell, Philips, and the Quality Management Network (a consortium of healthcare organizations), Shell Oil Company, Texas Instruments, and US West. Working in partnership with researchers at MIT, a number of these companies undertook a variety of significant organizational experiments. Through these experiments, we have explored building learning capabilities in intact teams, developing new organizational learning infrastructures, transforming the assumptions and practices of executive leadership, and developing internal learning communities. Over time, some companies have involved thousands of people in these organizational experiments


1995-1997: An emerging idea of bringing together practitioners/managers, researchers and consultants/capacity builders

The desire to expand this learning community led to a process of extended reflection and renewal in 1995, and the founding of SoL in 1997. This process was guided by Dee Hock, the founder and former CEO or Visa International. Dee's belief in the power of "chaordic organizations" had a strong influence on SoL's design.


1997-2004: An international community with diverse interests emerges

Over the years, SoL has focused its attention on further refining its theories tools and methods, while also expanding the arenas in which this work is applied. A few highlights:


In June of 1999, SoL began publication of its journal, Reflections. This publication continues today and is intended to provide a way for the SoL community to share its work with each other and the world.

In June of 2001, the original organizational sponsors of SoL's global network met in Marblehead, Massachusetts and discussed our progress to date and critical issues requiring cross-organizational and cross-sectoral learning and collaboration. (See full text of the letter written by the Marblehead meeting participants.) Members of the SoL community are committed to developing the capacity to address issues like these:

In June of 2003, coordinators of local communities organized the first SoL Global Forum in Finland, a convening for over 300 participants from over 30 countries. In September of 2005, the second SoL Global Forum was held in Vienna with 450 members and over 50 paralle session featuring projects, theories, tools from around the world. The third Global Forum, Bridging the Gulf, was held in Muscat, Oman in April 2008.


In March of 2004, SoL published its first book, Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society, by Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski and Flowers. This book has sold over 20,000 copies and is now widely available through a joint publishing agreement with Doubleday. We expect its ideas to have great impact, and to attract more people to participate in the SoL community. Other books published by SoL are featured in the SoL store.


In June of 2004, members of the SoL community articulated the three key processes that in coming together, make SoL unique: applied (action) learning, an evolving social knowledge network, and profound questions that link many of our endeavors.


In October of 2004, the SoL Sustainabilty Consortium offered the first public Business Innovation for Sustainability Forum: Leadership, Learning, and collaboration for People, Planet and Profit, highlighting the work of our oldest and strongest consortium; a second Forum was held in 2007.


SoL's Council of Trustees has articulated a 50-year vision for SoL North America. We believe that the interdependent development of people and their institutions will be an area of interest beyond our lifetimes and we are striving to make SoL North America relevant to our most pressing needs for collective intelligence and wisdom.
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Society for Organizational Learning
101 Main Street, 14th floor
Cambridge, MA 02142
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