Organisational Learning: What Can We Learn From Crocodiles?
The presentation focuses on key themes related to Organisational Learning. We use some facts about Crocodiles in our storyboard to illustrate fundamental elements that need to be heeded by practitioners. We argue that if we use Crocodile's style of learning in our institutions, we will have better chances to succeed in setting up sustainable learning organisations.
Organisational Learning: What Can We Learn From Crocodiles?
Towards Development of Sustainable Knowledge Institutions
Training Material | April 2015
What can we learn from Crocodiles ?
A World Full of Challenges
Excellence & Quality
Effects of external
Promotes the concept of learning in
institutions through people.. and
to become incubators of intellects
to create knowledge that will
support improvement opportunities
and/or in facing challenges ..
But is there any relations between the
survival of Crocodiles and the concept
of Learning? Let us explore!
Crocodiles are amazing creatures that were
able to survive for more than 250 million years,
1. live in severely limited environments (e.g.,
rivers, lakes, etc.);
2. are constantly threatened; &
3. are targets for hunters; its skin considered
finest and best (cost $15,000 and more)..
So how Crocodiles managed to
survive & outlived the dinosaurs?
Let us find out some basic characteristics of
Crocodiles that differentiates them to some
extent from other species ..
Crocodiles learn to become self-dependent from
birth - they are left to hunt for their own food short
after they hatch; catching insects and small fish..
and their prey grow as they grow.
1. Self-Reliance [Hard Life Journey]
Crocodiles enjoy the strongest immune system
compared to all living creatures although they:
1. live in highly polluted water; and
2. get severely injured, but recover very smoothly..
2. Self-Programming [Self-Learning]
& Perseverance for Survival
Crocodiles can :
• hold breath under water for more than 3 hours;
• reduce heartbeat rate; a pulse every 30 seconds;
• bear hunger for long periods and sometimes up
3. Patience and Endurance
Are these reasons enough to explain its
survival for this long compared to Dinosaurs?
Despite the size and
force of the
were not able to
survive the serious
natural disasters that
occurred 65 million
years ago, hence
were exposed to
But how did Crocodiles
managed to live this long?
Among the primary reasons is Crocodiles’:
[Ability to adapt to changes]
Adaptation to the Environment
Although Crocodiles were
exposed to disasters, they
capabilities that enabled
them to adapt to the
environments they lived in
SO! ADAPTATION is one of the most
important reasons for Crocodiles survival !!
In Biology: «… is linked to the ability of
organisms to evolve in their environments
in order to increase the chances of
survival and reproduction ..»
referred to the
ability to sense
the need for
be changed ».
How many change
variables surround you?
Many indeed! But are these
variables controllable and/or
can be taken advantage of?
“Change is the
only constant in
life”, and have
Let us see some of the
forces that are pressuring
institutions to change:
Enormous developments in the field of
Information and Communication Technologies
has become a challenge to human skills and
capacities to be absorb.
1. New & Disruptive
2. Government and
Compliance requirements have been
pressuring institutions to be more efficient,
effective, and efficacious.
3. Change for Continuous
Changes in external environments have been
pressuring institutions to implement Total Quality
Management principles, that have had in turn
reflective consequences on internal systems
and structures ..
Constant changes in customers
needs and expectations,
impacting institutions value
chain and its staff.
4. Increasing Customers
Social networking tools have become one of
the primary engines of the change machine
in today’s world ..
5. Social Media
Governments have been paying
attention to work concepts similar to
those in the private sector.. pushing
for wide scale changes in how they
operate and create value.
There are definitely
many other reasons
for institutions to
Desire to develop,
improve, and excel
Reasons for Change, in simpler terms?
BUT.. How to deal with a change as a
purposeful, deliberate, and planned activity?
Supports the ability to change at a faster pace
by supporting the construction of cognitive
abilities and resources capable to succeed with
Implementation of cooperative learning in
an organizational context, builds the
foundations to set up a learning organisation.
But in order build a learning organisation, we
need to understand the Learning Equation!
proper management and employment
of acquired knowledge to make the
The point is: in order to address current & future
challenges, we need to overcome learning
impediments (disabilities) first !
There are many obstacles
that affect the ability of both
individuals & institutions to
learn or slow down the
process of learning .
Let us explore what was
said by the most prominent
researchers in the field of
We focus on what was pointed out by:
Professor Peter Senge from Harvard University
Me! We ?
I Am My Position [Focus on Self]
This disability applies to both
individuals and workgroups who
focus only on their small part
within institutions rather than on
the larger system as a whole.
When the focus is
limited to the
and duties with
little sense of the
we lose the
myopic and non-
systemic views of
Associated with a state of mind that is
used to be suspicious of others and on
passing blames .. [Others “screw up”
and we have to protect ourselves].
The Enemy is out There
This kind of disability is
more like a “denial of
responsibility”.. that tend
to “see the problem
outside us”; due to the
non-systemic ways of
looking at the world and
inability to see how our
actions extend beyond
the boundary of our
Expressed differences that passes blames and
do not allow open discussions, may lead to
failure in detecting the root cause and
assumptions behind a given situation..
Illusion of Taking Charge
Associated with feelings and beliefs of
management that everything is under
control and handled appropriately.
At this level, learning stops!
This 3rd disability
that he/she is
futuristic and their
indicates that their
actions as merely
or reactive) ..
True “proactive orientation” comes
from seeing how our own actions
contribute to problems.
Fixation on Events
Associated with focus and engagement in
events and details.. distracting the focus of the
institution.. The focus usually is on the problem
not on causes and consequences ..
In this disability, the
institution is unable
to connect things
to each other..
Focuses on short-
terms, and neglects
long-term targets !
This disability distracts
us from seeing the
longer term patterns
of change that
underlie events and
the causes that
underlie the patterns.
thinking can’t be
sustained if people
focused on events!
The Parable of the Boiled Frog
Appears when an institution overlooks small
but constant changes.. and get used to
neglect minor changes, which may lead to
aggravation, threatening it overtime.
Can you put a FROG in a pot and cook
it without it jumping to the outside?
Let us explain
this with a Frog!
Scientific experiments have shown that if a
FROG is placed in a pot with water, and you
lift up temperature slowly but continuously, the
FROG will get used to the change and will not
feel the danger until it dies !
This example points to the importance that
institutions need to carry deep analysis of any
GIVEN CHANGE in internal and/or external
environments, by implementing rigorous
management systems for detection, impact
evaluation, and response development.
Delusion of Learning from
Associated with dependency on previous
experiences and personal intelligence to deal
with situations.. Though we can't deny the
importance of experience that we develop
through error and trail scenarios, but do you
recon that past experiences will yield same
results in different times, places, and people?!
There is a constant
need to build new
the perspective of
that recognises the
external factors, etc.
Myth of Management
Associated with beliefs and assumptions that
teams and committees are breathers to
distribute risks, avoid accountability, and
make them feel safe!
teams assume that
group and committee
decision will be more
appropriate.. “if you
have a problem, then
call for a meeting, or
form a committee and
pass the problem to
With this 7th disability, management
spend their time fighting for turf,
avoiding anything that will make them
look bad personally, and pretending
that everyone is behind the team's
Do you think teams, groups and
committees decisions will always be right ?
If we look into how teams
and groups normally
work, we find many
that may make them look
bad or prone to blame,
and tend to make
decisions that will satisfy
Do you think that we will
be solving problems or
learning by such an act?
Let us go back to Crocodiles and check
how they overcame Senge’s 7 learning
Some Facts about Crocodiles:
• Can weigh over 1200 kg.
• Can live up to 100 years.
• Crocodiles are cold-blooded.
• Need hot atmosphere to stay alive; lives in
continents except Europe.
• There are about 23 types of crocodiles.
• Changed characteristics as they evolved, and
some got extinct.
• When crocodiles lose teeth, they are quickly
replaced. They can go through 8,000 teeth over a
Crocodiles learned different ways to cope
and adapt .. Let us see some of them :
Transformed from ground reptiles to amphibians
swimming oceans.. also from eating plants to
Building New Capabilities
A Crocodile can move
alarmingly fast; up to
40 mph per hour!
The Sense to Change and Plan for it
Because they’re cold blooded, Crocodiles
need to come out of water in Winter, and stay
out for long periods.. But in summer, it stays in
water or in shadows, and hunt in darkness !
Self Consciousness and Understanding
Crocodiles swallow their food out of water
(even the fish) to prevent water entering their
stomach.. Which may drown them .. [they
have a filter valve that prevents water entry
Creativity and Innovation
Crocodiles retain some stones in their
stomach, to help them in grinding the food !!
Crocodiles lay their eggs in nests above the
level of water to avoid drift.. Females spray
water on nests continuously to remain moist so
they don’t dry and help the eggs to hatch.
Spirit of Perseverance and Determination
Female Crocodiles look after the hatched
eggs for several months, however, 99% of
crocodiles die as they become easy targets
for snakes, lizards, mice, and birds!
Crocodiles use teamwork to trap their prey;
capable of coordinating their actions in
sophisticated ways and assuming different
roles according to each individual’s abilities.
Selection of Appropriate Strategies
Crocodiles are fitted with an incredible
hunting capabilities to kill their prey .. & to
overcome large prey, they use fast rotational
movement in water to paralyse its prey
movement and draining it!
Expect Participation and support the
ethics and values of Teamwork
and sharing of large
Intelligent interaction with
changes in the environment
Crocodiles do not migrate behind water and
rain as the rest of animals.. Some types of
crocodiles can sleep for several months in
caves near dry rivers!
Commitment to the Logic of Continuous
Development and Improvement
Some Crocodiles swim long distances to find
alternative places for water and food.. They
do not accept narrow view points!
• Spirit of Perseverance and
• Team Building
• Selection of Appropriate
• Expect Participation and
support the ethics and values
• Intelligent Interaction with
changes in the Environment
• Commitment to the Logic of
Continuous Development and
• Patience and Endurance
• Re-inventing Self
• Building New Capabilities
• The Sense to Change and
Plan for it
• Self-Consciousness and
• Creativity and Innovation
What can we learn from Crocodiles?
• We also learned that (ADAPTATION) is one
of the secretes behind the survival of
• Crocodiles have used the concept of
learning to overcome the challenges they
faced over more than 250 million years.
Learning has its
theories that we
order to overcome
without which the
path of learning
may be slower or
Do you reckon if we follow Crocodiles
learning methods in our institutions, will we
succeed in implementing a learning
The Law of
same in all
parts of life
The starting point need to be: the establishment
of a workplace culture that addresses
organisational learning disabilities and supports
positive energy, and thus positive learning ..
Do you think we need leaders
to succeed with learning?
According to psychologists and management
researchers, the majority of people prefer the
presence of a LEADER behind any strategic
direction.. who would maintain a cohesive
The Role of Leaders
WE need Leaders who can promote the
principles of positive behaviors through
leading by example.. and in addressing
negative behaviours generating negative
We need leaders who can establish
a culture that encourages dialogue
and the exchange of ideas and
sharing of knowledge..
Remember, knowledge and
negative energy are opposites..
while ignorance and negative
energy go hand in hand ..
Positivity and learning
are associated with
our comprehension of
the overall picture..
Thus, we need leaders
who can support staff
to stretch outside their
usual learning circles
(comfort zones) to
explore new learning
2 important characteristics of
leaders that we need to search for !
Interactive leaders who can guide and work
with their staff to help them succeed in their
job duties.. [ They monitor performance and
handle failures ].
& Futuristic leaders who can draw paths for
their staff showing them the future of their
institution.. They participate in development
and implementation of the desired change.
If you are unable to
find such a leader, try
to hire a Crocodile!!
How much you
Let us check!
What is the real story behind
A chemical process to get rid of excess
salt in the body, since the skin has no
pores.. Therefore they perspire from their
Crocodile tears are only but a sweat !
Those who will not master the secret of
Crocodiles and their methods, will surly miss
their opportunities to evolve and survive the
By positive learning, we can create the
knowledge necessary to make us as
individuals, or organizations survive the
challenges of ever-changing environments.
Unfortunately there is no other option!
Dr. Ali M. Al-Khouri
Professor and Fellow,
British Institute of Technology and E-commerce
London, United Kingdom
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