The Fifth Discipline: WBRX53

June 14, 2022
5 min read

General details of book

Originally published: 1990

Author:  Peter M. Senge

Page count: 445

Genre: Management


What is this book about?

This is monumental book that if you care to read and understand can help you succeed as the leader of your own life or of a multi-billion company of tens of thousands or more.  This book basically teaches us how to think.  The whole philosophy of this book can be summarised in one of Einstein’s quotation, the author mentions in the book:

“Our theories determine what we measure.”

Senge gives us the theory of all theories, the ultimate theory through which we can make the most accurate theories we need to navigate the rough seas of business and life.  

Management is not like science and even in science theories don’t hold for long.  In management before this book, leaders only had basic theories like Maslow’s theory, Theory X and Theory Y.  But neither were they universal nor practical.  

So here comes the revolution in management thinking.  However the concepts are so advanced that the education systems even in Master’s degree have not included them.  It is a shame.  It is like a driver having to drive using the rear view mirror only.  

The 5 disciplines 

1 Systems thinking

2 Personal mastery

3 Mental models 

4 Building a shared vision

5 Team learning

The 3 main disciplines

1 Systems thinking

2 Mental models 

3 Team learning

The story

Whether the problems you are facing is in marketing, finance, human resource, innovation, legal, strategy, or operations, you must first find out how you and your people are seeing the problem.  This is understanding the current mental model.  The best way to represent mental models is using cause-effect diagrams.  

For example, we are not making profits because competitors are cutting their price, so we must cut prices too.  This is a mental model.  

Once the mental model is identified, through systems thinking, again using systems diagram like

Fig 1.  This is a input-process-output diagram

Fig 2.  This is reinforcing loop diagram: wait time increases dissatisfaction and it decreases number of customers

Fig 3.  This is the balancing loop diagram added to the reinforcing loop: by adding the component of employee training and adding employees we can decrease waiting time. Also my adding parking lots we can decrease dissatisfaction.

Story continues

So from this system thinking, we can now change the mental models of the stakeholders.  Now the new mental model would be:

Profits may have decreased for other reasons than price

Thus now the team is LEARNING and organization is LEARNING.

In this way problems can be solved systematically with minimum conflicts because everyone can see the theories that they are basing the decisions and actions on.  

How is it useful to you in your :


Although the scope of damage in life is only one’s own well-being and happiness, it is still advisable to solve the problems that occur in it. How better to do so than by using systems thinking?


Great wealth doesn’t come with little brains.  This book or at least the understanding from this book are indispensable for CEO’s who seek to navigate their organizations with their numerous and diverse teams.  Most CEO’s do system thinking in their heads, otherwise they could not be in that position but they don’t the know how of expressing themselves.  It is like we can talk a language but cant’ write it.  This book gives leaders that missing skill.  


Needless to say, if you could do only 5% of what this book teaches you, your career would undergo a meteoric rise.

14th June 2022

Dear friend,

It just has been a 2 months around that I have not done a book review that I was supposed to do weekly.  I was extremely busy with trainings that took my brain energy totally.  

I am comparatively free since a few days.  I realize training and consulting can’t be like a regular job because of the amount of spiritual energy needed to help satisfy the curiosity of so many people within hours.  So I always enjoy my time-out’s: recharge, replenish, rejevunerate.  

This book that i read in 2000, shaped my thinking totally.  Without knowing I realize today, 80% of my consulting and training style has been influenced by what this book had taught me 20+ years ago.  

I have misgivings though.  No CEO or any leader as such ever has sought to learn from me.  Call it pride or ignorance.  Only if they knew what I knew they would have the most profitable organization in their industry along with the best working culture.  Alas, I chose a path that can’t make me into a Professor Peter Senge , tenured at MIT.  Ya: the choices we make in life.  

But let me not despair as I have still half a century ahead of me to influence leaders of the world.  


Manohar Man Shrestha