The learning organization as paradox: Being for the learning organization also means being against it

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Purpose: This paper aims to describe and discuss the idea of the learning organisation as a paradox and to explore the implications of this idea for improving the longevity and influence of the learning organisation concept. Design/methodology/approach: The paper presents qualitative data drawn from MBA students’ involvement in learning about leadership. Participants’ written reflections on the “Temporary Learning Organisation (TLO) Exercise” are used to illustrate paradoxical tensions emerging from their attempts to lead the emergence of a learning organisation. Findings: Three inter-connected paradoxical tensions are identified: inhibited freedom, detached engagement and ambivalent enthusiasm. These can help to explain how processes and practices that encourage learning in organisations are inseparable from those that undermine the effort to learn. Originality/value: The paper presents a novel way of looking at the debate between the learning organisation as a positive ideal, and the learning organisation as negative ideology. A paradox viewpoint is focused on sustaining tensions because they generate possibilities. There is much to be learned from the interplay between the desire to create ongoing learning opportunities and conscious and unconscious efforts to avoid and undermine them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-280
Number of pages8
JournalThe Learning Organization
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 14 May 2018


  • Contradictions
  • Leadership
  • Learning organizations
  • Paradox

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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