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Chinese pragmatism and the learning organisation

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Purpose ‐ For 40 years, it has been widely believed in the West that learning organisations would be healthier, flexible and more competitive than other organisations. By now, one might expect them to be widespread. However, fully developed learning organisations are rare in the West. In contrast, Chinese organisations seem naturally to be learning organisations. The paper aims to explore the impact of Eastern (largely Chinese) and Western (largely US) philosophies upon the development of learning organisations and suggests that for learning organisations to develop in the West a different philosophical approach may be needed. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The Chinese worldview, and Chinese pragmatism in particular, are discussed in the context of learning organisations. A link is made with the American pragmatism of Dewey. These philosophical traditions are compared to the prevailing worldview and philosophical tradition in the West, which may help explain the rarity of the learning organisation in the West. Findings ‐ A pragmatic philosophy and a relational worldview allow the development of natural learning organisations in China. The recovery in the west of pragmatism and a relational worldview might allow Western organisations to move towards becoming learning organisations. Without this philosophical underpinning, it is unlikely that there will be more than visionary glimpses of utopian ideas for learning organisations. Originality/value ‐ The significance of pragmatism in the development of learning organisations needs to be considered as a factor in the failure to develop widespread learning organisations in the West.
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Keywords: China; Eastern philosophy; Learning organizations; Pragmatism; United States of America; Western philosophy

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 9, 2009

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