Chris Argyris

American business theorist/Professor Emeritus/Harvard Business School/Thought Leader at Monitor Group

Chris Argyris (born July 16, 192316 November 2013) was an American business theorist, Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School, known as co-founder of Organization Development, and his seminal work of learning organizations.



  • Learning can be defined as occurring under two conditions. First, learning occurs when an organisation achieves what it intended; that is, there is a match between its design for action and the actual outcome. Second, learning occurs when a mismatch between intention and outcome is identified and corrected; that is, a mismatch is turned into a match.... Single-loop learning occurs when matches are created, or when mismatches are corrected by changing actions. Double-loop learning occurs when mismatches are corrected by first examining and altering the governing variables and then the actions.
    • Chris Argyris (1982) as cited in: "Chris Argyris: The Manager's Academic" in Business (2003). p. 965
  • Managers who are skilled communicators may also be good at covering up real problems.
    • Chris Argyris (1986, p. 74) as cited in: Manoj S. Patankar et al. (2012) Safety Culture p. 10
  • Success in the marketplace increasingly depends on learning, yet most people don't know how to learn.
    • Chris Argyris (1991, p. 99) as cited in: Greenwood (2000) The Role of Reflection in Managerial Learning. p. xv
  • Most people define learning too narrowly as mere “problem-solving”, so they focus on identifying and correcting errors in the external environment. Solving problems is important. But if learning is to persist, managers and employees must also look inward. The need to reflect critically on their own behaviour, identify the ways they often inadvertently contribute to the organisation’s problems, and then change how they act.
    • Chris Argyris "Teaching smart people how to learn" in: Peter F. Drucker (1998) Harvard Business Review on Knowledge Management. p. 82
  • There are two dominant mindsets in the world of business or any kind of organization.

    One is a productive mindset, and it says it's a good idea to seek valid knowledge, it's a good idea to craft your conversations so you make explicit what you are thinking and trying to examine. You craft them in such a way that you can test, as clearly as you can, the validity of your claims. Truth is a good idea. All the managerial functions—accounting, all of them—have a fundamental notion that the productive mindset is what ought to be used to manage human beings.

    Then there's another mindset I call the defensive mindset. The idea is that even if you are seeking valid knowledge, you are seeking only that kind of valid knowledge that protects yourself or your organization or your department—it is defensive. From a defensive mindset point of view, truth is a good idea when it isn't threatening or upsetting. If it is, massage it, spin it. But if you massage it and spin it, you're violating the espoused theory of good management. When you spin, you have to cover up the fact that you're spinning. And in order for a cover up to work, it too has to be covered up.

On organizational learning (1999)Edit

Chris Argyris and Donald A. Schön (1999). On organizational learning.

  • Human beings hold two types of theories of action. There is the one that they espouse, which is usually expressed in the form of stated beliefs and values. Then there is the theory that they actually use; this can only be inferred from observing their actions, that is, their actual behavior.
    • p. 126: as cited in: Kenneth D. Shearer, ‎Robert Burgin (2001) The Readers' Advisor's Companion. p. 39
  • Once employees base their motivation on extrinsic factors they are much less likely to take chances, question established policies and practices, or explore the territory that lies beyond the company vision as defined by management.
    • p. 236; as cited in: Edward D. Garten, ‎Delmus E. Williams (2008) Advances in Library Administration and Organization. p. 51
  • But today's dilemmas are even harder to deal with: autonomy vs. control; innovation vs. no surprises; participation and ownership vs. meeting deadlines; and job security vs. excess employees through job design
    • p. 240
  • Whenever undiscussables exist, their existence is also undiscussable. Moreover, both are covered up, because rules that make important issues undiscussables violate espoused norms... It is very difficult to manage [organizational defense routines]. They continue to exist and proliferate because they are relegated to the realm of “underground management” and all sides tacitly agree to this state of affairs. As a result, organizational defense routines often are very powerful
    • p. 438 as cited in: Leni Wildflower, ‎Diane Brennan (2011) The Handbook of Knowledge-Based Coaching. p. 159

Quotes about Chris ArgyrisEdit

  • Argyris is best known for his theory, in collaboration with the late philosophy scholar Donald Schön, on the two types of learning — single-loop and double-loop. This theory refers to the way people respond to changes in their environment. Single-loop learning is the repeated attempt at the same problem by an organization or individual, without varying the method or questioning the goal. Double-loop learning goes beyond that, modifying the goal in light of the experience.

    Argyris’s work raises profound questions about how organizations run, and casts doubt on what is widely accepted as good practice. But he offers management a profound exploration of the fundamental principles of organizational behavior and human interaction in the workplace.

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