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Personal Mastery and Peter Senge: Definition, Examples & Quiz

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Shawn Grimsley

In Peter Senge's book 'The Five Disciplines: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization' (1990), one of disciplines is personal mastery. In this lesson, you'll learn what personal mastery is and some examples will be provided to illustrate the concept in action. You'll have an opportunity to reinforce your knowledge after the lesson with a short quiz.

Why Is It Important?

The concept of personal mastery is one of five disciplines Senge argues is necessary for a learning organization. A learning organization is an organization that encourages and facilitates learning throughout the organization at all levels so that it may transform and adapt in an ever-changing and dynamic world.

Peter Senge

Peter M. Senge is a Senior Lecturer at MIT's Sloan School of Management in leadership and sustainability. His work, including The Five Disciplines, has popularized the concept of a learning organization. He holds a BA in engineering, an SM in social systems, and a PhD in Management.


Personal mastery is a set of specific principles and practices that enable a person to learn, create a personal vision, and view the world objectively.

Three Essential Elements

1. Personal vision. According to Senge, we need to differentiate between vision, goals and objectives. A vision is an image of the future that you desire. Specific goals and objectives may serve to help you achieve the vision. Senge also notes that your vision should have a purpose. If your vision doesn't have a sense of purpose, a reason of being, then pursuing your vision is pointless.

For example, let's say you want to start a computer gaming company. You must first establish your personal vision as it relates to the new start-up. In other words, what is the purpose you wish the company to serve and how do you see the company serving that purpose in the future? You may then set goals and objectives to help you achieve the vision.

2. Creative tension. Senge notes that there is a tension between your personal vision and reality. He argues that there are only two ways to resolve this tension: either by accepting reality and bringing your vision down to it or by using your vision to try to transform reality to match your vision. Attempting to make reality meet your vision is what Senge calls creative tension, because it encourages you to be creative to effect change.

Let's continue with our computer gaming company to illustrate this principle. You have developed what you believe will be a great game, but you are having problems bringing it to market and your start-up funds from a small business loan are about exhausted. You refuse to give up and figure out a way to get an up-and-coming marketing firm to help market your game in exchange for a small percentage of the first year's net sales proceeds. You have used creativity to bridge the distance between reality and your vision.

3. Commitment to truth. Personal mastery also requires an absolute commitment to the truth. This means you must be willing to challenge the way your perceive the world and others. You must be able to objectively analyze the underlying structure or reasons for unfolding events. This will allow you a chance to change the structure of situations or circumstances so that you may achieve the results you seek.

Let's take a final look at our gaming company example. It's been a little over a year since you put your new game on the market. Sales are up and your game has been nominated for some industry awards. You want to take your business to the next level with the development of several new games. However, as always, technology has rapidly changed and you are not up to speed on the newest innovations because of your other business commitments and none of you employees are up to date either. You realize that your organization is no longer equipped to compete effectively. You accept this fact and act upon it by first hiring a new employee and by sending your other employees to seminars to get up to speed. You recognize the truth that you have to focus your efforts on management and forgo the training. You have successfully accepted the truth of the situation, and by accepting the truth, you were able to effectively change your organization so that it can continue to pursue your vision.


Personal Mastery Diagram

Peter Senges argues that a learning organization requires five disciplines to be successful. Personal mastery is one of these disciplines and involves following certain practices and principles that help you learn, create a personal vision, and view the world objectively. Three essential principles of personal mastery include personal vision, use of creative tension, and a commitment to the truth.

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