For two days I immersed myself in the challenges of turning an organization into a learning organization. It’s a concept that Peter Senge introduced in the 1990s and MSH has made it one of its strategic goals. Who would have thought so back in 1990? I facilitated a retreat of the team that has to lead the effort, a daunting task as it requires changes in habits and technology.

We deliberated and reflected in a beautiful place in Arlington, tucked away in a large park, and which is mostly used for weddings. We had an entire house to ourselves, moving our sessions to the terrace, then to the living room and then to one of the upstairs rooms. The days were grandiose summer days, with sprinkles at the end to reward the flowers, especially the azaleas, for their intense blooming.

I discovered Uber, the on-call taxi service provided by ordinary people making some money on the side, or maybe making this their livelihood. The rides are easy to organize, no fares or tips changing hands, all this done via the internet by computers following algorithms whizzing in the background. The rides are also much cheaper, which is good as I get more value for my (or our taxpayers’) money. But there is a downside when you look further up or downstream. The traditional taxi drivers are all from developing countries and their remittances back home are a significant source of income for their countries and extended families. So maybe the short term gains actually create long term problems that are relevant to my organization’s mission: less money streaming in to the families in developing countries, with consequences for nutrition, health and health seeking/maintaining behavior, etc. It’s a dilemma.

It seems to be school or scout trip season in Washington. I am surprised that troops of teens are lodged at the Westin, a pricey hotel, but there they were, right in my hallway, horsing around when they should have been in bed. A restaurant down the street where I ate at yesterday was overtaken by another large group, with a section cordoned off for the 50 or so teens and their tired looking handlers. This morning the breakfast staff was all flustered and behind schedule to serve the youngsters in a way that would not (but did) upset the rest of the customers. Everyone was on edge, including the Maitre d’ who barked at me that the restaurant was not open until 6:30 when it was already 6:35 and nothing was set up in our section of the dining room. It took another 20 minutes for it to look vaguely like it did the other days. When I asked about the cut up fruit I usually start my day with (and a treat in hotels) I was pointed to a bowl with apples, oranges and bananas and told to make my own fruit salad.  I am debating whether to say something about it. I sort of understand them; serving a mass of teens in an upscale hotel restaurant must be nerve wrecking for everyone.

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May 2015
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