Introductory Reading

For people new to the work of Action Design, we recommend the following articles:

  • Argyris, Chris.  “Teaching Smart People How To Learn.”  Harvard Business Review.  May-June 1991, pp. 99-109.  You can download a pdf of this article at for a few dollars.
  • Putnam, Robert.    “Unlocking Organizational Routines that Prevent Learning.”  The Systems Thinker, August 1993, pp. 1-4.
  • If you have access to The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook by Peter Senge et al (1994), see “The Ladder of Inference,” “The Left-Hand Column,” and “Balancing Inquiry and Advocacy,” pages 242-259.


  • For a good introduction to the fundamentals, we recommend Discussing the Undiscussable: A Guide to Overcoming Defensive Routines in the Workplace (Jossey-Bass, 2007) by Bill Noonan.  It includes a DVD with a case situation connected to exercises in the book.  The book web site is
  • One of Chris Argyris’ books: Flawed Advice and the Management Trap (Oxford University Press, 2000).  It offers a critique of advice about effective leadership and organizational change and gives examples of effective corrective action.
  • For an in-depth presentation of the underlying theory, read Organizational Learning II by Chris Argyris and Donald Schön (Addison-Wesley, 1996).  It is a revised and expanded version of their 1978 classic, taking the theory of action approach to the organizational level.