Double Loop Learning Resources



William R. Noonan (2007) Discussing the Undiscussable: A Guide to Overcoming Defensive Routines in the Workplace page Book website (first chapter is available free from the site).
This is the most accessible book on Argyris’ ideas if you’re interested in applying them personally. The book has many stories of the author failing to produce ‘open for learning’ behaviour which I’ve found very helpful.

Chris Argyris, Robert Putnam, and Diana McLain Smith (1985) Action Science: Concepts, Methods, and Skills for Research and Intervention.
As this book is out of print, it is available as a free PDF download. The second half is an excellent description of how to learn how to produce behaviour consistent with ‘Model II’.

Roger Martin (2003). The Responsibility Virus: How Control Freaks, Shrinking Violets-and the Rest of Us-Can Harness the Power of True Partnership
Here’s a good review of the book, and a free PDF – ‘Board Governance and The Responsibility Virus’ which covers some of the main points, including a good lay-person summary of the governing values of ‘Model I’ and ‘Model II’

Sue Clark & Mel Myers (2007)Managing Difficult Conversations at Work A practically focussed book with a very good description of the ‘open to learning’ (Model II) approach. It has annotated example conversations and is very useful if you’re wondering “What do ‘open to learning’/Model II conversations actually look like?”

Web Pages

Podcasts / Videos



  • Diana McLain Smith has a podcast “How Great Teams Turn Conflict into Strength” from Stanford Social Innovation Review 23 Sep 2008. Diana was a student of Argyris who wrote the book “Divide of Conquer” she mentions Argyris and his focus on defensive routines in this lecture.

General Blogs on Argyris

Blogs on Argyris and Systems Thinking

Resources on the Left Hand Right Hand Column Case Study Format

The Ladder of Inference

Academic Links


Twitter mentions of #Argyris

Annotated Bibliography of Argyris’ works


11 responses to “Double Loop Learning Resources”

  1. bwghughes Avatar

    Great set of resources here Benjamin – thanks.

  2. […] of Agile can help towards successful implementations. For example the work of Chris Argyris, as promoted by Benjamin Mitchell, can help towards Personal […]

  3. […] especially it it’s done superficially. Ask Argyris (well, you might not want to bother him, read instead). Each of us has a set of espoused values. Values we think we put in practice. There is however […]

  4. […] A big post all about Chris Argyris covering more than single/double loop learning A lot of different Chris Argyris resources in one place Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in […]

  5. […] Chris Argyris – Argyris resources at Benjamin Mitchell’s blog […]

  6. John Rusk Avatar

    Nice to see this stuff being discussed in our industry.

  7. […] can find additional resources at Benjamin Mitchell’s blog, and at Action […]

  8. […] can set you down a new path in life. It’s not a new book but is the first one recommended on Benjamin Mitchells blog for those wanting to read about the work of Chris […]

  9. Heather Davis Avatar

    Thanks Benjamin,
    A lovely curation of this important work and great to see links to people taking Argyris’s ideas and putting them to work.
    I read Roger Martin’s ‘responsibility virus’ book back in 2003 and continue to follow his work. I thought it was a great text to really surface how we are managed by Model I behaviours. However, even at the time I felt it was missing examples of Model II behaviours. Now I think we need the next edition more than ever.

    1. Benjamin Mitchell Avatar

      Hi Heather,

      Thanks for your comment; I’m always excited to find others that are interested in Chris Argyris’ work.

      I’m interested that you thought Roger Martin’s ‘Responsibility Virus’ lacked examples of Model II behaviours. I haven’t looked at in that way, so I’ll need to think of it a bit more. I’m curious what you’re seeing or hearing that leads you to say “we need the next edition more than ever?”

      Examples of Model II behaviour are an interesting challenge. Argyris holds back from demonstrating Model II behaviour, at least initially. I think this is because he believes that people often believe (espouse) that they can produce Model II when in his experience, most people are not able to produce Model II behaviours in tricky or challenge (‘potentially embarrassing or threatening’) situations but they think they can.

      As a concrete example, one behavioural strategy of model II, ‘balancing advocacy and inquiry’ sounds extremely simple when I’ve explained it to people, yet even working with groups focussed on improved conversation, I’ve had experiences where no-one in the group has asked a genuine question even in 15 minutes of transcribed conversation.

      In the video of Chris Agyris’ lecture, an audience member claims “we all get this Theory (sic) I, how about demonstrating what Theory (sic) II might look like?” to which he replies “Why don’t you describe a situation that you think demonstrates Model I and ask me what would a Model II statement look like?”. My view is that he’s modelling that Model II statements are more powerful when they relate to an individual’s situation.

      My experience has been that there are good “nuggets” of example Model II behaviours in certain Argyris text books (I like his “Reasoning, Action & Learning” and “Strategy, Change and Defensive Routine” and a chapter of Schön’s “Educating the Reflective Practitioner”). Robert Putnams work on ‘recipes’ has been helpful in practice along with the ‘ground rules of effective teams’ (aka behavioural strategies consistent with Model II) in Roger Schwarz’s Skilled Facilitator Approach.

      I’d love to know your experience of learning, or helping others learn Model II. Let me know your reaction to the views I’ve shared above.


      1. Paul Beckford Avatar

        Hi Benjamin,

        Fascinating stuff.

        “I’d love to know your experience of learning, or helping others learn Model II. ”

        Does one learn Modell II or does Modell II type behaviour naturally emerge in situations and contexts where people feel safe to behave in a more Model II type way?

        Also, are we falling in the trap of two valued thinking here? I don’t think the choice is either/or, but more of a continuum from pure Model I to pure Model II, and with many conversations falling somewhere in the middle.

        Agyris comment at then end of the video is quite telling I think. The one about the observer who said she wouldn’t have subjected herself to the Model II type inquiry/advocacy that Argyris had performed with her colleague.

        Agyris said that this is the problem. People not wanting to subject themselves to model II (more so then people not knowing how to do it).

        It makes me think of Socrates and his dialectic. Open and honest inquiry/advocacy with the clear goal of mutual learning. And look what happened to him 🙂

        For Model II to thrive, maybe there needs to be a safe and trusting environment first? It feels like one of those chicken and eggs situations. To be honest whilst I can tell that the two things are mutually supportive (safe/high trust environments and Model II), I’m not sure whether one is a prerequisite to the other, and if so, which should come first. Maybe they both need to emerge together? Not sure. My sense is that the mechanism by which Model II behaviour arises is complex!

        My guess from my own observations is Modell II Inquiry/advocacy in an unsafe/low trust environment is often seen as a foreign element and a threat to the status quo and something that needs to be ejected. Leading to even well intentioned people deciding to opt for Model I instead.

        Interested in your thoughts, and thanks for sharing.


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