In his 1989 book Managing as a Performing Art, Peter Vaill coined the term permanent white water to describe the unpredictable environment in which we work. Whatever the circumstances, nonstop white water puts individuals in the position of doing things they have little experience with or have never done before – thus making effective learning they most critical skill. Yet, formal managerial training – via M.B.A. and other ongoing programs – as left managers ill-prepared to ride the high waves of change; current reengineering efforts that focus on innovation and nonstop reorganization in an effort to quell the waters have only made them more turbulent.
In Learning as a Way of Being, Vaill offers a thoughtful critique of the roots of management education and argues that, if managers are to navigate the water skilfully, institutions of “higher learning” must, above all, teach managers how to integrate the discipline of learning into their very being. Such learning must be marked by strong self-direction, willingness to take risks, and integration of the learning that life teaches outside the institution.
Speaking to managers, executives, educators, and management development professionals alike, Vaill explores the impacts of learning as a way of being on current issues and management – including systems thinking, leadership, culture, and spirituality – and posits that managers who embrace such learning are the only ones who create a true learning organization.
Peter B. Vaill is professor of human systems and director of the Ph.D. program at the School of Business and Public Management, George Washington University. In 1985, Vaill was described in Training and Development Journal as one of the top 10 organization development specialists in the United States. A book of his essays, Managing as a Performing Art: New Ideas for a World of Chaotic Change, was published by Jossey-Bass in 1989. Since 1990, Vaill has been a member of the board of governors of the Centre for Creative Leadership.