There are three preliminary points worth discussing before we get into the more detailed explanation of ‘What is a S-O-L Manager’.

Firstly there is the M.A.P. diagrammatic view of human living. This pervades all of S-O-L.

Secondly there is a useful technique that by now we very often use to get ourselves (as S-O-L Managers) going; and we have come to call it the Conversational MA(R4)S Heuristic.

This is now a well tried technique for enabling someone to reflect very carefully through habitual ways of doing something (i.e. robotish processes). The carefully detailed reflection of MA(R4)S-ing some M.A.P. process often challenges the robot and enables further and deeper insights and skills to be achieved, developed, and brought into play.

We have come to describe this as being the equivalent of giving a user the power to become what George Kelly called A Personal Scientist. The S-O-Ler can now have the tools to really enhance the power and the quality of this personal conversational science.

So before describing the whole process of managing and developing S-O-L in an organisation: Thirdly the whole issue of what use is S-O-L to the Ministry of Defence, evolved out of the many experiments and informal discussions which we had with a wide range of members of the British Armed Forces.

From the end of the 1960’s for some twenty years we had an ongoing arrangement with the Applied Psychology Unit of the Admiralty Research Establishment in Teddington; to develop improved training methods into various parts of the MOD. This was next door to The National Physical Laboratory, which was rather convenient as we were also introducing the newly invented computers into our research.

In the early 1970’s we had delivered a paper at a conference in which we suggested that in psychological learning experiments it might be more useful to believe, and so say, that it was not the stimulus that triggered the response; but rather the meaning which the subject of the experiment attributed to it.

This was dismissed by most experimental psychologists at the time as being “unscientific”. You did experiments on your subjects, not with them; their views were verbal data, irrelevant to your experiment. However, one of the rather more enlightened members of the Admiralty research staff accepted our idea, and asked us to produce some proposals.

Even at that time we had some reluctance to do research that would contribute to increasing the effectiveness of the U.K. Armed Forces. But Laurie, with a first degree in Electrical Engineering, had rather reluctantly done his national service in R.E.M.E.; and we all, except for one of our staff, decided that reasonably paid and carefully tested research into various aspects of human learning, would do greater good when spread more generally; than any harm it might do to increase the reflective effectiveness of the armed forces. (We were able to find a better paid job outside, for our dissenter.)

In retrospect we feel that we made a wise decision. Very early on we felt quite justified because:- we introduced making Ikebana animal figures into a week’s course on “Can We Learn More Effectively?”. Given that we had an assorted group of Army, Navy, and Air Force Officers (including a captain from the Gurkha’s) who from our presentations, the general discussions, and during our practical S-O-L exercises, really learned to create some very impressive toys.

Together they also acknowledged that “taking responsibility for their own learning and helping each other!” was central to their effectiveness. They started by calling it “needing more instruction”; but during the free discussions, since these officers had all been on active service of one kind or another, they gradually discovered that when faced with the actual demands of war, fending for yourself, undeveloped form of S-O-L was indeed what was very often happening.

The wide variety of projects which we carried out with many different groups within the M.O.D. led us eventually to suggest the idea of the S-O-L Manager; and indeed the idea of what we later came to call “Systems 7”. This proved to be too much for the Senior Officers behind the scene; who, probably rightly from their view of discipline, decided that we should look elsewhere for the funding of S-O-L for organisations.

We continued with other more theoretical work with the MOD. But luckily, Laurie and Sheila had again been reading a paper at some conference, and the Edinburgh Head Postmaster had been there. He had been asked to find some way of improving the training of supervisors in the Regional Sorting Offices of the Royal Mail: and he came to see us.

We undertook some provisional work. This gradually developed, and two years later, led to us being invited to introduce S-O-L into all the regional Main Royal Mail Sorting Offices in the U.K. This took us three or four years, and proved to be rather successful. Even now every so often, welcoming chats still occur when the words “Harri-Augstein” appearing one of Sheila’s parcels or letters in a sorting office, catch some P.O. Supervisor’s eye.

It was some time into this national project that we effectively revived the idea of the S-O-L Manager and Systems 7.

This is a enlarged diagram of SYSTEMS 7 which introduces the more detailed explanations of:

The Job of the S-O-L Manager

You can refer back to it if the explanations in the following pages are difficult too see.

As explained earlier, the Conversational MA(R)4S Heuristic offers anybody and everybody a means for increasing their capacity for expanding and developing their understanding of their personal meaning and its consequences. It is recommended that you may need to use this on the following pages where the five nodes and the seven systems are illustrated, described and explained.

To elaborate on this diagram in more detail we will explain the 5 nodes and the 7 systems:-

The five nodes are in black and described below: (followed by following 7 systems diagrams):-

The LEARNING DOMAIN – The learning domain is the whole set of resources, including any task domains, from which and in which the learner may learn.


The LEARNER(S) – The Learner is every learner (everybody). The learner is the worker in the work learning domain, as in ‘learning on the job’. Or they are Managing Director in his office, and everybody in between.(e.g. new recruits to the Cabinet, as in first becoming Home Secretary.)

The LEARNING COACH – The Learning Coach is the Learning Practitioner in his or her role of conducting the core learning conversation at levels 1, 2, or 3. Or anyone, including the learner himself or herself, who can and does conduct a core learning conversation officially or privately with the learner.

The OPPORTUNITIES MANAGER – Are task developer’s who have emerged; as senior supervisors began creating new and improved learning opportunities. They are people who know the learning domain so well that they can manipulate it to provide tailored opportunities and resources for learning, whilst also increasing the organisation’s effectiveness.

The LEARNING MANAGER – The Learning Manager coordinates all these conversational activities, thus translating the learning policy of the enterprise into effective horizons of learning for each self-organised learner. They create the organisational space, conditions and support for self-organised learning to flourish.

As explained above, the MA(R)4S technique enables users to break out of their robots.
System 1 highlighted in yellow above is the process of learning.

It is in the learning domain that all opportunities for learning occur. It includes but is always greater than the area where the work gets done. Learners often fail to tap the richness of the opportunities in their domain. Learning also takes place away from the workplace; at home, on the sports field or in pursuit of some leisure activity.

The learning domain is not just a physical area, it is different in kind. It contains all those people, including trainers, instructors and teachers, who are seen by the learner as sources or resources from whom they can learn, in their own terms about what they want to know.

The learning domain also contains ideas, knowledge and knowhow. This is mainly in more experienced people only but also in books, videos, plans, files, databases, in a good training course, series of lectures or visits and trips to similar domains.

Thus the learning domain is an evolving feast, growing, developing and refining as the members of systems 7 come to recognise where, what, when and how learning opportunities may be created. The organisation’s view of the domain usually differs from that held by the learner.

This is true whether the domain is a submarine, a farm, a shoe shop, a machine shop, the control tower of a large naval vessel; or a Mexican village. One trainee might learn more ‘on the job’ rather than in the more formal training situations. Another might prefer his instructor’s debriefs and the less formal interrogations at the bar. Thus, each creates his or her own learning domain from within the possibilities provided, plus those discovered or created by the S-O-Ler.

The MA(R)4S facility within system 1 allows the learning domain to reflect on its own activities. This enables it to grow adaptively. For instance, in the work situation, new demands on productivity, cost effectiveness and quality; change the nature of the work domain and this will have repercussions for the learner’s engagement with it. Thus the learning domain with its associated MA(R)4S activity becomes system 1 within our systems 7.

As explained above, the MA(R)4S technique enables users to break out of their robots.
System 2 highlighted in yellow above is conducting the S-O-L learning conversation.

The conversation generated between nodes 3 and 2 is central to our concerns, being the learner in his opportunity to converse with the S-O-L Coach. The learner’s monitoring and modelling of this learning activity is what creates the awareness out of which self-organisation may grow.

The MA(R4)S personal reflections and the learning conversation with the S-O-L Coach are the mechanisms which amplify this awareness. Where a learner has ceased to reflect upon the process of learning, or where the quality of this reflection needs to be improved, it is the function of the Learning Conversation to get this S-O-L learning activity working effectively.

Many of the techniques of the learning conversation and many of the tools described in the conversational methods section have been designed to enable the S-O-L Coach to achieve this.

As explained above, the MA(R)4S technique enables users to break out of their robots.
System 3: highlighted in yellow above is creating the learning opportunities.

Node 4, the Opportunities Manager operates system 3, to offer another facility within systems 7. It is important to understand how opportunities for learning are effectively created. People who serve in this capacity must have a thorough and in-depth understanding of the learning domain and they must be prepared to learn what it is they do not yet know.

But more crucially they need to question their own and other people’s assumptions about what can or cannot be done in the various learning domains. They also need to be prepared to discover what might be available if they look hard enough and ask the right questions.

Again it is their MA(R4)S monitoring and modelling of this activity which enables the Task Supervisor to bootstrap themselves into a more and more productive role. What the Task Supervisor does is to manipulate the learning domains so that they are offering especially suitable learning opportunities to each and every learner according to their needs.

As they become more and more skilled at this, more and more people are faced with a reality, which more often than not, nobody had expected or been prepared to question. This manipulation may initially consist in no more than getting permission for someone to spend time in a particular department so that they can see what happens to their ‘paperwork’ as it passes through the system. But eventually more will be asked of them.

One key role of the Task Supervisor is to see that ‘reality has not been altered’ when someone is testing their understanding of how things are. Trainers and superiors often unknowingly tamper with reality, simplifying it so that their explanation of how things are, is simply and clearly shown to work. Helpful colleagues of a learner may try similar simplifying of the reality to protect them.

Learning from experience needs good hard solid, but above all valid experience to learn from. In many of our projects with organisations; the reluctant appointment of a good Tasks Supervisor has been seen as one major improvement, which had a reluctant beginning but eventually brought about unexpected improvements, and handled sensibly benefited everybody: learners, coaches, supervisors, managers and the organisation as a whole.

This is the system 3 within our systems 7.

As explained above, the MA(R)4S technique enables users to break out of their robots.
System 4: highlighted in yellow above is expanding the learning horizons.

A good Task Supervisor who is really in touch with the learning coaches can transform the learning potential of an organisation. This can go wrong in two ways: first, if he does not know the domain sufficiently well to see how it can be manipulated and developed; second, because he believes that he already knows what people really need and therefore does not converse with the learning coaches. What we are describing is a mutually supportive set of mental models of what might and can be done.

The learners are attempting to develop, elaborate and refine their task models so that they become more effective. They aim to increase their understanding of the domain, their job, and the other tasks and relationships within it.

The learning coaches have models of the learning conversation which are tested, elaborated and refined day by day in the real world of organisational learning. Each Coach can use his or her understanding of learning to converse with learners in ways that enable them to organise their own learning better, learn more effectively and increase their appetite and capacity for learning.

The coach uses an understanding of each individual learner and their purposes to negotiate with the Task Supervisor to create more and better opportunities for learning, not only without disrupting the primary work objectives of the organisation but very often through the Learning Manager, influencing the development of the organisation itself.

The Task Supervisor has a model of the domain, not only its staffing and resources but also its objectives and real constraints and freedoms. They test out the limits from time to time in order to validate, elaborate and refine their understanding. They use this to converse with the Coaches to continually discover and invent Opportunities for Learning.

Finally as S-O-L spreads more generally through an organisation, our repeated experience is that morale improves and a majority of the people in the organisation become more effective and the performance of the organisation itself improves.

As explained above, the MA(R)4S technique enables users to break out of their robots.

System 5 highlighted in yellow above is developing the learning conversations.
System 6 highlighted in yellow above is increasing the learning opportunities.
System 7 highlighted in yellow above is negotiating the learning policy.

The Learning Manager defines their job by the way they decide to manage the three systems highlighted in yellow in the diagram above. In system 7 they are responsible for enabling the organisation to develop a learning policy.

This varies depending upon the nature and maturity of the organisation. At one extreme the Governing Board determine the learning policy; they alone are the stakeholders.

At the other extreme, everybody in the organisation is a stakeholder; and they are all fully represented in the development of the learning policy. The Learning Manager is also responsible for the development and organisation of the learning coaches. This is the means by which the whole workforce are encouraged to become S-O-Lers.

Finally they need to develop the Opportunities Manager so that she or he becomes increasingly able to create learning opportunities which serve the needs of the S-O-L Coaches. The coaches necessarily serve the purposes of the organisation as well as the needs of each individual learner.

Anyone looking further into this should refer to Andrew Taylor’s Ph.D. thesis in the C.S.H.L Publications section of this website.