Triple Loop Learning: Being, Thinking and Doing

Daniel Stillman
2 min readJul 12, 2022

this essay first appeared on my personal blog here.

Learning happens on three levels. The most primal is single loop learning — doing something to get a result…and checking in to see if it got you closer to your goal. (Loop A, below)

Think about following a recipe step by step and checking in at the end — does it look and taste like it should? If you’ve ever used someone else’s agenda or activities for a meeting and not gotten the results you wanted, you might ask — did I DO exactly what I should have done?

Often there are unseen variables in a recipe — the freshness of the herbs, how one cuts the ingredients, the altitude of the cook — and the attitude of the cook, too!

Shifts at the level of thinking are essential in complex contexts. A Chef nearly always has to modify a recipe on the fly to adapt to evolving conditions. Otherwise, we can get caught in an Insanity Loop: Doing the same thing, over and over again, and never getting the results we want. (this is loop B)

To get out of a trap of single loop, reactive learning, we need to think differently, which can be a challenge. Plus, if our current thinking and doing isn’t getting us the results we want…How do we shift how we think?

Which brings us to the third loop of learning (loop C). Shifts at the level of thinking can produce powerful results…and the easiest, most high-leverage way to shift your thinking is at the level of being. We can shift our being by letting go of what we’re not, or by shifting our aspirations and our imagination.

Working at the level of being is transformative. Shifts in mindset help you reimagine your role as a host and leader.

The Triple loop learning model draws on the work of Chris Argyris Donald Schön, but this version, boiled down to its essential core, came to me through my coach, Robert Ellis.