In this article, the author Chris Argyris puts it simply, "because many professionals are almost always successful at what they do, they rarely experience failure. And because they have rarely failed, they have never learned how to learn from failure." He basically says that when these individuals are wrong, they become defensive, screen out criticism, and blame anyone and everyone but themselves. In short, their ability to learn shuts down precisely at the moment they need it the most.
Getting people to learn is largely a matter of motivation. When people have the right attitudes and commitment, learning automatically follows. So companies focus on creating new organizational structures—compensation programs, performance reviews, corporate cultures, and the like—that are designed to create motivated and committed employees.
For 15 years, the author of this article studied professionals and their learning habits. He determined that as long as efforts at learning and change focused on external organizational factors - such as job redesign, compensation programs, performance review, and leadership training—the professionals were enthusiastically learning. However, as soon as the focus turned to the professional's own performance, their motivation and commitment to excellence was gone. Argyris determined that this occurred because the professionals were threatened by the prospect of critically examining their own role in the organization, making them feel vulnerable. This resulted in defensive reasoning.
To counter defensive reasoning, Argyris suggests the professionals need to learn how to reason productively. People can be taught how to recognize the reasoning they use when they design and implement their actions. They can begin to identify the inconsistencies between their perceived and actual theories of action. Once they have an understanding of what they do and how they do it, the professionals will learn more efficiently and effectively.