Arie de Geus

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Arie P. de Geus (born 1930) is a Dutch business executive and business theorist, who was the head of Shell Oil Company's Strategic Planning Group and is a public speaker. De Geus made seminal contributions to the concept of the learning organization.


  • Some years ago, the planning group at Shell surveyed 30 companies that had been in business for more than 75 years. What impressed us most was their ability to live in harmony with the business environment, to switch from a survival mode when times were turbulent to a self-development mode when the pace of change was slow. And this pattern rang a familiar bell because Shell’s history is similarly replete with switches from expansion to self-preservation and back again to growth.
  • A company's success no longer depends primarily on its ability to raise investment capital. Success depends on the ability of its people to learn together and produce new ideas

The Living Company, 1997


Arie de Geus, The Living Company, 1997.

  • Companies die because their managers focus on the economic activity of producing goods and services, and they forget that their organizations' true nature is that of a community of humans.
    • p. 3
  • There are times when a company’s know-how, product range, and labor relations are in harmony with the world around it. The business situations are familiar, the company is well organized, and employees are trained and prepared. During those times, managers do not need to develop and implement new ideas. Their job is to allocate resources to promote growth and development, channeling capital and people to the parts of the organization best positioned to benefit from the current state of affairs. Those parts of the organization then become larger, better established, and more powerful.
But just when the company has organized itself, outside circumstances may change. New technologies come on the scene, markets shift, interest rates fluctuate, consumers’ tastes change, and the company must enter a new phase of life. In order to stay in sync with the outside world, it must be able to alter its marketing strategy, its product range, its organizational form, and where and how it does its manufacturing. And once a company has adapted to a new environment, it is no longer the organization it used to be; it has evolved. That is the essence of learning.
  • Cited in: Richard C. Huseman, Jon P. Goodman (1998), Leading with Knowledge: The Nature of Competition in the 21st Century. SAGE Publications, p. 72.
  • To me it was so natural that companies should seek their own survival. I had seen nothing else in my life. Companies struggle to keep going and to grow, for as long as possible.
    • p. 182

Quotes about Arie de Geus

  • Arie de Geus is a former executive with Royal Dutch/Shell who, together with Peter M. Senge, is responsible for the development of the concept of the ‘learning organisation’. In the early 1990s it was Senge, through his best-selling book The Fifth Discipline (1990), who did most to disseminate and popularise the concept. More recently, however, de Geus has produced an important body of writing in his own right, notably The Living Company (1997), in which he takes an organic and holistic view of organisations and closely links their ability to learn with the extent to which they are integrated into their environment.
    • Morgen Witzel, Fifty key figures in management. Routledge, 2004. p. 55
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