Whenever we're thinking about making a change, making an impact or making progress, it's time to look at our challenge through strategic lenses. If we take the situation literally, at face value or superficially, we're likely to function as our own worst enemy. Poor strategic judgment is the result of a failure to see what is hidden, subtle and unstated. Strategic lenses correct that deficiency by questioning our choice of perceptions.
1. Strategic outlook or tactical fixation? When we're seeing our situation strategically, we combine a panoramic overview with focused attention. We get the big picture and the particulars of the detailed situation. We remember the purpose/mission of our intervention while getting down to the task at hand.
----- When we're suffering from tactical fixation, we've lost sight of the mission, big picture and access to alternative maneuvers. We're trapped by our attention to details, fear of getting distracted and obsession with being right about the obvious evidence. We dwell on the details and miss the opportunities to outmaneuver the opposition.
2. Direct or indirect strategy? When we see a process to trust and nurture, we feel we can take an indirect approach. We create demand, hunger, appetite or urges in others. We get them to sell themselves on what we're selling instead of giving them a sales pitch. We let go of making the results happen and allow the desired outcome to come around on its own.
----- When we're oblivious to any trustworthy process, we're left with no alternative but to take a direct approach. We become pushy, persistent and obnoxious to make things happen. We expect to succeed by forcing the issue, overcoming objections and intimidating the opposition.
3. Strategic or literal weakness? When we realize how strengths can backfire, bait attacks or slow down our own maneuvers, we see the benefits of weakness. We sense the wisdom in appearing to be a work in progress than a finished work of art. We suspect we're indulging in overconfidence, hubris and conceited outlooks when we think we're strong, better or invulnerable. We look for the flip-side of each presumed strength for its inherent weakness, failing or shortcoming.
----- When we take our strengths literally, we're afraid of appearing weak. We come on too strong, make enemies of potential allies and overstep our bounds. We don't know when to back off because it's inconceivable how that could be a show of hidden strength rather than an obvious admission of defeat, inferiority or vulnerability.
4. Strategic emptiness or fullness? When we're observant of how our minds function under pressure, we see the wisdom in increasing innocence. We favor our mental resources for questioning the obvious and becoming fascinated with unforeseen possibilities. We challenge our predictions for what always happens, never occurs and cannot come about. We see how to take advantage of others presumptions to play them for the fool.
----- When we're afraid of how our minds sabotage our over-zealous ambitions, we regard innocence as dangerous vulnerability. We favor our mental resources for aggression, conviction and endurance. We become full of ourselves and easily baited by others' shows of weakness, vulnerability and ignorance. We keep up our own confidence at all cost rather than shatter our preconceptions with a reality check.
When we look at a situation through all these strategic lenses, we'll get a very different sense of what to do. We derail our tendency to jump to conclusions. We give ourselves more to reflect upon and consider from several different angles.
In recent weeks, I've left a few comments about the TIMN framework on David Ronfeldt's blog: Visions from Two Theories. Yesterday, I was discussing with a friend how TIMN could be applied to revising the governance of schools that is a facet of the current Race to the Top competition in the US. If you've followed my previous explorations of the TIMN framework, you know me to be very process oriented and eager to apply David's macro scale analysis (social evolution) to micro scales of psychological states and stages of single enterprise evolution.
My latest thinking has also been helped along by Philip Blond's essay last month in the UK's Prospect Magazine: Rise of the red Tories. He suggests that we've ended up worse off as a society from the expansion of big corporations and big governments (in the UK and the US) via too much individualism. Like the blogs of Michel Bauwens, John Robb and Jeff Vail, Blond foresees a migration toward communitarianism where small, self-governing communities thrive on the diverse contributions of local participants. I got the the idea from his analysis of excessive individualism that private enterprises in a Market could progress toward a collaborative, "Main Street" economy or regress into those "too big to fail" global corporations that function like Institutions. This helped me define the potentially progressive (M -> N) and regressive (M -> I) patterns for the M in the TIMN framework through my "process biased" lens. I then applied this perspective to the governance of schools, which looks like this:
- Tribal school governance leaves each educational issue for every tribe to resolve by itself. There would be a lack of infrastructure like educational materials, curriculum development and teacher training. A teacher would emerge from the collective gathering as one resourceful enough to improvise amidst transient or sparse conditions. There would be very controlling legacy traditions to compensate for the tribe's inability to better serve those in need of an education. Those who respected those confining traditions would be honored while others' disrespect of them would be taken as dishonor to the entire tribe.
- Institutional school governance replaces honored traditions with uniform policy compliance. Hierarchies of administrators would provide massive infrastructure to ensure quality in spite of incompetent or under-qualified instructors. Exceptional educators would go unrecognized to avoid "playing favorites" or stirring up resentment among the less fortunate. The system would provide uniform materials, instruction and testing to compare individual students to established norms. Everyone would be expected to meet established standards or endure the stigma of deviant, defective or deficient qualifications.
- Market school governance opens those closed compliance systems and invites individual innovations. Emphasis shifts from uniformity to customization of services via flattened, democratic and discretionary administrative practices. Individual students get regarded as one-of-a-kind opportunities to identify special needs, work with exceptional abilities and remediate personal shortcomings. Likewise, educators would be differentiated and valued for their unique contributions. Everyone would be expected to cultivate their talents, expressiveness and viewpoint. Performance and productions could on be evaluated subjectively, as an added dimension of feedback to supplement the actual outcomes, peers' responses and self-critiques.
- Networks school governance assumes every participant in the educational system is connected within and outside the system. Students are interconnected via social networking platforms and handheld technologies. Teachers are connected to other teachers across school and district lines as if "not invented here" no longer applies to the kinds of problems and solutions under consideration. Administrators would experience every day offering the value of "professional conferences" as they could easily tap into their network for advice, perspectives and encouragement. All this connectedness also implicates each participant as a contributor, responder and reciprocator. Everyone would spend lots of time each day keeping the conversations going within their personal networks. The prior concept of "valid educational activity" would drift from formal instructional practices to this vast array of informal explorations, contributions and collaborative realizations.
There's a pattern of regression in the long history of failed educational reforms. Breakout approaches to education innovation appear to get off to a great start. They fit the pattern of "market school governance" I detailed above. Yet, over the years, they migrate from open to closed, diverse to uniform, and distributed to centralized administrative controls. In short they regress from Market forms of school governance to Institutional forms. The advent of social networking at a global scale suggests to me that we could enter a new era of successful enduring educational reforms. Adopting the Network form of school governance could bring about that change.
A large number of newly hatched educators drop out of the teaching profession every year. An even larger number of high school and college students drop out before graduation. This morning I've been exploring the possibility of a gradual process building up enough frustrations to culminate in dropping out regardless of age or maturity. The process starts with losing out, followed by acting out which leads to burning out which ends up with dropping out. This process applies equally to teachers and students. The consequences of closed minds, extrinsic rewards and linear delivery systems play no favorites.
- Losing out: When receiving formal evaluations of performance that determine the amount of reward, intrinsic motivations go into hiding. It does not matter whether the rewards impacted by the evaluation are points on a quiz or the size of a pay raise. The person framed by contingent rewards no longer gets in the mood to do anything and can only force themselves to show up. They stop getting creative ideas, empathic insights into others or inspired alternatives to solve chronic problems. They lose out big time.
- Acting out: After the loss occurs, a bounty of negative emotions arise. There's anxiety about the loss and suspicions of personal inadequacies. There's lots of resentment toward the authority figures to dish out those supposedly objective evaluations. There's frustrations with how much of the required activities seem contrived, useless and senseless. Finally, the inner turmoil gets acted out as misdirected anger, retaliatory hostilities or other forms of taking one's own frustrations out on others.
- Burning out: The cathartic experiences of acting out only provide temporary relief. There is a concurrent loss of stamina, endurance and motivation. those who've passed through phases of losing out and acting out become more passive, dependent on others and incapable of personal initiative. Feeling numb, bored and indifferent leads to acting bored, apathetic and indifferent. Commitments seem annoying. Requests seem like impositions. Conversations seem excessive. Burnout has replaced acting out.
- Dropping out: The situation calls for a "fight or flight" response. The pervasiveness of the adversity seems far too extensive to fight it. Nearly everyone appears to be content with feeding the problem, perpetuating the abuses and ignoring the effects on individuals. It's taken for granted that participants would lose out, act out and burn out. Everyone is looking at what's going on with closed minds. The only solution is to get out of the toxic system. It seems like the open-minded thing to do that may possibly revive intrinsic motivations and self respect.
The dropouts' assessment of the problem appears accurate to me. There's no solution at the level of changing job/course requirements, pay/grades rewards or counseling/advising interventions. The system needs to replace uniform requirements with self-selected explorations, extrinsic with intrinsic rewards and content delivery with peer reciprocation systems that will open closed minds.
One of the many reasons we keep our minds closed is to keep a lid on our emotional turmoil. We've had bad experiences of our uncontrollable outbursts which teach us to suppress those urges diligently. These experiences give our irrational side a bad name. We assume anything that is not logical has to be problematic and in need of control. We pride ourselves in being rational at great expense to our intrinsic motivation, empathy for others and personal creativity. We assume self discipline and self control are viable solutions. We don't realize we've gotten out of touch with our feelings just like zombies, ice queens and robots make so obvious to us.
Feelings are very different experiences from our emotions. Emotions are irrational in ways are are incompatible with rationality. Feelings make tons of sense and add a deeper dimension to our logical reasoning. Emotions arise from our primitive limbic system in ways that hijack our thinking mind. Feelings come more from our right brain where we receive inspirations, inner guidance and panoramic awareness of situations. Emotions are a problem that accompanies closed minds. Feelings are solutions which come to open minds. Feelings give our irrational side a good name.
We're in touch with our feelings whenever we:
- bask the beauty, blessings and good fortune of the scene out the window or before us outdoors
- get a sense of the best time to do something to have the best effect
- experience a harmless connection to particular animals or plant life
- happen to be "in the right place at the right time"
- lose track of time when we're immersed in some activity we enjoy deeply
- get more curious, fascinated and full of wonder about something we're exploring
- exude compassion toward those in need of comfort, support or understanding
As you may discern from that list, feelings differ from emotions in many dimensions. In contrast, positive and negative emotions are:
- urgent and driven
- expressions of appetites and hungers
- seeking to control or intimidate others
- reacting to evidence with fear and desperation
- fixated on literal interpretations of evidence
- manipulating the impressions others have of us
- insensitive and inconsiderate of others
Hope you now have a feeling for the difference between emotions and feelings :-)
Closed minds act as if "words speak louder than actions". Closed minds ignore how they appear to be acting. They expect people to "do as I say, not do as I do" and never mind the mixed signals.
Open minds take the opposite approach. They presume that "actions speak louder than words". What's even better is the congruence of words and actions, a.k.a "walking the talk". When people can follow both our words and/or our actions and get the same message, we earn some serious credibility.
That raises the question of what am I doing right now and what that allows you to do? If you've been habituated into being told what to think at great expense to thinking for yourself, you may assume my actions are telling you you'd better not be thinking differently from me. However I have very different ideas about how I'm acting while I'm writing these words. Here's some possibilities:
Open minds take the opposite approach. They presume that "actions speak louder than words". What's even better is the congruence of words and actions, a.k.a "walking the talk". When people can follow both our words and/or our actions and get the same message, we earn some serious credibility.
That raises the question of what am I doing right now and what that allows you to do? If you've been habituated into being told what to think at great expense to thinking for yourself, you may assume my actions are telling you you'd better not be thinking differently from me. However I have very different ideas about how I'm acting while I'm writing these words. Here's some possibilities:
- I'm expressing myself in this blogging venue that gives you equal freedom to express yourself.
- I'm reflecting on my recent experiences and sharing insights gleaned from them -- in hopes that you would do the same with your experiences.
- I'm creating insights into facets of experiences we may have in common that could give you fresh ways to see what you're facing.
- I'm exploring concepts that fascinate me as an example for you to explore concepts that fascinate you.
- I'm finding the flow to go with prior to writing anything so you also get the feeling of well-timed actions coming to you easily.
- I'm generating digital content for a searchable archive that may serve so anytime in the future that your own keyword search comes across this.
- I'm showing you how to follow my example of using words to get others to reflect more deeply on their own experiences.
Over the weekend, I searched YouTube for videos on intrinsic motivation. I found a couple TED talks by authors on the subject and some animations from the long tail of crowdsourced content generators. Neither paid author appeared to be intrinsically motivated in their body language, tone of voice or presentation format or use of graphics. The animations seemed intrinsically motivated to me. This contrast appeared to fit the pattern I wrote about in Quality of writing for hire where the unpaid writers create text that is far more readable and rewarding. That page was the third most read of mine last year - further indication of the impact of intrinsically motivated explaining, writing and presenting.
My further reflection on this weekend discovery led me to another question: What is there to look for when watching for intrinsically motivated authors, experts and consultants? Here's what I came up with to answer that question of mine:
- Really want to do it or making themselves do it - When we're intrinsically motivated, getting paid is an added bonus, but not the reason or incentive to contribute. We're glad to be doing it because it feels fulfilling and purposeful. We have a sense that we're the right person for the job that comes at an especially good time for us.
- Relating to the audience or taking a defensive posture - When we're intrinsically motivated, we're expressing our concerns for others, making offers of solutions, and sharing insights that may relieve some others' anxieties. We've anticipated how to prevent their confusion and address their viewpoint.
- Welcoming interpretations or insisting on one right answer - When we're intrinsically motivated, we realize how everyone's motivation, perceptions and attributions are unique. We expect the value in our self expression will be taken many different ways through many varied filters by others.
- Offering a work in progress or the final answer - When we're intrinsically motivated, we're filled with wonder and fascination. We don't know what our activities will bring to us to give to others. We're caught up in an immersive exploration that only allows for us to offer timely progress reports.
- In the flow or struggling under pressure - When we're intrinsically motivated, we're thinking "yes, thanks, more please" to life right now. We're basking in the bounty of good things coming our way. We relate to adversity as welcome challenges that will likely bring out our best character, inner resources and creativity.
Each of these distinctions are easily detected in writing, videos and presentations. We can tell which side of the line others fall on. We may also use these as standards to hold ourselves to our criteria to evaluate our own contributions.
Here's a pattern that became evident to me amidst the drama of last week:
When our minds are closed, we're inclined to respect authority without question. We seek the approval of those whom we believe are superior to us in ability, power and experience. We sense that we cannot respect ourselves because we're lacking in those superior qualities. We remain needy, insecure and vulnerable to exploitation while our minds are closed.
Authority figures with equally closed minds help us to keep our minds from opening up. They reward us with extrinsic prizes that trash our intrinsic motivations. They dish out enough disrespect to keep us insecure and needy for their approval. They punish those with self respect for failing to respect the authority figure's superiority from their own place of inferiority. They have problems with those who's self respect guides them to do the right thing, rather than conform, comply and submit to power-hungry coercion.
When our minds are open, we're inclined to question authority. We seek answers and guidance within for wise outlooks, choices and priorities. We find a self within that is worthy of respect regardless of what others' opinions may insist upon. We're accepting of our self respect evoking disrespect from others. We can perceive those who dish out disrespect as lacking self respect or any sense to do the right thing. They cannot respect themselves because their minds are closed, they are addicted to extrinsic rewards and they have not found a self within to respect.
With our self respect, we naturally respect others with self respect. We don't need their respect, but it comes without trying. We fulfill the paradox of "those that get the most respect do not need it because they already have self respect". With that self respect comes the curiosity to explore where our intrinsic motivations lead us. We learn more informally and set up others to do the same.
In Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us - Dan Pink compares the use of performance-contingent rewards to burning coal and the nurturing of intrinsic motivation to solar power. He focused on how coal is a cheap fuel to burn with costly consequences. As I reflected on his analogy, I recalled that infamous picture of steel mills in full production putting out so much smog the streetlights were left on in the daytime. That image perfectly fits the toxic impact of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. To add the image of solar power to this, the smog of coal-fired, non-renewable, extrinsic rewards blocks the renewable sunshine from getting used as an energy source.
This analogy rings true to my experience with my own intrinsic motivation. It's not even slightly difficult for me to get fired up to do the things I love to do, including reading and writing for this blog. Yet whenever I get dragged down by something I have to do, in spite of it's bad timing, ill conceived solution or wasted effort, I have lots of trouble getting back in touch with my intrinsic motivation. It's as if I have polluted my mental skies anytime I avoid a stick or earn a carrot. Consequently, I cannot see through the smog of performance-contingent motivation I've poured out my smokestack to that boundless source of renewable energy in me.
When I've addressed this contrast between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation with executives or college students, I've used a different metaphor. I compare intrinsic motivation to the lifeblood of any vibrant endeavor. Full blooded efforts are energizing, as if there is a renewable source of motivation within us. When we're tapped into our intrinsic motivation, we lose track of time and amaze ourselves with our endurance, dedication and zest. We get into "the zone", also called the "flow state".
I've defined the blood chemistry of lifeblood with DS/RAM components: Dignity, Self Reliance, Autonomy and Meaning:
- Dignity: We respect our abilities, limits, passions and perspectives. With self respect and trust, we have the basis to respect and trust others.
- Self Reliance: We trust ourselves to keep our commitments, deliver results and learn to do things better. This may require asking for help, getting shown a better way or admitting our lack of experience.
- Autonomy: We realize we perform better when we're left to decide how to do it and when to get it done. We find we're a better judge of what we had in mind and what problems we created for ourselves.
- Meaning: We put our own spin on everything and see what we want to see. When this subjective process works for us, we see cups as half full, see clever ways to turn lemons into lemonade and see solutions within the obvious problems.
Conventional management and personnel evaluation methods throw this baby out with the bath water. It reminds me of the archaic practice of bloodletting whenever the life blood of an endeavor has been removed by higher ups and control tactics. Manipulators of extrinsic rewards try to solve motivation problems by removing DS/RAM. By draining the participants of their "bad blood", it's assumed they will be more motivated. Bloodletting killed George Washington, the first President of the US, after he had retired to Mount Vernon. The practice of getting bad blood to cure sickness was still being used during the Civil War in the next century.
It appears we are equally slow to catch on to harness intrinsic motivations and renewable energy sources. As Dan Pink says, our management practices are twenty years behind the science. He wonders whether we may end up eliminating the profession of management once we realize how self motivated everyone can be when they're not getting managed. I'm thinking we will even be competent at evaluating ourselves once work gets done informally.
When we're faced with the challenge of getting others to do the work, take the necessary initiative and/or produce the desired results, we can approach this with an open or closed mind. In either case, the outcome depends on the others' motivation. They may be self-motivated or "in need of some motivation". The work may be "no-brainer" or calling for lots of resourcefulness, problem solving and responsiveness to situational variations. As Dan Pink shows us in Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us - the situation may be safe for using extrinsic rewards or fraught with peril.
If we are in danger, our minds will be closed by default. We may be in danger of failing to get the others to do the work. We may be apprehensive about trouble coming from higher ups, clientele or team members who are relying on us to get this done. We may be in danger of the others only making a show of trying to do the work, coming up with excuses or getting distracted by other responsibilities. We may also face dangers of doing more harm than good, creating a worse problem and trashing future cooperation by bungling our use of rewards.
If our minds are closed, we will delude ourselves into thinking it's wise to put carrots on the table. We will set goals and reward the others if they meet the imposed targets on time and under budget. We may create a contest where the best completions win a prize while the others lose out on getting rewarded. We may established a metric to monitor progress and outcomes objectively so the others can compete and beat out their rivals. We might even give everyone a reward if they complete the sequence, but give bigger rewards for the bigger results.
Everyone of these schemes offers extrinsic motivation contingent on performance. These rewards implicitly enforce compliance, control contributions and restrict variations in conduct. They put people "on a short leash" and "pull their chain". Their potential self motivation gets overridden by chasing after the carrots on the table. The lose track of their intrinsic purpose, satisfactions and abilities to grow from the experience. They feel like "slaves to the machine" doing "no brainer work" even if the work is really complex and challenging.
When our minds are open, we get those insidious carrots off the table immediately. We eliminate the potential harm induced by contingent rewards. We make sure everyone has enough resources to run with the ball and solve the problems they encounter. We verify that everyone is getting equal opportunities and fair treatment. We realize their intrinsic motivations will thrive when each is given discretion over what they do, how they do it with whom, when they do it and why they are getting the work done. We assume people have the drive to get things done better than before so long as we stop sabotaging their intrinsic motivation.
I'm currently reading and enjoying Dan Pink's latest book: Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Light bulbs have been going off in my head as he reveals empirically verified patterns of human motivation. I've known myself to be intrinsically motivated as far back as elementary school. But I've not felt I really understood those who go after the highest grades, who rack up the most points on the scoreboard or who compete with colleagues for the biggest paycheck. They appear to make the reward an end in itself, rather than incidental to the deeper pleasures of the process, journey and self-realizations. This book tells us that those who devote themselves consistently to contingent, extrinsic rewards are addicted to them. They lack intrinsic motivation due to the insidious effects of extrinsic rewards on one's sense of self determination and autonomy.
All this correlates with what I've been exploring recently about closed minds. An open mind explores the potential significance, value and personal responsibility in a task where it realizes some self motivation to get it done. A closed mind exploits the potential conquest, advantage and power to control others in a task. The closed mind then depends on the reward to make the task worthwhile and it eventually loses motivation once the thrill is gone. The people I get along with easily are all self motivated and appreciative of their own intrinsic rewards. Those people I know who have become addicted to extrinsic rewards show all these telltale signs of trashing their intrinsic motivation and open minds:
- Keeping their eyes on the prize and love for the scoreboard while losing sight of the purpose, significance and value of the pursuit.
- Seeming disoriented and desperate when encountering someone with autonomy from approval-seeking, self-respecting healthy boundaries and robust intrinsic motivations
- Framing every situation to their personal advantage with lenses of superior/inferior, advantaged/disadvantaged, winners/losers, or in control/out of control
- Stockpiling materialistic evidence of their extrinsic worth to compensate for feeling inadequate, empty, insatiable and desperate
- Acting driven to control others, tell them how to live and blame them for any sources of embarrassment, bad publicity or censure
- Expressing their devotion to private wealth with no concept of commonwealth, common good and common interests with those "lowly common folk"
- Experiencing defeat, loss and victimization when forced to pay taxes or their fair share in collective efforts
To consider these behavior patterns as symptoms of an addiction has been eye-opening for me. Conduct like this may reveal insatiable appetites, poor judgment, desperate pursuits and denial of the pattern itself. They suggest a haunting empty feeling that no extrinsic rewards or pleasures can really fill. They also predict the addicts' urges to manipulate other's suspicions with deceits, false pretenses and inflated promises. They are trapped in a perpetual cycle of "people pleasing" that fails to diminish the barrage of disrespect, defiance and self contempt. Their recovery calls for opening their minds to their own intrinsic motivations.
When we get entangled with closed minded people, we lose sight of what all is possible for us to experience with others. We get captivated with a bunch of predictable problems that come with the territory of pervasive closed mindedness. We're likely to be on the receiving end of a boatload of disrespect because closed minded individuals cannot respect themselves or others. Likewise, we're not going to be trusted by those who cannot trust themselves or others. We will be showing up in their play space, looking like a thing to be toyed with, manipulated, controlled or kicked around. We're apt to get deceived by their coverups and attempts to avoid scrutiny. Finally, we will look like a loss, unfair expense or other kind of burden in their selfish world where everyone can only look out for themselves. All this adds up to one big nightmare which obscures all that is possible for us to experience with others.
When problems like these seem inevitable, so are their complete opposites. We'd be wise when entangled to flip out into what we can alternatively experience with others who are also "more than open minded". Here's how I imagine that possibility unfolding:
We're basking in mutual respect as each one of us respects ourselves deeply and treats others to that same respect. Likewise, we trust ourselves to deliver on our promises, find solutions to problems and value others in ways that put us on very solid ground. We find we have the basis to trust others embodying a trust of themselves and stand our ground when that trust gets violated.We're enjoying receiving the attentions of open minds that approach us with curiosity. We see that we are showing up to others as possibilities to explore, mysteries to delve into and stories to follow along. Likewise, we are wondering about the significance of encounters, fascinated by the nuances in what's occurring and thrilled by the common ground that's emerging among us.We eager to reveal our unresolved issues and complex decisions still in progress. We seek input into our lingering questions in need of reformulation and disturbing observations that could benefit from other viewpoints. We encounter the same transparency and happily recognize ways to lend a hand, offer support and share experiences with others. We find we are "talking with" instead of "talking at" and learning as much by giving as by receiving insights.We're immersed in intrinsic rewards, motivations and significance. We run deep when asked "why we're here?", "what we're up to?" or "how we're experiencing this occasion?". We're noticing how these unfolding incidents seem perfectly timed, revelatory or responsive to previous requests. We're enchanted by encountering the same richness and depth in the others. We're finding there is so much to explore beyond "who said what to whom" when these realms of subtle meaning enter into the conversation.
When we're entangled in none of the above, we can't even imagine such possibilities. We can detail others about the particular adversities delivered by other closed minds, but not consider how good it can get when interacting with others who are more than open minded. It takes calling a time out to get into the imaginative space of possibilities like I've envisioned here.
This morning I was asked what I had learned from my reading of Viral Loop: from Facebook to Twitter, how today’ smartest businesses grow themselves by Adam L Penenberg. My first takeaway was how much work is involved in launching any new online venture that scales exponentially. The challenges posed to the IT crew are staggering. Projects that build infrastructure for three years prior to launch (like ning) are designed to scale far better than those that cobble some servers together at first and cope with scaling after it occurs. This posed a stark contrast in my mind between formal systems on dedicated platforms with user login protocols and informal systems that require no login and are free to be distributed over any and all social networking platforms.
My bigger takeaway dealt with four ways to kill a viral launch before it begins to takeoff. Each of these are approaches that closed minds would formulate confidently:
- Develop a delivery system for a product/service mix designed for end users. The interaction is completely over when the customers make use of it. There's nothing to share with others or invite others to join. Consuming products and services is the main activity.
- Keep the development process opaque to the public. Conduct design sessions, in house dialogues and internal debates in private. Avoid any process transparency that could inadvertently develop trust in the offering, identification with the team members or faith in their noble intentions. Keep people from talking about the evolving story in the quixotic product development process or the struggles in getting to launch.
- Offer complete answers, solutions and systems to the unreliable public. Leave nothing to chance, misinterpretation or tampering. Forestall any conversations that might question the value, interpret the offer creatively, challenge the propaganda insightfully or explore other innovative uses.
- Overcharge for the offering -- using the freebie as mere bait, deception and temptation. Eliminate any continual free use by forcing everyone to pay after an initial trial period. Preclude any large following where a small percentage value the premium version and subsequently pay for all the others.
To think this way, all we have do is close our minds. The details will take care of themselves. There no need to consider how to be controlling, how to dehumanize others or how to send the wrong message to eager early adopters. Keeping focused on the launch of the perfect product after a long production effort will do everything required to kill the viral launch.
Every kind of perceived danger can close our minds without consciously thinking about it. We make up our minds in a hurry to dismiss, disregard and disrespect those who appear dangerous. Our minds close as a safety precaution in order to be ready for fast "fight or flight" reactions. Times of danger are no time for exploring possibilities, reflecting of different meanings or delving deeper into the alarming situation to come up with a different diagnose.
This raises the question "how do minds open?". It can be argued that we live in constant danger where there is never a good time to open our minds. That may be true in abuse relationships, war zones and processes of elimination. But there are many occasions where it appears safe and seems wise to open our minds for the time being. We typically open our minds whenever:
- it seems like someone has "got our back" and is looking out for our interests as if we're on common ground
- it's evident that some gets our point of view, sees things through our eyes and shares some of our interpretations
- it feels like someone is saying "peek a boo I see you" to us by accurately reading our intentions, frustrations and connections
- it's a relief that someone has "de-escalated the adversarial tensions" by acknowledging conflicting interests, concerns and considerations
- it's apparent that someone is reaching out to better understand us, explore more of where we're coming from and what we have in mind
- it's heartwarming that someone is approaching us with respect, fascination and compassion
- it's informative that someone understands a beneficial facet about our own conduct and effect on others better than we do ourselves
Each of these experiences suggest it's time to feel safe. We can let our guard down and open our minds. Times have changed for the moment from needing to act defensive, cautious and vigilant. We can let in what's happening as if some good will come of it that we're not controlling or making happen ourselves. We feel like we're getting served well, cared for insightfully and protected from immediate dangers.
When our minds are closed, we cannot work with others for their good or for the greater good. It makes perfect sense to work against others and for our own interests as if the two are in opposition. Win/win deals appear to be a losing proposition to closed minds that are wary of giving advantages to the known enemy. Working with others seems naive and vulnerable to being exploited before getting a chance to exploit the others.
When our minds are closed, we need to make enemies of others. We cannot live with ourselves or accept every facet of our total being. We are at war with ourselves and eager to stop taking our frustrations out on ourselves. We project our intolerance onto others whom we find unacceptable, at fault or deficient without a doubt. We make them into our scapegoat, "whipping boy" or "messenger that needs to be shot down". We ease our chronic anxiety, stoked by our self contempt, with attacks on others' composure and confidence.
Working with others is different from collusion and conspiracy intended to really work against others. Working with others begins by getting others understood. That new understanding then breeds compassion, empathy and deeper insights into others. We get an inspired sense of how to work with others and what difference to help them make in their lives. We contribute to a strong system that transitions any weakness into a strength, resource, skill set or effective strategy.
Our open minds are really relating to others who feel moved to do the same for us in return. The inter-relation with others becomes a both/and proposition of benefiting from giving and receiving or from understanding others and getting understood by others. We care for ourselves by caring for others. We gain more than we expected by giving up looking after our own interests. Self interest, amidst working with others, becomes a paradox of selfishly being selfless.
Closed minds can exploit other people's goodwill, loyalty or trust without even trying. It's as if closed minds are designed to be abusive and disrespectful. While this may be good for survival in "Law of the Jungle" situations, it's deeply dysfunctional in our complex societies.
From a developmental perspective, closed minds are also very efficient. They are not encumbered by psychological complications like self respect or self confidence. Their self evaluations are extremely simplistic. Their self concepts are unrelated to others or any hidden talents, callings or gifts. All this makes it easy to show others disrespect. A closed mind does not give a second thought to taking advantage of others, exploiting their vulnerabilities or ridiculing their expectations of getting treated with compassion, understanding or caring.
From a managerial perspective, closed minds are easy to recruit and hire. They are haunted by insecurities which compel them to become dependent on employers. They are tormented by anxieties which necessitate clinging to others and seeking their approval. They conceive of themselves as unreliable which predisposes them to admire higher ups in the hierarchy. Closed minds appear very compliant, manageable and conformist. They don't dispute the abuses and disrespect that is occurring.
From a strategic perspective, closed minds regard customers, underlings and contractors as their enemies. They do a disservice to those who buy, deliver or support their goods and services. They cannot protect their supposed allies or look after their interests when situations deteriorate. We're seeing this pattern currently in health care, credit card services, higher ed, and state legislatures. The closed-minded efficient exploitation of situations necessitates lowering value, raising prices, punishing loyalty and dropping those most in need.
There's no solution to this systemic disservice at the level of management styles or corporate strategies. The problem is rooted at the level of vacant self respect. There's no concept in use for how to show respect to others or oneself. There's no ability to question the insanity of abusing, exploiting and debilitating those who should be getting served. There's no hesitation when showing flagrant disrespect to those respect is essential to success. That cognitive functionality only comes to open minds. The solution emerges by opening closed minds with other open minds.
When our minds are open, we are free look askance at problems as they appear at face value. We can consider ways to redefine the obvious problem. We can explore the possibility space where a particular problem does not exist at all or vanishes easily. We can wonder why the problem does not solve itself or disappear when another problem gets solved. We can see ways to change the diagnosis that gives us a very different problem to solve.
When our minds are closed, we are compelled to take the obvious problem at face value. Without realizing it, the problem that appears to have gotten out of hand is a reflection of the solution we have in hand. If we're loaded with money, we will see a problem resulting from a lack of financial resources that we can throw money at. If our expertise is abundant, we will see a problem with ineptitude, inexperience and lack of preparation that we can solve with prodigious educational efforts. If we're devoted to being focused, productive and dedicated to abstract commitments, we will see problems with others' attitudes, motivation and lack of responsibility that we can fix with applied penalties, punishments and disciplinary measures.
The solutions we bring to problems perceived by our closed minds usually backfire. They make the original problem worse while spawning several other problems. The solutions in use produce countless side effects and unwanted repercussions. We are, in effect, asking for more trouble when we try to solve problems with our closed minds. We are functioning as part of the problem rather than contributing to the solution. We're indulging in reductionistic fallacies and misdiagnoses. We're failing to consider enough complications and nuances to match the complexity of the actual problem.
When we're effectively redefining the apparent problem with our open minds, the problem looks more like a cyclical process. We see what's changing and what remains the same as things go round again. We consider how obvious problems are really solutions to hidden problems. We recognize hidden agendas and secondary gains attached to maintaining the problem. We realize the problem has taken on a life of its own that defies getting solved by conventional means. However, we will usually discover an apparently "unrelated problem" that we can solve easily. It happens to eliminate the persistent problem by introducing one of those disruptive, game-changer innovations.
The last time I explored the mind of a control freak, I looked through the lens of inner turmoil and problematic self control. That write-up remains one of my most read posts in the past four years here. My current exploration of closed and open minds gives me a more detailed way to take a look at the mind of a control freak. Both the control freak, and anyone getting controlled, are suffering from closing their own minds.
Control freaks cannot make the distinction between those who need control and those who do not. Their minds are closed to the possibility that some of us are capable of effective self control. Control freaks come across as too controlling, in part, because everyone appears to them as in need of more imposed structure, criticism and corrective action. They cannot let go, or "live and let live" because they are faced with others who appear perilously "out of control".
It's human nature to react to getting excessive interference from control freaks by closing our minds irrationally. We resent the imposition, tyranny and misunderstanding of our good intentions, work in progress or ongoing explorations. We act out our frustrations and fail to take the imposition in stride. We inadvertently provide evidence that we are "out of control" that convinces control freaks that they are right about us. We bring no understanding to the situation or the possibility of contributing to the condition. To us, the control freak appears to be wrong, over-bearing and insensitive. Both see the other as "out of control", in need of control and incapable of self control. Everyone has closed their minds to any other possibility.
Whenever someone appears to be out of control, the relationship involves unresolved and hidden control issues. These issues involve who's responsible, who has final say, who can change what's been already decided and who's the best judge of a situation. The resolutions of these issues enable control freaks to back off, trust the ongoing process and rely on others to play their part. But closed minds rule out these viable solutions, inherent common ground or developmental processes. The other people do not appear to be understandable or capable of resolving these issues. Rather they seem like a things that are not changing, defective objects that need to be fixed or machines that need to be turned down, turned off or turned around. There seem to be no issues to resolve, only out-of-control people in need of more imposed control.
When our minds are open, we see all this I've just described. In other words, we see what is happening to everyone and why it does not stop. We sense what issues are in need of resolution. Most importantly, we see the others very differently. With our open minds, we can see situations through their eyes and look at ourselves from their point of view. We can consider possible ways we've contributed to the misunderstandings and appearances of our needing control. We can own the fact that we closed our minds when under siege. We see others continually changing, coming to new realizations and rethinking what is not working as they intended. We may see the control freak going through a passing phase, wrestling with a troubling issue or stressing out about a pending situation. We can come up with ways to lower the shared anxiety level, to ease the mutual tensions and to improve the atmosphere. We can support the control freak becoming more aware of all these complications and interdependencies, as I've just done.
Another way to picture open mindedness occurred to me today. What if our minds experience degrees of freedom, much like the variations in the movement of objects in space? As I reflected on this possibility, I realized how much mental phenomena gets explained by this metaphor. Here's how some of this possibility played out for me:
When our minds have zero degrees of freedom, they seem to be stuck, confined and overly constrained. We think to ourselves "I can't do that", "there's no way that will work" or "it's not within my power to interfere". With no freedom of movement, we feel powerless, helpless and persecuted in the face of any and all adversity. Our time sense looks entirely backward and gives us an experience of living in the past. It's enough to make us depressed, apathetic and self absorbed. Since what already happened to us is of prime importance, we're as stuck in time as the past history that cannot be changed. We live true to legacy practices, archaic traditions and rituals established long ago. Our minds are closed by default from considering possibilities that require a viable future, power to control situations and aggression to combat our persecutors.
When our minds enjoy one degree of freedom, they can make mental progress or regress to prior cognitive conditions. Living appears to occur on a time line with a future to look forward to and arrive at eventually. We think about having goals, making plans and accomplishing tasks. We battle against those who would revert to prior states or insist on living in the past. We feel powerful enough to control situations, take charge of scattered efforts and move things forward when others become aimless. The future gives us something to shoot for, paths to go down and changes to make before too long. Our minds are closed by our determination to remain focused on where we're headed and the tasks at hand.
When our minds experience two degrees of freedom, we're facing a panorama of possibilities. We're choosing which path by considering a variety of complicated options. There is so much to explore and learn, the future becomes a moving target. We're refining our processes, changing our strategies and thinking up new alternatives to consider. The now moment proves to be so rich with fascinating facets that we easily lose track of the passage of time. We become powerful enough to let go of what happened and confident enough to let things work themselves out in time. We become more trusting of what happens as meant to be, showing us something or guiding us in a new direction. Our minds are wide open to what other viewpoints are showing us and what else we can learn right now.
When our minds experience three degrees of freedom, we're free to transcend this plane of mortal existence. We rise above our circumstances, transcend our small mindedness and embrace the totality of any situation. We stand outside vicious cycles where we can transform the patterned reactions by coming from a different place. We see life as game worth playing with new challenges at every level of these added degrees of freedom. Our sense of time is eternal where we are free to time travel forward to bring back the next step in realizing visionary possibilities. Our minds are open to our inner world of inspired guidance, as well as the panoramic possibilities we explored with two degrees of freedom.
One of the many things we can do for others, when our minds are open, is give them experiences of getting really understood by us. It depends, in part, on the way we ask questions, explore their world, listen to their responses and assemble a map of their potentials in our minds. When we're successful, they feel we really listened to them, explored with them and grasped what they've been saying to us. We picture them in ways they picture themselves. However, when our minds are closed, we cannot give others the experience of getting understood. We're preoccupied with jumping to conclusions and hearing what we want to hear as our minds are already made up. We experience anything we did not expect to hear as upsetting, cognitive dissonance.
When we feel understood by someone or a group, there are many ways we benefit from the experience:
- We get a sense of who can be trusted with revealing information that might be taken wrong by others
- We get out of vicious cycles of reacting to reactions and begin to understand how and why others react the ways they do
- We get credit for our contributions and unique value offerings from those who understand us
- We get involved in reciprocal arrangements and fair exchanges of responsibilities
- We gain a favorable reputation among those looking to understand how respectable and reliable we are
- We get get asked to handle situations, conflicts and challenging problems that we're understood to enjoy and approach effectively
- We get over our need for extra attention, revenge or isolation that persisted when we we're not getting understood
- We realize incentives and justifications to keep our own minds open and inclined toward understanding others
- We become more understanding of ourselves, our inner conflicts, our values and gifts under development
- We become more likely to get understood easily as our expectations get fulfilled routinely
In spite of all these benefits to being understood, getting misunderstood is far more prevalent. This is partly due to the predominance of closed minds. It occurs often when people have been shocked by an experience of getting misunderstood that then occurs repeatedly. Most organizations are designed to misunderstand people and keep them misunderstood in order to control them. The problems resulting from people feeling misunderstood can keep everyone so busy battling the symptoms that no one takes time to revise the underlying cause.
I suspect that more than half the people on the planet are functioning adequately with entirely closed minds. This condition is so prevalent because there are so many situations that close our minds. We close up to be productive and focused on the task at hand. We also close up to keep from embarrassing ourselves with irrational outbursts. We get provoked to close our minds when we're faced with dangers, threats, enemies, arguments, fights and battles. We're also inclined to close our minds when we get into conflicts with other closed minds even though this typically escalates the conflict.
When our minds are closed, we are not necessary dysfunctional. We can perform reliably in routine jobs and contribute respectably to our families and neighborhoods. We find ourselves to be very compatible with closed systems that merely oscillate between different states without making any real changes. We can do things successfully that merely require determination, focus and consistency.
However, when minds are entirely closed, we cannot figure out why things happen, what makes people tick or what's behind problems that defy well-intended solutions. We don't know what we're missing. We're limping along without all vast benefits of our open-minded resources. We're burdened with the consequences of excluding complicated rationality and complex irrationality.
Here's most of what we're missing when our minds are entirely closed:
On the rational side of open-mindedness -- where situations get complicated by the diversity of people, backgrounds, experiences, interconnections etc.
- We're not really listening to others, getting where they're coming from or getting a picture of their passions, purposes, outlooks and priorities.
- We're not talking things out, working out differences, exploring common ground or discovering more ways to value others.
- We're not combining efforts, collaborating effectively, working with the varied talents available, or interacting to get things done.
- We're not sharing what we can bring, providing what we do best, contributing in a like manner or responding to the perceived needs of others.
- We're not making requests of others, expected insightful responses. soliciting contributions, or asking for help.
- We're not caring for others, sacrificing for the greater good, supporting others' successes, or nurturing developments collaboratively.
- We're not finding quality connections, getting satisfaction from involvement, or getting impacted in beneficial ways by interrelating.
- We're not making getting trusted by others, revealing our intentions, disclosing our history or enhancing our process transparency.
- We're not sharing our power equally, seeing things eye to eye, or leveling our playing field.
- We're not maintaining fairness, honoring bi-lateral agreements, or reciprocating in kind or keeping things even.
- We're not validating others, deepening our mutual respect, seeing others in a positive light or bringing out the best in them.
- We're not practicing inclusiveness, exhibiting tolerance, valuing diversity or integrating significant differences.
On the irrational side of open-mindedness -- where situations become extremely complex due to the paradoxical nature of everything:
- We're not coming up with innovative alternatives, creating useful combinations or thinking outside the box of legacy solutions
- We're not benefiting from our higher sense of timing, balance, proportion or right choices.
- We're not getting solutions to come to mind when we ask, patiently awaiting inspirations or receiving better than we knew to ask for.
- We're not compelled to act by an emotional future, feeling called to a significant challenge, or guided by sense of destiny.
- We're not aware of our own special gifts, refining our particular talents or becoming more resourceful in our own unique ways.
- We're not learning what interests us specially, following our own curiosity, or acting intrinsically motivated to explore new possibilities.
- We're not moved by the personal significance of what happens, containing objective evidence with our subjective filters or deepening our unique point of view.
- We're not immersed in flow experiences, moving from one good thing to another, or filled with appreciation for what's happening.
- We're not empty in a good way, taking advantage of not knowing what to think or thrilled by the mystery we're facing.
- We're not basking in positive emotions, feeling blessed at the moment, savoring the immediate experience or celebrating life right now.
- We're not seeing both sides of the same coin, integrating a pair of opposites into a synthesis or realizing a winning combination.
- We're not formulating comprehensive solutions, serving the full spectrum of variations or enhancing the responsiveness of co-evolving capabilities.
That's a lot to be missing all at once. With more than half the population limping along without these 24 resources, we can safely expect the world to remain in a sorry mess for a long time to come.
Psychiatric models of our psyche divide our minds into a conscious and unconscious realm. I find these to be unfortunate labels. The "unconscious" is not unconscious. The "conscious" is merely unconscious of it without finding that it is unaware, asleep or clueless. The so-called "unconscious" is extremely aware, insightful and resourceful. The unconscious is actually more conscious than the so-called conscious realm.
I've drawn a line between "rational" and "irrational" sides of our psyches instead. My use of the term "irrational" includes illogical, non-linear, paradoxical, recursive, reciprocal, self referential, systemic, ecological, cyclical, complex, interdependent, indeterminate, entangled, intertwined, holistic, comprehensive and emergent. Our closed-minded rational personas experience the irrational as chaotic. From a logical frame of reference, the irrational is confusing and overwhelming. It does not make sense within a linear model of causal relations.
Our closed-minded rational personas do their particular jobs very well. They are not intended to handle the irrational side of our psyches. They test the waters and choose sides among all the significant others imposing on them. They determine if they can be a "good one" or have to be a "bad one" among these characters they're facing. If being a "good one" seems feasible, closed-minded rationality figures out how to please other people, win their approval, fit into their crowd, avoid their rejection, earn their respect and establish a trusted reputation with them. If becoming a "bad one" appears to be the only option, the personality seeks rejection, distance, differences of opinion, suspicions and ways to deceive, manipulate and contrive situations to it's own favor. As it discovers what works reliably, it adopts success routines. These habitual reactions are tough to break because they are irrational and entangled with other people's personas.
Our closed-minded rational personas carry a full load simply handling other personas. There's no spare attention to cope with the complexity of the irrational side of the psyche. That irrational half becomes a dumping ground for unresolved incidents, issues and decisions. The irrational depths also internalize positive and negative experiences that may occur again. This can result in hidden talents but also produce bad moods, dark thoughts and unwanted emotions. Different models of therapy offer a variety of names for this inner source of torment: toxic introject, super-ego, internalized abuse, a negative father complex, unresolved power issues, a top dog, a gremlin, an inner enemy, or toxic shame. All of it seems unstoppable, invasive, unreasonable and dreadfully persistent. It makes no sense from our rational perspective where we can reliably make ourselves stop, change or fix something that's not working. It simply makes sense to feel overwhelmed by these encounters with chaos found within our own psyches.
Of course there is more to this story. Our closed minded rational personas are not really relating to other people. That accomplishment requires an open mind to really listen and learn about others. It's not until we can really relate to other people that we can relate to our irrational side. We need to expand our range of what we find tolerable, acceptable, valuable and instructive. With our minds opened, we can approach our irrational side with humility, curiosity and receptivity. We become capable of resolving our inventory of incidents, issues and decisions. We find there is help within to clean up our past and become who we're meant to be. We get over what happened to us and move on with new confidence, insights, projects and relationships.
There are two facets to being open minded, as this diagram that I've been using lately shows us. One way opens us to other people. The other opens us to our sources of inspiration, intuitions and inner guidance. I started having experiences of being unusually open minded as early as in elementary school. I was without a clue what's was happening or what I could do differently. I was getting into clashes with closed minds because I was open minded. It's only recently that I have been able to see the pattern as clearly as I describe it here.
When we open up our minds to other people, we have a lot to learn. We seek first to understand them, before getting understood by them. We become good listeners and observers of where they are coming from. We learn enough about their viewpoints to seemingly look through their eyes and see their world the way they do. Over time we can speak their minds, see their strengths, gain their trust and respect their values. With this approach to open mindedness, we get known for being empathetic, inclusive, diplomatic and appreciative of diversity.
When we open our minds to our inner world, we put ourselves on the receiving end of a bounty of gifts. We get answers to our questions one way or another. We are given what to say to and do for others. We receive solutions to our problems and sequences to get everything accomplished. We discover how value it is to not know everything, so we remain open to be shown what to comprehend next. We live in the present moment without fear of being abandoned, neglected or abused by our inner world.
When it seems like everyone else is closed minded, we become too open minded to compensate for their extreme stance. We cannot become less open-minded because it appears they are not open minded at all. We become extremely open minded in ways that oppose closed mindedness and give open mindedness a bad name to the crowd with closed minds. We feel we have to make up for what's missing in the others. We believe we're right and they need to change their minds. We don't see a way to open their closed minds. We cannot believe we are being too open minded or there could ever be too much of a good thing like that.
When we become too open minded, we daydream and fantasize to excess. We've left the quadrant of being open to other people and become exclusively open to our inner world. We become extremely imaginative without grounding our "what-if" possibilities with "what-is" constraints. We become so unrealistic that we are no longer innovative or poised to be helpful to others. Our open-mindedness has become self indulgent, obsessive and out of touch with our circumstances. We've gone off into la-la land with no tether back to home base.
We become too open minded when others are being too closed minded. Both sides have become mutually exclusive and devoted to tormenting their nemesis. The differences between open and closed minds seem irreconcilable -- just like any deadlock, stalemate or standoff in negotiations. Our common ground gets held under suspicion, our common interests get disputed and the conciliatory tactics get discredited as conniving deceits. The dynamics are a closed system often labeled a vicious cycle or set up for single loop learning. There is no escaping linguistic prisons, no awareness of the interrelated complexity and no responsibility taken for the others' condition as a mirror reflection.
A reconciliation and transformation becomes possible when we realize what's missing in our own excessively open-minded approach. We need to become more closed-minded. We are missing the value of constraints, realism, practicalities and obstacles. We need the reasons why not, why we can't and why it won't work. We lack encounters with resistance to change, obstacles to progress and blocking characters to frustrate our easy access to possibilities. Our resolve becomes refined, our sales pitch become more alluring and our value proposition becomes more useful to others.
When we create our opposition as valuable, essential and welcomed, we change our minds, our perceptions and our world. We realize the best of both alternatives: open minds and closed minds are good together. We see how they are two sides of one coin, not extremely polarized positions. We learn the lesson being taught by the exclusively closed minded individuals to combine imagination with realism and possibilities with practicalities. We then hear the others like good listeners do. We return to the quadrant of opening our minds to other people. We relate to the others by understanding where they are coming from as tied into our extreme. We see ourselves through their eyes as previously rejecting their values, priorities and strengths. We can change all that and watch the others change their tune about us, with us and for us.