Good coercion, constraints & focus

Yesterday, my sister described to me several people in her life as "bringing out the best or worst in her". Michelle Martin then added to this thinking about "bringing out the best in others" with her: More People Isn't Always the Answer -- which linked to her Can Limitations Actually Free Your Organization. That brought to mind a comment Roger von Oech added to my post Home Free at Last about design constraints several months back:

Typically, when we play with an idea we allow ourselves to try a lot of different approaches. Often, that means eliminating constraints. However, I think that a very liberating form of play is to add a constraint or two to the situation. As Frank Lloyd Wright repeatedly told his students: "Limits are an artist's best friend."

I then wrote a follow up post: Playing with the problem which further expanded on the value of design constraints. This week, I explored valuable constraints in the context of the arduous transitions facing digital immigrants who are left out of our changing culture: Baptism by fire. Being trapped in a psychological crucible with no exits induces unconscious learning at a deep level. The solution is found in the problem. The freedom is discovered within the prison of constraints.

After exploring with dark side of coercion with Tony Karrer in the comments section of his recent post: PLE-PWLE discussion continues, yesterday I began to see ways that coercion is not all bad. It's possible for coercion to bring out the best in learners, as well as the worst. Coercion can work like the constraints that fuel creativity and personal transformation.

In the ongoing comments on Empowered Entrepreneurs, Adele Lim recently asked me about:

the role(s) of 'focus' and/or control in this instance, for they can either be barriers or allies (again opposite ends)

Like coercion and constraints, focus can be dysfunctional. In those instances it's called premature convergence, thinking inside the box, tunnel vision, over-limiting oneself and passing up opportunities. However, focus can also be very beneficial. In those situations, it's called shutting out distractions, staying on-task, concentrating one's efforts and gaining momentum in the chosen direction.

All this raises a new question in my mind: When coercion, constraints and focus are dysfunctional, is it enough to see the potentially functional use of each? Does seeing it can be good induce it become good? Is it enought to "be the change"? Can we transform bad situations into good with our outlook -- as I suggested yesterday with my use of recursive epistemologies and quantum theory's observer-dependence principle in Experts are telling us lies?


  1. Tom;
    In Aikido we learn to use the energy of the attacker to create a reasonable outcome. (attacker on ground neutralized but not injured)

    All these negatives create an energy that can be used in a positive way.

    Someone I know came to me with a major complaint about something that wasn't working right in our organization.

    At first I got defensive but then asked the person would they be interested in fixing the problem. They were shocked and said yes. Suddenly, their energy shifted from attacking to creating.


  2. Great examples Pete!
    It's wonderful to be reminded of negatives getting flipped into positives so easily.
    It gives credence to Gandhi's advice to "be the change".


  3. This has come up in other discussions before...

    "It's possible for coercion to bring out the best in learners, as well as the worst. Coercion can work like the constraints that fuel creativity and personal transformation."

    Yes. Quite true. But...

    Education needs something like a Hippocratic Oath. Some sort of equivalent to the 'no harm' principle. As in, "First of all, do no harm..."

    Coercion can sometimes produce good results. But just as often, and often concurrently, it produces harm. People who are coerced lose their sense of autonomy, lose their sense of self-value, begin to live in fear of consequences.

    The argument for fascism was that it made the trains run on time. Maybe it did produce this good. But fascism fails the 'do no harm' test, which is why we fought long wars against it.