Hierarchies and networks

Harold Jarche has gotten me thinking again by his recently been blogging about business models: Are the systems starting to crack? Democratic WorkplacesNew models for living working and learning, and Spiders and Starfish. We're dealing with a whole new set of variables with instantaneous and digitized communication. Yet networks are as old as the rails, literally. Perhaps the next generation of business models won't be as extreme as purely distributed networks. That may be what Brafman and Beckstrom are suggesting with finding the sweet spot between big headed spiders and self regenerating starfish.

As we already know, functional hierarchies are structured as top-down, command & control systems. They deliver tangibles reliably and consistently. There are also dysfunctional hierarchies which deliver inconsistently and unreliably where the command & control dynamics become more oppressive to get the deliveries back in line.

Functional networks are structured as decentralized and distributed control systems. They deliver intangibles responsively and adaptively. There are also dysfunctional networks which deliver unresponsively and arrogantly where the users disconnect and spread the word virally to migrate to other networks.

In a functional network, each node is a little, reliable hierarchy that delivers intangibles. If a network was only responsive and adaptive, it would appear unreliable and inconsistent. The introduction of controls and feedback loops creates the consistent responsiveness and reliable adaptivity. A "starfish of little spiders" handles both sets of issues better than either pure hierarchies or networks.

Hollywood has discovered this business model works better than the big studio or indie filmmaker on a shoestring budget. Consummate professionals in the full spectrum of specialities (effects, sets, costumes, makeup, stunts, catering, etc.) are assembled for a single project. This "best of both" dynamic has also emerged in open source product development that has been chronicled in Wikinomics and Outside Innovation: How Your Customers Will Co-Design Your Company's Future.

Hierarchies can become responsive and adaptive if networks are integrated effectively. This is common practice in any shipping business like the railroads of a century ago. The customer did not have to buy each separate segment of the journey for his/her package. Door to door service transversed many networks, shipping rates, bundled loads, departure times, transfer points and intermediate storage facilities. Customers were not consuming an item, they are engaging a vast network without any hassle.

Seamless integration and interoperability has becoming commonplace in online commerce, on demand print publishing and wireless Internet access services. We've moved away from making it difficult for the customer to get what they are seeking and intending to share with others. Digitized data networks have merely brought a new level of responsiveness to pricing, scheduling, and bundling of purchases that has been part of delivery networks for over a century.


Problems with making change

When we have responsibility for particular people or outcomes, we are likely to have a problem with how things are changing:

  • Stagnation, not changing at all, stuck in a bad habit
  • Speed of the change, too fast or slow, out of sync with other dynamics
  • Adapting to the change, maladjustments, hysterics
  • Costly changing, consuming too many resources to make change happen
  • Control of change, chaotic deviations, scattered efforts, unforeseen changes
  • Repercussions of changing, fall out, side effects, backlash
  • Confusion, misinterpretation of the changes, negative spin

When faced with any of these "problems with making change", our reflexive thinking will react to  the face value evidence. We'll suddenly have convictions about how to fix the obvious problems. We'll know what to do and then take action accordingly. We'll think we are "making things occur as planned" or "getting change efforts back on track".

Given these many problems with what's unfolding, we cannot simply allow changes to occur emergently. Letting go appears it could only make the problems worse --according to our reflexive thinking. We have to do something to fix the problem.

Our reflective thinking calls a timeout to reconsider all this. We wonder if we've got a comprehensive picture of what's going on here. We consider how we're being taught a lesson or shown something that's hidden from view. We suspect we're overlooking a crucial dimension of the underlying dynamics, assuming it's irrelevant or ruling it out of our preconceptions.

Reflective thinking wonders where the "problems with making change" come from. It's highly suspect that our reflexive thinking feeds the problem. The way we fix the obvious problems may provoke the opposite to occur. We may even be maintaining the problem to look important and justify our position overseeing the change.

Reflective practicing will reveal a way to vanish the problems with making change. We'll see the obvious problems as solutions to the hidden problems we're causing. We'll make connections between how we're fixing things and how things keep happening for us to fix. We'll get a bigger picture that includes our reflexive thinking in the dynamics of the perpetual problems. We'll see ways to change our mind that suspends our certainty, upgrades our approach and gives the world a better gift.

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Speaking of process

The word "process" means different things depending on the context. It's a favorite word of mine having been a licensed architect, organization development consultant, video producer, strategy advisor and instructional designer. In my contexts, process is open-ended, exploratory, creative and surprising. It's an essential aspect of change models, PLE's and reflective practicing.

This week, Aloof Schipperke alerted me to other connotations of the word "process" in his/her contexts of Enterprise Architecture and large IT implementations. We've been exploring his/her frustration with a lack of conversation in the process of design work and the profession in general. Rather than tackle the issue head on, we've explored revising the Cluetrain metaphor of "markets are conversations". Yesterday, Aloof connected the ways I characterized reflexive thinking to defenses against more conversational processes in his/her post: I won't be wrong if you don't talk.

Of course I've been reflecting on the different connotations of the word"process". This relates to a previous exploration of the word "learning" as a noun or a verb. This morning I related four different connotations of the word to different sized contexts.

Big is a problem: Large size projects, teams, organizations, and markets can be used as an excuse to avoid initiative. Conversations are too much to ask and "not in my job description". Things are "in process", meaning they are on hold or lost in the shuffle. Keeping disclosures to a minimum keeps each pawn free of scrutiny and disentangled from vicious rumors.

Bigger is better: "Size is the prize" when the focus in on delivery of quality products. The mechanisms are scalable because the quality is extrinsic, built into the specs. Conversations are unilateral and defended against contradiction by the reliable use of reflexive thinking. Things are getting processed in push models that make things happen consistently. The process of designing, changing, conversing or learning is procedural. The expansion of scope and production responsibilities necessitates keeping the complexity under control and by the book.

Small is beautiful: "One customer at a time" eliminates centralized control of mass production and merchandising. Factories get reconfigured as customizing service organizations. Markets become conversations where customers relate and reciprocate with providers to support the services they are receiving with their permission. Each participant is processing their experience. Customers are processing what they buy so to make the best use, get the most value and save the most time. Service providers are processing what they are learning from the beta releases, prototypes and customer feedback.

Small is scalable: "Small pieces loosely joined" makes it possible to scale the customized service. Small nodes join expansive networks. Customizing becomes the responsibility of the empowered consumers who are free to combine the solutions of their choosing. Networks facilitate the searching, finding, sharing and subscribing to a personal aggregation of resources. Each provider is a drop in the ocean or cell in the one body of indescribably complex processes. Each component is essential to countless processes that are unforeseen, mysterious and surprising to uncover.

This reflection on the connotations of "process" suggests that authentic, bilateral conversations occur in "small" contexts. Big contexts defeat the essential reciprocities and invoke defenses against conversing, as Aloof suggests.


Outgrowing reflexive thinking

As Wendy pondered the obstacles to reflective practicing at work, she dropped the phrase "reflexive thinking". Light bulbs went off in my mind when I read that. I suddenly realized why reflective practicing seems to be such a huge challenge cognitively. We cannot simply flip a switch to stop our incessant reflexive thinking.

When we are indulging in reflexive thinking, we are hard wired to our circumstances. We're thinking our situation "makes us feel" the way we do. We cannot change what we're thinking or feeling until the situation changes first. We are not looking in a mirror at our own reflection, we are looking at a picture in a frame of objectivity.

Reflexive thinking begins on the outside and comes inside our minds. We are reacting to what we perceive as facts. There's no two ways about it: "a fact is a fact". Anyone changing the facts is merely speculating, expressing opinions or distorting the truth.

Reflexive thinking can only label, categorize and compartmentalize the evidence. Reflexive thinking is an act of desperation to change uncertainty into familiar danger. The urgency of getting a handle on a troublesome situation immediately --  often results in cognitive distortions which feed into chronic problems:

  • over-generalizing, idealizing, catastrophizing
  • over-reacting, panicking, dramatizing
  • over-estimating, jumping to conclusions, exaggerating
  • over-extending, over-committing, approval seeking
  • over-indulging, neglecting, obsessing

Reflexive thinking opposes creativity. It cannot think outside the box, play with the rules, change the meaning or redefine the problem. Reflexive thinking necessitates: a realistic appraisal of the limitations, playing by the rules and dealing with the obvious problem objectively.

When we are aware of how reflexive thinking functions like we are right now, we are practicing reflective awareness. When we catch ourselves thinking with any of the patterns described above, we are reflecting on our thought processes. When we want to respond to a situation without our routine, hard-wired reactions, we are inducing our reflective awareness to come forth. When we routinely interrupt our desperate thinking to serenely survey the situation, we have outgrown our incessant, reflexive thinking.

Reflect on that!


No problem changing

On his blog: All Things Workplace, Steve Roesler has been running a very useful series of posts on change. Yesterday, in response to a comment I left on episode seven: Change: Nah, I'd Rather Die. Really, Steve shared his familiarity with an exemplary "change master"(thanks Steve!).  This provides a wonderful example of the possibility I'm exploring with how to disappear the problems of getting change to happen.

1. After diagnosing the organizational situation, he made a well-informed, unilateral decision to implement certain systems. These are all new to the employee population but make sense to them. However, they are also radical.

2. He spends huge amounts of time traveling, listening, acknowledging, and coaching individuals and groups. He doesn't move from the message at all. It's clear what needs to happen.

The result, as of now: People are following his lead, believe in his decisions, and are willing to do what it takes to make the changes for the greater good. There is no question he won't answer, no phone call or email left unreturned, and all involved FEEL understood. Even if the discomfort level is high because of the learning curve it doesn't matter. People will tell you that things have already changed as a result of his willingness to move ahead while constantly expressing his trust that they will "get it" and look back after each step.

To work with the people being made uncomfortable by change like this, I'm proposing that two hurdles had to be cleared by this leader:

  • Instead of thinking others had to be the first to change, it had to become clear to him (or her) by reflective practice, how the situation calls for being: the change, the first to change and the example of changing without a problem.
  • Instead of seeing all the competing frames as obstacles to change, they would appear to be "no problem" to nurturing the change and understanding those involved.

There are at least four ways for the obstacles, interference and sabotage of change efforts to be "no problem". A "change master" like the one Steve characterizes could be functioning with any of these concepts in mind.

The conditions are ripe for this. When we see the big picture, we realize when and how changes need to occur. We see extremes that attract their opposite, stagnation begging for a breakup and tensions seeking resolution. We have a sense of timing for making changes and for assimilating a recent change.

The process includes this. When we understand how changes unfold in phases, we have a way to value all the setbacks. Rather than control the happenstance to stick with a plan, we trust what occurs as "part of the process". By allowing what unfolds, we set a tone of not resisting, complaining about or blaming others.

The meaning of this is up for grabs. When we see a change meaning different things to different people, we encourage their subjective interpretations. Rather than put a lid on spin, we validate the ways each makes sense at first. We then nurture changing perceptions applied to the change as if the meaning is idiosyncratic and evolving.  We position "changing frames" as part of the change process, rather than an obstacle to overcome.

The story of this continues to unfold. When we see a narrative structure in the change, we live in suspense. We wonder what will happen next to surprise us. We expect the unexpected and avoid disappointment. We welcome reversals that keep things interesting and value the antagonists who bring out the best traits in the protagonists. We see foreshadowing of turning points and payoffs when people change their minds.

Without practicing these ways of "no problem changing", staying on message will backfire. Expecting people to get it will come across as controlling their intentions and coercing them to stop succeeding on their own terms. The people will feel they are being forced to change instead of feeling understood. They will be clear what they are supposed to get and will be clearly opposed, defiant and hurt.

When changing is no problem, it works to stay on message and be clear how people need to get it. The people are not the problem. Their hesitation or resistance is not a problem. The change is not a problem either. Instead there is the timing of this, the process to go through for this, the evolving meaning of this and the fascinating story of this.


Wendy is so right!

In today's post: Things I Think I Think, Wendy reflected deeply on issues of reflecting at work. I considered simply saying "Yes I agree with all you've said", but I realized I could add to everything she wrote. So here is she and me.

1) I think that corporate culture (in general) DISCOURAGES the development of reflexive learners (platitudes to the contrary).
For those of us working in corporate environments, the stress is on DOING stuff (or, at least, APPEARING to DO stuff) rather than thinking/ reflecting/ planning/ anything that requires NOT ACTING INSTANTANEOUSLY.
Evidence of reflective learning looks suspiciously like goofing off.... Yes, I am writing, but I'm not writing a step-by-step guide on how to schedule a patient. I'm writing about how do teach that better. Why is that important when our old way works just as well (never mind the phone calls from folks who didn't understand the material in the first place)? Therefore, I am goofing off.....

I've become convinced that it takes someone getting results and satisfaction from reflective practice to see it on others. Most people are "slaves to the machine", and identified with their activity. Human doings have no tolerance for human beings. When they see others "goofing off", they are seeing themselves as incapable of productive downtime, useful timeouts and inspired stillness. Instead of using the mirror to reflect on their condition, they maintain their condition by taking the reflection in the mirror as no reflection on themselves.

2) I think that encouraging an organization requires serious culture change for most of us. Question for those working in corporate environments. How many times have you been faced with a student / students who say point blank "just tell me how to do it!" You tell them, then they call you back the same day accusing you of not "teaching" them because you just told them how to do it? Is it just me?!?!?!?

The delivery of content spawns a "morbid dependency on authority figures". Those that have been raised on being told how to think, act and fill in the blank cannot think for themselves reliably. They think of how to escape pressures, to get even or to get attention -- but not how to contribute, deepen the significance or create innovative changes. It's embarrassing for them to always need to be told, so they lash out at getting exposed as needy and deprived of their dependency.

3) There has to be some way to nudge / cajole / wheedle / bribe an organization into at least allowing reflexive thinking practices - or, at least, not actively preventing them, at ALL levels of an organization.
Whenever I've seen reflexive thinking in an organization, it is at the highest levels and/or within individual, isolated pockets of rebellion. Hmmm...maybe if we bridge those pockets somehow......

Now there's a useful "Freudian slip"! "Reflexive thinking" is knee jerk, lock step, vending machine utterances after being brainwashed, indoctrinated or lobotomized. Reflexive thinking is devoid of reflective thinking and poised to actively prevent it in others. I suspect that reflective thinkers naturally gravitate toward each other to share insights, deepen each other's reflecting, and use contrasting realizations to venture further into unknowns. I also suspect that reflexive thinkers stick together to avoid "cognitive dissonance", keep things superficial and collude on labeling the reflective thinkers as losers, troublemakers or traitors.

4) The only way I can think of starting (as Tom said) is to model the behavior as best I can. I only truly have control over my own actions, right? At least, more control over my own actions than over others (over which I may have persuasive ability, but no actual control).

Beyond modeling and leading by example, we can hit that publish button in our blogging software. We can get read, subscribed to, commented on and quoted in other contexts. We can start a new reflective exploration, join in an ongoing one or simply observe others until an enticing one comes along. When we feel encouraged and understood by other reflective practitioners, we calm down. We set a different tone and give off different vibes in our immediate surroundings. We seem more approachable and worth listening to.

5) The only other thing I can think of doing is to encourage this radical behavior one individual (or really open group) at a time. Just like we are doing amongst each other in this little corner of the blogosphere. Enough individuals and we have tipping point, right?

It seems more likely that we will reach a critical mass online, than "in cubicle". Physical locations function more like "groups and walled gardens". Stephen Downes has sensitized us to the shortcomings of restricting any of the valuable diversity of an open network. Besides there no way with live bodies to tag, bookmark, link back or add comments 6 hours later to what got said in passing.

6) Blogging while ill is a dangerous thing...
Still fighting the evil Shingles. Wendy, these are like chicken pox, but worse, and that takes 2 weeks to clear up. You didn't think this was just gonna go away in a weekend, did you????
Something I've re-discovered during my convalescence, clarity of thought comes at a premium when you are ill / under stress.

For years, I've noticed myself creating a "mandatory timeout" via illness when I was stressed out, incapable of reflecting, and caught up in too much action. A two week convalescence is a superb break from the action. Given the clarity, depth and expanse of Wendy's insights here, I'd say the hidden purpose of her case of shingles is getting well served. When we've been acting like human doings, we all need time to feel like human beings again.

Competing frames taking effect

In Framing our constituencies, I proposed a way to revise how we frame the process of change and those getting changed. We are responsible for how we see things and act accordingly. It makes sense to give top priority to changing our own outlooks, understanding and basis for taking action.

Once we grasp how we already are in a position to change our approach, we can consider more of the total picture. If we begin with changing others before ourselves, we maintain the problem -- unaware of how we do this. By changing ourselves first, we dismantle our contribution to the problem's underlying dynamics.

Besides the framing of constituencies that we can do and change, there are at least three other frames taking effect and competing with our own:

Constituencies get framed by membership in groups and collusion with like-minded individuals. We get framed by how we are required to comply, expected to act, rewarded for conformity and penalized for deviance. We learn from our shared experiences of getting into trouble and staying out of trouble. We hide inside our comfort zone, role congruence and group identity.

Constituencies get framed by opposing agendas and chronic conflicts with others. Starting with our getting socialized and disciplined as kids, we find out how we're understood by others to really be deviant, defective or deficient according to their standards. We get told to stop thinking, feeling or doing what we were inclined to do. We start living under the impression of what works to minimize these conflicts and get others' approval. We also live inside a story of how far we can push things, antagonize others and provoke retaliation without destroying the system.

Constituencies get framed by successful experiences with growing, changing, learning and creating. We find out how to grow up and to outgrow our past. We realize we can make more sense than people around us. This inclines us to follow our internal process of reflecting or application of taxonomies to change what makes the most sense to do. We discover how to reliably get results, meet objectives and accomplish intentions. We develop momentum, conviction and determination that eliminates failing, losing out or doing the wrong thing.

When we effectively frame our constituencies and the process of change, we are competing with these other frames. We can get nowhere showing respect to someone who has internalized a boatload of disrespect. We can help others be more effective in a way that appears self defeating to their predetermined success patterns. We can reconfigure ourselves to "be the change" and "lead by example" and watch everyone else "be a contrary change" and "lead in the different direction".

For our own framing of our constituencies to win out over their competing frames, we need for those other frames to be "no problem". We can disappear the evidence of a problem and "win without a battle". . To get there I'm proposing a change model as follows:

  • First ignore the competing frames to focus on changing ourselves
  • Second take stock of the competing frames as I've done here
  • Third change how the competing frames appear from problem to no problem
  • Fourth let the competing frames disappear as they appear to be no problem

(to be continued)


Information overload 2.0

It's possible for problems to vanish. Everyone who has read Harry Potter books has an expectation that this will occur someday soon. Meanwhile, we're patiently allowing solutions to take time, money and energy, but we're also open to problems disappearing as if my magic.

I'll  initially delve into this possibility with the example of information overload. In this time of powerful search engines, RSS subscriptions and personal repositories of tagged links, we're drowning in a delightful abundance of selective information. We're long past getting overwhelmed by mass consumption of print and broadcast media. We out in the long tail of successfully finding the uniquely useful, particularly pleasing and personally significant content when we want it. Welcome to "information overload 2.0".

Our particular case of information overload might be a deep problem. It may appear that beyond this problem are only bigger problems. If we are arguing for our limitations when we try to solve our "information overload" issue, we're in deep trouble. We don't have enough time and solving this problem will take more time. Our brains are maxed out and this problem calls for added attention. The only way to reduce information overload appears to take things we have not got.

Information overload might be a manageable problem. It's possible we can do something about it, like get more organized, set new priorities, reduce our inputs, budget time more effectively or regularly take a break from the onslaught of information. We can setup a problem-solution mechanism. We input problems and we output solutions from our little factory. 

When we create a manageable problem, we get to deal with it relentlessly. The problem does not vanish. We 're dealing with the problem at the same level as the thinking that created it. Unbeknownst to us, our solution breeds the problem that needs our solution. We think we have a mechanism and we're really caught up in a vicious cycle. The more we manage our overload problem, the more we have the overload problem to manage.

Information overload might be a solution to a hidden problem. We might want the overload problem more than a deeper solution. We might use our case of information overload to appear busy, convince others that our expertise is reliable, develop greater self confidence or avoid appearing negligent. We may be getting the payoff and experiencing success. Our pilot may be complaining while our unconscious flight is on schedule for our ticketed destination. 

When we're aware of already solving a hidden problem, we can generate a more creative solution. If information overload is a workable solution, we can come up with an even better solution to our particular hidden problem. We may get more confidence other ways, create less need to appear busy, or establish our credibility by generating content. Then the information overload problem will then be occasional, insignificant and easily handled. We won't feel as desperate, driven or fearful.

Information overload might be a curse we're under. We might be able to vanish the apparent problem entirely by breaking the invisible curse with a magical spell. We can begin to live in a world of our choosing. We choose to experience freedom from our hidden problem. We can render "information overload 2.0" senseless. If we're already productive, reliable, confident, or responsible, there's no need to keep up with the bounty of content. If we're already handled, we won't feel obligated to seek out more information to get a handle on our situation. We cast a spell of being problem-free and so it comes about.


Framing our constituencies

There are patterns in how we approach changing other people. We come from different places with different assumptions about who gets changed and how change happens. It appears that some patterns work better than others. Some approaches create the resistance they try to overcome. Choosing the way we frame the process of changing can facilitate the transformation of our educational systems, business enterprises and cultural stories.

Pushed vs. pushy: When a constituency appears to be stagnant, the instigators of change become belligerent. Passivity engenders hostility. Obsequiousness is a breeding ground for obnoxiousness. Doormats bring out the bully in those who want changes to happen ASAP. Those wallowing in self pity, powerlessness and victim stories will experience the imposed change effort as disastrous, disruptive and profoundly inconsiderate.

Pushing vs. pushing back: When a constituency appears defiant, the instigators escalate their change efforts. A competition ensues over which side can be the most stubborn, determined and controlling. Tactics erupt to intimidate the opponents, back them into a corner and penalize them for their "lack of cooperation". The struggle for power is self perpetuating with no end in sight. The closed loop learns nothing from the short and long term effects on each side. Whatever is being resisted gets "persisted" with a vengeance.

Pulling vs. pushing: When a constituency appears to voice legitimate concerns and share long-term interests, the instigators let go of making changes happen. They "get off their opponent's case", "out of their face" and "into their corner. They help the others succeed, meet their needs and serve their valuable objectives. Pulling for our constituencies "creates buy-in" to follow our unimposing lead. The followers push for the change while the leader pulls for the new pushers. It's apparent how our serving them comes back around to serve the change process and our shared interests. The set-up is reciprocal. We reap what we sow.

Evolving vs. pulling: When a constituency appears to be continually evolving, the instigators join the party. Both are changing by learning from each other, personal reflecting and significant happenstance. There are times to let the changes unfold and times to help others get their needs met. There are no fears that changing will stop or go off in a useless direction. All reactions, eruptions and agendas are good for the continual process that's evolving. It's all something to learn from, put to use and see from different perspectives.

As you may discern from how I've framed the process of changing, the way we characterize our constituencies may be a fateful decision. We can orchestrate our experience of making changes by how we see others. This suggests that what happens is "all in our minds". "Change our mind and we change our world"; or as Gandhi advised: "Be the change we want to see in the world".


Acting with purpose

A few days ago, Pete Reilly created a post: How Do We Change? where the comment box has morphed into a conversation. My post yesterday: Flying over familiar ground further developed a point I was making on his blog about our sabotage of change efforts. Pete then added a wonderful comment where he said:

I don't think I want to change the "urges that come out of nowhere"...that's just me being a human being. I want to change how I deal with those urges:
1. I want to be aware of them and not have them be so automatic that they are invisible.
2. When I am aware, I want to deliberately choose what to do next. I can break an old pattern or decide that the old pattern might be most appropriate for this situation.
3. I want to practice being deliberate about my new behavior because it will feel uncomfortable for a while and it will be easy to fall back to old "flight plans".
4. I want a purpose bigger than myself to help sustain me on my new journey because it is taking me to new and unfamiliar terrain. I may want to turn back' but if I know that I am not just shortchanging myself; but my family, my school, my co-workers, or my students...I will keep on working for the larger good.

I pondered Pete's strategy of "bringing awareness to urges" and realized how we can be aware of our many urges differing and changing for the better.

Destructive urges: Some of our urges are harmful to ourselves and others. We act destructively when we're feeling desperate, awful about something and afraid of what will happen. Our awareness is limited to an immediate need to stop feeling so dreadful. We act out our frustrations and make the world a worse place to live.

Conflicted urges: With increased awareness, we discover urges to handle our destructive urges. We act to acquire self discipline, make conscious choices, and control those dark impulses. We struggle with the conflicting urges to advance or regress, to respect or retaliate against others, to be helpful or harmful and to grow or stagnate.

Reliable urges: With even more awareness, we discover urges to collaborate and reciprocate with others. We join together in explorations that resolve inner conflicts, deepen mutual understanding and empower disenfranchised participants. We realize these reliable urges come as naturally to us as the autonomic processes of our immune, digestion, pulmonary and circulation systems.

Transformational urges: With comprehensive awareness, we discover urges to live our purpose, as Pete also concludes. We leave the ground of our past history and those struggles to control ourselves. We change our story. We live inside a different world that we intend to bring forth for others to experience.

We incorporate the awareness realized from our interdependence in networks to be here for a particular purpose that makes countless differences beyond our control. It occurs to us how our journey prepares us to make a gift of ourselves. We see the difference we make is the difference we are. We find meaning in the moment and act accordingly. We come from a place that allows all urges to provoke greater awareness, choice and change.


Flying over familiar ground

Our conscious minds are like pilots of errant aircraft flying in the dark. We cannot get our planes to fly where we want to go. We cannot see where our planes are taking us. Our pilots are full of complaints about the contrary directions of flights we take:
  • "I want to learn this, but my mind goes blank, gets distracted or loses motivation when I begin to focus on this"
  • "I want to enjoy this but I keep experiencing fits of anger, bouts of depression or eruptions of envy when I act committed to this"
  • "I want to relate to these people, but every time I try, I start judging them, catastrophizing their conduct, or unconsciously distancing myself"
  • "I want to feel confident and competent here, but I consistently get haunted by insecurities, self-doubts, and fear of making mistakes"

In addition to our conscious reasoning, we fly by autopilot. We've developed hundreds of routines that work for us to some extent. These quasi-successful habits are launched by an urge to take action or a perceived need to avoid something. Making these moves without thinking saves us time and energy we need to survive. Our conscious minds are freed up to handle puzzling circumstances where our autopilot cannot stay on course routinely.

Below the level of our autopilot routines, we maintain unconscious flight plans. We're headed in directions we cannot think about or change by piloting our conscious reasoning. We don't know where our urges come from or how our actions affect those impulses. Our flight plans unconsciously steer us clear of familiar dangers by giving us an urge to act or the perceived need to avoid something. The effect of acting on these urges perpetuates the flight plan. We stay on an unthinkable course regardless of where the pilot is trying to steer the aircraft.

Below our unthinkable flight plans is the terrain we take for granted. We assume we're still flying over familiar ground. We know for certain what works for us, what always happens to us, and what trouble we get into if we don't watch out. We don't need to question the facts of life that we've learned "the hard way": by experience, feedback and consequences. We've made up our mind about how to limit our possibilities and confine our ambitions. We override the pilot's conscious reasoning that naively presumes to be capable and free to: learn this, enjoy this, relate to these people and to feel confident here.

Until we change the terrain, there is no changing those urges that "come from out of nowhere". We cannot go where we want to until we update our flight plans. We will continue to sabotage our intentions while we oppose what we know only too well.


Reflective learners - no problem

I spent more time yesterday with Wendy's first question:

- How do you encourage GROUPS of people to develop individual context and process information in a way that is useful and personal? Especially within the limited time / high-pressure context of most "courses"

In my understanding, high pressure overrides reflection. We cannot process the significance of what we are learning when we are stressed out. Our conscious mind is frantically dealing with whatever is on our plate and turning into problems we cannot control. We need answers quickly and assume we cannot slow down to change our questions, reflect on our state of mind or come back to our sense of balance, timing or value.

At first glance, it seems like processing will only occur at retreats "in the woods". Conference participants who go for walks and journal their thoughts in private between sessions will come up with wonderful realizations. I've facilitated some of those and know it works. But it's very costly, inefficient, and elitist. It does not set up routine processing of happenstance "back in the cubicle or behind the oak desk". It's perceived as a "break from the norm" rather than a way to get every day work done more effectively.

However, there are people, myself included, who process continually. We are reflective learners who approach happenstance with questions. As I mentioned previously, we don't expect content to provide what we must come up with ourselves:

  • Providing Intention: What are we questioning and wondering about? Which objective are we pursuing by acquiring this information?
  • Providing Context: How is this information useful to us? In what situation are we going to apply this content to solve our problems, make a difference, or help others succeed at something?
  • Providing Connections: How does this information tie into what we already know, reveal a similar pattern or overlap our current map? What sense emerges from this information by containing it in our overall perspective, predictions and potentials?
  • Providing Meaning: What spin are we putting on this information with our worldview? How are we inserting this information into our idiosyncratic story about who we think we are and how the world works according to us?

When learners show up "ready to reflect", whatever happens in a class or course module is no problem. The experiences are "grist for the mill" and fulfilling to provide whatever is missing. Reflective learners assume any educational offering will be useful at some level, happening for a significant reason and connected to personal questions, explorations and decisions in process.

Perhaps content needs to come at a later stage in the sequential process. Maybe content get encountered at level three in a game -- and levels one and two need to be mastered first. Level one qualifies the learner as capable of processing educational offerings and providing what the new content cannot. Level two qualifies the learner as "ready to reflect" by establishing a sense of curiosity, context and responsibility to bring to the experience. Level three provides the new information that needs to be handled within the context of the reflective learner's processing to arrive at "no problem considering with this at personal levels of experience". Then giving content first is "jumping the gun".


Discerning the context in use

Wendy Wickham has furthered our thinking about "learner generated contexts" yesterday in: Processing and Context:

So the next questions in my mind are:
- How do you encourage GROUPS of people to develop individual context and process information in a way that is useful and personal? Especially within the limited time / high-pressure context of most "courses"
- How do you encourage context development asynchronously - without the give and take of real-time conversation?
- How can you intrinsically motivate another to process and develop context for the material at hand?

It occurred to me that learners bring a context with them to any opportunity to learn. It's obvious in a classroom setting where the "eager beavers" sit expectantly in the front row and the "hostile cynics" sit in the back room with arms folded across their chests. There are learners who appear to be there to "show off how smart they already are" and others who are "just looking before they buy". There are learners who seem overly-dependent on authority figures to tell them what to think. They are those who defy authority figures and look for ways to "stick it to the man".

If we can discern the learners' default context at the start, we can get where the learners are coming from and speak their minds. We can give them an experience of feeling understood from us before expecting them to be understanding with us. The learners will find intrinsic motivation to process the content in the atmosphere this empathy creates. They will process the experience in a way that remains congruent with the context they bring to the experience.

When we're dealing with the delivery of content, design of instruction and outcomes of the offering, we're inclined to consider the contexts I explored in Synching up with the learners. If we're less concerned with issues about how we come across, we can be more concerned with where the learners are at. Here are four other contexts I discern as I'm mentoring one on one:

  • Context of a painful past history: The entrepreneurs I mentor often sabotage their learning with unconscious urges to avoid another traumatic episode. They're assuming the new approach is familiar danger or a set up to get hurt again. They're experiencing the new possibility as pushing an old hot button.
  • Context of personal responsibility: When my proteges are on top of their game, they bring a context to the table that takes charge of learning. They own their experience, create their choices and make things happen to get results. They value the structure I provide to make better decisions without depending on me to "get it right for them".
  • Context of collegiality: When these entrepreneurs are secure enough to open to new realizations, they realize they cannot get to a new place alone. We join together in exploring an issue, compare our viewpoints and resolve our differences. The diversity of outlooks is essential to get out of opinionated insistence on "one right answer".
  • Context of freedom: When my proteges have processed our reciprocal learning deeply, they lose their sense of desperation. They bring "perpetual processing" to the table. Their calm minds stop assuming what has to be done or what's next. Their minds open to serendipity and flow. They get a sense of balance, direction and timing by reflecting on happenstance in their outer and inner worlds.

It seems to me that these contexts are not limited to one on one conversations. They can used asynchronously to get groups to process what they are learning. These contexts can be presented as different characters who have difficulty and success with the new content. They can be offered as "use cases" that require more than procedural compliance to realize full benefit from the approach. They can be incorporated into a change model where the next step in the journey will depend on where each learner is at.

Usually we want the learners to change contexts to be more open and reflective. I suspect we have to start with the learners' default contexts before changing to a more reflective context. If we structure a process for each learner to self-identify their context in use, they may demonstrate more intrinsic motivation to process the input. They may even come to realizations like:

  • how this applies to their job, relationships or effects on others
  • how this makes it easy to their change approach that was causing problems
  • how this makes sense of a pattern that has been troubling them
  • how this supports something they've already been aspiring to do


Relationships with nature

Finding and implementing solutions to the staggering list of environmental crises takes different relationships with nature than is common right now. Improving our relationships with the natural environment is an evolutionary process. These changes involve outgrowing a previous relationship that engendered deep convictions about life and our possibilities. We don't change our minds easily about life on the planet, because we continue to manufacture self-confirming evidence that proves we are already right. We assume we have nothing to learn from the effects of our actions because we already know what causes them and what to do about them. We live inside our self-justifying relationship with nature. We maintain our story as we destroy our people, habitat or planet. We think we have no choice.

Terrified by nature's wrath: Forget the gardens, gentle rain and verdant landscapes on the planet (a.k.a. Garden of Eden, earthly paradise, Heaven on Earth). Think sandstorms, tsunamis, forest fires, flooding, lightening strikes, earthquakes, and droughts. Add in predators, parasites, poisonous creatures, viruses and food shortages. Live in fear of powers greater than humans and fates that deserve punishment by the natural elements.

Invent a story that resolves this intense persecution and abandonment with mythical justifications. You may opt for offending local gods or ancestor spirits who hover nearby in the landscape. You may choose the seafaring nation's approach with its dysfunctional pantheon of omnipresent immortals who torment earthlings wherever they may roam. You might prefer a wandering desert tribe's story of the jealous bachelor in the sky taking vengeance on the transgressions of a fallen people. In any case, accept how powerless you are to intervene in the environment and how much your survival is always in jeopardy.

Opposed to nature's distribution plan: Forget those perilous preconceptions and powerless appeasement strategies. Switch to the practice of science and technological advances to control and redirect "poorly planned distributions of natural resources". Think dams, pipelines, deforestation, excavations, stockpiles, mining and earthmoving. Add fighting forest fires, spraying insecticides, fertilizing topsoil, fencing pastures, building sea walls, irrigating arid land, dumping garbage into landfills, burning hydrocarbons, and populating barren landscapes.

Invent a story that justifies these amazing conquests and successful domination strategies. You may glorify scientific progress, cultural advancements or global economic expansion. You may call upon "manifest destiny" or "social Darwinism" to validate the rearrangements. Leave out any indications of over population, over harvesting, resource depletion, surface erosion, habitat collapse or species extinction. Simply accept how evolved, superior and "called upon rule over nature" you really are.

Supporting natural cycles: Forget those self-aggrandizing claims and harmful excesses. See how nature functions in cycles, regenerative processes and phases of growth. Realize how humans disrupt, harm or destroy vast networks of natural balance, interdependency and reciprocal benefits. Take action to: reintroduce essential species, restore sustainable habitats, cleanup trashed landscapes, rescue beached cetaceans, curtail pollution sources, and limit population growth.

Invent a story that adds significance to these efforts. You may revive goddess and pagan spiritualities. You may celebrate scientific progress in the realms of ecology, networks, self organizing complexity and quantum disciplines. You may do as I am here: simply framing these caring actions as nurturing relationships and building trust with landscapes, living creatures and natural processes.

Immersed in nature: Forget heroic efforts to rescue the planet in ways that are "too little too late". Proceed with humility and harmlessness in this abundant life support system. Return to the proverbial garden without worries or control issues. Bask in the amazing exuberance of nature's diversity and the comforting surroundings of organic growth. Be deeply moved with gratitude as it seems we are all one with nature.

Stop relying on a lifetime of ingrained habits, categorical reasoning and preconceived solutions. Welcome the innocence of not knowing what to do, what change is coming and which action is most compatible with the shifting turns of events. Tune into the field of universal intelligence as every perpetually sustainable, indigent culture has always done-- to find food, move out of harms way and settle into "green" lifestyles. Get a sense of timing, direction and pattern from reflective practicing to be one with all living processes.

Tell a similar story as this -- of environmental problems fading away by a shift in consciousness and conduct. Explain how the continued harm became impossible as more of us became connected with the whole. See how the escalating damage could only persist while our relationships with nature were in pain and opinionated opposition. Envision how these evolving stories of humans is as natural as the phases of reproduction for each species or the changing seasons for both hemispheres of the planet.


Synching up with the learners

Leigh Blackall has just written a wonderful exploration of the dilemmas created by wanting to facilitate online learning while the learners want content delivered to them by an instructor:

But I have been asked to facilitate a learning community. And although I know the word facilitate is being used more than a little loosely by institutions these days, and that the majority of the participants are encouraged to bring with them expectations AND needs of being taught and instructed, I have this idealist expectation to build and facilitate a learning community.

As I've reflected up Leigh's dilemma, that I've also experienced myself, I'm seeing facilitation as a special case for a particular subset of evolved learners. The robust expectations for "getting instructed" that Leigh articulates superbly, are reflections of how far along the learners have come in putting new knowledge to use. Of course this came to my mind as another taxonomy:

Questions of comprehension: Learners who a new to a domain of knowledge are on unfamiliar ground. They need maps, guidebooks and landmarks. Their hunger for formal instruction is not pathological. It's the nature of lacking familiarity, being unsure of themselves and getting easily misled. Learners at this stage can get what they need from archived material online, a modicum of research skills and personally meaningful questions to guide their search.

Questions of qualification: Learners who already comprehend the terms and concepts want formal procedures to follow. They want to make sure they are "executing the recipe right". They want to be tested by someone qualified to catch their mistakes, clear up their misunderstandings, recognize what is getting overlooked and show them how to successfully conform to the procedures. Their hunger for "click2death" content is not pathological. Learners at this stage can get what they need from sequential modules, games and interactive exercises that score their key presses and monitor their progress.

Questions of application: Learners who are already qualified to execute procedures compliantly are getting into trouble in the field. The recipe does not always work. Sometimes problems get misdiagnosed or made worse by standard procedures. Learners want a community of practitioners they can learn from, exchange concerns with, and gain new insights into unusual situations. Learners at this stage can get what they need from the online facilitation of social learning processes.

Questions of contribution: Learners who can troubleshoot breakdowns and nuance application contexts have a lot to offer others. They are in a position to generate valuable content and respond helpfully to comments, queries and contradictory viewpoints from their readers, subscribers and linkers. Learners at this stage can get what they want by publishing, uploading, and contributing to collective efforts online.

Returning to the dilemma of instructing and facilitating, it now appears to me that the opportunity to facilitate learners must first be created by getting them past the stage of seeking procedural compliance and certified qualification.


Cracks in the fortress walls

Dying institutions make predictable noises. Cracks develop in their fortressed mentality as they stonewall inevitable changes. They are going down with their sinking ship believing "something that's been around this long is here to stay". On the way down, they throw money at problems that makes things worse. Their sense to adapt, evolve and get ahead of the curve -- eludes them.  They try harder with a vengeance in very patterned ways. They cannot try smarter in ways that come about from reflective practicing.

If you're wondering if some institution in your world is crumbling apart, as Harold Jarche did today in Are the systems starting to crack?, here's a viewers guide to the early warning signs:

Changes, innovators and market shifts are perceived as threats that spawn a siege mentality within the fading institution.

Top management puts out a call for unity while under siege and labels any dissension in the ranks as traitorous sabotage of the leaky lifeboat.

Messengers close to the internal problems, missed opportunities, and signs of needed changes -- are shot down for disrupting unity and exhibiting a lack of commitment to staying on course.

Top management rewards a clueless entourage, brimming with positive attitudes, that keep executives in the dark, driving blind and headed for disaster.

Those who attempt to save the institution from the leadership get into trouble for seeing problems with what is being sold, hearing complaints from valued customers and sensing defections among tenured talent and loyal suppliers.

When told to "stop thinking they way they are thinking", those dedicated to keeping the ship afloat, are left with four choices:

  1. sellout to the corporate propaganda and speak in optimistic cliches
  2. become a "space cadet" and actively deny any evidence of changes, trouble ahead or misguided leadership
  3. morph into a mother hen and protect a small brood from the prevalent conformity and "corporate speak"
  4. make a noisy departure where everyone, including the night cleaning crew, knows you're leaving the employer under protest

Those who submit to "stop thinking the way they were thinking" no longer know what they are thinking, feeling or seeing. It often takes years to get their head screwed back on straight. The brainwashing takes an enduring toll on one's sense of justice, opportunities, direction and balance.


Rekindling our sense of adventure

When our sense of adventure is alive and well, we are filled with suspense. We wonder what will happen next. We realize how each of the characters in our situation are capable of surprising reversals. We sense how everything is in transition that may regress before more progress can occur. We expect a climax of the tensions to be realized that will fulfill the purpose of so much drama. We are immersed, engaged and captivated by the unfolding series of incidents.

When we've lost our sense of adventure, we are bored by the sameness of occurrences. We can predict that "the same old same old" will happen next and get it right most of the time. We find the characters in our situation to be superficially portrayed and motivated by obvious pressures. We fail to anticipate any satisfying outcomes. We have no sense of suspense or climax to resolve a big promise and purpose in the story we're following. We are annoyed by all the drama as we watch with too much detachment.

We can restore our sense of adventure by questioning our outlook to toward others. We can wonder about hidden and conflicted motives in the main characters. We can question the possible trends in their developing capabilities, self concept and contributions. We can look for patterns over their personal history and sequence of developmental challenges. We can suspect that things might get worse or come to a head to create a developmental crisis. We may feel for them and identify with them as they struggle against adversity. We may celebrate their hard won conquests, advances and realizations as they evolve through the drama.

With our sense of adventure restored, we can play ourselves in the story we behold. We can take action like a hero/heroine and block the progress of antagonists. We can reflect on incidents as if they are inside a story. We can wonder the about the purpose and implicit promise in the overall experience. We can challenge our preconceptions about the unfolding outcomes, motivations and tensions. We can suspend our disbelief and immerse ourselves in learning as the story plays itself out.


Thinking reflection and action

When we are thinking, we are not reflecting. To reflect on something is to stop thinking about it. Reflecting is opening up to dawning realizations that arise in an open mind. Insights come to us in ways we cannot come up with by thinking. When thinking is a big problem, "not thinking" is characterized as emptiness, presence, not-knowing, or beginner's mind. We get out of our way to let effectiveness come through us. Right action arises within a mind disciplined to not think about it.

When we are thinking, we are prone to over-intellectualizing and the neglect of action. Pete Reilly calls our attention to this problem in his recent post: The Learning Dojo. Thinking is an extreme solution and is inherently out of balance. When we reflect on the nature of thinking, we are not thinking. We are receiving insights that enable us to trust thinking less and see unthinkable alternatives. When we seek balance in a situation, we will naturally offset thinking with the combination of reflection and action.

When we are acting, we are also prone to over-reacting and the neglect of reflection. Action is also an extreme solution that is inherently out of balance. Our conduct may be dictated by the "force of habit" or our "tactical fixations". Our actions can:

  • lose sight of the mission or guiding purpose
  • dwell on some overblown necessity or set-up to retaliate 
  • fall for the bait to sabotage our own interests and legacy
  • get ambushed by anyone wise to our over-zealous pursuits

Principled conduct emerges from our experiments with the application of concepts in practice. We discover what happens when we have something in mind and act upon it. We realize what price we pay to conceptualize a situation in a particular way and act accordingly. We then add complexity to our considerations before jumping the gun next time. We realize better ways to make sense of situations before intervening. We learn by gaming to pursue more effective strategies with better intentions and objectives.

Reflective practicing comes up with the right thing to say and do. In hindsight, the action proves to be effective, demonstrates inherent balance and provides leadership naturally. We discipline our minds, not only by stopping our thinking, but by adding an open conceptual framework for reflecting on avenues of conduct. Our open mind receives what to do, when to act and how to inter-relate in ways that yield reciprocal balance.


Changing the value we experience

Rather than assume that something I have, do or receive is valuable, I find it deepens how much value my experiences provide to reflect on their value. Of course, I'm seeing a pattern to this reflective practicing. I'm also making probable correlations to how much value we get from our investments of time, energy and attention.

Experiencing value begins by having something. We have responsibilities, commitments and obligations that take the form of jobs, projects or relationships. We may have blogs, social networking profiles and email correspondence to keep up. Obviously we have things for: learning from, getting entertained by, changing locations with, and communicating from a distance. By describing things with verbs, I'm keeping us focused on their value and functionality rather than their form, specs and appearances of these things.

Getting value from having things is being prepared for shortages and spare time. This approach to value fills garages, attics, basements and storage lockers with unused articles. We're "possessed by the accumulation of possessions". We're passive consumers of materialistic value. We're showing off and impressing ourselves with the buildup of inventory.

When we begin to clean house or hard drive, jettison unused items and question the utility of our possessions, we are changing our approach to value. We become enthralled in doing things instead of having things. We "make a thing" of activities that keep us busy, instead of inventories that keep us prepared. We're doing our blogging, job or learning instead of having a blog, job or lesson to learn. By valuing our activities, we get rewarded by the progress we make and the accomplishments we realize. We are in motion for getting ahead, recovering from setbacks and building momentum. We see value in where we're headed and getting there in time.

When all that activity looks like busywork, going through the motions or mindless frenzy, we're changing how we reflect on value again. We're changing our questions from what we're doing to get ahead to what it does for us in our minds. We value things intrinsically. We extract or receive value uniquely. Our value is realized in our personal context of uses, histories and problems we're solving. We see things subjectively, according to our perceptual bias. We put a spin on things to get value from them. Extrinsic value is dry and boring; intrinsic value is rich and fascinating.

When our reflecting on value evolves further, we see how we are creating our experience of value. We tell a story about the thing, doing and receiving that creates the value. It's up to us to declare the value it is to us, rather than depend on what it is, how it works or what we get from it. When we are this free to value anything, we value everything. We see how perfect each thing is as an experience and can let it go at that.


The next killer app?

Harold Jarche just asked: Is education over the Internet already the killer app? He goes on to say:

Well, I think that Chambers was right. We're just measuring the wrong things. Education over the Internet is huge. ... Step outside the box of academic courses or training departments and online learning is growing and not looking like it will stop. As learning becomes essential for our knowledge society, we will become like fish in water, not realizing what it is we're swimming in. One challenge for learning professionals will be to remain relevant as all of the action moves beyond their traditional turf.

Harold's post brought to mind questions I've been wrestling with. Killer apps are usually not backwards compatible. Internet apps may need broadband connections and Java supported browsers. Software apps may require dedicated video cards, newer-than-Pentium II chips, or the Mac OSX Unix framework. This pattern of compatibility requirements has been getting me to wonder: What are the client side requirements for "education over the Internet" to be installed as the next killer app?

My first hypothesis was that informal learning is an essential prerequisite. The free ranging, self-directed, intrinsically motivated exploration by learners has to be functioning to support online learning. Otherwise, offerings that are free of LMS sequencing and monitoring will only seem like more content to be learned formally and compliantly.

I then conjectured that support for this killer app depended on reversing the effects of getting taught. Products of schooling and playing the grade game, no matter how successful, could not get a real education off the Internet. Getting taught content sets up learners to be: terrified of freedom, asking to be kidnapped, and deprived of their sense of wonder.

It made sense that there would have to be a transition like the installation of a new operating system (like Vista) or frameworks (like .NET) to change the learners' ability to learn. I proposed an M.Ed. in Informal learning to have the opposite effect on learners that formal schooling provides. Affecting the learners would take precedence over delivering content, testing comprehension or requiring practice exercises.

It has also been making sense to me that the youngest gamers are getting exactly what is required to support the killer app outside of school. Gameplay learning provides a very different set of meta-cognitive skills, problem solving strategies and a robust tolerance of ambiguity. Gaming changes our epistemology, self concepts and confidence to play out different roles.

More recently, it appeared to me that Personal Learning Environments could be set up to use the Internet as a killer app in education. The organizing of personal searches, subscriptions and relationships with authors of RSS resources -- could detach each learner from getting schooled and empower autonomous/social learning.

After reflecting deeply on the functions and varieties of PLE's last month, I've concluded most recently that using the Internet to get an education depends on reflective practicing. Learners have to be able to learn from what happens as they:

  • find what they are looking for and delve into deeper interests
  • change the questions they have in mind and directions they're pursuing
  • discover others who reveal different perspectives on common interests
  • create content for others that gets quoted, debated or disparaged

Successful blogging appears to thrive on reflective practicing. We are making tons of uniquely, personal sense from what shows up in our feed readers. We are sharing our insights among ourselves and learning more from how our content plays out in other readers' understanding as they reflect on what we offer. Perhaps we've got what it takes and only need to figure out a viable way to share our basis for using the killer app already.


Finding a sense of balance

Perhaps every pair of opposites calls for a balancing act in our minds. Without reflective practicing, we lose our sense of balance. We go for one extreme or the other. We over-compensate for one excess with another obsession. We get the idea that there's never enough of what we're doing or too much of a good thing. We see the need for more when there is too much already and costly consequences for our one-sided devotion.

We get out of balance when we think we are in real danger. We cannot do enough of our lopsided response because it consistently fails to moderate the oppressive danger we fear. We see our over-reacting as reasonable, justified and necessitated by our scary circumstances. We're in chronic trouble because we're convinced we're right. We strongly dispute accusations that we are addicted, compulsive, extreme or unreasonable. The opposition merely convinces us that we must persist in dealing with this obviously real danger.

When we're out of balance, we make a thing of what we're doing to excess. Our thinking becomes rigid and categorical to defend our stance. We idealize the extreme we're going to and demonize the opposite endeavor. We expect to be rewarded for our exceptionally good behavior while those who go to the other extreme will be punished, deprived or excluded from our chosen elite. We make arguments, conflicts, enemies, and wars by justifying our imbalance. Reflective practicing appears self defeating in the heat of battle.

Finding balance is usually painful and disorienting. We must lose faith in our ways determining what situations call for. We "bite the dust" or "eat humble pie" as we realize our imbalance has been wrong, self righteous, unresponsive and extreme. We realize the merit in the opposing side. Our reflecting on "why this happened to us" reveals the balance to bring about. It occurs to us the opposite extreme is what was missing all along that prevented the danger from being alleviated.

Our reflective practice about imbalances yields new ways to consider what was a foregone conclusion and necessitated reaction. We complicate our certainty with questions of "how much?" and "how will this affect the danger?". We get it together by embracing both halves of the whole situation. We do both endeavors in moderation or in combination. We see how one balances the other and keeps things from getting extreme. We make peace with our enemies and show mercy to our adversaries.

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Restoring our sense of direction

When our reflective practice is a "once in a while" kind of thing, we will lose our sense of direction routinely. If we are people-pleasing and seeking others' approval, we will be pulled in too many directions by them. If we are relying on our "rear view mirror" of what already happened, the "bend in the road will be the end of the road" for us. We won't see to make the turn until it's too late, because we're living the past and relying on more of the same thing occurring consistently. We can also be headed on the right path in the wrong direction and feel disoriented by what's going against our intentions. We can even hit a wall in our dogged pursuit of a goal and not know which way to turn away from the dead end.

When we've lost our sense of direction, we can make things worse with our small mindedness. Rather than consider our options, we can become more determined. We hunker down and force ourselves to persist in the previously reliable  directions. We stick to the same avenues in spite of signs to change directions. We try harder to make progress or please other people when "the wise thing to do" has apparently veered off toward other intentions. We can even jump on all the horses and gallop off in every direction at once.

Reflective practice restores our sense of direction by assembling a map. We get a sense of our landscape of alternatives by laying them out in a diagram. We see how the different directions we could pursue compare and relate to each other. We may realize some combinations of aims that make things easier to accomplish. We may perceive some of our particular ambitions to be futile or self defeating. Our map may eventually show us sequences of destinations to line up -- that had not occurred to us while we were feeling disoriented.

When a clear sense of direction for our next step emerges, we feel set up to succeed. We feel safe not knowing what lies ahead beyond the next step. Our sense of purpose has rejoined the progress we're making. We see the value in what we're striving for -- in a context of getting personal satisfaction, learning and growth from this pursuit. We get back to our sense of destiny, being called to do this or having this particular gift to give to others. We're headed in a direction where synchronicities validate our exploration. What comes along confirms where we're headed. We're on a roll and enjoying the momentum. Our reflective practicing is naturally grateful for and fascinated by happenstance in this direction.

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Realizing a sense of justice

When we're being persecuted or taken advantage of, life seems very unfair. We tell our victim story as if the incident really happened and there is no justice in the world. When we either "get mad or get even", we're taking justice into our own hands. We perpetuate the seeming unfairness of life. We stick it to the world or get shafted.

So long as we react to evidence literally and take it face value, justice will remain hidden. Fairness is only revealed to a reflective mind. A sense of justice emerges from detached consideration of the panorama of components in the drama. While we are afraid of injustice, guarded against getting blamed or vigilant about further persecution, reflective practicing is unavailable.

When we begin to reflect on injustice, we switch from a linear to a recursive epistemology. We make sense of cycles that come back around to haunt us or to energize our continued efforts. We can see the sowing of seeds, the asking for trouble and the spawning of retaliation. We realize how "the alarming incident" is feedback from whatever came before. We relate to the returning, revisiting and recycling that is occurring naturally and incessantly.

When we make sense of events cycling back around, we see justice visiting the proponents of self-righteousness and disconnection. Each gets what they pay for by opposing the other side. Continual conflicts appear to be vicious cycles: unstoppable, draining and self-justifying. Everyone who reacts to the reactions they're fearing then gets what they deserve. The kind of justice served is called retributive or karmic.

With a recursive world view, we also discern virtuous cycles. The rich get richer and the satisfied get more satisfaction. Those of us that appreciate what we are giving -- gain more to be grateful for, comforted by and blessed by. Self perpetuating cycles are not all bad. We can grow in purpose and mutual benefit -- by going round in circles.

When our reflecting on happenstance yields a sense of justice, we have connected actions and consequences into a full circle. We make sense of what happens when particular things get seen, said or done. We go beyond "cause and effect" to the ways the effect reinforces or depletes the cause. We understand how trying to fix someone else will come back around to "fix the fixer".

With a robust sense of justice, we can let go of what happens. We live free of injustice  by seeing "there's nothing to forgive" and everything to accept. We create our experience by our reflective practice. We take nothing at face value without paying an immediate price for our fear, reactions or judgments. Justice is served instantly by how we feel right now. When we are serving injustice, we feel stressed; when were proliferating a comforting sense of justice, we feel blessed.


Cultivating a sense of opportunity

When we are reacting to an unfamiliar situation, we instinctively scan for danger. Survival is our most basic concern and threats demand our immediate attention. While we are assessing the level of danger, we cannot switch to reflective practicing.

We are hardwired to our circumstances when in danger. As far as we can tell, the situation is "making us feel" the way we are. We cannot intervene in our reactions. The provocations start on the outside and we're on the receiving end.

When we are practicing reflection, our experience begins within. We choose what we experience by how we perceive selectively and attribute meaning purposely. We create how we respond to situations upon reflection.

Threats can reveal opportunities. Dangers can offer challenges. Enemies can be invitations for dialogue. Weaknesses can prove advantageous while strengths can prove problematic. Nothing needs to be taken literally. We can compare alternative takes on the situation and choose the one that aligns with our intentions.

Opportunities emerge from perceived leverage. When we are at an disadvantage, we cannot perceive opportunities. We first must realize what we have going for us and how we differ from the ways we appear to others. Reflecting deeply realizes leverage in the situation. We may actually have an advantage of:

  • being new and inexperienced which gives us a fresh approach and freedom from conventional thinking
  • appearing weak and incapable of  intimidating others which leaves predators unguarded and over confident
  • traveling light and needing fewer resources which makes it possible to maneuver quickly and respond before others can marshal their resources
  • owning some "ho hum" resources that are worth their weight in gold in another context

We don't realize these advantages without reflective practicing. We assume otherwise and jump to the wrong conclusions. Until we can stop reacting and create our experiences by choice, we won't have a sense of opportunity in the troublesome situation we're facing.


Emergent sense of timing

Without reflective practicing, we realize no sense of timing. We may have a sense of urgency or panic, but not when to act, wait or take more time. We usually feel too desperate to take any time out to reflect. Without a sense of timing, we may "jump the gun" and do too much too soon. We might do too little too late and "miss the boat". When we're in a big hurry, we can miss out of an easy solution in a big way. In hindsight, we may regret our lack of timing "big time".

A sense of timing does not come about from analyzing a situation or worrying about it. Our thinking can only go in circles when we're in a panic. We rehash the same details rather than gaining new insights. We are going over what we know rather than appreciating the unknowns. We strengthen our convictions rather than nurture our curiosity.

When we call a time out to reflect on the situation, we calm down to reconsider what we know and don't know. We disrupt our certainty that claims we are on top of our situation. We see there are gaps in our understanding and questions that remain. We grasp the limits of our comprehension and the mysteries that lie beyond our understanding. We formulate new questions and entertain new possibilities. We can consider slowing down, speeding up, waiting to see what develops or giving it a break to come at it with a fresh perspective.

When we chill out to reflect on our situation, we open up to insights and intuitions. What comes to mind get characterized as "coming out of the blue", "dawning on our minds" or "hitting me like a ton of bricks". Previously, I've compared this process to a laptop going online to access a vast server farm of hidden resources.

This suggests that reflective practicing is very different from thinking, analyzing or worrying. We need to catch ourselves going in circles that never yield a sense of timing. We cannot make the sense of timing happen like we can think an issue to a logical conclusion.

Our sense of timing emerges from a process of reflection. We include the mystery, unknowns and openness to surprises with our inventory of facts, incidents and issues. We allow for the sense of timing to come to us and appreciate it when it comes about.

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