Thrown for a loop by a mirror

When we're faced with persuasive evidence, we scramble to quickly make up our minds. We jump to conclusions and categorize our experience conveniently. We then see what we want to see and nothing else. The evidence confirms what we've already concluded. We've been thrown for a loop by the impressive indications of others' advantage, danger or trouble to us.

When we fall into this pattern, our thinking does not work for us. We've set up a small factory for the manufacture of people problems. We continue to fabricate illusions about what's right or wrong with other people in self-serving ways. We use our descriptions of them to replicate what has already been decided in our favor. If we had a problem with them in the first place, we experience the same old problem repeatedly. If we expected them to help us out, we cling to these preconceptions. It then appears the other person is not changing, learning, or rethinking their effect on others. That's a mirror we're seeing when others' condition looks that way to us.

Our thinking works for us when we embrace reflective consciousness. We consider how the other person's stagnation is our own. We wonder why we've jumped to conclusions about them and how we've made up our minds erroneously. We question whether we are overly impressed (halo effect) or overly critical (demonizing) of their conduct, traits or effects on others. We realize that what we are seeing about others is showing us something about ourselves.

When we reflect on our descriptions of students, we utilize what we are being shown to change our minds. We get out of the loop we've been thrown into by the persuasive evidence. We get into a different circuit where our thinking works for us. We learn more about the person we expect to do more learning. We see more about the student who seems to not be seeing themselves clearly. We challenge ourselves about trainees who appear to fall short of challenging themselves.

We can change our approach to any learner who's approach appears to need changing. We take what we perceive objectively as a reflection of how we're perceiving them subjectively. We then gather more insights to perceive the students with more empathy, consideration, understanding and acceptance. This will likely knock the students out of their loop and induce them to reflect on their "made up minds" too. When one mind is transformed by reflection, many other minds follow suit.


Creating stagnation or transformation

When we are in the process of describing students to ourselves, others or the students themselves, we face a pitfall. If we're not cautious, we will inadvertently create stagnation with our description. It's not a question of how accurate, insightful or optimistic our description is. Stagnation results from the circuitry of the description we using. The students appear stuck with a bad habit, glued to an attitude or hung up on some obsession.

When a description is imagined to be a node in a system, stagnation is a result. We establish our characterization as a fact. Our description is unchanging and the trait we've described reflects that fixation. We make a thing of something and it looks like a thing henceforth. There's no point in changing when it's been pointed out to be something that can be categorized accurately. It's neither a process, pattern or puzzle.

When a description is imagined to link several nodes together, stagnation is postponed indefinitely. We're speaking of connections between things rather than things themselves. We welcome other tie-ins and different ways to relate the components together. We say what things suggest, potentially signify and raise as possibilities. We cannot jump to conclusions because the evidence appears inconclusive. We are open to interpretations, further investigations and alternative formulations. The circuitry of our description is open or doubled.

When a description spans between unknowns, transformation is likely. We know what what all we don't know. We're joining questions together into deeper mysteries. We cannot establish the facts as of yet, because we have not decided which questions will lead us there. We're enjoying what we don't know with wonder, fascination and curiosity. We are certain that our process will lead to an innovative outcome, but are not in control of making it happen. We immerse ourselves in a co-creative experience which is mutually transformational. We don't see the students or ourselves the same way after venturing into such unfamiliar territory. A second order change results from the open-ended investigation. We change how change happens and change everything as a result.


Describing students

There are many ways to describe each student, trainee, enrollee, customer or learner. There are many different facets of each student to describe. Our descriptions yield significant consequences for the students as well as for ourselves as their educators, instructional designers, managers or parents. There are no objective descriptions that leave things unchanged. We participate in creating what comes next in our shared experience by the way we approach describing students. In this next series of blog posts, I'll explore these issues.

Students give us lots of evidence that provides the basis for formulating our descriptions of them. We get impressions of how much they can handle and how quickly they catch on to new material. We get proof of how motivated they are, how worried they get and how confident they seem. We get a picture of what they want, what sparks their interest and what fires up their imaginations. We accumulate evidence for how they react to criticism, how they justify their efforts and how they rationalize their shortcomings.

As we accumulate this evidence, our minds recognize patterns in the data. We develop theories about what motivates them and what destroys their determination. We see connections between what they say and what they do that infers some causal relationships. We notice what occurs repetitiously under the guise of being new issues, requests or setbacks. We realize they may have internalized limitations that hold them back, fears that cripple their initiatives and trauma that makes them apprehensive.

While we're "putting 2 and 2 together", we may also change our questions. We can wonder if we are seeing them accurately and judging them fairly. We can doubt our objectivity with valuable suspicions. We can challenge our selective filtering, biased observations and vindictive perceptions of them. We can puzzle about what's hidden from our view, going unsaid and getting downplayed as insignificant.

Once we resolve these questions about our initial conclusions, we may formulate opinions about each student. We settle on descriptions that fit them without much contrary evidence which would give us "cognitive dissonance". We make up our minds to see them particular ways and rule out other possibilities. We take some facets for granted and dwell on others to excess.

Once we've locked into the descriptions that work for us, we're too smart for our own good in most cases. We are poised to create problems, trash relationships, control others lives and escalate tensions. Rather than see that had these effects with our "reliable descriptions" we see the problems out there in how they're acting, not in here where we're coming from. We avoid self reference in our descriptions and rely on "objectivity without observer dependence. We have become unnatural, disenchanted and lost in a world of illusion.

All this simply calls for changing our descriptions of students and our process for formulating how we describe them.


Social norms at holiday festivities

As I read both Sway the irresistible pull of irrational behavior and Predictably Irrational this month, I discovered that both books mentioned the contrast between social and market norms. This morning I got to wondering if there we're more than two sets of norms we operate by. I came up with a model of four norms and a way they all tie together. All four apply to what comes to our minds and comes out of our mouths at holiday gatherings.

When we're operating by military norms, we're functioning as a tight commando unit. Family togetherness is efficient and effective to fulfill the assignment. Anybody displaying egotistical selfishness is jeopardizing the mission of a well-executed holiday celebration. The cohesion of the unit is critical to get the logistics handled promptly and the troop movements kept on schedule. Scattered efforts and lazy S.O.B.'s need to be confronted immediately and set straight. Running a tight ship means everyone must demonstrate self discipline, loyalty to the command and attentiveness to changes in the battlefield of parked cars, positions in the kitchen or seats at the table.

When we're operating by market norms, everyone is a potential rival. Anyone who claims to watch your back may stab you when your back is turned. The costly contest may involve who gets the most food, presents, invitations, mail or phone calls. Questions on each marketers mind include "how long is this going to take?", "how much did this set you back?" and "did you get your money's worth when put out for this spread?". Protecting the brand means that all complaining, criticizing and comparing to other events needs to be squelched. Taking advantage of the situation may involve promoting one's own heroics, sacrifice and generous contribution to the event. Others may compete by topping your deal, denigrating yours or introducing a third rival gesture.

When we're operating by community norms, altruism runs the show. It's not about what we got, but how much and how graciously we give. It's time to share compliments, show appreciation and express gratitude. Mutual respect sets the tone and genuine listening makes it real. In this context, people don't care how much we know or what we've done lately until they know how much we care about them and have done with them in mind. We're they for each other and contribute to the good time to be had by all. We join in the festivities to make for more merriment.

When we're operating by unity norms, We're one in spirit and delightfully diverse in appearance. We have enough in common to treasure our differences. We see common ground, shared interests and kindred spirits among different lives being lived. We realize how much better time we have when we stop the clock and be here now. We enter into the moment and become far more aware of the different moods, and changing energies in our presence. It dawns on us what to say to someone that amazes or delights them. We feel so connected to everyone we have no conflicts with what people are saying or where they are coming from.

Happy Holidays everyone!


Diagnosing any cheating

When we've discovered some evidence of cheating, we're in for some serious learning. Things are not as they appear. When we take the evidence at face value, we flunk the lesson on what's really going on here. It's often beyond our level of tolerance to take responsibility for others' cheating or to look at our own conduct as a provocation, invitation and reciprocation. Here's some ways to "check out the cheating" and make a better diagnosis of it.
  1. Are the cheaters feeling already cheated of a fair deal that makes their also cheating to be fair game in their minds?
  2. Are the cheaters getting cheated out of an authentic relationship, experience or education by some bogus routine, contrived exercise or pseudo claim of purpose?
  3. Are the cheaters creating meaningful retaliation for being made to jump through hoops that appear devoid of significance, value and intrinsic rewards?
  4. Are the cheaters upset with your acting like a loser, sucker or doormat that sets up a much-needed disruption of your disgraceful conduct?
  5. Are the cheaters competing with your power over them as if they deserve more respect, voice and equal footing in their relationships with you?
  6. Are the cheaters giving you a taste of your own medicine as you withhold from them what you really want reciprocated, reflected and respected among all of you?
  7. Are the cheaters acting out their frustrations with not getting understood by you, pictured accurately by you or framed with optimism by you?
If you answer to any of these questions is "Yes", then the cheating you've uncovered will go into remission by revising your own conduct, outlook and framing of them. You can be the change you want to see in your circumstances. Change your mind and you will change your world.

  1. Are the cheaters taking their frustrations out on you because you will understand them while the real target of their anger will assuredly abuse them?
  2. Are the cheaters pressured by peers to defy stereotypical authority figures in order to maintain membership in their exclusive tribe?
  3. Are the cheaters getting rewarded for cheating by achieving less workload and more free time, or less boredom and more inviting challenges?
  4. Are the cheaters creating a challenge to prove to themselves their own prowess which gets frequently belittled, disregarded or framed as defective?
  5. Are the cheaters caught up in a bad habit that appears to be working for them so long as they ignore their effects on others?
  6. Are the cheaters downplaying their opportunities, potentials and hidden talents out of fear of getting hatred, envied or abused by significant others?
  7. Are the cheaters conforming to an imposed self concept of inadequacy to avoid distancing themselves from toxic caregivers?
If you answer any of this second set of questions with "Yes", then the elimination of cheating depends on a change in the cheater. You can say how you see the pattern in their conduct and understand more of their predicament for them. It will feel to them that you have gotten off their case and into their corner. You can see more dimensions to the cheating than they do while looking through their eyes, adopting their viewpoint and walking in their shoes. You can join their side of the conflicts created by cheating as if there is validity in what they really want and what appears to be missing. You can speak their mind in a way that gives them the space to change their minds.


Creating sensible winning

Cheating disappears in the presence of sensible winning. It no longer makes sense to cheat others as it inevitably cheats ourselves too. There's no escaping being in the same boat. The intangible sense of what makes sense overrules the obvious payoff of tangible victories. Whenever we want cheating to vanish, it behooves us to create experiences of sensible winning for everyone involved.

Sensible winning cannot be realized amidst competitive contests. There's no way for everyone to win without the victories becoming meaningless. There's no way for the "winner takes all" and "winning at other's expense" to run deep with significance for all. When somebody loses, everyone loses out on the eradication of cheating.

Sensible winning is an ongoing process. It's like the "infinite games" that James Carse characterized decades ago. It's the "no contest" approach that Alfie Kohn advocates. There's no end in sight to tangible outcomes and the less obvious playing is endlessly meaningful. The outcome does not provide the significance. The processing of incidents, events and repercussions takes center stage.

Sensible winning means a lot. It signifies that everyone involved cares about each other and their experiences in this common pursuit. It means that each is gaining confidence, new perspectives and personal growth out of the challenges getting faced. It shows others that "winning isn't everything" in the tangible sense and "winning is everything" amidst the intangible valuation of each experience.


Cheating as a losing game

When we're already defeated by submitting to other's domineering behavior, cheating looks like a major improvement in our situation. Never mind that we're making enemies and tarnishing our reputation. When we already experiencing senseless defeats, it appears we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. We opt for cheating as our best option in a bad situation.

People in positions of authority inadvertently create these situations relentlessly. They see no need to let other's win when the others need to be instructed, managed or corrected. Both are entangled in a world that deals strictly with tangible evidence and extrinsic rewards. There is no sense of a common need for meaning, significance and depth in the midst of trying to control each other.

When we realize that something is missing in those situations where we get to be powerful and in control, we often opt for making a noble sacrifice. We bend over backwards to accommodate others. We let them take advantage of the situation to come to their own realizations, sense of accomplishment and self respect. We function as a nurturer, mentor or coach. We're the "guide on the side" instead of the "sage on stage". We're facilitating the other's growth process and erratic work-in-progress.

Being so kind, caring and considerate does not eliminate cheating. Setting an example of losing so others can win -- does not stop others from taking advantage of our apparent weakness, vulnerability or flexibility. It's only when we combine tangible and intangible evidence that the cheating comes to a halt. When we create a win/win situation, the cheaters can join in and change their tune. They are invited to take a different stand and see their cheating differently than before.

From a standpoint of sensible winning for everyone involved, it amounts to "cheating oneself" to take advantage of others. The prior victories now look illusory. The costs are long-lasting in the context of relating, reciprocating and receiving in kind. The side effects of previous arrogance are troublesome. Cheating misses out on successes that feel rich with meaning, value and purpose. The move to sensible winning is a real "game changer".


Dungeons games and communities

Gamers know their way around lots of PC, console and online games. They expect there to be traps, dead ends, and prison cells. These dungeons usually are disguised by bait that lures the gamer into its lair. It's not discovered that they've traveled into a trap until they are inside and guarded from escaping. The way to get out of these dungeons is by cheating. Anyone who plays by the rules of the confinement remains imprisoned. The challenge is to find the loopholes in the propaganda, possible escapes and ways to effectively game the system.

A dungeon in a game resembles lots of what happens in the "real world": think classrooms, cubicles, committee meetings, social obligations and traffic jams. The rules being played by are confining, stifling, uncreative and overly conformist. They invite breaking the norms. They provoke non-conformist behavior. They ask for cheating.

Non-gamers may jump the conclusion that gaming breeds anti-social monsters. Jumping to this conclusion over-generalizes one facet of gaming and ignores the rest. Games involve far more than escaping out of dungeons. Most of the levels and challenges offer authentic challenges and multiple ways to win. Games offer a tangible progress, a sense of accomplishment and greater confidence for facing future challenges. Game designers know to not make the gamers feel permanently trapped, defeated or powerless to escape. The designers also go one better than offering cheap trills, contrived victories and shallow gains. The narrative, suspense, and significance of outcomes must run deep enough to gain acceptance of the gamers.

Gamers also form communities of cooperation. They compare experiences on getting out of dungeons and advancing to the next level. They share cheats, clues and strategies. This altruistic behavior does not dilute their competing against the game itself. They are teaming up against a common enemy. Each pulls off a personal victory with a little help from their friends. Competing and cooperating work well together, just like cheating and gaining competencies.

Gamers have the sense to defy senseless requirements, to escape limiting traps, and to creative valuable victories together. When these become social norms among us, the world will become a better place as a result.


Asking for cheating 2

When you're about to leave on a car trip, you already know how to ask for trouble. You can start out with the dipstick saying the oil is dangerously low in the crankcase. You can ignore the fuel gauge bordering on Empty. You can hit the road with the tire pressure low and the treads showing lots of wear. You also know how to prevent those problems ahead of time or deal with them when they erupt. Because you know what causes the problems and what provides relief, you can take responsibility for the problems if they occur. There's no inclination to blame the engine, tires or the entire car.

When we're creating a school, business model or government program, we're not as inclined to take responsibility for the cheating that occurs. We don't see how we set ourselves up to have the problem or what causes so much cheating in the first place. We don't know what's missing, neglected or ignored intentionally in our design of the program. We expect cheating to magically disappear and leave us alone. We blame the cheaters when they game our beloved system. We fail to add the oil, gasoline and tire pressure to our troubled vehicle. We may even opt for feeling hopeless, persecuted and defeated by all the cheating we've asked for so convincingly.

We run on winning and meaning. If we run low on either of those, we get into the same kinds of trouble as a car running out of oil or fuel. When people are cheating, it's very likely they've been deprived of ways to win and sense of their situation. They compensate for what's missing by cheating. They defy the misunderstanding of their intentions and motives by their lack of cooperation. They correct the misperception of them as a loser, victim or passive participant by acting out the role of a cheater.

Our need to win gets met by competing against others or ourselves. We need obstacles that challenge our resourcefulness and test our abilities. We need to feel like we're making progress, covering new ground and growing in stature. Winning is an extrinsic reward that requires the recognition of others to seem real. We thrive on being seen for our accomplishments, advances and attainments.

Our need for meaning gets met by knowing why we're doing something, what it leads to, and how it fits into a larger context. We need added dimensions to the work we're doing that give it depth, significance, importance and context. Meaning is an intrinsic reward that requires us to recognize it ourselves to seem real. We thrive on coming to realizations, resonating with particular frames of reference and living an unfolding narrative.

There are at least four ways we lose out on getting both needs met which inspires us to then cheat:
  1. when we do the same thing everyday. We feel starved for winning and meaning when we appear as predictable and reliable as a good machine. We get crazy for some thrills when we already know the drill and play it by the rules.
  2. when nobody asks us about ourselves or listens to us. We don't get others to see that our head is in the game of competing against ourselves and facing challenges. They don't find out what meaning our situation has for us or how we value our accomplishments. We don't benefit from their recognition or any deeper reflections spawned by talking with them.
  3. when we're being controlled and over-structured by others. We feel like a pawn in someone else's game. We experience feelings of powerlessness, helplessness and chronic anxiety. We then feel the urge to shake off that creepy mood by becoming obnoxious, naughty or a force to be reckoned with.
  4. when we're given challenges that make no sense. We feel misunderstood, labeled or ignored. We cannot make ourselves feel motivated to do something that appears contrived, coerced or imposed on us inconsiderately. It appears we have nothing to lose by acting like a loser. We proceed to trash our reputation, self respect, and relationship that fell short of our expectations.
In light of these patterns, it's easy to eliminate inherently asking for cheating:
  1. provide variety and new challenges where there is some risk of failure, learning something very new or venturing into uncertain territory
  2. provide timeouts to listen to each other's perceptions, ambitions and self concepts
  3. provide the sovereignty required for each to direct one's own efforts, discretionary choices and selection among approaches to get a job done
  4. provide reminders of the underlying reason, overarching purpose and deeper significance of what is being required


Asking for cheating

A phenomenal amount of resources gets spent each year trying to reduce the amount of cheating, fraud, bribery and deceit. Governments fund inspection programs, audits and review processes to ferret out the corruption. Corporations spend millions to stem the multi-billion-dollar losses from employee theft, exaggeration of expense or insurance claims, and embezzlement of cash. Schools hire additional staff to monitor the students, catch the offenders and punish the cheaters.

In my view, it looks like someone trying to dry off with a beach towel while they are underwater. There's no shared awareness of:
  • asking for cheating to occur by what's missing, mishandled and mistakenly perceived
  • setting up the convenient opportunities for cheaters to exploit cleverly
  • making cheating the odds-on favorite for those gambling on the risks of delayed reprisals
  • creating cultures of cheating each other normally where it's not to be taken personally
  • enticing people to game the system for all it's worth to maintain their sense of dignity and self respect
  • inadvertently rewarding cheating more than acts of integrity, honor, self respect and conscience
  • giving cheating a good name among the outcasts of the contrived conformity
  • reacting to cheating like it's a real problem that keeps it showing up as an unavoidable problem
All these patterns eliminate the possibility of people seeing their own cheating as a losing game. Chronic cheating won't go away because it runs too deep and engages almost everyone involved. The cheating takes on a life of it's own that defies attempts to stop it, resist it or change it in some way. Until we see how we inadvertently ask for cheating in so many different ways, we cannot design systems that eliminate cheating from the start. Each pattern of "asking for cheating" offers an opposite approach which can have the effect of eliminating cheating


Painfully aware of cheating ourselves

We're not usually aware of cheating ourselves when we're facing an opportunity that won't last. The short window gives us a short-sighted and narrowed perspective. Our snap judgment fails to take into the consideration the ways we might be cheating ourselves in the long run or in the bigger context. Our tunnel vision rules out the big picture with its panorama of possible reverberations, ramifications and repercussions of our conduct.

When we're aware of the ways we may end up cheating ourselves, we stay out of trouble. Cheating looks like a losing proposition or a stupid game to play. We stop kidding ourselves or falling for delusions of grandeur. There's no free lunch, easy out or escape from the ordeal. We face the music and take responsibility for the long term effects of our conduct. A well designed system to eliminate cheating merely nurtures this awareness. We realize how we may be cheating ourselves from the support provided by the system.

Here's some of the most dramatic ways we end up regretting our expedient choices to cheat others at no cost to ourselves:
  • Karmic justice: We may discover our conduct boomerangs and catches us from behind. What we dished out becomes something to ingest as a taste of our own medicine. We sadly reap what we have sown and cannot escape how it comes back around. We're haunted by the ways we mistreated others or took advantage of them. We pay the price for doing harm, exploiting situations or acting selfishly that we presumed could be done with impunity.
  • Sunlight on the vampire: We may discover we suddenly cast a shadow and see a reflection in the mirror. We no longer can devour other's vitality with our insatiable appetite for power, dominance or control. We are faced with what we have become, how we appear to others and what we assumed was exclusively "their problem". We are followed by what we rejected, ruled out, and dismissed at "not me". Our arrogance and vindictiveness is defeated by shattering realizations of what's missing, forsaken and bereft in our lives.
  • Bursting our bubble: We lose confidence in our convictions about our fate, past experiences and recent conduct. We go from being certainly right to proven wrong. We lose faith in our ability to judge how sorry to feel for ourselves, how much sympathy to expect from others and how pitiful to act about what's happened to us. We feel we cannot reliably sort out what's respectable, fair or considerate of others. We're awash in a sea of guilt, despair and dread about what likes ahead.
  • Hitting bottom: We may discover we have fallen down a slippery slope. We confidently took a step and lost our footing on solid ground. We find ourselves at the end of our rope, with nowhere else to turn. We got tangled in a web of deceits, justifications and cover-ups. We feel for some temptation that lured us into heroics, noble sacrifices or spectacular payoffs that failed to materialize. We've been played for the fool and gamed by the system that feeds on indulgent players.
Happily we do not need to go down these roads ourselves. We can learn from stories and others' experiences that a well-designed system keeps in our awareness. We can realize the consequences that we're faced by others apply to our lives as well. We can connect the dots between our expedient opportunities and the long range outcomes of the indulgent choice. We see how we will end up cheating ourselves before we make the move.


Thinking through temptations

When we can see that we're going to be cheating ourselves if we choose the tempting option, lots of good things happen. As I listed yesterday, choosing with this awareness of cheating ourselves has the effects of:
  • self policing: we catch ourselves before we pay in the long run, cheat ourselves or kid ourselves about the ultimate consequences
  • self-regulating: we limit how deviant and disruptive we can be before we cross the line of attracting suspicions, censure or confrontations
  • self-enhancing: we look after our best interests and long term benefits which are also good for the community over the long term
  • self-replicating: we do what works again with less uncertainty or hesitation which frees us to be more considerate and responsive to others
When all this occurs, our minds of functioning very differently than when we fall for the temptation to cheat others in some way. Here's some of that functionality:

  1. When encounter an apparent sucker we can take advantage of, we hesitate to jump to that obvious conclusion. We wonder if there is a relationship that can deteriorate from our "winner takes all" approach. We question whether we will gain a negative reputation or hurt a good one by proceeding arrogantly.
  2. When we find a loophole in the requirements and an easy out from all the workload, we catch ourselves getting tempted. We consider how the requirements offer some benefit to us personally. We wonder what pattern might get established by skating through the rigorous set-up.
  3. When we discover a reliance on an honor code without any oversight, we stop ourselves from assuming we'll never get caught. We consider how we may experience a sudden eruption of scruples, conscience or guilt in our own minds. We wonder how the payoff from the escapade compares to a penalty for opting for some dishonorable conduct.
  4. When we're handed a mischievous opportunity that will do no immediate harm to anyone, we question our appraisal of the potential damage. We consider the long term, systemic and hidden consequences of taking this action. We wonder whether the harm gets worse over time, builds up momentum before appearing significant or goes undetected until its too late to undo the damage.
We cannot think in these cautious an conscionable ways when we're under siege, faced with enemies or dealing with threats. Our strategies for coping with adversarial pressures preclude these thought patterns. We're compelled to over-react, misjudge the situation and leap at opportunities to cheat. We experience strong irrational urges which seem impossible to defy or dismiss. We compelled to be short sighted, impulsive and selfish.

We do not want to think these conscionable ways when we're getting manipulated, mistreated or disrespected. We're capable of thinking through these considerations, but we lack the motivation to do so. We feel like getting even since we are not getting understood, seen clearly or respected.

We successfully deploy these thought patterns when we really relating to, respecting and reciprocating among each other. We feel we can trust others and value their respect of us. We foresee the loss if we trash the relationship, escalate the context or raise suspicions about our motives. It's obvious we would only be cheating ourselves. We're pleased to be playing a winning game that's loaded with personal significance. We value how we play, how we come across to others and how we collaborate on mutually beneficial outcomes.

Of course, these are not the circumstances in many classrooms, factory floors and workplace cubicles. Cheating goes unchecked when people either cannot catch themselves or do not want to. We ask for that trouble by neglecting the parameters which support the elimination of cheating.


When is it cheating?

I've had two requests to define what I mean by "cheating". I define it differently than disciplinarians and judges who enforce normative rules, laws and standards of conduct. For me, cheating is not something someone else can judge for you or label your conduct fairly. It's your call. It's you who has to live with the repercussions of your conduct. No one can be the judge of those consequences other than yourself. If you can live with the choice over the long term, it's not cheating. However, the short term success is a poor predictor of what will come back around to haunt you, extract penalties from you over time or make the choice appear short sighted in the long run.

Thus in my view, cheating is a perception, personal experience or intrinsic quality of some of our actions. What other people do with their experience of our conduct is their responsibility. The way I use the term, cheating does not exist in our tangible, objective, consensus reality. It's entirely subjective and idiosyncratic when it occurs. However, the patterns of those occurrences are highly familiar and shared among us.

Those cognitive patterns (which I'll explore tomorrow) structure our conduct to be:
  • self policing: we catch ourselves before we pay in the long run, cheat ourselves or kid ourselves about the ultimate consequences
  • self-regulating: we limit how deviant and disruptive we can be before we cross the line of attracting suspicions, censure or confrontations
  • self-enhancing: we look after our best interests and long term benefits which are also good for the community over the long term
  • self-replicating: we do what works again with less uncertainty or hesitation which frees us to be more considerate and responsive to others
Two examples may help us here:
  1. A spouse gets mislabeled as cheating on his/her marriage. The context that supports a story of "infidelity, betrayal and selfishness" is widely shared. The idiosyncratic experience is invisible to those who are not confidants of the "cheater". The departure from monogamy may play out as a return to the marriage that renews the vows, a disruption of interaction patterns in the relationship, or a departure to explore relationships with more rapport, companionship and reciprocation. It comes down to living with the effect on the marriage, the spouse and oneself over the long term.
  2. Someone in a position of authority is accused of getting bribed when either making a political appointment, selecting an individual for a promotion, filling a vacant position or awarding a contract to a bidder. It appears that unfair advantage was taken by the party brokering a side deal to influence the main deal. Yet the obvious manipulations may obscure a win/win reciprocation. When the strings attached to the deal are not one-sided, both parties have made a long term commitment. Both are hampered by, obligated to and responsible for future impacts on the relationship. Stability has been created amidst the flux of changing allegiances, narratives and agendas. Living with the side deal is likely to be easy for both if the benefits of the collaboration benefit others over the long haul in ways their accusers did not anticipate.
To approach others who appear to be cheating, we need to remind ourselves of how little we see. Things are not as they appear. There's more to this evidence than meets the eye. Our objectivity is not the person's subjective experience. The shared, systemic complexity may be using this means toward a good end for all of us. The underlying dynamics of the situation may be provoking a disruption of business as usual, over-complacency and flawed assumptions. The result may be a design for a system that eliminates cheating oneself in favor of cooperation, reciprocation and mutual advancements. We don't know until we ask and observe the cheating with an open mind.


Eliminating cheating

Yesterday I finished reading Predictably Irrational - the hidden forces that shape our decisions by Dan Ariely. His research has uncovered many patterns of flawed reasoning that do not correct themselves with experience. The one I'll explore for the next several posts is cheating. Ariely found that cheating occurs far more than we expect and without malicious intent.

Ken Allan pointed out in a comment yesterday on Innovating in Permaculture Mode, a Federal Department of Innovation would face many attempts to game its system:
The inevitable proliferation of pseudoinnovation among the true innovation will require a process for sifting out the junk. The more pseudo innovation there is, the more junk will have to be sifted – much like spam is in our email filters.
The programs, incentives and crowdsourcing of a Department of Innovation would have to be well designed to not get besieged with junk. It needs to "see the cheaters coming" before they gain access, privileges and credibility. The design must safeguard the authentic beneficiaries from getting obscured, discouraged or mislabeled.

There are situations where cheaters discover they are only cheating themselves if they cut corners, bend the rules or fake a genuine contribution. The system out smarts them and closed the loophole before they show up. Situations like this earn the respect of anyone trying to game the system. The potential cheaters feel understood and validated by a system that anticipated their unscrupulous and anti-social maneuvers. They admire whatever has outfoxed their attempts to slip through the cracks, misrepresent themselves and subvert the intended conduct.

This cheating ethos is reinforced by most PC, console and online games. The game cannot be won by an innocent and trusting player. Testing every obstacle for weakness, flaws, oversights and loopholes is essential. Rewards accrue to those gamers who avoid getting gamed by the design of the game. The design of the game gets perceived as high quality, really challenging and worthy of some good buzz whenever it expects gamers to test every facet for game cheats that work.

Creating a situation where it does not pay to cheat -- needs to go beyond the framework of formal arrangements. Besides the structure of requirements, there needs to be consideration of story, meaning and significance. In addition to the tangible components of the system, the intangible value and intrinsic elements must come into play. Alongside the explicit communication, there needs to be implicit messages, signals and cues of a deeper dimension. (to be continued)


Innovating in permaculture mode

The world of plants, insects and animals is overflowing with continual innovations. We would be wise to follow their countless examples. By doing so, we're using an analogy from nature instead of a recipe from an expert to guide our conduct. That helps keep our right brain cognitive strategies engaged in our innovation process. Here's some thoughts on how to do all that:
  1. When we're first getting started with a new innovation process, new ideas can spring up like weeds. We may suddenly have too many options to consider like a field that has been overtaken by numerous pioneer species. Natural landscapes don't weed out these invaders or apply herbicides to kill them. They rely on the way new growth of other plant forms and insects follows and replaces the initial species. We can also trust our innovation process to outgrow the initial phase by continued cycling and iterations of divergent and convergent growth.
  2. When we're innovating, we go through dry spells -- so do the habitats that support all living things. Natural environments retain moisture in soils, aquifers and bodies of water. We can do something similar. We may run dry of ideas. I know from personal experience, it works to immerse myself in stimulation. Going for walks, watching a movie, thumbing through picture magazine all stimulate the flow of my own inspirations.
  3. When we're trying to decide which of our many ideas are the best to use in the end, we can get pestered by our own perfectionism, idealism or cynicism. Resilient landscapes handle pests quite effectively. They support the food web of predators which feed on those pests while keeping the particular species under siege well scattered. We can, likewise, avoid being over critical, demanding or intolerant of our creative processes by maintaining lots of different viewpoints, issues to resolve and criteria to apply. When we become obsessed with one facet of the innovation, we can simply distract ourselves with these other things.
  4. When we've exhausted our energy by meeting a deadline to prototype a proof of concept, we inevitably feel lifeless. Come winter, resilient landscapes may become frost covered, frozen solid and even buried under several feet of snow. It's also a time for our creative energies to go dormant. Giving our brains something mindless to do restores the potential for another surge of innovations after the much-needed break.
Inherent with all these uses of permaculture analogies suggests that we cannot make innovation happen. It's an emergent outcome from ripe conditions and active processes. We can nurture, protect and cross-fertilize our innovation processes. But we also need to let go, watch what comes of small starts and appreciate the advances that come to mind.


Structuring resilient innovativeness

Following yesterday's post on the potential erosion of innovativeness, today I'm exploring the ways to prevent that erosion. Each are approaches which require new business models and commercial mechanisms. The current delivery systems for increasing innovativeness will be disrupted by these strategies. A Federal Department of Innovation would need to create a separate space from conventional governmental agencies, programs and oversight.
  1. Preventing judgmental perfectionism: We can avoid "making a thing" of innovation when we support the processes involved in coming up with innovations. We bring sophistication to issues of processes that get stuck, derailed, sabotaged and over-zealous. We introduce sensitivities to questions of balance, timing, context and community contributors. We provide maps and models to orient the people struggling with the complexity, setbacks, and confusing options.
  2. Preventing self-fulfilling prophesies of deficiency: We can frame each person as already an innovator. We amplify the exceptions to their apparent lack of innovativeness. We see them as fully equipped to be innovative by having a right half to their cerebral cortex. We remind them of how much innovation it took to get over the obstacles in their personal history. We show them how much they have in common with people who are obviously innovative.
  3. Preventing pushy delivery models: We can create communities of innovators who respond to each other's current needs. We can safeguard a micro market of exchanges between contributors of assistance, encouragement, and advice. We can ensure that altruism gets rewarded by a complex reputation system which recognizes a variety of valuable contributions. We can limit our interference by providing an light-handed oversight to welcome newcomers, to cancel accounts of unwelcome members and to inform the community of upgrades under consideration.
  4. Preventing complacent involvement: We can continue to nurture other's innovativeness by keeping the challenges. We can function as entrepreneurs maintaining a portfolio of possible next ventures. We can bask in a bounty of inspired ideas that keeps us from getting too attached to any particular one. We can challenge ourselves to get innovative about our immediate challenge. We can remind ourselves to provide an example of continual innovation to others like perennial performing artists and film studios who constantly reinvent themselves.
These strategies use the new motive power for enterprises. They avoid conventional business models which create obstacles to crowdsourcing. They accumulate social capital in lieu of the usual overemphasis on financial capital.


Potential erosion of innovativeness

The staggering erosion of top soil during the last few decades reveals an unintended consequence of industrialized agriculture. Erosion does not occur in meadows, pastures, tall grass prairies or forests. We now know how damaging it is to both till the earth when planting seeds and to leave top soil exposed between plantings. We're outgrowing our industrialized attacks on the problems of adequate food production which make enemies of natural processes. We're becoming more savvy about organic processes and ecological relationships. We're learning the techniques of permaculture to replace industrialized agriculture.

It's also possible that our current abundance of innovativeness will erode unintentionally by applying industrial-era techniques. Like the recent advances in biological and ecological sciences, we've made similar inroads in the fields of cognitive neuroscience, social networks and emergence from self-organizing complexity. Here's some ways our good intentions to increase and improve innovation could backfire on us:
  1. When we "make a thing" of innovation, we idealize the icons of it and induce perfectionistic standards to judge it. We focus on innovation rather than innovating. We negate the processes involved, the developmental stages to fully develop it and the patience to nurture sporadic progress. We encourage people to make a show of trying to be innovative rather than engaging in the messier, unimpressive and laborious pursuits that yield genuine innovations.
  2. When we perceive others as lacking innovative traits, skills or outcomes, we may create a self fulfilling prophesy with our "accurate perceptions". Those we've framed oblige our diminishing expectations of them and act accordingly. We encourage self-induced limitations, inabilities and deficiencies by our supposed objectivity. We dismiss the dynamics of observer dependent sightings, conformity with our dominant narratives and unconscious enmeshment with imposing authority figures.
  3. When we're designing production systems and value-chain delivery systems to provide innovation skills, tools or frameworks, we think with linear models. We imagine results to be caused by applying considerable forces and resources to inert objects. We believe in our ability to make things happen by "command and control" methods. We push against the apparent resistance to our good intentions. We persist until the opposition feels sufficiently pushed to give in to our willpower. This "bull in the china shop" can do more harm than good to altruism and engagement. It can make enemies and spawn deeper problems. We will discover the system we're messing with "has a life of it's own", pushes back and retaliates against antagonistic invaders.
  4. When we've become an expert about the problems in need of more and better innovation, we fail to innovate our approach to the problems. We're too smart for our own good and fixate on whatever our expertise regards as familiar territory. We become imprisoned by our comfort zones. We appear to be hypocrites who cannot practice what we preach or walk our talk. We're "all show and no substance" that then earns no respect, credibility or following among capable individuals.
All these pitfalls can be avoided. Tomorrow I'll explore ways to amplify the current wealth of innovation without fostering a massive erosion of innovativeness.


Legislating innovation?

Yesterday I learned from the Innoblog that the website: is collecting votes on different change initiatives including one for a Department of Innovation. Here's how the possibility is framed by it initiator, Alain Rostain on the site:
We need to harness the creative imaginations of all americans as individuals and collectives to overcome the great challenges of our time. We know we need to do this, but do we know how?

Yes. We can:
- help leaders articulate the need for innovation and focus American's creative energy on the areas that matter most and can most benefit from creative solutions
- help individuals collaborate to come up with even better ideas than they already have or could come up with on their own
- manage ideas and the innovation process so that the most promising ideas are identified, and the very best implemented successfully
- engage more and more americans in contributing creatively to solving our challenges

What we want: to participate in and/or lead an innovation task force or innovation department to bring this about.
At first I totally agreed with a comment by Kurtosis Jones: "Isn't this an oxymoron? A govt beauracracy to manage innovation?" But then I realized how much innovation is already nurtured in our economy and culture:
  • Philanthropies like the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Skoll Foundation review nominations or submittals before awarding grants to innovators
  • Venture capitalists read business plans and observe presentations before funding selected startups.
  • Inventors spend every spare minute from their day job working in garages, basements and empty warehouse space on prototyping new models, designs, technologies and tools
  • Web 2.0 sites provide opportunities for innovators to upload their ideas and get votes, rankings, comments, tags and trackbacks to encourage them further
  • Corporations encourage sustaining innovations for new products, refinements to existing products, streamlining operations, cost savings etc by providing time, recognition and rewards
  • Design firms, theater and film production companies, and every other creative endeavor - nurture the creativity of each employee involved in the work
  • Communities stage art exhibits, film festivals, poetry readings, craft fairs and talent shows to increase the exposure, reputations, incomes and inspirations of local innovators
A Federal program to extend innovation practices to more citizens, neighborhoods and problem areas could easily build on all this momentum, these successful practices and this existing acceptance of innovation in our culture. I searched the books I've read recently for mention of Innovation in the title and found twelve books! I'll explore this possibility of legislating innovation further in the next several posts.


Obstacles to crowdsourcing

It's easier to create a new business model that benefits from customer expertise than to convert an existing one. The thinking behind most value-chained delivery systems makes customer expertise into a threat, conflict or breakdown of the model.
  1. Systems that deliver expertise at a price get disrupted when they discover they are "preaching to the choir". The premise of getting paid for the knowledge it delivers authoritatively gets defeated if the customers "already know this stuff" or "think it's old news".
  2. Systems that delivery repair, maintenance or diagnostic services get disrupted when the customers are have already developed DIY/self-help approaches. The abundance of online resources has dramatically increased the number of people who figure out what's wrong with their health, house, computer or travel plans. They'll also decide what to do about it without paying for a service call.
  3. Systems that maintain a paid staff of artists, designers, inventors or research scientists get disrupted by free contributions from outsiders. The justification for keeping talent on the payroll gets undermined by the quantity and quality of voluntary, open-sourced contributions.
  4. Systems that control the access, available times, convenient locations or membership privileges get disrupted by comparable offers anytime, anywhere for free. Customers who opt for the free version appear as traitors and saboteurs to the business model based on scarcity.
For each of these kinds of systems., the changeover to crowdsourcing appears self-defeating or devastating. It's not a "sustaining innovation" they can adopt readily and focus on the details of implementing it system-wide.


New motive power for enterprises

As new motive powers come along, enterprises have always been quick to adapt and profit from their advantages. During the Middle Ages, plows were pulled and mills were turned by oxen or horses. When canals were dug, we continued to rely on animal motive power to pull the cargo-laden barges. Water wheels near rivers and windmills provided alternatives to beasts of burden in some locations. Then came steam power which revolutionized transportation and industrial production. Heavier loads could now be moved faster and non-stop. Railroads became possible while steam ships replaced 3 masted schooners on the open seas. When petroleum could be refined into high octane fuel, airplanes became feasible. Jet, diesel, propane, gasoline and electric engines together power every industrialized mechanism.

Most are looking for replacement motive power from biofuels, hydrogen,wind and solar power to keep cars on the road and planes in the air. They assume we will continue to maintain the industrial models of production, transportation and lifestyle. It's inconceivable that customers and the bottom rung of hierarchies could provide a new motive power. Eight recent books suggest otherwise:

  • Wikinomics - How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything / Don Tapscott
  • Outside Innovation - How Your Customers Will Co-design Your Company's Future / Patricia Seybold
  • Better Together: Restoring the American Community / Robert D. Putnam
  • The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations / James Surowiecki
  • Here Comes Everybody: the power of organizing without organizations / Clay Shirky
  • The Age of Engage: Reinventing Marketing for Today’s Connected, Collaborative and Hyper-Interactive Culture / Denise Shiffman
  • Groundswell : winning in a world transformed by social technologies / Charlene Li, Josh Bernoff.
  • Crowdsourcing : why the power of the crowd is driving the future of business / Jeff Howe

These prophetic voices challenge us to harness this new energy or fall behind those enterprises which run on "groundswell power". It's unlikely this new motive power can be retrofitted into current production, education and service systems. This new energy source fuels different kinds of labor, activities and results. It not only makes it easier to get things done. It changes what to get done and what good it does.


Didn't see it coming

We think we're good at anticipating new developments in the things we use everyday. More often than not, we're blinded by what we're already using:
  • When we looked on the package for the price tag, we assumed price tags we're here to stay. We did not foresee UPC scanners and RFID tags.
  • When we fiddled with the knobs on the radio, television or home movie camera, we never guessed there would be remote controls.
  • When we took film to the drug store for processing and mounted the prints of our photos in scrapbooks, we failed to anticipate digital cameras or snapshots that get viewed on computers and TV's.
  • When we looked through the viewfinder on a film or movie camera, we never expected to watch an LCD monitor of the shot before we took it.
  • When we bought longer extension cords for the wall phone and additional phones for other rooms in the house, we did not expect cordless phones and cellphones to give us unlimited mobility.
  • When we looked in the phone book or called 411 for a number, we did not look forward to going online for that.
Technology is captivating. We fixate on the things we use, rather than their functionality. We take new conveniences literally and assume there's nothing to get imaginative about. We become so spellbound by the new contrivance, we dismiss what else it could do for us, what it could evolve into or what might replace it.

This pattern of fixation applies as much to incumbent manufacturers, service providers and their rival enterprises, as the consumers in the thrall of the current technology. It's no wonder that, for most people, it's inconceivable we could do without classrooms in school and cubicles at work.


Disrupting educational reforms

Classroom education is always under pressure to change. I doubt colleges and school systems will ever respond to those pressures. There are too many indicators of resistance to change, convictions about already being right and desperate clinging to time-honored institutional models. It's more likely the classrooms will become either "a special treat" like horse rides in a park or "an enduring glimpse at a previous era" like AM radio and analog wall clocks.

Classroom education was based on several design dictates which are getting disrupted:
  • the scarcity of information and the limited, privileged access to any advanced levels of knowledge
  • the storage of information by the use of ink on paper which necessitated physical facilities and distribution systems
  • the automatic trust in authority figures who's classroom education qualified them to serve in licensed and credentialed professional roles
  • the apparent shortage of citizens of all ages showing an interest in sharing their creativity, taking initiatives in communities or serving others as volunteers
  • the limiting of social interactions to phone calls, snail mail and F2F conversations in physical locations
  • the abundance of fossil fuels and atmospheric resilience to indulge in commuting to and from those classrooms
  • the stable growth of property valuations and income generation which provided a huge economic surplus to fund those classrooms
In the near future, I expect we will lower the cost of getting an education below what can be delivered through classrooms. We will also reduce the fuel consumption and carbon footprint of delivering an education. We will utilize the obvious groundswell of initiatives, creativity and social networking among the Millennial Generation to get educations provided better. Where teachers were regarded as experts in instructional design, school work assignments and content filtering, students will soon be seen as doing all those better than teachers can. Previous models of offering expertise on the basis of one-to-many will be replaced by aggregated crowdsourced models of many-to-many. Socializing that was done outside the classroom, during travel to classes and after school will become the occasions where education happens.

It will become well accepted that the person in the best position to help someone else learn a new concept, skill or framework is someone close in ability. The person who just learned it will remember what it's like to not know it as well the questions s/he had about it before it became clear. The rewards from making a difference, sharing resources and relating eye-to-eye will provide incentives to contribute. The transaction cost of delivering an education will fall below the most impoverished classrooms' budgets.


On collective non-intelligence

Ken Allan, aka Blogger in Middle-Earth, left a provocative comment after reflecting on yesterday's post: According to design dictates. I'm republishing it here so subscribers who may have missed will get to ponder Ken's wonderful insights about collective non-intelligence and our individual relationship to design dictates (dna).
For a long time (and it continues) humankind has followed dictates. Oh yes, the form of the dictates has changed over the millennia, but never-the-less the dictates have called the shots.

Some last for a few years, some last for decades, some live out centuries before the dictates are overturned by some sort of knee-jerk reaction by (human) society. I think that it's in our dna.

You have recognised a feature of the effect of dictates. It's not particularly exciting. It simply dictates the status quo.

How often has society waited for that wonderful moment when religion or science or political inertia is about to announce a revelation that brings hope into the arena, only to find that the wait was a waste of time, and energy in hoping?

Somehow our dna prohibits humankind from behaving intelligently en masse. The collective intelligence we hear and read about never puts on its thinking cap when it's really needed.

Yet it can move swiftly and as deftly as a shoal of fish in following fashion and things seemingly trivial compared to the perceived real need for shifts in society. We've only to look at political choice of a nation.

Oh, I'm not talking about the present moves in elections. Politics has shifted under the influence of dictates for centuries like a pendulum.

As agile as it moves, the pendulum has its own inertia, never finding the balance, never resting in equilibrium. Never learning from its own mistakes. Yet at its centre is a need to solve a problem of sorts.

It is (in fact) like a collective non-intelligence. It's the case in point where the whole is NOT greater than the sum of its parts. Far from it.

History gives a fine reflection of how it works. They say we never learn from history. That saying has been around long enough. Yet we still don't. We have never learnt to learn from what we see as a blatant lesson for society.

No. Humankind doesn't think like brains do. How silly to think that the collective motion of millions of intelligences is not intelligent - as we perceive it. Not like bees. A bee seems to have a residual intelligence. But the swarm seems to have a mind of its own.

Maybe it's just the way individuals think. Maybe, in fact, the real intelligent way to move is how humankind moves and has been moving for centuries - despite the intelligent opinion of individuals on how it SHOULD move. So dictates may form a major part of that. Who knows?

Perhaps the dictates shold be revered more than they are.


According to design dictates

We always design according to the dictates of the problem were solving. We can redefine the problem or solve a different problem, yet never escape the dictates of the problem we decide to resolve. The inevitability of dictates puts many designers into a state of resignation, denial and self-imposed limitations. It appears there is nothing to do about dictates since they are inevitable and seemingly inescapable.

Some examples of design dictates can be found in what I wrote about incubating a wise decision, freedom via messing around, what happened to you?, and believing in school work.

The effects of design dictates on designers give us "business as usual", "more of the same changes" and "sustaining innovations". Design innovations maintain factory models of organization, command & control methods of management and centralized delivery systems. The system appears to be too vast, complex and costly to fix. The repercussions of ill-conceived solutions are too extensive, damaging and enduring. As far as we can tell, it pays to play by the rules and do what's worked before.

We use metaphors and analogies to allude to the possibility of changing design dictates since the change seems foolhardy or impossible. Here's some I encounter in the blogosphere and my incessant reading of books:
  • Dictates as DNA that calls for genetic mutations to functionally adapt and survive in transformed environments
  • Dictates as deep structure that calls for delving below surface rationalizations, characterizations and justifications
  • Dictates as a dominant narrative that perpetuates it's power over its pawns until a preferred narrative gets authored by it's victim
  • Dictates as a consensual delusion that can be dispelled by making a more objective and realistic appraisal of the situation
  • Dictates as fallout from success with established mechanisms that will fade away naturally when disruptive innovations take hold
  • Dictates as underlying belief systems that get revised by experiences with new ways of succeeding, winning and conquering challenges
  • Dictates as blind spots in the focused awareness of possibilities where panoramic vision can be restored with a shift of attention
When we experience dictates being changed from under our feet, we say things like "what was I thinking?" or "now I get it". Our change of mind is unlike acquiring added knowledge, data or confirmations. We see everything differently according to the new dictates. Threats look like opportunities. Constraints offer new freedoms instead of familiar obstacles. Past history provides valuable lessons instead of regrettable losses, setbacks and embarrassments. The lofty goal looks achievable instead of unrealistic or overly idealistic. A change in dictates creates a life-changing incident.


Coping with added criteria

When we're designing anything, we usually fall in love with our best solution. We get attached to how well we've resolved the issues, made the tradeoffs and combined some partial solutions into our favored design. We embrace the assumption that we will end up with the best outcome if we stop messing around with what we've come up with at last. We're usually afraid that will throw out the baby with the bath water if we change the design. Considering an added criteria can be very upsetting for these reasons.

Added criteria usually make a design better. It becomes more responsive to it's larger context. It make accommodate more stakeholders It may deal with long term issues in a better way. It can possibly serve the interests of customers/patients/members/students with less expense. Added criteria can even reveal some creative options that had not been considered thus far.

Choosing to reopen the design process can polarize the participants. Some may regard it as a threat as I explored above. Others may see it as an opportunity to do a better job. It depends on where each person sees her or himself. Anyone on the ascending side of life cycle curve will see progress ahead and no place to go but up. Those on the cusp of the curve will be wary of losing ground, entering a slippery slope and going past the point of diminishing returns. Those on the downside will be seeing everything going from bad to worse, catastrophizing about the future and foretelling a series of unfortunate events.

When there is resistance to making a design more responsive, responsible, respectful and resourceful, consider where people are at in their lives. It may not the added criteria that's at fault.


Multilingual designers

Whenever we design a new course, game, community or business model, we are speaking a pattern language. We use a vocabulary of components we assemble into coherent expressions. We expect our students, players, members or customers to comprehend what we've said in this language. We anticipate they will speak the same language and comprehend our intended meaning.

Any pattern language defines how to evaluate designs. The language defines what is useful and useless, coherent and confusing, or worth keeping or in need of more work. We use the language to comprehend the solutions we've created and anticipate what else to improve about them. We think in terms of the components we're "speaking with" as we conceive of more alternatives to generate and criteria to apply to those innovations.

When we're fluent in a language, we take it for granted. We forget what the language assumes, dwells upon, leaves out and over-emphasizes. We think in the language as well as speak it. We don't realize how we've limited ourselves by the language we've adopted or how it compels us to go to particular extremes. We replicate the premises of the language as we think, communicate and act on the language's assumptions.

As designers, we need to be multilingual. We need to speak the language of SME's if we're sharing their expert content with others. We need to speak the language of natural environments, ecologies and habitats if we're proposing new invasive structures. We need to think in the same terms as school dropouts if we're going to reach them with supportive opportunities. We need to use the same vocabulary as potential members if the new community will be appealing for them to join.

Knowing more than one language makes us aware of the idiosyncrasies of each one. We realize how we cannot find a word that conveys the same meaning or conveys a complex idea as simply. We see how patterns in one language are excluded from another. We understand why things happen because of the pattern language that has been used to generate new ideas and evaluate the designs.


Evolving design criteria

Whenever we evaluate what we're already using to get a job done, we get ideas for something better. The way we see the status quo can limit or extend the possibilities we consider. This applies to both designers of new things as well as their users.

Printed pamphlets, books and newspapers once had their type set by hand. These skilled craftspeople are called typesetters. Some excelled at this craft. They became faster and more efficient at getting the right letters placed in the right order with the right amount of spacing to line up evenly on both margins. Their exceptional conduct defined some design criteria when the typesetting process became mechanized.

The first generation of machines replicated how the best typesetters worked their craft. Mark Twain went bankrupt funding this venture. A second generation design redefined how the work of typesetting got done. The Linotype process eventually became the industry standard. Different design criteria were invented in this process that changed how to judge which ideas were obsolete and which could be improved upon.

A similar evolution occurred with computer printers and fax machines. The first generation of dot matrix and daisy wheel printers used ribbons like manual and electric typewriters. Laser printers with toner cartridges and PostScript printer drivers reinvented how printing occurred. Ink jet printing and other font systems opened the field to many lower cost printers. We now often consider not printing something out if its more accessible, searchable, archive-able and replicable when kept onscreen, online or on disk. Our criteria for designing new software tools and evaluating the use of printers have become more sophisticated.

Users also change the criteria they use to decide what they want to buy, what will be useful to them and what is worth the purchase price. Automobiles were originally called "horseless carriages". They were evaluated as a different kind of horse. Once they no longer had manual cranks on the front of the crankcase, they were called automobiles in reference to the automatic ignition system that simply required "turning a key". As their usage became more widespread, nicknames entered into our vocabulary. Carriages became cars and automobiles became autos. Now we speak of " a nice ride" as if what a car does for us has superseded what it is.

Online instruction, communities and reading materials mostly appear to replicate what goes in classrooms. We're still at the stage of first generation typesetting machines, changing printer ribbons and thinking of cars as horseless carriages. Our design criteria are defined by the previous ways we got the job done. However, the design criteria we are using are also evolving. A second generation of models, tools and uses is on the horizon.


Conflicting design standards

Whenever we're designing a course, business model, community or game, we're apt to encounter conflicting design standards. We get put in the position of a traitor, saboteur or whistle blower if we defy the consensual basis for design evaluation. Our conscience or empathy for the customers may tune us out to the accepted criteria. We may identify with emerging changes instead perpetuating the status quo. Here are four typical conflicts that appear in design standards:
  1. In markets where products are getting commoditized and prices charged to the customer are falling, the accepted standards favor cheapening the product. Economies of scale are bringing down the cost to fabricate, deliver and distribute the goods or services. Competition is based on price and cheaper offerings increase sales volume. Design standards become conflicted for employees who care about the actual quality of what is sold, long term impacts of purchases or useful functionality of added features.
  2. In markets where products are getting differentiated by value-added features and benefits, the accepted standards favor enhancements to products, service after the sale, and customer relationships. Sustaining innovations are rewarded with increased revenue and market share. Competition is based on superior options, add-ons and premium package deals. Design standards become conflicted for employees who are wary of feature creep, making products too complicated to benefit from, or overcharging customers for functions they will never use.
  3. In markets where purchases are made for show, higher prices add to the glamour, prestige and perceived value for customers. The accepted deign standards favor overcharging customers, burying hidden charges, and creating the illusion of cost savings with incidental discounts. Competition is based on brand names, visibility, buzz and celebrity endorsements. Design standards become conflicted for employees who value honesty, personal integrity and transparency in their dealings with customers.
  4. In markets where the costs of production, distribution and customer transactions are soaring out of sight, the accepted standards favor cutbacks in service while customers endure price increases. Competition is based on creating captive markets, local monopolies and perishable inventories. Design standards become conflicted for employees who want customers to freely choose what they buy, gain access to other alternatives and define value on their own terms.
These conflicted design standards rarely get resolved within an incumbent enterprise. More often, the conflicts provide the rocket fuel to launch an innovative start-up. The application of the alternative design standards may change the game, disrupt the incumbent and define a new market space. Customers will see the advantage of patronizing the upstarts that adhere to different design standards.


Mixing up the rubrics

People who take things literally think as class has to be evaluated by rubrics for classroom education. To their way of thinking, there's no point in evaluating a course design as a forest, amusement park or boat ride. In their frame of mind of utilizing a rubric taken at face value, it's not even conceivable how to evaluate a forest. Our left brains not only takes things literally, they compartmentalize everything. An instructional design must have nothing to do with resilient ecosystems, thrilling adventure rides or floating in a wide range of possible directions.

Just as coming up with a design calls for creativity, so does the evaluation of different design alternatives, combinations and improvements. Once we're utilizing our right brains creatively, we not only can consider how to evaluate a forest, we can utilize those frames of reference to size up a class. Mixing up the rubrics like that delivers better insights into a design possibility and more ways to upgrade the design itself.

Here's some possibilities to get you thinking about mixing up the rubrics for the evaluation of instructional designs:

What if the course design provides a business model? How well does the instructional design deliver what has been sold? How satisfied are the customers with what they bought? How consistent and reliable are their purchases when they get used by the customers? In what circumstances do the customers experience the value of what they bought? What word of mouth advertising will the customers give others who seem interested in their purchase?

What if the course design organizes a community? How well do the participants get to know each other? How committed do the learners get toward helping each other through difficulties? How much do the members of the community do to cultivate mutual respect, high levels of trust and compassion for each other? How does the sense of purpose within the community deepen as they accomplish results together?

What if the course design functions as a multi-player game? How many levels can be reached by mastering the challenges in the course? What obstacles require collaborative efforts to conquer adequately? What avenues are open to execute a flawed strategy and pay a penalty? What momentum can be built up by successive victories, conquests or progress? How has balanced been achieved that steers clear of making the game too easy/obvious and too difficult/subtle?

Perhaps these alternative rubrics give you a sense of their potential impact. Instructional designs could become more creative. There would be more learner-engagement by captivating their imaginations, sense of adventure and curiosity. The learners would feel more support, validation and encouragement from the interactions. The course would pose some mystery and suspense rather than be blatantly straightforward and boring. The take-away value would transcend compliance with the learning objectives. Retention would exceed baseline measures. Upgrading the evaluation schema could deliver better designs in the end.


Considering potential losses

We cannot evaluate designs regardless of context without getting into lots of trouble. Situations vary in how much it costs to fail, fizzle out or flop after a brief honeymoon. When losses are insignificant, we can let design evaluations occur by what happens next. When losses are costly, a more formal approach challenges assumptions before placing any bets. By being context sensitive, we can take the right approach and realize the maximum benefit from critiquing our designs.

Negligible losses: When there is very little to lose, we can "just do it" and "bet the ranch". Clay Shirky gave us a wonderful exploration of what comes about when we are "below the floor" of established organizations' limits to what they can afford. Here Comes Everybody shows us how we can take risks and see what comes of our experiments. This approach is evident in creating so much new content for public access that may or may not get any attention, viewers, links, saves, bookmarks, tags, Diggs, downloads or comments. This pattern shows up in launching new groups in social networking sites like Meetup or LinkedIn or new candidates entering the race for public office. The initiator is free to "run it up a flagpole to find out if anyone salutes it". The design evaluation gets Crowdsourced for free and relies on Outside Innovation to filter out the least viable alternatives. The online public becomes the judge and jury. The process resembles a decision market that evokes the Wisdom of Crowds. A design is sized up to be as good as the effects it has on the diverse audience.

Acceptable losses: When losses are a cost of doing the business of innovation, rapid prototyping provides better design evaluations. This context recommends the approach taken in Serious Play, The Elegant Solution and The Art of the Long View. Toyota's development of the first Lexus luxury automobile involved 900 engine prototypes and 450 test models. This obviously takes prototyping to the extreme to support the Lexus brand for "the relentless pursuit of perfection". Less costly development of multiple schemes, models or scenarios can improve design evaluation dramatically. Rather than judge a single design on its merits in isolation, designs get compared, contrasted and combined. I know from my own experiences that evaluating multiple designs together generates more innovations. I see how to achieve the best of both with a winning combination as The Medici Effect champions. It suddenly becomes obvious how to do something more simply or effectively. Insights arise from how two designs differ and have other facets in common. Ideas come to mind as it becomes more obvious what the crucial tradeoffs are, what has to be kept in balance and what needs to be given less importance.

Avoidable losses: When "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure", a formal design review process is in order. The design is put before an expert panel, focus group of typical users, or a jury of peers. A variety of design principles, criteria and frames of reference get applied to the design scheme before making the big investment. Caution is applied to select appropriate rubrics prior to making evaluations. This process is used in the giving the green light to new Hollywood film budgets, architectural construction projects and legislative spending proposals. Long range consequences get considered. Immediate impacts on various constituencies, environments and societal trends get raised. Return on investment and value engineering criteria seek to justify the massive expenditure.

Inconceivable losses: When losses could be devastating to the entire enterprise, design evaluation goes into denial. Responsible individuals run their "deer in headlights" number. The current design is pursued regardless of consequences, impacts and fallout. The fear of making a mistake eliminates consideration of better evaluations. Sticking to "business as usual" appears to be the only viable choice through the tunnel visioned look at options. This is the approach taken by corporate excesses, industrialized agriculture, the fueling of catastrophic climate changes and countless professional practices which do more harm than good.

Good luck creating a situation with negligible or affordable losses for your creative designs!


Upgrading design evaluations

Today I'm embarking on a new series of blog posts about improved approaches to design evaluation. Recently, I've been designing facets of learning communities that disrupt the labor model relied on in classrooms. As I develop ways for learning to happen collaboratively, without instructors, and enriched by Web 2.0 tools, I've wondered how best to evaluate these designs. I'm on familiar ground to be designing schemes and the schemata for evaluating them at the same time.

As I've been designing learning community functionality, I've realized there are four kinds of designs that have lots in common:
  1. Community designs to get more members, commitments, interactions and contributions
  2. Enterprise designs to get more customers, loyalty, purchases, and word of mouth advertising
  3. Instructional designs to get more retention, motivation, implementation and follow through
  4. Game designs to get more engagement, exploration, persistence and experimentation
A design that seems like it will get a lot of self-directed learning to happen, can also be critiqued as a game, business model and ongoing social interaction. Besides those very current frames of reference, my thinking about design evaluation is based on my wide range of previous experiences as a designer.
  • When I've designed houses, group facilities or office buildings, I've been concerned with how the users would respond to the spaces and juxtaposition of functions.
  • When I've designed productions for the staging of live theater or videotaping, I've considered how the unfolding narrative is conveyed by the visual setting and environmental cues.
  • When I've designed activities for after-school programs, children's museum exhibits and arts center programs for elementary students, I've been concerned with how much fun the kids are having as well as how contagious my own enthusiasm is for them.
  • When I've designed publications, workbooks and flash-cards, I've considered how accessible the ideas appear to be and how the organization contributes to the users' comprehension.
  • When I've designed college courses, corporate training sessions and professional workshops, I've been concerned with avoiding useless activities that provide no take away value or impact beyond the session.
  • When I've designed performance appraisals, organization change models and interventions in troubled mergers, I've considered how to get others to think for themselves and rely on their inner sense of direction.
  • When I've designed executive planning retreats, strategy formulation sessions and processes for revitalizing businesses, I've been concerned with handing over the controls so momentum in not lost when the gathering ends.
With such a diversity of design experiences, I naturally see patterns in the varied contexts and outcomes of the design methods. The approaches to design evaluation I'm formulating can become more robust and reliable by including these patterns realized from my experiences.


Increasing individuality

Yesterday, I finished reading The Support Economy: Why Corporations are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Captialism: which I had discovered in the bibliography to Dave Pollard's Finding the Sweet Spot. The authors make an argument for the obsolescence of managerial capitalism. Shoshanna Zuboff and James Maxmin see a pattern of increasing individualism that can initially be served with mass customization, many small enterprises in separate niches and the proliferation of media outlets. Yet they expect our living unique lives with our own outlooks will eventually make factories, corporations and the global economy obsolete. We won't want to work there, shop there or identify with that belief system. They expect the emergence of enterprises that provide individual attention, personal services and one-of-a-kind products. These authors joins the predictions of other books like Free Agent Nation, The Rise of the Creative Class, and The Long Tail.

As I reflected on their arguments this morning, I saw a pattern of increasing individualism in all the many changes we're experiencing. Here's a brief summary of the phases I realized:
  • Phase One: Prior to World War II, Carl Jung developed the concept of "individuation" as he dealt with the midlife crises of countless patients. He saw people early in their lives joining organizations without their own identities, having no meaning in their lives, and merely doing time as wage slaves. Sometime after their 35th birthdays, they would experience of crisis with a strong sense of something missing, needing to change their lives and being filled with potentiality within that needed to be made conscious. They became unique as they interpreted their dreams, kept private journals or explored their hidden potentials with new projects. Individuality was experienced as a personal challenge in this phase.
  • Phase Two: After World War II, the Boomer Generation came along. Individuality was made into a "thing" that created the search to find oneself and the fascination with alternative spiritualities, mythologies, folk music and ethnicities. This brought on the New Age movement as well as a revival of homemade and handicraft items. Individuality was framed as the destiny of everyone to fufilll.
  • Phase Three: While John Naisbitt finished writing Megatrends and the Tofflers had written Future Shock, societal changes were occurring. There was a explosion in the number of magazines, radio stations, and cable TV channels offered. There were many more recordings, concerts, films and books being distributed. Products were sold with many more features, options, upgrades and package deals. Individuality could expressed by shopping for, buying and using these consumer items. The marketplace supported the departure from conformity and boredom.
  • Phase Four: Nowadays, individuality appears to be a given for members of Gen Y. There's no hesitation in tagging content unconventionally, creating unique profile pages, and uploading their own creative content to the web. Their assimilation of so much technological connectivity has increased the dangers of being anonymous, unexceptional, boring or plain. They have compensated by creating more outlets to express their uniqueness than the consumers of the previous generation. Some even regard their meat puppet as one more avatar to disguise themselves in while traversing this realm. Individuality is everywhere.
With individuality so prevalent, it's no wonder the amount of free, digital content generated every day is staggering. Individuals' lack of fit into cubicles and conformity is not surprising. The phenomenal grass roots initiatives and groundswell of involvement in communities makes lots of sense.