Taken out of context

What's it like to be taken out of context?
We may think to ourselves "Gee, I must not be here - I might as well act like I'm invisible". We might wonder "maybe this is not really intended for me to hear?". We may realize "this is being said for the benefit of that ego-tripping mouth, but not for my eyes and ears". We can even get cynical and decide "this will never apply to my situation or be useful to me in this lifetime".

What's it like to be addressed in context?
We may think to ourselves "this person gets me and where I'm coming from, I'll get understand if I explore my confusion with her/him". We might wonder "maybe this expertise understands me better than I understand myself and can help me use my abilities more effectively". We may realize "this is being said for my benefit and deserves my full attention". We may even get inspired and decide "this calls for some reflective practice to tie this into what I already understand and into my situations where it appears useful to apply it".

What's the awful context that emerges when we are being taken out of context?
There are many ways to characterize the context where learning is very unlikely. It's a compliance context where submission to authorities is expected and rewarded. It's a survival context where it makes sense to minimize exposure to the dangers, threats and enemies present. It's a lose/lose context where there is no way to win and everyone appears to be acting like a loser. It's an adversarial context where people are acting like they have nothing in common and are standing to lose ground if the other succeeds. It's a power struggle where each is using their power to control the other, rather than to advance common objectives or shared interests.

Where does that awful context come from?
It can come from the "products of schooling" who expect to be indoctrinated, dominated and judged unfairly. It can come from the offspring of dysfunctional families which cannot handle the hidden talents, diverse outlooks and range of emotional responses of the family members. It can come from the "factory system" that delivers the content without concern for the diverse customers. The awful context can be produced by learning in the immediate situation that it's not possible to get understood, respected or shown adequate consideration.


A time for pushing?

What are some other ways to consider doing the opposite of pushing people?

We're pulling for people whenever we:
  • create space for them, give them room to maneuver
  • leave things unsaid, let them come to their own conclusions
  • take an indirect approach, let the cycles involved work through the resolution
  • give them the pieces, leave the final say up to them
Is pushing people always a bad thing?
Not at all. There would be no pulling without pushing. It takes both. What's usually missing is the pulling. We seem to be addicted to pushing with all our forcing of content, compliance and consensus in relating, learning and working together.

How can pushing be a good thing to do?
We need to be pushed when we lack structure and cannot organize our own efforts. We need a push when we are wallowing in self pity, past history or perpetual misery. We need a push in a new direction when we're caught up in bad habits, pointless pursuits or poisonous relationships.

How can we know when to push and when to pull when we're looking to do a better job of relating, selling, instructing or managing people?
By living that exact question. By not know whether a situation calls for pushing or pulling. By having both options in mind as potential good things to do. By having no attachment to either one. By leaving it open and creating the space for the most appropriate approach to come to mind.


Skip over the skill gap

I'm working with several managers who have poor communication skills, over-controlling behaviors and ineffective use of the tools at their disposal. Training them in their deficient areas didn't work. What should I do?

Forget about fixing them. They're problem may be feeling pushed from your trying to eliminate their skill gaps. They may have even developed self-concepts as "managers who need to be pushed" and will rely on your constant pressure to change their conduct. You're feeding the problem by trying to solve it.

Are you advising outright neglect of their skill gaps as way to pull for these ineffective managers?
No, I left the other part unsaid to pull you deeper into this discussion. I recommend selling the people who will benefit from improved management. Help these managers' direct reports see how their work lives will be easier, more productive and more satisfying when their managers communicate better, use less-controlling approaches and make more use of the tools. Skip over the skill gap and show the people affected by the mismanagement what to expect differently.

How will that pull for the ineffective managers?
When the managers get the impression that their direct reports: want to be managed better, expect the benefits from it and foresee the improved work experiences, a demand for change is created. The managers face a new opportunity to make a difference and an opening in a wall of obstacles. They feel pulled into the new possibility instead of getting pushed into fixing their same-old skill gaps.

Why won't they feel you went behind their back, undermined their authority and set them up to look inadequate by selling their subordinates on the benefits of changes?
You're describing managers with high control needs and a very low tolerance of ambiguity. You're right that "control freaks" will take it wrong if you create space for them to fill. Their skill gaps are deeply unconscious and inaccessible to the effects of pulling for them. Anything they do not oversee appears out of control, dangerous and antagonistic to them. They need therapy, not training or a contextual change from pushing them to pulling for them.


Complicating their decision

I've always thought it's helpful, when I'm selling someone, to simplify their decision with clear alternatives. Why do you recommend complicating their decision?

Simplifying a decision comes across as an ultimatum: "make the right decision or else", "my way or the highway", or "this is a stick-up". When the decision gets simplified into what they should buy, people feel pushed to concede, cave in and forego their self-reliance. When the decision gets complicated into how they could choose which option to buy, people feel trusted, respected and validated.

Don't people get confused by more criteria to factor into their decision?
People manufacture confusion if they do not want to make a good decision. They favor over-simplifying their decision if they are wanting to conform to others expectations, impress others with their loyalty or avoid conflicts of interest. People value varied inputs to make better decisions when they are self reliant, functioning in leadership roles and instigating changes.

Why don't people feel pushed by giving them more criteria, distinctions and consequences to factor into their decision?
Complications give them the space to make up their own minds in ways that fit their experiences, hunches and feelings. Added criteria take away the pressures to conform and replace them with permission to do what works in their estimation. Considering more consequences moves them onto ground where they stand on their own two feet and take responsibility for their conduct. By pulling for them this way, they gain self respect.

If I care more about how they make their decision than what they decide to buy, I've quit caring about making a sale. How can I let go of wanting to succeed?
Actually, you may want to consider letting go of sabotaging the sale. If you push, people will push back by making excuses, giving you the runaround and dodging your questions. If you pull for their interest in making a wise choice, people will feel respected, trusted and supported by you. When you're deciding to focus on the way they decide, there's a difference between confusing them with too much information and complicating their selection process with added criteria. If you're giving them more reasons to buy what you're selling, you're giving them a sales pitch they will pitch in the trash when you've gotten out of their face. If you're giving them more ways to be careful, to serve their best interests, and to consider the big picture, you're creating space for their better judgment to emerge. You succeed indirectly by pulling for them.


Pulling for the pushers

Can pushers of content, tools, products and changes be stopped by pulling for them?

Pulling does not stop people, it creates space for them to rethink their options. When people feel like someone is pulling for them, they lower their defenses and welcome the opportunity for collaboration. By not getting pushed, they sense they don't need to guard against what they are getting sold or told to do. They experience the presence of mind where their right brains kick in?

Do hard-core pushers feel these effects from getting pulled for?
Not in my experience. People that believe in the necessity of pushing people perceive pulling as a lack of effort, determination or courage. They cannot respect pulling or value the differences it makes. In their minds, every situation calls for pushing other people into submission, compliance or self-contempt. The practice of empathy for pushers relates to their one-track mind, one right answer and one way to win.

Does that mean the way to pull for pushers is to help them be more pushy?
Yes indeed. Pushers set up arguments about the necessity and legitimacy of pushing where pulling for people is wrong, bad or stupid. To come back with no argument, no pushing back, no resistance to their pushing -- does effectively pull for them. The silence about not-pushing is deafening. The cooperation with their pushing is mind boggling. The permission to persist with pushing is not the least bit pushy. The contrary example is successfully provided without calling attention to it. The message is sent subliminally.

What if the pushers don't get it?
They won't get it. Pulling is off their radar. They cannot make sense of it as something to do to make necessary things happen. They cannot argue against it because it comes from out of nowhere in their minds. It gets to them without thinking it through, understanding how it occurred or explaining it rationally.


Learning to pull

Why is there so much pushing of employees to learn new skills, use new tools and access new resources?

Because most people have only had cognitive apprenticeships in how to push. They are unfamiliar with how to pull for others and to create interest without pushing the product. Of course the pushy people would not give you that answer. They'd say whatever they are pushing is for the good of the individual and the collective endeavor in some way. They may be thinking their pushing is legitimate because it will yield increased revenue, profits, efficiencies, competitiveness, quality or some other benefit.

What difference does it make to pull for someone instead of push them into something?
The person on the receiving end senses the difference immediately. The relationship is enhanced whether we are pulling for the learners or pulling for the creatives. Pulling yields more commitment, trust, buy-in and motivation. Pushing has the reverse effect: less commitment, trust, etc. Pushing breeds resistance, cynicism, defensive rationalizations and avoidance tactics.

Why are cognitive apprenticeships in pushing so common?
Pushing takes no imagination, empathy or reciprocity. It's something the left brain can do on its own. Pushing is extremely linear, rational and methodical. There's nothing cyclical, chaotic or paradoxical about it. Also, our techno-rational societies are predicated on pushing: the industrial paradigm and the factories for diplomas, surgeries and every other mass-produced merchandise -- all confirm the legitimacy of pushing people. There's a consensus trance that favors pushing to get what you want -- that is hard to escape.

Why is it so difficult to learn to pull from others who are doing it now?
When someone has empathy for those getting pushed, it's difficult to articulate where those impressions came from. When there are insights into how something could come about by letting go, being indirect or not-pushing for it, they are not straightforward explanations. The thinking about pulling gets into the complexity of subtle influences, shared contexts, implied messages and cyclical dynamics. Pulling deeply involves the right brain that relies on imagery, symbols and patterns rather than logic, language and methodical sequences.


Responsibility for curiosity

My curiosity comes and goes on it's own. I cannot make myself be curious. How can you take responsibility for my curiosity?
Advertisers make themselves responsible for customers' curiosity to get them to wonder about and question the value of the products they're pitching. Storytellers and screenwriters take responsibility for hooking their audience and maintaining the plot tension that keeps audiences curious about the eventual outcome. Game designers strive to maintain the players' curiosity about how things will turnout as they play the game different ways.

If the content you're covering is boring me, why not accept my lack of interest as a fact?
I can take your boredom as a mirror of my own condition and learn something about myself. I'll likely discover that I'm approaching you in the mindset of "no further questions your Honor" rather than wondering about you. If I have no curiosity about your frames of reference, it's not possible to provide useful information to you. Rather than take responsibility for your curiosity, I can own OUR curiosity, as if it takes two to be really curious. Then I can watch my curiosity catch on contagiously in our reciprocal arrangement.

How do you avoid sending me on a guilt trip by imply that "I should be curious" about what you're saying?
I stop thinking that control your curiosity and then let go of what comes of my approach. I can seem interested in you and see if that generates your interest in me. I can share how my curiosity explores the topic, finds it fascinating and generates further questions in my mind. I can wonder out loud about issues that need lots more thinking rather than bullet points.

Is that what's going on with these blog posts written in Q&A format?
I wonder if that might be true :-) Perhaps the Q&A format is representative of how the left brain works well with the right brain to receive inspired answers within. Maybe our interchange is setting an example of "being curious" so other's learn by osmosis and imitation of best practices. I wonder if we're making learning highly contagious by showing what happens as you go about asking questions that you've formulated from my replies to your previous question.


Responsibility for rebooting the meltdown

Is authentic learning a fragile dynamic that is very prone to system crashes?
Only in adversarial contexts. Learning is a very robust dynamic (resilient, self-repairing, quick to rebound) in a developmental context which trusts the learning process, values the phases it goes through and welcomes the setbacks as part of the learning. Learning so often appears vulnerable to collapse because the context is so unfriendly to learning. The same could be said of automotive paint finishes not holding up to battery acid and fruit blossoms falling to pieces in hail storms.

I've never seen a classroom teacher, corporate trainer or conference presenter "reboot the learning" when the audience gets the impression the information is useless. Are you being realistic to suggest a "sage on stage" should be responsible for restoring the learning after a systems crash?
The rebooting happens all the time in conversations with a presenter after a class session. It's common fare for every tutor, mentor, advisor, counselor and therapist. It's perfectly natural in dyads, interactions and conversations where reciprocity overrules the expertise. It's only unrealistic to expect rebooting when the learners are "packed together like sardines" in a set-up for the passive consumption of expert information.

What about hard core resistance to learning where students are dead-set against being taught anything?
They provide a perfect reminder for experts to avoid being over-responsible for someone else while also insisting on shared responsibility for learning. Those hard-core adversaries are a clear indication that the context sucks like acid spills and hail storms. Their "cry for help" says it's time to step outside the incessant belief system.

How do you see "totally-turned-off learners" that sets you up to reboot their learning?
I see them as teachers who will show me what I'm not seeing, understanding or using effectively thus far. I see them as having learned to stop learning from authority figures who keep making bogus claims about the usefulness of their expert information. I see them having very robust crap detectors that are quick to detect BS, scams and pure hype. I see them wanting respect as someone who sees the stupid game they are being asked to play and sees how to deservedly game the system. I see them as having never stopped learning really, and only faking "arrested development" to get control of a situation that's set up against them. I see them in need of a development context that nurtures learning and sees them the way I've just described.


Responsibility for testing

Doesn't the expert have to be the one responsible for testing my understanding or abilities?

Large systems want you to think that and hope you'll continue to pay exorbitant fees to get tested. All those systems are operating in failure mode. They are happy to administer the test and do nothing about the test results. Agricultural agencies test for top soil depletion and ground water poisoning. Quality monitoring systems test for deviance from policy standards of food, safety practices, pollution levels, professional conduct and accounting practices. Health care systems gives batteries to tests to identify a condition. Academic systems conduct tests of students' comprehension. All these systems report on the results. None of the systems take action to improve test scores or revise themselves so the outcomes get better.

Are you saying that testing provides useless information?
When the tests are administered by large systems, you got that right. However you just gave me a test question which tested my understanding of this facet of responsibility. My answer tested you on making the connection to "providing useful information". I presume we both passed each other's tests and will continue to change ourselves in response to the outcomes of those tests. We're providing each other with useful information by testing each other with questions and answers.

How can giving a student the answers be a viable test?
Tests happen all the time. We test our own understanding of something by trying to explain or do something. We test others ability to explain or do something when we ask them a question. We test new ideas and approaches to see if they work for us and discover how we need to change. We test people to see if they are who they say they are. We get tested by others whenever we are asked a question or given an answer by them.

Why can't large systems respond to their own test results like we're doing?
They are designed to abdicate responsibility for their effects on others. They "disown their externalities" and burden society with those side effects of their irresponsible conduct. Their system parameters dictate administering tests as the end in itself, not the means to an end. They operate as closed, belief systems obsessed with more of the same busywork. Large systems cannot transform themselves, learn from what happens or heal the planet.


Responsibility for learning

Who's really responsible for my learning what you're presenting?

We are. It's a two person job. Either one of us can drop the ball. I'm completely responsible for my contribution and you're 100% responsible for yours.

What if I want to blame you for not telling me what I need to know, not making it clear and not making sure I understood what you presented?
Two can play that game. If you blame me, I'll blame you for your lack of commitment to learning, involvement and follow through. You can feel sorry for yourself and I'll throw a pity party for anyone who will suck up to my side of the story. You can be my "customer from hell" and I can be your tormentor.

How can we escape that trap without becoming over-responsible and taking every obligation off the other side?
By my taking responsibility for providing useful information. That commitment restores our mutual responsibility. I cannot make information useful heroically. I need to be in the loop with the learners. I need feedback on how the information applies to lives other than my own. The situation calls for "a little help here!" from those I'm helping.

What if you're presenting information that is inherently useless, purely academic and an obvious indulgence of your inflated ego?
If you're responsible for using useful information, you'll disrupt that useless waste of your time and energy. You'll help me get back to providing information that seems useful to your frames of reference. You'll restore the context of getting information that applies, relates, serves a purpose or connects the dots.

What if I become disheartened and defeated by your omnipotent display of expertise and say nothing?
That would be a "systems crash" where the entire situation needs to be rebooted. More of the same will only make things worse. The meltdown into cynicism and despair calls for a time out to debrief what has occurred, reveal hidden assumptions, and get oriented with a new map.


Ending up in the audience

Steve Roesler: Tom, This is one of my favorite topics. (using experts wisely)

Tom: Thanks for stopping by. It's a favorite of mine also.

Steve: I've always thought of my role as an orchestra leader who, at some point in the concert, joins the band. By the end of the program--if I've done my job well--I'm sitting in the audience applauding.

Tom: That's a great metaphor for anyone providing useful information. When we experts "end up in audience", we have shared power, seen viewpoints outside our own and valued the "total production" after the end users joined in.

Steve: One of the most lethal dynamics in consulting/facilitating takes place when the "expert" views the others as "patients" who have "problems." These kinds of "experts" see their clients as "sick" in some way...and the clients pick up on that very quickly and with understandable resentment.

Tom: Excellent insights! I've seen the same dynamic with product designers/tech salespeople who find the customer to be "too stupid to appreciate a good product". Likewise with college professors who think the students' failing the course is no reflection of them, their teaching methods or their approach to providing useful information. In every case, fingers are getting pointed at "sick patients with problems" by experts with some kind of immunity from responsibility and involvement. So much for making music together with the end users.

Steve: Experts walking into any situation would serve themselves well by asking, "What am I going to learn by being with these folks today?" They will be pleasantly surprised.

Tom: The folks will be surprised by the seeming authenticity, emotional availability and integrity of the expert. They will inspired by the know-it-all actually learning something from them. They will be amazed at how much more confident they will feel when joined in making music together. Thanks for harmonizing!


Using experts wisely

Why is it so difficult to learn expertise from experts?
A "Have" and the "Have-nots" form a vicious cycle which drains the motivation and patience of everyone involved. The expert is presumed to addressing those who lack expertise and cannot come up with it on their own. The interactions are implicitly unilateral and over-powering. The transactions of expertise attempt to fix something wrong with the learners which gives them an experience of getting wronged.

How can the learners be made right when they lack expertise?
By combining expertise and user experience in a virtuous cycle. When the goal is to make the expertise useful, the users' context of use is essential. The learners know the situation where expertise may be applied, solve a problem or make a valuable difference. They are right about what good the expertise can be in their own contexts and what problems may be encountered.

What about learners who habitually expect to be framed as lacking expertise?
Abuse is addicting and the cycle needs to be disrupted by playing a different game. Power that has been used to over-power those perceived as lacking -- needs to be:
  • redeployed to empower the others
  • shared with learners who know something about their own situations and potential uses of the expertise
  • distributed across both domains of expert knowledge and experiences with attempted uses
Isn't this difficult for experts to transform themselves?
If it's approached as subjecting the experts to expertise they lack, it's nearly impossible. It's not difficult if the point of departure is their own personal problems with burnout, "talking to a wall", or lack of audience comprehension. The roles are simply reversed and they provide the user context for expertise that may serve them well.


Usefulness - an upsetting topic?

When I think about my own writing, instructional designs and presentations, the idea of making them more useful gives me writer's block. Why is that?
The left brain takes an idea like "providing useful information" and idealizes it into an unattainable goal. It dichotomizes the possibility into opposite extremes: useful / useless or good for something / good for nothing. The left brain also converts the complex issue into categorical labels and compartmentalized issues so that it has nothing to do with related ideas. It becomes a positional stance under siege and exposed to critics that puts the mind on full alert to defend against potential embarrassments. It's no wonder your mind shuts down any move in that direction.

Mention of "making my output more useful" feels like I'm getting a hot button pushed, a sore point raised or painful memory stirred up. How can that be?
Usefulness is an unresolved issue for lots of people. It haunts them from their unconscious and sabotages their good intentions. They've stored the questions about their value in the form of toxic shame. They taken messages very personally like: "you're useless", "you can't do anything worthwhile" or "you're no good". Messages like these are overwhelming and unthinkable. They get put into the unconscious for later resolution. Meanwhile those who have been shamed dread the topic, avoid giving it consideration and quickly change the subject to something less upsetting.

How does avoidance of the issue play out in someone's conduct and effects on others?
t gives them an unconscious urge to provide useless information and consume it too. They act out the unresolved issue unintentionally until it is restored to consciousness and rethinking. They appear to be trapped inside a nightmare where they cannot stop getting tormented by uselessness. They pretend what they are doing is useful while the reality of uselessness is kept below their conscious awareness. Their limbic system cannot access positive feelings about the issue and the thinking left brain maintains the logic that defeats its realization.

How does the right brain handle the possibility of "providing useful information" differently?
The right brain approaches it more inclusively, complexly and paradoxically. It takes the provider of information and it's receiver together to achieve the effect. Usefulness comes about through a process that undermines thinking it's an ideal thing or exclusive right answer. It takes the idea of usefulness with a grain of salt because useless things are useful too. The right brain rejects the experience of usefulness as a threat, danger or cause to be terrified. Instead it enjoys playing around with the possibilities that arise when reflecting on "providing useful information.


Eye of the SME's beholder

Where is the value in information?
The value is in the eye of the beholder and in the strength of the relationship with the informant. The information becomes more valuable when it appears that way to the receiver's frames of reference, perception filters and expectations. It also seems more valuable when the informant seems to really care about and understand the receiver of the information. It's like the sayings: "they don't care how much you know until they now how much you care" or "telling ain't selling".

What about information that is valuable regardless of who receives it?
That's the frame of reference of most subject matter experts (SME's). Assuming the information is useful regardless is like dishing out drugs without a prescription or dispensing eyeglasses with somebody else's lenses. If the every person being informed is seen as the same, there's no need to be concerned with other frames of reference. Besides, the information is useful to the SME for appearing as an expert, having information to provide and getting admired as exceptional. The SME's use-context defines the value of the information that is then pitched as "valuable information" for receivers to consume.

Isn't that the same premise as mass manufacturing, merchandising and media?
Yes indeed. The hardest thing for inventors to do is think of how their precious innovation gets used in the customer's context. Similarly, when a factory sells millions of the same widget or a TV show gets millions of viewers, it's easy to presume that the value is in the product, not the eye of the beholder. When one size fits all, variations between customers is of no concern.

How can SME's become concerned with value in the eyes of the beholder?
I've found it does not help to talk with SME's about the difference between content-centered and learned-centered approaches. Rather, it helps them-+** to assume that information is useless until it's put to use. Acting as if there is no inherent value out of a use-context puts the expertise in question. Then the frames of reference of the end-users come into play and offer solutions to the problem of providing useful information. How those getting informed "conceive of what they are being given" becomes a valid consideration.


Making info more useful

Are there changes that can be made in the information to make it more useful?
That depends on the context of use. Obviously making the information more sophisticated is of no benefit to newbies. Making it more simplistic is counter-productive for adepts. That's where digital archives with search functions make information more useful. There can be a wide range of presentations of the same idea for different audiences, levels of sophistication and potential use-contexts.

What about reaching a particular audience with a common level of current understanding?
  1. If the information is new to them, then it will be more useful if it's clear, well organized and evocative of feelings. That's the province of storytelling, visual aids and bullet points.
  2. If the information already appears useful to them, it will be more useful if they receive practical tips, shortcuts or game cheats to get more or better results using the information. That's the territory of hands-on learning, job-aids and best practices.
  3. If the information has been used enough that it's become apparent that "it doesn't always work", it will be more useful to receive troubleshooting guidelines to diagnose potential errors of omission, perilous assumptions or excessive effort. That's the realm of case studies, communities of practice and systems views of whole situations.
What-if the information appears objectionable rather than new, useful or troublesome?
That's a set-up to become too informative, propagandistic and pushy. The context of the audience is ruled out by fear of those lurking objections. That antagonistic context needs "equal airtime" to induce them to lower their defenses and open their minds. By acknowledging their concerns, they will reconsider their objections. The informative presentation needs to include a "devil's advocate" or contrarian viewpoint to shoot down the one-sided sales pitch. By voicing those objections, respect is shown to them along side the expertise showing them to be misinformed.

Why don't more presenters "shoot holes in their own arguments" to get more buy-in?
They aren't striving to make their information more useful to others. They don't care what context their audience is in. They assume their job is to be informative as-if everyone is a newbie. They provide information as a thing to consume, not a process to go through, an experience to share or an extreme to resolve into a balanced whole.

How would you shoot down that argument about most presenters?
I'd start by saying "I could be wrong about this":
  • It's smart to act like you're the only one who's right if you really are informing a group who are totally wrong and incapable of coming to the same realizations that you have.
  • It's wise to stick to your guns when you're clearing up wild rumors or insane speculations.
  • It's better to not shoot yourself in the foot when you've already put your foot in your mouth and regret what you've implied.
  • You're better off to make a straightforward presentation if it covers both sides of the issue with a balanced approach in order to get the desired results.


Addicted to useless information

Why don't providers of useless information go out of business?
Perhaps for the same reasons that manufacturers of junk food are very profitable. The taste of the consumers for "food value" has been corrupted by pseudo-nutrition. They don't know what they're missing and are thus satisfied or even addicted to useless food. The same could be said for mind-numbing entertainment and excessive materialism.

Doesn't useless information make a lousy offer that the end users would reject instantly?
Rejecting lousy deals requires the freedom to walk away from the offer. That's not possible if the information is provided as a course requirement, mandatory training or other obligatory exercise. Yet rather than endure the onslaught of abuse, most close their minds, "check their brains at the door" and heartlessly pretend to be receiving the information. What they get told goes in one ear and out the other without getting questioned or retained. They appear to pay attention while paying it no mind. They get in the swing of being inattentive, easily distracted and scattered. "Lights on, nobody home".

Why aren't they concerned with wasting their time or trashing their motivation?
Perhaps their self-respect has become a lost cause. They may be seeing no opportunities to be true to themselves, act with integrity or follow their moral compass. They may have figured the only way to get through the ordeal is to sellout, suffer in silence or act indifferent. They stop considering whether the information is useful and stop hesitating when offered the lousy deal.

What happens when they are offered useful information?
If they have been living on a steady diet of useless information, they find anything really useful to be revolting. Their distaste is spawned by their "learned powerlessness". They cannot value useful information anymore than someone can stop shopping beyond the capacity of their garage, basement, attic and storage locker. The premise of "I can't" is deeply held and fortified by a huge inventory of personal experiences. Their presupposition of powerlessness is robust, resilient and self-maintaining. They are convinced they have no choice and have to persist in their pointless pursuit. Their rabid consumption goes straight to the bottom line for those profitable providers of useless information.


Providing useful information

What's the nature of useless information?
Information seems useless to people receiving it when it's lacking a significant context. There's no reason to be getting the information right then in the way it's being delivered. It serves no purpose for the supposed beneficiary.

Why is it so common to provide useless information, regardless of the people receiving it?
It's usually very useful to provide information for the provider. Publishers of print books, magazines, mailers and newspapers all get paid for dishing out information. Their deal is sealed by providing the information, not by how it's applied or put to use. Educators, teachers, trainers and professional speakers all receive remuneration for being informative regardless of what people do with the information in their own worlds. Institutions that confer diplomas, transcripts, certificates of completion or other credentials -- assume the value of the information is evident in qualifying for the "piece of paper". They create a self-contained world that makes getting the credential the end result, rather than the means to an end.

How does digital text make information more valuable to the receiving end?
The digitized archive of information can be searched for potentially useful links. The searcher's context of use provides the premise, key words and criteria for evaluating search results. When new content is getting published online, the end user can subscribe to continual searches of RSS feeds for relevant information. When a potentially useful wiki is getting updated, the changes in the wiki (or specific pages) can show up in a blog reader or be sent as emails. Digital text has addresses that can be bookmarked and tagged with one's own labels. Those tags used by others can also be searched.

What's different about finding useful information for oneself?
It's like being allowed to look around in a library on one's own instead of being herded to the stacks en masse to get a book read to you by an expert at a scheduled time. The information gets received only when it's needed to answer a specific question, solve a problem or make some other unique difference to the searcher. The power, control and curiosity are in the hands of the receiver, not the provider. The beneficiaries actually benefit from the information because it comes to them on their own terms. They gain confidence in their questions and particular interests. They realize how easily they retain information they found useful according to their own contexts. They get better finding what serves their quest to understand something better.


Anticipating natural reforms

Can system reforms occur as a natural process like the emergence of a butterfly from a cocoon?
There are many examples in nature that suggest that it's possible for human systems. There are numerous succession sequences -- like a pond that evolves into a wetlands, meadow and finally a hardwood forest. The gestation of embryos into full grown adults occurs in a wide range of species. Vegetation that begins from seed reforms itself dramatically into a full-size plant, bush or tree.

If transformation is such a natural thing, why does it seem so unnatural in attempted reforms of education and other large systems?
The natural world has no fear of comprehensive awareness. It responds to its situation without denials, defensive rationalizations or one-sided explanations. Nature thrives on responding fully to its surroundings and getting responded to in return. Humans get caught up in ego-trips where they need to be right, identify with positional stances and regard holistic awareness as a dangerous threat.

Aren't ego-trips an evolutionary outcome that naturally occurred from a previous condition?
Yes indeed. There's evidence of a pre-egoic or pre-personal phase of human development where people do not form individual identities. They function like swarms, flocks or herds that move with the supply of food and changes in weather. They do what needs to be done for the survival of their cooperative gathering.

Could we outgrow ego-trips into a post-egoic or transpersonal phase of human existence?
Lots of philosophers have anticipated that possibility with fascinating insights. I just finished re-reading Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth" which defines a way to awaken and live differently. It's also the basis for many spiritual traditions where the individual's consciousness is transformed into an ego-less presence.

Can large systems get transformed naturally by changes in consciousness?
Time will tell. The possibility makes perfect sense to me. Here are some of the facets of a natural reform of large systems by a change in consciousness:
  • Egos have the sense to see, say and do the wrong thing for the good of the whole. The whole pushes back and deprives egos of access to what is good for the whole.
  • Egos naturally congregate together, stick to their own kind and isolate themselves from higher consciousness. These conceited gatherings have the right stuff to self-destruct, deplete their essential resources, discourage their customers and destroy faith in their system parameters.
  • Egos naturally make enemies, feed conflicts and escalate tensions. They will find themselves in wars and other forms of hostility which will fortify their ego trips, require further vengeance and devote their resources to fighting.
  • While all this is occurring, post-egoic or transpersonal humans will have the sense to see, say and do the right thing for the good of the whole. The whole will respond in kind and nurture further responsiveness from these humble constituents.
  • These non-egos will network, collaborate and combine efforts as if "we're all in this together" and as if "acting as one in spirit" brings out the best in each of us.
  • The large systems will be transformed by the vanishing of fear, controlling individuals, unresponsive mechanisms and fortified stances.
  • In it's place, responsiveness will abound and desired results will come about easily.


Delightful disenchantment

How can the dropout rates of students and new teachers be a good thing?
When unhappy campers endure their misery, they make everyone miserable. No good comes from putting up with so much dissatisfaction. People become disheartened, cynical and turned against exciting possibilities in their lives. However, when unhappy campers leave the campground, transformation of the system is imminent.

What's does the dropout rates signify from a systems perspective?
There's a saying that "it's easy to get Joe out of the trailer park, but it's difficult to get the trailer park out of Joe". When dropout rates soar to 50% of enrollment, it's a sign that "the trailer park is getting out of Joe". The parameters of the system are no longer the parameters of learner. The premises for getting value from education experiences are getting revised. A cultural shift is occurring that expects different benefits and outcomes from its educational systems.

How could such a difficult change come about so easily?
By introducing conflicting educations between formal and informal learning or between educational systems and cyberspace experiences. By causing learners to realize how much, how easily and how usefully they learn when they are not getting instructed. By juxtaposing satisfying successes outside the trailer park with the same old misery inside the same old endurance contest. By giving glimpses of freedom from the perpetual misery of unhappy campers.

What will become of conventional educational systems?
Some will appear totally useless to both students and their parents with their new frames of reference. The systems will refute the disenchantment by clinging to their system parameters and experience a near-complete evacuation. Others will evolve to offer the kinds of freedom, value and satisfaction that learners have discovered outside the legacy system. The unhappy campers will redefine what education is, what good it does and whatever it takes to realize those benefits -- by getting the conventional campground "out of their system". The transformed educational systems will served the disenchanted who have found more value beyond parameters of the system. The last row in the classroom becomes the top tier in the next system operating on the new parameters.


Revising system parameters

What are "system parameters"?
The parameters of a system determine what problems get identified, how they are diagnosed and what solutions are provided. A fast food system cannot recognize a need for winter coats or solve a clothing problem with anything on it's menu. A fast food system does recognize a need for food in a hurry and responds with more fast food. It can solve problems to get more feed to the cattle it slaughters to create the burgers on the menu. It cannot solve problems that require cutbacks in cattle breeding. System parameters call for more of the same thing to get its job done.

What are the parameters of a typical education system?
An education system delivers seats, classrooms and school buildings and solves apparent problems with those alternatives. It will diagnose familiar problems as a lack of seats, classrooms or buildings and solve them swiftly. The system may also deliver additional course offerings, subjects to study and course materials. It will automatically solve problems with those responses and assume more courses are what's required. The system will also provide objective measures of task completion and content retention for measuring progress, advancing students to the next grade level and rewarding teachers. Some of these systems may also provide counselors, social workers and staff meetings to resolve troublesome issues. All these systems operate within their parameters when they seek additional funds through property tax increases or bond issues. The system will then diagnose every problem that erupts within these system parameters.

What's wrong with relying on system parameters?
School systems act incapable of solving problems like student dropout rates or new teacher burnout rates. Those problems cannot be solved with additional seats, tests, courses, counseling or budget increases. The problems exist outside the confines of system parameters. The problems appear impossible to solve and must be "swept under the rug". Otherwise the problems get diagnosed as a need for the solutions the system does deliver. The system will try to fix the problem with additional courses, testing, counseling or funding.

Why don't school systems revise their parameters to become more responsive and effective?
A system cannot revise it's own parameters. It takes something or someone outside the system. We cannot lift a table we are standing on top of, until we get off the table and stand on different ground. We stand on and stand for the system parameters when we are functioning inside a system. We do what the system does and cannot do otherwise without causing a system malfunction. We join in it's purposes, perceptions and premises to fit in, get our job done and meet others expectations.

Why don't systems seek outsiders who are standing on different ground to revise their parameters?
System parameters justify their own existence, make themselves right and refute contrary premises. Proponents of the parameters say things like:
  • It won't work with our unique situation -- it has not been invented here.
  • It's been tried before and fails to produce lasting change in our kind of system.
  • It's not our responsibility to be concerned with that -- it's none of our business.
  • It's not something we can afford under our current financial constraints -- it's too costly.
How do system parameters get revised?
Usually by a crisis where the system cannot reboot itself after a high profile failure. The parameters are exposed by the system crash to be dysfunctional, toxic or ill-conceived. People lose faith in the system. The spell is broken and it's suddenly obvious what has been previously assumed without question. The chronic misdiagnoses, neglected problems and obsessive solutions are put into a new light. There is nothing to stand on or for until new ground is established with revised system parameters.


Making reforms happen

Is it possible to make reforms happen by taking direct action?
All of us who want particular reforms certainly wish we could change things right now by taking action. Usually, action gets a negative reaction. (libel, blackmail, vandalism, theft, arson, witch hunts, burning in effigy, drive-by shootings, etc.) Activism produces unintended consequences. Situations calling for reforms are maintained by underlying dynamics which are different from situations for making progress, solving problems, building infrastructure or creating communities.

What causes action to backfire when the active intentions are to create reforms?
Actions send a different message and those "in need of reform" are already traumatized, hyper-vigilant and suspicious of what is being said about them and to them. We're saying we want better educational experiences, more freedom of choice for each student and greater access to outside resources. The audience getting reformed hears a different message like:
  • "You're professionally incompetent, indifferent and part of this unacceptable problem"
  • "Your conduct is disgraceful, traitorous and toxic to our precious learners"
  • "Your value to the future solutions is negligible and highly over-rated by clueless idiots who share your blindness to the real problems"
  • "You're in need of an enemy and now you've got one to contend with until you stop doing your job as you have been all these years"
Why do teachers and school administrators read such devastating criticisms into talk of reforms, higher quality and better outcomes?
They're already on the defensive from increased accountability measures, bad press and hostile parents. Their fear-based outlook automatically turns complex situations into divisive stances, categorical conclusions and irresolvable stalemates. They are pre-disposed to over-react and take everything too personally.

Why are their feelings and predictable over-reactions not considered by most reformers who are anxious to take action?
Frustrations run high on both sides of the issue. The urgency to make reforms happen is as great as the apprehensions those reforms evoke for others. Everyone is looking in the mirror and seeing something other than themselves to point fingers at. Emotional intelligence is not usually in the mix. Left brain logic is being used to keep an oppressive lid on limbic hijackings.

How would right brain creativity, insight and non-judgmental awareness play into these dynamics?
The situation calls for an indirect approach that sidesteps the provocation of those predictable over-reactions. Restoring the oppositions' dignity, peace of mind or sense of possibilities often helps. Those in need of reform often need their minds boggled by regarding their resistance -- as a welcomed form of cooperation, significant revelations about the nature of the real problems and an impressive show of commitment to the resolution of the reform agenda. It can also transform the oppressive dynamics to stop pointing fingers and only use "I" statements like:
  • "I have concerns about how I'm coming across to you and affecting your states of mind"
  • "I'm intending to clarify my passion for education and I regret if I am escalating conflicts with my boisterous love of learning"
  • "I'm delighted with the ideas we're getting for our mutual consideration and varied viewpoints"
  • "I'm fascinated by the new choices I'm seeing for how to contribute here and to learn from how I'm perceived by the rest of you"


Giving lip-service to educational reforms

What signs are you seeing of educational bureaucracies giving lip-service to the quality, inherent value and long term effects of the education they provide?
Evidence is everywhere. I see it in the declining literacy rate, increasing drop-out rate, and pitiful attendance stats. It's apparent to me in the over-emphasis on testing and other accountability measures. There are signs in the continual supply of ineffective leaders, managers, teachers and every other kind of professional.

How can bureaucracies defy their mandate to deliver high quality education to every citizen in their systems?
By not openly defying their mission. By giving plenty of time for professional development conferences, in-services and continuing education credits. By talking up the fine points of an education agenda when hiring new teachers or every time school board members or Superintendents are getting elected. By going through the motions of change efforts to improve what they do and what comes of it. By putting out fires when students or parents go into crisis-mode. By staging events to give the impression of accomplishments, progress and commitment to quality.

Why is lip-service preferable to integrity, substantive quality and well-deserved respect?
I doubt that lip-service is preferable to most teachers and academic administrators. Lip-service is an expedient, quick fix to silence critics, avoid criticism and appear competent. They are not malicious. They think they would show students and themselves more respect if they had the time and resources. They assume they cannot because they are constantly over-worked, pressured to do more and deprived of acceptance.

Is their a cure for lip-service, hypocrisy and scam-artistry?
There's no cure that can be bought, administered or facilitated. The problem is inherent to the structure of personalities prior to awakening. We naturally become hypocrites as we develop a self-concept, take pride in our accomplishments and feel confident in our decisions, abilities and ambitions. We simultaneously develop a dark side that betrays, opposes and even sabotages our good intentions. We say one thing and do another. We sell ourselves as a picture of respectability while acting out self-contempt "off-camera". We give lip-service to our best intentions and most praise-worthy ambitions. We aim to dramatically please others to compensate with how subconsciously displeased we are with ourselves.

How does lip-service ever go into remission?
The solution comes about by a spiritual crisis, loss of pride, failure of idealism, or nightmare episodes in one's life. It comes upon us like the transformation into a butterfly befalls the fat caterpillar. We give up our claim to fame for an unfamiliar humility, emptiness and innocence. We find within the respect we could not find in the world and the love we need to stop running scared. We stop pretending to be someone we're not and simply be who we are: unique in soul and joined in spirit.


Form and reform

Has every educational reform failed for the past two centuries?
It appears that way on the surface. There has always been a massive amount of talk about educational reform that fails to materialize as real changes. Yet there have been substantive changes from one room school houses and books called "grammars". The changes in support technologies are the most obvious successful reforms.

Why does so much talk of educational reform go unheeded?
Talk about reforms does not also talk about forms. The reform-minded voices "talk at" instead of "talk with" people who comprise the existing forms of education. The forms are disregarded, diminished or disputed while speaking of reforms. The resisting of status quo sends clear messages to educational system to defend, entrench and stagnate themselves.

How can "talk of change" not pose a threat to the status quo?
By speaking the language of the those "who need to be reformed". By understanding why the forms are so persistent, resilient and defiant of reforms. By validating others' faith, reliance and enduring commitments to those forms.

What language do the proponents of existing forms speak?
Most embrace a bureaucratic mindset because most educational systems takes the form of large bureaucracies. Talk of educational reform is unintelligible because education is only given lip-service within the vast policy-driven hierarchies.

How can we speak their language and get on their wavelength?
By learning a different grammar that organizes the opportunities for reform very differently from our own frames of reference. Here's a sample of the outlook of any "keeper of the existing forms":
  • Talk of change in a student's experience or a teacher's conduct has to be multiplied by the number of students in the system and quantified to put it into the budget. Bureaucracies exist because the number of people served is staggeringly large.
  • Beneficial effects and outcomes from reforms has to be enforced as something everyone will get across the board to avoid favoritism, elitism or discrimination. Exceptional improvements is asking for grievances to be filed and litigation to be pursued by injured claimants in high-profile cases (because bureaucracies are huge and publicized).
  • A reform in pedagogy has to be translated into either an executive order, a policy change or a new law from the state or federal legislature. Individuals cannot initiate reforms without getting punished for being illegal, defiant or non-compliant.
  • Changes in services delivered has to be accomplished by maintaining constituencies, loyalties, and reputations. Otherwise, talk of reforms is asking beneficiaries of the existing form to sabotage their long term investments and basis for future rewards from the system.
  • Reforms will generate: new documents to be kept on file, paperwork that preempts productive work and reporting procedures necessitating more compliance. This added burden only works if it's not going to get people into more embarrassing situations and ugly confrontations.