Incubating a wise decision

Gotta get more information to make a good decision
Can't have too much information
The more information, the better the decision

The cognitive strategies of the left brain predictably reason through the need for more information in order to make effective decisions in some of the following ways:
  • Either I have enough information already or I don't. (dichotomous reasoning)
  • There's no proof that I have enough and no way to verify that I don't need more (empirical reasoning)
  • How I reach the ultimate decision has nothing to do with what information I make the decision with (compartmentalized reasoning)
  • I'm in obvious danger of not having enough information to identify misinformation, false assumptions and mere conjectures (superficial reasoning)
  • The need for more information is a given that is established by preparing to make a decision (categorical reasoning)
  • More information makes the decision better because the resulting decision will address more issues and constituencies (reductionistic reasoning)
  • The decision needs to be made with the best information possible and not get derailed by half-hearted efforts to gather information (convergent reasoning)
Meanwhile, the right brain can see all of these justifications for more information as flawed strategies. They each play into a process that will yield ineffective decisions. They pass up a process of arriving at a wise decision with less action. The right brain favors making decisions by a process of incubation that utilizes the left brain effectively.

To incubate a wise decision:
  1. Consider reaching the decision by a combination of taking action and receiving what comes to mind (perspiration and inspiration)
  2. Get a feeling for both leaving shaky ground where anxiety drove the decision making process and standing on solid ground of safety
  3. Get a sense of being free to be more creative, playful and spontaneous with this opportunity
  4. Take stock of what you already know about the entire situation that calls for some resolution or conclusion.
  5. Tie as many of those facts together into a cohesive picture or story
  6. Reflect on the accumulated inventory of known information and realize what remains a question, unknown or puzzle
  7. Consider proceeding without more information and see how that feels in your heart or gut
  8. Get more information if a felt sense arises to clear up a particular doubt, suspicion or curiosity
  9. When it feels like the remainder can be handled by inspiration, stop taking action to make the decision.Put the decision on a back burner, sleep on it, or give it a rest until it comes back to mind out of the blue
  10. When the decision dawns on you, appreciate how it feels and how it came to you
  11. Observe how it combined what you found out for yourself and what came to you when you opened to receive it
  12. Act on the basis of this wise decision which came by incubation.
You may notice that most of these steps won't break a sweat. The right brain works best when we are still, contemplative and fascinated with the present moment. Our left brain is afraid of being still because it handles dangerous situations with immediate actions. Being still connotes becoming the next meal for any predator larger or faster than our upright, two-footed bodies. Surviving calls for fight or flight, not serenity and receptivity according the hemisphere on the left.


Ready fire aim!

When we're taking action in a dangerous situation, there are numerous cognitive strategies we deploy unconsciously. We don't need to think about how we're reasoning in order to take actions amidst perceived dangers. We can act without taking cautious and considerate aim.

These ways of minding our situation have worked very well for us in pursuit of survival, conquest of rival communities and exploitation of planetary resources. We take actions based on these strategies in order to make technological progress, to control others' ambitions, to dominate psychological conflicts and to win battles. We realize short term gains and fail to foresee the long term consequences. These cognitive strategies are typically identified with the left hemisphere of the neocortex.

  1. Categorical reasoning: We label the components of the situation to know exactly what we're dealing with.We quickly sort out who is friend and foe, part of the problem or on the team. It would undermine our actions to "get all iffy" about what the facts are. We cannot consider what it might be, could otherwise mean or possibly signify. We're being objective and avoiding any post-modern subjectivity or departure from dominant narratives. It is what it is and gets labeled accurately.
  2. Dichotomous reasoning: We think in "either/ or" terms. We insist both cannot be right. The action to be taken cannot be wrong and have truth in it or cannot play into a beneficial process with uncertain outcomes. We rule out grey areas, middle grounds and ambiguous approaches. We practice retributive justice and tale offense at wrong doing.
  3. Compartmentalized reasoning: We establish boundaries on the situation and limit what gets considered. We rule out extraneous issues to maintain our focus and resolve. We dissociate what would produce cognitive dissonance. We deny what would otherwise give us feelings of guilt, doubt or hesitation.
  4. Reductionistic reasoning: We infer a chain of events and a causal explanation for what happens. We assume we can get results by adopting a model where one thing leads to another in sequence. We believe we can make things happen by taking action in line with the established order. We rule out "chicken and egg problems", cyclical dynamics and symbiotic relationships. We cannot account for systemic backlash, escalation of symptoms or "feeding the problem" by taking actions in sequence.
  5. Empirical reasoning: We rely on established proof to take action confidently. We seek reliable solutions, cures and fixes that get consistent results. This cognitive strategy has no use for symptoms that disappear when given a different diagnosis or problems that vanish by letting go of fixing them.
  6. Superficial reasoning: We take the evidence at face value and read nothing into it. We avoid making wild speculations about hidden dynamics, underlying motives or sponsoring premises. We react to what's obviously changing, troublesome and threatening. We cannot consider that we might be falling for a baited trap, getting played by the game or getting suckered by our own predictable perceptions.
  7. Convergent reasoning: We zero in on what needs to be attended to and acted upon. We focus on the essentials to accomplish the task we're facing. We know what has to be said and done and do it. We cannot diverge into exploring possible changes in timing, venue, tools, understandings or goals. We mean business at this point so we close our minds to distractions.
These strategies give us great resolve without hesitation. Our actions show admirable determination and conviction. When they handle the dangerous situation adequately, the actions produced by these cognitive strategies are regarded as productive, resourceful and admirable.

These same cognitive strategies destroy climates and ecosystems. They do damage to learners, employees and communities. They undermine families, marriages and other relationships. They lead to product failures, pilot errors, medical malpractice and business downsizing. When they fail to handle dangerous situations adequately, they appear short sighted, dysfunctional, biased and insensitive. They are lacking in creativity and other features of right brain functionality. They give credence to my claim that
"The left half of the neocortex sucks at making decisions"


Deciding about uncertain danger

Our brains work superbly when we're in clear cut danger. We instantly get the urge to take flight or put up a fight. We become "all eyes and ears" to not get fooled by appearances. We quickly make up our minds about those things which are posing some danger to us.

Our brains also function wonderfully when we're not in any danger. We take advantage of the safety to explore opportunities, create new experiences, relate to others with empathy and reflect on what is happening to us. We avoid fixating our minds on a particular in order to remain open, inquisitive and adventurous.

Our brains get into trouble when it's not clear whether we're really in danger or not. Deciding about danger does not come easily to us. We're torn between two very different ways to sort out the situation. Each approach has some advantages. We will use our brains more effectively when we take this inner conflict into account.

Our right brains are fascinated by uncertain danger. It's possible the thing we're facing is not dangerous at all. It might be an opportunity to grow, change, learn or create something new. It might show us something we don't already know or even consider as an option. It might seem strange to us to get our attention, then relate to us with more understanding than we expected. It might challenge our preconceptions in order to come to a new outlook on ourselves and our situation. It can even offer an element of danger we find alluring.

Our left brains are opposed to uncertain danger. There's no two ways to take the situation: either we win or we lose, handle it or not, take control or get controlled. We cannot give it time or play along with it to see what comes of it. Most every option will put us in more danger as far as the left brain can determine.

Our limbic system gets entangled in deciding about danger when we're favoring the left brain approach to the uncertainty. We recall previous dangers like it's happening again right now. We already know the feeling and see the same story unfolding again. It seems we're immersed in a nightmare with no possible escape. We're like a cornered animal get forced to accept it's fate as prey to an over-powering predator. Fight or flight are not options. It's time to freeze in our tracks like a deer in headlights. We experience an anxiety attack that appears to override both the left and right hemispheres. Our right brain imagines the worst that can happen. Our left brain thinks of catastrophizing, demonizing and awfulizing the situation.

When we use our brains effectively for deciding about danger, we no longer go there. We control our urge to over-react and jump to erroneous conclusions with the limbic system taking over. We give our right brain a chance to perform its proper function. We chill out and ponder the situation to see what comes to mind about it. We assume we don't know what to make of it or how respond to it until we gain some insights. We give ourselves time to reflect on it and consider different alternatives. We act like we're not in any danger until our right brain comes to that conclusion. We exhibit composure, confidence, courage and character amidst this adversity. Our decision about the danger will then be wise and insightful. We've used our brains well.


Making up our minds

Half of the neocortex takes action superbly. You'll find it on the left side of your skull animating the right side of your body. This half focuses on what needs to be done regardless of it getting labeled as closed minded, over-zealous or obsessed. It processes information in a linear fashion which proves to be very effective for getting things done in a prescribed sequence -- free of distractions and discouragement. The way this half thinks is a one track mind that gets where it's going if at all possible.

The other half of our neocortex is great for deciding what action to take, what timing will work best, what changes to make in the sequence and how to have an intended effect on the situation. It is located on the right side of our craniums animating the left side of our bodies. This half takes in a panorama of possibilities and naturally considers long term consequences. It processes information in a non-linear fashion which works superbly for combining approaches, balancing opposing concerns, making tradeoffs and formulating creative alternatives. The way this half thinks is intuitive, inspired and imaginative.

The left half of the neocortex sucks at making decisions. It cannot get enough data while ignoring all signs of information overload. It has to reach a conclusion prematurely, short-sightedly and mistakenly because it's functioning linearly. It can only take things literally, as if there's no two ways about it and the decision depends on the objective facts. Thus it cannot ponder what-if questions, unforeseen possibilities or imaginative scenarios. It always comes to the same conclusion as before, which is a good thing when taking reliable actions, but ineffective when making innovative decisions. If there's too many considerations, the left half goes into a tail spin in isolation and cannot make up its mind.

We can tell which half of the neocortex we're using to make a decision by the emotional state of the limbic system. If we're happy and feeling confident, our right brains are doing what they're good at. If we're agitated, nervous and frustrated, we're poised to make bad decisions with the half designed for taking action.

When our minds are trying to make complex decisions with linear thinking, we need to call a time out to get the right half of the neocortex engaged. Closing our eyes disrupts relentless thinking. Listening to music, observing our surroundings or going for a walk -- each produce the desired effect of getting the right half into the act.

When we make a great decision, we won't know we've done that until we see how everything turns out in the end. We'll have an inkling that it's the right thing to do at the time because of how we are feeling abut the decision. We cannot explain how we made up our minds without sounding like we're spreading the B.S. pretty thick. We just know this is the right thing to do. We have a sixth sense about this. We know intuitively that it will work out for the best. We've used our right half to make up our mind so our left half can take action accordingly. All is well inside our craniums.


When learning it really happens

Did the learning of it really happen or was there just a lot of teaching, instructing, presenting, educating, training or facilitating going on? We can recognize whether learning it has really happened from evidence of:
  • not only talking about it, but actually doing it, getting it accomplished, showing how it's done correctly
  • not only complying with procedures, but getting the result, achieving the outcome, producing the intended effect
  • not only espousing the concepts, but understanding the reasoning, realizing the value, looking after the underlying purpose
  • not only trying to adopt it, but successfully integrating it into work routines, replacing old habits, making significant changes
  • not only making a thing of learning it, but maintaining a continual process of exploring it, experimenting with it and refining it
When really learning it happens, many different conditions within a pro-learning ecology have supported this occurrence:

The learners' brains got enough sleep the night before in order to pay attention throughout the programme. Then they got enough sleep after to rehash the learning experience from many different perspectives in order to internalize some changes in memory. The learners got enough blood flow to the brain to nurture the construction of new neural connections. The learners' right brains were activated with awareness of creative possibilities in what is being learned and how it was getting experienced, while their limbic systems were pleasantly aroused without handling dangers or loss of control.

The learners' personal histories allowed for really learning it to happen. The learners have been framed as capable and internalized the confidence to utilize a successful approach. The story the learners re-enact ends up with desirable outcomes which confirms their "facts of life" and sense of fate. They are putting faith in receiving authentic learning experiences and it comes about as they imagine it with feeling, intend it with conviction or anticipate it with sincere appreciation. They are believing "I am a learner for whom learning really happens" - so be it.

The learners' emotional states were aligned with really learning it. They felt energized and happy to be doing this. They were feeling curious about what was unfolding and delighted with the suspense, unknowns and ambiguity. They experienced a felt sense of needing to know this, wanting it for their own reasons and valuing it even before it happened. They were feeling courageous enough to take the risks, make the mistakes and expose themselves to discouraging remarks. They were confident enough to see their learning all the way through to completion. The learners felt they had resolved any of their own anxiety or misgivings before those inner conflicts could undermine really learning it.

The learners' tribes were in favor of this change really happening. Their peers or colleagues were offering encouragement, showing an interest in it and wanting further updates, Their interactions outside the learning experience picture what they went through as valuable, enviable or remarkable. The atmosphere, when the learners were socializing, made it easy to discuss it, relive it and deepen their commitment to it.

The learners' casinos pay out for this kind of gamble sometimes. The reward system of grades, paychecks, bonuses or promotions is geared to recognize when learning it really happens. There may have been objectives, goals or plans to learn it that confirm this as a "job well done". There may have been pressures to comply, fit in and stop deviating which regard this as "measuring up to expectations". There might also have been unwritten rules for joining an elite corps or making the grade of the next higher rank which entitles the learners to special privileges after really learning it.

The learners' experience of the instructional design was empowering and particularly supportive of them. They felt the pacing was in their control or in sync with the rate they could get this clear in their minds. The choices they were offered among viable options and the validation of their intentions -- kept them in the driver's seat as responsible learners. They sensed the process began with their current understanding instead of taking off without them on board. They realized what they were assuming incorrectly by having their own thought processes put to use and challenged by unfamiliar situations. They welcomed the new content as additions and refinements to their competencies, rather than starting over or correcting their lack of understanding.

The learners' actual context was essential to learning this. The learners' imaginations are now picturing the result of really learning it in the situations where they can actually use it. The learners have connected the dots between the challenges they face routinely in their own worlds and this new learning. They get the learning to serve their lives or forget it.

All this implies that the learners we're actively involved in how the experience went down for them. If they sensed the learning was not happening, they would have taken the initiative to make changes. They may have done something:
  • to perk up their brain
  • to recall who they thought they were when they really learned something successfully
  • to resolve inner conflicts to get a good feeling about this,
  • to convince their tribe of the value of learning this,
  • to improve the odds or get some payback for their effort
  • to get more control over their own learning processes
  • to make the connections to how they will use it in their own world
Any of those initiatives are standard fare of a day in the life of a pro-learning ecology.

No one would have believed

When telephones were a new technology, a phone call with a friend did not count as a real conversation. It was necessary to stop by the house to show the friends they were not being snubbed, ignored or taken for granted. People could not let go of eye contact and shaking hands to legitimize the conversation as sincere. No one would have believed our network of contacts we've never met in person and all the different ways we send messages to each other.

When TV broadcasts of baseball games began to be watched at home, the TV announcers were not considered legitimate. The TV audio was turned down to listen to the game on the radio. People could not let go of the vocal mannerisms of their favorite radio announcers that established credibility, familiarity and reliability in each listeners' minds. No one would have believed our hi-def camera broadcasts, concurrent webcasts, real time online game stats and text message updates sent to cell phones.

When VCR's were new, it was unusual to tape over an previously recorded program. Most everyone was building up their own library of videotapes made off of TV broadcasts. Watching reruns on TV, renting videos or borrowing friends' tapes was not considered to be reliable. People could not let go of keeping a massive personal archive to feel safe about seeing something again. No one would have believed our TIVO's for time-shifting the broadcasts while eliminating commercials and our downloading digitized TV shows & movies onto PC's through broadband connections.

When desktop PC's were new, people continued to buy IBM Selectric typewriters with carbon ribbons, changeable font balls and proportional spacing. The advantages of word processing software did not seem legitimate when sending the document to the printer was a sure ticket to discovering problems with installed drivers, ribbon cartridges, paper feed mechanisms or incompatible formatting protocols. People could not let go of putting each letter on the paper with their personal keystrokes. No one would have believed our blogs with formatted text, side columns with all those widgets, post with embedded videos, photos or links to PDF's, and auto-published RSS feeds.

When 3D environments gained usage in education, people continued to gather in virtual classrooms (as here described by the MSIT SecondLife wiki)
Classroom Emulation
In this use of a 3D learning environment, the idea is to re-create the actual classroom environment within the 3D world. ... The learners sit in the virtual seats, look forward and raise their hands or ask questions as if they were in the same space with the person presenting the instruction. Current, this is by far the most wide ranging use of 3D worlds. The advantage of this delivery is realized when it is compared to 2D Synchronous Learning where you want to get everyone in the same space and looking at the same thing and provide people via distance with a sense of connecting to one another through the visual representation of their avatars.
The advantages of creating educational experiences by conforming with brain rules or creating pro-learning ecologies did not seem reliable. People could not let go of making sure everyone got the same information in real time. No one would have believed how classrooms fell into disuse as educational experiences became phenomenally effective, personal and social.

It's only a matter of time.


Learning from mirroring

During our early childhood development, we can play "monkey see monkey do" long before we can speak words. John Medina, in his book: Brain Rules, tells of the rapport he developed with his new born son by each of them getting the other to stick their tongues out. Neuroscientists have labeled the locations where this occurs in the brain "mirror neurons". The same brain cells that fire when we pick up a toy also light up when we see someone else pick up the toy. It's as-if we learn by pure imitation - no thinking required. This function is easiest to detect with our imitating others' actions because motor functions light up only small portions of the brain. Memories, speech, thought processes and learning -- fire neurons scattered all over our complex brains.

It seems likely that we also imitate sounds and initially acquire language by making the same sounds as the people around us. Most parents have experiences of getting quoted verbatim by a child that cannot yet tie his or her own shoes. The toddler will suddenly utter "get a life" without knowing what it means -- if that's a parent's over-used expression. I know from my own travels abroad that my "Americanese" gets a slight British accent when I've been surrounded by the Queen's English. Likewise my French accent improved dramatically when I was living around Paris for a couple weeks. I've also noticed my speech gets a bit of a southern drawl when I've worked for extended time periods in Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee and Virginia.

As I reflected on our mirror neurons this morning (pun intended!), I wondered if we also learn other's unspoken premises by imitation. What if we cannot help but give others "a taste of their own medicine", "a show of what they're showing us" or "a return of their favor"? Perhaps our mirror neurons fire up when our minds have "nothing better to do". That suggests several ways that pro-learning ecologies respond effectively to our mirror neurons and support imitation learning-- while anti-learning ecologies do the opposite:
  • When learners need to reason something through more effectively, an exemplar is provided to imitate who can externalize his/her thinking. The learners mirror what they see in the exemplar's conduct and self awareness. When learning is opposed, a bad example is put in front of the learners or a hypocrite is put in charge of getting learners to "do as I say -- don't do as I do".
  • When learners need to interact, socialize and experience other viewpoints, opportunities are provided for discussions and collaborative problem solving. The learners mirror each others ability to be conversant, interactive and understanding of each other. When learning is opposed, the anti-social instructor does all the talking and penalizes the imitators who anti-socially talk at the same time.
  • When learners need to play devil's advocate to develop a balanced perspective, they are presented with extreme positional stances that provoke opposing arguments. The learners mirror each other's use of contrarian viewpoints and non-conformist positions. When learning is opposed, the learners seem like monsters who constantly confront, antagonize and dismiss any reductionistic proponent of one right answer, bigoted stances and one-sided solutions.
  • When learners need need to cultivate their own leadership traits, they are provided with playful situations where their initiatives get feedback, their reasoning gets reflected upon and their "acting out their frustrations" gets mirrored back to them. When learning is opposed, they get told how to be a leader, given lists of respected traits and tested on the right way to take charge of a situation.
As I explored this different facets of mirroring, it became clear to me that learners not only replicate what others are doing, they show educators what's missing, one-sided or in need of more mirroring. In a pro-learning ecology, the learning dynamics are holistic and capable of revealing the complexity of what the learners need right now. We then learn what we need next, not only what is obviously available to imitate.


OJT rocks the brain

As I've reflected further in John Medina's insights in brain rules, I realized why on the job training (OJT) is so effective. The book reminds us that 90% of what is conveyed in a classroom is forgotten with 24 hours. That brought to mind the opposite statistic: that 90% of OJT is retained and put to use. The success of learning on the job shows us how natural learning is when we don't use those contrived contraptions called classrooms.

Learning on the job is a pro-learning ecology. The complex inter-dependencies outside of classrooms favor learning, skill transfer and long term retention. When people are shown how to use a new tool or operate a piece of equipment and then given opportunities to see if they can do it too, they get the hang of it in stages and then do like they were shown. Likewise, when someone shadows a mentor on a service call, sales appointment or interview session, the skills observed get assimilated and put to use after some faltering attempts, follow-up coaching and improved efforts. New members of a team quickly assimilate the unwritten rules and shortcut methods that are in active use by the team to realize the current outcomes, reputation outside the team and level of cooperation from others in the organization. All of this learning is outside a classroom. It's active, individualized, social, situated and conducted over "spaced intervals".

Here's how John Medina's brain rules explain the effectiveness of this kind of learning:
  1. The learners are moving around to get with whatever they are being shown, tagging along on or trying something for themselves. The brain is oxygenated by this breathing and revived by the increased blood flow.
  2. The learners are rapidly adapting to the new challenge by gaining experiences in what it feels like to adopt this role, how the situation reacts to making a move, what to do after something does not go as expected, which things create added problems, etc. The learner is also breaking out of the box of past habits and assumptions as those now lead to unintentional setbacks which call for innovative alternatives.
  3. Each learner is regarded as a unique individual who will: make sense of this in his/her own way, take different amount of time to grasp each part of it, have trouble with different facets, need different amounts of attention and come by some of it quite naturally.
  4. The learners will pay attention because it's like a conversation, they will be expected to comment after and how much they observe will make a difference. Their attention won't be undermined by multi-tasking, boring lectures or a lack of context.
  5. The learners acquire the new skills and information in the same context they will put them to use. The situations will remind them of what they learned, how they acted and what they did to respond to the setbacks.
  6. The learners have time between sessions to replay what happened in their minds. This reflecting may bring forth new questions or experiments to try out. The next session will involve a lot of repetition of the same procedures, issues and reasoning to get ingrained in their minds slowly.
  7. It's possible they have gotten more and better sleep than the typical college student, medical intern or parent with a new born.
  8. The learners and mentors are acting empowered and efficacious. If something is not clear, not making sense or not working out as expected, they are in a position to ask, get help, be shown again or try something else. They can reduce their circumstantial stress by taking action as well as avoid both contagious and chronic stress by acting powerfully.
  9. The learners are immersed in multi-sensory experiences that allure all their senses to take in what they are first shown and then given a shot at themselves. Their experiences when they've succeeded would include the sounds, sights and tactile dimensions of the moment.
  10. The learning calls upon their powers of observation to detect what the exemplar is doing in great detail. The emphasis on eyesight is congruent with the brain's enormous commitment to processing the inputs from the eyes.
  11. The learners may be understood differently based on their gender and not expected to conform to some universal standard of what "normal people" notice, how they react and what troubles them.
  12. The learners are actively exploring who they can be different from before, what role they can now fulfill and what image they will project onto others. They are immersed in an adventurous quest to discover what they are capable of, what limits they encounter and what changes come easily to them.
Learning on-the-job could not be more effective if it was designed with brain functionality criteria. The 90% success rate speaks to the effectiveness that occurs naturally when the contrivance of classrooms gets compromised.


Breaking the brain rules

Yesterday, I finished reading John Medina's new book: Brain Rules - 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School. Compliance with these rules spells the end to our pervasive use of classrooms and cubicles. Dr. Medina lectures college students in classrooms, and thus limits much of his exploration of the implications of these brain rules to improving the attention and retention of his students. Promoters and profiteers of formal education will inevitably find these rules to be bad science, over-generalizations or faddish proclamations. Most educators are acting in defiance of these rules and playing by a very different set of rules. For a synopsis of the 12 rules in the book, see Angela Maiers's post that got me inspired to read the book in the first place (Thanks Angela!) Here I'll present the opposite set of rules that are adhered to religiously in anti-learning ecologies.

1. Minimize blood flow to the brain and aerobic breathing by immobilizing the learners. Foster the accumulation of free radicals in the neurons which impair brain functions. Reduce the oxygenation of the brain by long periods of "seat time" and sedentary "activity".

2. Diminish our specie's chances of survival which depend on our recognizing errors and then trying something different. Go to the opposite extremes of repeating experiences with no experimentation and experimenting wildly with no experience. Carefully avoid the recognition of "mistaken approaches to teaching/learning" made evident by experiences with how learners feel about, react to, experience the effects -- of what gets presented to them.

3. Assume every brain gets wired the same, develops through the same progressions and conforms to the same functional patterns. Recognize deviance as deformity while cultivating functionality as conformity. Disregard the unique developments inherent in brain responses to life experiences.

4. Undermine everyone's ability to pay attention (give people "attention deficit disorder" whenever possible.) Expect learners to pay focused attention without context, the gist of it or a story-line of some kind. Expect their paying attention to be very logical and unemotional. Undermine concentration with "multi-tasking" distractions as if it takes no time and energy to get back into a focus. Force learners to pay attention after they naturally "zone out" from more than ten minutes on the same old thing.

5. Give learners useful information in a place where they will never use it again. Help them anchor what they're learning in useless vistas like the neck of the person sitting in front of them, the flag pole holder in the front of the room or the wastebasket next to the teacher's desk (how symbolic!). Make what they're to retain so "easy to remember" that it's meaningless, devoid of context and reduced to pure abstractions.

6. Expect learning to occur from new information. Regard repetition as useless, inefficient and boring. View those learners who rehash, ruminate and revisit new ideas as "slow on the uptake" or "obsessive about recalling facts for game shows".

7. Maximize sleep deprivation whenever possible. Interfere with the intense processing of new experiences that occurs during sleep. Obstruct our physiological need for short, afternoon naps. Put everyone on the same schedule to the detriment of every early riser and night owl.

8. Convince learners they are trapped in adverse circumstances deemed necessary by authority figures. Stress them under conditions where they are powerless to escape, make changes or take out the stressor. Torment them with so much adversity that their ability to perform collapses into a state of despair. Provide relentless pressures to induce chronic anxiety whenever possible. Disable their immune systems in the process.

9. Seek the effects of sensory deprivation through the consistent presentation of talking heads, text-laden slides and printed materials. Avoid any visual movement, auditory stimulation or involvement of touch, taste and smell. Give the learners the look of stunned, floored or wasted individuals by acting as-if they do not come equipped with five, highly integrated, senses.

10. Give the eyes a picture that nothing is happening and there's nothing to follow along as it changes. Give the eyes the same thing to look at so it becomes necessary to look away, daydream or check out all the mating possibilities in close proximity. Assume the learners' eyes are seeing what's objectively in front of them, and not some subjectively distorted picture under the influence of their past experiences or personally unresolved issues.

11. Expect brain development to be the same in males and females even though the X chromosomes that are largely responsible differ between the genders. Disregard how males get all their X chromosomes from their mothers while females get one from each parent. Downplay the advantages of females having two X chromosomes, with one as backup in case of genetic damage that could produce brain deformities.

12. Expect learners to do as you say, not do as you do by natural imitation learning. Hope the learners are not exploring your every move, motivation and mental excursion as they experiment with how to be in the world. See the learners as passive recipients of expert information, not adventurers on quests to realize grander possibilities in their lives.

When does detention begin for all these "rule breakers"?


Robust curiosity in practice

Pro-learning ecologies are teeming with questions. Learning occurs because so much curiosity is nurtured and responded to effectively. Learners get the sense that it's good to "not know" and "be somewhat ignorant" for the time being. Everyone seems to be in the midst of inquiries, experiments, remedying previous errors and cultivating their next hypothesis. Their questions are neither shallow or fleeting. The curiosity in practice is robust.

Anti-learning ecologies are choked with old answers that signal the futility of asking questions or nurturing curiosity. Patterns of domination, control and abuse seem so prevalent because compliance with those answers is expected and rewarded. Learners get the strong sense that it's bad to "not know" and only losers are ignorant. Everyone seems to be in the midst of making excuses, avoiding responsibility and making a thing of being right.

Pro-learning ecologies differ from those phases that kids go through where every adult's answer is followed by another question "why". Learners with questions in these systems are far more resourceful than that. When we give a listen to such an environment, we will hear things like:
  • Which change seems the most beneficial and feasible to you?
  • What questions have been raised in your mind by the new information?
  • Which alternatives are you comparing before taking your next action?
  • What explanation do you favor to connect these dots?
  • What are you forecasting for the next development in this chain of events?
  • What difference do you think it would make to pursue this with more dedication?
  • What do you foresee as the consequences of focusing on this issue now?
Anti-learning ecologies fill the air with a very different kind of questions that make curiosity seem scarce and fragile:
  • What do I have to do to comply?
  • What's the reward for getting this done on time?
  • How much has to be done to qualify for the next level?
  • When is the deadline and can you cut me any slack?
  • How much of this is actually required?
  • How long do we have to continue doing this?
  • Why are you making us learn this?
From the sounds of what gets said in an anti-learning ecology, everyone is keeping learning to a minimum. Learning is neither rewarding as a process or pursuit of outcomes. Asking insightful questions would be unproductive, self-defeating and possibly embarrassing. Robust curiosity is not practiced.


Learning from the lack of learning

Pro-learning ecologies thrive on learning from signs of stressed out, anxiety-ridden or depressed constituents. Rather than posing a threat to the ecology or putting it on the defensive, the stress level offers a lesson to learn. The symptoms of excessive stress are an indication that it is a time for a change in how learning gets nurtured. The ecology will mutate and evolve into a better way to function inter-dependently for the sake of learning.

Of course, anti-learning ecologies react in the opposite fashion. They learn nothing from stress symptoms or the lack of learning. The constituents, who's own learning is impaired by their anxiety level, pose a threat to the ecology and appear to be enemies, traitors or saboteurs of the stability. The symptoms indicate that it's time for more of the same, greater determination and dismissing the complaints. The ecology will learn nothing and suffer the consequences of it's obsession with survival.

A pro-learning ecology responds in ways that restore the learning of it's constituencies. By the ecology learning from the internal breakdown of learning and indications of stressed out constituents, an irrefutable message is sent about the importance of learning from what happens. By learning what is causing the stress, feeding its persistence and opposing it's relief, solutions get designed and changes get made. The constituents learn from this learning that they are cared for, respected and valued by the ecology. The are given the impression that learning really is the purpose of coming together in this way.

An anti-learning ecology cannot mutate to restore learning. The necessary changes appear life-threatening and self-destructive. The level of anxiety produced by the evidence of breakdowns shuts down the consideration of options. Like the individuals who have stopped learning due to their excessive anxiety level, the entire ecology cannot rethink it's options or learn from what's happening. Everyone is party to the persistent lack of learning and perpetuation of excessive anxiety.


Circumstantial or chronic anxiety?

Yesterday I explored the possibility of helping each learner face stressors in their educational environment with more resourcefulness. The four tools function amidst circumstantial stress. Sadly they do not make a significant difference with a learner's chronic anxiety.

Whenever we're traumatized, we experience being put in danger that is out of our control. We are inherently powerless and incapable of pulling off a win, solving the problem or resolving the conflict. Our limbic system memorizes the cues from these painful episodes to avoid them in the future. Anything that reminds us of the traumatic incident can set off a panic reaction and loss of composure. Most people keep these tragic memories for life. They overreact when they are seventy, just like they did when they were seven years old.

The more overwhelming dangers we've faced with this powerless stance:
  • the more emotional scars we have to endure
  • the more agitation we constantly feel
  • the more hyper-vigilant we are about repeat occurrences
  • the more problems we have with infections, sprains, indigestion, weight gain, sleep and illnesses.
We cannot simmer down, chill out, get a grip or feel calm inside. Physicians label this condition: hypertension. Psychiatrists call this a conflict between our Id and Super Ego. We try to keep a lid on a pot boiling inside with agitation about an archaic trauma and a recent indication that it's happening again.

Chronic anxiety can be alleviated by EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) or some cognitive behavioral therapy. The original traumatic incident is relived to honor the feels of powerlessness, panic and vulnerability. The view of what happened evolves to oppose the aggressors, get angry then, judge their insensitivity harshly and feel intolerant of their conduct. With further reprocessing, other feelings arise that look upon others with sadness and then understanding. A phenomenal amount of life-changing learning occurs as the limbic system revises the literal, vigilant memory. The emotional scars get healed and new situations can be approached with confidence, resolve and optimism.


Curing the blight

Some of these flowers look like healthy learners. They are not stressed-out by the ecology they share with other flowers/learners. The other flowers appear to have some blight, like learners who lose their ability to grow in stressful, anti-learning ecologies.

The healthy flowers have four petals which symbolize four resources for coping with circumstantial stressors:
  • Exertion abates anxiety: Moderate exercise changes our physical state which then changes our mood and thought patterns. Getting active makes us less reactive to upsetting situations.
  • Meditation moderates misery: Achieving a "relaxation response" calms the heart and mind. We feel more resourceful after quieting our mental chatter, rather than continually helpless and victimized.
  • Relating restores resilience: When we're caught up in a community, we feel different about ourselves and others. We value the differences we can make and the ways we interact.
  • Reframing rekindles responsiveness: Redefining the problem gives us a new outlook to explore. Changing the diagnosis opens doors that we're closed before.
The flowers with the apparent blight cannot benefit from the effects of all four petals on circumstantial stressors. These learners grew more vulnerable to the hostile pressures in the ecology. They learned to be stressed out by the stresses, instead of becoming more active, reflective, interactive and creative. Their petals remain under-developed in an ecology that maintains the blight.

Curing the blight calls for awareness of the effects of stress on the learners. Their lack of resources for coping with adversity needs to seem as obvious as partial petals on a blossom. Then it becomes possible to cultivate what's missing. The learner who's lacking usually won't feel like becoming more resourceful. Their lack of ambition is a badge of honor, source of pride and protection against further anxiety. They make sure they won't get repaired by any mechanic who shows up in the garden with a pliers and a wrench (spanner). Yet these under-developed learners will usually respond to gardeners who know it takes patience, caring and sensitivity to grow what needs to eventually blossom.


Immersed in consensual torment

When passionate learning professionals get immersed in anti-learning ecologies, they end up heartless and broken hearted. The system produces so much antagonism to learning, there is no way to remain passionate about their love of learning, caring for learners or responding to challenges that arise in each situation. Everyone is feeling tormented. It's not clear who is tormenting whom. Only that it's painful to care so much or to respond with compassion. V. Yonkers framed this issue superbly in a comment on If stressors could speak.
On the one hand, I agree that there needs to be a way to de-stress the learning environment. I have students that try so hard, I am afraid they are going to have a nervous breakdown (some in fact have had chronic stomach ailments, have been near tears if they just can't get a concept). On the other hand, I have students that are downright rude and disrespectful of the instructor and what a course is trying to accomplish. Many times the content and objectives are out of the control of the instructor, yet the student seems to think the instructor can and should "change" things to accommodate that one student. As a result, an instructor must walk a fine line between being supportive enough to talk the learner "off the cliff" of stress, yet stern enough to motivate those that don't want to learn or are trying to get out of doing any kind of work.
The instructor is usually blamed for the evils of the system because s/he is an easy target, even more so when they provide evidence of really caring for the learners. The teacher who exudes any devotion to learning and learners appears more likely to understand the complaints and to make changes. The caring types take the brunt of the torment dished out by learners inside the anti-learning ecology. They are penalized for taking a heart-felt approach to their profession. They become heartless under duress.

Meanwhile the learners say they are taking the brunt of the torment. Their list may include the workload, deadlines, personalities of the instructors, problems with a particular student, hassles at home, conflicts with administrators and worries about what lies ahead after completion of the learning. Anti-learning ecologies convince everyone that they are the victim and their torment has been singled out for their personal misery. As the learners make their case, it's easy to for our hearts to go out to them and to end up broken hearted. The toll the torment takes on their lives, health, confidence and satisfaction is devastating. It's amazing they get any value of the educational experience. Feeling their pain makes for heartache.

When an anti-learning ecology is exposed, everyone can say "it's not me and it's not you". The blaming and finger-pointing become irrelevant. The problems are inherent in the nature of the system. Everyone is immersed in consensual torment until the system is abandoned or transformed. So it's the system AND it's our personal responsibility that we're experiencing the torment in that anti-learning system we're immersed in.


Putting the learners in danger

Anti-learning ecologies put the learners in some kind of danger. The learners' experience anxiety, apprehensions and stress that indicate how impressed they have become with the presence of danger. The ways any apparent dangers get handled exclude authentic learning. Options are extremely limited until the danger is alleviated or eliminated. The dangers seem painfully familiar. The learners know what to do without thinking or changing their minds.

Some dangers call for safety. Others call for getting dangerous. When the situation evokes a flight response, we execute avoidance patterns or stick to our own kind. We may find safety in numbers and act in favor of conformity, compliance and collusion with those that give us shelter from the abuse. We may feel more safe going into our own shell, avoiding exposure to hostilities and appearing unavailable. We may pretend to learn what is being taught in order to avoid scrutiny, criticism or put downs. We may even experience our own emotions becoming our worst enemy and react accordingly. We will wear our game face, put a lid on our inner child, lose track of our feelings and repress all irrational urges. To others, we will look like a zombie: lights on - nobody home. We won't know what we feel, what to think or what to do differently.

Other dangers call for becoming more dangerous than the immediate threat. We react by getting in the opponent's face, making a scene to embarrass the enemy or cause problems for the predator. These fight responses take postures intended to intimidate, invalidate or manipulate the imposing danger. Our minds are devoted to getting control of the situation We cannot back down, lose face, admit errors or concede defeat. We know what the problem is, who's to blame and how to fix it. Nobody can tell us a thing. Our minds are closed.

When a learning ecology gets taken over by dangers, the learning stops until safety is restored. Each danger breeds more danger and devotes each learner's attention to questions of safety and control. The dance of aggression & withdrawal, fight & flight, overtakes any new inquiries, rethinking or deeper explorations in the situation. Anxiety levels rise unchecked until the accumulated stress induces systemic breakdowns. People say "I cannot take it anymore", "this is making me sick", "I don't need this much pain" or "I'm totally burned out". The learners lose their interest, motivation and openness which authentic learning thrives on.


If the stressors could speak

Yesterday, I mentioned how learners experience a second level of stress when nothing changes in response to their existing anxieties. This morning I had fun imagining what the unresponsive systems would say as comebacks to my expectation that they should alleviate the learners' stress. Here's some retorts to my compassion for stressed-out learners:
  • Bully for you. If you cannot stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
  • Do I look like a bank? I cannot give this away, lower the price and pretend that content wants to be free!
  • Do I look like a therapist? I cannot listen to every whining wimp with crippling insecurities that weaken their resolve, endurance and fortitude.
  • This is not kindergarten. We cannot pay attention to every cry baby throwing tantrums to get attention.
  • You think I'm not stressed out of my gourd too? You don't see me looking for any easy out, making excuses or shying away from the challenge.
  • If we start accommodating every snivel-nosed stress case, will lose our competitive edge, brand equity and market share.
  • Business is war. It's not supposed to be conducted in an atmosphere of meditative repose, serene resourcefulness and quiet responsiveness.
These are examples of defensive rationalizations which justify insensitivity, unresponsiveness and perpetuation of anti-learning ecologies. These fixed mentalities cannot learn from what they are being shown. For them, the learning already happened when they made up their minds to endure stress at all cost. That cost is paid in very many ways.


Stress-induced breakdowns

Seeing how interconnected stress effects get interwoven makes it easy to see how ecological learning really is, even when it's delivered formally as it's pictured here. The inter-dependencies involved in getting learning to happen exceed our left brain's linear comprehension. With a picture of all these linkages, we get a better sense of how learning happens naturally and cannot be made to happen mechanically.

Learning does not happen when people become anxiety-ridden. Feeling stressed-out eliminates the state of mind which support authentic learning. Small amounts of stress can function as a welcomed challenge or inviting game obstacle. Yet when stress exceeds that moderate level, our minds become preoccupied with anxiety relief. We need to get the agitation out of our systems by taking out our frustrations on others, displacing it in revenge fantasies or transforming it via either physical exertion or relaxation. Learning is a luxury we cannot afford when we have become a stress-case.

Stress can be added from several situational sources:
  • A learner may show up with chronic anxiety unrelated to the place where learning is meant to happen.
  • The instructional design may be a misfit to the level of understanding, the subsequent uses of the new input, the pace that accommodates the learner, or other parameters of "what works for the learner".
  • The delivery may come at a bad time, cause problems with other commitments or inconvenience several different people in other ways.
  • The people interacting with the learner may be already experiencing anxiety that infects others, or they may become agitated through the involvement with the stressed-out learner.
  • The management system may hold the learner and others accountable for the learning, penalize a lack of results or withhold rewards for slow learning which all contribute to anxiety-producing pressures.
  • The social context of peers may be sharing the same anxieties as well as providing peer pressures to perform better or more poorly to avoid getting ostracized.
  • The larger context (family, job market, industry rivals, economy, international instability) may offer looming uncertainties which fuel worries, distractions and sleep disorders.
An additional level of stress gets internalized as frustrations, resentment and self-incriminations when there's no listening, evidence of the learner's feedback put to use or timeouts to provoke changes:
  • the learner keeps trying to learn the same way that feeds chronic stress in spite of blatant evidence that personal anxiety is over the top
  • the instructional design, required materials and educational processes remain unchanged in spite of countless "users who found it useless"
  • the delivery sticks to the same schedule, pricing, requirements, and paperwork in spite of evidence that calls for lowering people's anxiety levels immediately
  • the management system "turns up the heat" when it becomes obvious the current level of expectations and consequences has not convinced people to make more effort
  • the social context becomes more cynical, antagonistic or intolerant of those who demonstrate the tattered remains of commitment, confidence, or ambition in the face of this adversity
  • the larger context becomes more imposing, threatening and discouraging as vast networks within it are not learning
This entire ecology crashes when there is no accurate diagnosis of the stress-induced breakdowns in learning. There's no way to alleviate the anxiety and every remedial effort fuels the melt down. Nothing is learned from the learning not happening. The highly interdependent ecology is a happening place for contagious fears, chronic anxiety and stress-cases.


Visionary leadership brains

As I've continued to ponder the implications of different dominant portions of our brains, this morning I realized how we are always providing visionary leadership. We cannot turn off our ability to LOOK FORWARD to the next experience, though the way we do it varies with how we use our brains.

Our limbic systems are predisposed to live in our past history. These instinctual brain functions memorize what happened, how it felt and a story to tell about it. This instant recall serves many valuable purposes such as:
  • it keeps us alive when faced with life threatening dangers
  • it replicates our genes when faced with sexual opportunities
  • it repeats a success when faced with a familiar drill to execute
Yet this use of our limbic systems amounts to a failure of visionary leadership. When relying on our limbic system for guidance, we LOOK FORWARD to our past. We envision repeats of previous incidents. We set up with our expectations those re-enactments of familiar experiences. We create mental factories for the replication of the same old story and chronic anxiety. We say what we're worrying about.

Our left brains are predisposed to live in our present circumstances. These rational/logical brain functions dwell on what is happening now and what to do about it. This emphasis on the immediate situation serves many useful purposes like:
  • it gets things done that won't happen by waiting, letting go or trusting a process
  • it sorts out what is good/bad, acceptable/unacceptable, desired/rejected
  • it opposes what appears to need a battle, enemy, objection or resistance
Yet this use of our left brains also amounts to a failure of visionary leadership. When relying on our left brain for guidance, we LOOK FORWARD to maintaining present circumstances. We foresee more of the same and maintain convictions that this is what is reasonable to expect. We say "no" to what we're insisting on persisting with a vengeance.

Our right brains are predisposed to imagine better circumstances. These creative/intuitive brain functions dwell on envisioned possibilities. This emphasis on the future serves a bunch of fulfilling purposes including how:
  • it spawns innovations and advances in the world
  • it inspires others to get creative and inventive
  • it syncs up all the brain functions into a flow state
This use of our right brains amounts to effective visionary leadership. When relying on our right brain for guidance, we LOOK FORWARD to what's coming about. We foresee welcomed changes without knowing exactly how things will improve. We say "yes" to all that's happened and happening with confidence in the unfolding upgrades.

Aah. To be right brained, or not right brained, that is the question.


Whole body cognition

As Jill Bolte Taylor was recovering from her left brain stroke, she experienced the amazing plasticity of our brains. When there as been a loss of functionality, the neurons quickly reconnect into new response patterns. We regain motor and cognitive abilities because the brain is predisposed to make new connections. We naturally restore previous abilities and acquire new ones. There was a point in her recovery where she could not say what she was on her mind, but she could sing what she wanted to say. She could type emails on her computer, but not read what she had written or correct her spelling. She could vividly recall what had happened but not get those feelings and images expressed in words.

All these experiences of hers suggest that the right brain rarely functions in isolation. The thick corpus callosum between the two hemispheres provides evidence of heavy traffic between the left and right halves of the neocortex. Any independent right brain functionality can only be sorted out following a lobotomy or severe left brain stroke. We may experience the right brain in isolation when deep in meditation or dream states. Yet, any reductionistic analysis of cognitive functionality is a misrepresentation. Over-simplifying in brain science is as problematic as categorizing components of networks, markets, communities and ecologies. Yet the only way we can form sentences and communicate our perspectives with language lacks sufficient recursiveness and paradox to capture the actual complexity.

Both our stomachs and hearts contain numerous brain cells. The presence of neurons outside our craniums suggest a more networked approach to learning, deciding and responding to situations. The limbic system, below the neocortex, also joins in every reaction. As I've reflected on how our right brains might play into this "whole body cognition", here's a possibility I'm considering:
  • Limbic system dominant: When faced with unquestionable danger or opportunity, our limbic system takes control. Faster than we can think about it, we react with strong urges. Our heart and gut are agitated while our left brain thinking cannot explain "what got into us all of a sudden". Our right brain is imagining the best result from the opportunity or worst outcome of the danger. We are "running a routine" that has worked before that may get labeled an addiction, compulsion, fight/fight response, panic attack, limbic hijacking or misdirected displacement of anxiety. We lack emotional intelligence and will probably regret our actions "when we come to our senses" (rehashing it in our left brains after the incident). People experience us as high maintenance, moody or irrational.
  • Left brain dominant: When faced with questionable danger or opportunities, our limbic system gets overridden by our left brain reasoning. We logically consider our options and think through the consequences of each alternative. We demonstrate some emotional intelligence by thinking about our urges instead of acting them out. Our heart and gut are agitated by the uncertainty and imposed discipline. We experience being torn between head and heart, logic and emotion, or self control and passionate pursuits. Our right brain pictures the different scenarios and foresees the possible outcomes. People experience us as controlling, rigid or fixated on one right answer.
  • Right brain dominant: When faced with like-minded others, our right brain sets up the dynamics. Our pattern recognition abilities get a sense of where others are coming from and how to relate to them effectively. Our creative resources come up with ways to contribute to, care for and empathize with their concerns. Our imaginative abilities visualize possible collaborations and experiences of companionship. Our hearts and guts are energized and congruent while the right brain responds to the situation. We can go with our gut or follow our heart to make wise choices with uncanny timing, insight and comprehensiveness. All the while, our left brains are chattering away with justifications, worries and guilt trips about past encounters, potential dangers and negative outcomes. Our limbic system is contributing emotions to the mix like love, appreciation and enthusiasm. People experience us as compassionate, fluid and understanding.
This model suggests that someone who is being "limbic system dominant" will bring out the "left brain dominance" of someone else. Their "acting out" like a child evokes someone else parenting like a control freak. Likewise the "left brain dominant person" will entice others to become "limbic system dominant" which appears as playful, silly or unproductive. Someone functioning as "right brain dominant" would not react to the condition of others, but rather provide informal leadership which sets the tone. They would pull for others, provide useful information and develop supportive contexts.


Right brain functionality

Several months ago, I was profoundly inspired by Jill Bolte Taylor's TED talk and was thrilled to learn that she had also authored a book. Over the weekend, I read My Stroke of Insight. She recreates her experiences of realizing she's having a stroke, getting help, being hospitalized and recovering. This inside look is extremely valuable for anyone caring for stroke victims. It's also a rich resource for any of us concerned with how to better work with our brains when helping others learn. Most of all, it's a map for awakening to our full potential.

While hospitalized, she experienced the presence of people the way I do. She found people to be energizing when they were being attentive, caring and responsive to her. Quite the opposite, people were extremely draining when they were agitated, preoccupied or controlling. She suggests that our right brains experience people's energy like this all the time but we only feel it when our left brain is quiet. When we stop thinking, we can feel like we are in a sea of diverse energies.

She experienced five months of freedom from her inner voice that delivers a continual stream of negative commentary on everything. She compared living without that mental chatter to floating like a big blue whale in an ocean of serene wonders. Without her left brain functionality, she had no identity to maintain, personal history to defend or fears to justify. When the inner critic returned, it took on a life of it's own. She could not stop it's chatter by telling it to cease and desist. She wanted to be selective and not reactivate old programs of anger or envy. However, she found these negative patterns were more robust than her fragile abilities to read, write or perceive 3 dimensional space objectively.

Jill Bolte Taylor gleaned wonderful insights into the differences between left and right neocortex dynamics as her left brain functionality disappeared and then returned slowly. Our right brains have no sense of where our insides end and anything outside of us begins. They cannot perceive edges, objects or separate things. Our right brains have no sense of time, sequencing or duration. Every experience is right now and new. Our right brains experience everything without language, categories or logic. Others' body language is extremely vivid while speech is meaningless. Our right brains are very impressed by visual images, smells, sounds and touch. They recall previous impressions holistically. They cannot criticize or condemn anyone or anything that happens. Right brain functionality blesses and includes all experiences as is.

She became acclimated to a new outlook of expansive peace, connection to us all, compassion for everything and fascination with the wonder of the Now moment. This gave her a new basis to observe the productions of her mind. She no longer identified with everything the left brain came up with. She labeled it a "story teller" once she realized what a B.S. artist it is. Our left brains continually manufacture defensive rationalizations based on apprehensive conjectures and missing information.We continually tell stories to make ourselves right, protect our fragile identities, justify our fears and argue for our limitations. Meanwhile our right brains observe these reductionist hysterics with indifference, serenity and love.

Jill Bolte Taylor had a hemorrhage and blood clot in her left brain. Her experience makes it seem like our business enterprises, governments, and institutions suffer from right brain strokes. With this new map, perhaps there can be a widespread awakening to our full potential without much more fuss.


Beyond indifference to knowers

In The Social Life of Information, John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid called for caring about the individual knower.
... the information economy, like the industrial economy, shows a marked indifference to people. The industrial economy, for example, treated them en masse as interchangeable parts - the factory "hands" of the nineteenth century. The information economy threatens to treat them as more or less interchangeable consumers and processors of information. Attending to knowledge, by contrast, returns attention to people, what they know, how they come to know it, and how they differ. The importance of people as creators and carriers of knowledge is forcing organizations to realize that knowledge is less in its databases than in its people. (p. 121).
When attention has not been returned to individual knowers, corporate or institutional attention is preoccupied with:
  • managing the brand name, brand equity and brand narrative
  • preventing unwanted exposure, buzz or speculation
  • increasing productivity, efficiency and outputs
  • monitoring consistency, compliance and conformity
  • reducing the costly losses from deviance, defiance and departures
  • increasing revenue growth, quarterly earnings and profits
Individuals in organizations experiencing the "marked indifference to people" would have no incentive to adopt Web 2.0 tools. The benefits would escape them and the dangers would grab their attention. Their experiences would have them knowing:
  • to not expect to be valued for what they know
  • to not get cared for in ways that support them knowing more
  • to not share what they know with those who can use it against them
  • to not care about knowing more that could jeopardize their fit within the indifferent system
Brown and Duguid continue:
So while the modern world often appears increasingly impersonal, in those areas where knowledge really counts, people count more than ever. In this way, a true knowledge economy should distinguish itself not only from the industrial economy, but also from an information economy.
I offer these insights, not as information, but as my way of developing a context for caring about what you know.


Contexts of independence

With today being Independence Day in the U.S., I've been wondering if there are contexts of independence we can create in our lives?
Most talk of independence occurs in a context of captivity, oppression and the abuse of power. The desire for independence is counter-dependent. It depends on rebellion, defiance and resistance to exist. If there is nothing to counter-act, there's no experience of "independence". It embodies a lurking desire to be opposed and confined which maintains the context of oppression. That's evident in most school systems, corporations and government agencies in this "land of the free" where we "let freedom ring".

What does the inter-dependence within complex networks, ecologies and multi-cellular organisms show us about contexts of independence?
On one hand, it frames independence as isolation, going off the grid, or getting abandoned by the web of support systems. On the other hand, it pictures independence as autonomy from external controls and freedom to self-select among choices, self-evaluate resulting feedback and self-direct subsequent initiatives. Independence goes hand-in-hand with inter-dependence. That's evident in all these emergent communities on the web that span the globe.

Are contexts of independence something we can develop intentionally?
It happens in the realm of counseling psychology by the creation of "healthy boundaries". When people are enmeshed in co-dependent relationships, they get taken hostage by other's insatiable neediness. They cannot feel their own feelings or know what they really want. They are identified with "being the drug for the addict" or "filling the other's bottomless pit". When these people "just say no" to further entanglements, they create a context of independence. They stand on their own two feet, take responsibility for the actions, feel their own feelings and make choices based on what they find within themselves. They maintain a healthy boundary from expecting others to make them happy and from answering the call to satisfying other's clinging dependency.

How does the complimentary inter-dependence play into living with healthy boundaries?
Whenever we begin to feel our feelings and learn what we really want for ourselves, we become aware of complexity within us. We are not single minded or basking in internal harmony. We embody countless conflicts like those between "head and heart", logic and emotion, or self-control and spontaneity. Cognitive neuroscience tells us our limbic system is inter-dependent with our more evolved neo-cortex while the right and left halves of the neo-cortex respond to each other and the limbic system with different approaches. When we stop people-pleasing or living in our past, we face an opportunity to "get it together". We can be extremely resourceful right now. We feel (limbic system) congruent, serene and energized. Our thinking (left brain) is clear, untroubled and sharp. Our imagination (right brain) becomes inspired, creative and holistic. We get into a flow state where our sense of the right thing to do is "right on". One good thing after another comes along in our minds and in our world.

Image from


Entries, transitions and initiations

With so many contexts functioning in self-reinforcing ways, I'm wondering how it's ever possible to develop a new context?
There are often temporary contexts which serve as entries into these robust, self-perpetuating contexts that appear to defy change. Rather than simply join into a current context, there are phases of initiation to make the transition successfully.

Do those transitions have to be painful like a fraternity hazing, getting tagged as a newbie or being assigned to a special group of inept recruits?
Initiations sometimes begin uncomfortably in order to shake up the preconceptions, break the clinging to the past and disrupt any over-confidence of those in process. Once that purpose is accomplished, transitions are orienting and challenging. The process helps people realize they can do things they've never done before. They discover new abilities to recognize, understand or respond to situations that they could not have foreseen in themselves. They acquire new ways to feel confident enough to take more risks, test their limits and explore unknowns.

Does everyone succeed that goes through a well designed initiation?
No, that's not the intention. It's meant to be a test of individual commitment and endurance. Those that fall out during the process we're kidding themselves, doing it to impress others or trying to be someone they're not. Initiations are crap detectors that work really well. Those that get through it respect the ordeal and each other for what's been revealed in each of them.

What's the most overlook concern in creating contexts for initiation into other contexts?
Timing issues. Herding everyone through the transition at the same time defeats the purpose. Individuals are getting tested before they are ready to face it without making excuses. The initiation generates false evidence about who has got the right stuff and who cannot hack it. When each individual comes through a transition when the time is right, each can be challenged by the obstacles and confident in the outcome. This intermediary context has the right effect.


Social media usage

Are there contexts where there's lots of satisfying usage of social media?
Of course the obvious example is contexts of users, sometimes also known as communities of practice. To be an insider, one needs to be making enough use of the tools to be having questions about fine points, to be discovering tips to share with others and to be using others as sounding boards for other possible approaches. The use of social media is mutually reinforcing. It pays to join in, contribute and be included in the spinoffs.

How does the Internet make user groups different from F2F contexts?
Connections to online users does free us of the physical constraints of being in the same place at the same time. Yet there is still the insider/outsider dynamic rewarding those active users. Insiders subscribe to each others' RSS feeds, bookmark their content, and contribute comments to the content they're generating. That happens pretty much the same regardless of whether the social media in use is blogs, wiki, Twitter, so-net sites like Facebook, or archived uploads like YouTube. Everyone becomes more agile, fluent and resourceful together. The advancements are contagious like the monkeys that catch on to washing the sand off their bananas before eating them. They didn't catch the memo on banana washing but got on board anyhow.

Can a satisfying user context be created or is it something that emerges only when the conditions are ripe?
There's lots of evidence that says they cannot be created by non-users, outsiders or expert users. It works to simply begin acting like an insider with genuine needs to interact with other users. The authentic involvement is prone to mutual reinforcement. Givers gain from their generosity and there's no end to the benefits from sharing, contributing and responding to others.

Is there potential for a contrived context to be become authentic, satisfying and self-reinforcing?
In situations involving physical proximity, it may be possible. The daily contact in time and space provokes interactions that could become more mutually beneficial. Online, there's no exposure to obligatory confinement, recurring contacts or casual encounters. Everyone is choosing what they subscribe to, visit, read, bookmark and contribute to. The self-directed freedom we're all experiencing online makes the imposition of policy changes or regulated contexts seem archaic and destined to fail.


A clash of contexts?

Isn't there always a clash of contexts between the expert and the apprentice wanting different things?
Contexts are usually shared. There's an implicit agreement between the adversaries to make it mutual. When Donald Trump abuses the people on The Apprentice, they are agreeing to getting pressured, put down and positioned against each other. They all buy into a context of battling each other, gaining power over others, taking positions and defending their stances.

When the context of the user gets understood, isn't that compromising to the authority figure's different context?
If there is a show of making a big sacrifice, condescending to relate to the low-lifes or losing ground to handle others' concerns, there is still a shared context. There is agreement to abuse and get abused. It takes two to create suffering, who each thing it only takes the one they blame.

What's the shared context when everyone appears disheartened, bored and forced to be there?
That can be called a pity party with a punch bowl of woe and cocktail conversations about victim stories. Those with the expertise don't want to know what effects they're having, what impressions they're making or what signals they're sending to their audiences. Those who feel the effects, get the impressions and see the signals -- don't want to say anything, act like they care or proceed with self-respect. Both agree to make each other miserable, complain about it later and dread the next encounter. They share a context of "don't wanna, don't make me".

What's the point of context development if the context is already held in common and maintaining itself ad-infinitum?
There's always a default context like the default settings in word processing software for margins, fonts and displayed menus. It's possible to change the settings before beginning to deliver content. Seeing context as an opportunity to be more effective takes advantage of how the context is usually shared. Everybody wins or everybody loses. There's no escaping the agreement to be equally miserable, ambitious, considerate or collaborative. There's simply a change to something better held in common.