Didn't see it coming

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

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


Disrupting educational reforms

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

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

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


On collective non-intelligence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps the dictates shold be revered more than they are.


According to design dictates

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

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

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

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


Coping with added criteria

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

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

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

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


Multilingual designers

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

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

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

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

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


Evolving design criteria

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

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

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

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

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

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


Conflicting design standards

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


Mixing up the rubrics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Considering potential losses

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

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

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

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

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

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


Upgrading design evaluations

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

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


Increasing individuality

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

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


Evolving my theory of mind

Whenever we are presuming that people will learn from what we're designing, saying, or presenting graphically, we are making assumptions about our brains. We are relying on a theory of how our minds function when presented with additional information in the context of other's expectations. Refining my own "theory of mind" has fascinated me for years. Here's some of the highlights in how my own theory has evolved most recently.

Psychiatrists in Freudian and Jungian traditions have posited an unconscious mind that harbors a deep well of energies, urges and imagery. Recent advances in cognitive neuroscience research have verified how much we know without conscious awareness. The Robot's Rebellion reveals how we get overtaken by survival, mating and dominance instincts, as if our genes are running the show. A Stranger to Ourselves explores how 90% of our learning is unconscious and available for us to know without reasoning or thinking it through. Stumbling on Happiness explains why we are such poor predictors of what will make us happy and so inclined to make purchases or commitments that fail to satisfy us. In all three books, it's evident that we know a lot more than we admit to knowing, think we already know or identify with being capable of using resourcefully

Many patterns have been identified in our poor judgment, skewed perceptions and irrational urges. Sway - the irresistible pull of irrational behavior reveals lots of the psychological undertow that drags us into being our own worst enemy. The Black Swan portrays our delusional constructs which continually expect more of the same "white swans" and mediocre, predictable, business-as-usual circumstances. Art and Fear explores how we talk ourselves out of our creative expressions, explorations and evolutions with our fears, hang-ups and contrived obligations.

Other research has made it clear how often we work against the ways our brains function. Brain Rules reveals what variety, rest and explorations our brains need to function optimally. These rules show how dysfunctional it is to try and be productive in classrooms and cubicles. My Stroke of Insight gives us an inside look at functioning entirely with our right side and without the left hemisphere of our neocortex brains. These insights show how much we're missing when we exclude right brain resources in our logical, rational, linear activities. Ready or Not Here Life Comes delves into the neuroscience of learning disabilities. From these discoveries we can realize how incredibly taxing it is for our brains to read printed words and write coherent sentences.

Inner Knowing explores how well our brains function when we expect ideas to come to mind from "out of the blue". Hare Brain Tortoise Mind reveals how fast our unconscious can come up with ingenious responses when we stop interfering with our sluggish, glucose-burning thought processes. A Whole New Mind suggests our economy has evolved past the dependency on left brain functionality and is coming to rely on left/right brain integration.

I've always had a felt sense of being affected by other people's states of mind and emotion. Social Intelligence reveals findings how those subtle influences between minds occur. The Art of Learning explores how deeply are minds are affected by coaches and rivals in competitive situations which then raises the stakes on becoming a world class chess player, warrior or athlete. Mindset contrasts the fixed outlook which keeps learning to a minimum with the growth mindset that values exploration, useful mistakes and risky challenges.

As I've incorporated all these insights into my own theory of mind, it's become clear we need some major changes in how we support others' learning. That has provided the impetus to my recent writing about "disrupting school work", "PLE 2.0" and "pro-learning ecologies".


A bounty of inspiring books

The past two months have brought on a feast of wonderful books. I've quickened my pace faster than my usual reading of two books a week. I've only written here about of couple of those I've read, and I mentioned a few others in passing. Here's a summary of the inspired possibilities I'm pondering that will emerge as more writing in the near future.

As I explored the upgrade of personal learning environments (to PLE 2.0) as a mash-up of DIY and DIT learning, I wondered about issues of resilience and sustainability. The Upside of Down launched me into the possibility of forest ecology as a useful metaphor to spawn resilient learning communities. Gaia's Garden offered rich analogies drawn from permaculture gardening. Biomimicry went further in explorations of prairie ecologies and spontaneous restoration efforts to consider how to nurture the self-organizing dimensions of collaborative learning.

Reading Dave Pollard's Finding the Sweet Spot brought on a deluge of insights about psychological obstacles to realizing how to make a fulfilling difference in the world . I also realized how learners responding to another community member's inquiries, needs or confusion, are functioning like entrepreneurs. They identify unmet needs and formulate ways to effectively respond. These helpful community members are essentially "co-creating value with customers" as many recent business books have explored in depth like Seeing What's Next and Blue Ocean Strategy.

I've been exploring several books on community formation for insights in how online learning communities might take shape. Building Powerful Community Organizations provides a great approach for outreach and organizing gatherings among strangers. The Change Handbook is loaded with processes that help people combine their ideas, values, perspectives and agendas. Creating a Life Together explores the ten percent of intentional communities that succeed at developing cohesion and getting over the hurdles of tax liens, zoning restrictions, long term financing, building repair, and income generation.

I've been delighted to discover how the software we've been calling Web 2.0 tools is going commercial. Groundswell reviews the many uses the corporations and their marketing departments have begun to use these tools to work with their customers. The Age of Engage continues that theme from a marketing angle. Crowdsourcing explores lots of different business models built with Web 2.0 tools. All these suggest that learning communities could be monetized and become financially viable.

Each of these books offers a treasure trove of inspiring possibilities. Then there are wonderful connections I've been making between these books that add refinements to the prospect of PLE 2.0 learning communities. Stay tuned!


Assigning reliable school work

It's possible to assign practice exercises, problems at the end of the chapter and case studies to solve -- in the midst of "business as usual". The correct answers can be identified. Empirical research can tease out the causality from the messy data to define trusted procedures. There is a enough stability in the world to assume it's valuable to learn how to do what's been done before. Studious efforts are productively applied to getting the right answer, correct methods and proven strategies. Reliable school work can be replicated.

There are times when it's no longer viable to assign school work that's predicated on "business as usual". The election last night of Barak Obama as the 44th President of the United States may be the sign of such a time. The next few years may include the transformation of the global economy, international relations, domestic industries and government services. It's very likely we are entering a time that is "far from equilibrium". Self organizing properties of our shared, resilient complexity will yield unforeseen innovations. The recent disruption of wild speculation, loan reselling and risk management schemes by financial institutions may be the tip of the iceberg. Here's ten other factors that will call upon self organizing properties of the vast diversity, complexity and inter-dependence of us all:
  • Adapting to fuel shortages in the food, manufacturing, transportation and facilities systems that all depend on oil, coal or natural gas.
  • Coping with the climate change impacts like droughts, floods, violent storms, shrinking glaciers, crop failures, ocean-life depletions, etc.
  • Replacing established, absolute authorities in print with miscellaneous, contextualized authorities in digital, tagged, searchable archives
  • Reversing the momentum of the privatized, exploitative economics of greed to embrace open sourced, collaborative economics of sharing
  • Democratizing the tools of production and distribution beyond music, video, text, photo, software, and web presence creations
  • Disrupting the value chains of industrial production, warehousing and retailing with small, local, community initiatives
  • Dismantling rewards for industry consolidation with hacker, crowdsourcing and open source rewards for free agents on call
  • Replacing acquaintances of convenience or circumstance with affinity matched networks, resource bases and subscriptions
  • Development of games to play that make menial, routine work into fun, challenging and rewarding challenges
  • Emergence of community activism, grass-roots support and bottom up initiatives to serve neglected constituencies
With so many destabilizing influences hitting Humpty Dumpty on the wall at once, reliable school work will likely be knocked from its perch of respectability too.


Where nothing happens

When I point a remote control at an old television with those on/off, volume and tuning knobs -- nothing happens. If I take the corded wall phone with me to the backyard to receive a call while I'm weeding the garden -- nothing happens. When I put game software from the Windows 96 era into the drive of a Windows XP or Vista system -- nothing happens. If I put a DVD into the "multimedia drive" of a PC from back when we watched movies with VCR's and computers only play CD's -- nothing happens.

I know sometimes what it feels like to be a school dropout. They put their curiosity into a classroom like they routinely put it into text messaging, surfing YouTube and downloading music -- nothing happens. They play the school situation like it's a game with levels to achieve, ways to score, cheats to try out and roles to play -- nothing happens. They get as creative in class as they do mashing-up music videos, creating animations, drawing manga, and customizing their social networking profile -- nothing happens.

They know they're right. They've learned from experience that it really works to be curious, playful and creative. They've succeeded at these approaches every day when they are not doing school work. They've got toys and tools that support these experiences and reward their adventures. They are surrounded by evidence that they keeping up with the changing times, fitting into the evolving culture and staying ahead of the curve of constant innovations.

All this adds up to the obsolescence of school work that fails to support individual creativity, gamesmanship and creativity. Those conventional assignments are looking an awful lot like knobs on TV's, cords on phones and antiquated computers. There's no point in trying to make it happen. The dropouts wisely stop happening in places where nothing happens.


Conventional departures from school work

School work has always included departures from covering the material, cramming the textbook and teaching the test. Each of these familiar departures have proven to be sustaining innovations that kept the existing school systems in place:
  • Problem-based learning, solving cases, responding to unresolved situations
  • Inquiry-based learning, teaching the questions, rewarding curiosity
  • Scenario-based learning, immersing in roles, acting as if the challenges are real
  • Project-based learning, generating content, inventing ways to express an idea
  • Travel-based learning, taking field trips, exploring unfamiliar contexts,
  • Tutor-based learning, getting individualized attention, troubleshooting misunderstandings
  • Team-based learning, collaborating on problems, inquiries, scenarios or projects
All of these departures require talented teachers who know how the topic being studied:
  • applies to varied situations
  • gets into trouble sometimes
  • takes refinements to apply effectively
  • works best in combination is another expertise
When teachers lack these capabilities, the class's departure from conventional cramming is canceled. The system is dependent on the authority figure in control of the content, activities, pace and changes in the school work. One potential driver away from this dependency on teachers is already evident in work settings. Organizations are relying more on servant leaders of self-managed teams. The teams get the work done internally and rely on the "former supervisor" to get answers for the team, present their case to higher ups, orchestrate cooperation with other teams and provide a sounding board for troublesome issues.

Schools are usually the last to adopt an innovation, long after the chasm has been crossed, the market has flipped for the disruption and widespread adoption has occurred. Online college courses now depend on email, threaded discussion lists and newsgroups that were all the rage ten years ago. It's possible the schools will adopt self-directed work teams once they are obsolesced in work settings.