Thrown for a loop by a mirror

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

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

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

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

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


Creating stagnation or transformation

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

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

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

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


Describing students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Social norms at holiday festivities

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Holidays everyone!


Diagnosing any cheating

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

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


Creating sensible winning

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

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

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

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


Cheating as a losing game

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

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

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

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

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


Dungeons games and communities

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

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

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

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

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


Asking for cheating 2

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

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

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

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

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

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


Asking for cheating

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

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


Painfully aware of cheating ourselves

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

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

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


Thinking through temptations

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

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

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

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

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


When is it cheating?

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

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

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


Eliminating cheating

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

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

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

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

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


Innovating in permaculture mode

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


Structuring resilient innovativeness

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


Potential erosion of innovativeness

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

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


Legislating innovation?

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

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

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


Obstacles to crowdsourcing

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


New motive power for enterprises

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

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

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

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