Consumer advocacy in higher ed

Customer driven businesses do not need governmental inspectors, oversight or recourse systems for customer complaints. Enterprises that serve customers discover what to improve that adds value to the exchange which then generates loyalty, buzz and an increased volume of purchases. No oversight committee had to tell to set up product ratings and reviews or secure payment systems. Likewise, customer driven businesses already appear as advocates for the customer. They help buyers get what they want, not what they get told they should desire according to spin-doctored advertising. They help customers to solve personal problems, to get their particular jobs done and to get changes accomplished with less effort. The solutions get delivered to the customer instead of insisting they come to the centralized location. Customer driven businesses are usually two steps ahead of their rivals, proactively upgrading their user interface, customer experience and support system for added help, diagnostics and services.

Most institutions of higher ed is not customer driven. They are either driven by internal performance metrics or quality standards. They show no sign of comprehending what their customers are trying to accomplish, solve, resolve or change. They appear to exploit the captive market for prestigious diplomas that acquire glamour from higher prices. They fail to address the "service issues" like dropping out before graduation, mid winter depression, loss of retention/motivation and the uselessness of course content in job settings. Higher ed appears to need governmental watchdogs, inspectors and audits.

Most consumer protection interventions backfire. Onsite inspectors in banking, airline safety or food production get bribed or lulled into complacency. Most periodic audits in pharmaceutical manufacture, mining and workplace safety cause a flurry of clean-up efforts to pass inspection free of "red flags". The push for consumer advocacy results in a push back from those offenders who do not want to get caught and have no concept of the customers' experience.

Indirect strategies to realize consumer protections prove to be far more effective. Rather than go after the institutions, it works to cultivate sophisticated consumers. By addressing those who are already interested in changes, the intervention encounters open minds, willingness to explore further options and follow through on implementation. The customers can vote with the feet and wallets. They send a message loud and clear to incumbent institutions by changing what they buy and reject. The function as their own advocates in "game-changing" ways. They expose the shortcomings of enterprises that fail to align themselves with customer driven premises. The change comes about without costly governmental interference or inspections.

Government funding of an intervention in consumer advocacy would best be spent helping college applicants and enrolled students become more savvy. When "buyers of diplomas" act more selective, discerning, cautious, and suspicious, pressure will be put on institutions to improve. Whenever customers act with increased self-respect, they get more respect from their product and service providers. When demands for more solutions, support and authentic value get put on the table by the buyers, the enterprise can work a better deal or walk away from the market. It becomes a clear choice for the institution whether to gain or lose ground based on their own response. They really see the opportunity to serve parents, college students, and their eventual employers.


Lowering the cost of college

It's not possible to lower the cost of college by making a direct attack on the problem of soaring tuition rates. Several books over the last decade has made it perfectly clear what not to do:

Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad gave us the concepts of core competency and denominator management. Competing for the Future explains how improving the quarterly earnings figures by taking assets off the balance sheet ultimately backfires. An enterprise's ability to innovate and sustain it's value to customers looks bad to those who only monitor the financial metrics. Outsourcing looks like a good idea to accountants, financial analysts and stockholders. Their short sighted interests kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. The core competency gets sold off and leaves an empty shell that cannot increase value for the customers, improve their experiences or pass on cost savings.

W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne advised getting out of red oceans of contested market space where industry rivalries control spending and strategy. Blue Ocean Strategy calls for making the competition irrelevant by creating strategy innovations that serve uncontested market spaces. The existing value propositions cannot provide cost savings to customers because survival depends on advertising, added features and full service offerings that necessitate subsidizing unprofitable components.

Clayton Christensen reiterates those pieces of advice in The Innovator's Prescription while adding several more warnings about flawed approaches to innovative cost reductions:
  • Don't expect to arrive at cost reductions by consensus or democratic voting among vested interests in the incumbent enterprise
  • Don't leave it to the discretion of people in charge of each profit center to adopt changed business models
  • Don't maintain disjointed solution shops where productive value-added processes get burdened with massive shared overhead expenses
  • Don't expect customers already being served to identify any jobs not getting done or opportunities to serve nonconsumers

The Obama administration aspires to make college affordable. Yet the Federal government cannot lower the soaring tuition rates or revise the business models that colleges deploy. Legislative initiatives can reduce the cost to individuals by providing funds. This amounts to throwing money at the problem and subsidizing the intransigent institutions. The Obama administration has also intended to "invest in the middle class" to foster the long term health of the domestic and global economies. The middle class can be compared to the core competency of an economy that breeds subsequent innovations. The Obama administration has also launched several initiatives to increase the amount and quality of innovations that get developed in the near term. This may lead to the identification of uncontested market spaces and creative revisions to strategy mixes, business models and value propositions.

It's becoming clear to me how governments can intervene in the cost of college indirectly. The Federal government already provides consumer protection services and advocacy. The safeguarding of consumers from exploitation, abuse and danger -- raises the bar on an industry. Quality standards get set higher by orchestrating what customers expect and demand. New market space gets defined by helping customers see what is missing, unfair, exorbitant and excessive. Providers get put in the position of meeting the new demand or appearing obsolete. I'll further explore how this could play out in the market for college educations tomorrow.


Disrupting professional development

Professional educations are in worse shape than the degree programs in technical disciplines or the humanities. By "professional" I have in mind every imaginable profession: education, journalism, film/theater, design, marketing, management, economics, industry, media, airlines, medicine, law, politics, consulting, community activism, etc.

Professionals appear to be the most tainted by how they were taught obscuring what they were taught. Perhaps because professors are professionals, the students assimilate the business model, worldview and practices of their instructors and institutions. Professionals gravitate toward large, bureaucratic organizations affiliated with profitable private practices. The beneficiaries of those professional services are finding them to be less accessible, responsive and flexible while becoming more expensive, specialized and useless.

In contemplating how to disrupt this portion of higher ed, I've come to a radical conclusion: professional education ought to be removed entirely from the dominion of higher ed. The cultivation of next-generation professionals needs to return to the apprenticeship model of medieval guilds with the added feature of online communities. Rather than continue to educate apprentices with expertise delivered through instruction, what works is entirely hands-on. Professionals need to learn by practicing what they've seen practiced, realized needs to be practiced and discovered needs more practice to get it right. Quality preparation for professional practice will emerge from all that practice, not from formal instruction. This suggests several facets to the replacement support system for apprenticeship.
  1. Apprenticeships will be held to the new standard of "brain rules" which maintains optimum conditions for cognitive functionality. Excessive stress, passivity, and consistency will be ruled out.
  2. Too much information will be avoided by numerous timeouts to reflect, assimilate and tie-in the new ideas. The latest input will be tried out until it makes sense, feels right and gets beyond the idea stage.
  3. Learning will be about becoming effective in situations. Getting a read on the circumstances will become as important as professional conduct. Sensitivity to complexity, variations, and nuances will prove to be as valuable as consummate execution of skill-sets in order to have intended effects on those being served.
  4. Skills for researching field conditions will take precedence over empirical research of controlled conditions. Hypotheses will get formulated from pattern recognition acumen applied to messy situations, ill formed problems and changing complications.
  5. Online support can be provided for every conceivable question, confusion and setback by crowdsourcing the responses. The next generation of web usage can "lend a hand" to these professionals in apprenticeship who ask for help in the context of their immediate uses for the response.
  6. This explosion of free-style learning will need a new kind of assessment to cope with so much variability in what's been practiced, considered and understood. Rather than standardized tests of "content that's been covered in class" , commercial testing facilities for apprentices will be modeled on product and personnel testing technologies.
  7. What gets learned hands-on will incorporate an implicit business model for providing value to others. The skills will be understood in the context of making a difference in other lives. The strategy for monetizing the skill-set will be inherent in how it was learned and fine tuned to be effective.

These kinds of innovations are inconceivable to incumbent institutions. This apprenticeship model appears to require "walking on water" or "letting go for it to happen". The opportunity space is off radar, inconceivable and repulsive. The only way for it to come about is start-ups with "good enough" approaches to gain a foothold


Teaching by teachable moments

A teachable moment occurs when the learners have just experienced something that makes them open, ready and willing to get instructed. There are two ways to utilize a teachable moment: 1) seize them when they happen or 2) create their occurrences. All four migrations I'm foreseeing embrace "teaching by teachable moment". The two developments I've explored thus far (research institutes and college experiences) will thrive on creating teachable moments. The other two I have yet to reveal in depth (certification testing facilities & instigators of the next economy) capture teachable moments as they occur. The only exception is the institutional morass that each innovation departs from. Institutions of higher ed operate consistently on a factory model of "unteachable moments". A sense of timing about when to teach is only possible when the system serves the "job getting done by the customers", not the job thee institution does out of self preservation.

Preaching during unteachable moments
Institutional delivery systems implicitly tell their enrollment to:
  1. Learn content when it's offered at a centralized location, just in case you'll ever need it, regardless of any immediate use or motivation of your own.
  2. Take difficulties as an indication of your own learning disabilities, lack of aptitude for the subject or shortage of study skills --- if you experience any problems with comprehension, retention, or motivation.
  3. Expect teachable moments to be a "hit or miss" affair that cannot be created or captured during the classroom delivery of required content.
  4. Consider how learning really happens when it can be scheduled as the classroom space and faculty become available.

Capturing teachable moments
In Magical Moments of Change Lenore Terr recounts numerous fascinating cases where child therapists seized an opportune occasion to transform thought and behavior patterns. Similar breakthroughs routinely occur for self-directed learners. Because their own questions drive their exploration and their own realizations constitute the actual learning, the context is ripe for teachable moments. Their minds will suddenly open up with new questions, fascination and motivation to explore unfamiliar territory in the midst of successful finding what they were looking for. Self directed learning becomes a virtuous cycle between searching and finding, questioning and realizing, or exploring divergently and reaching conclusions convergently. The process is energizing and fulfilling while it nurtures further growth.

Creating teachable moments
In Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath give us lots of ideas for creating teachable moments. Here's a synopsis of their key points:
  1. Students will pay attention as we break their habitual expectations about getting fed predictable, derivative and ordinary instruction.
  2. Students will remember what gets said if it evokes a sense of concreteness, tangibility and solid evidence.
  3. Students will believe what is being offered if it earns their respect and gets vetted by substantial sources
  4. Students will care about the message if it massages their emotions, moods and feelings for others
  5. Students will act accordingly if they have been taken on a journey that equips them to troubleshoot whatever does not go according to the book.
Teaching by teachable moments will provide us with disruptive innovations. Those incumbent institutions that schedule courses, classrooms and test sessions will be left behind. Non consumers of all the costly coercion, contrivance and bad timing -- will flock to enterprises with value propositions based on teachable moments.


Campuses for college experiences

Rather than make bids of academic respectability, I foresee these breakout institutions seeking cultural relevancy and historical legitimacy. As the research institutes abandon their pretense of teaching undergraduates, these campuses for college experiences can stop aspiring to do impressive and cutting edge research. An emphasis on quality teaching can become the mission here. Recognition can be based on learning outcomes, rather than useless "publish or perish" pressures. The bottom line will get revised to the quantity and quality of life changing experiences absorbed by the college students, not the ranking of the school, prestige of the faculty or advances in research on campus.

Stringent academics will disparage these campuses as "party schools", "dating games", "country clubs" and "buffets of cake courses". They won't understand the value proposition, the job getting done by the students or the quality experiences being provided. These campuses will bring an end to the torture of "choosing a major". Every major will be self-defined or improvised/never defined. There is no need to limit oneself or commit to a course of study. An academic focus misses the point here. This is a personal exploration that uses coursework and collegiate experiences to that end. The outcry against "NCAA athletics undermining scholastic achievement" can also be put to rest. The confabulation of athletic and academic standards gets dismantled in this model.

As I mentioned previously, "Most residential colleges demonstrate "student life" as a core competency. The "Dean of Students" and "Director of Athletics" oversee the "rite of passage" for thousands of young adults." The sporting events, concerts, conferences, study groups, fraternities/sororities and so much more create enduring memories. The immersion in so much social contact enables each students to find themselves in how much they have in common and in contrast with other individuals. Focusing of the "Value-Added Process" of college experiences can serve to lower tuition cost, institutional overhead and inefficiencies brought on by conflicting ambitions.

Perhaps there will be two kinds: big and small campuses with different student bodies, curriculum emphases, faculty interests and approaches to scholarship. There may be specialization of offerings within them also. Yet together, they will deliver valuable educations with disregard for the diploma. They students will learn to appreciate what they see, compare what differs, realize what is hidden, sense what is suggested, and explore what is puzzling. They will escape rote learning to reflect deeply and come to their own conclusions.

The big campuses may offer classes in Harry Potter, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and music pop icons. Their big sporting events attracts a students who are immersed in the consumer culture. They will want to better understand the media and marketing they've been saturated with already and expect to be absorbed with for decades hence. Graduates could go into media production, advertising, sales, social outreach programs and any other careers that call for being in tune with the times. These graduates will become enduring sports fans, active alumni and fun parents.

The smaller campuses could explore literature, philosophy, traditions in every art form, and history from dozens of perspectives. They would reveal the established patterns that persist in current situations, expressions and conflicts. They could situate the new creations by the students amidst long timelines of civilized developments. Graduates could handle responsibilities that call for deep insights and broad perspectives. These students will become avid readers, patrons of the local arts scene and wise parents.

These campuses will function like modern-day finishing schools. Their mission includes seeing that the students mature a great deal while enrolled. They will offer role models, challenging experiences and colleagial contacts that stimulate students' character development, value judgments, and insights into others. Expertise gleaned from therapy and social work can enhance these "rites of passage", initiations into adulthood and transitions into personal responsibilities. As they demonstrate this competency to the parents of the students, the current plague of helicopter parents is apt to subside.


Technical degrees entirely online

If all science, engineering, technical and technological degrees migrate to completely online delivery, as I proposed in my last post, many advantages will get realized:
  1. Global research institutes can drop the pretense about making any commitment to undergrad teaching while they are really in deep pursuit of their research interests. This newly minted integrity will increase how much they are respected, trusted and valued. The loss of contempt, disrespect and flaming will, in turn, improve each faculty member's confidence and perhaps even their transparency.
  2. Undergraduates enrolled in these degree programs can complete them at their own pace. They can combine their chosen program with living on campus or at home while either working part time or pursuing the degree full-time. They would be free to enjoy a social life or make some money. They could even travel while completing the program. That freedom of choice and mobility will likely reverse the downward trend of technical degrees being earned.
  3. The online programs will include lots of remedial components to catch the routine errors of logic, false assumptions and erroneous conclusions that students make while grasping particular complexity. This means the students can get help when they need it, instead of when the faculty or TA was holding office hours.
  4. The availability of all required material online will disrupt to the over-priced textbook publishing business models. The publishers who may then get incentivized to contribute to the online offerings or even orchestrate the standardized curriculum.
  5. The cost of completing a technical degree program will plummet, improving the access and affordability metrics that legislators keep in their sight. This could improve the long term health of higher ed by restoring the social contract that universities once honored by affordably educating citizens to participate in the economy and democratic processes.
  6. The students will feel understood, respected and valued by the intense use of gaming, simulations and social networking technologies used to immerse the learners in the material. Their buy-in, motivation and endurance will likely increase and improve their chances of completing the program compared to classroom delivery models.
  7. The familiarity of keeping score with objective grading will put learners on familiar ground where they will compete against others and themselves, discipline themselves to improve their skills and motivate themselves to "keep their head in the game"

While all these advantages may inspire a few schools to innovate their technical degree program offerings, I doubt the disruption will occur until the incumbents become desperate about their survival. That will occur when the other three migrations I'm foreseeing emerge, especially the one that serves the college dropouts.


Exploring global research institutes

The creation of more autonomous research institutes out of academic institutions resembles the lifting of "value-added processes" out of "disjointed solution shops" that The Innovator's Prescription recommends for many facets of the health care industry. The training of the next generation of scientists, researchers, technicians, technologists and engineers needs a business model focused separately from undergraduate institutions. The education of technical disciplines can be achieved more efficiently, effectively and economically by separating it from the three other domains I'm foreseeing.

These research institutes will serve a worldwide community of common and cross disciplinary expertise. Their mission-driven approach will raise the sights of everyone down in the trenches of tasks, obstacles and budget constraints. Their global outreach will add purpose, significance and context to everyone's work. The internal atmosphere, culture and collegiality will predictably yield greater creativity, collaborations and trusting transparency. There will be increased sharing of findings compared to insular, bureaucratic silos. Serving this global community will keep the value proposition in mind and make it easier to pursue business model innovations when facets of the work flow become more predictable and precise. These institutes will outperform their predecessor institutions at attracting research grants, project funds and government partnerships to further advance mutual interests with the global community. There's a paradoxical quality to the space these institutes will inhabit: both more isolated from the campus academic community and more connected to the worldwide research community.

The acquisition of technical expertise seems to naturally create comparisons, rivalries and survival of the fittest among the students. Evaluation can be normative and objective because comprehension is usually revealed by flawless execution of methods. This portion of academia can easily support a zero-tolerance policy regarding cheating. The education process functions as a selective filter to identify the "elite commandoes". It stress tests the students to discover who has the right stuff to perform under pressure. An innovative approach to providing this expertise would be mistaken to lose this functionality. I expect the institutes will maintain all the trappings of academic metrics of student achievement: tests, extra credit, retests, grades, GPA's, transcripts, and cum laude recognition.

The nature of technical expertise also makes the undergraduate education ripe for automation. This appears to me as an opportunity for a national organization to develop expert training systems, online tutorials, multi-player games, and immersive simulations that cultivate all the prerequisite capabilities. The production of expertise can emulate the best practices of six sigma manufacturers. The automated process can be "standard issue" for each technical discipline just as SAT/ACT tests are for college admission. Alternatively, the components could be developed in keeping with open source software development, Wikinomics and Crowdsourcing. This dramatically reduces the cost of the current labor-intensive, redundant course development and delivery. It frees up the faculty to follow their passion and do more research which serves the mission of the institute that employs them.

It's expected that each institute will serve as a spawning ground for technical breakthroughs and innovative start-ups. The culture of innovation can be nurtured in ways that cannot occur amidst the stifling effects of academic bureaucracies. The institutes will also breed a population of consultants, advisors and industry analysts that thrive in the horizontal space connecting all the vertically integrated private enterprises and government agencies.

It remains to be seen where the innovation of global research institutes proves to be sustaining or disruptive for the academic institutions. The laboratory, prototyping and testing facilities for numerous disciplines on campus encourages a sustaining approach to innovation. In that case, there would be economies of scale and bundled value propositions to students. Continued use would be made of registrar, facilities maintenance and administrative services. The enrolled students would benefit from the campus facilities, socializing, and extra-curricular activities. However, industry or government affiliates may offer their own facilities for faculty/grad student use. Then the teaching could migrate to off-campus institutes, just as management training is flocking to corporate universities. The departure would disrupt the distribution of a university's massive overhead burden across all its academic departments on campus. The cost to the enrolled students would become unacceptable. Revenue would decline and institutions would collapse.


Teaching technical and practical disciplines

Educating people for technical disciplines calls for academic rigor, objective grading and precision execution of formulaic procedures. Factory models of production processes can make educational processes within Research Institutes more efficient and effective, as the books Disrupting Class and The Innovator's Prescription have detailed. The current academic institutions with advanced degree programs embodied most of these premises. Yet they have drifted away from scientific precision as their basis for excellence, losing sight of their mission and settling for bureaucratic governance.

Educating people for practical disciplines calls for repeated practice, diverse evaluations including self critiques, and insightful exploration of possible strategies. Artistic models of theatrical productions can make educational processes during Perpetual Pro Practicums more effective as Artful Making proposes. Athletic training models for mastery of physical disciplines can add to the efficiency of those processes as The Art of Learning explores. Yet, institutions of higher education have compromised this approach by the time limits of formal degree programs and the staggering expense of their massive overhead.

These two approaches are based on distinct sets of premises that I've highlighted in the chart on the left. To help you visualize the difference between these two disciplines, here's a few examples:

A physician with a technical bent regards his/her patients as biochemical specimens on a microscope slide to be analyzed dispassionately. A physician with a practical bias exhibits a wonderful "bedside manner" which puts patients' minds at ease, shows them respect and comforts them amidst their crisis. A scientist with a practical urgency will corrupt the data gathering with the need for immediately applicability. A scientist with a technical outlook will produce findings that have been statistically verified and can be trusted with confidence.

An educator with a technical bent will cover the material and test the students for the accuracy of their submittals. An educator with a practical orientation will work with students' confusion to offer other perspectives, analogies and examples that lend to deeper and more varied understandings. An engineer with practical priorities will get mired in political pressures and lower design standards to comply with vested interests. An engineer with a technical focus will deliver specs and designs that will perform as safely and reliably as expected.

The conceptual differences between these approaches are contrasted in each of the four rows that characterize these educational models.
  1. Newtonian science deals with an objective reality that can be observed without influencing it. Double blind experiments filter out the biases that could warp the objective outcomes. Objective reality appears to be causal and consistent which enables us to rely on formulas, procedures and analysis. Technical disciplines embody expertise based on these premises. Quantum physics frames "Newtonian physics" as a "special case" among a universe of phenomena that exhibits recursive patterns. Quantum indeterminacy, action at a distance and observer dependence dismantles causal explanations and presumed objectivity. Yet this opens up a wide range of other possibilities like self fulfilling prophesies, desirable placebo effects, remission without treatment and virtuous cycles of beneficial side effects.
  2. Formulaic precision applies well to mechanistic processes. The same result can be achieved by conforming to procedures. Organic, social and ecological processes frustrate formulaic approaches. The recipe turns out differently each time. The objective fix becomes part of the problem, a provocation of an unexpected backlash or the source of harmful side effects. More effective approaches are designed to fit the unique circumstances of each incident. The larger context and underlying dynamics come into consideration.
  3. Open courseware is a natural outgrowth of technical disciplines. The educational experience is not given away with the content offered for free. The disseminated content offers countless side benefits I explored in Sustaining innovation done right. Practical disciplines are much more dependent on closure and spaciousness. Working directly with people immerses a professional in their stories, narrative structures and growth processes. Their lives have taken on meaning that will change when the intervention proves to be effective. The work at changing lives calls for providing others with space to find alternatives, significance, and even themselves. Their findings bring closure to personal doubts, fears, guilt, indecision, chronic anxieties and hesitations.
  4. Technical disciplines serve specialized interest groups. Their expertise can be applied industry wide and disseminated through conferences of colleagues. They provide value to production processes, technological developments and systemic revisions. Practical disciplines serve individuals with problems. Their expertise gets applied on a case-by-case basis. They provide value to decisions being made, changes being considered and personal issues getting resolved. They work with clients, patients, customers, students, cast members, employees, owners, and the like.
As institutions of higher ed get disrupted into these two different ways to cultivate discipline, each will find their unique market demanding the value being offered. Each market will be better served than the institutional morass can provide by muddling the two approaches into one methodology.


Coping with overwhelming expertise

There's a significant difference between basic and applied science. Likewise, research disciplines "in the lab" call upon different skill sets from practitioner disciplines "in the field". For instance, medical researchers ask different questions from clinical practitioners -- even though both contexts can be hotbeds of innovation. Because the skills and collegiality are different, there's an added concern about the transfer of advances from basic to applied research and then empirical research to clinical practice. When expertise gets confined to a silo, (vertical space, protected turf or institutional fortress), the transfer of innovations gets abandoned, neglected or blockaded. The status quo persists while costs soar, effectiveness declines and people suffer the consequences.

When the established knowledge base was small years ago, budding professionals in most fields could benefit from exposure to research disciplines before immersing themselves in professional practice. The knowledge base in most professions has now outgrown our human limitations. Physicians now have their choice among 13,000 pharmaceuticals and 9,300 medical procedures. The complexity involved with making an accurate diagnosis of better understood diseases boggles the mind as well. I'm aware of similar advancements in the fields of film making, product design, architectural practice, instructional design, economic policy formulation and social services. I suspect every field of professional endeavor exceeds anyone's capacity to grasp the overwhelming quantity and quality of expertise. Everywhere we turn, we're faced with TMI (too much information).

One strategy to cope with this explosion of expert knowledge simply requires trainees to learn how to learn in preparation for continual, life-long learning. Knowledge management explores how the knowledge base of individual enterprises and fields of expertise can be structured and expanded to be immediately accessible and then worthy of keeping up-to-date. Promoters of the semantic web are exploring ways to get much more useful search results from queries of the data cloud that reference the context of the inquiry. All three of these developments may prove to be extremely valuable.

I'm coming to the conclusion that a fourth strategy is required. The three appear to be sustaining innovations. On their own, they fall short of disrupting the institutional morass. They can be co-opted into making a show of innovation that predictably backfires while depriving us of authentic value or useful solutions. Regarding research and practitioner expertise as notably different sets up separate educational processes and business models to deliver these differentiated offerings. In the next post, I'll contrast these two approaches.


Choose your cauldron

It's in our common parlance to say "choose your weapon" or "choose your poison" when facing options among different tools, sporting equipment and alcoholic drinks. I'm introducing a similar expression: "choose your cauldron". Each of the four migration paths that I'm foreseeing out of institutions of higher ed amount to a cauldron for the college students. In stories and in therapy, a cauldron traps the character in a situation with no available exits. The only available option is to change character and underlying beliefs. Cauldrons are extremely valuable for outgrowing adolescence. They provide the right kind of pressures for immaturity to evolve into responsible adulthood. Since all four alternatives to the institutional morass offer these benefits, it comes down to a choice of "choose your cauldron" for enrolled students and dropouts alike.

I expect the global research institutes to preserve the academic rigor that has been widely compromised or abandoned in institutions of higher learning. Learning to "do the math", "apply the formula" or "solve the flawed procedure" allow for objective testing. There is one right accurate answer, even if there are many ways to arrive at it. The disciplines of science, engineering, and countless technical fields all thrive on conventional coursework pressures. It's often expected that the undergraduate classes function as Darwinian selection of the fittest for these demanding disciplines. The abundant survival, conformity and achievement pressures form a cauldron for quickly building courage, confidence and convictions in young adults.

Certification testing facilities will evaluate a broader spectrum of competencies than objective tests. I expect they will realize the benefits of 360 degree feedback that has gained popularity in business as well as all those "getting voted off the show" reality TV programs. We may see the common use of review panels for live presentations that judge the merit of thinking off the top of your head and responding to challenges without forewarning. The learning done prior to testing will included an individually varied mix of self-exploration, team learning, formal instruction and apprenticeships. There is will be basis for "testing what was taught" since the learning will have been done independently and mostly "off-campus". All this traps the learner in repeated pressure cookers to "make the grade" on the certification testing procedures they have hired to measure their progress and assess their readiness for particular responsibilities. .

Life changing collegiate experiences offer a different kind of cauldron. Meeting dozens of strangers, living in dorms, joining groups and dating without constant supervision all provide captivity that invites growing up in a hurry. Relationships trap us in what other people are feeling, thinking and doing that we cannot control. Groups confine us by the norms, conformity pressures and distribution of responsibilities that ask us to respond like an adult. Living together in close quarters with people we did not know last year forces us to understand people different from ourselves, while becoming more tolerant and less selfish. Enduring the ups and downs of sports teams, personal endeavors and group dynamics also makes for maturing with no easy outs.

Instigators of the next economy will be engaged in community outreach, activism and organizing. They will be developing reputations as they make a small part of the world into a better place for others. They will discover how costly it is to violate others' trust and hurt others' feelings. They will learn to respect themselves more so there are in a position to show authentic respect to others. They will be confined in situations with the same people being deeply effected by what is getting worked on, postponed, shortchanged or neglected. The opportunities to "mature with no escape" will prove very effective for those who found college to be useless, boring, irrelevant or antiquated.

Some students already experience these cauldrons enrolled in institutions of higher ed. Most do not. The disruption of higher ed will render these beneficial experiences more available with higher quality for many more learners.


Deflating conflated business models

Clayton Christensen and his co-authors characterize health care institutions as "conflated business models" in their book: The Innovator's Prescription. Institutions of higher education appear the same way to me. By trying to serve all masters, they serve none well. Their unfortunate combinations of value propositions, revenue streams and quality control mechanisms realize the "worst of both" business models they've conflated. The economies of scale that drove the expansion into enormous institutions have resulted in soaring costs, internal inefficiencies, increasing access problems, vastly under-served populations, under-utilized capacity and burdensome overhead.

One of my favorite distinctions in Christensen's model of disruptive innovation draws the line between innovations driven by technological breakthroughs and those resulting from users getting different jobs done. The migration of classified advertising from newspapers to was not a "build it and they will come" better mousetrap. The migration arose from helping others who could not afford newspaper classifieds or were not committed enough to invest the cash and time required to sell their item through a newspaper. The underlying computer online access, programming and servers made it all possible, but did not cause the migration. The distinction helps us avoid getting over-enamored with new technologies that then follow the Gartner hype cycle pattern.

When a migration occurs, the incumbent institution experiences a disruption characterized by any of those words listed on the left. I'm foreseeing four migrations out of the conflated business models that currently comprise institutions of higher education. I'll detail all four of these during the coming week here.

  1. From institutional umbrellas to global research institutes: The portions of higher ed involved in scientific, engineering and technological advances will separate themselves from the other vehicles for the delivery of undergraduate educations. These institutes will be tied to governmental, philanthropic and global industry funding sources while feeding cultivated talent, research findings and proven models into their conferences, collective horizontal efforts, vertical enterprise spaces and innovation cycles.
  2. From degree programs to life-changing collegiate experiences: Most residential colleges demonstrate "student life" as a core competency. The "Dean of Students" and "Director of Athletics" oversee the "rite of passage" for thousands of young adults. The campus activities, social experiences, residences and "academic" lifestyle create life-long memories, friendships and character-defining breakthroughs. Liberal arts courses serve this model effectively.
  3. From tutelage by professional professors to utilization of certification testing facilities: College diplomas are very poor predictors of job performance for designers, lawyers, legislators, managers, doctors, social workers, and a whole host of other professionals. Assessment of competencies has evolved dramatically in the past decade while learners have gained confidence in informal and self-directed modes of skill acquisition. Life long learning is becoming necessitated by the prevalence of new technologies, disruptive innovations and repeated career changes.
  4. From college dropouts to instigators of the next economy: Those stigmatized failures to complete accredited degree programs demonstrate the right stuff to launch a new economy. Their "unproductive time wasted" has been invested in emerging markets for the transformation of our planet at the local level. The 65- 72% of adults without college degrees can provide us with solutions that cannot be offered by industrialized democracies.

Being an outsider to higher ed at this point in my life, each of these migrations can show up on my radar. I am not consumed with insider workload pressures, premises or expectations. Yet having been an insider to higher ed during three phases of my quixotic life journey, I can empathize with how these migrations can appear inconceivable, unrealistic and irrelevant within the walls of academic institutions. As I explore these migrations this week, I intend to examine them from both of these perspectives.


Assisting the job getting done

Customers are always getting something done in their own worlds, using their own frames of reference in order to accomplish something they have in mind. Most providers of content, products and services don't get any of that. They assume the customers must want what is being pushed onto them. The providers adopt a "take it or leave it" stance that provides them with no basis to utilize complaints, make sense of non-consumers needs or call a halt to "feature creep". Customers who don't buy what is being sold must be misinformed or missing out on a good thing. The provider is always right and customers who buy it are always right too. The disruptive innovation model wisely contrasts with this. The job getting done by the customer in their own minds -- serves as the basis for the innovation.
the characteristics of disruptive innovation: it would need to be a good-enough, low-cost solution to a job that enough people were trying to get done that it would create a new market at the low end of an established market (Renee Hopkins Callahan on the Innosight blog)
The complaints about, outcries against and criticisms of the TEAL classrooms at MIT that I listed on Innovating for show reveal jobs getting done by undergraduate physics students. Disruptors of higher ed could take any of these as a launch pad to formulate good-enough, low cost solutions. Here's some of the jobs getting done according to the students' own frames of reference:
  • Being wary of scams, bogus offers, and false promises as well as alerting their classmates when any have been uncovered
  • Taking pride in their alma mater, valuing the prestigious credential, avoiding disgraceful harm to that shared reputation
  • Recognizing how to play the grade game, what's changed in the relative weight of different portions of the final grade and what's getting over/under emphasized
  • Uncovering disguised profit motives and commercial interests that exploit the captive market of enrolled students and deprive them of enduring value
  • Paying attention to the presenter by facing in his/her direction while also turning toward a table taking notes on their laptops
  • Seeking stimulation, relevance, meaningful challenges that provides freedom from tedium, boredom and exhaustion
  • Getting frustrated with receiving the same grade as the other students who have not contributed adequately to complete the group project.
  • Disciplining oneself to grasp all the main points, to study them repeatedly until they make sense and to practice using them accurately before the test
  • Distracting oneself from the useless presentation by unobtrusively going online during the class
Helping students get these job done will undermine "business as usual" for the classroom delivery models of higher ed. To incumbents, it appears that assisting students accomplish these jobs would undermine their value proposition, lower the quality of what they consistently deliver, disrupt the workflow of the faculty, and change the metrics for assessing outputs. They got that right!


Entering the space of disruptive innovation

Incumbents instinctively co-opt potentially disruptive innovations to avoid get disrupted by them. They indulge in innovating for show, rather than for genuine effect. They throw money at the problem without getting the return on their investment, much like irrational bailouts after a bubble bursts. They are ruled by their own self preservation and survival instincts, not enhanced value propositions, increased cost savings or better service for their customers.

Clayton Christensen's books hold up IBM as the exception that proves this rule. IBM set-up the sales and manufacture of mini computers with 45% gross margins separate from their main frame computer business with its 60% gross margins. It repeated this successful separation of businesses when launching of their PC operations with its 25% gross margins. There is no attempt to refocus the sales force to pursue less profitable customers or to put managers into double binds with conflicting objectives.

Incumbent enterprises see the doors to disruptive innovation marked "Danger -- Keep Out". The auto industry, newspapers, health care providers and universities are all under pressure to change their business models. None of them can pull the rug out from under their own feet. As Paul Miller inferred in his podcast with the authors of Disrupting Class, "the turkey will not vote for Christmas dinner". Here's how troubling disruption innovations may appear to stalwart defenders of higher ed:
  • Violating their accreditation requirements
  • Loosening their academic rigor and respectability
  • Weakening the value of their academic credentials
  • Making their grade inflation problems worse
  • Pandering to their inferior and undisciplined students
  • Lacking empirical validation and legitimate models to implement
  • Indulging in strictly commercial ambitions
  • Compromising their academic freedoms and protections
  • Selling out to their critics and legislative adversaries
  • Asking for further disrespect, interference and costly compromises

Disruptive innovators enter the space with very different perceptions. Threats appear as opportunities. Reasons to keep out are incentives to enter. Dangers ahead are paths to adoption of innovations. Here's how the disruptors of higher ed may see the doors to the space:
  • What if we open sourced the required reading, the expertise to assimilate and the materials to be researched by the self-directed learner?
  • What if we crowd-sourced the filtering out of what is extraneous, useless and irrelevant to focus on what is actually worth devoting time to studying in the data cloud?
  • What if we democratized the tools for establishing legitimacy, respectability and validity so each learner established their own academic credibility uniquely?
  • What if we peer-sourced the grading of homework assignments, evaluation of submittals and assessment of academic progress?
  • What if we structured the learning experience to maximize brain functionality instead of relying of fears, anxieties and work load pressures to produce outcomes?
  • What if we set-up ecologies of reciprocation where each learner gives back in return for the assistance received from educators, peers and online contributors?
  • What if we built the learning experiences on a model of personal maturation that incrementally outgrows dependence on and rebellion against authority figures?
  • What if we delivered each module of comprehension with an inherent business model to make money in the future providing value with that competency?
  • What if we refined this approach to be "Gen Y compliant" by making full use of Web 2.0 platforms, mobility and technological proficiencies?
With so many ways to transform the value proposition of higher ed, it's surprising the space of disruptive innovation is not already over-crowded with start-ups.


Innovating for show

It's unusual to succeed at sustaining innovations within established institutions and enterprises. The odds are against it. As we'll explore in this post, it goes against human nature and group dynamics. It's far more common to go about innovation in the wrong way and suffer the consequences. This is almost inevitable for "disjointed solution shops" like most colleges and universities. MIT's experience with the TEAL innovation provides valuable forewarnings to other colleges. Here's are some quotes from the students who commented on the NY Times article -- to set the scene for the pattern of flawed innovations:
19> Don't be fooled by this expensive gimmick. I'm already ashamed my alma mater has been hoodwinked into buying into this sham. (Chris, MIT '08, San Francisco, CA)
26 > I suspect that the lower failure rates under the new system are attributable largely to the fact that attendance and homework now account for a larger portion of the grade. None of this would be a problem if it weren't for the fact that there really is no alternative to TEAL. (C, MIT '11, Cambridge, MA)
32> Of course, this is done so that the university will increase revenues and has nothing, obviously, to do with best practices for student learning. (Van, Idaho)
33> The atmosphere of the classroom makes it much harder to focus than that of a traditional lecture hall. While lauding the shiny new style of the "round table with computers" system, the article fails to mention that since the professor cannot help but be in only 1 point at any time, 50% of the students are constantly twisted in their seats, trying to operate computers, take notes, and punching clickers while maintaining attention on the instructor. (Y.M., MIT '09, Cambridge, MA)
35> Freshman Sarah Levin ’09, currently a TEAL student, said that “all of TEAL is so unmotivating because it’s so tedious that I don’t put any effort into the class and because of it I’m losing a good percentage of my grade just by lack of attendance.” (Mike, San Jose, CA)
41> On fridays, you are to complete a small quiz with these people and all three of you recieve a grade for it. What ends up happening is the one person in the group does the problem and has no real motivation to explain it to you other than common courtesy. (Deepa, MIT '09, MIT)
45> In addition, "individualized," hands-on instruction slows the entire classroom down to the speed of the slowest learners. It dumbs down the average class session by only permitting time for a few points to get across. So what if 95% of the class get the three teaching points offered (for example) in an individualized classroom versus 50% of the class getting the ten major teaching points in a traditional lecture? (Mark Zelinka, Santa Maria, CA)
47> All those fancy expensive computers the students are clustered around are only ever used for checking email (i.e not paying attention to the professor). I never once saw them incorporated into the lesson. (Laura, MIT '09, Cambridge, MA)
Misguided innovations begin with the leadership's fear of stagnation, falling behind rivals or gaining a reputation in the market space as a "dinosaur". These fears alter brain function and impair the right brain cognitive abilities necessary for success. The left brain patterns then dictate how the opportunities appear, which responses appear viable and what decisions make the most sense. The challenge is perceived in dichotomies and categories. The mind cannot handle paradoxes, tradeoffs and creative alternatives when surviving a dangerous situation.

The innovation under consideration cannot begin with the customers to be served by it. Rather the drivers to innovate come from a bundle of money to spend or some new technology to deploy. By failing to respond to the users who are under-served, over-served or not served at all, there will be no testimonials from satisfied customers. The value proposition is self-serving to the institution. The effort will be done for show and announced via press releases. Naive journalists with column inches or time slots to fill -- will jump at the "news of innovation" while the groundswell of blog comments, tweets and text messages will expose the "emperor's new clothes".

Those who are supposed to be served by the innovation get dealt with as difficult personalities, small minded adversaries or chronic complainers. It's assumed they may be placated by the show of innovative changes while anticipating that "nothing every satisfies those grumps". This sets up a self-fulfilling prophesy of adversity while passing up opportunities to listen, collaborate and respond the users effectively. There is no basis for learning from feedback, constituencies, setbacks or unexpected outcomes. Closed minded advocates on high alert jump to conclusions about the users' lack of satisfaction. They entertain no reflections on how the hostility was set up from the start, asked for in so many words and then delivered to their doorstep accordingly.

The uprising of antagonism toward the useless or counter-productive innovation spawns escalated internal conflicts. A "house divided against itself" emerges from the opposing views of the innovation. Those who see the good in it are valued as loyal, compatible and progressive. Those who see the innovation as flawed, problematic and counter-productive get framed as traitors, entrenched enemies and detractors. Getting close the customers becomes a "kiss of death" and delivering news from the front lines experiences "shoot the messenger" syndrome. The proponents are then kept in the dark, driving blind and poised to take a nose dive off a cliff.

The innovation is getting done for the sake of making a highly visible change. The improvement makes a token effort at solving problems while actually solving the wrong problem. The ability to address the underlying and chronic problems is offline due to the fear-based approach that's been widely adopted. The solution makes the real problems worse like pouring gasoline on a fire. The attempt at relieving a symptom exacerbates the underlying problems that are disregarded with intense determination.

The users feel gamed by the innovation, not understood, respected or well served. This abuse inspires their retaliation, cheating and contemptuous conduct. There's nothing to lose by losing out on what the contrived innovation offers. Instead of feeling like they are being given tools to use, skills to deploy or solutions to their actual problems, they feel used for a misleading show of effort. Their conduct appears to obvious lack responsibility, ambition, commitment to those who only see good in the flawed innovation.

As all these group dynamics take effect, more than the innovation usually fails. Entire enterprises have closed their doors when they went about innovation the wrong way.


Sustaining innovation done right

Last week I listened to a wonderful September 2008 podcast interview [27:21 m] by Paul Miller with Steve Carson, External Relations Director for MIT OpenCourseWare and the first President of the OpenCourseWare Consortium. The benefits MIT is realizing from their open courseware initiatives stand in stark contrast to the hostility directed at their TEAL (Technology Enhanced Active Learning) classroom innovations for teaching physics. I previously mentioned the push back from current students and recent graduates to the innovative departure from the lecture format. These two attempts at avoiding a disruption of higher ed reveal how much of academia will function as it's own worst enemy while some sustaining innovations will demonstrate a Darwinian "survival of the fittest". First I'll explore how successful some attempts at sustaining innovations can be.

In the podcast, Steve Carson revealed how many constituencies have benefited from putting course materials and lectures online:
  • College applicants view the archive to preview the possibility of attending MIT, to compare alternative colleges and to decide on the best choice for their aptitudes or interests.
  • Current enrollment views the archive to review course content, to clear up confusion and to prepare for exams.
  • Alumni revisits the archive to refresh their memory of technical content, prepare for professional licensing exams and equip themselves for career changes.
  • Faculty explore the open courseware of colleagues to get ideas for improving their own presentations, to raise the bar on their own classroom conduct and to discover faculty with overlapping research interests in other departments and/or universities around the globe
Those faculty members who have taken full advantage of the open courseware have stopped lecturing in class. Conventional class activities have become the new homework. Former homework assignments are the new class work. Students come to class to work together on the homework problems. They take advantage of the F2F situation to assimilate the thought processes of the faculty member and benefits from classmates' different understandings. They problem solve together as if collegial interactions are appropriate with students, not just with academic colleagues. They achieve the best of both the continued delivery of content via linear lectures and the use of classrooms for thinking things through together.

This sells the value proposition that "learning is local" which can only happen in person. It keeps customers coming back for the magic elixir they cannot get from the open courseware itself. It maintains the up-market business model of:
  • bringing the problem to the solution that then scales into enormous institutional delivery systems in centralized locations with staggering overhead costs
  • protecting a sellers market that sets the price higher and higher as if "you get more when you pay more" and "value" is defined as tangibles added by the seller
  • offering perishable inventories that require the customers to schedule themselves according to imposed dictates of the institution
  • fueling the prestigious brand and favorable market comparisons by charging higher prices and limiting access to a select few
The benefits to MIT of their open courseware initiatives appear viral. The payoff has taken on a life of its own at no added cost to the institution. The outcomes provide reputation and strategic relationship benefits as well as more measurable payback in enrollment income and alumni donations. These are not linear "cause and effect" dynamics. They appear as cyclical, spill-over and systemic effects that fuel themselves, take on a life of their own and grow exponentially.

Tomorrow I'll explore the opposite extreme: sustaining innovations gone awry.


Solution shops in academia

The Innovator's Prescription: a disruptive solution for health care is Clayton M. Christensen's best book yet. With his coauthors, he has taken on the most complex issue I see: the American health care system. Experiencing him apply his model of disruptive innovation to so many different facets of the industry has helped me grasp the profound significance of his insights better than ever. My own management consulting for doctors and hospital administrators two decades ago served up a memory bank of experiences to vividly situate the issues in the book. Of course, while I've been reading it over the past few weeks, I've been pondering how it applies to disrupting higher education. It will take many posts here to explore all the notes I've written to myself. Today, I'll consider the implications of a kind of business model from The Innovator's Prescription: coherent and disjointed solution shops.

A "solution shop" business model develops custom responses to each request. Professionals are customizing solutions to the problems brought to them. There are no standardized, off-the-shelf or template-based procedures to follow. The solutions are labor intensive because they require so much professional involvement to formulate each variation. The solutions require considerable expertise to anticipate consequences, make difficult tradeoffs, consider the big picture and fine tune the solution to the particulars of each unique request.

A coherent solution shop orchestrates numerous professional disciplines into concerted efforts. They arrange effective conferences which incorporate the diverse viewpoints in formulating a diagnosis and solution. They resolve differences by respecting the need for a diversity of contributions to avoid blind spots, mistaken evaluations or short-sighted conclusions. The work is creative and collegial. The result saves money over scattered efforts and produces more efficacious outcomes.

I witnessed this approach when I was a Teaching Assistant (T.A.) in grad school. The faculty I worked for mostly worked with me in developing the courses and weekly classroom experiences. We functioned as sounding boards to each other and valued our different viewpoints. I saw this again when I was teaching college courses and watched other faculty members collaborate on research projects or contribute to temporary task forces.

A disjointed solution shop faces the same professional challenges as a coherent solution shop without success. The conferences regress into committee meetings with politicized struggles to take control, win out over others and take positions at other's expense. The professionals operate in silos that keep each other unaware of collaborative possibilities and benefits of diversity. Commonality is perceived as a threat to one's own prestige, superiority and turf. The solutions formulated are costly, ill-conceived and short sighted.

I've seen far many more examples of disjointed solution shop practices in academia than coherent approaches. I've had glimpses of what goes on involving Provosts, Deans, Faculty Senates, Accreditation Boards, Departmental committees and tenure reviews. Almost every instance fits the pattern of disjointed solution shops. The participants feel like politicians vying for influence rather than professionals valued for expertise. The meetings are dreaded rather than fruitful. The outcomes are disappointing and frustrating.

The predominance of this pattern of disjointed solutions shops keeps the quality of higher education deficient. Because it's not good enough yet, the seller's market, I explored yesterday, defeats any success with price reductions, improved customer service or changes in the business models


Bringing the solution to the problem

When the quality and efficacy of a solution is not good enough yet, customers pay premium prices. This provides the margins for enterprises to upgrade what they offer, to improve their workflow and to eliminate inefficiencies. These improvements are what Clayton Christensen calls "sustaining innovations". The enterprises can sell up-market to more demanding customers who believe "you get more when you pay more". The prices paid by consumers may soar out of sight, as they have for college diplomas and hospitalizations. The market bears the rise in prices because the quality is not good enough yet to be offered routinely, systemically and consistently. The consumers have no other choices in this captive market but to pay more or go without. This phase is a "sellers market" where the provider names the price and terms. The problem comes to the solution. The customers endure the hardship of getting an appointment, schedule, enrollment or visitation -- at the convenience of the provider.

When the delivery of quality and efficacy becomes common knowledge, all this turns around. The customers start to find the same or better quality for less. When they pay more, they pay too much and don't get their money's worth. The enterprises or new entrants sell down-market to cost and value-conscious customers. The narrowing margins, increasing overhead and increasing stagnation of incumbent providers, create opportunities for start-ups to invade the space. The new entrants move the goal posts and sell down-market. They create bargains for savvy customers to find -- that means it pays to shop around and compare wisely. The over-served, under-served and non-consumers suddenly have options created by these "disruptive innovations". Now it's a "buyer's market" that competes for customers with added convenience, improved access, special privileges, and bundled offers. The solution gets brought to those with the problem. The providers deliver their innovations at the convenience of the consumers.

Higher ed has been able to maintain their "sellers market" where "those with the problem come to the solution" -- by perpetuating educational quality that is not good enough yet. They promote the prestige, ranking and elite attributes of their diplomas they can deliver instead of authentic quality and efficacy that exceeds their capabilities. It's time to move the goal posts.


Cause for my optimism

In a comment on Instead of a Total Economic Collapse, Sean FitzGerald asked me "where do I get my optimism from?" Here's my answer.

If this planet was only perpetuating it's over consumption of industrialized production, I'd experience no optimism. If our only source of news, perspective and updates was the sensationalizing broadcast media of the modern era, I'd be down in the dumps. If we were only persisting in print literacy, authoritative sources of expertise and scarce access to archives of ink on paper, I'd be figuring we're all doomed. If people we're still working in hierarchical, silo-cubicles, hiding behind their job descriptions and passing the buck, there would be no hope for humans. if the effect of electronics, connectivity and digitization was to make us more inconsiderate, intolerant of each other and isolated from communities, I'd assume our breed of life forms is toast. If ecosystems and climates sought revenge for getting abuse instead of naturally restoring balance, I'd figure the extinction of our species was imminent. Happily, none of the above is true.

The industrialized era fragmented individuals into formalized and specialized jobs which undermined their solving problems informally. I see a reversal of that condition where collaborative problem solving is on the rise. If everyone solves the problems in their immediate situation each day, humanity will adapt to catastrophic changes as they occur. The risk of planning for the wrong future won't be an issue. The present moment is enough to handle, just as it is for every resilient species that has endured through many millennia before us.

The introduction of alphabets and printed pages got us taking everything literally. We thrived on news and expertise. This disenchantment with mystery, wonder and magnificence gave us scientific reasoning and technological advances at great cost to environments, societies and individual lives. Print literacy has also compromised our right brain functionality to develop the capacity to read and write. As we return to post-modern oratory, political theater, storytelling, picturing experiences and celebrating life, our right brains will come back into balance. Besides rational thinking, we'll benefit from much more creativity, whole-mindedness, imagination, inspired timing, and innovative solutions.

The organization of work into factories and bureaucracies made hordes of us small minded. We stopped: learning from what happened, taking responsibility for long term effects and understanding others different from ourselves. As more work gets done by cooperation, improvisation and reciprocation, we'll remain open minded as fortress walls come down. We'll comprehend what setbacks are teaching us and then see opportunities to try smarter next time. We'll make sense of situations in ways that improve our responses, resilience and connectedness.

Mechanistic technologies set us up to oppose nature and disregard the climatological effects of our excesses. We related to others by dehumanizing, de-personifying and disgracing them. Our hubris fed into over population, over expansion, over harvesting and over-extension beyond our limitations. Digital technologies have us feeling more ecological, one with all living things and aware of repercussions. We sense how connected we are and how essential it is to be respectful of every imaginable other.

Nature and the climate taught us nothing as we built smog filled cities next to rivers that we polluted as we over worked the land. Now nature is raising the stakes before flunking us out of the class. The lessons are more obvious. The penalties are more immediate. The benefits are more tangible. Evolutionary pressures have always worked wonders to convince species to adapt. Life goes on regardless of how any particular species copes with the pressures. I think we're much more likely to respond like bacteria than dinosaurs -- given our new granular level of resourcefulness appearing initially as millions of user content generators.

For these reasons, I'm optimistic about our long term prospects.


Objecting to government spending

The economic stimulus package getting debated in the US Congress is revealing much resistance to change. The objections raised to reviving the economy with massive government spending fit a pattern in my perception. The opposing arguments look the same to me as the resistance to open learning, blogging, and PLE's. They resemble the logic that does not grasp the Web 2.0 thing, crowdsourcing and the long tail of user content generation. The opponents in Congress seem to be saying the following:
  • government spending is not investing in the middle class's ability to be productive and successful
  • government spending is not building the infrastructure for the next economy
  • government spending is not retrofitting and remodeling buildings for energy conservation
  • government spending is not revitalizing local economies and social safety nets
  • government spending is not doing for citizens what they cannot do for themselves
  • government spending is not leading the economy out of a recession by caring for everyone affected by it
  • government spending is not money well spent that will return benefits over the long term
The objections say "government spending is only government spending". Government spending must be taken literally. It cannot be two things at once. It's only bad and no good can come of it. We make a thing of government spending, and cannot regard it as a process. We assume it "is what it is" that cannot be growing, changing, learning or creating something else.

When our minds work this way, we are convinced that we are in danger. We are react with fear to what appears threatening to our safety, survival and livelihood. We act in self interest that inadvertently makes problems worse, provoke others to act like enemies and undermine the stability we sought to reestablish. We cannot change our minds because we protect ourselves from putting our survival in greater danger than we are already in. We make enemies in order to defend ourselves. We resist change to avoid a crisis, panic attack. We are on the brink of falling into irrational bubbles.


Irrational bubbles, bursts and bailouts

The economy that's spiraling into a deeper recession each day appears irrational to me. It took over spending, over consuming, and excess borrowing to inflate such a big bubble. We don't get carried away with ourselves like this when we are being rational. Instead, we are discriminating, selective, keeping our perspective, balancing our ambitions, making tradeoffs and considering long term consequences.

I utilize many different models to understand irrational behavior. Here's a brief summary of those frameworks to set up our exploration of possible solutions:
  • * Limbic hijackings: The field of emotional intelligence imagines our more primitive limbic system overriding our self restraint, better judgment and situational awareness that our neocortex could provide. We go into episodes where we are not in control of how emotional we get. We become dangerous to ourselves and others in ways we will live to regret.
  • * Panic attacks: When we're in danger, we resort to our survival instincts, fight or flight reactions and paranoid suspicions. If we're not frozen like a "deer in headlights", we're making snap judgments and acting accordingly. We're manufacturing more anxiety than we can handle and thus need to take our frustrations out on others quickly.
  • * Emotional baggage: Our unconscious minds function like seismic recorders which get imprinted with traumatic losses, setbacks, failures and crises. We remember how helpless we felt and how powerless our conduct seemed. We internalize this trauma as a baggage about how the world work and what always happens to us in particular. We reenact the trauma we're desperately trying to avoid while maintaining the deep belief that it cannot be avoided.
  • * Psychological complexes: When we're possessed by an inferiority or persecution complex, we feel justified in getting even with others who wronged us. When we're possessed by a power or messianic complex, we feel righteous about abusing others we hold in contempt. When we're possessed by a trickster or clown complex, we think we're only joking around when we're having a devastating effect on other's feelings, confidence and sense of belonging. Some would say we're showing signs of demonic possession or psychosis.
  • * Finger pointing: When we're unhappy with our own shortcomings, we can find those faults in others instead of ourselves. We may act out our unresolved issues, dish out what we cannot take in like measure and show others "a thing or two" we need to learn ourselves. We shoot the messenger who tells us "we're the problem" and blame those who see the truth for being at fault.
  • * Obsessive/compulsive behavior: We can become driven to excess, insatiable pursuits and relentless striving. Our thinking become unreliable by adopting flawed cognitive strategies. We maintain denials, distortions and convenient explanations instead of facing the facts. We "idealize, awfulize or catastrophize" what is more reasonable and complicated than we assume.
  • * Alter ego: When we form an identity, we must exclude what we decidedly are not. If we make a thing of success, we're devastated to be associated with failure. If we identify with being loyal to a family, we despise free spirits who seem traitorous, rebellious and selfish by our standards. These outcast traits form our alter ego that occasionally get a hold of us and run the show. We cannot believe what came out of our mouths, came over us or came to mind as the right thing to do.
Economic bubbles, bursts and bailouts can result from any of these models taking hold. In each case, the executives, lenders and consumers are "out of their right minds". They cannot come to realizations about other choices, long term consequences or better solutions for everyone involved. A melt down is their only option.


Dual economies in transition

Seven years ago, Shoshana Zuboff and James Maxmin observed that we were phasing out of "managerial capitalism". In their book: The Support Economy - Why corporations are failing individuals and the next episode of capitalism, they forecasted an explosion of small, customer-oriented, service start-ups. I've watched their prediction come true since then.

The suburb I'm living in has dramatically increased the quantity of services offered by dog walkers, mobile dog groomers, fitness trainers, masseuses, seamstresses, home repair handymen, gift buyers, gourmet meal preparers, landscapers, junk removers and more. A parallel development has occurred online with all the free content that has been contributed to service our need for information, ratings, buyer's advice, entertainment, and links to related sources. Our sense to be of service to each other appears to have multiplied exponentially.

While all this has been occurring, the legacy economy has continued to favor the elite, defeat transparency, exploit vulnerabilities, speculate at others' expense, and exclude constituencies from economic considerations. This vanishing breed of managerial capitalism is doing a disservice to individual customers, local neighborhoods, regional economies and national stability.

As I watched their advocates make political pronouncements during the presidential election last fall, and the current debate of a stimulus package, it's apparent that they "don't get it". They have no clue how to be of service to us. Their impaired judgment of people as pawns in their system discounts the possibility of their "responding responsibly and reciprocating receptively". They way they think about government, taxation, spending, infrastructure, services and jobs -- appears well-suited to destroy their economic system while the next economy expands to take its place.


Coping with routine disservice

The next economy will serve us in ways that we currently get disserved by markets, institutions and business models. In the meantime, we seem very tolerant, even expectant, of getting disserved because it is so widespread. Here's a few examples from higher ed:
  • Students who suffer from text anxiety get disserved by closed book tests and cramming for multiple choice exams
  • Students seeking proof of their deeper comprehension get disserved by tests of their superficial memorization
  • Students whose minds close when being mistreated get disserved by enforced conformity to academic requirements
  • Students who value mentoring from adults get disserved by the authoritative presence of lecturers addressing hundreds

During the dozen years I taught college courses, I was continually amazed that students were not rebelling against the disservice of their classes that were "only good for a grade". As I came to understand my students better, I realized how they had adapted themselves to getting routinely disserved. They discovered coping strategies to lower their frustrations and focus on passing the class so they did not have to take it over. I came to understand their lack of outrage as deploying two different strategies:
  1. Survivalists: Lots of students give themselves even odds of graduating. The 50% dropout rate is no surprise to them. They are not succeeding in college or their lives. It's amazing to them their problems have not taken control of their ability to stay in school. They are inundated with financial, family, employment, and transportation problems when they are not dealing with school workload, deadlines and scheduling conflicts. Amidst this context, they keep their learning to an absolute minimum. Getting a diploma would be a miracle. They are not invested enough to feel justified in objecting to the disservice.
  2. Show-offs: Most other students want to graduate with honors. They are playing the grade game with a vengeance. They are going for far more than a diploma: they want the stellar GPA, the impressive transcript, sparkling faculty recommendation letters and a dazzling resume of campus activities. They are slavishly creating a credential of their college attendance, because they subconsciously know they will have nothing else to show for it. They are getting a degree, but not an education. They are not learning to do anything or prepare for any responsibilities in the world. They are becoming very knowledgeable in the way academics are, not in the ways pragmatists, problem solvers and leaders must be. They don't dare complain about the disservice because it would expose their self-betrayal in the same moment. They suffer in silence and show off their accomplishments instead.

As I've been writing about the next economy recently, I made the connection between these student coping strategies and the plight of consumers, wage earners, home owners and small investors. Everyone has adapted coping strategies that perpetuates the disservice without suspicion, distaste or withdrawal. While that has keep the current economy going indefinitely, it suggests there could be a mass exodus from the disservice once the next economy comes along.