Emotional baggage safety program

We often think of our emotional baggage as annoying problems we bring to new relationships, jobs, and activities. We forget why we have baggage and what exactly it's doing for us. We get stuck with the problems we call baggage because we don't value the partial solution we've already got working in our favor.

One way to value our baggage is to see the safety program it's conducting successfully. Once we appreciate all four facets of the program, we can stop trying to change it inconsiderately. Here's how our baggage gets its job done everyday without asking:

  1. Our baggage gives us urges to hang with our herd and feel weird when we're alone -- to avoid the dangers of vulnerability. We avoid getting picked on, singled out or persecuted if we stick to our own kind. We can appear more intimidating if we gang up together. We pose more of a threat and can overwhelm smaller gangs or loners. Together we effectively handle dangerous threats, enemies and attackers.
  2. Our baggage gives us urges to strike out on our along and feel oppressed by group pressures -- so we avoid annihilation in a herd. We evade getting captured, ambushed or discovered if we separate from the pack. We can appear harder to catch and more elusive from spies if we're on our own. We pose more of a challenge that can wear down or frustrate our assailants. On our own, we can handle dangerous hunters and hungry predators.
  3. Our baggage gives us urges to demand our fair share from a group and to go ballistic when getting ripped off. We avoid missing out on what we deserve, need and have earned by relying on the group to maintain cohesion among its members. We can get justice when everyone is in the same boat. We can ensure that others speak up for their rights and get treated fairly when depending on each other to share what's available.
  4. Our baggage gives us urges to get aggressive and go into deep despair when we lose -- to not miss out on our opportunities. We sidestep losses, failures and setback by relying on ourselves to act resourcefully. We keep our eyes and ears out for fleeting moments to pounce on a prey, seize a morsel or bag a catch. We do whatever it takes to not feel like a loser, misfit or slacker.
With a pair of positive and negative urges for each of these four safety strategies, our baggage puts out a lot of value to appreciate. The baggage responds to a wide variety of situations with different combinations of feelings, inclinations and perceptions. The complexity of this safety program makes it extremely sustainable and resilient. It's built to last and going nowhere anytime soon. All we can hope to do is expand our safety program to cover new challenges with greater resourcefulness.


Dreadful memories of cruelty

Yet another way to picture our emotional baggage offers an additional way to resolve our past history. Throughout our lives, we experience unforgettable incidents of human cruelty. In those moments, we get terrified by what is happening to us or others. We get our feelings hurt, traumatized or devastated by the hostility. We gain a sense of greater danger than we had been predicting. We realize how we have been too trusting, patient, understanding or tolerant of some others. We discover how mean, brutal or wicked the hostiles can be. We lock into dreadful memories of cruelty to us and to others we care about. These enduring memories are our emotional baggage.

We do not want to keep thinking about these incidents, even though we need to keep them in mind. Our emotional baggage helps us out and takes the load off our minds. We subconsciously remember to look out for a dreadful reoccurrence. We only think we've outgrown what happened to us, while we unthinkably remain on the lookout for it every day. Our conscious thinking does not know what our baggage has been handling for us until it takes over control of our conduct on occasion.

These dreadful memories of cruelty linger as horrible feelings we are consciously experiencing. We may get an empty aching in our gut or an upset stomach. We may feel pains in our head, back or neck. We may get an awkward feeling where we suddenly lose our coordination, grip or sense of balance. We don't think about the dreadful memory, we simply get overtaken by these disturbing feelings.

When we don't recognize the connection between the feeling and our dreadful memory, we try to get rid of the feeling. We seek an "action of distraction" to alter our mood, shake off the feeling and change our vibration. Most compulsive behavior is driven by dreadful memories of cruelty stored in the subconscious mind. When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping, gambling, drinking, joy-riding, thrill seeking or worse. The goal of these escapades is simple: get rid of that dreadful feeling.

There's no end to this costly, unsatisfactory pattern while it's dealt with at the level of the unwanted feelings. The feelings make no sense to us so we indulge in the same old senseless behaviors to try to eliminate the feelings. We shoot the messenger and miss out on the message conveyed by those feelings. The solution lies below the surface, in the realm of underlying meaning. The unwanted feelings are deeply significant. They tell an emotional truth about a dreadful memory of cruelty. They alert us to ongoing vigilance, constant apprehensions and well established predictions of danger.

These feelings subside when we get their message. We take our baggage off of high alert once we realize those feelings indicate that a dreadful memory of cruelty has been activated. We wonder if our baggage may have a valid point right now. We consider how the present situation resembles a painful incident in our past. We accept the feelings as "on our team", "watching our back" and "in our corner". We appreciate how our baggage has taken a load off our minds. We think about the senseless urge to get rid of the feeling and the sensible alternative to validate what the feeling is indicating. We move in the direction of trusting our feelings to guide us once we've calmed them down.

It's our responsibility to listen, understand and relate to our feelings. Once we show them consideration, they will show us what to do next. We get our sense of timing back. We'll restore our sense of balance that keeps us from going to extremes. We'll feel how to choose between alternatives we cannot make up our mind about. We'll put our worried minds at ease following successful experiences of getting what we were looking for by of trusting our feelings.


Keeping your lid from flipping

Sometimes we feel like a pot on a stove that's about to blow it's top. We allude to a seething cauldron that needs to let off some steam. Our insides may be churning with anxieties, resentments, or regrets that cannot be contained much longer. We feel like we''re holding back a lot of pressure from leaking, bubbling over or spilling out. We know from much experience that flipping our lid does not make friends, create mutual understanding or deepen rapport with others. What shows up when we lose our grip is half of our emotional baggage on display. The lid we keep in place is the other half of our baggage. We act out our unresolved issues when we flip our lid or when we keep a snug lid on them.

The lid that we try not to flip is part of the problem. It's no more capable of working through the unresolved issues, dire predictions and unchanging past history -- than the issues can themselves. The lid is a positional stance against the other half of our baggage. It assumes the hang-ups from our painful past are entirely wrong and it's totally right to oppose them. It handles the complexity of these dynamics in black & white categories. It assumes there is no good in our dark side and no bad in our light side. This lid has been given many names by different, groundbreaking psychologists:
  • super-ego - Sigmund Freud's model of ego, super-ego and id
  • idealized self - Karen Horney's model of the idealized, disgraced and realized self
  • parent ego state - Eric Berne's games between Parent, Adult and Child states in each other
  • embodied false self - R.D. Laing's model of a disembodied true self divided against an embodied false self
  • persona - Carl Jung's model of a persona contradicted by a personal shadow before individuating into one's true Self

We keep a lid on our dark side by using many different tactics which give rise to so many different characterizations by these different psychologists. Here's some of the ways we seek to repress, inhibit and stifle the hidden half of our baggage:
  • Guilt tripping our dark side as totally wrong, bad, stupid, immature, uncivilized, irrational, unacceptable or intolerable
  • Imprisoning our dark side as some kind of inner enemy, raging beast or demon that possesses us
  • Disgracing our dark side as completely contradictory to what has been idealized, put on a pedestal, held up as a shining example and framed as the "one right answer"
  • Dissociating our dark side as unthinkable, terrifying to consider, overwhelming if it gets unleashed and best kept in denial
  • Disidentifying with our dark side while clinging to who we are trying to be, how we are successfully kidding ourselves and what pretenses we're hiding behind

When we're getting over our hang-ups, we get turned upside down in the process. The first thing we we're trying to be to impress others becomes last thing we aspire to be. The last thing we wanted to be then becomes first thing to work on, cultivate deeply and bring to full fruition. We let go of the lid we were clinging to in order to find a new life free of inner torment. Our pride in being perfect gets taken down in our fall into disgrace. Our bubble gets burst and our new life begins walking away from those over-ambitious ideals.

When we get turned around, we find lots of good in our dark side. Our repressed passions can now be expressed as compassion for others. Our stifled gifts can give us ways to make ourselves into gifts to the world. Our forgotten talents can give us a sense of purpose and direction in this unfamiliar opportunity space. We look back on the lid we kept from flipping as part of the problem all along.


Predicting danger - Part Two

When we've experienced some unfortunate incident that put us in some kind of danger, we typically make a dire prediction about that kind of occurrence. We assume it's likely to happen again when the conditions are against us. We expect to get set-up like that again if we're not wary, cautious and guarded. These dire predictions prove to be extremely confining. They leave us no options, room to maneuver or a future to look forward to. We naturally feel compelled to counteract our dire predictions with another kind of forecast.

We also make clever predictions about danger to break out of feeling stuck, victimized and fenced in -- by the likely reoccurrence of unfortunate incidents. We predict that we can escape our cruel fate by appearing different to others. We find ways to camouflage ourselves so we look uninviting, unavailable or uncooperative with passing dangers. First we figure out what about ourselves brought on the danger in the first place. We then predict it won't happen again if we disguise ourselves differently. If we were appealing, we get ugly, repulsive or revolting. If we appeared vulnerable, we look tough, mean or nasty. If we were already being a jerk when it happened, we put on airs of being nice, extra cooperative or a pushover. Whatever the disguise we adopt, we predict that it will fool the predator, deceive the enemy and repel the problematic situation.

When we disguise ourselves like this, we've gone out on a limb. We're not standing on solid ground, being true to ourselves or confident to our core. We've only put ourselves in this position to deal with unwanted danger. We've sought an alternative to being paranoid and trapped by the constant threat of the danger. However, our dire and clever predictions leave much unchanged. Rather than trying to modify these unchanging predictions, we can develop several more comprehensive predictions that break the lock of this initial pair:
  • Consider how present circumstances are different from the situation where the incident occurred. Predict what effect that will have on the danger.
  • Realize how you have changed by growing older, more experienced and more aware. Predict how this could deter the danger without relying on a disguise.
  • Ponder how the dangerous person has endured consequences as a result of becoming dangerous to you previously. Predict how this might inhibit a reoccurrence.
  • Explore how free you are to leave the past behind you and to powerfully choose a future more to your liking. Predict how exuding this power can alter how you get treated.

These four added predictions put the original dire and clever forecasts into a larger context. They make the fear-based forecasts seem antiquated, ill-informed and excessively apprehensive. They allow for the possibility of the dire and clever predictions to still apply in some situations. They avoid trying to change them, get rid of them or prove them wrong. These additional four predictions make the use of the initial two more selective, occasional and exceptional. The overall effect can be liberating. Emotional baggage may get lost permanently.


Predicting danger - Part One

Our minds continually orient us amidst changing circumstances by making predictions. If our minds failed to make these predictions, we'd constantly be surprised by what we felt, smelled, tasted, heard and saw. We could get maxed out instantly by so much that was unexpected, surprising, and unlike previous experiences at first. We need to make predictions to cope with the overwhelming intensity of stimuli our five senses deliver to our brains. We also rely on predictions to deal with the complexity of people, relationships, conflicts and power differentials. We could not go shopping, meet new people or embark on new adventures without a robust set of predictions.

In this context, we may get a piece of emotional baggage whenever something awful happens that we failed to predict. We desperately correct our previous misreading of the situation while continuing to be fearful that we might get it wrong again. We remain apprehensive about what to look out for, what to examine more closely and what to instantly regard as dangerous. We predict what will get us in trouble instantly, after a short while, or only if we provoke it. We foresee how much trouble, how long lasting and how frequent the danger will be to us. We anticipate how much control we can have over it, how much it can be altered by us and how difficult it is to get out of harms way. Making predictions under pressure may result in baggage, but not necessarily.

Some predictions are easily modified. It's no big deal if we get it wrong at first. We're open to changing our predictions when the feedback seems reliable and trustworthy. We rely on failed predictions to fine tune them, challenge our false assumptions and revise our map of how incidents are connected. When we're open to modifying our predictions, we're using our human intelligence resourcefully. We can get over what happened without lingering hang-ups, inhibitions, hot buttons or panic attacks. We update our predictions without acquiring any emotional baggage.

Some of our predictions appear to be set in stone. We cannot modify them by rational thought processes or talking to ourselves. We're locked into a set of predictions that reject: 1) contradictory feedback, 2) our newer conscious desires and 3) the latest changes in our circumstances. We're convinced that the pressures to change these fixed predictions are unreliable, potentially dangerous and detected to be decidedly antagonistic. We are carrying around some emotional baggage.

In Part Two, we'll explore opposing pairs of unchanging predictions that create openings for modifying them intelligently.


Humans behaving badly again

Human intelligence is a wonderful thing. It can think about strong emotions and sort out what's causing irrational urges. It can formulate better questions and then discover better explanations, models and theories for what happens in life. It can redefine troublesome problems by making a more insightful diagnosis from several different points of view. It can get creative and come up with new ideas, approaches and solutions. It can explore other people's outlooks and give them the feeling of being understood. It can resolve differences, de-escalate conflicts and combine agendas into mutually agreeable commitments.

Our minds are designed to override this wonderful human intelligence whenever we're in significant danger. We are very well equipped to handle situations that threaten our physical survival or psychological well being. We react without thinking to provocations, warning signs and threats. We make snap decisions about the extent of the dangers suddenly jeopardizing our security. We obey our strong urges that overwhelm our less urgent conscious reasoning. We act out our impulses that have been proven to deal with the particular dangers we're facing. We become more dangerous to others to get them to back off or give up their threatening posture.

Upon occasion, we will act like we're in some kind of danger when others think we are perfectly safe. We start acting badly even though we know better and wish we would not overreact that way. We override our human intelligence when the situation calls for us to rely on it to give others the benefit of the doubt, more understanding or a better listen. We make it obvious to others that we are carrying some emotional baggage. We don't know what gets into us or makes us act up that way. The source of the strong urges remains unconscious and unthinkable.

When we start acting dangerously, others become certain that they have been put in danger by how we are over-reacting. They override their human intelligence and start behaving badly too. A cycle of violence or abuse takes shape. There's no end to the self-perpetuating violence, abuse, exploitation and crime -- while our human intelligence is getting overruled. This pattern brings about wars, dictatorships, drug cartels, crime waves, failed states and economic ruin. Welcome to the daily news.

We've got the solution in us. All we need is our human intelligence that gets automatically overridden when we're in danger. We need to tell a different story about what is happening when humans are behaving badly again. We need a story that mentions our baggage interfering with our human intelligence in particular situations. We need to tell it like it is.


Three wrongs make a right

We all know that two wrongs cannot make us right. Two wrongs make us doubly wrong. But as I've explored the many ways to heal our emotional baggage, it became clear to me how three wrongs can make a right. Yesterday's post where I explored a variety of valuable No-Can-Do's and troublesome Can-Do's helps set-up this approach of making a right from three wrongs. Here's the three wrongs for starters:
  1. Back at the start of our tragic tale where we acquired a piece of emotional baggage, we got wronged for doing something that was right in our minds. We were not asking for trouble or making trouble. Getting wronged seemed uncalled for and a sign of our being in some real danger. Count that as the first wrong.
  2. Next we made a snap decision to make sure this never happened again. We made the right thing we were thinking, feeling, doing and expecting --out to be wrong amidst this real danger. We took getting wronged to heart and made something really good in us into a bad thing to think, feel, do and expect. Count that as the second wrong.
  3. Finally we came up with two ways to prevent the reoccurrence. We come up with a fight response that is a new can do. We also develop a flight response that's another can do. We get turned around where we cannot do the good thing about us and can do two things that goes against us. Count that as the third wrong.
When we keep wrong headed about all this, we join one of those proverbial "chains of pain". We treat others to the misery we're in and expect they will pass it on too. We cannot keep ourselves from mistreating others and ourselves because we've been so mistreated way back when. The way we dish it out and act it out keeps the danger at bay as far as we can tell.

We can turn all this around in our minds. We can make it right and begin to do right by others and ourselves. We simply need to make a right out of these three wrongs. Here's how to think that through all the way:
  1. We were right in the first place to think, feel, do and expect what we were at the time we assumed we were safe.
  2. We were wrong to make our "being right" into a wrong, but we can right that now. We can be right from now on to think, feel, do and expect that again.
  3. We were wrong to make it right to do wrong by others and ourselves. We can right that wrong right now and do right by all of us from here on out.
Right on!


Two-sided structure of baggage

The two halves of any open piece of luggage are symbolic of the structure of our emotional baggage. When we're carrying around burdens from our painful past history, there are two patterns of interference that hide what's inside. Any baggage means there are two things we can do which are troublesome to us. There is also a valuable solution to our related problem that's a no-can-do. Here's several examples of this two sided structure to our emotional baggage:
  • When peace of mind (serenity, inner stillness) is a No-Can-Do, worrying to ourselves is a Can-Do and complaining out loud is a big Can-Do too.
  • When showing appreciation (expressing gratitude, giving thanks) is a No-Can-Do, wallowing is self pity is Can-Do and begrudging others their good fortune is a big Can-Do too.
  • When accepting others as they already are (taking a "live and let live" approach, exhibiting tolerance) is a No-Can-Do, stabbing them in the back is a Can-Do and getting in their face is a big Can-Do too.
  • When taking calculated risks (looking before leaping, assessing dangers before adventuring) is a No-Can-Do, withdrawing from challenges is a Can-Do and acting with reckless abandon is a big Can-Do too.
  • When solving problems (improving situations, fixing what's broken) is a No-Can-Do, living with chronic problems is a Can-Do and making problems even worse is a big Can-Do too.
  • When really relating with someone (reciprocating favors, mutualizing respect) is a No-Can-Do, commiserating with their suffering is a Can-Do and antagonizing their insecurities is a Big Can-Do too.
  • When being naturally attentive (focused, maintaining concentration) is a No-Can-Do, getting distracted is a Can-Do and being distracting to others is a big Can-Do too.
We've been going to these opposite extremes ever since the good thing to do got us into serious trouble. We made a snap decision to never let that happen again to us. We adopted a fight or flight plan to avoid a repeat of the horrific incident in our past. There is no question in our minds about the dangers of doing what is a No-Can-Do. There's no alternatives we can conceive of other than the twisted pair of Can-Do's.

When our baggage is no more, this structure has been completely turned around. The No-Can-Do gets restored as a big Can-Do. The troublesome Can-Do's no longer keep us safe or get trusted for assessing situations accurately. We get back in the groove where good things come our way and we give the world the best of what we've found inside us.


Snap judgments may become baggage

Snap judgments prove to be very effective when we're in situations where the "Laws of the Jungle" apply. There's only a fleeting moment where we can make a kill and not completely waste the opportunity. There's no time to analyze a situation in depth when a large carnivore is eying us like we're on their lunch menu. It pays to jump to conclusions when we can take a shot at exchanging genetic material with a total babe or hunk. It's foolish to second guess an invitation to join the protection of a herd, gang or tribe.

Snap judgments overreact to dangers and opportunities. We assume it's: "all or nothing", "now or never" and "win the prize or lose out totally". Snap judgments wreak havoc in our relationships. We jump to conclusions like "if someone is not nice to me, they're being really mean", "if I didn't go all the way, I didn't get anywhere" and "if they don't accept me, they've completely rejected me and my kind". This binary thought process opts for idealizing the good thing and catastrophizing the failure. It cannot find middle ground or more reasonable, time consuming assessments. It's only good for high pressure, "Law of the Jungle" situations.

Whenever we make snap judgments, we then enjoy or suffer the consequences. When we repeatedly score a win, pull off a victory, seize an opportunity or come out ahead, our snap judgments have become a success routine. We've learned to get a quick read on a situation and zero in on which thing to do that makes a significant difference. We function well under pressure and amaze others with our ability to respond adeptly. We have made a habit of achieving objectives and meeting goals. We do things right and get things done consistently.

When it feels like we're paying a price for being short sighted, fixated, impulsive or naive, we've made snap judgments that became emotional baggage. It seems like we keep making the same mistake over and over again without ever learning from the results. We turn down favorable opportunities and chase after rainbows that never materialize. We think we know who to trust, which option to choose and when to make a move, only to be proven wrong again. We lose faith in our ability to make a good decision, an accurate assessment or a viable change for the better. We feel like we've been beaten down, shown up and boxed in. We eventually accept the "proven fact" that we're inferior, inadequate, deviant, defective or somewhat deficient. We've got some embarrassing baggage to deal with.

Baggage persists when there's no context and no alternative. In other words, baggage sticks around when we make snap judgments about it. When we realize how we came by our baggage by making snap judgments, we create a context that is more considerate and responsive to the processes involved. When we then consider how snap judgments can also become success routines, we avoid making " all snap judgments" into something that's entirely bad for us. We have moved into a middle ground where our snap judgments can work for or against our best interests. What comes to mind when we're entertaining context and alternatives like this is a joy to behold. We may see ways out of our dilemma and avenues we had never considered. We get over our baggage and into our minds working in our favor.


Those voices in our heads

Emotional baggage is a package deal. The luggage from past history comes with opposing voices in our minds at no extra charge. We get to listen to all that conflicting advice for as long as we keep our baggage intact. In my experience, they disappear when we make peace with our past and become true to deeper selves.

Those voices in our minds typically take opposing stances on issues with our personal danger. They usually advocate flight and fight reactions to anything threatening to our well being. One argues to fit in, get along with others and stop being so self centered. The other says to stick up for yourself, stand your ground and stop selling out to conformity pressures. These voices speak as if we are clueless idiots who fail to look out for our own safety. They become highly agitated when situations appear as set-ups for physical harm, sexual violations, emotional trauma or spiritual abuse. Yet they cannot agree on one reaction and we cannot make up our mind. So instead we get a funny feeling in our gut, lose our motivation in the situation, or get spacey in our minds when were torn between some version of taking flight or taking on a fight.

These voices create the most embarrassment for us when they are in denial. If we don't admit we have a argument running in our minds, we feel like we're wearing hot buttons that others push deliberately or inadvertently. When someone says something that speaks like one side of our inner conversation, we blush, lose our train of thought and stammer. Once we accept that we've got baggage that comes with lots of these inner arguments, we can smile knowingly when someone advocates or opposes one of the positions taken by voices in our mind.

Therapists have developed many different methods for getting out of denial and into familiarity with each of our many voices. Each of these techniques involves talking with an inner voice to learn more about it's intentions, fears and view of us. When can imagine the conversation in our minds, write it out as a dialogue or talk it out with puppets or an empty chair. When we have learned what a particular voice wants, we can present other points of view to it and discover how it reacts. In the process of all this dialogue, we separate our own identity from the various voices. We establish, in our own minds, being someone independent of these conflicting voices. We realize we can choose which to follow or formulate some less polarized alternatives. We prove to those voices and to ourselves that we are not clueless idiots who fail to look out for our own safety.

This series of negotiations with voices in our minds can free up our emotional baggage. It becomes evident that we are no longer living the past, pretending to be the same person as back then, or still attached to how we saw everything from our previous perspective. We have proven how we deserve more self respect, confidence and freedom from lingering self-imposed limitations. We are a new person that can let go of that old baggage and get a fresh start on living the lives we're meant to experience.


Lured by matching luggage

Emotional baggage puts voices in our heads that don't get along with each other. We endure living with all that chatter in our minds until we get over our past history totally. Our inner voices constantly rehash what happened and hatch new plots to mess with other minds. Their ongoing inner conflicts persistently mess up our concentration, decisiveness and resolve. The voices cannot agree on anything we begin to desire, chase after or commit to -- with one exception: when our mating instincts kick in. If someone charms us off our feet and we fall for the bait -- hook line and sinker, those inner voices agree on "go for it". Without hesitation or further questioning, we make our move.

If the ensuing relationship gets past a fling into serious romance, we find out more than we care to know about the person who was oh so charming. At some point we'll discover we've bonded with their matching luggage. The person brings baggage into the relationship that fits what we brought along for the ride. Our damage dovetails together perfectly with theirs. Those incessant inner conversations speak to each other with instant rapport. It's no wonder the voices said "go for it" in unison. They saw potential partners in the other person's inner torment. Here are the three pairings I see the most often:
  • The most common pairing I encounter is matching blatant insecurities. People desperately cling to each other our of their own neediness, inadequacy, or inferiority issues. They cannot get enough of each other or give the other any breathing room regardless of how it looks to other. Their misery loves the company of the other. Companionship is an act of desperation with no end in sight. Neither can get enough of the other to silence their inner voices and feel confident with crutches.
  • The second most common combination of baggage joins hidden with showy insecurities together. Daddy's Little Princess will pair up with a father figure. A momma's boy will find apron strings to cling to on a mother figure. A tyrant will work a deal with someone who's baggage easily plays the henpecked husband or servile wife. The over-powering character is equally insecure while disguising their personal misgivings with bravado, bullying or self-righteous opinions.
  • The least common pairing in my experience matches two rivals together. Both need to be right at the other's expense. Both compete with the other to be on top of the argument, vindicated and in control of the conversation. Both have baggage that's well suited for intimidating, overpowering and attacking others. Both feel comfortable when the other is on the defensive. Both like a heated argument to vent their frustrations and keep the other on their toes.
Regardless of the kind of pairing, the people torment each other in the same way at first. Their baggage interferes with really relating to the other. Each blame the other for their own unhappiness in order to not be devastated by their own overwhelming fears and grandiose guilt. They refuse to see the other as mirror image with matching luggage. Each pretends to be superior to the other, even when acting inferior, submissive or needy.

If the exits are sealed, the relationship will hit bottom. Both will have nowhere else to turn but within themselves -- to face their baggage and resolve their inner voices. They will stop pointing a finger at the other and point three fingers back at themselves. They'll realize they can take partial responsibility because the other is equally at fault. They will discover they really do have matching luggage, inner torment and urges to destroy the relationship. They are primed to get over their past history right then and there. A teachable moment has been created by providing no escape from facing oneself in the mirror.


Baggage as a partial solution

When we say something is a problem, we get to be right. Our world is at our command when it comes to what things mean. The facts are not tampered with by changing what something means to us. The significance can change without distorting the objective truth. When we change the meaning, we are practicing the art of reframing. We've created a different diagnosis of the symptoms or more constructive definition of the problem. That's what I've been doing when I've characterized our emotional baggage as:
  1. security encryption software to protect our special talents from corruption
  2. the source of helpful urges to seek safety from the herd
  3. one way to cope with others bringing their baggage into our relationship with them
  4. a gripping story that reverses our feeling totally to blame for what happened
  5. an invisible copy machine for getting good things to happen when used as intended
  6. success routines for avoiding another failure
  7. autopilot controls taking an unthinkable flight plan over familiar ground
When we say something is a solution, so be it. If we say our baggage is a solution to a hidden problem, we don't need to get rid of it or get over it. We need to get what problem our baggage is already solving. It's undoubtedly a problem we really want solved. It's for our own benefit that our baggage is doing its thing. If we only saw it as a partial solution, we could create an even better response to dangers, challenges and opportunities. Partial solutions are problematic, but they set us up to do better, not make things worse for ourselves.

In all my years of helping others and myself value our baggage, I uncovered several problems that our baggage partially solves for us:
  • Whenever we experience a devastating loss, our baggage protects us from getting hurt like that again. We acquire some autopilot, avoidance patterns to take flight from the likely reoccurrence of tragic losses.
  • Whenever we encounter an overwhelming experience, our baggage contains it for a time when we're older, wiser and capable of getting some perspective on it. In the meantime, our baggage allows us to chill out, set it aside and regain our composure.
  • Whenever we've been so shaken up by "near miss with death" that we obsesses on the incident relentlessly, our baggage takes that load off our minds because our thinking cannot ever resolve it satisfactorily.
  • Whenever we cannot get over what we did to someone that we cannot forgive ourselves for, our baggage transforms it into something we can live with so we can get on with our lives.
When we reframe our baggage like this, we put ourselves in a different frame of mind. We realize something is going our way and complaining is inappropriate. We see something to be grateful for and avoid putting the same old story on the invisible copier machine to further our misfortune. We see we've got the start of an even better solution, so making progress toward enhancements makes more sense than trying to get rid of our baggage.


Camouflaging our baggage

Job Number One for our baggage is to keep us safe amidst certain dangers. We acquired our particular pieces of emotional baggage when our survival was getting jeopardized by others. Baggage is a defensive strategy to avoid a repeat of unfortunate incidents. It aims for us to take flight or put up a fight against dangers that appear decidedly real.

Having baggage is not a sign of strength in the world of first impressions and others who are reading our body language. Baggage cannot intimidate any predators, bullies or abusers. Our baggage makes us appear vulnerable at the same time it is supposedly keeping it safe. This situation calls for a two pronged strategy. We need to maintain our safety maneuvers and pretend were not -- at the same time. We need a clever disguise to camouflage the fact we've got baggage in use.

The disguise of choice for most of us is to become pretentious. We put on airs of being someone we're not. We create a mask that hides our true feelings, intentions and opinions. We meet others expectations of us by appearing compatible, agreeable and nice. We put on a show of being confident while harboring insecurity and inferiority issues. We invest a lot of energy in making good impressions, keeping up appearances and managing our reputation. We forget we've designed a disguise and then fall for our own illusions. We identify with our mask and turn it into a comfort zone of familiar predictions, transactions and manipulations.

We know we are succeeding when no one sees through our disguise or suspects our coverup. If it appears everyone is playing along with our pretenses and taking our stage performance at face value, we feel safe for the moment. If anyone suspects we are being fake, we are in big trouble. When someone exposes our gambit, we instantly panic and look for an escape. As far we can tell, the danger our designer baggage was created to protect us from, has suddenly shown up on our doorstep. We feel trapped, cornered and extremely vulnerable. Any defensive or aggressive action we take will verify the accuser's suspicions. Our cover seems to be blown and there's nowhere to hide from the danger.

The ultimate solution abandons the disguise we've using to get along with others. We get real and transparent. We come to find the dangers we're avoiding are not nearly as troublesome as those we created by disguising ourselves. We learn to trust ourselves and take risks with others. We give up our apprehensions and restore our explorations. We find out more about ourselves as we expose what's inside us to those who see us differently than we see ourselves. We break out of the stereotype we hid behind and blossom into a multi-faceted human being.


Do one thing different from before

When the unsatisfactory outcomes of psychiatry got questioned fifty years ago, a new approach to therapy was developed. Rather than spending six years dredging up memories of past history, significant changes were realized in a few sessions. The process of systemic change was much better understood. The approach was called "brief therapy" by some, but many other names have been used for this less cumbersome intervention. As I've been developing this series of posts on emotional baggage, I've been pondering how a brief therapy approach could apply. Here's a possible use of those techniques:

Imagine our pieces of emotional baggage are really invisible copy machines that are working perfectly. They flawlessly replicate whatever we believe has really happened before. It's how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It's how success breeds success and failure goes into a perpetual losing streak. It's why a battered wife gets divorce and later marries Mr. Perfect who turns out to be another batterer. It's how some authors get stuck with writer's block and others feel like their muse gives them wonderful words to write down with easel. It's why we experience a string of bad luck or days where everything goes our way. The invisible copy machine is cranking out more of the same happenstance as what happened before. All it takes is believing it really happened so if can happen again to us just like before.

Brief therapy figured out how to change the original before the next copy gets made. It takes very little time or effort, just like putting a different original on the glass of the copy machine. All we have to do to get different things to happen to us is to do one thing that's different from before. Here's some possibilities for how to "change the original":
  • When we complain about something, we keep getting something more to complain about without even trying. When we give that something a compliment, show of appreciation or expression of our heartfelt gratitude, watch what happens differently after that.
  • When we always regret what happened, we get reminders to keep up those sincere regrets. When we're glad it happened, value the difference it made or turned the lemons into lemonade, something different will happen next that messes up our pattern of regrets.
  • When we already know what the result is going to be, we get proven right for being so right in the first place. When we don't know what the result will be, wonder what might happen this time or become curious about the mysterious nature of it all, it's pretty surprising what comes about from our not always being right.
  • When we react to what needs doing out of habit, we get the same result every time without thinking. When we do the thing with a slight variation, added twist or the complete opposite approach, we've embarked on a new adventure that cannot be predicted in advance.

Once you get the hang of this, you can thank your baggage for making so many accurate copies of your originals all these years. You can see how you mistakenly asked for more misery when that's not what you really wanted. You can see the value of having an invisible copy machine for getting good things to happen. You can simply do one thing different from before when it's time for a change.


Revising your past history

When something dreadful happens to us, our first inclination is to take total responsibility for the incident, outcome and lasting effects. We blame ourselves for accidents as if we are in control of everyone's fate. We blame our imperfections for the breakup or loss of a relationship. We accuse ourselves of being totally at fault for what turned out to be a disaster. We create an unlivable situation for ourselves and others who get in our way.

We typically resolve this condition by adopting a completely reversed stance. We take no responsibility for what happened. We tell a victim story about what happened to us, how bad it felt and how it was totally out of our control. We cannot find a middle ground between total guilt and total blaming others. We see no way to share responsibility or consider both extremes as partly true. We usually opt for the way to live with ourselves that wallows in self pity. We live in our past with a stuck story about what we endured and how it hurt us. We carry some very heavy baggage around with us wherever we go.

It appears we get imprinted by these traumatic incidents like seismometers recording earthquakes. We're in shock from having been deeply shaken. We're convinced there could be no changing what happened. "What's done is done -- the facts are facts." We have no choice but to adopt a stance of powerlessness in the face of our cruel fate, bad luck or personal misfortune. We go through life without a conceptual framework for changing our past history.

Revising your past history is easy if you know what to do. This process does not change the facts of what happened which are already accurate. This framework changes your story about those facts. Here's a cursory glance at the process for revising your tragic history:
  1. Write out what happened to you so you can see it objectively as a story worth telling better than you have already.
  2. Notice how this story is all about you, what happened to you and how it felt to you. Accept that is a very good place to start.
  3. Consider how you've portrayed the adversary in your story as lacking: depth of character, back story motivations, previous provocations that become immediate temptations in the situation, inner conflicts about mistreating you, later regrets that haunted him/her, self deceptions about the endless repercussions and much more.
  4. Realize that your story describes a single incident or two in isolation rather than a long series of events, buildup to a significant climax, cycles of recurring conflicts and chain reactions where one thing leads to another.
  5. Ponder how you have things in common with the one your blame for your suffering, how you care about similar things, react in similar ways, and appear like-minded to others in spite of identifying with being the total opposite of him/her.
  6. Reveal how much you grown since then, changed as a result of this incident, acquired new abilities over time and gained more perspectives with age.
  7. Rewrite your story with all this added in -- then see how you feel about your past history now.

When this process takes effect, some of your baggage gets dropped off for good. You can move forward with a lighter load than the one you've been carrying around with you all these years. It makes sense to let go of tragic tale you've been holding onto and see others with more understanding, empathy and compassion. It feels better to embrace the whole story rather than the small fragment you've been clinging to for dear life. You see how to rise above the painful incident and view the panoramic perspective that includes your sad tale among many others.


Incapable of really relating

When others bring their baggage from a previous relationship into their relationship with us, we will likely get some additional baggage out of their "acting out" ourselves. A "chain of pain" gets created. We're locked inside a hidden loop that insists that we will pass on this annoying incapability to really relate to another. In the process of handing a close encounter with others' baggage, we cope with the mistreatment in ways that will replicate it in other relationships. We don't realize this pattern is occurring. We're not doing it intentionally or consciously. We feel like we're possessed, damaged, or burdened by something in us we cannot change. When the urge comes over us to bring our baggage into a relationship, we're handling the immediate opportunity irrationally.

The way to break this cycle, that I'll explore in this post, conceptualizes what's missing in the relationship. Applying a lens of competency assessment to the interactions reveals the ways people are depriving each other and themselves. Here's a partial list of what gets handled incompetently by baggage brought into a relationship from a previous one:
  1. When we're really relating to someone, we give them "go messages" that tell them to discover what works in their world and experience. Our baggage gives others "stop messages" that tell them to submit to our presumed power over what they are thinking, feeling, seeing and choosing.
  2. When we're fascinated by other's uniqueness, we naturally explore how they see things differently and come from a different place than ourselves. Our baggage is threatened by differences and pretends to agree on everything (except sacred cows) as it keeps conversations superficial, manipulative and exploitative.
  3. When we're relating to others, they get the feeling from us of being understood, respected and validated. Our baggage dishes out misunderstanding, disrespect and invalidation to keep others feeling small, intimidated and inferior.
  4. When a relationship is working for us, we forgive others for what they did that may have hurt our feelings, set us back of bit or given us new questions about ourselves. Our baggage wants them to feel guilty for what they did to us and seeks revenge to show them who's in control.
  5. When we truly value a relationship, we give it room to breathe, space to grow and freedom to change on its own. Our baggage can only control others which as the effect of suffocating, confining and curtailing the so-called relationship.
  6. When we're benefiting immeasurably from a relationship, we naturally express gratitude and show appreciation to the other person. Our baggage is seething with resentment, frustration, disappointments and anger which erupts whenever we flip our lid.
  7. When we're confident in a relationship, we're in the other's corner and watching their back. Our baggage can only be insecure about a relationship and overcompensating by too much spending, talking, or time together.
The chain of pain can only persist when no one see it occurring. Once the pattern is recognized, a change is imminent. There's nothing to attack because the problem is defined as "what's missing" and what's "not getting done". The incompetence lens replaces the lens that identifies necessitated vengeance, intolerance and control. It becomes obvious the mistreatment received is not intentional, conscious or really relating. The baggage brought into the relationship from previous relationships is merely a chain of pain to be broken with this pattern recognition. Responding with no baggage to the onslaught of another's baggage starts a new trend of really relating to each other. The end of perpetual incompetence begins by relating to the other's baggage as incapable of either really relating or responding to overtures from someone else who is really relating.


Becoming capable of enjoying solitude

Yesterday I proposed that hidden talents would come into conscious awareness once experiences of personal safety had become a proven fact. Some people find this possibility easy to imagine and likely to occur. They are inclined to "get right on it" and take the necessary actions to realize this result. They will succeed at getting their minds off of security alert and automatic encryption modes of operation when finding time by themselves feels safe.

Others find the prospect of enjoyable solitude inconceivable and contrary to their personal experiences. They cannot imagine feeling safe when they are alone by themselves. They feel dreadfully isolated and very lonely when "stuck with some alone time". They judge the appearance of their solitude as proof of how they are unpopular, rejected or outcast by others. They know for a fact what happens to them when no one else is around:
  • they get overcome by feelings of vulnerability, insecurity,
  • they think are getting punished with confinement or are asking for more trouble
  • they feel they have violated the cardinal rule to maintain "safety in numbers" that forbids isolating themselves from their herd
  • they get haunted by ghosts from their painful past history when they are left to face what comes to mind
  • they experience a profound loss of things to pay attention to which usually distract themselves from their troubles
  • they fall into self incriminations, reruns of regrettable incidents and other forms of self-inflicted misery
  • they lose ground in the constant battle to feel confident, reliable, stable and respectable
These are experiences of emotional baggage acquired back when someone took advantage of there being no one else around to interfere, protect or stop what occurred. Their minds jumped to a conclusion about their mistaken approach to safety that had put themselves in irreconcilable danger. They decided to never again get caught alone when dangers like that appear to be present. They developed cognitive routines for both fighting the urge to be alone and for feeding the urge to cling to others. Their talent for enjoyable solitude was encrypted for safekeeping and kept unavailable until safety becomes a proven fact.

When we try to talk ourselves out of baggage, it only gets worse. What we resist then persists and defies our defiance. We don't realize we are acting against our interests in safety, survival and avoidance of dangers. We're too smart for our own good when we think we can fix "a problem" with how we're feeling that we regard as "a viable solution" subconsciously.

Once we realize we already have a solution that works in dangerous situations, we can cultivate a second solution that serves us in safe situations. We discern the difference between two kinds of isolation: beneficial solitude in safety and dangerous vulnerability in danger. We recognize when it's safe to be alone and when it is not. We realize how we can put ourselves in danger if we oppose our feeling uncomfortable about separation from the herd. We then come up with a "best of both" solution for creating experiences of personal safety. We work with our feelings to gain access to our hidden talents.


Encrypted for safekeeping

I subscribe to the premise that we are born with an array of our own unique hidden talents, gifts and character traits. I've experienced this personally as well as finding it to be true with those many individuals I've mentored, coached or taught. My "innate talents" outlook fits with Abraham Maslow's concept of becoming "self-actualized" and Carl Jung's notion of achieving our own "individuation". These "gifts at birth" are like pre-installed apps on the hard drive of our own computer. Others may catch glimpses of this functionality in us during our younger years. We may show an unusual interest, an exceptional attention to detail or a keen sense of connection to something that no other family member exhibits. This is not functionality added to our hard drive by formal instruction or life experiences. We showed up with these apps pre-installed.

Within this metaphor, our emotional baggage is the way our minds backup encrypted copies of these pre-installed apps. Anytime our minds freeze up, this "baggage API subroutine" executes automatically. The functionality of our giftedness gets shut down and encrypted for safekeeping. Our minds freeze up whenever our mental hard drive is getting contaminated by data from others with corrupted functionality. We've all experienced this "system crash of the mind" when our hot button gets pushed, a panic attack consumes us or we become speechless. Our baggage functions as damage control during these episodes. Its purpose is to minimize the potential harm from other's fear, envy, power trips or other dysfunctional attacks on our innate resourcefulness.

Once our pre-installed apps get encrypted, we cannot access them at will. We may call upon them and find nothing comes to our imagination, thoughts or motivation. We end up feeling uninspired, vacant and damaged. Our minds' data security subroutines assume the threat of contamination remains prevalent and avoids exposing our innate gifts to harm. The initial incident of contamination proves to be a life-defining moment that curtails our subsequent self expression, exploration and satisfaction. We don't get how our baggage is effectively keeping us safe. We only recognize the painful absence of our pre-installed functionality that would give our lives a unique purpose, significance and path to pursue.

Nothing changes while we oppose the security functionality of our baggage. We unwittingly seek to endanger our minds with our disregard of how we've been encrypted for safekeeping. Once we change our outlook on all this, we look out on a whole new situation. We then want to keep our gifts from harm. We appreciate what our baggage API is doing for us. We see the good in encryption and the foolishness in wanting reckless access. We realize we have a job to do to support our automatic data security functionality.

We need to create times and spaces of uninterrupted safety. Once this quality alone time gets practiced until it's a proven fact, our gifts will become spontaneously unencrypted. Our innate talents will come to our imagination, thoughts and motivation. We'll suddenly feel like expressing, exploring and satisfying ourselves with these unique traits. This stream of delights will continue until danger reappears in our space. Our gifts will get instantly encrypted again for safekeeping until safety gets restored in our midst.


What is emotional baggage?

For starters, let's explore many different frames of reference for what the metaphor of "emotional baggage" represents. I've had a great time for the past week making connections between this psychological concept and all my new learning about cognitive neuroscience. So I've got lots more frames of reference now than I did a week ago to look at the thought patterns of emotional baggage.
  1. We may acquire our emotional baggage in the midst of experiences of tragic loss. We may have experienced an irreplaceable loss of safety in our living situation, self confidence in our abilities, courage to take additional risks, self respect in order to expect respect from others, or many other personal qualities we value. We may also have endured an irreconcilable loss of a significant person in our life, trust in someone close to us, belief in another's capabilities or other qualities we value in others. Within this frame, baggage is the scar from such a deep loss.
  2. We may come by lasting emotional baggage from someone's else's baggage showing up in our face or on our case. We may have taken the brunt of their acting out, going ballistic, losing their grip, displacing their anxiety, misdirecting their self-contempt or some other form of abuse. We feel either trapped by their aggression or challenged to fight back with an alarmed sense of chronic danger. We react with our survival instincts that seek to memorize predictable threats so we do not get caught off guard again. Our baggage keeps us safe amidst continuing threats to our survival.
  3. We may experience emotional baggage as drawing a blank, being speechless, coming up with nothing to say or other blockages to our self expression. Others may have silenced our unique voices, the display of our feelings, or unconventional point of view. We acquire resilient baggage from getting told to stop what we're thinking, feeling or expressing. Our baggage keeps us stifled, inhibited, or blocked from realizing our hidden talents, exceptional gifts and valuable character traits. We are playing by unwritten rules like "stick to your own kind", "don't get isolated from the herd", "rely on strength in numbers", or "don't mess with the cohesion of your tribe".
  4. We may find our baggage taking control of episodes of our life. We may repeatedly sabotage attempts at business success, personal relationships or new projects at home. We may go through days where nothing is going our way or no one is giving us any help. Our baggage may contain a belief system about our dreadful destiny, cruel fate or perpetual bad luck -- that plays itself out in our lives on occasion. Baggage can turn our lives into quiet desperation, chronic misery or one long nightmare.
  5. Our emotional baggage can make us very difficult to get along with or be patient with our shortcomings. When we are acting like a jerk, whiner, control freak, bigot, sad sack, predator or many other obnoxious roles, our baggage is running our show. We're possessed by something other than the side of our personality which makes a good impression, shows interest in others and earns the respect of people we admire. We cannot stop it's outbursts, get control of it's urges or keep it from taking over our conduct.
  6. Our baggage invents disguises so we appear to not have any baggage. We hide the fact we've been shocked by what happened to us years ago. We pretend to be in control of our lives now. We keep up the impression of being civilized, rational, thoughtful and respectful of others. We put on a show of compatibility, confidence and cleverness. Our baggage lurks behind the mask it concocted like a personal dark side, demon or shadow that is ready to pounce when provoked.
  7. Our baggage represents the decision we made in haste, while feeling desperate and frothing with self-incriminations. We perpetually live with the consequences of having been so wrong, vulnerable, foolish, unguarded or trusting at that moment when the decision was made. We "know better now" and have stopped questioning our decision. No one can tell us any different and our decision stands unchallenged. We have decided against our best interests and those of others we care about, in order to be right about what happened a long time ago.
With so many viable frames of reference for relating to our emotional baggage, we'll find as many ways to realize solutions that change our lives.


Overview of disrupting higher ed

Thus far, I've explored the main facets of the sustaining innovation side to the changes in higher ed I'm foreseeing. I have over 200 pages of notes that explore the other disruptive innovation side. That would be WTMI (way too much information) to write up. Happily, Slideshare now accommodates slide shows with recorded narration. I'm currently exploring that possibility for condensing my 200+ pages of notes while making them more sticky, immersive and actionable. The idea of posting "podcasts with pictures" on this blog appeals to me greatly.

Another facet of disrupting higher ed I have yet to mention is the college advising piece. The current generation of college applicants falls into a frenzy about getting into "the best schools" as soon as they enter high school. There's a new cadre of "admissions advisors" who assume college is unquestionably good. They only question whether students are good enough to get in where they want. They work on finding a good fit with good schools as if diplomas are valuable, school reputations rock the business world and life long income streams are a result of where you went to school. It would disrupt their revenue stream to question the value of college educations, to critique the quality of college outcomes or to anticipate the disruption/migrations like I am.

I expect college advising will become the centerpiece of these disrupted institutions. Applicants will need to understand the shattering of the old business model and the transformation of the separate value propositions. Students will also need help deciding if the sustaining side is right for them. Those that fit the Gen Y's, gamers or digital natives stereotypes will likely find their path on the disruptive side of the four migrations. I've been accumulating strategies for how that advising would best be done and how to launch a "good enough" startup this year.

My Google Analytics reports tell me the most read post on this blog for the past several months has been Resolving emotional baggage. I've realized that is a crucial piece of my disrupted approach to college advising. The metaphor of "emotional baggage" provides a powerful model for liberating college applicants and students from their personal past history. Every imaginable problem that comes up for them can be cleared up easily. My next series of blog posts will reveal how the full spectrum of baggage issues can get turned around into valuable resources with a minimum of fuss.


Disrupting academic credentials

There is only one occasion in my career where my diplomas and college transcripts from Carnegie-Mellon and UCLA played a pivotal role in hiring me: when I got an adjunct teaching position for the local four year college. My applications to work as a consultant, media developer and trainer valued what I could do more than what I had done or where I went to college.

Academicians stick to their own kind of proof of value when assessing employment candidates. They want to see the grades earned by the people they are going to grade and give the job of grading others. Violent gangs evaluate membership candidates by proof that they have already murdered someone. Any closed system can only use its own rules to rule out, rule on and overrule issues before them. A closed system cannot question or change its own rules without assuming that would destroy the foundation of the institution.

Academic credentials appear ripe for disruption to me. They are consistently poor predictors of job performance, other than the "jobs" of post graduate studies and PhD candidacies. I previously explored expectation that credentials will get disrupted in my much-read post: Goodbye college diplomas. I've pondered how new credentials will get transformed in each of the four migrations away from the institutional morass. Here's a synopsis of what I'm foreseeing:
  • The problems getting solved by students in disruptive residential college experiences would best be served by individual "personnel files". These could provide a combination of portfolios and individual recognition. Letters of recommendation from faculty members and athletic coaches would be added routinely. Likewise, student leaders in charge of activities could add notes of accommodation and qualification. These would serve as valuable credentials for seeking administrative, sales, or community outreach positions where the work processes will get learned on the job. The determination qualifications would be revealed by the portfolio and letters, rather than course lists and grades or a diploma.
  • Budding professionals in varied apprenticeships need certificates to verify individual competencies. Much like the tests given for operating particular equipment or utilizing specialized software programs, professionals need to qualified one skill-set at a time. Exams can get developed to test how well they diagnose a complex situation, respond to conflicting demands, and nurture ongoing relationships. Granulizing these credentials also serves the likely scenarios of frequent career changes or free lance work in varied capacities.
  • Instigators of the next economy will need proof of having made a significant difference in individual lives. There could a website where beneficiaries of their "community service" could log in and post comments, photos, podcasts and videos of the work accomplished. The free ranging students could read/ watch/ listen to this "user generated content" from the people they have been caring for, helping out and assisting change their lives. Other students could check out the public portion to know about someone they are working with, get inspirations for how to make more of a difference, and gain insights on how to have more positive effects on other people.
  • Students pursuing scientific and technological disciplines can continue to benefit from transcripts and diplomas. Their studies are so complex that changing careers is unlikely. Their eventual work in research labs, product development or academia can be estimated in advance by their school work. This portion of higher ed can continue as is, like analog wall clocks and AM radios.

As it comes time for this massive disruption to occur, the value of college educations will decline in the minds of the students and their parents. The only reason to go to college will be to get a diploma. Their commitment to school work will decline and cheating will increase. The use of college to make friends and party will overtake the ambition to get enduring value from the coursework, faculty and academic rigors. The market dis-served by institutions of higher ed will be ripe for "good enough" replacement credentials.


Misguided business model innovations

Institutions of higher ed are very susceptible to fall into every conceivable pitfall on the path to business model innovation. Here's a few of those upgrades that can easily tarnish quality, reputation, credibility and trust in the institution:
  1. Reducing expenses: . One way colleges have cut costs is to replace tenured faculty with part time adjuncts. This offers dramatic savings on payroll expenses like health care, vacation/sick pay, and contribution to retirement programs. The pay per hour, student or course is also significantly lower by cutting back on tenure track professors. Colleges can also close satellite campuses, art galleries, and other amenities that detract from driving down the cost of tuition or student fees.
  2. Generating additional revenue: Colleges can invest in what they hope will yield greater long term revenue from alumni, research grants and legislative funding. They may boost the reputation and rankings of their schools by spending large sums on NCAA sports competition, recruiting scholarships, athletic facilities, and coaches that get their school significant print and media coverage. They may invest in honors programs to attract the top ranked students who can be expected to make names for themselves and let some the glitter fall on their alma mater. They may also invest in dormitory upgrades and recreation facilities for the students who will become satisfied alumni making donations and bequeathing their estates to that institution where they experienced "the best years of their life".
  3. Expanding the product line: Schools can easily add additional academic departments, degree programs, new courses and sections of an over-enrolled course. An academic system, including the textbook publishers, can produce additional courses of study without making structural changes. Offering greater selection is presumed to keep their customers satisfied, just as automakers, software developers and consumer product companies have taken for granted. "Servicing the sale" can get added by additional counseling, activity and student support offices, programs and personnel.
  4. Appeasing the enrollment: Institutions may showcase their attempts at being innovative to appear progressive to the students. New technologies provide enticing opportunities to cast off the image of bureaucratic stagnation, stodgy faculty or falling behind the changing times. Responding to student complaints may result in added services to deal with campus security, parking, computer labs, off-hours building access, parental visits, etc.

On the surface, there's nothing wrong with these improvements. That's why academic institutions take the bait. These changes appear to be sustaining innovations that invest wisely in the future of the campus and the community of scholars. Here's how these well-intended changes will get indicted as clueless, inadequate and misguided once the disruptive innovations to higher ed come to town: These upgrades:
  • serve the existing customers who want the institution to persist and who oppose disruptive innovations too.
  • fail to recognize and respond to the non consumers who dropped out, who were denied access trying to get in or who got a diploma without a useful education.
  • improve classroom delivery of educational experiences on a schedule dictated by the registrar's office.
  • fail to improve the 24/7 delivery through handhelds, the discovery of each individual learner's context or the open source approaches to continual education
  • maintain the cultural norms of printed words, learned authorities, and published research
  • bemoan the erosion superior academic credentials and published expertise emerging from digital cloud computing applications


Can higher ed change its business model?

In many of his recent writings on business model innovation, Clayton Christensen has helped us see how incumbent institutions have no concept of their own business model, value proposition or the jobs that their customers are getting done. He also suggests that successful products and services do not migrate toward commodization, loss of differentiation and erosion of gross margins from aspiring to be the low-cost provider. Rather, he sees a migration from solution shop to value-added processes to precision mechanisms for delivering reliable results. This evolutionary pattern also resembles the democratization of power into the hands of end users and localization of formerly centralized service providers.

As I reflected on this cultural blind-spot in large institutions that cannot see their own business models, I made connections to several other familiar patterns:
  1. Top down authority structures expect conformity to the chain of command. There is no need to think for oneself about whatever concerns the upper executive level of management.
  2. Hierarchies hold members accountable for policy compliance while neglecting incompetence demonstrated in job performance, customer service or internal cooperation metrics.
  3. Bureaucracies are designed as machines that perform efficiently, consistently and perpetually at great expense of innovation, learning and changing with the times
  4. Inevitable turf battles (over budgeting, staff reassignment and use of shared resources) between department necessitate defensive maneuvers like "empire building", "fortress mentalities" and "silo formation".
  5. Group norms dominate the interpersonal dynamics within vertical silos which spawns the scapegoating of those who rock the boat, toot their own horn or deviate from the stifling consensus known as groupthink.
  6. Top executives rise to their level of incompetence where no further promotions are forthcoming, which makes it advantageous to surround themselves with sycophants who tell them what they want to hear, dismiss news of external changes and downplay those with more competence, perspective and foresight.
  7. The human side of organizations, that have grown huge to realize economies of scale, do great injustice their their employees by maintaining imbalances like overpaid/under worked, over qualified/under utilized, overworked/underpaid, and over utilized/under recognized differences between colleagues.
With these patterns functioning robustly in most institutions of higher ed, it's no wonder they have no concept of their own business model, value proposition or the jobs that their customers are getting done. They are operating with tunnel vision outlooks, under the gun of top-down pressures and a full plate of obligatory duties. There's is no attempt to become more valuable to the institution or each other. The system rewards acting selfishly to advance up the ladder while the institution acts on instincts of self preservation.

Recently, I've been listening to over twenty podcasts created by Paul Miller on cloud computing, the semantic web and the disruption of higher ed. Two interviews, in particular, have given me hope about ways institutions of higher ed can change their business model. Chris Geith at Michigan State University and Steve Carson at M.I.T. are both fluent in business models. They sound like the marketing partner in a SAAS startup pitching their business logic to potential customers. They speak of their value propositions as if its perfectly natural and expected.

Both Geith and Carson span many academic silos in their jobs. They function in consulting roles that aid individuals into the horizontal space between silos and between institutions. Their institutions both serve a global community of scholars and industry consortiums. They are also providing added value within their institutions. Fellow employees are their customers who need to be listened to and worked with in order to serve those vertical departmental jobs getting done. In short, these two "silo spanners" defy all seven patterns I enumerated above. They operate in a different culture within academia that spawns pilot programs and business model innovations -- one faculty member or department chair at a time. If these pioneering efforts become separate entities outside the ivy covered walls, business models for higher ed could get transformed. The existing model would eventually get cannibalized by the success of the outside entity that redefined the value proposition of higher ed.