Strategy drivers in higher ed

This morning I've been making connections in my mind between all the facets of reinventing higher ed and the strategy drivers of existing institutions. In the patterns I've recognized, there are two widely adopted strategy drivers that cannot:

  • be good for our brains
  • make degree programs much more affordable by providing higher quality educations at a lower cost
  • redefine school work for students and redesign jobs for faculty members and administrators
  • disrupt their current business models or established incentives for academic excellence

There are two other strategy drivers which support meeting all four of these challenges creatively and resourcefully. Thus the choice of strategy drivers becomes crucial to any model of reformation, renewal or replacement of the bastions of higher ed. Here's a brief look at those four strategy drivers:

  1. Quantitative strategy drivers dwell on the metrics as measures of success, bases for prioritizing and frameworks for addressing problems. These drive the spending on expansion, reallocating resources to accommodate larger enrollment and redirecting efforts away from solving isolated problems. These drivers put faith in objective, historical data which steer the enterprise by looking ahead through the rear view mirror. 
  2. Qualitative strategy drivers fixate on dimensions of competitive superiority, extrinsic valuation and attributes that command premium prices. These drive the spending on prestigious acquisitions, reputation-building enhancements and investments to upstage rival institutions. These drivers put faith in subjective rankings, comparisons and accolades which steer the enterprise by looking at itself in the mirror to preen and posture itself more impressively. 
  3. Intrinsic value strategy drivers dwell on how the customer is always right, beauty is located in the eye of the beholder and trust emerges from transparency. These drive the spending on listening to customers, discovering their unmet needs and bringing solutions to their contexts where the problems occur. These drivers put faith in feedback from customers' experience of the delivery system, desires for changes and insights into what's missing which steer the enterprise to become more responsive. 
  4. Resilient strategy drivers dwell on the ways self-reinforcing cycles becomes self-sustaining and spinoff benefits for all the participants. These drive the spending on modeling the complexity, capturing the recursive dynamics and reversing vicious cycles into virtuous loops. These drive the spending in on initiating compassion, working with collaborators and responding to inherent requests which steer the enterprise to create ecologies where everyone wins without exploitation. 

Both the intrinsic value and resilient strategy drivers function far more resourcefully and creatively than the other two. The bring out the best in the people involved which spills over into the lives of others impacted indirectly. The cumulative effects of these beneficial dynamics yields the wonderful effects on brains, affordability, job design and the reinvention of higher ed.


More ways colleges are bad for our brains

Last year, my most read post was How colleges are bad for our brains. I included seven facets which have since grown to a dozen. Here the five new ones with the original seven republished below.

8. When we're we're faced with injustices, we take the higher moral ground to restore fairness from our own viewpoint. Nowadays it seems unjust to be forced to pay so much attention to lecturers, to ignore our handhelds streaming with our friends latest news and to single task some meaningless assignment. Our brains get busy figuring out how to restore fairness by ignoring the professor, sneaking looks at handhelds and multitasking while dealing with stupid tasks.
9. When we're overloaded with too much information, our minds go blank. We handle the excessive inputs by shutting down the processing what what we're hearing, seeing or getting asked for in response. We fail to pay attention and appear to space out at a time when it's crucial to absorb everything. We then lose confidence in our minds' abilities to function under academic pressures and assume we fail at other classroom challenges.
10. When we're faced with extremely consistent, familiar and predictable situations, our minds flip onto auto-pilot. We take a load off our massive glucose burner (neocortex) that thinks about anything inconsistent, unfamiliar and unpredictable. We rely on our pattern recognition abilities to know when there will be no surprises and when it's safe to tune out our surroundings. We then appear to be space cadets sitting in college classrooms wasting our time, money and energy being there.
11. When we're overtaxing our memories, our minds conserve storage space by discarding useless information. We forget what seemed pointless, irrelevant or useless at the time we encountered it. However, we easily remember what we did that worked for us, got the intended results or proved to be accurate. We also remember what proved to be waste of time and avoid that in the future. From college courses , we remember what we did and what we got, not what was said or assigned.
12. When we're expected to overt-think or overanalyze a challenge, we lose touch with our pent-up feelings. We assume we can be Spock-like and identify with pure rationality. When our pent-up feelings erupt, our minds quickly invent rationalizations, justifications and coverups to maintain our pretense of rationality. Our inner turmoil escalates under this regime of repression and usually becomes mental or physical problems which are impossible to ignore. We deny we've got those problems until they ruin our lives and force us to dropout of college.

  1. When we're exposed to excessive expertise, we learn to act helpless and then become morbidly dependent on authority figures. This works for submitting to the alpha dog in our pack, but not for knowledge work, creativity, and many other roles that call for our personal resourcefulness.
  2. When we're put under prolonged pressure, we suffer crippling anxiety. We lose physical coordination, mental agility, immune responses and restful sleep. We remain in a state of agitation which we cannot shake off, sleep off or mood alter away. This is our fight/flight response gone awry because the dangerous predators seem to be constantly present.
  3. When we get framed as deviant, defective or deficient, we unconsciously buy into the diagnosis and play the part. The way we get seen, labeled, talked to and evaluated becomes a self fulfilling prophesy. While this worked to maintain safety in numbers and avoid getting kicked out of our tribe, it's not helpful when cultivating our best performance and unique abilities.
  4. When we're subjected to excessive control and guilt trips, we over-compensate in order to restore our emotional balance. We may lash out at others or take out our frustrations on ourselves. Displacing these anxieties gives us urges to overindulge in drinking, shopping, gambling and many other escapes.  While this keeps us from totally losing our minds, it sabotages our relationships, reputations and self respect in the process.
  5. When we're exposed to bad examples, we imitate them regardless of their effectiveness. We may easily become hypocrites, incompetent technicians or bullies if those examples get paraded in front us. This learning by osmosis enables us, as infants, to add twenty new words to our vocabulary every day and to mimic our parents behaviors which meets with their approval. It does not safeguard us against internalizing gibberish or dysfunctional exemplars. 
  6. When losses, setbacks and other misfortunes do not make sense to us, we get devastated and drown in despair.. We are prone to long bouts of depression when we're faced with a barrage of meaninglessness incidents. This works to prevent us from digging a deeper hole for ourselves or from foolishly chasing after rainbows.  However, it does not generate the meaning that's missing or define new directions for us to pursue.
  7. When we're rewarded handsomely for our efforts, we lose our self motivation, creativity and long term perspective. We become addicted to the extrinsic rewards, greedy for more and desperate to maximize our earnings. This works to motivate our stockpiling food for a long winter, but not for taking others' interests to heart. 


Expanded view of a dashboard

My recent posts about dashboards are getting more readers than any others recently. Here's an extended version of the chart I introduced in Finding places for dashboards. This chart includes the more recent explorations into innovation.


Enough space for innovating

It takes lots of space for innovating. Anyone of us who's tried to get creative under excessive pressure can testify to the need for space. Two of the last few books I've read had great opening chapters, but quickly faded into boring, repetitive, wordy passages. I can easily imagine the authors became very constrained by publication deadlines which cramped their style severely.

We can also suffer from too much space. We need constraints to bring out our best ideas. With too much freedom, our thoughts are scattered and fretful. We become like the cowboy that jumped on all four horses and rode off in every direction.

These extremes give us criteria for design of infrastructures for innovating: the amount of space has to be just right. Not too much and not too little space. The Goldilocks Principle applies here. It's difficult to find this middle bowl of porridge. It's easier to neglect those assigned with creative endeavors in hopes they will do better free of interference and micromanaging. When I'm being innovative, I know that I strongly prefer neglect to interference. It's equally easy to provide too much structure with policies, conflicting assignments, restrictive budgets or oppressive schedules. That can be a real innovation killer in my experience.

The space of innovating is not only in the world, it's in our minds. We see more play space when we're in a creative mood, open minded or hanging out in our right brains. We're seeing questions to ask, assumptions to challenge and possibilities to explore. We're not defeated by obstacles, overly impressed by past practices or submissive to authorities. Our minds are inclined to investigate and deviate rather than comply and conform.

So a well designed infrastructure for innovating will help us get into that frame of mind. Rather than start cold, it might help us get into the proper frame of mind. Rather than merely give us space, it could give us challenges, obstacles and mysteries. It could invite into metaphors where meanings change and connections get made, like a blog post that visualizes cowboys on horses, bowls of porridge and spaces for innovating.


Migrating out of methodical innovation

The Methodical Innovation space is a major improvement over the Exceptional Innovation space. When we first exit the anti-social world of rare talents, exploited consumers and self-serving institutions,  it seems like it doesn't get any better than this. We discover an adjacent possible that thrives on:

  • design thinking about design challenges and problems, design processes to utilize design tools and methods, design evaluations which apply design criteria and guidelines and design conferences which convene designers from diverse disciplines
  • attention to user experiences, to contexts of the low profile customers, to obscure solutions in use and to unstated expectations of end users
  • caring for customers, serving others' interests, making a difference in others' lives, responding to implicit requests for support
  • discovering fresh opportunities, uncovering unproductive assumptions, rethinking stuck  issues, and reframing antagonistic evidence

To migrate out of this space to the Synchronous Innovation space requires letting go of these considerable advantages found in the Methodical space. The migration to the Synchronous space is neither logical or straightforward. I realized while formulating this write-up that I can only point it out, not take you there. "The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon". Here's four ways to look for the Synchronous Innovation space yourself:

  • Designing without thinking: In this space, we come up with inspired innovations without making a thing of designing, without taking an elite approach with non-designers and without being in control of the recursive processes. 
  • Reversing the experience design: In this space, we experience others' design of our experience as we design their experience. The designing comes full circle or comes back on itself. The first intention to design user experiences becomes the last concern while the last concern of one's own experience becomes the first. 
  • Us serving us: In this space, we are caring for caregivers, designing for fellow designers and mediating inputs from mediators like ourselves. There's no end to the awareness of commonalities, mirror reflections and reciprocities weaving every process together. 
  • Emergent emptiness: In this space we get that our understanding of emptiness is the booby prize. An grasp of emptiness is not empty. We become empty by not knowing what emptiness is in spite of my making is sound like "not knowing" is something to know. Every moment begins and ends with wonder, innocence and freedom to question appearances.

In this space, everyone is doing what arises in their minds and bodies as the right thing right now. It turns out those things that get done work out perfectly for all living things. These actions provide innovations in situations where more of the same was not working. They change what is stuck and restore balance to extreme situations. They combine what has been polarized and sort out what has become contaminated. It allows for improvements to evolve naturally through mutations, adaptations and experimenting. The participants experience a sense of validation and synchrony in what they are feeling, seeing, understanding and doing.  It gets characterized as "being on a roll" or "being in the flow".  Living this way is highly resilient and sustainable for the full range of micro to macro organisms.


Exploring the contrived spaces

In the space for Exceptional Innovation, the enterprise is a place of turf battles, empire building and separated silos. The parable of the concept car plays out continually. A chain of pain gets perpetuated by the top-down chains of command. Encounters are either troubling or painful. Each breed of expertise works against the others in competition and isolation:
The Design Department formulates a creative possibility. The Marketing Department members tell the Design Department  that only 80% of the features will sell in the current market. The Product Engineering Department  members tell Marketing Department they can give it 80% of what it forecasts as the market demand. The Procurement Department members tell the Engineering Department they can purchase in sufficient quantities 80% of the engineering specs. The Manufacturing Department members tell Procurement that 80% of what they can buy can be machined and assembled fast enough to meet deadlines without compromising quality and cost objectives. The Finance Department members tell Manufacturing that only 80% of what they need to inventory for production will support the targeted profit margins. The cumulative effect of so many departments delivering 80% of the prior requests yields 32.8% of the Design Department's original creative possibility.
This cumulative negative effect gets alleviated by migrating to the Methodical Innovation space. Anti-social working against each other becomes Social working with others. Taking interest in others' interests fuels the changeover from scoreboards to dashboards. The Enterprise gets re-conceived as a collaborative community rather than turf battles between empires. The chains of pain and command get transformed into chains of value. Others appear to be resourceful and provide essential resources for common endeavors. Troubling collisions become beneficial encounters. Formal methods for collaborating become essential to overcome established patterns of contention or anti-social interests.

This migration to the Methodical space is supported by a flock of innovation gurus, authors and consultants. The denizens of the Exceptional Innovation space have fallen under the impression that they are not creative, innovative or resourceful to others. They cannot come up with inspirations in their current frames of mind. They've been framed as somewhat reliable components of machines, not unpredictable organisms continually growing, changing, learning or creating. They need what the flock of innovation gurus bring to the table.

Both the Exceptional and Methodical Innovation spaces are on the contrived side of the four quadrants in my taxonomy of innovation spaces. They makes things happen by coercion, organization or extrinsic motivators. What occurs naturally, spontaneously or serendipitously appears useless and unproductive. The captivity with contrivances seems inescapable. The contrived spaces spawn self confirming evidence which necessitates the perpetuation of exceptional and methodical innovations. Crossing over to the natural innovation side calls for different expectations, change models and support systems , which I'll explore in my next post.


Migrating out of the primal space

Within the space for Primal innovations, there are many easily accessed innovations. We get the urge to do these things without a moral compass, conscience or ethical framework. We override our thinking, hesitation or self restraint to get innovative in these ways:

  1. cleverly making trouble for others without getting into trouble ourselves
  2. ingeniously getting even with others for dishonoring us or our tribe
  3. cunningly concocting schemes to exploit others' naivete, stupidity or inexperience
  4. compulsively inventing disguises, ambushes and baited traps to deceive others
  5. imaginatively fantasizing wild possibilites, sexual encounters and nightmarish outcomes to conflicts
  6. desperately getting resourceful to improve safety, pleasure or survival chances
  7. sneakily tricking others into backing off, pitying us or lending us a hand

Each of these innovations feeds the drama around us. They make enemies out of potential allies. They fuel conflicts, arguments and opposing coalitions.They make it more difficult for others to take our side and align with our interests. They provoke others to stop our progress, punish our misconduct and watch our every move. For all these reasons, and many others, there are always lots of incentives to migrate out of the space for primal innovations.

There are two places to go when we're in the space for Primal innovations: either the Synchronous (North) or Exceptional (East) innovation spaces. Both are adjacent possibles to the space for primal innovations. Both share many things in common which create the immediate adjacency to the primal space.

Migrating North: Both primal and synchronous innovation spaces are natural. Both are shared with all kinds of life forms at every scale of existence. Innovating is done without rational, linear and logical thinking. What comes to mind is innovative without trying, struggling or forcing it. Both spaces utilize some kind of emptiness as an essential prerequisite.

Migrating East: Both primal and exceptional innovation spaces are anti-social. Both make a big deal about the differences between insiders/outsiders or us/them. Both take no interest in outsiders' experiences, outlooks or needs. Both endure a bounty of chronic problems that can only be alleviated by social processes with misunderstood outsiders.

Obviously, migrating North to the Synchronous space is preferable. It's also far less likely given how rare the Synchronous space and how prevalent the Exceptional space are currently. The cultural norm sends us "from the frying pan into the fire". There are several big switchovers I've defined when migrating directly to the Synchronous space from the Primal space:

  • Switching from a horrible feeling of emptiness in the core of one's being to a wonderful feeling of emptiness that's innocent, clear of fear and open to receive inspirations.
  • Switching from trafficking in human emotions to basking in feelings of joy, peace, freedom and timelessness.
  • Switching from urges arising from layers of old emotional baggage to inclinations arising from a fresh sense of unity with every living thing
  • Switching from inner torments from regretting the past and dreading the future to inner gratitude from immersing oneself in the present moment

I'll continue to explore the design of support systems for these switchovers and this northward migration to the space for Synchronous innovation from the Primal space. I'll report on my findings here as they come to mind.


Enjoying fluid encounters

There's a marvelous Taoist teaching story about two boats colliding. When we see an empty boat drifting toward our own boat in the water, we take no offense when the boats collide. When we see a boat full of rowdies ignoring our warnings about the impending crash, we take offense when the two boats collide. Same boats, same collision, two different reactions.

In the synchronous innovation space I introduced yesterday, we take no offense from colliding with others. We are empty of fears, conditioning and upsets waiting to happen. We either identify with the water that floats all the boats or we see our own emptiness as something we have in common with the approaching boat. We're in synch with everything that is happening and simply go with the flow of the moment. Our emptiness gives rise to innovations that seem to us and others like right conduct, right timing, right proportions and right balance. We are in harmony with the complexity we are witnessing by seeing it simply as it is.

On the right, I've pictured the books I've read about innovation in the past few years. For me, this has unfolded as a stream of fluid encounters. I was not in control of the quantity of books or the sequence I read them in. Often I had started more than one and moved between them fluidly rather than finishing one at a time. What came to my mind from so much spontaneous and serendipitous reading was profoundly fulfilling, delightful and provocative. How I read them proved to be a more profound lesson than what I read in these books. If you're also in this space of synchronous innovations, you may resonate with my story about reading these books fluidly.

If you're in the space of methodical innovations, this bounty of books may appear as a treasure trove of resources. These volumes contain a staggering number of techniques, models and frameworks for becoming more innovative. They offer valuable solutions to problems we encounter with being stuck, blocked, stifled and uninspired. Then I look like a resource who can function very resourcefully having read all these books. You have positioned yourself to become more resourceful by taking advantage of these resources. (The bibliography can be seen here as a pdf Google doc)

If you're in the exceptional innovation space, then this wall of books presents a major obstacle. You may feel intimidated, challenged or put down by this display of power. I may appear exceptional to you and my accomplishment would then seem unattainable to you. By putting this wall of books on a pedestal, you put yourself down for not being as talented an innovator, as capable a problem solver or as ambitious a reader. You would create a troubling collision between fixed traits or evidence of inferiority.

If you're in the primal innovation space, this pile of books could bury you or extinguish your flame. It poses a threat to your safety, composure and ability to concentrate. It could stir up lingering fears, regrets and dread about another collision. There's no doubt you already know what trouble this is to you and your kind. There's no question you know how to handle this encounter. Whatever you do without thinking qualifies as primal innovations.

Back to the space of synchronous innovation space, these other three spaces are empty boats too. They provide enjoyable experiences of fluid encounters when we don't know what to make of them, don't react with any certainty and don't stifle our innocent wonderment as they unfold.


Taxonomy of innovation spaces

As I've reflected more on Steven Johnson's latest book: Where Good Ideas Come From, I've realized his greatest contribution for me is the possibility of fractal patterns. I'm thrilled that patterns of innovation could replicate at the micro and macro scales in nature as well as human endeavors. The final chapter synthesizes the ground covered by the book into a four quadrant model of Individual/Network and Market/Non-Market combinations. I've been striving to come up with a synthesis that includes the cellular and ecosystemic innovations in addition to human endeavors. Yesterday, I succeeded. Here's a first look at my four quadrant taxonomy of Natural/Contrived and Social/Anti-Social combinations of innovations.

  • Contrived innovations are unique to humans. They require the use of the neocortex which produces our rational thinking. These innovations organize us into institutions and markets which antagonize tribal and networked endeavors.
  • Natural innovations occur throughout all scales of living entities. They evolve into greater diversity, complexity and sustainability. They organize any living forms into tribes and networks which take exception to the premises of institutions and markets. 
  • Anti-social innovations improve the chances of survival of a smaller thing against the impositions of the bigger thing. They battle, fight, attack or compete against the opposition. They cohere internally for safety and strength in numbers while keeping out the disruptive, turbulent and systemic influences. 
  • Social innovations improve the viability, sustainability and resilience of the entire system. These innovation cooperate with the diversity of others. They integrate the disruptive influences into a dynamic balance of continuous and discontinuous changes. 
  • Primal innovations get created without thinking. They naturally emerge from isolated urges to survive and thrive. Primal innovations look out for #1 (anti-social) without regard for context or communities beyond those in close proximity providing safety in numbers.
  • Exceptional innovations get created by the rare few with unusual talents, traits, mutations or adaptations. Their survival is precarious without a massive substrate of supportive mechanisms, reliably routinized activities and non-innovative contributions. These "protections for pinnacle achievements"  operate in closed (anti-social) systems defended against outsiders. 
  • Methodical innovations get created by combinations of thinking and inspirations induced by clever techniques. They come about by working together with a diversity of others who contribute ideas, conflicting viewpoints, critiques and challenges. They serve the larger community by designing to their varied experiences, serving their differentiated needs and responding to their particular requests.
  • Synchronous innovations get created tuning into the flow of right actions, timing, proportions and balance. The emergent phenomenal levels of cooperation and coordination defy what rational thought processes can accomplish. They not only serve the larger community, they are the larger community functioning in sync. 

Most of the books about innovation show how how to function in the methodical space. Books about zen emptiness help us realize the adjacent possible space for synchronous innovation. The concept of wu-wei-wu provokes us to stop striving, become one with our tools and let the result come about by "non-doing doing". We can then flow in tune with the all others diverse endeavors. We won't appear like a flock of birds flying in formation. We will appear like a thriving ecosystem.

Here are my other explorations of the seven fractal patterns of innovation in Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson:

  1. Migrating to the adjacent possible (adjacent possible)
  2. How do good ideas behave (liquid networks pattern)
  3. Where hunches go to die (slow hunches)
  4. Setting up accidental discoveries (serendipity)
  5. Benefiting from errors (errors)
  6. Getting psyched for exaptation (exaptation)
  7. Flourishing on emergent platforms (emergent platforms) 


Flourishing on emergent platforms

Innovations flourish on emergent platforms. Steven Johnson favors coral reefs (and rain forests) as better metaphors for emergent platforms than the monoculture commons occupied by grazing cattle. This fractal pattern of emergent platforms is my favorite of all those in Where Good Ideas Come From. In nature a few species function as platform creators while most exploit the opportunities and interdependencies on an emergent platform. The platform creators cannot go solo to get their job done. Coral needs algae to fuel their endeavors. Beavers need willow saplings on the adjacent river bank to build their dams. Once a platform emerges, a staggering volume of biodiversity joins the party. The quantity and quality of innovations, adaptations, co-optations and reciprocities are an inspiration to us. The flourishing of creativity we've produced on top of online platforms for our own writing, photos, videos, collaborating, selling, sharing, recycling and socializing -- follows this pattern of nature's bounty.

In nature, pioneer species show up first on a new platform. As they die and decay, fertile soil gets left behind. Several other species take hold which create conditions ripe for even more to get onboard. I suspect the online platforms we're currently using resemble pioneer species. They have sprung up like weeds. The kinds of creativity and innovation on display exhibit "shallow roots and small flowers". The platforms do not yet support deeper involvements and more elaborate replication schema. We're still in an early phase of development,  like when the first railroads were called "iron horses", the first automobiles were called "horseless carriages" and the first radio was called a "Marconi wireless" .

Emergent platforms foster continual balancing between competitive and cooperative impulses. The competition keeps each organism from over-replicating and overrunning the platform space. The cooperation creates ways to recycle, conserve and thrive together with only scarce resources. The complex web of interdependencies results in lots of cross-fertilzation between solutions and innovative uses for cast off by-products. Together, the vitality thriving on or in the platform becomes very resilient and sustainable.

Emergent platforms can be brought to the brink of collapse by reductionistic interference. The removal of wolves of the western U.S. National Parks provides a prime example. Without that apex predator to function as the keystone to the entire ecosystem, mesopredators like the elk and mule deer run rampant. When wolves were reintroduced, the die off of aspen, cottonwoods and willows was reversed. Beaver ponds reappeared with the full panorama of species that thrive on those platforms . Antelope returned to the park in sustainable numbers. Eroding river banks stabilized. Balance was restored throughout the ecosystem by the return of the apex predators.

Once we create platforms for solving social problems, I expect those second generation platforms will function as apex predators. The current global problems with excesses of greed, consumerism, waste, violence, exploitation and abuse will all get balanced. Huge institutions that function like sociopaths or vandals will experience invincible competition from vast webs of cooperation. A staggering quantity and quality of innovations will replace the industrial era systems for delivering products and services unsustainably. These next generation platforms will provide a resilient and sustainable alternative to the current trajectory of human civilization.

Here are my other explorations of the seven fractal patterns of innovation in Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson:
  1. Migrating to the adjacent possible (adjacent possible)
  2. How do good ideas behave (liquid networks pattern)
  3. Where hunches go to die (slow hunches)
  4. Setting up accidental discoveries (serendipity)
  5. Benefiting from errors (errors)
  6. Getting psyched for exaptation (exaptation)
  7. Flourishing on emergent platforms (emergent platforms) 


Getting psyched for exaptation

In evolution, feathers evolved from providing warmth to mating displays to essential for flying. The structure of feathers evolved evolved from symmetrical with a thin quill to asymmetrical with a sturdy quill to support it's evolved use for flight. The adaptive reuse or co-opting of an original design is called exaptation. This is the fifth fractal pattern in Steven Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come From.

Unused tools, spaces and other resources invite exaptation. It's originally intended use seems irrelevant as we ponder what we could do with this opportunity. We also exapt something when we don't have the right tool for the job. This happens for me when I'm traveling light or helping prepare meals in friends' kitchens. I'm not equipped like I am at home in either instance. It becomes necessary to make do with what's available.

To evolve an exaptation, we need to be thinking like the author of 101 Uses for a Dead Cat. We must stop thinking about "what it is" and start thinking about "what it can do". Forms, shapes and physical appearances invite a breed of thinking called functional fixity. We get stuck on the intended use because we can take the thing literally. Functional fluidity explores the differences something can make with its size, weight, location or many other qualities. It no longer seems to us like a thing. It becomes the freedom to make it up as we go along and fodder for our inventiveness.

Technological determinists argue that we get spellbound and used by our tools. We use the default settings as if there's no alternative. We change our lifestyles to accommodate the tool like the explosion of suburbia to accommodate automobiles.  We compromise our choices so the technology can be accommodated like the attention paid to handhelds. We serve it rather than getting it to serve us like the rearrangement of furniture around the big screen TV.

When we've gotten psyched for exaptation, we defy those technological determinists. We subdue those tools to serve our purposes, needs and priorities. We break out of the hypnotic spell, enslavement and implicit subjugation. We master the technique after practicing it endlessly. We become more powerful than the technologies and command them to do different work, achieve different results and yield improved benefits.

Here are my other explorations of the seven fractal patterns of innovation in Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson:
  1. Migrating to the adjacent possible (adjacent possible)
  2. How do good ideas behave (liquid networks pattern)
  3. Where hunches go to die (slow hunches)
  4. Setting up accidental discoveries (serendipity)
  5. Benefiting from errors (errors)
  6. Getting psyched for exaptation (exaptation)
  7. Flourishing on emergent platforms (emergent platforms) 


Benefiting from errors

Home run hitters strike out more often than base hitters in baseball. Those kinds of errors prove to be very beneficial. But it's costly when it's the pitcher's error of leaving the fastball high in the strike zone or the infield's error of bungling a double play following a grounder to the shortstop. The process of innovating thrives on the kinds of errors that home run hitters make often. Those errors are the fourth fractal pattern in Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson.

We get the idea that all mistakes are bad from getting tested in school. Mistakes yield bad grades regardless of whether we were making a stupid mistake or learning about something we had assumed incorrectly. The buildup of the putdowns produces what Carol Dweck calls a "fixed mindset". We switch from making mistakes to being a mistake. We identify with traits of being deficient, defective and incapable of doing the right thing. We coverup mistakes and avoid taking risks to minimize the exposure of these presumed character flaws.

We set ourselves up to benefit from errors when we are the ones giving the test. We test new ideas, tools and methods to see if they work at all, and how well they function if they do. We create experiments to discover which approach gets the best results at the least cost. We learn by establishing formal trials and then realizing what goes wrong, backfires or costs  too much for the small payoff. We need to realize what to expect from something that what does not go according to our plan, predictions or model. We get those benefits by making errors.

When we're benefiting from errors, we've acquired a nuanced view of mistakes I've explored in depth in previous posts:

When we're making productive errors, we're in a developmental context. We are a work in progress, not a bundle of traits. We're cultivating new insights, abilities and familiarities. We exhibit what Carol Dweck labels a "Growth Mindset". We're willing to take risks because of the payoffs we realize. We're more concerned with how we play the game knowing process improvements will yield better outcomes in the long run. We take a swing even though we may strikeout in front of 40,000 fans in the stands and millions more watching online and on televisions.

Batter up!

Here are my other explorations of the seven fractal patterns of innovation in Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson:
  1. Migrating to the adjacent possible (adjacent possible)
  2. How do good ideas behave (liquid networks pattern)
  3. Where hunches go to die (slow hunches)
  4. Setting up accidental discoveries (serendipity)
  5. Benefiting from errors (errors)
  6. Getting psyched for exaptation (exaptation)
  7. Flourishing on emergent platforms (emergent platforms) 


Setting up accidental discoveries

Lots of our best ideas come from "out of the blue". They are serendipitous in nature, close to chaos, confusion and happenstance. Where Good Ideas Come From acknowledges this source with its fourth fractal pattern: Serendipity.

Some minds are more receptive to fortuitous inspirations and coincidence than others. Psychologists have labeled this a "high tolerance for ambiguity". It's the opposite trait from control freaks who need to be right and to avoid cognitive dissonance. Steven Johnson mentions research that correlated higher IQ with longer moments of mental confusion. This generative chaos in the mind yields new connections, divergent explorations and fresh possibilities.

Confusion is technique used in brief therapy, counseling and mentoring. Once a client's trust is established, the client often hangs on the therapist's every word. The confusion technique breaks this excessive dependency by contradicting oneself. The client no longer knows which advice to trust and is left to choose without help. Clients accidentally discover they can sense which is better when presented with confusion. They begin to trust their own judgment more and go within to get more guidance.

We can get more meaningful coincidences to occur by seeing life as a waking dream. Characters and events that show up in our perceptual field seem symbolic and significant. We appreciate what happens for showing us something we were ignoring, teaching us something we needed to learn next or answering a question we've been asking. We stop taking evidence at face value and open to the depth of what it offers us. With practice at this, we notice more of what's happening and how perfect it is for our journey right now. We accidentally discover that life can be trusted to show us way through its obstacle course.

Lots of brilliant breakthroughs have come upon waking from vivid dreams. Creatives get this phenomena to happen more frequently with a process of incubation. It presumes there's a reward coming for not knowing the right answer, next step or solution to the problem. It's the opposite of schooling that gives us bad grades for being "stupid like that". Incubation also relies on knowing so much that it becomes apparent what is unknown. Just before going to sleep or taking a nap, it works to become consumed with everything that is already known about a problematic situation and the request all that generates. Then let it go and see what comes to mind upon waking. It may be a a revised definition of the problem, a new way to see the evidence, a process to trust without interfering or a solution to implement.

We also set up accidental discoveries by taking a break. We can escape self-perpetuating task mode by taking a walk, a swim or a nap. It often helps to listen to some music or gaze at the scenery without thinking. Our minds open up and become more receptive to fresh discoveries. We also set up chance encounters by breaking our physical routines. Taking a different route, shopping at a different store or responding differently to a familiar request all invite serendipity. We also realize more accidental discoveries by taking a break from knowing what we're seeing. When we adopt a stance of innocence facing a mystery in search of clues, our "eyes of wonder" will see things that had not occurred to us before. We will wonder how we could have been so blind, so quick to assume or so biased as to miss what we see with these "new eyes".

I wonder if I've said enough about this? I wonder if I've said too much? I wonder if there's something else to be wondering about right now?

Here are my other explorations of the seven fractal patterns of innovation in Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson:
  1. Migrating to the adjacent possible (adjacent possible)
  2. How do good ideas behave (liquid networks pattern)
  3. Where hunches go to die (slow hunches)
  4. Setting up accidental discoveries (serendipity)
  5. Benefiting from errors (errors)
  6. Getting psyched for exaptation (exaptation)
  7. Flourishing on emergent platforms (emergent platforms) 


Where hunches go to die

Hunches are born fragile, awkward and ugly. They deserve no respect or adoration when they first appear. They mature slowly which is why the third fractal pattern in Where Do Good Ideas Come From is called "Slow Hunches". As Steven Johnson reveals with some great examples, lots of hunches die before they reach adolescence. The care and feeding of immature hunches is not regarded as important or well understood by most. Yet coming up with good ideas depends on nurturing hunches through their early, awkward phases.

Hunches usually die from neglect. They go to die where they won't be given a second look. They begin to die, like the tiny fairy Tinkerbell in the story of Peter Pan, from not getting believed in anymore. Ugly hunches get profiled in error as "never going to amount to anything worthwhile" from their unimpressive beginnings. They then get shelved, stored or filed in ways that ensure that they are easily forgotten. It's as if we believe that hunches ought to be awesome from the git go. Never mind any slow process of maturing, ripening or pairing with other ill-formed hunches.

There's no way to take a second look exactly like the first look. It's like our inability to step into the same river twice, as Heraclitus famously observed. The next time we consider a previous hunch we're coming from a different place, placing it in a different context and pondering different questions about it. The hunch may speak to different issues now. It may seem valuable in other arenas or pursuits. It may reveal what's missing and needing further exploration. Taking a good look at it again may get it seem pretty good looking and impressive.

It's become possible to capture and store our hunches digitally. This can be a game changer when trying to keep ugly hunches alive and well. In digital formats, we don't need to revisit a hunch as it was originally recorded on paper. We can find it searching with different keywords, questions or problems in mind. I do that with the archive for this blog. I'll vaguely recall a hunch I had a couple years ago without remembering much about it. I can search the archive for what the hunch was about, how I explained it or what I thought it signified. When I find it, it looks very different to me than my vague recollection of it. It may look useless to my current thoughts or much more valuable than I expected. Lots of people find this blog doing Google, Bing, Yahoo or Ask searches with keywords or phrases. You can even search this archive in particular with the box in the upper left corner on the web page for this blog. Digitized content makes it easy for hunches to ripen into full maturity.

Welcome to my world of keeping fragile hunches from suffering neglect or going to die where they will never be given a second look.

Here are my other explorations of the seven fractal patterns of innovation in Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson:
  1. Migrating to the adjacent possible (adjacent possible)
  2. How do good ideas behave (liquid networks pattern)
  3. Where hunches go to die (slow hunches)
  4. Setting up accidental discoveries (serendipity)
  5. Benefiting from errors (errors)
  6. Getting psyched for exaptation (exaptation)
  7. Flourishing on emergent platforms (emergent platforms) 


How do good ideas behave?

The second fractal pattern that Steven Johnson gives us in his Where Good Ideas Come From is named "liquid networks". This pattern defines good ideas as networks rather than as solid-state things. It recognizes the interchanging and increasing returns between good ideas. It differs from patterns of "hive minds" or the "wisdom of crowds" where being smarter only occurs together, not within any particular individual. It recognizes the fluidity of sharing and collaborating that occurs when people get their heads together on similar wavelengths.

I could not get this pattern to sink in at first, unlike the first and most of the others in his book. I got to wondering if I'm impervious to it or whether I've got rocks in my head. I doubt very much that the author is all wet since all I've previously read by him is very articulate and sharp minded. I've given this pattern of "liquid networks" more time for my mind to absorb it by letting it percolate through my trusted concepts about the diffusion of innovations, collaborations between designers and synergies between conflicted outlooks. This pattern has infiltrated my understanding somewhat that I can spillover for you to absorb:

This chapter gave me a wonderful set of takeaway questions about the behavior patterns my good ideas are exhibiting:
  • How do my good ideas act and interact around other good ideas? 
  • How do my good ideas initially handle and later recover from exposure to bad ideas?
  • What patterns do others' good ideas reveal to me when my good ideas interact with them?
  • How do my good ideas spillover into others' experiences and networks of comprehension?
This pattern seems to look at similar dynamics to other familiar distinctions between:
  • open and closed systems, resources or minds
  • shared commons and enclosed intellectual property, content or expertise
  • connected nodes and disconnected, dislocated or isolated nodes
  • transparent sharing and guarded, secretive or pretentious posturing
What if this "liquid network" pattern is in a stuck place which suggests that it could move into an adjacent possible:

  • that combines fluidity with solid ideas standing on solid ground with solid purposes
  • that portrays ideas steeping in and soaking up fluids into partially solid things like tea infusers or sponges
  • that realizes the best of both individuality and commonality when sharing ideas and getting new good  ideas from those exchanges
  • that shifts the emphasis from the movement of ideas between entities to the infiltration of ideas within an entity as a way to explain the spawning, proliferating and diffusion of good ideas
What if my good ideas have behaved in a way that I'm describing in this post? What if the idea of "liquid networks" has given me lots of other good ideas that I would not have come up with on my own? What if my articulation of common ground with a smidgen of personal transparency creates the right impression of my good ideas being networks, not things, which fosters your inclination to absorb them into your own vast network of good ideas.

Here are my other explorations of the seven fractal patterns of innovation in Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson:
  1. Migrating to the adjacent possible (adjacent possible)
  2. How do good ideas behave (liquid networks pattern)
  3. Where hunches go to die (slow hunches)
  4. Setting up accidental discoveries (serendipity)
  5. Benefiting from errors (errors)
  6. Getting psyched for exaptation (exaptation)
  7. Flourishing on emergent platforms (emergent platforms) 


Migrating to the adjacent possible

Steven Johnson's latest book, Where Good Ideas Come From, explores seven fractal patterns of innovation that reappear from the smallest to largest scales in nature and human endeavors. I'm making tons of connections to my own frameworks for creative problem solving, disruptive innovation and therapeutic breakthroughs. Through this next series of blog posts, I take one of these fractal patterns each day and relate them to my own models.

The first of these patterns, The Adjacent Possible, comes from Stuart Kauffman's research through the Santa Fe Institute. Kauffman is considering how migrations toward increased complexity occur in very small chemical reactions and microorganisms and very large systems like the global economy. He views the migrations as acausal wanderings that cannot be predicted by any laws and that potentially change the established laws about persistent phenomena. He's fascinated by the recursive nature of the adjacent possibility changing the current actuality which in turn alters what is now possible. He considers how migrations to the adjacent possible could occur too quickly, often or disruptively and how systems moderate these movements to ensure stability and survival.

Steven Johnson gives us a different inflection to these migrations through the wonderful examples in this first chapter. I won't restate what he's said. I highly recommend reading his book yourself. I'll explore the ways his patterns tie into many other frameworks. Here are three ways I relate to migrating into "the adjacent possible":

  • Go with what we've already got: When we rule out additional acquisitions to solve problems, make changes or generate innovations, we've imposed severe constraints on ourselves. However, this can disrupt our feeling sorry for ourselves, our making excuses and our waiting for the good stuff to happen. We can recognize the abundance in our midst and the current sufficiency of resources to begin a migration. We realize we can reuse, repurpose or reconfigure our current inventory to get unstuck an move into the adjacent possible.
  • See the unfamiliar in an familiar way: The field of Synectics defined creativity as "seeing the unfamiliar in a familiar way and the familiar in an unfamiliar way". The adjacent possible is an unfamiliar space. We have not been there before. It seems strange and different to our familiar categories, predictions and routines. When we see it as familiar, we see what good it can do for us and what differences it can make. We also have a different take on the status quo. We switch from taking things literally, to seeing their function, contribution, effects or narratives. We disregard a positional stance to focus on the underlying interests, intentions and considerations. We stop dealing with constant conditions and delve into evolving processes. We migrate into the adjacent possible with a renewed outlook toward both the actuality and possibilities. 
  • Finding a solution inside the problem:  Conventional problem solving looks outside the problem for solutions. There's big bucks to be made by bringing expert, outside solutions to problems inside business, healthcare, education and entertainment. This setup gets reversed when the solutions are found inside the problem. The field of solution therapy presumes that no problem appears without an inherent solution to be uncovered and utilized. Solution finding replaces problem solving. Usually the solution is already in use on an exceptional basis and merely needs amplification, justification or integration.
Since this pattern applies to the micro and macro scales of natural phenomena, it's inappropriate to reduce the pattern to "seeing the present situation differently". Bacteria and chemicals don't see or think like we do. Thus is seems more fitting to characterize the migration to the adjacent possible as "integrating added complexity"

Here are my other explorations of the seven fractal patterns of innovation in Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson:
  1. Migrating to the adjacent possible (adjacent possible)
  2. How do good ideas behave (liquid networks pattern)
  3. Where hunches go to die (slow hunches)
  4. Setting up accidental discoveries (serendipity)
  5. Benefiting from errors (errors)
  6. Getting psyched for exaptation (exaptation)
  7. Flourishing on emergent platforms (emergent platforms) 


Creating spaces for healing

There's no straightforward approach to creating spaces for healing. When it's obvious how we shut down the space, the opposite approach is just as bad. Spaces are not things. We cannot apply the same methods that work with tools or objects and expect to succeed. Spaces emerge from cognitive complexity. Here are some ways to think through your options all the way to creating some emergent space for healing the working wounded.

  • We eliminate space when we shoot the messenger who delivers bad news about us. However, we will feel shot down if we let the messenger deliver the news of our incompetence, neglect or other shortcomings. We create space for healing when we let the messenger know we're getting a different message from the one delivered and we're grateful for the messenger's efforts. Rather than feel attacked, we use the delivered message to uncover our own bind spots, take an unfamiliar perspective or see ourselves as others often see us. We go to a space of self acceptance that provides added space for putting the messenger 's mind at ease.
  • We destroy space when we label, categorize and stereotype what we're seeing. We do this when we're apprehensive about what has shown up. We're no better off when we disregard, overlook or dismiss what we're seeing. We create space when we see that there is more than one side to this. We consider what we're not seeing, what's hidden from our point of view and what needs further examination to be seen clearly. We express desires to see more and to see in different ways.  Amidst all this exploratory seeing, space for healing emerges. We've entered a space where past history gets transformed by seeing it differently and then by valuing the new seeing more than the old story. 
  • We trash the space when we mirror what's in our face and on our case. When we're feeling our emotional pain, we're compelled to resist what is resisting us, judge who judges us,and vehemently  oppose our opposition. We get into a vicious cycle with no obvious escape. The space still eludes us if get bullied, intimidated or stepped on like a door mat. The situation calls for letting go of our insisting on being right or persisting in trying to win at all cost. We no longer fall for the same old pattern of mutual torment. Then space emerges from offering choices to consider and alternatives to explore. We come from a space that gives others freedom from their urgent necessities and chronic struggles. 
  • We shut down the space when we pathologize the symptoms of another's underlying pain. We're inclined to do this when we're wounded. We will awfulize the unfortunate condition, demonize the unpopular motives and catastrophize the disturbing effects on others. We're no closer to creating space if we rule out complaints about those symptoms. Space is created for third and fourth order changes from a synthesis of pro-symptom and anti-symptom positions. We share a space where it takes both viewpoints to get it right and balanced in a dynamic equilibrium. 

In these emergent spaces for healing, the working wounded change their minds easily. They stop making themselves miserable and start creating experiences they really enjoy. They realize slight changes in their outlooks that make big changes in how they get seen, treated and engaged by others. Their presence gets transformed in ways that are good for collaborative endeavors and creative projects.


Watching for healing spaces

Healing occurs in the space between two people. It's not a job for heroics or solo efforts. Yet it cannot happen when a space gets demolished by clingy to others with chronic insecurities. Healing spaces also get trashed by distancing control freaks, critics and cynics. The space must feel safe enough to let down one's guard and open up. It must not feel too spacious that gives the feeling of abandonment, isolation or getting put on display. The space needs to be just right.

There is usually no space for healing to occur between any two members of the wounded workforce. The woundedness in each shuts down that in-between space where minds could open, truth could be told and problems could get redefined. It does not feel safe to admit to being damaged or to confess one's guilty worries to someone acting out their pain or keeping up pretenses of being "fine". It seems foolish to act vulnerable or exposed when it's likely to result in abuse, mockery, deceptions, betrayals or manipulation.  It seems realistic to expect more that same mistreatment that created the woundedness in the first place.

Those who are "wounded healers" can create spaces that members of the wounded workforce cannot do for themselves. The wounded healers' own damage establishes rapport and sympathy with others' pain. These healers' own journeys give room for others' healing processes to unfold. The healers' experiences provide numerous insights into underlying issues and next steps to take. The common ground provides a solid basis for making changes.

There's no guarantee that wounded healers can create these potentially healing spaces. Their own damage may take others hostage and demand displays of hero worship, approval seeking and personal sacrifice. The healers' wounds can also deplete their helpfulness into their clinging desperately or wallowing in self pity. In these quagmires, rapport gets replaced by collusion and commiseration. The space for journeys to unfold gets defiled into a stuck story where no progress can be made. The commonality becomes shaky ground where no one can either stand up for themselves, say "no" to others demands or take responsibility for their own conduct. The space gets filled with entanglements of wishy washy and overbearing dramatics.

There are lots of methods for creating healing spaces. In this post I've used one of them: exploring a visual metaphor. Notice how we've moved around, found different places and felt like there is room to maneuver in here. In my next post, I'll share several more methods that work for me.


Healing the wounded workforce

When we're mired deeply into working in hierarchical ways, we don't realize we're card-carrying members of the wounded workforce. We assume we're no worse off than coworkers, managers and direct reports. We accept our condition as human nature or the cost of doing business. We're not looking for answers, solutions or changes. We have not raised a question, defined a problem or considered a change. We're content to continue working in hierarchical ways.

It's only when a crisis occurs that questions get raised. The reliable bureaucracy lays off senior staff. The steady employment becomes sporadic. The manageable workload becomes overbearing. Then it become possible to consider one's own blind spots, assumptions and errors of omission. That's when it becomes possible consider healing the wounded workforce that previously did not seem wounded or in need of healing. Here's how I approach some of that healing work:

When working adults endure the condition labelled "unmet dependency needs", they will get over it by getting those needs met. It's never to late to experience a positive parental figure. The person who is meeting the ongoing need to depend on someone more mature -- must be aware of what's occurring. Therapists get trained to watch for the dynamics of positive transference where they get over-used as surrogate parental figures. Counselors are wary of becoming too dependable and never cultivating healthy boundaries, distance and detachment in the relationship. I've found mentoring works better for both the helper and the one getting helped than therapy or counseling models. There's a project, goal or problem getting worked on. The dependency needs are not the main focus. The helpful role combines some parenting with coaching, advising and delegating. There are things to get accomplished while getting those dependency needs met. Those getting helped express a lot of appreciation in my experience. Most have a long history of repeat encounters with negative parent figures which makes my appearance seem very out-of-the-ordinary.

When working adults appear to be living in the past, they're avoiding the future and the present moment. Getting them to set goals and make plans for the future rarely works. It amounts to first order change that goes from one extreme to the other. Focusing together on the present moment is usually more effective. On their own, these adults have never realized how much has changed and how they've become a different person. The present does not include any of the past they've been dreading, avoiding and carrying around with themselves. In the now moment, they discover they are free to be a new person facing new opportunities with fresh perspectives. they acquire some solid ground for letting go of their past regrets, guilt trips, anxieties and stuck stories.

When working adults are pretending to be satisfied with accomplishments and acquisitions labelled by others as "symbolic gratification", they are in no shape to shape up. They will defy others trying to fix them or straighten them out. They do not want any unsolicited advice and they are not seeking any either. They have idealized some perfect version of who they can become -- while creating a dark side with lots of unacceptable traits, inclinations and desires. This self-image calls for lots of convincing evidence to prop up it's false pretenses. Any contradiction to these idealized ambitions feels devastating, shattering and profoundly disorienting. A better entry into their world can be found by creating the space for them to let down their guard, admit their fatigue and complain about a lack of genuine satisfaction. They are usually so caught up in meeting others' expectations, they do not what they really want or really feel. They need to feel accepted for who they are when they are not performing and trying to impress others. They need a mirror that sees their dark side as worthy of acceptance, understanding and eventual integration.

When working adults are over-thinking their inner conflicts, they are getting nowhere quickly. They are torn between the irreconcilable poles of a personal dilemma. There appears to be no middle ground, winning combination or way to keep both extremes in balance. They need another person to formulate the paradox by seeing the good and bad in both sides. Their inner conflict does not call for compromise. Rather, there's a resolution possible when considered more abstractly as compatible interests, useful functions or aligned purposes. Their inner conflict makes most too tense to see their own way to this outcome. It takes the serenity, detachment and compassion of another to sort out the conflict into a beneficial paradox.


Working in hierarchical ways

Working in hierarchies in a hierarchical way is bad for our brains, our physical health and our relationships. Yet it appears we are hard wired to keep score, assess rank and react to changes in others' status, as a 2008 study by the National Institutes of Health discovered (link from Harold Jarche). If this fixation with hierarchical ways of working was all we had going for us, there wold be no hope for collaborative enterprises or the reinvention of higher ed.

I've got lots of experience with working in hierarchies in non-hierarchcial ways. I've found ways to take initiatives and spawn innovations regardless of the stagnant outlooks above me. I've thrived on being self motivated and intrinsically rewarded while colleagues and managers seemed addicted to external motivators. I've been inclined to question authority and function with autonomy while others were dependent on the command and control of higher-ups. While my non-hierarchcial way of working got me into trouble and excluded me from promotions on occasion, more often it provided me with additional opportunities, accomplishments and personal satisfaction.

As I've psyched out those who get completely caught up in working in hierarchical  ways, I've identified four patterns which can eventually become a passing phase of further personal development:

  • Unmet dependency needs: When our own parents have seemed unreliable, unavailable or unsupportive to us, we become starved for positive parental figures. We remain dependent on those who seem bigger than us, more powerful and overbearing. We hope to get much-needed approval, recognition and validation from these authority figures. Hierarchies provide big daddies or big mommies at the top of the pyramid which satisfies these cravings.
  • Living in the past: Unresolved issues make our past history seem very important to us. We experience our lives as stuck stories where the same things repeatedly happen to us. While dwelling in our past, we treasure reminders of poignant memories, traditions and rituals. We take comfort in legacy procedures, unchanging policies and unquestioned routines which hierarchies enforce.  
  • Symbolic gratification: We are poor judges of what will deeply satisfy us when acting out unresolved power issues. We need lots of stuff to prove to others and convince ourselves that we're powerful, confident and worthy of respect. We overcompensate for insecurities, victim stories and repeated incidents of powerlessness with very showy packages. We accumulate big things as indisputable proof. Hierarchies meet this need with big benefits, big paychecks for the higher ups and big responsibilities over others. 
  • Over-thinking conflicted issues: While we dealing with lots of irrational urges, we keep a lid on them with excessive rationality. We try to justify our actions and rationalize our decisions to keep from flipping our lid. We idealize our rationality and over-think any issue with emotional components.  Hierarchies march these inclinations with excessive meetings, policy manuals and procedural compliance.

For either collaborative enterprises or lower cost/higher quality higher ed to function effectively, the participants need to be able to:
  1. self-structure their activities, take initiative and make adjustments to our conduct based on outcomes and other kinds of feedback
  2. take satisfaction in their processes and outcomes without getting formally evaluated, rated or scored
  3. get creative when faced with symptoms of deeper problems, complex system dynamics or dilemmas that defy problem solving
  4. collaborate with others who are valued for their diversity, consulted for their unique outlooks and treated as equals

While working in hierarchical ways, we cannot meet any of these four prerequisites:
  1. we cannot structure our own activities but we can comply with orders, wait to be told what to do and hide behind our job descriptions
  2. we cannot feel intrinsically rewarded but we can get motivated by how we rank, fit in and compete with others
  3. we cannot get creative but we can give lip service to the need for action and make a show of handling the problem with lots of busywork
  4. we cannot collaborate with others but we can envy their successes, demonize their differences and dismiss commonalities with them
When working in hierarchical ways can be framed as a passing phase in personal development, wounds from each individual's troubled past would need to be healed. Sore points would lose their sensitivity. Sacred cows would get slaughtered. Hot buttons would get dismantled. Thorny issues would get resolved. By renewing his/her mind, each could then be free to work in non-hierarchical ways. The hard wiring to work in hierarchical ways could fall into disuse.

For more see my next post: Healing the wounded workforce