Employee training within spacious networks

Individual trainees are really complex aggregations of interests, contexts, relationships and paths. To simplify a trainee into an isolated person with an identified need to know the content provided by a SME (subject matter expert) is to invite disaster. When the full complexity of a trainee's world gets considered, it becomes obvious that instructional designers cannot do their job adequately and trainers are the wrong people to deliver the training.

Imagine a trainee is on a track that runs through the online, onsite or offsite training space. That track comes from their past experiences, current challenges and unmet needs. The track takes them to a place where they will find answers to the questions, solutions to their problems and processes to work through their challenges. The training is merely a station on that track where many get derailed by envisioning them as sitting still receiving expert content in a disconnected training space.

Imagine the trainee is also a web of interrelationships. Each trainee belongs to tribes which provide safety in numbers, require collusion with biased outlooks and expect members to honor their predecessors. Each also demonstrates loyalty to an inventory of good habits, success routines and work procedures which give them the reputation as a reliable cog in the machine. Each trainee also extends his/her reach into other lives, changeable situations and evolving opportunity spaces with personal insights, cultivated empathy and practiced experience which sets them up to make a difference to the others involved.

When all this complexity get taken into consideration, there's no obvious way to train the trainee. It becomes a mystery how employee training could even occur effectively. The situation poses more questions than answers to instructional designers or trainers. This array of recognized patterns rewards innocence, wonder and not-knowing instead of the usual incentives to be knowledgeable, professional and confident. The trainees have been accurately located in the space at the end of a process which begins several other processes. The trainees are functioning within a spacious network.

Another thing happens when all this complexity gets taken into consideration, we're looking through a lens which reveals how extremely dysfunctional conventional training appears. All that typical delivery of content, practice exercises and discussion groups has the inadvertent effect of:

  • dishonoring the tribes and appearing as the exact danger which their safety in numbers protects against
  • blocking progress on the track from where the trainees are coming from which would otherwise provide them with intrinsic motivation to be fully engaged, to get their questions answered and to make maximum use of the educational opportunity
  • providing the training at the wrong time, in the wrong place with the wrong people to co-create the understandings that could constitute "takeaway value"
  • disrupting the trainees ongoing relating, caring for others and finding ways to make a difference

It then becomes evident that this mismatch between the delivery of training and the actual complexity of the trainees occurs from relying on training procedures instead of learning processes, or as Harold Jarche phrased it memorably this week: it occurs from listening to the cookie cutter salesman.  Looking through this lens reveals that the SME, instructional designer and trainer are equally complex aggregations of interests, contexts, relationships and paths. There's no end to the complications which undermine reliable, consistent procedures. There's only processes that begin and end in wonder about what to question next, explore further and reflect upon more deeply.


Opening closed minds

Sometimes we can create the space where closed minds open before us. When we speak someone's mind, it appears we respect, understand and relate to that mind. We must not be an enemy or pose a threat as was previously assumed. From our portrayal or their interests, concerns and accomplishments, the space shifts from feeling very adversarial to potentially collaborative. The tension level goes down and the trust level goes up.

To get to a place where we can speak someone's mind, we need a process of discovering what's on their mind and verifying the accuracy of our impressions. We rarely succeed when we assume what he or she is thinking because we're extremely prone to project our own mind onto others. In these situations, we've got a lot to learn that depends on the quality of questions we're using. When we face a mystery that defies our predictions and usual suspicions, we're in a good place to discover what's on others' minds.

It takes an open mind to open another mind. We cannot be shooting the messenger or clinging to one right answer when it's time to investigate what concerns occupy a closed mind. We need a process that begins and ends with wonder, as we find in every spacious network. We need a wide range of tolerable deviance that welcomes diversity and embraces differences. Our broad-minded outlook will appear inviting and reassuring to the others.

There are spaces which close our own minds and defeat our attempts to open others. These spaces pose threats, frighten us and put us on the defensive. They make it seem like we're in some kind of danger that naturally gives us the urge to put up walls, harden our categories and fortify our arguments. These spaces ready us for battle, confrontations and counter-accusations. We expect we will need to shift the blame, avoid attacks and watch our backs in these spaces.

Sometimes life happens to provide shattering experiences which force closed minds to open. We experience eating humble pie while falling off our high horse. We thought we were entirely right until we encounter the missing truth. Our delusions of grandeur fall apart as we realize what we were missing, dismissing or ruling out.  Our wake up call shows us new ways to see ourselves, the others and some opportunities to accommodate their interests.

When our own minds a closed, we want to give others one of those shattering experiences. We assume that they need is piece of our mind. We feel the urge to get what's on our mind told regardless of how it feels to hear it. Of course that kills the space that  where closed minds open up. We may even close previously opened mind with our urgent exhortations.

When our minds are open, we can say things like:

  1. I see where you're coming from now that I've calmed down
  2. I now realize what you've been trying to accomplish
  3. I suspect you've been concerned about some issues I've neglected
  4. I know you've tried to get my attention before this
  5. I think a get what you've been saying that I couldn't hear before now
  6. I believe you want to be careful and make a good decision about this
  7. I've changed my mind about what's on your mind

Making these kinds of announcements creates the space here closed minds open before us. We may be doing the talking but it sounds like we've done a bunch of listening.


Picturing the learning

Choose your way of picturing those who are learning. Here's my top four ways to picture them:

  1. As animals to be tamed who act irrationally until they've been sufficiently indoctrinated with rational thinking to control themselves without micro-managing supervision.
  2. As cups to be filled with expert content, more logical ideas and tons of accurate information until they can put on a show of being well informed (without the ability to do as they say  or to avoid acting like a hypocrite).
  3. As candles to be lit by intrinsically motivated guides on the side who walk their talk of self-directed learning, life long exploration of varied viewpoints and ongoing refinement  of their passionate pursuits
  4. As inner conversations to be joined by outer conversations, contradictory arguments and challenging choices (like this list of four ways to see learning)

The third and fourth options are compatible with spacious networks. They translate learning into ongoing processes which end in spaces for formulating the next adventures. These options avoid the troublesome uses of persistent objects and routine procedures. They imagine the minds of the learners to be in flux rather than stuck, fixated and opinionated. They nurture the intrinsic processes of changing the lenses looked through, the meaning given and the patterns recognized.


Welcome to the foreground

Welcome to the foreground of life. It's very different here from the background of life. To help you get oriented here, I'll walk you through many of the differences between the foreground and background.

In the background, there is no concept of "foreground and background". The objective world remains all there is to experience. There is no objective evidence for a foreground that could possibly differ from all there obviously is to see, measure and control. In the foreground, it's obvious there is a foreground and background. There is much more to experience besides persistent objects and tangible evidence.

In the background, our human emotions prove to be problematic. They interfere with what we're forcing ourselves to do to make enough money, to seem reliable to others and to build our pretentious reputations. We're plagued there by unwanted feelings, moods and outbursts which we attempt to suppress by keeping busy, talking ourselves out of our emotions and manipulating our moods unwisely. In the foreground, our emotions provide the motive power to make a difference here. Our emotions are respected as our intrinsic motivation, personal passion and boundless energy. When we get emotional, we become more creative, responsive and effective.

In the background, space refers to distance to cover and the travel time to get to another physical location. There's a sense of having enough space to contain lots of physical objects and closer proximity of a location. In the foreground, there are many spaces to go to in our minds, outlooks and ways of seeing the world. We often discover we can be very helpful to others and to express ourselves in more valuable ways when the right kind of spaciousness appears subjectively. We encounter spaces in between the processes which engage us up to a stopping point.

In the background, there's no escaping being part of the problem. We inadvertently make problems worse by trying to solve them with the consensual, objective point of view. There's no basis for making a different diagnosis or getting a problem to vanish on its own. In the foreground, there are processes where problems had been observed. There are many ways to cooperate with what's going on to nurture its evolution into an even better solution, a different strategy or more inclusive approach.

In the background, everything seems pretty straightforward. We can make things happen and achieve intended results with enough effort, expense and dedication.  We can explain what happens with causal arrows and sequential procedures that lead to predictable outcomes. In the foreground, everything participates in cycles, recursion and iterative processes. There's a need to walk the elusive fine line rather than simply barge ahead with some single-minded conviction. There's much to be learned from what comes back around or gets no response as if feedback for our conduct abounds.

In the background, analysts rely on disconnected dashboards while thinking the precise metrics they're monitoring are reliably accurate. The disconnection with the foreground is nowhere to be found in the voluminous objective evidence. It's inconceivable there how measuring could either create the data or cause downturns in what is being measured. In the foreground, complex interdependencies undermine the concept of "objective data". Evidence seems more like fleeting impressions, welcomed clues and possible indicators of changing phenomena.

In the background, the abundance of persistent objects says it all. So much of life is comprised of things that remain the same, that they define what life is about. With so much that supports the illusion of real things, we're inclined to make something of nothing. In the background, we allow nothing to be nothing. We're no longer captivated by persistent objects amidst the amazing flux of processes and spaciousness available for our enjoyment and exploration.


Procedures or processes?

When we're in the state of mind of a control freak that I've explored here and here, we cannot tell the difference between a procedure and a process. We assume those are two words that mean the same thing, since thinking that way serves our controlling interests. We're incapable of really relating to others'  interests, points of view and personally differentiated experiences. We handle the diversity of others with labels, categories and profiles, not with insights, empathy or compassion. To do otherwise would seem "out of control" to our self interests.

When we're in the state of mind to really relate to others, there are big differences between a procedure and a process:
  • A procedure calls for compliance and conformity where a process calls for permission to explore and experiment
  • A procedure can be kept on track with feedback where a process needs to deviate to discover ways to move forward
  • A procedure can be characterized by checklists where a process unfolds serendipitously
  • A procedure converges on a consistent result in familiar territory where a process diverges into new territory where innovations occur
  • A violation of a procedural requirement is explicit where violations of a process code can only be inferred
We cannot begin to assemble spacious networks when we conflate procedures and processes. Spatial networks are an outgrowth of processes and processing. They traffic in others' varied and exploratory interests rather than their common interest in doing what's required, what they've been told to do and what has been done before. Procedures shut down the space for being really helpful, for strong ties in the moment or for naturally synchronous innovations. Processes reopen the space for all those benefits to be realized. When those processes are in "full swing", spacious networks emerge.


Speaking of networks that happen

When we've been thinking conventionally about economics, politics, technological advances or countless other disciplines, we're not speaking of networks. It will amount to a big change in our thinking to speak of networks. As I've recently pondered the nature of this change, I've developed a model of transitions in our perceiving and thinking. Here's a brief look at how we may evolve in our speaking of networks:

1. When we've mostly been thinking of objective things in the world, we will perceive networks as assemblages of nodes. The predominate quality of networks will be the persistent objects at the convergence of connections. We'll notice how those nodes congregate and locate as if they determine how networks function and evolve.  We will speak of networks as nodes that happen to be connected.

2. When we've been thinking about causal mechanisms in the objective world, we will perceive networks as linkages between nodes. The chains of sequential linkages will standout as the most impressive quality of networks. We'll regard the sequences of linkages yielding effects and outcomes as more significant than the nodes between the connections. We will speak of networks as linkages that happen to connect nodes.

3. When we've been thinking about the subjective world of meaning, we will perceive networks as bounded by edges. The interfaces between a network and it's context will predominate our observations. We'll notice how networks open, filter and otherwise interpret whatever is crossing its boundaries. We will speak of networks as edges that happen to interact with surroundings by means of its nodes and linkages.

4. When we've been thinking about helpful accommodations in the design and natural worlds, we will perceive networks as spacious. The capability of networks to contain, serve and support processes will fill the foreground of our awareness. We'll regard how possibilities get explored and innovations emerge from the spaces within networks. We will speak of networks as spaces that happen to contain assemblages of processes which walk a fine line.

What I've written here can also be spoken of as a network that happens:
  1. as concepts that happen to tie together coherently
  2. as an argument that connects various observations
  3. as an interface with all the talk about networks out there
  4. as a space for exploring all the speaking of networks with new processes for transitioning to other ways of speaking of networks


Walking the elusive fine line

Legal codes lay down the law in no uncertain terms. Legal codes do not define dilemmas or tradeoffs that involve emergent criteria. Process codes require walking the undefined fine line between two extremes. Processes extract a toll for erring either way. Process codes cannot define compliance with rules. They define the parameters for balancing, combining and finding middle ground. Here are a number of examples to help you grasp this pattern of walking the fine line between two errors in process codes:

Formulating strategy between
1. losing sight of the mission, conflating tactics and strategy, dwelling only on the details, failing in plan
2. becoming too visionary, losing touch with the ground, handing down strategies from on high, failing in execution

Deciding on a purchase between
1. premature convergence, rush to judgment, jumping to conclusions
2. indecision, procrastination, considering too many options

Making sales calls between
1. pushing for the close, overcoming objections, becoming obnoxious
2. hoping for an order, waiting to be asked, avoiding any pressure

Changing methods between
1. throwing the baby out with the bathwater, changing everything, creating chaos
2. giving lip service to change, making excuses to preserve the status quo, creating stagnation

Designing an innovation between
1. creating something so new it seems useless, senseless and weird
2. creating something so familiar it seems boring, unimpressive and predictable

Enrolling candidates in a program between
1. serving their unique interests, providing customized accommodations
2. enforcing policy requirements, convincing candidates to comply with the rules

If we go to one extreme or the other, the process gets derailed. Our efforts do more harm than good. We lose our inclination to trust the process at time when we need to trust the process more. We cannot imagine what we're supposed to do to get back on track. There appears to be nothing we can do that falls between the two errors.

When we walk the fine line effectively, the process takes us where we want to go. The strategy achieves its objectives while getting lots of buy-in. The decision proves to make a wise selection at a nice price with good timing. The sales process appears to entice customers to sell themselves on the offer. The change in methods gets adopted without a loss of continuity and reliability. The innovation is new enough to seem intriguing while familiar enough to appear useful. The candidates welcome the enrollment into accommodating their needs without making a big deal out of it.

Processes reward those who comply with the codes and penalize those who err either way.


Conflating connections and helpfulness

We are currently going through a phase where an increasing quantity of connections is presumed to be helpful. The supportive narrative for this wanton increase in connections includes:

  1. the strength of weak ties - good things come from a friend of a friend of a friend
  2. the zero marginal cost for additional digital copies - adding more friends, followers, subscribers costs nothing and provides something
  3. bigger is better - quantity is impressive when we're trying to impress others and overcome our own insecurities, inferiority or isolation convictions
  4. it's the latest thing - never mind whether it's really good, it's good enough to be all the rage and the bandwagon to climb aboard

As I see all this occurring, it seems to me that social networks are a phenom of conflating connections and helpfulness. Because these huge networks are not really helpful, it becomes difficult to define what we mean by the term "network". It's an image thing rather than a functionality or dynamic system. It's going nowhere quickly rather than making significant differences.

When we make a thing of connecting, we've created an institution devoted to it's own self preservation. There's no end in sight to the monstrous machine which devours the  widespread contributions to its existence by those making a thing of connecting. The individual participants form a public mandate to continue rather than user contexts to observe closely, niches to understand and segments to serve.

When authentic helpfulness goes unquestioned, we've created a nightmare scenario. We've trapped ourselves in a seemingly inescapable obligation which overrides our intrinsic motivations and natural curiosity. We become addicted to the chronic deprivation. We lose sight of our seeking helpfulness, not quantities of connections,  in the first place.

The process of helping is different from the process of connecting. It's costly. It forms strong ties for the time being. When the result gets experienced as truly helpful to another, the connection is complete. It can be dropped as if the process of helping has ended up in wonder, spaciousness and mysteriousness. Helpfulness gets conflated with spaciousness, not with quantities of connections or with social networks.

I expect this conflating of connections and helpful is burning itself out. It's running its course and setting the stage for something better to come along. I'm foreseeing the emergence of authentic helpfulness in un-network spaces that rely on a paradoxical sense of connecting without connection.


Four codes in four spaces

We're all familiar with two codes that rule our lives: a code of honor and a code of law. There's another known intimately by designers, therapists and any other instigators of change: a code of process. I'm proposing a fourth code to help us put all the fuss about networks in perspective and to accurately anticipate a quadriform society emerging. Thus far, I'm calling this fourth a "spatial code" though the code is still in process and conforming to the process code. These four codes show up in the four spaces I explored last week.

Codes of honor take hold in emotional spaces outside the code of law. These honor codes regulate competition among rivals on a team, violence among combatants in battle and betrayals among criminals orchestrating a heist. Honor codes define what is dishonorable and just cause for retaliating, rejecting or killing the offender. There is no forgiveness or hearing other sides to an offense. Honor codes enforce "an eye for an eye".

Codes of law replace codes of honor in physical spaces. These codes give rise to amazing institutions in the public or private interest. Codes of law privilege accuracy over hysterics and conjectures. They replace plots of revenge with the formal administration of adversarial justice. They deal with persistent objects and objections as if truth can be verified objectively, empirically and consensually. This emphasis on "things" ensures that adhering to a code of law operates in failure mode where problems get endlessly worse and solutions become more and more costly.

Codes of process replace codes of law in social spaces. These codes reframe objects and objections as impermanent and developmental phases in ongoing processes. Codes of process privilege connections between things over verification of things. Facts get seen as "this too shall pass" and "this is becoming something else". Nouns become verbs which implicate cycles, transitions and evolutions. The process must be trusted to avoid getting derailed or caught up in "pushing the river". The emphasis on processes gives rise to relational networks of working deals, translating interests and making reciprocal connections.

Codes of space replace codes of process in paradoxical spaces. Processes must begin and end with wonder, innocence and not-knowing what's next. Codes of space privilege helpfulness over networks of connections. Tangential processes come together in places of incomprehensibly vast possibilities which give rise to synchronous innovations. These "nodeless" points of convergence replace objectivity and/or subjectivity with spaciousness and mysteriousness. Adherence to the code of space reverses the figure/ground of knowns and unknowns. This reversal has transformational effects on problems, disconnects and failures to realize improvements in the other three spaces.


A different kind of space

When Marshal McLuhan conceived of the emerging global village, he was impressed by the instantaneous communication made possible by electric media replacing messengers, parcels and conveyance systems.. He imagined that the electronic age would shrink the distance experienced by the time it takes things to travel to and from us. This way of seeing space is congruent with representational paintings that show how near and far things are located. It's also a congruent way to see space when information came into our homes after centuries of going to the concert hall, bookstore or friend's front porch.

McLuhan was a student of visual arts, poetry, history, fiction writing, advertising and media. He estimated that we had become excessively visual in our sensory diet and were due for a recalibration. He foresaw us returning to the acoustic and iconic sensibilities of illiterate tribal villagers. There was nowhere else to go within his outlook from the oppressive world of being wedded to printing presses and other mechanistic technologies. He perceived the magazine advertising and television programing of the seventies showing us the way free of printed words, type-headed thinking and linear seeing. He considered James Joyce to be a prophet of this change in our sensibilities.

McLuhan was also a college professor and author. He was in the business of saying what he knew. I suspect it seemed pointless to say what he didn't know or appreciate how much value he got out of not knowing what to think. He dwelled on delivering insights to us that we caught glimpses of without seeing the patterns he recognized. For all these reasons, it's no wonder that McLuhan thought of space as distance, not emptiness, accommodation, spaciousness or mysteriousness.

When we follow in McLuhan's footsteps, we naturally go crazy about networks and see them everywhere. We think networks span the distance, shorten the distance and even eliminate the distance. We see physical networks comprised of wires, pipelines, pavement, rail lines, software, scheduled routes and any other capital investment in tangible connectedness. We also see relational networks of intangible connectedness where investments have been made in social capital, reputations, credibility, trust and other dimensions of interpersonal reliability. We see natural phenomenon as networks as well. The term "network" gets debated as so many frames of reference come into play.

I first read McLuhan in 1970, in the middle of getting my undergraduate degree in architecture. I was ingesting his insights while learning how to design spaces and places for uses that fit into their contexts. Space as distance took a backseat for me to space as inviting, functional, inspiring or confining. It's this different kind of space that can help us give networks their proper due instead of going crazy and seeing them everywhere. I'm finally being able to articulate this emergent awareness in my mind after lots of note taking and reflecting. I'll share more of this awareness with you soon.


Designing P2P learning

I'm in the midst of designing an online course using principles of peer-2-peer learning. Rather than set myself up in the usual role as instructor, the course is getting designed for the students to be the teachers. Obviously they cannot convey expertise, but they can benefit from the pattern for "the best way to learn something is to teach it". They will also benefit from playing both roles of the one helping and the one getting helped. This departure from the role fixity of formal instruction sets the learners up to help themselves more effectively as they pursue a path of further expertise beyond the course.

Rather than give students information, it's essential to provide tools to be used by them from the start. This sets up some initial hands on learning to become familiar with the use. It also generates some authentic interest in getting better informed once the context of use seems real. This approach complies with the pattern of "use it or lose it" by insisting that praxis precedes becoming better informed.

It's essential that each participant cultivate a unique contribution which leads to a distinguished reputation. Most academicians assume they only way to differentiate collaborative peers is by their expertise. They set up team projects in the classes without giving each student a unique role, resource to contribute or viewpoint to apply to the team group dynamics. This occurs because all the students uniformly lack academic expertise. This all-too-common approach to teamwork gives p2p approaches a bad name.

Peer contributions can be individualized by providing different resources to apply to common situations or the same resource to apply to differentiated use cases. The use of these resources gets greatly enhanced by peers making requests for help. A dialogue emerges about the context of the request which makes the resources seem increasingly useful, relevant and worthy of further practice. A meta level of thinking emerges to resolve questions of applicability, timing, balance with other issues, far beyond the conventional concerns with right answers and grades.

As peers make requests for help, the intrinsic rewards for formulating responses emerges. Requests set up the possibility of the responder receiving verbalized appreciation, useful feedback and deeper insights into how to be more helpful. None of that gets tainted by extrinsic rewards of grades or formal evaluations by the instructor. The hands on experience of deal with peer requests some self-generated criteria for what makes a better request and a more helpful response.  There's no handout of evaluation rubrics to ensure consistency of evaluations. It's assumed the internal criteria will prove to be more enduring and applicable by each peer.

When these design principles get applied, the instructor can monitor all the activity, make occasional processes observations and learn from the interactions how to improve the design for p2p learning. The peers learn at more levels and in more useful ways to face future challenges.


Exploring four spaces

I'm becoming increasingly fond of spatial metaphors to communicate to those for whom reading comprehension is a diminishing skill set.  On page six of Cognition in the Wild, Edwin Hutchins describes journeys through three spaces he explores in this book: physical, social and cognitive. Tis possibility captured my imagination when I read the first chapter last week. But something did not sit right with me. I wondered why there were not four spaces instead of three. I wondered if a fourth space was beyond the cognitive or below the physical space.

This morning I realized what was bugging me about the book's characterization of a physical, social and cognitive spaces. It parsed out thinking as a separate space, rather than convey how thinking differs in the different spaces. It also omits an emotional space where patterns of behavioral economics and emotional baggage would operate. Making revisions to accommodate these insights, I came up with a taxonomy of four spaces later this morning: emotional, physical, social and paradoxical.

Emotional space cannot handle the physical space. When in this emotional space, we are in denial, delusional and distorting the facts. We substitute what-if for what-is in ways that those in other spaces perceive as paranoid, grandiose and otherwise unrealistic. We're consumed by uncontrollable urges that demonstrate how little "emotional intelligence" and self control we possess. Our thinking comes from our limbic system which keeps things extremely simple. Networks in this space connect us psychically where dark intentions instantly succeed at finding prey at the perfect time and circumstance to interrupt their activities, abuse them in some way or exploit their vulnerabilities.

Physical space cannot handle social space, but it does overrule the emotional space on occasion. Physical evidence becomes impossible to ignore or dispute. We face what-is and dismiss what-if. This space supports our thinking logically, linearly and rationally with our left side of the neocortex. We prone to over think everything in this space with our new found power over what goes on in our emotional space. We identify with our bodies, appearances and physical abilities. Networks in this space are comprised of physical connections, conduits, paths and/or wires.

Social space cannot handle the remaining paradoxical space while transcending the physical and emotional spaces. Social connections, relations and exchanges redefine how to live. We become insightful about others' interests, concerned with their well-being and sensitive to their issues. Our thinking is far more empathetic, creative and open to new possibilities. We revisit what-if questions as ways to improve what-is without paranoia. Social networks connect us with a diversity of potential experiences and resources.

Paradoxical space can handle all the other spaces. We become vastly aware of patterns and processes underlying what appears in the other spaces. We experience being in those spaces while coming from a very different place. We see so much we react less to what's undesired and accept more as it is. We experience more joy and peace of mind as thinking is no longer required. The networks in this space are nodeless, connecting unknowns, mysteries and empty places for us to explore and fill with our expansive presence.


Making nothing out of nothing

When we make something out of nothing, we've found a way to make ourselves miserable. That self-imposed torture stops when we make nothing out of nothing. We realize our error and set the record straight.

We may think there's a big difference between knowledge and ignorance. We can be miserable when we don't know something. We feel embarrassed if we appear stupid, mistaken or misinformed. We equate having questions with lacking knowledge. We may even think mistakes are bad and ignorance is inexcusable. When we go there, we've made something out of nothing.

There's really no significant difference between knowledge and ignorance. The differences pale in comparison to the ecology where they interplay in wonderfully energetic ways. Thinking the differences amount to nothing changes everything:

  1. We find it's cool not to know something because what follows is an adventure.
  2. We realize that great questions arise from knowing a lot about something already.
  3. We want to know less when it seems like we're too smart for our own good.
  4. We know what we don't know when we can recognize our own blind spots.
  5. We don't know what's missing in our knowledge until we explore its limits and overreaching claims.
  6. We finds it's more productive to not know everything when we can learn more about it.
  7. We call our ignorance by other names like innocence, wonder, fascination or curiosity.

When knowledge and ignorance come together fruitfully, they translate each other. Each serves as a mediator that transforms the other. We doing an actor-network thing. The difference between knowledge and ignorance makes little difference to them while each makes a big difference. The misery is gone. The fun begins.


Envisioning our silence

After writing yesterday's post on Migrating from silence to voice, I delved back into my fascination with Actor Network Theory (ANT). I realized there were many more ways to frame silence than I had considered in what I wrote. This morning I captured four pages of notes that has taken a long while to distill into something readable by you. Here's the condensation/elaboration of this intersection between ANT and conventional ways of regarding our silence.

Sometimes it seems like our silence is a bad thing to us. We're making a thing of the silence because it seems unchanging and immovable to us. This happens when we get silenced, rather than choosing silence for ourselves. Lots of toxic systems can have this silencing effect on us such as:
  • systems of abuse that insist we keep the abuse a secret from the outside world
  • systems of domination that disregard our voices as unwelcome, invalid or wrong
  • systems of control that require us to only speak when asked to respond to inquiries
  • systems of power which narrate an imposed story of our powerlessness, persecution and inferiority
  • systems of empirical verification that frames our pronouncements as unproven, speculative or hypothetical
  • systems of winner-takes-all competition that intimidate every candidate but one into remaining silent in the end
In these toxic systems, our silence seems like a good thing to those in charge. It's predicted that our voices would be obnoxious, irrational, pitiful or otherwise impossible to hear. We participate in these systems by accepting the silencing effect of the system. We have something to blame for our lack of self expression and authentic voice.

Sometimes our silence seems like a good thing to us. We making a thing of our silence because we don't want to lose it, change it or cut off the benefits from it. This happens when we experience the payoffs of our silence in vibrant systems such as:

  • two way conversations that thrive on careful listening
  • getting more from someone with expertise by showing them respectful silence
  • tuning into the situation to realize what is missing, what can be done and what's overdone that needs some neglect
  • becoming receptive to inspirations and insights that come to a quiet mind and mouth

In these vibrant systems, our silence seems like a good thing to all participants. It's expected our voice will be equally good judging from how we opt for silence on occasion . We participate in these systems by balancing our:

  • silence and voice,
  • interest in others and expressions of self interest
  • respect for others and respect for ourselves
  • listening in conversations and listening in stillness within

In the remaining times, our silence does not seem like a thing at all. Silence is found between things which are relatively insignificant. Silencing is a process of changing, mediating, adapting, reversing and advancing dynamics. Silence transforms excessive communication and expression. Silence brings balance, context, perspective and space to what was isolated, unrelated or objectified. Silence and expression go hand in hand, in reciprocal arrangements of mutual accommodation. Silencing oneself creates the space for others to express themselves until their silencing comes full circle.

Enuf said. Enjoy the silence that follows.


Migrating from silence to voice

When we're learning the "one right answer" codified as authoritative knowledge, our voices of confusion, distraction and disobedience become silenced. When we're learning to play by the rules and comply with the institution's policy manual, our voices of deviance, testing the limits and challenging authority become silenced. When we fit in with the tribe and conform to their consensus, our voices of dissent and differing viewpoints gets squelched. The transition from voice to silence is far more common in the world than the reverse migration from silence to voice.

Those who are committed to authoritative knowledge find the migration from silence to voice very disconcerting. It undermines their their control of the situation and reveals what they're dismissing. Modernism wants to impose its dominant narrative and refute post-modern empowerment of alternative stories. Empiricism wants objective evidence to overrule superstition and speculation without getting into quantum about observer-dependence and indeterminacy.  High ranking individuals seek to overrule the small minded and tunnel visioned subordinates with top-down directives without listening to bottom-up initiatives.

In the years I produced videos with the the troupe of puppets I created, I gave voice to the silenced members of enterprises. I upset the apple cart, exposed the emperor's new clothes and questioned authority from many different angles. During the subsequent decade of college teaching, I continued to explore this migration from silence to voice in the different ways to be a great teacher. Most recently I've been full of encouragement for the ways the Internet facilitates this migration beyond my wildest expectations.

Over the weekend, new voices appeared on a blog post that Clay Spinnuzi wrote in July of 2010 on Acting in an Uncertain World. He had inspired me to comment on his post and read that book last year. I then wrote up my reflections in:
Anticipating the Next Economy
Acting in an Uncertain World
Outgrowing delegative democracy
Translating public interests
Talking with our tools

This morning I realized that Acting in an Uncertain World articulates my long standing interest in this migration from silence to voice. It explores how public concerns can sidestep the double delegation to politicians and scientists so the concerns get articulated directly by the people involved who can better inform the public discourse. It poses the choice for those in positions of authority to groom and listen to concerned citizens or to dismiss and silence those voices. The authors share my relational worldview that favors symmetrical power and evolving processes over positional stances and objective evidence. It was great to revisit all that over the past two days!


Taxonomy of great teachers

All four spaces I've been exploring (Bad, Better, Good, Great) have great teachers in them. Yet most of the spaces are closed places which cannot appreciate great teachers from other spaces.It's a case of "to each their own" rather than there being a few rock stars with fans in every space. Here's a taxonomy of the great teachers to be found and appreciated in each of the four spaces.

In Bad Places, a.k.a Higher Ed Hell, almost every class is extremely boring. All the students have to do is pay attention to the constant drone of a stationary figure at the front of the room or fixed slides on a screen. Our brains are designed to pay attention to variety, movement and unexpected things. That's why we're so easily bored in classrooms. Great teachers in this space know how to make boring material captivating without deviating from the Bad Place premise of teaching by delivering expert content. Here's are a few of the tricks of the trade I "know by heart"  for revising boring expert content:

  1. get the students to pry the information out of me by only responding to their questions and by my offering no unsolicited content
  2. give the students enough clues to figure out what I've leaving out, exaggerating or mistaking in my crappy presentation of the concept
  3. tell of a personal experience where I struggled to learn this content, applied it in a real situation or helped another get the idea to work for them personally
  4. draw parallels to a seemingly unrelated field that conforms to this pattern or has different words for the same concept
  5. play the fool that does not get it, confuses it or takes it too literally so the students can correct my "idiotic grasp" of the concept
  6. give the students opportunities to assign homework to me where I apply the concept to their personal "case studies" in my next presentation
  7. explain the concept with several visual metaphors which make it easier to grasp, relate to or tie into their current understanding

In Better Places, it's understood that learning results from action, practice and multi-sensory engagement. Great teachers provide lots of projects and activities that familiarize the students with using the concept to define problems, make decisions, prioritize efforts and assess results. What they're learning seems less like concepts and more like checklists, procedures or comprehensive frameworks. With so much getting done, the students can learn from each others' exemplary conduct, walking the talk and taking the lead. They think of what they learned in terms of what they can now accomplish and deliver.

In Good Places, learning is imagined to occur within each student idiosyncratically. What's new on the outside is getting construed to be relevant to what's already on the inside. What gets delivered leads to much more that gets discovered by each student with her/his own varied experiences, outlooks and agendas. School work is assigned that requires interpreting the content, comparing viewpoints, selecting among conflicting claims and questioning partial explanations. Students are encouraged to own their biased "perceptions and attributions" which result from their own experiences -- rather than make a pretense of objectivity. This provides very helpful preparation for teamwork and collaborative projects where diversity can either enhance or destroy the functioning of the group.

In Great Places, learning occurs interacting with peers who function as the great teachers. Collegiality proves to be far more productive than approaches that rely on distant experts. College professors typically have forgotten what it's like to be unfamiliar with or confused by the content they've thoroughly understood for decades. Peers know just enough more about some facet to bring clarity to confusion or pose a perfect question that leads to new insights. If these peers have been exposed to great teachers in the other spaces, they will also structure activities and personal reflections in addition to helping others comprehend the content abstractly. This provides superb preparation for each peer to function as a good leader, mentor, parent and colleague.


Beyond gaming the grading system

When we're in a Bad Place that feels like Higher Ed Hell, we've got no scoreboard or dashboard. We're playing a Survival Game with only a bunch of schedules. We're a line item on the class roster whom is easily forgotten, much like the content we're taught that disappears after the test. We're getting gamed by the enrollment system which takes our money and offers little benefit in return. We walk away with lots of damage to our self concept, love of learning and intrinsic motivation. "Thanks for nothing!"

When we're in a Better Place, we realize that "two can play this game". We call a halt to getting gamed by the enrollment system. We launch our personal Power Game equipped with a scoreboard. We scheme to game the grading system, cheat our way through the useless ordeals and score maximum points on the respectable challenges. When we're shown disrespect or fed a pack of lies by authority figures, we figure out ways to return the favor. This place presents lots of battles to control more turf, gain more power and conquer additional adversity. Our scoreboard in use effectively tracks our progress, accumulated inventories and penalties, even though the scoreboard amounts to a disconnected dashboard.

When we get to a Good Place, we've had enough of gaming the grading system. We're ready to get more value out of the educational experience than we get from taking tests and achieving high grades. We launch our personal Mystery Game equipped with a complicated dashboard. We realize the importance of getting clues about where we're at, where others are coming from and what possibilities are accessible to us. We use our accumulated power from the prior games to play a different game from the one dictated by our GPA and transcript on file in the Registrar's database. We're puzzling through how to get more value, make a bigger difference and combine efforts more effectively. We gone from fitting into the machine to formulating some serious innovations. We're practicing "design thinking" while we respond to challenges in unpredictable ways.

When we get to a Great Place, we've developed so many innovations for ourselves and others, we can design games worth playing. We get how much we will learn from orchestrating others's experiences of challenges, mysteries and scoring. We see the point of getting gamed and then gaming the system as preparation for designing informal games. We realize how our own story becomes an underlying narrative for the games we conceive naturally. We transform our struggles to get value out of Higher Ed into a fun adventure for others to find challenging, enjoyable and rewarding.


Getting above the line

When we're in either the Bad or Better Places below the line, our plate is way too full to care about others. We see the world in B&W terms (dichotomous, binary, either/or). We take what we're seeing literally as if any subjectivity is unproven, superstitious or unrealistic. Our minds are anxiety ridden which gives us urges to escape this inner turmoil with some outer distractions. We become extremely materialistic, over-consumers because it provides emotional relief, not because we need that much stuff.

Below the line, we accept college life as it is. We have no way to question authority, challenge the value offered or disagree with the assignments, tests and grades that get dished out. We admire professors for being objective, extrinsically rewarded and as toxic as our friends and family. We either win or lose, succeed or fail and progress or fall back in school. We're getting cheated out of a good education and have no qualms about cheating our way through unreasonable demands on us. We either become content junkies for new ideas or conventional junkies for the thrills of sports, parties and sex. None of this is good for our brains, bodies, health or emotional well being.

Getting above the line to the Good or Great Places becomes a huge challenge. The possibility of a healthy experience offers no appeal. The switch to intrinsic value and self motivation appears extremely unrealistic. Trusting subjective interpretations over objective evidence appears flawed, delusional and unreliable. We prefer to assume there is no place above the line worth seeking.

Most of the time, we remain stuck in the world below the line until we meet someone with a very different outlook, frame of mind and way of relating to us. This person does not make sense in our usual terms. We question how this is possible, where is this person coming from and how s/he got to be this way? We realize there is more to the realm of the "adjacent possible" than more of the same variations.

We may get pulled up to the Good Place above the line by this person. We will get asked questions about our feelings, fascinations and envisioned future. Rather than getting regarded as a productive slave and active consumer, we're approached as someone with a unique voice, viewpoint and palette of self expressions. The fact we get pulled up, rather than pushed, speaks volumes about trusting us and respecting our own timing, motivations and outlooks. We realize we can accomplish more and better things without all the excessive control, structure and power-trips that infect the worlds below the line.

We begin to take interest in others interests as we learn from such more interest being taken in our own interests. We discover how our subjective sense is more fitting to our priorities, values and moral code. We see things our own way and allow others the same freedom. Above the line people are far more interesting to know which makes it much more rewarding and easy to pursue a deeper understanding of their interests.


Playing the Mystery Game

In Level Three of the Higher Ed Game, we begin to play another game within the game. In Level Two, the Power Game captivates our imagination and extracts us from profound experiences of powerlessness remaining from Level One. We need to have accumulated enough power to cross over into Level Three and begin this new game. Without sufficient power, we cannot endure the seeming loss of power involved in this next game effectively.

Level Three of the Higher Ed Game invites us to play a Mystery Game. Our own curiosity drives our game play. We no longer depend on what we're being taught, assigned or required to do. We become self structuring by living our own questions. In this game, it becomes a mystery:

  • what level of the game each person we know is playing at
  • how we can help them advance to the next level in their games
  • what lies beyond this third level in the Higher Ed game
  • how to complete Level Three and advance to that fourth level

We can advance to Level Three by our own heroics. After that, our own progress depends on nurturing others' progress. Their interests become our interests. We seek to understand them better by approaching them as mysteries. We lose our "know -it-all" attitude cultivated by our success within the previous Power Game. We experience getting more value out of our questions than our answers. We learn more by wondering, not-knowing and exploring unfamiliar terrain.

The Mystery Game rewards us for what we don't know, unlike the testing, grading and Power Games which make it pay to know everything. The Mystery Game challenges  our assumptions, dismantles our fixations and exposes what we don't know yet. This game makes the condition of others far more interesting to us. We wonder what we can say and do to serve as a catalyst to their own growth processes. We regard situations as organic cycles with lives of their own which defy mechanistic attempts to fix them.

We succeed in this Mystery Game as we acquire better questions to ask. We refine our outlook by scrutinizing our blind spots, considering the flip side of what we do know and complicating whatever seems extremely obvious. We approach the world with more humility as our prior conditioning, categorizing and conclusive observations no longer serve us.