The two sides of learning

When we're caught up in the pressure to learn something for a test, job or competitive sport, we become too focused. We assume the side of learning we're fixating upon is the only one. That proves to be a ticket to misery if we stick with it for long.

There's always another side to learning than the one that's got our attention. This other side will haunt us if we do not honor it in some way. We don't have to be doing both sides all time time, just keep our perspective about the pair. Here's a brief list of some of the two-sided facets of learning. This list could become much longer:

  1. Getting taught new information AND teaching ourselves how it ties into to what we already know
  2. Knowing the right answers AND formulating new questions with those answers
  3. Complying with requirements AND getting the assignment done when, how and why it works for us within those requirements
  4. Following straightforward procedures AND happening on shortcuts or insights from reworking the draft
  5. Fixating on the goal with a plan in mind AND exploring different ways to reach that goal
  6. Formulating hypotheses about what ought to work reliably and testing those theories to prove them true or false
  7. Sitting passively to read, listen and watch instruction AND moving actively to express oneself and explore more possibilities
  8. Consciously studying or cramming AND unconsciously assimilating what others expect or how they act
  9. Learning from external influences AND learning from internal imaginative and insightful processes
  10. Learning how to explain what something is AND learning how to do what that something can accomplish

When we're absorbed with only one side of learning, we've put ourselves in a powerless position or turned into a monster. Learning is not fun or fulfilling. It's either a struggle we overcome or an endurance contest that overcomes us. We think too much about the problems we're having with learning. We don't see what's missing or what we're doing to ourselves by making learning into a one-sided thing.

When we keep both sides on minds, lots of the previous problems with learning disappear. We are working in our favor instead of against our best interests. We benefit from balancing the two sides in a process that varies  from one moment to the next. We follow what is emerging while controlling what we do in response. How we learn doesn't make much sense to others, but they'll be impressed with our results.


Motivation problems in the next economy

The old economy has cultivated hordes who are motivated by money and material acquisitions. They are not motivated to open what is closed, share what has been privitized or collaborate with formal rivals. Within their value frameworks, it does not pay to be cooperative, collaborative or commons-based. Rather, compassion shows up as losses, defeats or concessions on their radar. They cannot do things for others unless it gets rewarded in a game like Farmville or World of Warcraft.

Being motivated by money is the same as lacking self motivation. Extrinsic motivation eliminates intrinsic motivation. Tangible rewards become addicting. The addict fixates on getting more payoffs at all cost. They cannot validate anyone who is intrinsically motivated to serve, mentor or care for others. Being generous with one's time, talents and energies appears foolhardy, unproductive and contrary to the rules for succeeding.

As the next economy replaces the excess of paying jobs with more cooperative endeavors, those addicted to extrinsic rewards will become chronically unmotivated. They identify with what they do, not with who they are. They need a fix to feel right about themselves. They feel extremely wronged when deprived of a paying job. They will be in no mood to volunteer for, contribute to or share with others' projects. Unfortunately, they will feel the urge to act disgracefully, anti-socially or even criminally.

A sustainable network economy needs to resolve these motivation problems or getting dismantled by their corrosive effects. It won't work to hope the addicts go away or their addictions fade away. Intrinsic motivation cannot compete with extrinsic rewards at a personal level, much less at scales of neighborhoods, communities and regions.


Learning to be yourself and one of us

We assimilate what and who we're exposed to at close range. If it's in our face, we'll do the "Vulcan mind meld" thing with it in order to get along with it. We learn to think like it does, see the world the same way and react to situations with some matching patterns. We're continually playing "monkey see -- monkey do" without conscious effort. Our unconscious mind gets acculturated by exposure, imitation and experimental replication.

In The Social Animal, David Brooks shows us how our unconscious is not some personal darkness, isolated from our world or cut off from others' unconscious minds. Our unconscious is highly relational and cultural. We initially get how to merge with our primary caregivers. Our character is an internalized combination of our parents' characters. With their models in mind, we branch out to assimilate our siblings, extended family members and neighbors. We're in that 'very impressionable age" where we take small incidents as big answers to our questions like "how do we fit in among these people?" and "how can we get along with them when they get in that mood again?".

We never stop needing to be a unique character while fitting into a cultural paradigm. High school and college provide many more diverse ways to "be yourself and one of us" than families of origin or life on the street. Employment settings usually evolve into cultural enclaves with each employee profiled as kind of character. Friendships, memberships and community activities perpetuate this ongoing process of character and cultural development.

When we're being true to ourselves and compatible with our clan, we're functioning unconsciously. We learned to be effective at fitting in and being different without formal instruction. No thinking is required to appear as an acculturated character. We fall into these roles, reaction patterns and outlooks spontaneously. We're inherently relational and attuned to others. We've all had experiences of morphing into someone else when we're suddenly plopped into a different social situation. We pick up the new vibes, mixed signals and clear opportunities on autopilot. We switch from being one character to another without hesitation.

When you consider the implications of all this, you may come to similar conclusions as I have:

  • We'll learn more from how we're taught than what we're taught when we're getting acculturated into being passive, powerless and intimidated by expertise.
  • We'll follow what someone is doing, not what they're saying, when they're not walking their talk.
  • We'll learn to become as pompous, paranoid, passive, etc as those who show us how its done and when it's time to be that way. 
  • We will fall for matching patterns of eating, exercising, recreating, relaxing, shopping etc. as those who are in our face.
  • We'll imitate our abusers and perpetuate cycles of abuse, victimization and personal violation ad infinitum.
  • We'll limit ourselves to ineffective "fight or flight choices" if our exemplars have provided no examples of diplomacy, de-escalation of adversarial contexts and creative reconciliation of differences.
  • We'll be as afraid of potential dangers and as courageous in the face of adversity as those we hang out with repeatedly.

As David Brooks suggests, we need new and better policies that change the social fabric of character and culture. Throwing money at problems overlooks how unconscious we always are. We don't need incentives for good behavior and penalties for misconduct. We need exemplars to imitate and cultural enclaves to join. Morphing into better citizens, resourceful problem solvers, community activists, etc. will come over us like all our prior unconscious learning at close range. We'll see the opportunities to fit in and be ourselves by assimilation.


Deciding to waste time and money

Human nature is very good at making bad decisions. We waste tons of time and money by deciding in ways that fail to achieve intended results. We misjudge situations at every scale of endeavor from individuals making personal decisions to international agencies making global policy decisions. However, we make bad decisions for good reasons that prevent us from spending our time and money more wisely.

In The Social Animal, David Brooks seeks to correct the pattern of chronic policy failures by defining a more complex view of human nature. By accounting for our unconscious inclinations and conduct, he hopes to avoid the overly-simplistic models which assume we are rational decision makers. Brooks looks to the burgeoning fields of behavioral economics and cognitive neuroscience for insights on how to define human nature more complexly.

I have a problem with all the experiments that uncover our irrational biases that have become the basis for behavioral economics. The subjects of those experiments are put in situations for making snap judgements. There is no opportunity to say to the experimenter: "I'll get back to you on that" or "I'll let you know after I sleep on it". The experiments are finding how we make decisions when we're afraid of looming deadlines, missing opportunities, repeating past mistakes or violating cultural norms. They show us we are not rational when we are under pressure, in danger or worried about outcomes. They reveal what happens when we're set up to work against our unconscious. We have very good reasons for making bad decisions.

There are several passages in The Social Animal where we're shown how to make decisions working with our unconscious. In the field of creativity, this process is called "incubation". We first research the limits of what we can know. We then realize what we don't know and let go of trying to know the unknowable. Next we let go of working on the decision while it cooks on a back burner. Some time later, we'll get a clear sense of the right  decision to make. Our unconscious takes into account an unfathomable breadth and depth of considerations to deliver the "right action, right timing and right proportion". Good decisions emerge from the complex context of our knowns and unknowns. Good decisions are contextual, not isolated things.

Thus I see the process of making bad decisions as loops. We make decisions that result in policy failures when we're afraid of producing more policy failures. We decide to waste our time and money when we're afraid of making a bad decision. We get in big trouble when we're in a big hurry to finalize a decision. This non-linear view dismisses the dichotomies of rational/irrational decision-making and conscious/unconscious decision-makers. We can be conscious of our rational limitations and our unconscious resources for making wise decisions. We can be accept how the right decision is unconscious and accessible to the minds which are trusting in those resources, prepared to receive decisions and clear of fears which cycle into bad decisions.


Learning how to see

Exhortations to do the right thing or to change our behavior almost always fall on deaf ears. Telling us to do something differently contradicts what we know to be true. We have already learned to see what's what and how to react to that evidence. We didn't learn how to see these ways from formal instruction: lectures, homework or tests. We picked up how to see by hanging out with peers and role models. We got the picture by how they picture what we're both seeing. We learned to fit in by seeing things the ways they do.

In The Social Animal, David Brooks explores how this unconscious "learning to see" overrides most attempts at self-control and behavior change. If we're seeing opportunities to exploit, abuse or steal from others, we're not seeing the consequences or any alternatives. If we're seeing others' feelings, viewpoints and interests, we won't see opportunities to exploit, abuse or steal from them. We're immersed in a consensus that results from a myriad of little influences, incidents and interconnections.

William Glasser M.D. has also explored this unconscious "learning to see" in his Choice Theory model. When we're feeling a need to be in control, we will see ways to undermine the relationship with those who we see as out of control. It will appear there will be no cost to manipulating them, telling them how to live and framing them negatively. We won't see what we're doing to the relationship or how we're feeding their ways of acting "out of control". We won't see that we have any choices.

According to Glasser, problems with controlling others disappear when we exercise choices about how we see others and our relationships with them. We see how others are seeking a "quality world"  that will provide them with congruent feelings, purposeful conduct and significant experiences. We acquire choices to show them respect, to listen to their concerns and to care for the shared relationship. We respond to what occurs with choices, rather than reacting as if we hard-wired to an out-of-control situation.

As I read several of the reviews of The Social Animal this week, I noticed how many of the reviewers reacted as if David Brooks was out of control. They found fault in his book for not being scientific enough, literary enough or comprehensive enough. They seemed to be issuing exhortations for Brooks to change rather than relating to his quality world, his phenomenal achievement and his significant contribution to our ways of seeing. These reviewers have learned to see what wrong with books, authors and prose rather than what is right, valuable or insightful. They are likely immersed in a consensus on the payroll where they work. They are fitting in by seeing things the ways their colleagues and managing editors see things. They have no choices. They have already learned to see what's what and how to react. Perhaps they experienced The Social Animal as an exhortation for them to change what they know to be true.


Working with your unconscious

I'm working with my unconscious as I write this. I'm being given what to say and how to say it. To get into this frame of mind, I have to let go of knowing what to say and when I'll get inspired to say it. I let it come to me as if there is a right thing to write right now which is beyond my conscious comprehension.

Yesterday, I finished reading David Brook's new book: The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement. I absorbed this book slowly over the past two weeks, taking time to reflect on what I had  just read. I gave each chapter time to sink in, tie into my current models and transform into lenses for seeing familiar patterns in new ways. Reading with so much reflecting between chunks of text is another way I work with my unconscious. I let go of knowing how much to read before taking a time out. My unconscious would serve up a feeling of "let's do this" until it served up an another feeling of "no more" when it had enough for now. Sometime after each stoppage, I would get in the mood to reflect on what I had read and different passages would come to mind effortlessly.

David Brooks addresses this issue of working with your unconscious in The Social Animal. He follows two books I've explored here previously: Strangers To Ourselves/Timothy Wilson and Hare Brain Tortoise Mind/Guy Claxton. All three assert that 90% of of our conduct is unconscious. Our conscious mind cannot control our unconscious which is much larger and more powerful. Making a pretense of being rational, logical and self controlled creatures will be constantly betrayed by unconscious urges, compulsions and reactions. When we admit the limitations of our conscious reasoning, we can work with our unconscious and realize the benefits of the partnership. We can interrelate like a laptop connected to a server farm.

Carl Jung posited that the unconscious returns the face we show it. If we turn against it, it will turn against us. If we respect it and trust its guidance, it will respect us and show us the way through the mystery we're facing. We cannot control our unconscious. We can control how we consciously face it, treat it and frame it with our expectations. We're wary of being too smart for our own good, like a character "Raymond" that David Brooks portrayed in his chapter on The Insurgency. We will seek out the opposing viewpoint, remain humble about our own conclusions and trust the process of giving resolutions time to emerge from complex explorations. Rather than fixate on the thing we have to come up with urgently, we can perceive the big picture, immersive context and social fabric. That will gives us a much better perspective to work with the unconscious on coming up with that thing in its own way and timing.


Identity and activity issues

When our identity issues get handled adequately, we can make efforts which are congruent with who we think we are. We feel like respectable human beings who are doing what is needed at the moment. When our identity issues are unresolved or decided against us, we cannot make the required effort or find anything to do that resolves our identity issues. We feel like a machine, puppet or pawn in a system of persecution.

If we internalize the toxic messages of an education system designed for dropping out, our identity will take a major hit. We'll operate under the impression that we are:

  1. unworthy of respect from admirable adults
  2. incapable of facing challenges or getting sufficiently organized
  3. unrecognizable as unique somebody with valuable contributions to make
  4. unfavorably compared to others who are not as defective as we have become

This narrative of a flawed human being drives us to alter our miserable moods with excessive frenzy, consumption and/or socializing. We persist in being too busy to rethink our identity which seems like a curse, not one of several options. We generalize the toxic messages from the education system that told us we don't belong in the world of success, satisfaction and impressive results.

Our identity issues get resolved largely by getting mentored and serving as a mentor to others. We discover who we might be that differs from those putdowns we've internalized. We foresee the possibility of self respect, self expression and self fulfillment. We open the door to becoming less self absorbed, selfish and needy. We step into the light of making differences in the world that needs our help in seeing what we see, doing what we can do and achieving what we can accomplish. We become a respectable human being that gets admirable things done.


Designed for dropping out

Both high schools and institutions of higher ed are obviously very effective at getting large numbers of their students to dropout. From my perspective, dropping out must be their intended solution. If those institutions were designed for matriculation and graduation, they would be structured very differently. Institutions for higher learning must be deliberately designed for dropping out and have been proven very effective at achieving that purpose. They send loud and clear messages to their potential dropouts like the following:

  • If you've got self motivation and a passion for individualized learning, you're a misfit here. We rely on grades and grade point averages to incentivize learning. Our extrinsic rewards are known to have a toxic effect on your intrinsic motivation and your sense of a personal mission.
  • If you want to be creative or imagine learning to involve your creativity, you don't belong here. The only outlet for creativity in large classes with machine-graded exams is cheating. Some instructors teaching small classes may allow you to express yourself, formulate your own solutions or think for yourself. However those instructors are not recognized by their peers or given favorable evaluations for teaching like that. You'll find those instructors will drop out of here just as you're inclined to do.
  • If you learn best socially, you will learn next to nothing here. We give grades for individualized performance. The purpose of most group projects is to divide up the workload, not to collaborate or gain from others' perspectives. What you'll learn socially here is the finer points of binge drinking and other expressions of frustration, neediness and insecurities. 
  • If you benefit from getting understood by mentors, perceived as potentially  talented, recognized for your unique attributes, you're in trouble here. We need you to conform to academic rigors, comply with arduous requirements and suppress your idiosyncratic urges to do well here. Only the arts curricula allow you to be flamboyant and defiant of job market requirements.
  • If you admire particular faculty members for their maturity, expertise or exemplary interpersonal conduct, you belong elsewhere. We hire and promote faculty members who work well in silos, thrive on turf battles and compete with their colleagues for power within academic departments, divisions or the faculty senate. Those you admire are losers in our bureaucratic system of academic employment.
  • If you want your experiences to seem meaningful, significant and valuable to you personally, you've come to the wrong place. We deliver a barrage of meaningless experiences to ensure that students remain dependent on the administrative authority figures, compliant with policy requirements and consistently submissive when getting misled, mistreated or misunderstood by their advisors. 
  • If you want to learn from instructors who take responsibility for their mistakes, listen to other viewpoints and change their minds easily, you'd best dropout and look elsewhere. We encourage our faculty to exhibit patterns of fortress mentalities, blame shifting and hiding behind their job descriptions. We expect our instructors to desperately avoid responsibility, listening or cognitive flexibility when interacting with students or their parents. 

In other words, anyone who drops out has a clue and those who stick it out are dedicated to remaining clueless.


Working with the outer fringes

I fully expect the next economy to work very well with the outer fringes of the global market economy. I've characterized those fringes as relational patterns, not typical segments like manufacturing, service, or agriculture. While the core economy collapses in the coming decades, these stars at the fringe of it will embody the right stuff to function resiliently and sustainably. The next economy I'm envisioning will interface with these stars effectively. Here's a glimpse at those stars and the ways they contrast with the fading core economy.

Improvisational roles: When we're stuck in jobs that provide steady employment, we're bored by the repetitive nature of the work. When we're free to improvise, we find new problems to solve, fascinating issues to resolve and complex changes to facilitate. We're enlivened by the variety, timing and challenges in the numerous roles we deploy.

Immersive engagements: When we're committed to the core economy, we have trouble focusing on our workload or paying attention to directives. We're easily distracted by the enticements online or in our surroundings. When we experience our working as a spacious network, we're effortlessly immersed in the challenges. We feel like we're in pursuit of something mysterious. We're living our questions and wondering what could be next in our space.

Design thinking: When we're cranking out products or services, we're seeking perfection and avoiding mistakes. We're doing things according to specs or on time & under budget. When we switch to design thinking,  we need to consider all the customers and their contexts of use, need and challenges. We see new ways to serve them, make a difference and generate further interest in our designing with them in mind.

Discovery systems: When we're caught up in delivering what's been ordered, sold or promised, we're operating in task mode with closed minds. We've been taken hostage by an all-consuming interior. When we switch over to operating a discovery system, we migrate to being amassed at the border. We're interfacing with those on the outside who inform the inside what's changing, problematic or opportunistic. We're practicing organizational learning which cultivates a fifth discipline for revising the circuitry of chronic problems.

Processing stances: When we've taken a positional stance, we make enemies of customers, allies and supporters. We ask for trouble by opposing our opposition and antagonizing the antagonists. We fail to see life as a mirror of where we're coming from. When we crossover to taking processing stances, we're free of all that manufactured misery. We see ways to work with what's happening and let things take their destined course.

Results Oriented Work Environment: When we think of work as a prison, we dread going to work. When work is something we accomplish, it can get done without showing up for useless meetings. We switchover over from obligatory compliance with counter productive procedures to delivering the desired results on time. We find we can do what we love to do in ways that make the most sense for us while maintaing a life "outside of work".

Benefiting from paradoxes: When we're convinced it "cannot be both", we suffer from the tyranny of either/or. We go from one extreme to the other, oscillating in first order changes. When fail to realize it is both/and, two sides of the same coin, or essential ingredients of one synthesis. Once we can benefit from paradoxes, we maintain balance, realize winning combinations and achieve transformational (second order) changes.

All of these relational patterns can work very well with an economy what minimizes consumption, materialism and monetization. These patterns at the fringe of the core economy can welcome the challenges posed by those of us seeking ways to evolve an economy that proves to be resilient and sustainable.


Positional vs process stances

Human history is littered with failed social experiments to launch economic alternatives to unbridled greed, exploitation and abuse. In my view, each of these utopian ambitions met their demise because they took a positional stance against the market economy. They sought to isolate themselves in order to remain untainted by the toxic culture they opposed. As I've been imagining the next economy, I've envisioned it working with, rather than working against big corporations, government controls and proprietary interests. Instead of taking a positional stance against the current world order, this economy takes a process stance toward the future.

When we take a process stance, we are saying "yes" to the process instead of saying "no" to the opposition. We see a process in those who oppose the innovations and collaborations that will change their game. We see how innovations can emerge and incumbent systems self-destruct without forcing either outcome. Both occur naturally through inherent growth processes toward more cohesion, sustainability and resilience.

When we take a process stance, we switch from following procedures to processing whatever occurs. We've opened our minds to fresh thoughts and opened our systems to outside influences. We extend the boundary of inclusion to welcome outsiders who can benefit from the processes within. We see ways to work with those with different interests, outlooks and stories. We avoid taking evidence literally so that we're free to change the meaning, diagnosis or frame of reference in use.

Using a process stance also sets us up to win without a battle. Rather than making enemies or war with the opposing side, we make like we're facing a mystery. We don't know what will come of the conflict, so we work on knowing ourselves and our enemies deeply. We see how much we have in common, how much each has at stake, and how much freedom to maneuver is available to both. We avoid the pitfalls of assumptions, vengeance or control dramas. We use our not-knowing to become trouble for opposing positional stances. We trust the processes of bubbles getting burst and fears coming true. We watch as the others find they are being  over-confident, delusional and too smart for their own good.

Taking a process stance can break this pattern of failed social experiments. Success will enliven the participates and invite others to join in without a hard sell or big expense. It's value will be so evident and enticing that the replacement economy will "sell itself".


Getting beyond survival mode

The core functions of the global economy are currently in survival mode. There are peripheral components which may transition smoothly. However, most of the banking, investing, manufacturing, governing, educating and services sectors are in trouble. Those facets in survival mode must be thinking " we don't do anyone any good if we collapse, we should do everything possible to survive". That kind of thinking is of a short sighted variety that results from fear, extrinsic rewards or taking evidence literally. When any enterprise goes into survival mode, from an individual to the entire global economy, there's a recognizable pattern to all that becomes unconscious. Here's some dimensions of that recognizable pattern of obliviousness:

  1. Losing sight of a guiding purpose or the vision for a preferred future
  2. Overlooking the freedom amidst the imposing constraints or the possible alternatives adjacent to greater limitations
  3. Dismissing the sources of the deteriorating situations and the ways underlying assumptions are feeding the problems
  4. Dwelling on the dots without connecting them into trends of declines of successful arrangements, uprisings of game changers, reversals of fortune or replacements of incumbents
  5. Misreading the signs of self-confirming evidence, delusional constructs or failures to question what is missing
  6. Avoiding the paradoxes worth pursuing and the best of both combinations of apparent dilemmas
  7. Arresting the processes that cultivate trust, restore balance and collaborate on new solutions

It takes those not in survival mode to apprehend all that gets overlooked. We can get beyond survival mode by asking what-if questions, playing out different scenarios, and exploring creative efforts at the cutting edge of the status quo. I've been a lot of that amidst my being too busy to do much blogging lately. Here's some possibilities I'm pondering that I'll explore in future posts:

  • The current level of unemployment may rise higher in all the economies that were thriving before the global recession. That's because it's not really unemployment, it's the emergence of redeployment 
  • An increasing portion of the next economy won't have the income to get taxed by governments which fund social services, public safety nets and redistribution of privileged access
  • The shrinking middle class and the widening income gap between rich and poor can create a huge space for new ways to look after each other's needs and desires
  • A default on the staggering debt burdening western democracies could bring down the widespread system of greed and abuse of disadvantaged peoples and natural resources
  • Elected governments can only fall into partisan gridlock when they depend on jobs created by the private sector to fund their "doing for citizens what the citizens cannot do for themselves"
  • The next economy will "do for government what government cannot do for itself" without a system of revenue generation to accomplish those objectives
  • The next economy will replace failing systems for pensions, health care, educational access, neighborhood revitalization, etc. -- without costly top-down interventions

Stay tuned for more developments....