Both the article and the book deal with what Nassim Taleb describes as the characteristics of a black swan (i.e. a highly improbable event), which are: it is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact and after the fact we concoct an explanation that makes it more predictable than it was. The near financial collapse (saved from complete collapse by government intervention), the astonishing success of Google and 9/11 are all black swans. Both authors speak directly to our human limitations in explaining our inability to see what’s coming whether opportunity or disaster. A major reason according to Taleb is that humans are hard-wired to focus on specifics when we should be focused on generalities. We concentrate on what we know and simplify, narrate and categorize. And, we simply do not reward those who can imagine the impossible. Read More
Let’s start with an oversimplification of what a “traditional” client intervention might look like. Let’s understand the client to be an organization or a group of organizations wanting to do something together. Such an intervention is likely to focus on the group defining “who we are,” and very quickly following that up with “what to do.” The “what to do” is then followed by the articulation of a plan or strategy towards a mutually agreed upon goal. Ok – so let’s remember that we are oversimplifying the case!
How does this change when we start to do more work from an “emergence paradigm?” What happens when we start to work from a paradigm that defies the predictability of planning? The question of “who we are,” remains centrally important, the identity of the group holds it together and provides a frame for its shared intention. However, in an emergence paradigm the energy of attention is then focused on the articulation of a strategic intent. What is this group’s purpose and what is the most strategic path towards that purpose, but most important – what is this group’s intention and how will it manifest?
There seems to be no doubt that we have to shift our understanding of the problems that confront us, not just so that we understand what they require as solutions in the traditional sense, but so that we can comprehend what they require of us.
Psychologist Carol Dweck’s work shows that many of us have been educated to have what she calls a “fixed mindset,” one that can become concerned first and foremost with our own standing and status. She goes on to show how this is a sure fire recipe for disaster with respect to long-term results, whether one is a professional athlete, a CEO, a teacher, or a parent. If one is considering sustainable (and shared) benefit, then it behooves us to embrace a “growth mindset,” one that entails the ability, humility, and enthusiasm to learn from our mistakes and to help others to do so as well.
That is one of my biggest take-aways from being in DC last week. So many people are caught up in the game that plays out inside the Beltway where you have to make a name for yourself in order to have an impact. Fixed mindsets rein. But just when are you done proving yourself in such an environment? And what impact do we cheat ourselves of under such conditions in the long run?
Of course we can!It’s what we do!But can we evolve at will?Can we be a conscious part of our evolutionary process?I’m not trying to get trippy here; it just seems to me like we have to evolve and we have to do it fast.A few weeks back Nicholas Kristoff wrote a piece titled “When Our Brains Short-Circuit,” he tells us that “evolution has programmed us to be alert for snakes and enemies with clubs, but we aren’t well prepared to respond to dangers that require forethought.”His point is that we might be quick to freak out about terrorism (things blow up right away), but terribly slow to act when it comes to global warming (it unfolds over decades) – but which is more deadly?
And our big problem is that the political process we have forces lawmakers to move swiftly on whatever is freaking out the most people, even if it is at the expense of the long-term, or civil liberties for that matter.
We were intelligently designed to run from a saber-toothed tiger, but we have not yet evolved to deal smartly with the massive problems our own “advancement” has created –seems that we evolved unevenly, very fast industrially but very slow morally.And this is where my question comes back in.Is there anything we can do to advance our own evolutionary process?Are there modes of engagement with our selves that might help to catalyze radical shifts in our awareness?Alarmist communications only take us so far.Technical fixes are moving too slowly.Global warming can only be stopped by a radical shift in what Ron Haifetz would call the level of our values, beliefs and assumptions.I call this an evolutionary shift.
Last week I had the privilege of co-delivering a workshop on collaboration and effective teams to this year’s crop of New Leaders for New Schools Residents as part of their Summer Foundations experience. These principals-to-be truly give one hope for the future of education in this country.
Prior to our two days of delivery, I heard Jeff Howard of the Efficacy Institute deliver a presentation to the Residents on the difference between what he called a “performance orientation” and a “learning orientation.” Howard’s claim is that schools often fail when they overemphasize student and staff performance at the expense of learning, and his message to the future school leaders was that they needed to think hard about what is most important as a long-term goal for the people in their building.
At IISC, we’ve talked a lot about how huge leaps are made in thinking when you spend time at the intersections between different fields. A recent book, the Medici Effect, puts this out in the popular literature. That it is, in fact, living at the intersections that allows for different views into the world. And at this very moment in time, when the old approaches are falling behind and the world is so in need of new ways of looking at things, it seems a very good time to be spending time on the corners.
I’ve had some direct experience – as when Katy Payne and I discovered that humpback whales use rhymes in their songs. We were studying humpback whale songs, reading poetry and reading about oral transmission of folk literature. Suddenly, we had an “aha moment,” realizing that the patterns in humpback whale songs resembled human rhymes – that they sang the same grouping of sounds at the end of each section – and wondered if humpback whales, as well as humans, may use these repeating patterns as mnemonic devices. We’ll never know for sure – but spending time at the intersection between those fields is what brought the moment forth.
What a great short video on the design approach! There is so much here that is applicable to social change and to our work at IISC. To offer you a teaser, I was particularly intrigued by the distinction between insights and ideas, where the folks at Continuum argue that ideas are those that make insight actionable. And here at IISC, I think we find some aspirational resonance with the statement that “we don’t hide behind a hundred ideas, we focus on making the right idea possible.” Enjoy!