Tag growth

“We have put up too long with schools that are devoid of hope, humor & potential.” – Dominic Randolph on Rethinking Schools …*

Here are some excerpts from Dominic’s If I Were Secretary of State for Education post, which is a series of 41 articles written by leading international educationalists about what they would do if they were Secretary of State for Education in the UK. The articles were commissioned by the Sunday Times Festival of Education and Summerhouse Education, and sponsored by Pearson. Read them all at IfIwereSoSforEducation.tumblr.com.

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I would tackle what I think are the three principal issues that plague educational systems in the UK and in much of the world: how we undervalue the work of teachers, how we undervalue the task of educating our young people and how vitally important it is, and how we undervalue the crucial necessity for supporting lifelong learning so that people have the opportunity to learn new knowledge and skills throughout their lives. Therefore, I would concentrate on vigorously reframing the place of schools in our culture by making schools the most exciting place to be in any given community, making them the core of communities.

. . . *

Schools would be places that would inspire and normalize intellectual development but also the development of character and good ethical decision-making. They would be places that are truly human and, rather than reducing people industrially to summative scores or grades, would encourage ongoing formative development of the full range of their capacities. They would be preventative care health centers. Schools would become the community resource center. People attending schools would develop their potential and grow. They would focus on the delta of their development in an ongoing way rather than measuring it statically at certain points.

. . . *

Making schools positive, productive and cool places at the heart of each community would be the aim. We have put up too long with schools that are devoid of hope, humour and potential. Starting a movement to change this reality and bring learning to the centre of what we are about could be a great dream for us all to have.

Read Dominic’s full post here.

imagine, reframe & rethink …

{ Grow In Peace } The Banality of Transformation …*

{ Grow In Peace } The Banality of Transformation ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

A few months ago, I shared a list of the top five things that walking 500 miles helped me understand in a deeper or different way. Here is a bit more context around the fifth lesson: Grow In Peace – Transformation, it turns out, is astonishingly banal.

If you ever decide to walk the Camino, you will soon discover that everyone you tell knows someone else who did it. Apparently, all these friends of friends found it a fantastically transformative experience. They all felt something grand, spiritual, almost supernatural upon reaching Santiago. When I arrived, it was raining and I was battling a mighty cold. To reach Santiago, you have to bypass the airport and then walk for a few hours through the sprawling suburbs that have grown around the historical center. The predominant feelings I remember were disappointment and annoyance having to tread through a torrential downpour through this urban wasteland. A feeling akin to trying to get on the NYC 1 train during rush hour. Nothing grand about it.

When I returned everyone’s first question was, “So, are you transformed? Did you feel it?” I’m still not sure what that ‘it’ was supposed to be. I felt lots of things. I felt cold and sweaty, tired and elated, grumpy and excited, awed and overheated, achy, curious, lost, optimistic, jealous and delighted–the whole gamut of human emotions from the petty to the exalting. As for noticeable transformations, other than my feet which became freakishly swollen halfway through the walk and went up (permanently, I have now found out) one full shoe size, there were none to speak of. But now, over six months since I have returned, I am beginning to discern the transformative effects of this experience. I have changed in subtle but important ways–I feel more urgently the need to align my beliefs with my behaviors and I feel more confident and optimistic about my capacity to do that. This is not a new observation, I didn’t get to Santiago and just realize that I am feeling off center because I’m not committing hard enough to the things that break and delight my heart; what changed is my determination to do something about it.

. . . *

When I arrived in Santiago, I went to the cathedral and decided to light a candle to Saint Anthony of Padua, my mother’s favorite saint. I walked around the cathedral a few times unable to find him and finally asked a security guard.

“Excuse me, do you know where I can find Saint Anthony?”

“I don’t know, did someone tell you he was here?”

“No, but I was hoping you might help me find him.”

“Let me check. No, sorry, he’s not here.”

I didn’t find Saint Anthony, but when I stopped looking for him, I walked around the cathedral again and took in all its treasures, finally seeing the other saints sitting impassively in their richly carved nooks and corners. I think that’s a good metaphor for transformational moments. We sometimes invest these moments with so much expectation that we ignore the smaller changes we undergo. Static is an illusion, it is in our nature and our biology to be constantly changing, if only just through the unavoidable pull of entropy. My father’s family motto is ‘Change or Decay’. Whether on pilgrimage or on the 1 train, we are constantly in motion. Change is inevitable, we can choose to be intentional about the direction of this change or we can just let our experiences change us mindlessly. I think that’s the power of transformational moments, they rarely transform us into a brand new person (subjectivity doesn’t work that way, we need some sort of continuity in our sense of self), but they give us the perspective and hopefully the courage to be intentional about our growth and evolution.

On one of the last pages of the journal that I brought with me on the walk, I recently rediscovered this note I had scribbled to myself:

“No groundbreaking epiphanies, no blazing revelations–mainly just an increased awareness of what’s already known and the mental space to see how much this awareness/knowledge needs to be transformed into action.”

. . . *

Microadventures: Short, Perspective-Shifting Bursts of Travel Close to Home …*

This ‘advertisement’ from The School of Life makes a very poignant point about one of the great motivations to travel: “The real desire to travel isn’t to go anywhere. It’s to leave parts of ourselves behind.” In reality, of course, it is impossible to just decide to shed the bits of ourselves we dislike and magically, on the spot, be done with them. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say impossible, but it certainly has never happened that way in my own experience or the experiences of those around me, from what they’ve reported. For example, a few weeks ago, I shared a short animated video of Brené Brown talking about how blame has absolutely no adaptive value and how stopping ourselves from blaming confers some very attractive outcomes like better relationships and a stronger capacity for empathy. Compelled by the research, I decided to stop blaming but the desire to do it still arises and I have to actively stop myself from blaming, over and over, each time that desire comes back. It takes work, not just willpower, and sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but that’s what it takes to leave the unwanted bits of ourselves behind. What travel does afford us is the mental space from our nearly automatic cognitive and emotional habits and ingrained responses. In new environments and engaged in new experiences, we are more able and often more willing to question our assumptions and to pause our reactions.

Which is where microadventures come in, giving us an opportunity to benefit from the mental space of travel without the financial costs or time requirements of traveling to faraway places. Microadventures, a term coined and championed by British explorer Alastair Humphreys are, “short, perspective-shifting bursts of travel closer to home, inspiring followers to pitch a tent in nearby woods, explore their city by moonlight, or hold a family slumber party in the backyard.”

Originally I set myself on a course of being a quintessential heroic British explorer and did that sort of thing for quite a few years. But a couple things happened. During the motivational talks I give, the audience would call themselves “normal people,” while I was “the adventurer.” But I’m a normal person, too, and I wanted them to see they could go on their own adventures. Also, I have a wife and two young children, and I couldn’t go off for months at a time. To stop myself from going stir-crazy, I came up with adventures closer to home.

[ . . . ]

Yeah, the first was when I decided to walk a lap of the M25 motorway, the 120-mile road around London. I live quite near it and while it seems rather boring, I started to get curious about where it went. It was also a metaphor for finding pockets of beauty wherever you are, one of the things I love about adventure. I absolutely loved that walk. My original idea was to try to do the most epic things I possibly could without going far, but I found that “epic” limited people from participating in the idea. The key is getting beyond the excuses. If you can’t climb a mountain, climb a hill. –Alastair Humphreys

Source: The Virtues of Microadventures 

Alberto Giacometti on Being In the World As A Rethinker …*

Alberto Giacometti on Being In the World As A Rethinker ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

Naples, 2014 – Artist Unknown …*

 

I’ve been trying to get up earlier recently and to motivate myself to get out of bed before sunrise, I have made the first hour of my day all about play and reflection. I read books that are just for pleasure, I journal, I drink my coffee unhurriedly, I look out into the darkness and listen to the birds begin to stir while my cat purrs besides me. It’s splendid.

This morning I was reading some interviews with Alberto Giacometti, and found the following passage to express splendidly so many aspects of what it means to be in the world as a rethinker …* From being able to live comfortably with the unknown (and the unknowable); being willing to reconstruct anew one’s understanding each day; questioning one’s assumptions daily without letting ego or fear get in the way; not letting one’s ideas and work become too precious; to being able to appreciate the intrinsic joy and inherent rewards of the process. Hope you will be as inspired by this glimpse into Giacometti’s experience as I am 

I do not work to create beautiful paintings or sculpture. Art is only a means of seeing. No matter what I look at, it all surprises and eludes me, and I’m not too sure of what I see. It is too complex. So, we must try to copy simply in order to begin to realize what we are seeing. It’s as if reality were continually behind curtains that one tears away… but there is always another …always one more. But I have the feeling, or the hope, that I am making progress each day. That is what makes me work, compelled to understand the core of life. And to carry on, knowing that the closer one gets to the goal, the further it retreats. The distance between the model and myself tends to increase continually; the closer I get, the further away it moves. It’s an endless search. Every time I work I am prepared to undo without the slightest hesitation the work done the day before, as each day I feel I am seeing further. Basically I now only work for the sensation I get during the process. And if I am then able to see better, if as I leave I see reality slightly differently, deep down, even if the picture doesn’t make much sense or is ruined, in any event I have won. I have won a new sensation, a sensation I had never experienced before. 

Source: Why Am I A Sculptor? – An Interview with André Parinaud

. . . *

{ Rethinking Engagement } Cultivating the Rage to Master, Job Crafting & the Impact of Our Environments on Motivation …*

This week had me thinking about motivation and engagement: how do we trigger, cultivate and enhance our level of engagement and that of our students. It started a few weeks ago when reading 7 Secrets Top Athletes Can Teach You About Being The Best At Anything, I learned of a fascinating term coined by psychologist Ellen Winner: RAGE TO MASTER. The rage to master is a term that Winner coined to describe a common trait found amongst child prodigies– an obsessive and insatiable desire to become better at something. I found fairly little more information on this concept and would really appreciate it if any of you could point me to an article or other online resource that gives a bit more context around the term.

Anyway, the reason engagement and motivation emerged as a theme for me this week, is because as I was walking around thinking about the rage to master, I walked past a public school which stopped me dead in my tracks. The building looked so dreadful: square, brown, with heavy meshed bars on the windows, that at first I thought I had stumbled upon a prison. I happened to be thinking about Winner’s Rage to Master at that precise moment, wondering what strategies and influences might help children develop this insatiable desire for improvement, and the contrast between what I was thinking about and this building where students go to learn and flourish every day really took me aback.

I understand that there are issues of safety, especially in places such as Manhattan and that funding is limited, but there must be accessible alternatives to this block of brown and grills that would be more conducive to cultivating passionate engaged students, obsessed with learning and mastery.

. . . *

So how might we go about starting to hack our way to creating more opportunities for increased motivation and engagement? Well, the Association for Psychological Science highlights new research that suggests that Just Feeling Like Part of A Team Increases Motivation on Challenging Tasks

Across five experiments Stanford psychological scientists Priyanka B. Carr and Gregory M. Walton concluded that even subtle suggestions of being part of a team dramatically increased people’s motivation and enjoyment in relation to difficult tasks, leading to greater perseverance and engagement and even higher levels of performance.

“Simply feeling like you’re part of a team of people working on a task makes people more motivated as they take on challenges,” says Walton.

Carr and Walton hypothesized that a sense of working together would fuel intrinsic motivation by turning a tedious task from work into play.

 . . . * 

Earlier this week, my father gave me some interesting prompts for job crafting from the School of Life — Roman Krznaric’s How To Find Fulfilling Work and the 100 Questions: Work Edition Kit:

100 carefully composed questions designed to help you start a conversation about you and your working life. Use them to sharpen your understanding of who you are and what you should be asking of the world of work.

I haven’t gotten around to reading the book yet, but each morning this week I’ve spent about a half hour picking out some cards and thinking about my answers to the questions. I’ve really enjoyed the exercise, finding that it allows me to think about my work life from completely new angles that I would not have considered on my own. For example, all of the cards are broken up into several categories, and this morning I was reflecting on a prompt about what I would have to do in my working life to make my children proud. Because I’m not at all thinking about any potential future children, this is not a question I would have asked myself nor is it an angle I would have considered when thinking about how to craft my career. Yet, after spending some time with the question this morning, I found it was quite a productive prompt that allowed me to expand how I frame and approach the concept of a meaningful career.

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{ A Methodology for Accelerated Learning } Five Easy Steps For Learning Anything In 20 Hours …*

{ A Methodology for Accelerated Learning } Five Easy Steps For Learning Anything In 20 Hours ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

“We treat, in our culture now, learning as a very academic exercise—the objective is to suck in a ton of information about this thing whether or not you’re going to use it. And I think education in our culture now has been seen in the academic sense and less in the sense of practicing something with the eye of using it to do some particular cool thing.”  – Josh Kaufman

I loved this observation about the need to rethink the aims of learning outside (and inside!) an academic context. So much of the ends we pursue and the strategies we employ in our lives, work and learning all too often depend on unexamined and often limiting assumptions. It’s important to pause, examine and articulate our stance about learning so that we may rethink it. What are our fundamental beliefs about learning? As access to information becomes ever more present, easy, and democratized–in the age of Google–what should be the aims of learning–both for school-children and for ongoing learning as adults and knowmads?

In the video below, Josh Kaufman highlights the five step process to learning anything in twenty hours which he details in his book, The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything…Fast!  These five principles of accelerated learning apply to all quality of skills you may be trying to acquire, whether motor of cognitive.

What will you learn? 

1. SET A PERFORMANCE TARGET LEVEL 

The first step in this process, and this is something that applies to every skill—could be a motor skill like learning how to fly an airplane, or skateboard, or something like that; could be a cognitive skill like language or programming— so the first step is deciding exactly what it is you want. If you’re able to really clearly define what it is you’re trying to get—it’s called setting a target performance level—the more clearly you can define that, the easier it is for you to look out into the world and find ways to get there in the most direct way possible. So for example, one of the things I wanted to be able to do was programming. And so, instead of just saying, “I want to be a programmer,” —right, doesn’t give you any information whatsoever—it’s: “here is this idea of a program that I would like to sit down and create from nothing; and it looks like A, B, C, D, E, F, G. When I make this thing, I’ll have developed the skills that are necessary in order to get the particular result. So instead of learning everything in the world about programming, I decided this is the sub-segment of that skill I’m interested in first so that’s what I’m going to focus on.

So what is it going to look like when you’re done? What are you going to be able to see or experience that will let you know you’ve reached the level that you were going for?
2. DECONSTRUCT THE SKILL INTO SMALLER SUB SKILLS 
After you decide what you want, you do what’s called deconstructing the skill. And the idea behind that is a lot of the things that we think of as skills, like for example playing golf, or speaking French, or learning how to program, those aren’t exactly skills; they’re really kind of general topics that contain lots of smaller sub-skills. So it’s really hard to practice being a good golfer. It’s way easier to practice hitting off of the tee with the driver. So you take the global skill and you break it up into much smaller parts. And if you’re clear about what you want, it becomes very easy to find what are those sub skills, what are those smaller parts that are actually going to help you get to that target performance level as quickly as possible.
3. RESEARCH SMARTER & TRANSITION TO ACTION FASTER
Go out into the world and find sources of information that help you do this deconstruction. If you, for example, pick up five books on whatever it is you’re trying to learn how to do, don’t read them cover to cover, skim all of them one right after the other. And what you’ll see are the two or three sub-skills that you’re going to be using most of the time are the ones that come up over and over again. So you just practice those first. And if you spend your time practicing those things and avoid a lot of the distractions or things that aren’t going to help you, you save a lot of time and energy as you’re practicing.
You know the whole idea of researching the topic is something that I had to actively train myself out of. I love doing research. Programming was a good example of this for me. It’s like, “I want to learn how to program: I’m going to get ten books; I have these courses; I’m going to go through all of this stuff and then I’m going to sit down and write a program. It’s like no, you use the research to do just enough research to help you do the deconstruction and find the most important sub-skills first and then get out of research mode and into practice mode as quickly as you can. When you start practicing what it is you’re actually trying to do, that’s when you see the performance improvement.
4.  HACK YOUR ENVIRONMENT FOR BETTER ENERGY MANAGEMENT & INCREASED MOTIVATION
This is where the behavioral psychology elements of this come in —it’s how can you make it easier to do the thing that you want to be doing instead of getting distracted by some shiny object and then going and doing something else. So instead of relying on exerting a lot of willpower to force yourself to do this thing that you’ve decided you want to do, you spend a little bit of willpower, a little bit of time and energy, altering the structure of the environment around you, just to make it easy as possible to do the thing that you want to do.
Removing barriers to practice, so things that are preventing you from doing work. Sometimes those things are environmental distractions, like turning off the TV or blocking the Internet, or closing the door—you know all the things  you can do to make sure that in those early hours of practice, which are frustrating, you don’t get so frustrated that it’s easy to stop focusing on whatever it is you’re doing and start to pay attention to something else. Likewise, anything that you can do to make sure it takes as little energy as possible to start practicing is super helpful at that point. So, you know, instead of keeping your guitar in the case in the back of the closet on the other side of your house, take the guitar out of the case, get a stand and put it right next to your couch—anything that you can do  to make it easier on yourself to get those early hours of practice, the better
5. PRE-COMMIT TO PRACTICING AT LEAST 20 HOURS
So all the things that we’ve talked about so far is getting set up to sit down and do the work of actually practicing. The pre-comittment and the idea of practicing at least 20 hours, there’s a lot of behavioral psychology behind that. The two big things is, first it’s a really important check on your reasons for learning this thing in the first place. Is it worthwhile for me to rearrange my schedule and stop doing other things? Is this something that I’m expecting to get enough benefit from to make the effort worth it? If it’s not, don’t do it. So if you’re willing to set aside at least 20 hours, what the pre-commitment does is make sure that you practice long enough to push through that early frustration to actually start seeing results.
So 20 hours is roughly forty minutes every day for a month–give or take–and I usually break my practice sessions into about 20 minutes a piece so two twenty minutes practice sessions every day for about a month can get you there. And so, if you’re able and willing to do that, pre-committing the time makes sure that you practice long enough to see that really good result but it’s also, psychologically, it doesn’t feel like that big of a hurdle to say, “ok, this is important to me, I can set aside at least that amount of time.” So it’s just enough that you’re going to see dramatic results but not so much that it prevents you from making the pre-comittment in the first place.

The Visual Case for a Growth Mindset – Striking Demonstration of How Intelligence Grows Just Like A Physical Muscle …*

The Visual Case for a Growth Mindset - Striking Demonstration of How Intelligence Grows Just Like A Physical Muscle ...*

“Your intelligence can actually be changed. What we’ve learned, what researchers have taught us, is that our brains are actually a lot like a muscle. We know that you can grow your muscles by going into the gym and doing exercise and straining your muscles. You don’t just work on things that are easy for your muscles to do, you do things that your muscles have to struggle with, that your muscles have to strain with and then they rebuild themselves and they come back stronger. By struggling, it’s a signal to your body to devote more resources to that part of the body. And we see that exact same thing with the brain. “

Growth mindset, as you likely know by now, is the belief that intelligence, personality, and any number of other cognitive or emotional capacities–think creativity, empathy, optimism, etc.– are not fixed but learnable, and growable with effort and practice over time.

The idea that emotional and cognitive capacities function much like physical muscles that become stronger and better developed through effort over time is a common analogy pervading the field of psychology. Numerous studies looking at a vast range of capacities support the idea that these strengths are indeed dynamic and learnable. If you want a good starting point to review some of the research, I highly recommend Carol Dweck‘s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. But if you want a quick and very powerful way to drive home for yourself the validity of a growth mindset, watch the video from Khan Academy embedded below.

“The big takeaway from this whole area of research is you absolutely can change your intelligence, that your brain is like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets. And that the best way to grow it, isn’t to do things that are easy for you, that might help a little bit, but what really helps your brain is when you struggle with things. And actually, research shows that you grow the most not when you get a question right, but when you get a question wrong. […] research tells us: when you get something wrong, when you challenge your brain, when you review why you got it wrong, when you really process that feedback, that’s when your brain grows the most and that if you keep doing that, you’re well on your way to having a stronger more able, and I guess you could say, smarter brain.”

reframe adversity as growth & flourish …* 

Jugaad: A Hindi Concept for “Spotting Opportunities in Adverse Circumstances & Improvising Solutions Using Simple Means”

Jugaad: A Hindi Concept for "Spotting Opportunities in Adverse Circumstances & Improvising Solutions Using Simple Means" | rethinked.org

“Jugaad is a Hindi word meaning an innovative fix or an improvised solution born from ingenuity. Jugaad is the gutsy art of spotting opportunities in the most adverse circumstances and resourcefully improvising solutions using simple means. Jugaad is about seeing the glass always half-full.”  – Navi Radjou

I came across the term “jugaad” yesterday while reading a listicle on Mother Nature Network about  7 cultural concepts we don’t have in the U.S. I was struck by how closely the Hindi concept resonated with the way our team has framed, constructed and explored the idea of rethinking–as being about making do with what we have by reframing problems into opportunities instead of constantly trying to reinvent the wheel or start things anew. For us, rethinking is a method and framework for innovating and creating smart solutions to the myriad problems–big and small–that crop up in our lives, work and communities. But rethinking is also a value, a belief in living lightly, in making the most in a world of shrinking resources and increasing complexity. It is a relentless commitment and belief in our collective ability to enhance our lives and those of others.

Jugaad is a Hindi word that means “an innovative fix” or a “repair derived from ingenuity,” — think a jury-rigged sled for snowy fun, or a bicycle chain repaired with some duct tape. It’s a frequently used word in India where frugal fixes are revered. But the idea has further merit beyond figuring out solutions to get by with less. It also encapsulates the spirit of doing something innovative. As the authors of Jugaad Innovation write in Forbes, they see jugaad in many other places than the repair shop: “In Kenya, for instance, entrepreneurs have invented a device that enables bicycle riders to charge their cellphones while pedaling. In the Philippines, Illac Diaz has deployed A Litre of Light — a recycled plastic bottle containing bleach-processed water that refracts sunlight, producing the equivalent of a 55-watt light bulb — in thousands of makeshift houses in off-the-grid shantytowns. And in Lima, Peru (with high humidity and only 1 inch of rain per year), an engineering college has designed advertising billboards that can convert humid air into potable water.”

Source: 7 cultural concepts we don’t have in the U.S

After reading the Forbes article, I researched the term and found an article on Harvard Business Review where Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu, and Simone Ahuja–the authors of Jugaad Innovation: Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth (2012)– outline four operating principles for innovating the Jugaad way:

  1. Thrift not waste. This first rule — which promotes frugality — helps tackle scarcity of all forms of resources.
  2. Inclusion, not exclusion. This second rule helps entrepreneurial organizations to put inclusiveness into practice — by tightly connecting with, and harnessing, the growing diversity that permeates their communities of customers, employees, and partners.
  3. Bottom-up participation, not top-down command and control. This third rule drives collaboration. CEOs who tend to act as conductors must learn to facilitate collaborative improvisation just as players in jazz bands do.
  4. Flexible thinking and action, not linear planning. This fourth rule facilitates flexibility in thinking and action. Jugaad-practicing firms are highly adaptable as they aren’t wedded to any single business model and pursue multiple options at any time.

Source: Jugaad: A New Growth Formula for Corporate America

What are some opportunities for jugaad in your community? 

{ Ambiguity & Passion } How Integrative Thinking Can Help Us Build A Strategy For Winning in Life & Work …*

{ Ambiguity & Passion } How Integrative Thinking Can Help Us Build A Strategy For Winning in Life & Work ...* | rethinked.org

For this week’s Friday Link Fest, I want to explore something that has kept cropping up in my reading over the past few days and which is a core tension in most aspects of people’s lives and creative work: convergence versus divergence. The need for balance between converging and diverging–dreaming and focusing, thinking and doing–has certainly been a central and uncomfortable tension in my own life. In fact, I have made finding a better way to live out that tension a core priority of my 2015 resolutions by giving this year the theme of “Execution”.

I hate easy binaries but on the thinking-doing spectrum, I must admit to being firmly in the thinking camp. I love thinking, in all its forms and can spend hours, days even, questioning, planning, reflecting, imagining and daydreaming. Execution, however, is a different matter– I freeze up, I delay, I procrastinate, I tell myself I haven’t had time to properly think everything through. Learning about a growth mindset has helped me make some progress in being less afraid of taking action, as has practicing design thinking with its strong emphasis on rapid prototyping. Yet, taking action remains a tentative, sporadic and laborious endeavor for me.

Earlier this week I read an excellent essay, Ambiguity & the Art of Meaning, by Umair Haque, which examined this tension between our love of ambiguity and open-ended possibility and our need to feel we are living meaningful, enriching lives.

“Ambiguity. It’s the defining characteristic of this age.”

[ … ]

“And so we’re all what you might call faithful ambiguists these days. We’re fascinated by the in between; drawn to the double-sided; obsessed by the contradictory.

Ambiguity’s exciting. Thrilling, even. The unresolved is the undecided; and the undecided, like a roulette wheel, rouses our blood while it spins.”

[ … ]

“Here’s the truth. That’s not good enough. What are we really protecting ourselves from when we declare our tiny wars on ambiguity? Ourselves. The people we were meant to be.

“Ambiguity asks us: what do our lives mean? And unless we can resolve ambiguity, we will always be left with the lingering suspicion: they could, and should, have meant more. That what we took with one hand, we simply gave away with the other. “

– Ambiguity & The Art of Meaning, Umair Haque

I am aware that part of my mental block with execution has much to do with my fear of making the wrong choice, of going the wrong route. While I explore ideas and options in my head, I tell myself that I am keeping my possibilities in “real life” open. But after a while, the days become weeks, then months, then years and still I put things off; I don’t commit and I stay stagnant. A growing anxiety within me whispers that I am wasting my time and my opportunities.

“There is a great tension at the heart of every ambiguity. This or that? Up or down? Left or right? The answer is not either or. The choice might leave you satisfied — but the tension will surely leave you discontented with your very satisfaction. The answer, if there is one, is through. Resolving ambiguity is not just making choices between two opposites; nor is it merely learning to see two opposites, and throwing one’s hands up in the air at them. It is synthesis. Discovering how to forge two opposites, which should repel, into one whole — that is greater than the sum of its parts.” 

Ambiguity & The Art of Meaning, Umair Haque

Does this sound familiar to you? Yes, Integrative Thinking! Speaking of Integrative Thinking, I have just finished reading Roger Martin’s latest book, co-authored with A.G. Lafley, Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works (2013), which made me think of Haque’s essay by focusing on the need to make choices. According to the father of Integrative Thinking, strategy is, at its core, just a synonym for making choices and performing the actions that support that choice.

“It is natural to want to keep options open as long as possible, rather than closing off possibilities by making explicit choices. But it is only through making and acting on choices that you can win. Yes, clear, tough choices force your hand and confine you to a path. But they also free you to focus on what matters. What matters is winning. Great organizations–whether companies, not-for-profits, political organizations, agencies, what have you–choose to win rather than simply play.”

– Playing To Win, Roger & Lafley, pg.5

“Winning” may sound a bit strange in a personal context. We are told often enough that comparing ourselves to others is a losing game. But if one frames winning in terms of being all that one can be, winning by making the choices that will allow us to reach a full, purposeful life lived with passion, commitment and conviction, we very quickly can see how applicable strategy is to our personal lives.

In Playing to Win, Martin and Lafley create a framework, which revolves around five core choices, to approach strategic thinking:

“Winning should be at the heart of any strategy. In our terms, a strategy is a coordinated and integrated set of fives choices: a winning aspiration, where to play, how to win, core capabilities, and management systems.”

– Playing To Win, Roger & Lafley, pg.5

Playing to Win is an excellent book if you’re looking to rethink your strategy and update your business model. Yet, while I was reading it, and learning more about each of the five choices, I could not stop thinking about how relevant this framework was for one’s personal life.

So while the ambiguous and the open-ended are immensely attractive, meaning, purpose and growth come from making choices.

“It is not just finding a lover you hate; or a friend you desperately love…but a lover you can build a great friendship with. It is not just finding a career that enriches you, or a fortune that impoverishes you…but riches that enlarge you…and leave you feeling fortunate enough to thank creation for every moment you are alive. It is not just a life that makes you happy…where “happiness” is merely suffering you are relieved to avoid…but a happiness that makes you ache with purpose, burn with passion, laugh at fate, rebel against destiny.”

– Ambiguity & The Art of Meaning, Umair Haque

These choices are not compromises, the issue at hand is not choosing for the sake of choosing. We must move past the false binaries we create, we must put in the hard work necessary to reframe either-or choices as integrated options that take the best of option A and the best of option B to create an optimal choice in C (to that end, I highly recommend Martin’s books on Integrative Thinking, The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking). This an uncomfortable process, as the authors of The Capabilities Your Organization Needs to Sustain Innovation published this week on Harvard Business Review, point out:

“The problem – and the leadership challenge – arises because options A and B are often incompatible, even completely opposable, ideas. To arrive at option C means people must keep both A and B on the table, and that is difficult to do. When faced with two seemingly mutually exclusive alternatives, the human impulse is to choose one and discard the other as soon as possible, or to forge a simple compromise. We crave the clarity provided by that kind of clean, assured decision-making. We crave it so much, in fact, that when a leader refuses to make a choice quickly, even when it can only be arbitrary or capricious, we grumble about the “lack of leadership around here.” It takes courage to hold open a multitude of possibilities long enough that new ways of combining them can emerge. There is often great pressure to make a choice, any choice, and move on.”

Once we decide what it is we will commit to, what path is right for us to grow into ever richer and fuller versions of who we might become, we must continue to push and provide the effort necessary to support and activate these choices (to which end, I highly recommend Martin and Lafley’s book on strategy, Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works.) For as Haque points out at the end of his essay,

“The question is this. Whose lives are we creating? Ours — or someone else’s? Do we become the people we are told to be — or the people we were meant to be?”

Ambiguity & The Art of Meaning, Umair Haque

On Deep Learning, Transformative Change & Rethinking Bad Habits …*

On Deep Learning, Transformative Change & Rethinking Bad Habits ...*  | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman

Long time readers may remember Friday Link Fests of past, in which I curated links to some of the most intriguing things I had read, watched or seen that week. I’m thinking of bringing it back for 2015 but this time I’d like to experiment with some intriguing ways to pair and contrast the content instead of just sharing it in a list. What do you think? Any suggestions on how to do that well? Let me know * 

 

“We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves, otherwise we harden.”

–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe ( 23 Powerful Quotes To Inspire A Successful Year)

{ OUTSOURCING COGNITIVE CONTROL TO THE ENVIRONMENT — WHAT IT MEANS FOR OUR ABILITY TO MULTITASK AND CHANGE OUR HABITS }

This week I read two articles–one about multitasking and the other about changing habits–which both dealt with the outsourcing of cognitive control to our environments when faced with repetitive tasks and behaviors. I enjoyed the contrast between the two lenses through which this tendency to offload cognitive demand can be a positive thing (it helps to make multitasking slightly less inefficient) and how it can be a highly detrimental thing (it can keep us stuck in bad habits).

– – – 

What Heroin Addiction Tells Us About Changing Bad Habits is that roughly 45 percent of what we do each day, we do “in the same environment and is repeated.” This is a problem because:

“People, when they perform a behavior a lot — especially in the same environment, same sort of physical setting — outsource the control of the behavior to the environment.”

So we stop making choices and react to environmental cues, like sitting on the couch at the end of the day, getting on Netflix, and reaching for the pint of ice cream without really thinking about whether or not we even want ice cream.

“To battle bad behaviors then, one answer is to disrupt the environment in some way. Even small changes can help — like eating the ice cream with your nondominant hand. What this does is disrupt the learned body sequence that’s driving the behavior, which allows your conscious mind to come back online and reassert control.”

– – – 

Consistently performing actions and behaviors in similar environments does have an upside however, especially when it comes to multitasking. While multitasking is counterproductive and should be avoided, it can be rendered more useful if you “practice multitasking when you learn it in the first place.” In The Curious Science of When Multitasking Works, Walter Frick reports on a new study published in Psychological Science, which shows that consistent context matters in our ability to multitask well:

“These results suggest the possibility that our ability to juggle tasks and recall information depends on the context in which we learned those things in the first place.”

*

{ THE NEED TO CULTIVATE A GROWTH MINDSET & EMBRACE VULNERABILITY TO ACHIEVE DEEP LEARNING & AUTHENTIC GROWTH  }

“Learning is fundamentally an act of vulnerability. It is an acknowledgement that what one knows is not sufficient, and that new information and new thinking about that information is needed.”

So starts Jal Mehta’s article on Education WeekUnlearning Is Critical for Deep Learning. Across industries, from the boardroom to the classroom, we are becoming increasingly aware of the discomfort dimension of learning and the need to cultivate a growth mindset to transcend this discomfort and push through to achieve deep learning and transformative change.

“At the end of the day, the factors that facilitate unlearning are the same qualities that mark good organizations and good teaching environments: psychological safety, the normalization of failure, the recognition that rethinking core assumptions is critical for significant improvement, and the development of challenging, rigorous, but supportive communities that help people do this kind of learning. If school leaders organize their schools with the explicit intent of creating these kinds of environments for students, it will be much easier to do the same kind of learning with the adults (and vice versa). And if districts and states can fight their usual instincts to apply pressure and seek immediate results, and instead create the space for schools to do the kind of experimentation, unlearning, and re-learning that significant change entails, they will be more likely to see the kinds of qualitative change in teaching and learning that they seek.”

– – – 

Meanwhile on Harvard Business Review, Herminia Ibarra reminds us that You’re Never Too Experienced to Fake It Till You Learn It. While the idea of “faking it” may seem inauthentic to some, depending on one’s appraisal of identity,  it is a key learning strategy with tangible benefits.

“By definition, transformative learning starts with unnatural and often superficial behaviors. When we are working at improving our game, a clear and firm sense of self is a compass. It helps us navigate choices and work toward our goals. But when we are looking to change our game, a rigid understanding of authenticity is an anchor that keeps us from sailing forth. By viewing ourselves as works in progress, we multiply our capacity to learn, avoid being pigeonholed, and ultimately become better leaders. We’re never too experienced to fake it till we learn it.”

– – – 

Finally, in From the Editor: In Praise of Humility, Martha E. Mangelsdorf concludes her introduction of the MIT Sloan Management Review Winter 2015 edition of the magazine–which focuses on articles urging us to stay open and aware of what we don’t know–by reminding us:

“Awareness of our human frailties and fallibility shouldn’t discourage us. Instead, being aware of our own limitations creates opportunities to learn, to experiment, to change — and to improve.”

And to conclude this week’s Friday Link Fest, this wise, adorable and important PSA on domestic violence from Italian media company Fanpage.it.

Source: These Boys Are Told To Slap Some “Pretty Girls.” Here’s What They Do Instead. via GOOD, published January 7, 2015

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