Tag Archives: transformative learning

Stop Boxing

Ralph Waldo Emerson om experience

When I’m working playfully in my squareONE transformative learning mode, I’m always doing a version of the following experiment, here defined as its hypothesis:

Given experiential engagement of a novel process and its novel set of data, the learner will be moved to discover insights as a matter of his or her exploration within the field of this unusual process and its unique data.

There is a ‘meta’ hypothesis, surrounding this too: that such insights are not easily derived from other “non-novel” varieties of engaged learning.

My hypothesis has been proved in one-on-one work just about every time; maybe 90% of the time. In groups, where the facilitator–me–cannot apply experienced guidance evenly, the successful demonstration of the validity of the hypothesis approaches 50%. I’d estimate in groups of six or less, the success rate is around 75%.

What is being proved is that novelty is a powerful source for transformative learning. There is a third instance of novelty: the learner’s approach. I understand this to be the learner’s ability to move beyond their most naturally familiar and often habitual approach.

My guidance is fit to the challenge of gently compelling the learner’s shifting their approach to a novel one. I could go on and on about the various obstacles in the way between a learner’s familiar approach and something innovative. Likewise I could describe the facilitator’s skills!

I’ve learned a lot about what characterizes the elite learner in this kind of process. These kinds of learners combine, in different measures, the qualities of openness, playfulness, creativity, and, its clear to me such learners often have some prior experience with inhabiting a different perspective.

As well, negotiating innovative approaches can seem to be easeful where the learner possesses a deep, personal culture. The consequential effect of this is that the learner has some prior experience with, and has practiced their own flexible, (third order,) capabilities. Another way to describe these kinds of capabilities is to say the adept exploratory learner uses a practiced, diverse, repertoire able to be used to explore in novel ways a novel process and its novel data.

In my ‘soft’ theorizing, from observing such learners, it is apparent they can bring to bear on experiential learning what I term, g>a doubled-double loop learning; (the third order referenced above.) This is a style of engagement in which a third, or meta order, comes into play. Not only can the learner re-adapt their approach in the real time circumstance of the process, the learner also can navigate a variety of means for doing this, so, the adaptation found in the so-called double loop is itself subject to a further selection from an overarching ‘meta-loop,’ or, in my terms, diverse repertoire.

An example of this is when the learner uses symbolic data discovered in the novel data set to modify their approach to the data. This secondary data is used to alter their scheme in manipulating, etc., the primary data.

It is possible to point out, or cue, some of these possibilities to less practiced learners. This move goes like this: instead of suggesting ‘Have you ever looked at this other way?’ the suggestion is, “Have you ever looked at how you look, when you’re looking to look, at it another way?” But, this is would be a very unusual move for me to make. (I do not risk pulling the learner into my world, so-to-speak.)

From my perspective, the point is not to get outside the box, it’s to get outside of boxes.

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The 10% Problem

The Pareto Principle, commonly known as the 80-20 rule, first figured into my own thinking several years before someone hipped me to the origins of a conception I was using. In truth, I had developed its bastard child, also a regulation of the vital few, I called–at the time–the 10% problem. The context was artist development in the music industry and the application was as a device to thoughtfully put reverse pressure on a musician’s tendency to spend time convincing naysayers. What I saw was artists spending more time trying to market to naysayers than they spent either pullng fence sitters in, or turning their believers into evangelists. Also, it seemed at the time what promoted this was their sense everybody was supposed to be a fan and that those who weren’t yet fans were thought to be ripe targets. But, the naysayers were hardly low hanging fruit and so I offered the suggestion that they should be ignored.

Several years later a colleague on the only management team I’ve ever been a member of hipped me to The Pareto Rule in the aftermath of my attempt to apply the 10% problem to the company’s marketing philosophy. In this instance, I was advocating more product testing because it seemed to me the company was wasting resources based in the assumption that 90% of the new products would always appeal to 100% of their customers.

Since then I’ve employed variations of the 80-20 (or 90-10) principle to all sorts of situations. My innovation is with respect to transformative learning: roughly, spend a figurative 10% of your time doing wild experiments, and doing so irrespective of so-called conventional wisdom. Here, in a sense, one pays attention to the outlying possibilities.

This has led me to reflect upon how the concept of the vital few may be consequential for perspectives about systems. This follows from a hypothesis about systems, (or about how in effect the world works,) that goes like this, what aspects of the system are hidden when it is presumed seeing the entire system in fact sees only 90%?
(90%, or, whatever is the presumptive portion said perspective views.

This comes back to the genesis of the 10% Problem because often the conventional wisdom, or habitual perspective, holds its conclusions about the system to be the inevitable product of seeing/understanding the system in the purportedly correct, (read into this also: normative, ‘as commonly understood,’) way. Whereas, my supposition holds that any incomplete perspective allows for, at least, inclusion of what’s absent, and, audaciously, allows for novelty–especially novel ways for viewing and analyzing the system at hand.

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Transformative Anthropology – More Grey Swans

C. Seize any opportunity, or anything that looks like opportunity. They are rare, much rarer than you think. Remember that positive Black Swans have a necessary first step: you need to be exposed to them. Many people do not realize that they are getting a lucky break in life when they get it. If a big publisher (or a big art dealer or a movie executive or a hotshot banker or a big thinker) suggests an appointment, cancel anything you have planned: you may never see such a window open up again. I am sometimes shocked at how little people realize that these opportunities do not grow on trees. Collect as many free nonlottery tickets (those with open-ended payoffs) as you can, and, once they start paying off, do not discard them. Work hard, not in grunt work, but in chasing such opportunities and maximizing exposure to them. This makes living in big cities invaluable because you increase the odds of serendipitous encounters—you gain exposure to the envelope of serendipity. The idea of settling in a rural area on grounds that one has good communications “in the age of the Internet” tunnels out of such sources of positive uncertainty. Diplomats understand that very well: casual chance discussions at cocktail parties usually lead to big breakthroughs—not dry correspondence or telephone conver­ sations. Go to parties! If you’re a scientist, you will chance upon a remark that might spark new research. And if you are autistic, send your associates to these events. Nassim Nicholas Taleb – p208-209 – The Black Swan. The Impact of the Highly Improbable

“They are rare, much rarer than you think.”

Hypothesis central to Transformative Anthropology (my term): people’s development with respect to their crucial relationships, work life, interests, and, location, much more often than not present necessary developmental events that are happenstance, serendipitous, random.

Such events, I term strategic serendipity.

They’re rare in the sense that a person may identify several key events in their life story. but, they’re common were it overwhelmingly true that almost all persons are advantaged by strategic serendipity.

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Transformative Anthropology – update on project

draft view of some of the nodes of transformative anthropology–click for lightbox enlargement

I’m sorting out the turning point, concerned with the presentation of my main research focus in the open-source of the web.

The first step was to create a page for the work-in-progress notes about so-called Transformative Anthropology. This will be temporary in the sense that I’m will eventually shutter the Transformative Tools blog, folding it back into Explorations (here,) and then reconfiguring the SquareONE web site so it can allow ‘research subjects’ (you?) to input their personal recollections.

Those personal recollections are qualified by the parameters given by my research into life-altering serendipities; although the more meaningful term is a necessary conceptual coinage: chance strategic contingencies. This is the kind of recollection I’m interested in documenting.

I’ll track changes to the Transformative Anthropology page—as updates–here, yet, at some point in the near future, those notes will be organized by the structure of the reconfigured ‘main’ web site.

(The music sites, nogutsnoglory studios and Rhythm River, aren’t effected by any of this.)

The principal objective sometime in the not-so-near future, is to beta test experiential learning tools based in the as yet un-implicated instrumental, (thus constructivist,) conceptions of Transformative Anthropology. Yet, here’s a clue: would a learner assimilate to a novel, modestly salutary, self-understanding, were he or she to go through a learning process aimed to sensitize the learner to the ingredient of chance strategic contingencies discoverable in their own life? Are life’s chance strategic events consequential as part of the terms for self-reflection?

Ha! I don’t know, yet, if I’m onto something.

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Reverse Swan Dive

Try to be a true skeptic with respect to your interpretations and you will be worn out in no time. You will also be humiliated for resisting to theorize. (There are tricks to achieving true skepticism; but you have to go through the back door rather than engage in a frontal attack on yourself.) Even from an anatomical perspective, it is impossible for our brain to see anything in raw form without some interpretation. We may not even always be conscious of it. Nassim Nicholas Taleb; The Black Swan. The Impact of the Highly Improbable

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Transformative Anthropology III – Gas Stop

I had the good fortune to reacquaint myself this week with a friend from 40 years ago. After explaining my research into the fragile contingencies underlying life changing events, she offered a terrific example, and, additionally brought a new term into my thinking on these matters.

She told me about meeting a future employer at a gas station, on the occasion when both had stopped at the same station, you know, for gas! The thing is: a stranger approaches her, recognizes her because she had taken note of her reputation in some public notice or the like, and strikes up a conversation.

What followed, eventually, was a job offer. And, what followed from taking the job were all sorts of other events that, in concrete respects, stand on the foundation of her changing jobs.

What would have happened had the soon-to-be new employer and employee not stopped in the gas station at the same moment? No one can say, but it’s as if such a speculation is about an alternative universe, rather than the universe in which this life altering and happenstance event took place.

My friend called the event, random. “Random” hadn’t occurred to me as a qualifier. It’s a good term because it strips away something of the various evaluative adjectives which follow from a random event turning out to be positive or negative.

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Transformative Anthropology II.

A handful of questions one can direct to a subject or to their self are easily enabled to drill into the fragile web of contingencies that are structurally necessary to human development.

1. What brought you to live where you currently live?

2. What brought you to work in the field you currently work in?

3. What was the circumstance via which you met your current partner?

4. What brought you to your current central interest, (or avocation, or hobby, or passion?)

There are, of course, many such questions like these four.

In conducting an inquiry along these lines, what I have found is that the narrative offered in response contains propositions about features of a necessary founding circumstance Those propositions tell of required features.

For example, I met my future wife at a party in September of 1993. For this to happen, I had to be in Cleveland and be invited to the party. I had to know the party-givers, and, they had to be in Cleveland too. So did my future wife. There are enough implicit features in these three sentences to make clear the obvious point: my meeting my wife rests on a web of contingencies that encompass many lives, and in turn this rests on many requisites, rests on many prior requirements.

It is striking to me that it would be the normal sense of a person narrating a development such as this one, that those requirements are not strongly “felt” by the narrator. However, in facilitating a subject’s re-collection of these necessary requirements, the process has always evoked an intense insight.

Ha! “I never looked at life that way!”

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This is one of my favorite idea bites. I’ve truncated a long section of McSwain’s work to make it bite-sized. The paper it was taken from, A Transformational Theory of Organizations, is one of my all-time favorites. It actually served to put me on the hunt for new paradigms in organizational theorizing.

The baseline goal that that the organization or any human system must pursue is the development of the person within it; other matters, other goals, must come after.

…the primary axiological commitment of transformational theory is not dominantly rational or utilitarian in motivation or behavior.

… indeed it is not an exaggeration to say that the technology of the field of organization development is at bottom a set of techniques for managing the resolution of individual and group projections, thereby releasing the energy that is bound up by them.

Cynthia McSwain/
A Transformational Theory of Organizations
American Review of Public Administration 23:2.1993

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All encounter begins with a benediction, contained in the word ‘hello’; that ‘hello’ that all cogito, all reflection on oneself already presupposes and that would be a first transcendence.” – Emmanuel Levinas

Instant Oracle – An exercise of Experiential Martial Arts

Here’s a fun exercise you can do with your friends on a rainy day. Because the experiential martial arts series asks users to do the exercises in public, this particular exercise is a good one for a coffee house, picnic table, or casual public space. Invite onlookers to join in the play and see what happens.

The Instant Oracle. Gather up some old magazines and mail order catalogues, glue sticks, crayons or markers, and thirty 5 x 7 index cards or fifteen halved sheets of blank paper. You will need one full piece of paper, or, even better, a single sheet of card stock or paper-sized cardboard. Spread them on the table. Fold the single sheet in half and write on one half an announcement for your game: INSTANT ORACLE – CARE TO JOIN IN? Fold it in half and make it into a tent card. This is the set up and is all you will need aside from a playful, exploratory intention to spontaneously learn.

You make up the cards of the Instant oracle by intuitively capturing pictures from the magazines. Tear out pictures you are drawn to and do so for any reason or no reason at all. The only guideline is: you’re drawn to the picture. Glue them to the card, leave some room for a title, and then name the card. For example, if you tear out a picture of a pretty bed set from a catalogue, you might title the card, ‘bed set’.

Once you’ve created the beginning of the Instant Oracle’s deck, you’re ready to play. If an onlooker wonders what the heck you and your pals are up to, invite them to play and have them make up some cards. Of course they will ask you what you’re doing, and the answer is: “We’re making up cards for the Instant Oracle so we can ask it questions.”

After the group has created twenty or more cards, it’s time to discover the wisdom of this newly created Instant Oracle. Put the cards together so you can’t see the pictures. Address the oracle by asking it a question of personal interest. I recommend constructing the question along a ritual and formal design, ‘Oh great Instant Oracle, please tell me…’

For example, you could ask, “Oh great Instant Oracle, please tell me about my prospects for discovering my true calling.”

Reach into the deck and pull out a card. Your selection is obviously random and the oracle’s response is instant!

Say you pull out Bed Set. Bed Set? What does a bed set have to do with your life’s calling? The Instant Oracle has spoken. This experiential exercise is all about playing with the answer creatively and insightfully.

“Hmmm, a bed set is the bed you make and lie down in. It’s the place where one rests and recharges. Associations are a fine way to amplify the oracle’s answer, as is word play, or other elaborations of the raw stuff of the picture and title. ‘Set in bed’ relaxing; the privacy of the bed room, the place of sleep and dreams and, usually, the place ‘all your own’.”

The key to the discovery of insight is the way you explore and interpret whatever comes up. The learning design is quite simple: ask and let the card inspire the answer. The design is effective because it’s the engagement and amplification of the data out of which insight emerges. And, it surely will.

In a group, it’s recommended that the interpretation proceed in three steps. Allow the questioner to interpret the card first. Participants contribute next. A good rule for the collaborative step is: contribute comments about what comes up which are about the card, and not about the personal question. Finally, the questioner plays with the entire data set, first insights, collaborators’ comments, and, hopefully, amazing discoveries in the last step.

In a public space, just laying out the materials and tent card will cause onlookers to be intrigued. Invite them in and learn together. To play with complete strangers is part of the purpose of the exercise. It’s true the unknown factor they bring to the table could limit the sharing of a truly personal question, yet it’s also true that trust of the process and its unknown factors is the best way for the players to deeply engage the wisdom of the Instant Oracle. The purpose of the exercise is to experience playing together with important questions on the table. The goal is to discover through collaborative play helpful, perhaps profound, answers to the questions. Bingo. Instant learning.

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Teaching Cartoon: (Steve) Lacy Wise

teaching cartoon - aphorism of Steve Lacy

Commentary: the last quotation of the late genius of improvisation has wider applications.

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The students in the monastery were in total awe of the elder monk, not because he was strict, but because nothing ever seemed to upset or ruffle him. So they found him a bit unearthly and even frightening. One day they decided to put him to a test. A bunch of them very quietly hid in a dark corner of one of the hallways, and waited for the monk to walk by. Within moments, the old man appeared, carrying a cup of hot tea. Just as he passed by, the students all rushed out at him screaming as loud as they could. But the monk showed no reaction whatsoever. He peacefully made his way to a small table at the end of the hall, gently placed the cup down, and then, leaning against the wall, cried out with shock, “Ohhhhh!”

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Judith Buerkel, February 12, 1941-March 24, 2007

I’ve been privileged to be the not very good student of a succession of teachers. (This admitted, I remain surprised how much of the transmission gets through despite my own resistance!) Judith came into my life under a surprising fitting together of a corner of the jigsaw puzzle in 1995. We worked together, founding squareONE in 1996, until she first became ill in 1999. She courageously investigated death’s gateway a number of times before departing from her fragile body this weekend. God Willing, her peace is now assured. Alhumdulilah!

The glue of our process together was a series of weekly meetings over 30 months. We also conducted a couple of dozen workshops, yet the daring request I managed to meet was to stick my finger into her circuit regularly. Her teaching was not formal but it was bravura. She didn’t introduce me to the experiential mode but she exemplified how to go about it. She was there in every case to help debrief the experience in the aftermath of (my) task. I don’t feel she knew that she knew what she was doing. I trusted her anyway.

However, she was so effective that toward the end of her coiled journey I was given the opportunity to affirm to her the impress of her transmission.

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I’m very curious about the process through which people really get to know each other. And, just as fascinated by the processes through which people fool themselves into believing they are getting to really know one other. There is overlap between the former and the latter kinds of processes. Some people are very good at both, but, a person who is good at getting to know another person is likely to well understand what the differences are between really knowing and surface knowing.

It’s tempting to insert here that it is a two-way street too, but, my experience is that there can be a significant differential between two approaches and how effective each, in actuality, is.

When engaged with other persons my common mode is research and participant/deep observer, so, at a minimum, I’m often sitting there being greatly amused by processes of interpersonal knowledge building. For example, it is often for me a case of observing how much interference there is in people’s attempts to be present, listen, respond, and, overall, apprehend what is going on. This goes for me too: reflecting on my own interference.

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Arthur M. Young wrote two little read albeit influential and (to me) essential books, both published in 1976: The Geometry of Meaning and The Reflexive Universe. Along with the alchemical writings of C.G.Jung, they are the most important contemporary books about quaternity and ‘anthropo’ process. Young/Jung’s research inform SQ1’s model of exploratory learning; this is implicit in my use of quaternistic matrices and integral oppositions in tool designs. The Arthur Young web site provides much to investigate. The essays there are all excellent; for starters: “The Four Levels of Process“.

Grove International, one of my favorite visionary ‘schematicists,’ has published a terrific poster A Theory of Process putting Young’s little known and important work in graphical summary form.

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Kazimierz Dabrowski

Lincoln as an Exemplar

We can find in Lincoln distinct presence of all the characteristics cited by Dabrowski as indications of a very high level of mental development, particularly the level of autonomous personality and secondary integration.

A self-chosen, self-confirmed and self-educating harmonious and stable organization of highly refined mental qualities —long itemization follows.

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The first presentation in the Music and Experience series, KALAHARI ORIGINS, takes place Thursday, June 1st at 7:00pm in the Main Auditorium of Lakewood Public Library. (15425 Detroit, Lakewood, Ohio) The program’s are focused on a deeply appreciative encounter aimed to go beyond mere ‘musical appreciation’.

KALAHARI ORIGINS is about the folkloric music of the San and Himba peoples of the Kalahari Desert (in southern Africa) and the music of ancient Africa. Participants will listen to both Khoi-San music and other spiritual music from South African traditions and then collaboratively imagine this music’s purposes and transmission over tens of millenia.

Bring your big ears and hearts when you come!

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At Lifecircles there is a small amount of excellent material. From a paper by Sunny Cooper, Transformational Learning. Sunny’s Learning Theory Map remains one of the few summaries a web surfer can get to easily.

Appendix A. Instructor Characteristics and Roles Which Facilitate Transformational Learning
1. Encourage students to reflect on and share their feelings and thoughts in class.
2. Be holistically oriented, aware of body, mind, and spirit in the learning process.
3. Become transcendent of his own beliefs and accepting of others’ beliefs.
4. Cultivate awareness of alternate ways of learning.
5. Establish an environment characterized by trust and care.
6. Facilitate sensitive relationships among the participants.
7. Demonstrate ability to serve as an experienced mentor reflecting on his own journey.
8. Help students question reality in ways that promote shifts in their worldview.

Appendix B. Student Characteristics and Roles which Facilitate Transformational Learning
1. Students must be free to determine their own reality, as opposed to social realities defined by others or by cultural institutions.
2. Students must be ready for and open to change.
3. Those with a wider variety of life experiences, including prior stressful life events, are likely to experience more transformation.
4. Cultivate the ability to transcend past contexts of learning and experience.
5. Students must be willing and able to integrate critical reflection into their school work and personal life.
6. Students must be able to access both rational and affective mental functioning.
7. Have sufficient maturity to deal with paradigm shifts and material which differs from their current beliefs.

Thanks Sunny!

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I’m presenting an ambitious series at The Lakewood Public Library,

EXPERIENCE & THE LIBRARY Personal Development & Transformative Learning in the Library


Lakewood Public Library
15425 Detroit Rd.
Lakewood, Ohio 44107

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A monk asked Kegon, “How does an enlightened one return to the ordinary world?” Kegon replied, “A broken mirror never reflects again; fallen flowers never go back to the old branches.”

Zen joke from: Lighter Side of Zen Buddhism:

Q: What did one Zen practitioner give to another for his/her birthday?

A: Nothing.

Q: What did the birthday boy/girl respond in return?

A: You are thoughtless for giving me this meaningless gift.

To which the giver replied, “Thank you.”

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You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. -Plato

Found on a page about: The Healing Carnival

The Healing Carnival is becoming: an evolutionary game, a multimedia arts ensemble an epic conspiracy, a garden of earthly delights, a sowing of seeds of harmony a new way of making love, a balm for troubled hearts, an endless pilgrimage, a culture sculptors’ colony, the moral equivalent of war, a clarion call in the midst of a storm, a path to wisdom, an exercise in applied cosmology, a bodhisattvas’ boot camp, a form of right livelihood, a festival of life, suitable for the entire family!

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