As we move further and further into the 21st Century, it's becoming clear that this century is going to be one that's forever awash with scary threats, inspiring opportunities, and challenging responsibilities. Together these threats, opportunities, and responsibilities are already bringing into many of our lives an amazing proposition: - Everything that we learned at our mother's knee may be wrong. As well as the suggestion that many of this new century's most radical ideas about how the world works may actually be much better ways for us to see and understand ourselves, our relationships, and the world. 

Put simply, there are more and more reasons every day why each one of us should seriously question the fundamental belief systems that we inherited from our families-of-origin. Reasons why each of us should learn how to question and, if necessary, dismantle and rebuild the architecture of our traditional worldviews.

If this possibility makes sense, and intrigues you, join our adventure. Take the next exploratory step... 

Self-Directed, Experienced-Based Learning


In this day and age, school-based educational efforts, on their own, can never be enough. Today, no amount of formal education can guarantee you the knowledge, perspective, and skills needed to assure your comfort and safety. In a world like ours, filled with radical complexities and accelerating rates of change, as well as other contemporary challenges and opportunities, high-quality formal education is a necessity. But degrees and certificates alone will never be enough to let you build the career or life you aspire to. At best, formal education can only be the "Front End" portion of what, both today and tomorrow, has to become for each of us a lifelong learning journey

Today, in addition to our formal degrees, each of us needs to know how to design and implement our own experience-based, self-directed learning programs. Specifically, we each need to know how to use our own self-awareness to organize and launch the kinds of personal and professional learning journeys that allow us to do three crucial things:

  • Improve essential skills we already have,
  • Develop the new skills that we need to succeed at work and in our lives, and
  • Reframe our outmoded modes of thinking in ways that more effectively respond to today's challenges and opportunities.  

Self-Directed Learning

Forty years ago, Herbert Simon and Malcolm Knowles launched what these days we know as the self-directed learning movement. In Skill in Chess (1973), Simon offered us what now is one of the most famous learning propositions ever published, “There are no instant experts in chess. No chess player on record who ever has reached the grandmaster level with less than a decade’s worth of intense preoccupation with the game." "We," Simon said, "estimate, very roughly, that a grandmaster [must spend] 10,000 to 50,000 hours staring at chess positions…if they're going to reach the grandmaster level." Simultaneously, Malcolm Knowles published two books, The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species (1973) and Self-Directed Learning: A Guide for Learners and Teachers (1975), which together served to establish the subject of self-directed learning as a valid approach and proposition for the field of education and learning.

Several years’ later Simon's research was the foundation for Malcolm Gladwell's famous 2008 assertion, "It takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become world class in any field."

In 1984, David Kolb elaborated and concretized Simon's research in his book, Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. The biggest step forward that Kolb offered in this book, the contribution that was the first to turn Simon and Knowles’s insights about the significance personal experience has for and adult’s learning efforts, was Kolb’s four step experiential learning process. In practice, every adult’s learning efforts go through a four-step learning cycle that looks like this:

Step 1: Immediate action provides us with the experiential basis for personal observations and reflection (Concrete Experience);

Step 2: These reflections are pulled together into new conceptual theories, from which we deduce new implications for action (Reflective Observation);

Step 3: These new hypotheses then serve us as guides for “experimenting” with new behaviors in our real worlds (Abstract Conceptualization); and

Step 4: In turn, these new behaviors create new experiences for us, which restart the learning cycle (Active Experimentation). 

In practice, Kolb’s four step learning sequence looks like this:


In short, Kolb's four-stage model identifies for us the specific steps that any adult has to take if they’re going to implement the kind of experience-based learning processes that Simon hinted at in Skill in Chess. These experientially-based learning skills are the ones that here at TLO we believe are essential if we want to react and respond to the 21st Century's startling challenges and inspiring opportunities. For most adults, at least two of these four steps are ones that they take without ever being explicitly and persistently conscious of what they’re doing; they take place behind the scenes. Those steps that are easy are their favorites, their learning preference; these are the skillsets they’re aware of and are best at.

Recent Experience

My experience with Kolb’s learning cycle over the last several years seems to confirms that, for most adults, mastering complex new skills, regardless of whether they’re personal or professional skills, does in fact take 10,000+ hours.

More recently, however, I’ve learned that if and when an adult learner consciously integrates Simon's discoveries about focused attention with Anders Ericsson's insights about deliberate practice, Kolb's insights about experiential learning, and Jack Mezirow's transformative learning skills, they can actually accelerate the pace and effectiveness of their individual's learning efforts. In fact, this four-fold integration of Simon, Ericsson, Kegan, and Mezirow dramatically reduces the time it takes an adult learner to master complex new skills to well below the 10,000 hours that Simon prescribed.

The exciting thing about all this is that it seems as if, when you take what we know about focused attention, deliberate practice, experiential learning, and transformational learning and integrate these four learning practices into a comprehensive self-directed approach, we can tailor and support whatever learning journey you might be interested in launching in such a way that it becomes concrete, practical, and almost always enjoyable. 

Education For Adults Living a World of Unscripted Problems


At this point in history it seems abundantly clear that the education most forward looking adults are searching for is something they’re only going to find in a program that offers them the kind of learning hinted at in this 21st Century learning equation:- 

Formal Education + Self-Directed Learning Experiments = Successful Personal and Professional Development

 Whether you’re an adult who’s looking to accelerate your career or an adult who’s looking beyond professional advancement to building a career and life that’s both meaningful and satisfying, this equation highlights the proposition that your learning efforts need to include both a “front end” educational program and a “back end” experienced-based apprenticeship. Regardless of whether you want to achieve your professional aspirations or realize your loftiest dreams, you’ll need a personal learning program that offers you the advantages of a modern liberal arts education and the challenges of real-life learning experiments that help you translate your educational achievements into real-world skills.

A 21st Century Liberal Arts Education

In practical terms, the learning equation offered above highlights the idea that adults who are looking to realize their professional aspirations and/or their loftiest personal dreams need to get a good liberal arts education.  A high quality liberal arts education is the ideal “front end” component for this equation because this kind of education creates a better, more flexible foundation for your success in today’s real world than any narrow, more specialized professional education, no matter how good this specialized program is.

This is because, these days, our world is full of uniquely unscripted challenges that most technically oriented education program can’t help you address. Virtually all of today’s important problems, whether they’re business issues or public sector problems, require employees who have a working appreciation of the cultural, ethical, and global environments that surround their company.  In today’s world, businesses are looking for strategic thinkers, entrepreneurs, and complex problem solvers who can contribute to the success and future growth. That’s why the learning equation laid out above is so important; it points directly at the need for a high-quality front end education that’s relevant to the situation and circumstances adults living and working in today’s corporations are facing. Employers in every industry are realizing this, and consequently are increasingly reluctant to hire employees who are only prepared for one narrow professional specialty.

A 21st Century liberal arts education is based on the concept of “enlightenment.” It’s the kind of education that seeks to empower adult learners, to equip them with the kind of flexible modes of thinking that can help them deal with the complexity, diversity, and change that’s characteristic of today’s world. The essential aim of a liberal arts education is to provide its students with broad knowledge of the wider world, as well as in-depth study in a specific area of interest. When successful, a liberal arts education helps adult students develop a sense of social responsibility, as well as strong and transferable intellectual and practical skills, especially 21st Century skills like communication, critical thinking, analytical and problem-solving skills, and the demonstrated ability to apply this knowledge and these skills in real-world settings.

A liberal arts education offers the kind of program that best qualifies as the kind of “front end” education called for by this learning equation:

Formal Education + Self-Directed Learning Experiments = Successful Personal and Professional Development

If you’re interested in learning more about a liberal arts education and its place in 21st Century learning programs, here are three articles that offer more information on a liberal arts education, and three that talk about how you can get one without going to college:

  • What’s a Liberal Arts Education?
  • The LEAP Challenge: Education for a World of Unscripted Problems
  • The Enduring Relevance of a Liberal-Arts Education
  • Top 4 benefits of Higher Education
  • 5 Virtual Teaching Platforms That Educators Love
  • 10 Educational Platforms That Host Online Courses

The Difference Between Formal Education & Self-Directed Learning

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Formal education and experiential learning are two different approaches to learning, two distinct methodologies that are aimed at catalyzing different results. For sure, they’re both concerned with learning. But, while they do evidence certain commonalities, the differences between them are more significant than the similarities. These differences shine through when you examine their nature, purpose, history, and methodology.

Their Nature

Education is concerned with the transmission of knowledge from one individual to another. It’s the process through which a knowledgeable individual – usually a credentialed teacher – is formally charged with transmitting a community’s accumulated knowledge to other individuals who possess less knowledge and legitimacy.

Experiential learning is concerned with supporting individuals in their own personal exploration of their unique lived experiences, both at work and in life. In this context, experiential learning has five main characteristics

  • It’s a continuous exploratory process grounded in experience
  • It’s best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes.
  • It’s an expansive process focused on adaptation to the world.
  • It involves transactions between a person and their environment.
  • It a process that’s focused on creating new knowledge specific to the individual.

Experiential learning of this sort sees an individual moving through four discrete steps: (1) having a concrete experience followed by (2) observing and reflecting on that experience, which leads to (3) forming abstract concepts and broad generalizations about the nature of their experience, which are then (4) used to test hypotheses about how, in future situations, to act more effectively. 

Their Purpose

Education, as a societal process, has three main purposes: (1) Socializing people about their community’s knowledge, cultural norms, and received wisdom; (2) certifying the fact that an individual has mastered either the societal or the professional curriculum that’s deemed necessary to become a functioning member of the community or a person who’s qualified to practice a given profession or trade; and (3) helping individuals develop their own personal talents, especially the cognitive and emotional skills they need to build the career and life they aspire to.

Experiential learning is a personal meaning-making process. The primary source material for this process is each person’s own lived experience. Experiential learning has four essential purposes:

1.    Strengthening the skills we already have, especially those that are producing less than optimal personal or professional results.

2.    Developing the new skills we need if we're going to respond effectively to the 21st Century's new entrepreneurial and leadership challenges.

3.    Reframing basic assumptions and presumptions we currently hold about our lives and the world we live in that all too rapidly are becoming outdated. 

4.    Providing each of us with the knowledge and skills we need to effectively pursue our own lifelong learning journeys.

Their History

Education, as we know it today, had its origins in Europe’s medieval universities. In the thirteenth century, European universities revamped their academic programs in ways that saw young men from wealthy families, often at no more than 13 or 16 years of age, begin to enroll in carefully designed courses of study in theology or philosophy that emphasized the study of Latin, rhetoric, and logic. After four years, this course of study was completed, and formally marked by the awarding of a “baccalaureate.” This baccalaureate degree, in truth, was nothing more than a preliminary step toward a “mastership (later called a masters degree), which involved three more years studying arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. This “mastership” was not designed as something that was useful or practical; it was designed to encourage the development of intellectual and moral excellence, what today we know as a liberal arts education.

Experiential learning, on the other hand, has its origins in ancient Greece. Around 350 BCE, Aristotle wrote, "for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” As a formal approach, experiential learning first found it’s footing in Western Europe’s guild system, which was an association of craftsmen formed for mutual aid and protection. The guild system, and its concept of experiential learning, flourished in Europe between the 11th and 16th centuries. It apprenticed young men to a master baker, stonemason, or builder, letting them work under their master to learn his trade. This approach to experiential learning has slowly evolved and expanded across the centuries until, in the 1970s, David Kolb promulgated what is now the modern theory of experiential learning.

 Their Methodology

Education today is a societal processes that transmits its knowledge, norms, and wisdom through predetermined courses that, these days, are very much more diverse that those just described as characteristic of medieval universities. In today’s societies, knowledge is organized into pre-defined curricula, certification processes, and graduation rituals. Regardless of what the course of study is, it’s always delivered through a formally organized set of “teacher/student” rolls and interaction patterns. Essentially, in today’s educational system, teachers teach and students study.

Experiential learning, by way of contrast, is a personal meaning making process, one that’s built on the foundations of an individual's own personal experiences. Experiential learning can and most often does, take place without a teacher or a formal curriculum. Experiential learning is an organic process, one that unfolds naturally. An effective experiential learning effort generally requires certain elements; for example, it requires an individual who, for whatever reason, is open to examining his or her own lived experiences, especially those that were challenging, discouraging, or laced with anxiety. Beyond this, in order to learn from these kinds of experience, a person must have four distinct abilities:

  • The willingness to be actively involved in the examination of their own experiences;
  • The ability to both remember their life experiences in some detail and reflect back on these experiences;
  • The ability to use analytical skills to conceptualize the experiences they want to learn from; and
  • The decision-making and problem solving skills necessary to translate new insights into new perspectives and skills.

A Summary

Education is the process through which a society transmits its knowledge, cultural norms, and skills from one generation to the next. Education is the process a society uses to credential and certify certain individuals as competent to perform key jobs and represent themselves as members of a given profession. Education is also the process set up by society to support an individual’s own personal efforts to further their own careers and realize their most authentic selves.

Experiential learning, on the other hand, is the process that motivated individuals, at their own initiative, use to initiates personal efforts aimed at helping them (1) better understand their own beliefs and values, (2) examine precepts and presuppositions they’re holding that might not be serving them well, (3) reframe outdated modes of thinking, (4) improve existing skillsets that are no longer functional, and (5) develop new skillsets more appropriate to they complexities and challenges they’re currently facing. 

Education is something that one gets at specific points in their life from institutions that have pre-defined and proscribed the things a student must learn. Experiential learning, in contrast, is an informal, personally designed and driven process, one that often sees the person in an unconscious response to their life’s significant experiences. Occasionally, experiential learning becomes a conscious effort, one that the person designs, organizes, and implements on their own for themselves. Either way, experiential learning is always the foundation for a lifelong learning journeys. It's something an individual's always doing, from their birth until their death. 

Transforming New Knowledge Into New Skills

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It used to be a college education was the doorway to success. At a minimum, a Bachelor's degree was the key to a good job, if not to a fulfilling career. Today we know better; neither a B.A. nor an MBA are enough to assure you of either an executive title or a house in the suburbs, two cars in the garage, and a comfortable retirement. Even a Ph.D. isn't enough to guarantee you a career and a life that includes a home in the suburbs, college for your kids, and a Sandals vacation in the Bahamas every year. 


Today, no formal education program can guarantee you sufficient knowledge, perspective, and skills to assure your comfort and safety. In a world like ours, filled with radical complexities and accelerating rates of change, as well as other contemporary challenges and opportunities, high-quality formal education and training is a necessity. But college degrees and advanced training by themselves will never be enough to give you the knowledge and experience you need to respond to today's transformational challenges. At best, the knowledge you develop through formal classroom education and training can only be the "Front End" portion of what for each of us must become a very serious pursuit of experience-based learning efforts.


Today, in addition to formal education, each of us needs to know how to design and implement our own experience-based, self-directed learning programs. We need to know how to take the knowledge, perspectives, and insights our educational opportunities give us and use them as tools to leverage our everyday real-world experiences into effective self-directed learning opportunities. Formal education must become the "Front-End" of all our learning efforts, and self-directed experiential learning experiments the "Back-End." 

Today, the learning equation we all need to be intimately familiar with and exquisitely capable of implementing is this: 

"Formal Education + Self-Directed Learning Experiments = Successful Personal and Professional Development."


This equation highlights both the educational knowledge and the personal learning skills we need to succeed in today’s complex and rapidly changing world. In practical terms, this equation highlights the fact that those of us who have personal and professional issues to address must learn how to organize and integrate our Front-End educational training and our Back-End learning experiments so that together they help us do three critical things:

  1. Improve the essential personal and professional skills we already have,
  2. Develop the new personal and professional skills we need to succeed at work and in our lives, and
  3. Reframe the outmoded modes of thinking we have about ourselves, others, our work, and our lives in ways that help us respond more effectively to the toughest, most complex 21st Century challenges we face. 

TLO's Front-end/back-end approach to Learning

Forty years ago, Herbert Simon offered us what has become a famous learning proposition. In Skill in Chess, Simon wrote, "There are no instant experts in chess." No chess player on record "has ever reached the grandmaster level with less than a decade’s worth of intense preoccupation with the game." Simon continued, " We estimate, very roughly, that a grandmaster must spend 10,000 to 50,000 hours staring at chess positions if they're going to reach the grandmaster level."

Simon's assertion has, over time, been both validated and pared down. His assertion that “There are no instant experts in chess...” has been reframed so extensively that today it reads, "It takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice for any individual to become world class in any field." Today, we know how and why Simon's insights apply not only to chess masters in the making but also to those of us who are interested in developing new personal and professional competencies and skills. Simon's insights about chess were our first early hints that there is such a thing as Back-End learning skills 

Today, we know a lot about Back-End learning skills like "deliberate practice," "focused attention," and "transformative learning," especially the way that they, when integrated together into the Front-End/Back-End learning equation outlined just above, can create comprehensive and flexible self-directed approaches to learning. And we know the ways in which this equation can be tailored in specific ways to make it easy for you to leverage any new knowledge you've acquired into new modes of thinking and improved ways of acting.   

So, while we here at TLO believe that high-quality education and training programs can clearly provide important information, we also know there’s no way that alone these kinds of programs can ever be enough to help its participants master the kinds complex new skills needed in today's transformational world. No amount of classroom training or education can guarantee you the experience, perspective, and skills needed to assure your 21st Century competencies. In a world like ours, filled with radical complexities and accelerating rates of change, as well as other contemporary challenges and opportunities, high-quality formal education is necessary. But formal education and off-site training alone will never be enough to let you build the complex skills and new competencies that are needed today. At best, formal education training can only be a Front-End lead to your Back-End real-world experiments

Today, in addition to acquiring formal Front-End knowledge, each of us also needs to know how to create the experientially based Back-End portion of our learning efforts. If we want to improve the skills we already have, develop the new skills needed to succeed at work or in our lives, and/or reframe outdated modes of thinking in ways that more effectively respond to today's challenges and opportunities, then we will need to know how to design and implement full-fledged knowledge- and experience-based, self-directed learning programs. Knowing how to use our new knowlege to organize and launch integrated Front-End/Back-End learning journeys is going to be key. 

Everybody Needs A Coach

Everybody needs a coach blog

According to Bill Gates, “Everybody needs a coach!”

This is what he’s saying, despite the fact that coaches and coaching are something many people either don’t know about or aren't sure about, even though many of the world's most successful athletes, doctors, and business people (such as Roger Federer, Atul Gawande, and Bill Gates) have coaches. You yourself might be someone who's wondering how a coach, and the guidance offered, could actually help you.

Personally, I believe everybody needs a coach. We all need someone who can help us accomplish things that we usually only dream about. Here are ten examples of how a coach can help you.

  1. Improve Your Entrepreneurial and Leadership Skills: A coach can help you learn how to develop signature professional skills. Not only will these new skills make you a better entrepreneur or stand out leader, along they way a coach can also help you use your learning experiences to strengthen your basic self-directed learning skills, which you can then use in other learning situations. Whether you're a solo entrepreneur, a boss leading her staff inside her own business, or an executive aiming to move ahead in his organization, self-directed learning skills are quickly becoming the core 21st Century's skillset, clearly capabilities that the right coach can help you develop. 
  2. Learn How To Attend To What’s Important: Figuring out what you want from life is the essential step. A coach's basic contribution is helping you dream; after this, they can keep you focused on discovering what's important. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by dreams that feel too big or out of reach, or to be put off by daily distractions. A coach will help you break everything down into practical, habit-forming steps, and then help you focus on each of the individual steps that are key to your journey.
  3. Learn How To Hold Yourself Accountable: If you already know what to do to realize your dream, but you're constantly procrastinating instead of acting, a coach will help you develop the micro-skills and mini-habits that eliminate your anchors. When you answer to no one, it's too easy to say "I'll do it tomorrow" – when tomorrow is a day that never comes. A coach is there to provide the kind of support and encouragement that will show you how to activate that next small step.
  4. Learn How To Improve Your Self-Esteem: Every life and every career has its low points, its stuck places, and its forks in the road. When you've been struggling along on your own for a while, it's easy to become discouraged, lose confidence in your own abilities, and wonder off the path you’ve chosen. A coach helps you to get back on course, and rediscover the confidence and motivation you need to keep moving forward.
  5. Discover Your Blind Spots: One way to unleash your potential is to gain a clearer understanding of yourself, especially those blind spots that are leading you down troublesome, even dysfunctional pathways. A coach can help you discover and attend to the ways your identity is both helping and hindering you and your learning efforts. Once you and your coach achieve this awareness, you’ll be positioned to work on becoming the person your personal and professional circumstances are asking you to become.
  6. Improve Your Awareness: Coaching expands your awareness; it adds new perspectives. Life in the 21st Century is increasingly more complex, and consequently difficult to interpret and understand. A coach can help you learn mindfulness skills that, over time, will strengthen you ability to comprehend and appreciate new complexities and develop unique pathways toward making more sense of the complexities that are most important in your life.
  7. Notice The Right Signs - Chose The Right Doorways: Coaches accelerate your development by helping you learn how to design and implement useful transformational learning experiments. The benefit of your coach's knowledge and experience, plus the step-by-step plan he or she helps you to build, can help you realize newfound purposes.
  8. Launch The Learning Journeys You’ve Chosen: Perhaps you're fine with the way your life is progressing, but nonetheless occasionally you sense that you’re not truly hitting the high notes or achieving the key outcomes you know you're capable of. Hiring a coach can help you actually notice these shortfalls, and then move to address them. A coach can help you explore what to do to achieve the success you deserve. They can motivate you to step into the kind of effort that will let you realize whatever's possible.
  9. Learn How To Train Your Brain And Body: All athletes have coaches who help them train their bodies and their minds. Coaches are the tools high-performing people use to help them develop the mindsets, modes of thinking, and relationships they need. Good coaches are the ‘X’ factor that sets champions apart, and their support in developing their clients’ winning mindsets is at the heart of their value. If you want to succeed, you need to think positively and proactively – and a great coach will help you learn how to build you brain so that its neural networks do exactly that.
  10. Develop A 21st Century Mindset: If you feel overwhelmed, perhaps even lost and directionless, you're not alone. In the new 21st Century world that we all are living in, many of us feel as if we're adrift, caught midway between the 20th Century's familiar homilies and the 21st Century's new insights. We all want to know where we are and where we’re heading. A coach can help with this, offering ways to develop the kinds of 21st Century awareness and mindsets you need. Working with a coach is an optimal way to develop the small, manageable steps you need to take in order to launch this kind of a learning journey.

Learning To Learn

Learning – in both personal and professional terms – is going to become the 21st Century’s quintessential skill.

More to the point, learning is the key to your learning how to access any of the ten aspirational dreams I’ve summarized above. Moreover, in most cases, a coach who’s mastered experiential and transformative learning will be the key to your learning how to design, organize, launch, and successfully implement the learning journeys that the ten doorways I’ve listed above point to.

In short, employing a coach to help you address these opportunities is one of the more efficient, effective, and rewarding developmental steps you can take for yourself. Hiring a coach is a doorway that opens out into learning journeys that help you master all you need to know about living effectively amidst the 21st Century’s new complexities and opportunities.

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7 Signs - 7 Doorways

7 Signs -- 7 Doorways blog

Signs everywhere show that a new worldview, along with the mindsets and beliefs that will help us make it real, are emerging all over the world. In fact, the experts who study these issues estimate that as much as 5 percent of the world’s adult population are already looking for ways to develop this new worldview and the new modes of thinking, feeling, and interacting that go with it.

If you’re one of this 5 percent, it’s probably because you want a clearer, more expansive view of life. You especially want to know how our society's most polarizing issues can be integrated in ways that bring us together rather than push us farther apart. And, you want to know how the issues that our leaders can’t yet quite fit together – like science and spirituality, technology and the arts, or conservative and liberal worldviews – can be either reconciled or integrated.

7 transformational Signs

If you’ve ever asked yourself “Where am I in all this?" read on. What follows is a description of seven signs that can tell you whether someone who want's to pursue your own transformation. Each of these seven signs suggest you’re at least interested in beginning to explore for yourself useful, manageable ways of discovering this century's more complex forms thinking, feeling, and acting.

Here’s a brief listing of the seven signs that will tell you if you are one of this 5 percent. Weigh each sign carefully; which one sounds and feels like you?

  • Transformational Sign #1: You want to put into practice new skills that will help you become a more successful entrepreneur and/or effective leader.
  • Transformational Sign #2: You want credible answers to important personal and professional questions; answers grounded in the very best leading-edge science and philosophy.
  • Transformational Sign #3: You want to deepen your personal and professional perspectives in order to improve important but problematic relationships.
  • Transformational Sign #4: You believe adults can grow and develop throughout their lives, and you want to learn how to make this real for you both personally and professionally.
  • Transformational Sign #5: You want to work with other adults who value mental, emotional, and spiritual maturity -- those who will help you become more sophisticated and insightful.
  • Transformational Sign #6: You want to learn how to learn how to encourage and support others who, like you, are working hard to fully realize their own development.
  • Transformational Sign #7: You want a way to make sense of your life and a world that every year are becoming more and more complex, more and more challenging.

Which of these signs sound like you?  What follows is a description of seven doorways you can use to initiate an exploration of these transformative signs. These  seven transformational doorways described below will show you how to initiate, expand, and/or accelerate your own transformative efforts.

7 transformational Doorways

In my February 2018 blog, Lost in the 21st Century, I suggested that you, like others who are searching for a better understanding of today's complexities, may feel like you're wondering in the 'in-between wilderness' that's so characteristic of life in the 21st Century. Three decades ago Robert Kegan, in describing the first whispers of this conundrum, offered the proposition that few among us are truly equipped with the modes of thinking and feeling skills that we need to comprehend this new world. We all were, Kegan told us, "in over our heads." Here, in this blog, I’m expanding this proposition, suggesting that while many of us may in fact be in over our heads, it’s also true that we are nonetheless ready to explore the more effective, more complex modes of thinking, feeling and acting that are highlighted below.

So, what follows just below are seven doorways that, in my experience, are effective ways to initiate, deepen, and/or accelerate you own personal transformation. Take a look at each of these doorways; Which one(s) seem like they might open up a transformative path that would move you forward, either personally or professionally?


Doorway #1: Kegan’s Transformational Languages

 Everyday, the assertions you offer your friends, the explanations you give your colleagues, and the stories you share with your loved ones are delivered using words that you’ve drawn from deep within. In his book, How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work, Robert Kegan shows how training yourself to talk in new ways about things like personal commitment, personal responsibility, and your family-of-origin assumptions will automatically reflect back on you, prompting significant changes in the soft-wiring in your brain and mind and, most importantly, in the real-world action that follows.


Doorway #2: Cozolino’s “Vital Half-Second” 

A half second may not seem like much to you, but for your brain it’s a very, very long time. It takes 500-600 milliseconds (half a second) for your conscious mind to register incoming information. But your primitive brain’s threat management system processes the sensory, motor, and emotional inputs it’s getting in 10-50 milliseconds. This difference between these two time frames is impossible for us to comprehend because our brains are constantly constructing the illusion that we are in conscious control of our own thought processes and motor reflexes. Louis Cozolino, in his book, Why Therapy Works: Using Our Minds To Change Our Brainsexplains all this in understandable ways. He goes on to offer techniques that will help you learn how to insert some conscious awareness inside this vital half second in ways that will allow you to increase your conscious control over what, previously, were automatic reactions to any perceive threat.


Doorway #3: Kegan’s Immunity to Change

One of the strangest facts about human beings is how desperately we desire change, yet how strenuously we fight against it as if our very lives depended on keeping the status quo secure. We want change, yet we simultaneously resist it.

You may have seen this in a loved one. You may even have recognized it in yourself. You’ve wanted to change something about yourself, and consequently repeatedly committed yourself to it, yet, you kept on failing to make the changes. Kegan suggests you were and are wired to resist any changes you've committed yourself to making.

Kegan and Lahey’s book, Immunity to Change: How To Overcome It and Unlock The Potential In yourself And Your Organization, is all about this phenomenon. In it they explain how your persistent failure in the face of your strong intentions is an example of what they call our ‘psychological immune system’ at work. We, they say, always react automatically to any attempt to change ourselves by making sure we do just enough to maintain our existing sense of self and our current sense of the way the world works. In this book, they describe in full detail a simple exercise that can help you gain control over your "immunity to change" resistances.


Doorway #4: Prehn’s Reframing

One of the more important things you can realize about yourself and the world you live in is that, while the world around you is constantly changing, becoming more and more complex, you likely are still perceiving and interpreting the world through the mindset you inherited from your parents, i.e., people who were born 40 to 90 years ago. This, in today's world, is like trying to compete in the Indianapolis 500 while driving a 1910 Model T.

Your mindset is a complex set of unquestioned and unquestionable assumptions, presumptions, and beliefs you hold about others, the world, and yourself. A mindset is the set of unconscious tools that you use to make sense of the world. Annette Prehn, like other researchers, authors, and consultants working in this area, firmly believes your mindset is malleable. Moreover, she’s clear your mindset can be intentionally reframed so that it offers a better match for today’s complexities. She’s created two splendid Udemy courses that can help you do just this. The free course is titled The Neuroscience of Reframing And How To Do It, and the master class is titled Master Your Mindset and Brain: Firestorm Your Way To Success.


Doorway #5: de Witt’s Worldview Assessment

Worldviews are deeply buried models, maps, and schema about the origins of life and the universe that entire societies adopt to show their citizens how to interpret and understand the outside world. Worldviews are highly abstract, philosophical schemas about truth, knowledge, and the symbolic meaning of all the things we as individuals start absorbing and using the moment we start breathing. We use these presuppositional beliefs to interpret everything without ever knowing when, how, or why they determine our feelings and actions.

Few people who know about the worldviews active today can help you understand both the historical and the contemporary nature of these worldviews, but Dr. Annick de Witt is one of them. She's interested in helping individuals understand these alternative worldviews and, as well, find ways of expanding their own worldview and  mindset preferences as a way of improving their thinking and their actions. In this respect, one of the most interesting and useful ways Dr. de Witt helps us, as individuals, is through her Worldview Awareness Test. This test helps you examine whether your own worldview preferences tend towards a Traditional, Modern, Post-Modern, or Intergrative Worldview.


Doorway #6: TLO’s Three Circles of Awareness & Concern

Two key frames of reference -- today and tomorrow -- are basic templates that we all use to understand our lives. These two frames divide time into metaphorical categories that give us phrases like now and thenthe present and the future, and today and tomorrow -- the verbal trestles on which we hang our sense of what we're currently experiencing, and what is going to be happening to us tomorrow.

Instead of two, TLO’s Three Circles of Awareness and Concern offers you three pre-conscious frames of reference, each of which highlights in different ways the stereotypes, cognitive biases, and habitual modes of thinking that each of us uses to walk ourselves into our life’s events. Each of these three templates show us how to reach a little deeper and search for the worldviews, orders of consciousness, and mindsets we habitually use so that we can wonder seriously about when, where, and how the implicit images and sensations these three frames hold are either helping us or keeping us from understanding and effectively responding to the most confusing, problematic, and threatening aspects of our lives. 


Doorway #7: TLO’s Self-Directed Learning

The 21st-Century's newest discoveries are clearly pointing us towards three new types of learning:

  1. The experiential learning needed to strengthen the skills we already have, especially those that are producing less than optimal personal or professional results.

  2. The experiential learning needed to develop the new skills we have to have if we're going to respond effectively to the 21st Century's new entrepreneurial and leadership challenges.

  3. The mindset reframing efforts needed if we're going to alter the basic assumptions and presumptions we currently hold about our lives and the world we live in that all too rapidly are becoming outdated. 

These 21st Century discoveries are also proving we need to pay attention to three new propositions about learning:

  1. By themselves, our high school diplomas, college degrees, and third-party training certificates, no matter how advanced, can never give us the kind of education that guarantees us we'll successfully develop the knowledge, modes of thinking, and behavioral skills needed to thrive in today's new world. 
  2. Beyond our formal educational accomplishments, we each have to know how to design and implement our own experience-based, self-directed learning programs. We all need to know how to create new developmental opportunities that will help us improve the skills we already have, encourage the new entrepreneurial and leadership skills we need to develop, and reframe our outdated modes of thinking in ways that more effectively respond to today's challenges and opportunities.
  3. The most important new development that 21st Century research offers us about all this is what's now being called "Self-Directed Neuroplasticity."  This approach to learning is grounded in two radical propositions. First, that the hardwiring in our adult brains is not, as was once thought, highly stable and permanently fixed. Rather, it's highly malleable. Second, that our brains' hardwiring is constantly changing, and open to conscious influence. The new slogan that reflects these ideas says it this way,  "We can use our minds to change our brains, and our brains to change our minds."

These three discoveries are the heart of TLO’s Self-Directed Learning programs. They are the ideas and techniques that power our new Inform, Educate, and Transform suite of programs.


7 Signs - 7 Doorways

There's no doubt the new technologies, inventions, and discoveries that paradigm busters like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are bringing into our lives are rapidly accelerating what looks to be fundamental, world-wide changes. Many of which either already are, or very shortly will be, demanding from each of us the ability to develop ourselves in ways that let us adapt and respond to radical new modes of thinking, feeling, and acting. Simply put, it's now apparent that we have to at least begin to learn how to design and launch our own self-directed learning journeys. The 7 signs and 7 doorways offered above, in this context, are simply an invitation to stop a moment and assess how overwhelmed by today's accelerating rates of change you're feeling, and then to ask yourself whether any one of the 7 doorways offered above sounds interesting enough for you to walk through.

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Lost in the 21st century blog

The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing View of the Universe is a study of the way we, as human beings, adapt and evolve our worldviews in a neverending attempt to better understand the universe we're living in. When Arthur Koestler published The Sleepwalkers in 1959, he was trying to highlight for us three things that are of great importance for this effort:

  • First, that it takes men and women who possess unique conceptual abilities and disciplined modes of thinking to ferret out the odd but hugely important anomalies nested deep inside our worldviews that are quietly signaling the pending dissolution of these mindsets.

  • Second, besides conceptual insight and disciplined thinking, it takes men and women who also have the courage and the will needed, in the face of harsh criticism, to do the grunge-work necessary to expand the worldview anomalies they've discovered into the seeds of a proven new way of understanding the world; and

  • Third, despite the refined insights, disciplined thought processes, and courage these men and women possess, they also are nonetheless always "sleepwalkers," that is, individuals who, in Koestler's words, are simultaneously "asking for more light while also crying out for more darkness." They are men and women who are irretrievably caught living in an old world they're discrediting while they're simultaneously conjuring a new one into existence.

These days, odds are that most of us, like Kepler, Galileo, and Newton before us, are "asking for more light while also crying out for more darkness." We are, it seems, lost in an in-between wilderness that today's sleepwalkers -- men and women like Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Dianne Fossey,  Stephen Hawking, Mark Zuckerberg, and Rachel Carson -- are creating for us.  Most of us, Koestler suggests, no matter how well educated, experienced, or enlightened we might be, are nonetheless caught between "asking for more light" and "crying out for more darkness." We're lost in the 21st Century's version of the poppy fields that entranced Dorthy just outside the gates of the Emerald City.

Put plainly, I'm suggesting that these days most of us are suspended between clinging to a 20th Century view of the world that worships linear problem solving while we're also trying hard to understand new 21st Century paradoxes that are nearly impossible to decipher, especially when we're still using our old worldview's modes of thinking. This Alice in Wonderland phenomenon leaves us overwhelmed by a mind-numbing array of new discoveries, inventions, and technologies while simultaneously struggling to understand the implications of any number of serious ethnic and racial conflicts across the globe, and an amazing array of new political and socio-economic trends. 

For the most part, it appears that few of us are equipped with the "post-modern modes of thinking and feeling" that are necessary to decipher all this. Three decades ago Robert Kegan, in describing the first whispers of this conundrum, told us we were all "in over our heads." Today, in this blog, I'm extending his metaphor, suggesting that all too many of us are simply "Lost in the 21st Century."



Regardless of whether we're "in over our heads" or simply lost in the complexities that this new century is bringing us, at this point it seems indisputable that most of us are struggling with the challenge of trying to understand the meaning of the demands and threats that today's new world is bringing into our lives -- things like the world's newest ethnic, gender, terrorist, climate change, and/or globalization phenomena. 

For a year or so now, I've been trying to identify, catalogue, and define these threats, trends, and challenges -- especially the ones that repeatedly defeat my efforts to comprehend them. Here's a  simple listing of these threats and demands:



The Threat of Terrorism

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North Korea

Climate Change.jpeg

climate change

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Racial copy.jpeg

racial conflict




sexual abuse & harassment


Gene Editing


The Opioid Crisis


The Internet of Things


Truth Decay


The Yemeni Civil War


same sex marriage

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Artificial Intelligence


clash of civilizations


gross inequality

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white backlash


fake news


Scarcity or Abundance?


democracy's demise


The Lynching of Blacks


Into The Information Age

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Polarization copy.jpeg

political polarization

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Disappearing Safety Nets

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Western Civilization's Eclipse

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The Patriarchy's Dissolution


technological convergence


Nuclear Proliferation.


21st Century Leadership

information overload.jpg

information overload

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America's Response to 9/11

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Psychological Literacy

willful ignorance or Anxious Appreciation?

After a year's worth of effort aimed at trying to define the threats and challenges that are confounding me, I've come to four conclusions: 

  • First, there simply are too many significant threats and challenges going on all over the world for me to successfully identify and track. Just counting the issues I've pictured above, I've listed 30 major phenomena that I believe deserve my attention.

  • Second, besides their number, it's also true that each of these issues is both significant and complex, too complex, in fact, to yield convincingly to any kind of simple explanation. For example, one issue that illustrates the futility of my efforts is the explanation I explored for awhile that suggested "Trump and his science-denying ilk are the cause of the climate change wars we're currently engaged in." Another is the assertion that "it's the radical Islamists who are the cause of today's civilizational clashes." Obviously, simple explanations like these will never do justice to the complexity of any of the issues I've catalogued.

  • Third, the main reason I'm having trouble understanding each of the phenomena I've listed above is that I'm using a mode of thinking grounded in simple cause-and-effect propositions, premises that suggest "this" causes "that," or that "X causes Y." None of the threats and challenges listed above are grounded in linear cause and effect dynamics.

  • Fourth, most of these 30 issues are not stand-alone threats or challenges. For example, the "White Backlash" issue that elected Trump is in part a response to the "Dissolution of the Patriarchy" issue, which in turn is linked to the "Globalization" issue and the "Disappearing Safety Net" issue. And the "Immigration" issue is related to and part of the "Clash of Civilizations" and "Terrorism" issues. In short, the simple fact that I've been trying to decipher the significance and urgency of these threats one at a time is a clear indication that I'm using modes of thinking that are always going to be inadequate to the task I've set myself.

Last summer, while in the middle of cataloguing these threats and challenges, I wrote three blogs titled Our Natural Mind I, II, & III.  These blogs examined how, at this point in human history, all of us are living our 21st Century lives through neurobiological hardwiring in our brains and bodies that we've inherited from our earliest Stone Age ancestors; neurobiological architecture that's over two million years old.

Of singular importance in this regard is our brain/mind's threat management system. This system is made up of three key elements; the amygdala, the brain stem, and the limbic system.These three elements work together in one of three ways to almost instantaneously respond to any threat we might perceive; fighting, fleeing, or freezing. How can we ever think that any kind of instinctively simplistic reactions are going to help us understand today's racial conflicts, the world's immigration issues, or our polarized climate-change debates?

After I realized how complex and interconnected all my issues are, in September I wrote a blog titled Circles of Awareness and Concern. Essentially, this blog was about the implicit sense I have that, for the issue-cataloguing work I'm doing, I'm going to need a new way of understanding the world and my life in it, one that is not anchored in the ordinary "yesterday, today, and tomorrow" way of explaining things that we all use.  Instead, I need a framework that reframes my view of my life and the threats and challenges that are in it, into a trio of "known, partially known, and unknown" images that give us more finely grained and fully defined ways of comprehending the people, events, and circumstances that we're constantly sensing on the fringes of our minds.

Turns out, my Three Circles of Awareness model might be this way. It shows me how to consciously heighten my awareness of the incomprehensibly complex array of scary people, disruptive discoveries, and revolutionary innovations that, without my explicit awareness, are actually concrete realities sitting just off the fringes of my awareness. My Three Circles model, in a way, is actually a set of questions that asks us to examine the fresh ideas, new knowledge, amazing technologies, and scary paradigm shifts that are hanging “out there” on the edges of our consciousness. Just what is it that's dangling like errant chads on an election ballot; distant realities that need to be seen as issues of real interest and concern.

In case you didn't read that blog, here's my image of these three circles:


Given the work I've done to catalogue the 30 threats and challenges I've posted above, and my Three Circles of Awareness model, I'm now thinking the reason why I've been turning a blind eye to the presence of these issues is because I implicitly sensed they were real things in the world that I didn't know how to frame, let alone understand. I didn't realize that these issues were phenomena that, with just a little conscious effort, I could see, comprehend, and learn to appreciate. That is, as long as I could manage the feelings of anxiety that are these threats and challenges constant companion. And as long as I have the courage to believe that anxious appreciation of these issues is a better first step than willful ignorance.

Deliberate Experiential Learning


Few of us realize it, but odds are these days that each of us is involved to some degree in at least one of three distinct learning journeys:

        #1: Improving individual and interpersonal skills that we already have.

        #2: Acquiring new personal and professional skills that we’ve never needed before.

        #3: Developing new mindsets that are relevant to today's and tomorrow's emerging complexities.

I’m involved in each of these, for sure. I'll bet you are too. Whether we know it or not, whether we want to or not, whether or not it’s something we've asked for, the odds are good that we’re both caught up in at least small pieces of one or more of these three journeys.

There's an ancient Chinese curse which says, “May you live in interesting times.” For many reasons, there's no doubt this curse is true today. We're all living in a world that's being rapidly engulfed in unprecedented technological, political, and cultural changes. If we’re going to survive and thrive in the midst of the “interesting times” these changes are bringing, each of us must start adapting and learning in ways that are new to us all.

Boatloads of research, as well as our own personal experiences, speak to the ways in which we're all being asked to adapt and learn in ways that are unprecedented in all of human history. With no formal assistance to speak of, we're all facing the challenge of mastering the insights and skills associated with life-long learning while we're simultaneously being asked to turn around and use these new skills to help us effectively adapt and respond to this century's radical transformations. Who knew?

Self-Directed Learning

In their simplest forms, TLO’s Self-Directed Learning program are all amplified and extended versions of David Kolb’s original experiential learning cycle. Which looks like this.


Stripped to its barest bones, like it is in this diagram, David Kolb's experiential learning cycle makes one key point: All the learning that we we either need or want to do must include this cycle's four basic “macro skills." That is;

1.    Concrete Experience: The ability to consciously experience, on a moment-to-moment basis, the on-going events in our lives.

2.    Reflective Observation: The ability to deliberately reflect on a variety of consciously remembered experiences.

3.    Abstract Conceptualization: The ability to consciously evaluate and conceptualize these remembered experiences, identifying for ourselves their strengths and weaknesses.

4.    Active Experimentation: The ability to proactively extract from these reconstructed experiences the lessons learned that show us where we need to develop new ways of behaving in and relating to the world.

In my October 2017 blog, “Coming of Age in the 21st Century,” and in my November 2017 blog, “Focused Attention, Deliberate Practice, and Balanced Learning Styles,” I discussed Kolb's basic learning model in some detail. In particular, in both these blogs, I proposed the idea that a balanced mastery of Kolb’s four “macro-skill sets” (i.e., Active Experimentation, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization, and Active Experimentation) is the key to stepping into and successfully launching each of TLO’s three learning journeys.

In “Focused Attention, Deliberate Practice, and Balanced Learning Styles,” I also emphasized the idea that a balanced learning style is the fulcrum that lets us leverage each one of these three learning journeys in support of our pursuit of personal and professional development, as well as our life-long effort to develop the overarching adaptive capabilities we need to flourish in what's quickly becoming a very messy world.

In this month's blog, I take both these ideas one step further and suggest that available research, extensive thought partnering, and a good deal of personal experience all prove that, inside each of Kolb's four learning cycle stages, there are an important array of micro-skill sets -- perhaps as many as three dozen -- that need to be understood, developed, and honed.

Here’s a graphic that identifies and categorizes some of the most important of these micro-skills:

EL-Micro-Skills-Graphic PNG.png

TLO’s Developmental Programs

Over the last several years I've proven, at least to my satisfaction, the proposition that mastering any complex new skill set will, as Herb Simon and Anders Ericsson suggest, most likely take thousands of hours of deliberate practice. This is especially true if our learning efforts follow the uncoordinated, haphazard, and mostly unconscious trial and error approach that most of us tend to use.

However, I've also demonstrated that, when we integrate Simon's focused attention skills with Ericsson's deliberate practice skills, and then tie both of these micro-skill sets into Kolb's four-stage approach to experiential learning, we can create for ourselves a conscious learning process that significantly accelerates the pace and effectiveness of our personal learning efforts.  In fact, I'm finding that this kind conscious, integrative approach can reduce the time it takes to master complex new interpersonal or professional skills to something well below the 10,000 hours that Simon originally proscribed.

Accordingly, I've added the focused attention skills that Simon explored in his book, Skill in Chess, and the deliberate practice techniques that Ericsson developed in his book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, to TLO's experiential learning model. The result is one fully integrated, thoroughly comprehensive learning program that, for me and several TLO Thought Partners, is creating some intriguing experiences and promising results. I've titled this new approach to learning, TLO’s Inform, Educate, & Transform Program. 

Focused Attention, Deliberate Practice, and Balanced Learning Styles


Learning's something we do.

Mostly, it's an unconscious activity. An instinctive skill, it's a natural talent that’s hardwired into our brains and bodies. Essentially, the learning we do is a genetically based, experience-driven capability we've had since human beings first appeared on the planet. Today, it's evolved into an extensive neurobiological network of automatic responses operating in ways that make sure we always react and adapt to the threats we’re constantly faced with.

Last month, in October's Coming of Age in the 21st Century blog, I profiled three types of learning journeys that each of us, in response to the threats we cope with every day, tends to be inextricably caught up in. Waxing poetic, I borrowed what Dr. Seuss, in his book, Oh the places you'll go!, proposed about the Bang-ups, Hang-ups, and Windows-not-lighted dangers we inevitably encounter as we're "off and away" on our respective life journeys. In a much less evocative way than Dr. Seuss might employ, I described these Bang-ups, Hang-ups, and Windows-not-lighted threats as specific mishaps that we're inevitably caught up in, and offered, as a complementary perspective to Dr. Seuss's threat descriptions, my sense of the three learning journeys we need to know about if we're going to react effectively to the Hang-ups, Bang-ups, and Windows-not-lighted dangers that are ours to deal with. 

Essentially, in last month's blog, I suggested that, whether or not we knew it, we were each being asked to:

  1. Identify for our selves the existing skills we already have that we need to improve.
  2. Discover for ourselves the new personal and professional skills we must develop.
  3. Experiment on our own with developing the new mindsets we need to cultivate.

At TLO, we understand that, in the post-modern, high-tech world we're now living in, the neurobiological talents we've developed to respond to our old and our new Hang-ups, Bang-ups, and Windows-not-lighted mishaps have been, for the most part, pre-empted by the formal, school-based educational systems that have recently been constructed to educate us. We realize that our formal education systems have become unchallengeable replacements for our genetic skills. But we also know that today, these formal school-based learning systems function in ways that both hide and overshadow our natural learning talents. Basically, while we understand school-based education is a tool we all need to make good use of, we also realize that this kind of institutionalized learning, by itself, will never be enough to prepare us for the dangers, threats, and challenges that come our way in the months, years, and decades ahead.

21st Century Learning

While classroom education is a fact of life, it's time for us to recognize that it's never going to offer us ways to master skills we already have but need to improve. It's never going to show us how to identify and master new personal and professional skills sets we're going to need to survive and thrive in the 21st Century. And, without a doubt, it's never going to help us learn how to develop the mindsets and Orders of Consciousness that we will need if we're ever going to understand the new technologies and scientific discoveries that are currently creating a new world for us all.

That's because all three of the life-long learning journeys described above require the kinds of unique capabilities that can never be taught in a formal classroom. These capabilities are real-world, life-long skill sets that we need to develop outside in our real-world lives. Three of these unique capabilities are particularly important:

  • Focused Attention
  • Deliberate Practice
  • Experiential Learning

Focused Attention: Herb Simon was the first to point us toward the importance of Focused Attention. Simon is a Nobel Prize winning economist who’s most famous for his theory of bounded rationality. Forty years ago, while on his way to winning his Nobel Prize, Simon discovered one of the most important learning insights ever. He and his colleague Bill Chase proved that new chess players, if they're ever going to become grandmasters, have to spend 10,000 to 50,000 hours studying chess positions day after day for years. This rule, Simon showed, applies to everyone who wants to master any type of complex skill. In learning terms, Simon proved “Focused Attention” is a key element associated with the time and effort a novice has to invest to develop highly effective grandmaster level skills.

Focused Attention is a key because it asks the learner to engage in three preparatory activities -- Issue Selection, Habit Formation, and Disciplined Practices. These are the three micro-skills basic to Focused Attention. Issues Selection involves the choice of the overarching skill set that’s going to be developed. Habit Formation involves the translation of vague, long-range visual aspirations into real world motivation, the conversion of psychological intent into reliable action. Disciplined Practice involves the creation of habituated practice routines that have a fixed time and place in the learner’s daily schedule. These three micro-skill sets form the preliminary steps that a learner takes every day to set him or herself up for well-designed and structured practice sessions that produce the lived experience that allows the learner to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses on an ongoing basis. This kind of Focused Attention is what slims down a learning process that's aimed at mastery from 10,000 hours of practice time to something that's in the 5,000 hour range.


Deliberate Practice: K. Anders Ericsson was the first to point us toward the importance of Deliberate Practice. Ericsson is an internationally recognized researcher in the psychology of expertise and human performance. In 1993, he confirmed Simon and Chase’s discoveries when he demonstrated that expert performance in almost any arena does in fact require the kind of focused attention that Simon and Chase said it did. But, in addition, Ericsson also proved that learning any complex skill really requires what he called “Deliberate Practice." Deliberate Practice is a set of activities that starts with and requires Focused Attention; i.e., an intensive, concentrated preoccupation with just one specific, self-selected competency.  But, beyond this single-mindedness, Deliberate Practice also asks the learner to “consciously create and nurture an all-consuming sense of personal motivation.” And, beyond even this, “a learner also has to pay serious attention to managing all the external distractions that inevitably intrude on one's focused attention efforts.” Ericsson, in other words, was telling us that there actually are two key elements involved in becoming a “grandmaster” of anything; Focused Attention and Deliberate Practice.

Deliberate Practice is a key because it asks the learner to commit themselves to a daily routine, one that includes intensive skill practice and, at the end of every practice session, a meta-cognitive effort aimed at evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the practice sessions they’ve just completed. It also includes a reflexive pause which, from the overarching, metacognitive position that's created, allows learners to evaluate, in precise terms, (a) the ways in which they’re successfully advancing their learning program, and (b) whether or not their practice sessions are or are not moving their pursuit of mastery forward. These are Deliberate Practices' hallmark activities that reduce the practice time required from 5,000 hours down to time that can be in the neighborhood of 500 hours.


Experiential Learning: David Kolb was the first to point us toward the importance of Experiential Learning. Kolb is the world's preeminent expert in the field of experiential learning. His book, Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning, revolutionized the field of adult learning. With it, Kolb shifted our focus away from classroom education, especially its focus on absorbing information and pre-cast knowledge, and turned it instead towards seeing adult learning as an endeavor that, first and foremost, must be focused on personal meaning making processes that are aimed at facilitating the dynamics of an “evolving self.” This book also showed us why Simon's insights about Focused Attention and Ericsson’s discoveries about Deliberate Practice are both on target. When he published his book, Kolb described the role that a well-balanced four-step experiential learning style plays in efficient and effective adult learning efforts. In effect Kolb, through his book, demonstrated how and why Balanced Learning is the element that both activates and integrates Simon & Chase's and Ericsson's contributions, melding them into a fulsome set of learning activities that are capable of boosting adult development efforts up into grandmaster levels.

Experiential Learning is pivotal because it grounds the learner’s practice efforts in a four-stage development process. This process is what shapes and drives a learner's Focused Attention and Deliberate Practice learning habits. Rigorously and consciously following the routine a balanced Experiential Learning effort creates is what provides learners with the kind of reliable lived experience they need to recollect and reflect. Given the availability of reliable lived experience, Experiential Learning asks its learners to pull together their most significant reflections about the strengths and weaknesses of their practice sessions, and translate these insights into some rough conceptual frames from which they can extract new implications for their next practice sessions.

These hypotheses then serve as guides for designing new real-world practice sessions, which, in turn, create new practice related experiences that then restarts the learning cycle. Together these three elements create the kind of learning processes that promote and support the development of grandmaster levels of competency.

Key Takeaways

Today, it’s clear: Any truly effective learning journey that aims for high levels of competency needs to include, at a minimum, Simon & Chase's, Ericsson’s, and Kolb’s discoveries, insights, and tools. Focused Attention, Deliberate Practice, and Balance Learning are three essential elements in any effective experience-based learning effort. 

  • Focused Attention is a key element because, as Simon and Chase showed us, high levels of competence aren't dependent on how much you know. Instead, they're a function of practice, practice and more practice. 10,000 hours and more was Simon and Chase's original proposition.
  • Deliberate Practice is a key element because, as Ericsson showed, practicing any new skill with mastery in mind isn't simply a matter of repeating over and over and over again what you've been told is the right way to do something. Instead, mastery of any new skill comes after you design, organize, and structure your practices in ways that intersperse intense, prolonged practice time with periods of critique,  reflection, solicitation of feedback, redesign, and rest. Ericsson also shows how and why Deliberate Practice must involve figuring out how to continually break down the macro skill sets your trying to master into increasingly finer and finer micro skill sets. Practice, reflection, redesign, feedback, and periodic rest are the best way to reduce the amount of practice time needed from 10,000 hours to something around range of 5,000 hours. 
  • Experiential Learning is the key element because, as Kolb showed, a balanced four-step cycle of learning is the best way to implement any practice routine.  Balanced Learning creates and maintains the kind of focused practice routines that can reduce the amount of time needed from 5,000 hours to 500 hours.

In this three-element model of experiential learning, Experiential Learning is the primary element. It's the fulcrum that skilled learners use to leverage the other two elements into reliable and efficient ways to master complex interpersonal skills in a manageable amount of time.

Source: /tlo-blog/focused-attention-deliberate-pra...

Coming of Age in the 21st Century


 As early as 1990, Ted Geisel knew important things about what it would take to successfully come of age in the 21st Century.

Ted Geisel was better known as Dr. Seuss, the author of some of the most famous children's books ever written. Ted was one of the most popular children's authors of all time. All together, his books sold more than 222 million copies. Sixteen of the top 100 best-selling children's books of all time were written by Geisel; Green Eggs and Ham at number 4, The Cat in the Hat at number 9, and One Fish Two Fish at number 13.

The last book that Ted Geisel wrote – Oh, the Places You'll Go! – is for TLO the book that speaks to us about what it will take to survive and thrive in the 21st Century. Oh, the Places You'll Go! is an intimate book, written with Dr. Seuss's patented, light-hearted style. It's built around wonderfully evocative illustrations. And, most importantly, especially for this book, it offers its message with plenty of Dr. Seuss's characteristic optimism:

"… will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed."

Ted wrote Oh, The Places You'll Go! during the last year of his life, at a time when he was battling cancer. And so, this book has a darker spirit, a tougher character. Those who knew Ted said 'Oh' was Dr. Seuss's swan song. It has his characteristic optimism and upbeat perspective, but for sure it also carries a darker, more realistic through line.

Here are the lines that set up Oh, the Places You'll Go!’s basic message:

"I'm afraid that some times
you'll play lonely games too.
Games you can't win
'cause you'll play against you."

At TLO, we love this book. First because overall it so perfectly portrays what we believe coming of age in the 21st Century is going to be all about; i.e., dealing with all the old and new cognitive mismatches that the 21st Century is unmasking for each of us. And second, because it, in three perfect vignettes, so poetically defines what, in response, we believe are the three learning journeys each one of us will inevitably need to pursue during our lives. Oh, the places you'll go!

Here's the way Dr. Seuss presents the first two of these three learning journeys:

Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you…

 …Wherever you fly, you'll be best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

 Except when you don't.
Because, sometimes you won

 I'm sorry to say so
but, sadly, it
's true
that Bang-ups
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.

“Bang-ups” and “Hang-ups,” for Dr. Seuss, are our lives' first two learning journeys. And we agree.

Here's the way Dr. Seuss describes our third learning journey, a journey that's much more complex and difficult than the first two:

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they're darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?

For Dr. Seuss, navigating our “Streets not marked” and our “Windows mostly darked” challenges are our toughest, most important 21st Century learning journeys. And we agree.

TLO's Three 21st Century Coming of Age Learning Journeys

In less poetic terms, our point is this. Right now, in the earliest years of the 21st Century, each one of us is most likely knee deep in three very personal learning journeys. I am, you are, every adult that either of us knows is probably immersed inextricably in these three journeys. Whether we know it or not, and whether or not we want to be, we are all active participants in situations, circumstances, and events that are asking us to either get better at something we already know how to do, learn something new we've never done before, or adopt a new perspective so we can address an opportunity we've never had before..

In TLO's Thought Partner language, we believe each of us, through the lives we're currently living, is being challenged to navigate three distinct, really important, learning tasks. We're each being ask to:

  1. Improve interpersonal skills we already have, like listening (non-judgmentally) and speaking (persuasively), or professional abilities like problem solving and leadership.
  2. Heighten our ability to respond more effectively to the chronic issues and persistent problems we regularly encounter, both at work and in our lives in general.
  3. Identify the mindsets we learned growing up that today we're just beginning to realize must be transformed if we’re going to respond effectively to the 21st Century's most dramatic challenges.

Everything we're suggesting in this blog is being offered to you as a set of propositions; hypotheses about what it's going to take for each one of us to recognize and respond to these three learning assignments in effective ways. If you have comments, criticisms, or questions about these ideas, please share what's on your mind. It's important to us to learn from you how you're hearing and receiving what we're beginning to think about. 

TLO's Circles of Awareness & Concern


Today and tomorrow.

These two time frames -- today and tomorrow --  are constructs that we all use to understand our lives. They're the slices of time we use to think about the ways people and events flow through our lives, the ways they move us forward. Phrases like now and thenthe present and the future, and today and tomorrow are the verbal trestles on which we hang our sense of what we're a part of today, and what's going to be happening to us tomorrow.

This two-frame way of thinking about the people and events that populate our "todays," as well as all the future people, events, and phenomena that might be in our "tomorrows" is one of the most useful metaphorical tools we have. I'd never suggest that it's anything but an effective way for us to picture our lives.

A Second Way

However, today, in this blog I want to offer you a second way of imagining your life. A way of thinking about our lives that’s a more nuanced way of understanding the fresh expectations and the new demands that the 21st Century’s most disruptive innovations and radical possibilities are pushing at us. In particular, I want to offer you a way to more concretely grasp what, for most of us, are  distant issues -- phenomena like climate change, white supremacy, globalization, Islamic terrorism, transgender rights, super intelligence, and trans-humanism. As well as phenomena like artificial intelligence, the Nano-Bio-Cogno Paradigm, and The Singularity. In other words, all the things that you're sort of aware of, but aren't. Not really. 

I call this new way of imaging the todays and tomorrows of our lives the “Three Circles of Awareness and Concern.” Here's a visual that describes this way of imaging these current and distant futures:

Circles of Awareness.jpg

Essentially, I think this model offers you three vantage points from which to view your life that are worth considering:

  • The First Circle of Awareness highlights the idea that every day each of us walks into the events in our lives implicitly guided by subconscious mindsets, stereotypes and beliefs that tell us what's personally real, meaningful, and important. These beliefs are the unquestioned premises of our daily lives, variations on the family-of-origin admonitions and life lessons we heard at the dinner table. They're the assumptions and presuppositions we've had since childhood that anchor our sense of reality. Most importantly, they're the rationales behind the repetitive behaviors we use that show us how to get through our days. This First Circle of Awareness is a doorway that helps you discover the ways in which your family-of-origin’s modes of thinking create for you the repetitive worries and anxieties that keep you up at night.

  • The Second Circle of Awareness & Concern is one that encourages you to reach a little deeper. It asks you to search for the habitual modes of thinking that you use every day. When you find them, wonder seriously about when, where, and how these implicit, long-standing modes of thinking are keeping you from understanding and effectively responding to those aspects of your life that, over and over again, are creating the most confusing, problematic, and threatening issues in your life. This circle is the doorway that's suggesting you could usefully ask yourself, “What is it that's hanging off the edges of my consciousness that’s so powerful, yet so indecipherable, troublesome, and/or scary that I never take the time to explore it?"

  • The Third Circle is all about encouraging those of us who are willing to go really deep to examine at least one or two of the indecipherable, troublesome, or scary phenomena active in the world around us for the implications that they might hold for us, our families, and our future lives. Here, the question to ask yourself is, "What or who are the distant conflicts, promethean individuals, and/or radically different paradigms that are active right now on the fringes of my consciousness that are worth learning more about? Once found, the question this Third Circle of Awareness & Concern asks is, "What do I need to do to bring forward at least some of the disruptive, challenging people, places, and innovations that I'm usually only implicitly aware of, to see what they might be saying to me about these phenomena that I ought to be more concerned about?"

The Three Circles of Awareness & Concern aren't just about stretching your ordinary two-frame way of experiencing your life out into a set of short, medium, and long-term images. It’s not something that gives you more finely-grained pictures of the life you're already living. Rather, this model is a way of asking you to consciously heighten your awareness of the incomprehensibly complex array of scary people, disruptive discoveries, revolutionary innovations, and unknown paradigms that, almost without your awareness, are concrete realities sitting just off the fringes of your consciousness. It's a model that asks you to think about the fresh ideas, new knowledge, amazing technologies, and scary paradigm shifts that are actually “out there” on the edges of your consciousness, hanging like errant chads on an election ballot, distant realities that deserve to be seen as issues of real interest and concern. 

Comprehending 21st Century Realities

I know all this sounds weird. But there are good reasons to pay attention to phenomena we've 'heard of' but really know nothing about. Mega-issues like climate change, white supremacy, globalization, Islamic terrorism, transgender rights, super intelligence, and trans-humanism. And phenomena like artificial intelligence, the Nano-Bio-Cogno Paradigm, and The Singularity. Each of these is an event, issue, or set of people that you've heard of but never fundamentally taken notice of. Together, each of these exists on the deep edges of society. They’re vague figures, distant events, and invisible activities that are coming alive in inaccessible laboratories and distant lands; all places where the Leonardo da Vinci's, Albert Einsteins, and Steve Jobs of today are hard at work creating the new technologies and innovations that are quietly shaping your daily life. They're the distant lands where the Osama Bin Laden's, Kim Jong Un's, and Abubakar Shekau's of the world are scaring me and you to death. People, events, and new knowledge that we "know of," but have never taken real notice of. People, events, and new knowledge that, unnoticed, are nonetheless insistently shaping the new fabric of our lives.

Fundamentally, the Three Circles model suggests that each of us, in one way or another, feels these phenomena. We sense these vague figures, distant events, and invisible activities know they’re there, waiting on the outside edges of our perception. Available to us through our interest and attention; the as yet too scary phenomena to turn and face directly.

This model is also telling you something more. It's saying that "being vaguely aware" of these phenomena is OK, but that "knowing something about them" is altogether different levels of consciousness. And that actually "knowing something about" these apparitions is not quite the same thing as "being consciously aware of their concrete reality." Nor is it quite the same thing as "actually comprehending the implications they have for you, your family, and your life." Each distinction is a new, more sophisticated and personal way of grasping these seemingly unreal phenomena.

This Three Circles model is proposing the idea that fully comprehending at least something about these distant individuals and the tools, technologies, and innovations they're inventing is important. It's proposing that, at this point in history, comprehending something about Abubakar Shekau's Boko Haram brand of Islamic terrorism, Mark Sagar and his "AI baby", or Bill Bainbridge's Nano-Bio-Cogno hypotheses can be a way of more effectively and meaningfully imagining, understanding, and guiding the life your living. It can be a way that opens up whole new levels of awareness and concern that will transform your sense of and perception of the world you're living in. And the challenges and possibilities that are yours to face, and possibly take advantage of.

Available Knowledge and Information

Dozens of books exist regarding many of these new 21st Century issues, and there are dozens more about the significance of their emerging "convergence."

None of these books are "Chicken Little" prophesies. None forecast doom and gloom. None are apocalyptic prophesies. Rather, each is more like a "heads up" description of a radically new discovery or invention that right now, as you're reading this blog, is creating a new world for us. These books are new age roadmaps outlining the contours of a new world for those interested enough to become both aware of and concerned with what, in terms of adaptive thinking, is being ask of us . 

Here’s a short sample of these books:

  • Michael Annissimov: Our Accelerating Future; How Superintellignece, Nanotechnology and Transhumanism will Transform the Planet

  • William Bainbridge: Managing Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno Innovations: Converging Technologies in Society

  • Nick Bostrom: Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies

  • Ray Kurzweil: The Singularity Is Near; When Humans Transcend Biology

  • John Markoff: Machines of Loving Grace; The Quest For Common Ground Between Humans and Robots

  • Christopher Muller: Prometheanism; Technology, Digital Culture, and Human Obsolescence

  • Clay Shirky: Here Comes Everybody; The Power of Organizing Without Organizations

Stepping Into the three Circles

Rainer Rilke, in the early part of the 20th Century, wrote a poem titled "The Road Ahead," This poem speaks to the possibility of developing the kinds of awareness and concern that the The Three Circle model is pointing to. Rilke's poem describes how we can use our implicit awarenesses to discover distant realities. Without demanding anything, Rilke tells us it's possible to know "unknown" things. That, for example, it is possible to comprehend the possibilities that new phenomena like artificial intelligence, the Nano-Bio-Cogno Paradigm, or The Singularity are in the process of shaping for us. This is how Rilke says it:

“My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has its inner light, even from a distance—

and changes us, even if we do not reach it, into something else,
which, hardly sensing it, we already are;
a gesture waves us on, answering our own wave . . .
but what we feel is the wind in our faces."