Optional or Indispensable

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Abraham Maslow first spoke about his "hierarchy of needs" in a paper published in 1943. It was titled "A Theory of Human Motivation," and in it Maslow suggested that each of us has a variety of needs, some basic (like our need for food, water, and safety), others developmental (like our need for love, respect, and self-actualization).

Maslow's premise was that our basic needs had to be satisfied first. Our needs for growth were important, especially for the realization of a meaningful life. But our basic needs came first, our psychological and spiritual needs came second. They were optional.

In the 40's, when Maslow first published his hierarchy of needs, this split made sense. The world we were living in was simple, and relatively stable.There were no really urgent reasons to object to the idea that our needs for love, belongingness, respect, dignity, and spiritual growth were optional. The pursuit of what seemed like esoteric needs could be reserved for those who had the time and money to spare.

Things are different now...

The world we're living in today is not a 21st Century replica of TV's 1970's drama, The Little House on the Prairie. The world is no longer that simple, and no longer stable. Today, we're living in a world that's characterized by intricate global interdependencies, accelerating rates of change, and increasingly unprecedented levels of complexity. Uncertainty and chaos, not stability, are our 'new normal.'

If this is true, and complexity, chaos and uncertainty are our 'new normal,' can the personal transformations that Maslow described in the 40's and 50's really still be optional? All across the world, we're caught in the midst of a momentous, open-ended global transformation, one that is ever so painfully moving us out of an industrial and into an information society. In this context, doesn't indispensable sound more like the appropriate word to describe our developmental needs?



Everyone Needs A Coach III

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Everyone needs a coach...

Bill Gates says so. As does Atul Gawande and Roger Federer. And a dozen other best selling authors. I agree with all of them. But, and this is important, I also think their prescription -- everyone needs a coach -- is too simple. My experience suggests we don't need a coach, we need at least four coaches. Or, if possible, one coach who's capable of offering us four distinct coaching presences.

Everybody who’s launched a serious learning effort of one sort or another has inevitably encountered at least four distinct inflection points along the way. Each of these inflection points is a moment when the learner comes face to face with crucial decisions and important challenges.

For example, for every prospective learner who’s standing at the start of their particular learning journey, there always seems to be an inflection point, if you will a "fish or cut bait moment," where the prospective learner is faced with the need to decide whether or not to actually step out into their journey. This is the point were they must actually embrace their hopes and dreams, control their fears, trust their inner resources, and simply “go.” 

Then, shortly after their learning effort is getting started, a "comprehension moment" emerges where this novice learner must both comprehend and come to terms with all the tasks and challenges they're seeing in front of them. This is the second inflection point.

There always are crises to face along the way, “risk-laden moments” in time when the learner must accept the fact that they'll need to risk meaningful things if they're going to finish their journey. Here the learner encounters the anxieties and fears that come with these risks, and this experience creates for the learner their third inflection point. It’s the moment when the learner must feel, frame and face their worst fantasies, whatever they might be.

Near the end of every learning journey, when the learner’s almost finished their journey, there is a fourth inflection point. This is the "moment of truth," the point in time when, for the learner, what it takes to finish their journey becomes painfully clear. The decision as to whether to move ahead that first showed up at the start of the journey now returns. In full force.

Alongside each of these four “inflection points,” I’ve discovered that there are a variety of “coaching presences” that a learner needs. If the learner is going to actually work through each of their inflection points, they need certain kinds of support, encouragement, and guidance. Accordingly, there are specific types of support that effective coaches need to be provide their clients so that they can successfully move into and through each of their inflection points. Essentially, at each one of these four inflection points, a learner needs to have available to them a coach who’s able to provide the specific kinds of support, encouragement, and guidance that each new inflection point requires. 

For instance, at the "fish or cut bait moment" mentioned above, there is an inflection point that always shows up well before a learner actually steps out into their transformational journey. This first point appears in anticipation of every launch. It shows up at that moment in time when a prospective learner realizes they actually will have to change big time, and that they will need to do this sooner rather than later. Here, at this first inflection point, the learner needs to have available to him or her a coach who has the skills to become a Companion for their clients. 

The Companion that’s needed at this first inflection point must be someone who’s able to listen with a deep receptiveness to the soundings of their client’s unspoken worries and their vague whispers of hope. This coach needs to be the kind of companion who can listen without comment, and then ask, “Is this what you’re trying to say?” They need to be a coach who can offer the steady companionship a novice pilgrim needs as they're walking up to the beginning of their transformational journey. 

The second inflection point comes with every learner’s “comprehension moment.” This moment is that point in time when the learner needs a coach who can be a Thought Partner. At this stage, when a learner is just stepping out into their journey, is where the learner needs a coach who can help them consciously comprehend what lies ahead. This type of coach is someone who talks in concrete, practical ways about the steps, back alleys, and way stations found on all transformational journeys. It helps, of course, if at this second transition point a coach like this has lived the transformational experiences they’re describing. It’s OK if they haven’t. What matters is that whoever the Thought Partner is, they are able, without arrogance, to use all the knowledge and experience they have to frame for their client, as a possibility to consider, a map of what the learner’s’ first steps ought to look like. It's at the beginning of every transformation, where the learner is taking their first few experimental steps, when having a coach present with some sort of guide book to share is way better and more encouraging than having no map at all.

In the middle of every learning journey, the third coaching presence a learner needs is that of Witness. The third inflection point emerges when the learner needs someone who’s able to offer them spirit and confidence. A coach who’s capable of being a Witness will be someone who can be with their client as their cheerleader, someone who’s present and prepared to recognize and applaud their learner’s accomplishments and their efforts, as well as their lapses of judgment and loss of nerve. At the third inflection point, the presence a coach who can witness brings to bear involves the ability to recognize when the learner is feeling displays of doubt, courage, despair, and/or determination, and, in the face of whatever risks emerge, be able to offer nothing but encouragement. At this third way station, the coach needs to notice, describe, and offer words of encouragement in response to the all the crises of confidence that are plaguing his or her companion. Here, at the third inflection point, the coach needs to have a presence that explicitly appreciates both a client’s courage and their doubts in ways that illuminate for them the idea that both these qualities are strengths they need for the steps yet to be taken. Research suggests that very few coaches have themselves reached a learning journey’s fourth inflection point. Few coaches have ever been this deep into their own transformational journey. Their own or someone else’s. So, it’s hard to offer a specific term that fully describes the coaching presence that a learner needs at their fourth inflection point, what, experienced mountaineers climbing Mt. Everest call THE push to the summit

In 1914, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a poem that for me seems like it comes close to describing the presence that a coach needs to be able to offer a client toward the end of their learning journey. Rumi describes this presence like this:“...there is a boundary to looking, for the world that is looked at so deeply only wants to flourish in love. Here the work of the eyes is done; now go and do heart-work on all the images imprisoned within you.” For us, the word that best fits this type of identity is Shepherd.

Start to finish then it seems like there are at least four distinct coaching presences needed at the four distinct inflection points are found across the full length of a transformational journey; Companion, Thought Partner, Witness, and Shepherd. Our experience supports this hypothesis. Does yours?



Presidential Election Dialogue: Note #5

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I've been both dismayed and mesmerized by what's been happening in this country for months now. Resurgent white supremacy, immigration prisons, Russian cyber attacks, climate change, blatant racism, government deregulation, political polarization and, to top it all off, a presidential election campaign that's seething with unveiled animus and bad will. Hard to stomach but, given the principles and values at stake, impossible to ignore.

Is democracy dying?

Is America becoming a fascist country?

Why are American politics so polarized?

Follow the links embedded in each of these three questions and you will find answers to these questions that I've discovered, answers that might not be a final, definitive answer to each question, but they will be perspectives that will cause you to think.

Beyond these three specific resources, I'm convinced the two websites posted below are worth looking into, especially for those of you who are interested in becoming more knowledgeable about a wide variety of important election issues. The Rand Corporation's website is a great resource on any number of policy issues. But, it's examination of what it calls "Truth Decay" is really stellar; a crucial exploration for those who are concerned with what President Trump's labels "fake news." The dual issues of civic responsibility and public ignorance have been worrisome election issues since the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The Penn National Commission's website offers some very insightful work on these two issues that is well worth examining.

The Rand Corporation

The Penn National Commission

One other 2020 Presidential election resource is worth mentioning. It's the 2020 Presidential Election Resource Center I launched in March of this year. You can find it through the navigation bar below.

The 2020 Presidential Election Resource Center



Developing a Learning Partnership

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The 13th Century Persian scholar, Rumi, wrote the short poem you see just above. It’s one of his more mystical exhortations. Type this sentence into Google, and you’ll immediately discover the rich, rewarding world of interpretations and perspectives that Rumi's entreaty evokes. 

Here, in this blog on developing a learning partnership, we’re sharing Rumi’s advice with you as a way for you to frame and expand the insights that Etienne Wenger is offering in the YouTube video I’ve posted. Dr. Wenger is one of the world’s foremost authorities on learning partnerships, especially professional communities of practice. And here, with Brantlee Underhill, he’s showing us how a learning partnership can be a real boon for any learning efforts, given how important it is to have both a "place for engagement" and a clearly defined "learning community" during any learning adventure.

In this context, Dr. Wenger is well worth listening to because, in a few short minutes, he highlights three or four of the more important issues involved in the development of a learning partnership. I’ve add Rumi’s admonition at the beginning of this post as a frame that rounds out, deepens, and enriches the sense and feel of Wenger's insights.

For me, Rumi’s phrase, “Sell your cleverness,” suggests that authentic learning is something that can never be completely realized through the simple acquisition of new information. Rather, authentic learning flourishes in the real world only when we relax our concern with facts and figures and allow ourselves to "Buy the bewilderment" that’s always part of every authentic learning experience. To truly learn anything, we need to be willing to struggle with the new realities that confound us until, out of this struggle, we find a way to fashion new ways of perceiving what we’ve been struggling with. This is the kind of emotional breadth and depth that contemplating Rumi’s short poem adds to the story Dr. Wenger is telling when, in the video above, he suggests that effective learning happens for us when, in the presence of others whom we trust, we are courageous enough to “bring our questions and our challenges” open heartedly into a community of practice that we’ve learned to trust. A “community of practice that, here at TLO, we're calling a "learning partnership." There’s much more we can say about all this.



Everyone Needs A Coach

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I believe everyone needs a coach.

Here are three reasons why:

  • Unless you're an experienced neuroscientist, you probably don't know that you're an unwitting prisoner of your own natural mind, especially the neurobiological networks that control your fight-flight-freeze reactions, your cognitive biases, and your attributional tendencies. 

  • Unless you're someone who's studied some neurobiology, some developmental psychology, and are acutely aware of the world, you probably don't realize the ways in which the world around you is constantly and persistently evolving away from what your natural mind is telling you is real

  • Unless you're both a neuroscientist and a cognitive therapist, you probably don't know that your brain's neural networks are malleable. Nor do you know that any changes you might need or want to make at work or in your life are totally dependent on your own personal ability to rewire your brain's neurobiological networks.

It's because of these probabilities that I'm suggesting everyone needs a coach. 

To grow and develop in today's world, each of us needs a coach who can challenge us when we're backing away from a crucial decision. We need a coach who can summon our courage in the face of discouraging realities. Or a coach who can pull us up short when he or she sees us turning a blind eye towards a pivotal crossroads. 

No matter what you call them, whether for you they're a trusted friend, an unavoidable critic, or a developmental coach, in today's world you need someone who can help you explore your passions and disappointments, engage you in a soul-searching conversation, and/or encourage you to step up into a bold connection or a brilliant exploration.

Reframing the 2020 Presidential Election

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The 2020 presidential election that's just now beginning to take shape is going to be unlike any other that America's ever seen. As it unfolds over the next 18 months, this election will go down in history as unique unto itself, unlike any other previous presidential election.

This time round, this elections isn't going to be all about deciding who’s “the best man for the job.” It won't be one that’s aimed at deciding whether a Joe Biden, a Donald Trump, a Bernie Sanders, or a William Weld is the one ‘best man’ to be president of the United States. Neither will it be an election that all about deciding which candidate is the best person to be president, regardless of whether that person is a man or a woman. No matter whether, on Wednesday, November 4th, 2020, we’ve elected a Kamala Harris or a Donald Trump, this election is going to be about much more than simply deciding who will be the 46th President of the United States.

This time round this presidential election, no matter who we end up electing, is going to be widely understood as having been, deep in its heart and soul, an election that was all about discovering which vision of America most of us, as American citizens, want our country to be, to become.

Fundamental Issues?

Regardless of who we end up electing, I believe that, deep down, inside its heart and soul, this country’s 2020 election won’t end up being about which single person we choose as president. Unlike all other previous elections — whether we know it or not — this one is going to be all about discovering which vision of America most of us, as American citizens, want our country to be, to become.

In the deepest sense, I believe the votes we cast in 2020 are going to be about either affirming or rejecting the direction in which America has been moving for the past several years. Whether we see this or not, what’s going on all across America right now is visible proof that 2020's election is (and should be) about whether we, as a people, want to go back to being the white, Christian, male-dominated nation we've been since 1776. Or whether we, as a people, want to suck it up and decide that we, as a nation, want to move forward ever so slowly towards becoming the multi-ethnic, multi-gendered, multi-faith country that we've been moving towards for several decades now.

Forward or backwards? Are we going to succumb to our natural mind’s baser instincts and retreat? Or are we going to summon the courage necessary to live up to the expansive and inclusive vision, ideals and values this country was founded on? THESE are the questions we'll be answering on November 3rd, 2020, and they’re going to be among the toughest, most consequential choices we'll ever make.

2020’s Paradigm Shifts

This is the way it’s going to be because the issues buried deep inside this election involve some of the most complex, highly controversial paradigm shifts ever to appear on a U.S. ballot. Paradigm shifts like these four: 

  • The shift presently going on in this country away from America’s original Christian society towards today’s emerging agnostic, non-sectarian society, as demonstrated by this kind of evidence.

  • The shift going on all across America away from a white, male-dominated society towards an inclusive multi-racial, multi-ethnic, ‘Me Too’ society, as demonstrated by this kind of evidence, this kind, and this kind as well.

  • The shift going on in this country away from a patriarchal society towards a non-gendered, polyarchal society, as demonstrated by this kind of evidence.

  • The shift going on all across America away from a society that can only see a binary, male/female definition of gender to a society that recognizes and accepts a multi-gendered definition that includes male, female, gay, lesbian, and trans-sexual identities, as demonstrated by this kind of evidence. 

If you read any of the articles highlighted in these four paragraphs you, while you’re reading, will feel the visceral, threat-induced responses that are our natural mind’s instinctive reaction to national identity shifts like the four listed above.

Useful actions

Given all this we, if we want to get ready to cast smart, well reasoned and evidenced decisions at the polls, will need to reframe the way we’re seeing the 2020 presidential election. As our first step, we need to alter the way we, as citizens and voters, are thinking about this 2020 election. Instead of seeing it as an election that’s all about choosing the ‘best man,’ we instead need to take some time to prove to ourselves why this election should be understood as one that’s about discovering which vision of America most of us, as American citizens, want our country to be, to become.

I don’t have a sure fire way to create this reframe. But I do have three steps that I believe will move us in the right direction:

  • First, you and I need to devote some serious time to re-learning what democracy is all about. We need to re-learn what freedom’s and representative democracy’s essential principles are. And what its fundamental characteristics and traits are. Beyond this, we need to acknowledge that these foundational ideals and traits, things we once new all about, have long ago become taken-for-granted premises and values for us. Presuppositions about freedom and representative democracy that have slipped deep into our subconscious. Ideas we once knew, but now don’t really. Consequently, if we’re going to get prepared to make wise ballot choices, we need to first acknowledge to ourselves the possibility that we can’t simply coast into our polling places on November 3rd. We need to spend some serious time getting prepared to vote.

  • Second, you and I need to take what we re-learn about freedom’s and representative democracy’s essential characteristics and compare this with what, in political, social, and economic terms, is real in this country today. The questions we need to ask ourselves are ones like these: “Is the polarized and polarizing government we now have in Washington adequately practicing and protecting democracy’s essential tenet of majority rule and minority rights?”; “How are things like rising levels of income inequality, immigration detention, and voter suppression hurting or helping with our understanding of representative democracy’s fundamental traits and characteristics?;” and/or “Does it matter that our elected representatives, at both the state and national level, do not adequately reflect America’s current multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-denominational demographics?”

  • Third, you and I need to decide how and why each potential presidential candidates and their espoused policies match up with our vision of what America should be all about.

In the short run – i.e., between now and the 2020 election -- I believe our next steps are simple. Between today and Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020, there are two things each of us should do: 

  • Spend some time over the next several weeks and months critically questioning whether, at this point in time, we, for ourselves, are thoroughly prepared to exercise well-informed, well-evidenced ballot choices in the primary and general elections that we’ll be involved in between today and November 3rd, 2020.

  • If our answers to this questioning is anything but ‘yes,’ we need to organize for ourselves opportunities for better understanding the issues facing us, and deciding whether any of the candidates who are running for president have the deep, complex depth of understanding that’s going to be required from our next president.

Registering for TLO's 2020 Presidential Election Dialogue Series is one good way to address these two tasks. Another is scheduling an exploratory conversation with me so that together we can examine how TLO's Presidential Election Resource Center can help each of us prepare for the 2020 election on our own. And, on your own, you could explore the resources and background information available inside TLO’s Election Resource Center. Any one of these alternatives is a good way for you to step into getting prepared for 2020. 

Regardless of whether you make use of my support, there are other resources you could use to get prepared for 2020. For instance, you could: 

No matter which resource you use, the point is to get started thinking and talking about the new order of consciousness, the new mindsets, and the new modes of thinking that the 2020 Presidential Election process is demanding from each of us. Given that you want to make wise, well-reasoned, adequately evidenced 21st Century decisions on November 3rd, any one of these choices listed above is a good one to make.


Comprehending the 21st Century

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We’re almost two decades in, and every day it gets clearer that the 21stCentury is going to be unprecedented. Full of threats and challenges.

For three reasons...

 Ever since 9/11/2001, we’ve all been living in a world that’s flooded with threats to our personal safety. There for example are the threats posed by Islamic Terrorists and White Nationalists. And, there are the threats that come as unexpected secondary consequences of raging wild fires, cyclonic rain storms, and catastrophic hurricanes. And threats embedded inside world-wide trends like automation, the internet of things, and globalization. Most of these phenomena don’t threaten our physical safety. However, in one way or another, they all create the kind of existential confusion, frustration, and anxious uncertainty that feels threatening.

In particular, there’s an unsettling idea going round these days that suggests this century's most radical ideas about how the world works are probably better ways for us to understand the world than anything we learned growing up. Everyday now scholars, researchers, and pundits of all sorts are telling us that there are more and more reasons why each of us should seriously question the fundamental ways we see the world, especially the core belief systems we learned from our families. There are reasons, these experts say, why we should actually dismantle and rebuild the architecture of our homespun worldviews.

New Challenges

More often than many of us are willing to admit we, these days, are beginning to see that many of the strange new situations that are showing up in our lives are there because we’re unwittingly holding onto belief systems that we learned in our playpens and backyards. We’re discovering that these new, unsettling encounters we’re having are popping up in our lives because the assumptions we took on when we were toddlers and teenagers no longer serve us. When we were young, these family beliefs did serve us. But now — as adults living in the adult world — the truisms we inherited from our families can no longer offer us the kind of real-world wisdom that we need. Particularly if, as adults, we have a desire to understand the polarized and polarizing conflicts going on all around us. Or, if we want to understand why the worlds outside our daily routines have suddenly become too complex for us to comprehend.

The truth is, the 21st Century is pushing into our lives complex multi-dimensional situations that, when we encounter them, drown us in a flood of information that sucks us down rabbit holes filled with disruptive ideas and incomprehensible threats, challenges, and opportunities. They do this partly because they’re so complex, partly because they’re challenges we’ve never seen before, partly because they’re situations that are hard to face, and partly because we’re still embedded in our old family-of-origin ways of thinking. Evidently, at least some of us are trying to live our lives through old, outdated schema, maps, and scripts. We’re trying to respond to a world that’s full of complex, new challenges through an outmoded worldview that’s not yet sophisticated enough to help us see what works. Or help us figure out how to deal effectively with what amounts to some serious, new, real-world problems.

DEVELOPMENTAL COACHING 

With this in mind, I've recently taken all that I know about experiential, transformational, and self-directed learning and integrated these elements into my own unique way of thinking about these new challenges. An approach that I’m calling “Developmental Coaching.” This approach is something I’ve developed for myself to help me recognize the glitches in my own habitual modes of thinking and recognize the mismatches in my own ways to comprehending the world’s new complexities. Developmental Coaching is also the approach I’m using with my clients as a first order of business. For both myself and my clients, the first order of business is creating an increased appreciation of the possibility that the truisms each of us learned in our mother’s lap are not necessarily as trustworthy as they once were. And as trustworthy they now need to be.

Our very first developmental task is coming to terms with the idea that the beliefs we once absorbed at the dinner table listening to our dads, or at the park swimming with our pals, are clearly no longer reliable modes of thinking. Once we’ve absorbed this lesson, what comes next is struggling with the proposition that, in today’s new environment, our old family beliefs will work sometimes, but at other times they won’t work at all. The toughest developmental task to master is identifying theme and places in our lives where our old beliefs and the 21st Century’s new realities are mismatched.

Once we accept these three lessons, we’ll be well-positioned live with the realization that this three step developmental learning sequence is gong to be part of our lives for a long while now. They’re going to be our new way of seeing, thinking and/or feeling. The way that we keep pace with the new mismatches that we will have to learn how to notice and respond to, on an on-going basis.

In this new developmental coaching approach, the base idea is that we all need to learn how to create for ourselves a realistic appreciation of the mismatches that exist between our habitual modes of thinking and the complexities inherent in the situations facing us. In a Developmental Coaching effort, the basic task is uncovering and identifying our old outdated family-of-origin belief systems, our instinctive threat responses, and the ways that each of us comes to know what we know. In this effort, we need partners to work with who can help us develop the meaning-making skillsets that are key to growth and development. Developmental Coaching’s core point is to position each of us with the new more inclusive and expansive perspectives, resources, and skills that we need to thrive in the years ahead. 

Just below there’s a link to details about this developmental coaching approach. There’s also a link that lets me know you’d like to talk directly about your needs and interests.



Learning to Live in an Unscripted World

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Are you seeing it yet?

Are you seeing the ways this century’s newest scientific advances and technologies are pushing incomprehensible crises into our lives?

Are you noticing the ways that newish threats like climate change, gender and ethnic strife, and intractable ideological conflicts are disrupting all our old realities?

Most particularly, are you seeing the ways in which new technologies like robotics, gene-editing, and artificial intelligence are cracking our old 20th Century worldview wide open?

If you are, what sense are you making of it all? Do you see the paradigm shift we’re in the middle of as new precepts are slowly demolishing our ol 20th Century worldview?

If you’re not, schedule an exploratory conversation to discuss why.

Learning to Live in an unscripted world

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In combination, the real world crises we've created for ourselves and the unwitting blindness that our old 20th Century worldview is tying us to, means we need to break free of our self-induced coma and develop new more sophisticated modes of understanding and new complex forms of thinking.

For sometime now the pundits have been begging us to realize that our "Primitive Brains," our "Cave Man Logic," and our "Natural Minds" are not up to dealing with the catastrophic crises we're facing.

With this in mind, I'm inviting you to partner with me in a new Developmental Coaching Program that I've created to help us do exactly this. This new program is a really good way of breaking free of our outmoded habits of mind. It's a six month experiential learning program that's focused exclusively on three primary developmental tasks:

* Understanding the ways in which our 20th Century mindsets are binding us to old, outmoded modes of thinking.

* Understanding the new 21st Century mindset that our complex, interconnected, accelerating world is demanding.

* Developing the kinds of new precepts, propositions, and belief systems that will let us respond to the crises today's world is pushing at us.

Each developmental coaching partnership is one that's designed to a create a realistic understanding of the the ways in which your old outmoded worldview is constraining and misleading you. It's also designed to help you develop the new complex modes of thinking and feeling that you must develop if you’re going to respond effectively to the crises, challenges, and opportunities the 21st Century is now bringing to you life.


TLO'S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION DIALOGUES

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On Tuesday, November 3rd 2020, you and I, alongside 160 million other U.S. citizens, will be asked to participate in a variety of local, statewide, and national elections. These elections, in one way or another, will be asking us to do two things. First, decide who should be our next president, our next vice president, our next senators and congresspersons, as well as our next state and local officials. Second, affirm or reject the direction forward that our current politicians have forged for us over the last several years. This election is 22 months away, but even now it’s obvious that these choices will be among the most consequential we'll ever make.

 It’s also clear the issues that are at the heart of this election involve some of the most complex, highly controversial choices that have ever been on a national ballot. Most of these choices are now, and will continue to be, too complex for most of us, as solitary individuals, to truly understand. These ballot choices won’t offer us any heroes. Nor will they offer us any simple right or wrong choices, no sure, decisive ways forward. Nonetheless, the votes we cast, the choices we make will be seminal. 

 Without some serious preparation, some kind of focused self-directed educational effort, I believe most of us won’t be make wise, well-informed decisions in 2020. Without serious, concentrated preparation, the decisions we’ll make 22 months from now will most likely be choices that have been influenced and even inflamed by the highly polarized political environment that’s been the touchstone of our politics for years. In this environment, getting ready to make wise, well-reasoned, adequately evidenced choices will require the kind of concerted educational effort that most of us have never thought necessary. Before now. 

 An Invitation

 I’ve thought about all this, and have concluded that I know only one good way to get ready for our November 3rd, 2020 elections. Between now and then I, with a few select others, need to engage in an extended series of dialogue sessions, where each session is one that’s focused on specific aspects of this election in an open-ended conversation about what wise, responsible choices could and should look like.

 Consequently, starting today, I’m convening a series of quarterly Presidential Election Dialogue Sessions. Each of the dialogues in this series will be focused on getting those participating fully prepared to cast wise and reasoned votes in all the various elections they’ll be involved in during November 2020. 

Join me in this effort. I realize that asking you to say "yes" to this experiment is big. But, given all that we’ve watched and been a part of over the last couple of years, doesn’t it seem like getting involved in this kind of preparatory effort is absolutely necessary? Perhaps even an important part of our civic duty?



Leveraging Your Lived Experiences

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Jack Mezirow, in his 1991 book Transformative Dimensions, suggested that we, If we were conscious enough and tough enough, we could use our everyday experiences as doorways to useful learning. If we also were mindful enough, we could attend to the disappointments and missteps in our lives, and if we’re tough enough to see these experiences as “distant, early-warning signals” and then attentive enough to look for what caused them, we would be able to use the skills available to us to launch the kinds of conscious learning efforts that could transform us. Noticing and analyzing our lived experiences — especially those that confuse, frustrate, or disappoint us — is as we’ve recently discovered the golden key to personal and professional transformation.

The problem is, some of us know how to notice and analyze our lived experience in ways that leverage them into successful learning efforts. And some of us don’t.

Charlie Brown — the lead character in Charles Schultz’s cartoon series Peanuts — is the prototypical example of a person who doesn’t know how to notice and analyze his lived experiences. According to Schultz, “Charlie is America’s prototypical looser. He’s the one who suffers.” For me, Charlie isn’t a looser. Rather, he’s a caricature of today’s average person; someone who’s never quite aware enough of his missteps and shortfalls to ever marshal the energy it takes to do the things that would transform his fate. Consequently, no matter how many times Lucy breaks her promise that she’ll hold the ball in place, Charlie never notices and analyzes her betrayals of her promises and his subsequent expectations. Like Charlie, the “aaughs” we experience in our lives are really notices; instead they become the closest we ever come to analyzing our most frequent disconfirming experiences.

This is sad. For all of us who are real-life “Charlies,” our learning can only begin when we start recognizing the kinds of disconfirming experiences we’re having that are just like the one’s that Charlie is swimming in. Disconfirming experiences, whether in life or at work, are nature’s way of challenging our expectations. They’re nature’s way of showing us when, where, and how, our long-held views of how the world should work are outmoded, made obsolete by events, circumstances and situations never imagined by our moms and dads.

The thing to notice here is that disconfirming experiences are what come into our lives whenever we encounter situations that don’t fit or match with our earliest embedded intentions. Disconfirming experience show up in our lives when things happen to us in that we don’t anticipate. Speaking psychologically, you can say that an event, situation, or experience is disconfirming when it doesn’t sync with your personal models of reality. Or when you experience something that you sense that it’s violating the presuppositions about life you developed early on in your life with your parents and your siblings.  Disconfirming experiences those encounters that confound you, fluster you, put you in a place where confusion, tension, and anxiety tingle just below the surface of your consciousness and threaten your ability to respond effectively.

Without question, none of us rally want to be our own version of Charlie Brown. We are though, whenever we slough off the “laugh!” moments of our lives. When we turn a blind eye to the confusions, tension, an anxieties tingling just slightly off camera, we’re doing just that. Becoming our own versions of Charlie Brown. Noticing instead of ignoring these “aaugh” moments is the way out of this blindspot. These opportunities emerge when (1) we’re able to feel the tingle of our anxiety, (2) name it as a disconfirming experience, and (3) begin wondering just a bit about what the central assumptions or belief systems are that are lying unnoticed in our disconfirming experiences. When we start doing these three things, we’re on our way to being able to examine our faulty beliefs and reframe the specific behavior patterns that have created our disconfirming experience in the first place. To learn more about your disconfirming experiences and what you can do to reframe them, click the navigation button below.



Seven Rules of Your Unconscious Mind

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Your unconscious is the part of your mind that you cannot access even when you try. A more precise definition would be something like “the mental processes implanted in the earliest years of your life that are inaccessible to your conscious mind, but that automatically and reflexively influence your judgments, feelings, and behavior.” Good examples of these kinds of hidden processes would range from the way in which your mind transforms the light rays that strike your retina into three-dimensional vision to, at a higher order, the way you select, interpret, and evaluate incoming information and set your goals in motion. With this definition in mind, here’s a description of seven of your unconscious mind’s most important operating rules. 

KEY OPERATING RULES

1. WORK TO TURN EVERY UNCONSCIOUS EXPECTATION INTO REALITY

Your unconscious mind works tirelessly to turn your strongest expectations into reality. Subliminal expectations that carry a strong emotional charge and are consistently repeated are the ones that your unconscious mind recognizes and accepts most easily.

2. IGNORE ALL NEGATIVE INPUTS

Your unconscious mind only works with positive inputs. It cannot and does not recognize negative ideas and concepts. It simply does not process negatives. If, in your self-talk, you say I will not, your unconscious mind only hears, I will. Your unconscious turns all your negatively framed wishes, intentions, and resolutions into their opposite, more positive actions.

3. WORK ONLY IN THE NOW

Your unconscious mind only works in the now. It cannot process ideas and concepts situated in the past or in the future; It’s not able to recognize time-based ideas and beliefs. The ever present ‘now’ of your life is your unconscious mind’s reality.

4. TREAT WHAT’S IMAGINED & WHAT’S REAL THE SAME 

Your unconscious mind does not distinguish between something you imagine and something you actually experience. What you imagine and what you experience are both processed through the same circuitry; both inputs trigger the same feelings and actions.

5. REINFORCE EXISTING BELIEFS, IDEAS, & MEMORIES 

Your unconscious mind works to maintain and reinforce every belief, idea, or memory that it has accepted until, through repeated experience, this belief, idea, or memory is replaced or reframed. Once a belief, idea, or memory is embedded in your unconscious mind, it automatically works to maintain and express every belief, idea, or memory it’s encoded. 

6. AUTOMATICALLY ACTIVATE UNCONSCIOUSLY EMBEDDED ROUTINES

Your unconscious mind automatically activates any emotional or behavioral routine that, through repetition, you’ve biologically embedded in your brain’s hardwiring.

 7. ACCEPT ALL PROPERLY CODED INPUTS

Your unconscious mind accepts every suggestion it receives, as long as each suggestion is coded according to its own operating rules. 

CONSCIOUS AWARENESS IS THE POINT

Your ability to size up the environments you find yourself in throughout the day is a critical ability. Your ability to identify a situation, interpret it, and initiate appropriate behavior quickly and unconsciously is key to your effectiveness and happiness. Without this ability, without the automaticity that your unconscious mind provides, you would have a very difficult time navigating through the world. At any given moment your five senses take in more than 11,000,000 pieces of information. At best, your conscious mind can only process about 40 of these pieces. Forty (40)!

If your unconscious mind wasn’t silently capturing, processing, interpreting, and automatically acting on the other 10,000,00 + pieces of information, you would be perpetually paralyzed. The ability to reflexively respond in an effective way that your unconscious mind gives you is absolutely essential. But only if the way it’s programmed is accurate. Which is why, in today’s Mach 2 world, it’s becoming more and more important to be aware of whether when your intentions, aspirations, and desires to Be All You Can Be are framed and expressed, both consciously and unconsciously, according to your unconscious mind’s operating rules.

Be All You Can Be!!!!

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Google the slogan Be All You Can Be! and in less than 0.95 seconds you'll be shown 12,570,000,000 pages on this issue. Each of these twelve billion plus pages, in one way or another, is focused on encouraging you to be "your best self!", "the person you're meant to be," and/or "the best you that you can be!" 

This phrase evidently encapsulates something our culture thinks you should take seriously. Twelve billion plus website pages, at the very least, suggests this aphorism is pointing toward an important piece of cultural wisdom.

Problem is, none of these twelve billion pages actually names the skills we need to make this slogan a living reality. None describe the steps you need to take if you want to launch your own Be All You Can Be! effort. 

At TLO we've spent the last several years searching for the skills that catalyze this effort. And for the specific skills that, when mastered, can help you launch a learning journey that actually helps you become the you you're meant to be.

We've discovered four skills that are at the heart of this kind of 'best-self' effort:

  1. Tracking your cognitive biases.

  2. Mastering your everyday anxiety triggers.

  3. Hypothesizing your stereotypes.

  4. Opening up your family-of-origin stories.

Building these skillsets is hard to do on your own. They deserve the support of an experienced thought partner, especially one who's well versed in the details associated with their development. I'd be honored to support your exploration of these pivotal skills...



TLO's Front-End/Back-End Learning

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You don't have to go back to school if you want to learn something new. These days, it’s pretty obvious that the 20th Century’s old traditional classroom/teacher-student approach to learning is neither the easiest nor the most effective way to learn something new. Especially when this 21st Century of ours is so seriously challenging everything we think we know about life. 

We now know that, in addition to the formal education you’ve cobbled together during your time in high school and college, you also need to know how to take what you’ve learned in these classrooms with you out into the real world. If you’re going to thrive today, you will need both your formal educational accomplishments and a wide-range of real-world learning experiences. Whether you get educated in high school, in college, or in a corporate training session, the knowledge you’ve acquired the classroom can only be the “front-end” portion of your learning efforts. Once you’ve got the knowledge you need, the work that counts the most is always going to be the the work you do in the real world. This is the “back-end” portion of your learning efforts, the one that counts the most. 

TLO'S APPROACH

For TLO, this new two step approach to real-world learning can be summed up with this equation: 

"Formal Education + Real-World Learning Experiments = Successful Personal and Professional Development"

What’s key about this equation is the idea that knowing something isn’t the same thing as being able to do it. That being smart isn't equivalent to being effective. 

The equation you see just above is telling you that these days you need to see learning as a process, one that starts with a clearly defined educational effort, but then become one you, for yourself, morph into a variety of personalized learning experiences. Experiences where, in self-directed ways, you take charge of translating the knowledge you acquired in the classroom into real-world skills that help you live the lives you’re aspiring to.    

At TLO, we help you learn how to use this new approach to discover all the beliefs about knowledge, knowing, and learning that you were taught growing up. We help you shift these old beliefs into ideals, precepts, and values more suitable to today's world. We help you learn the skills you new to continuously adapt and respond to the toughest challenges and most intriguing opportunities in front of you.

If you're thinking about improving skills you already have, or developing new ones you're just realizing you need, schedule an exploratory conversation with us to discuss the alternative learning packages that we’ve developed. Click the navigation button just below.



Comprehending The 21st Century

Questioning our family of origin beliefs, mindsets, and values.

The deeper we move into the 21st Century, the clearer it is that this century is going to be unprecedented. Already it's awash with scary trends, startling opportunities, and new responsibilities. Phenomena like globalization, automation, cyber warfare, and polarizing ideologies, to name only the most inspiring or scariest headline grabbers, are bringing into our lives the proposition that everything we learned at our mother's knee may be wrong. As well as the suggestion that many of this 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 we're now a part of than anything we learned growing up. Put simply, it seems there are more and more reasons every day why each of us needs to seriously question the fundamental belief systems that we inherited from our families-of-origin. Reasons why we need to dismantle and rebuild the very architecture of our homespun worldviews.

In my February 2018 blog, Lost in the 21st Century, I suggested that those of us who are aware of today's new complexities may sometimes feel like we're wondering around in a mind-numbing wilderness. While I think this is often true, I also think it's true that we nonetheless are searching seriously for more effective, more complex modes of thinking, feeling and acting. 

Transformational Doorways

What follows just below are three "doorways" that, in my experience, are good ways each of us can initiate, deepen, and/or accelerate our own personal transformation. Take a look at each of these doorways; Which one(s) seem like they might open up a transformative path that could move you forward, either personally or professionally?

DOORWAY #1: TRANSFORMATIONAL Conversations

 Everyday, the opinions 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 yourself. In 2001, Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey showed us two key things about the conversations we have everyday: First how the ordinary words we use in these conversations are mirrors of our deepest self; and second, how training ourselves to talk in clear ways about personal commitment, personal responsibility, and our family-of-origin assumptions will reflex back on us and our consciousness, promoting significant changes in the soft-wiring in our brains and minds and, most importantly, in the real-world action that flows out of this neurobiological wiring. For a sense of how this works, take a quick look at Kegan and Lahey's book,  How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work,

 

DOORWAY #2: A “VITAL HALF-SECOND's” worth of Awareness

A half second may not seem like much to you, but for your brain it’s a very, very long time. It takes 500 to 600 milliseconds (half a second) for your conscious mind to register incoming information. But your mind's primitive threat management system processes the sensory, motor, and emotional inputs it’s getting in 10-50 milliseconds. The difference between these two time frames is impossible for us to comprehend. Consequently, our brains constantly construct for us the illusion that we are in conscious control of our own thought processes and the things we do in response. Louis Cozolino understands how questionable this belief is; more importantly he's identified  techniques that can help you learn how to insert some conscious awareness inside the half second between the time your unconscious mind registers some new input and your biological reflexes drive you to act. For a sense of how this works, take a quick look at Cozolino's ideas about how to increase your conscious control over what previously has been your automatic reactions to any perceive threat; Why Therapy Works: Using Our Minds To Change Our Brains,

 

DOORWAY #3: REFRAMING Old Belief Systems

One of the more important things you can realize about yourself is that, while the world around you is constantly changing, becoming more and more complex, you most likely are still perceiving and interpreting the world through the mindset you inherited from your parents, i.e., people who were born as much as a century 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. For a sense of how this works, take a quick looking at two Udemy courses that can help you do just this The Neuroscience of Reframing And How To Do It, and a master class titled Master Your Mindset and Brain: Firestorm Your Way To Success.

Doing Something New

This century's newest phenomena -- events and trends like globalization, ethnic conflicts, and radically accelerating technological advances -- are pushing into our lives things -- events, ideas, people, and gadgets -- that are simultaneously amazing, incomprehensible, and scary. The kind of tumult and disruption most of us would just as soon ignore. I started Transformational Learning Opportunities because I know that eventually this kind of denial isn't going to serve us well. And because I think that all these new events, ideas, people, and gadgets can be things we can benefit from, if only we find the strength of mind to pay attention to them, eventually finding ways to ask ourselves the right questions. Especially this one; "How we can best to learn from both what's scary and what's inspiring? 

Today, none of us can afford to continue living alone in the echo chambers of our own outdated reasoning.


Living and Learning In An Unscripted World

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It’s early morning here in Irvine. The sky outside’s dark, the street’s quiet, and everything around my home is peaceful. I’m not. Last night I spent a good long time on the phone with Mike, my son, talking about what Trump’s doing, what Obama's not, and how, truth be told, all of it’s truly too complicated for either of us to comprehend.  

So, this morning, before the sun’s up, I’m sitting here preoccupied, feeling ratchety, thinking about the Mach 2 world that Mike and I are surrounded by, and how I keep coming back to three interesting, but very tough-to-swallow ideas that, on mornings like this one, truly grab me: 

  1. Our world is apparently being driven by radical complexities, disruptive opportunities, and accelerating rates of change. It's fast becoming necessary for each of us to get a high-quality liberal education that teaches all of us -- even those who already have college degrees -- more than just the practical stuff: We need to learn empathy, tolerance, and resilience.

  2. Yet in this increasingly disruptive, disjointed, and unhinged, even a liberal education that teaches empathy, tolerance, and resilience won't be enough, by itself, to guarantee Mike, me, or you comfort, security, or success. This morning, it seems undeniable that formal degrees alone will never be enough to show any of us how to build the careers or the lives we’re looking for in a world that's increasingly unscripted.

  3. And finally, if what each of us needs most is responsiveness and adaptability, a liberal education can really be only one element of what, for each of us, must soon become a lifelong pursuit of learning about how to live unscripted lives in an ever-changing environment. In addition to a liberal education, it seems that we also have to master the experiential learning techniques and tools that we'll need if we're going to design, launch, and orchestrate our own self-directed learning experiments.

It's 6 a.m. now and time for me to get moving. And yet again I'm coming away from my early morning wonderings clear that if my ideas hold water then, whether we’re individuals who are looking to accelerate our careers or simply people who are looking beyond professional ambitions to achieve lives that are both satisfying and meaningful, each of us would be well served if we at least tried to flesh out these propositions into something hopeful, promising, and actionable; an orientation toward life that highlights that suggests we'll all be in a better place when when we learn how to create for ourselves a liberal education and an ongoing series of experientially-based apprenticeships.

Bottom line? I'm coming round to the idea that adults like Mike and me need to start looking for ways we can acquire the wisdom tendered by a modern liberal education and, as well, learn how to create for ourselves the experiences that come with purposefully confronting both our real-life obstacles and those vague sensibilities that these days are hanging off the edges of our consciousness.

Formal Education + Self-Directed Learning Experiments = resilience



Self-Directed, Experienced-Based Learning

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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:

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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

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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.