Category Archives: Sense-making

Thinking about Paradigms and Paradigm Shifts

I was initially introduced to the notion of paradigms and paradigm shift by Joel Barker. For me, he was able to take a science phenomenon into the world of business.

From Wikipedia: “The word [paradigm] has come to refer very often now to a thought pattern in any scientific discipline or other epistemological context.” …Since the 1960s, the term [paradigm shift} has also been used in numerous non-scientific contexts to describe a profound change in a fundamental model or perception of events, even though Kuhn himself restricted the use of the term to the hard sciences.”
I can relate to non-scientific contexts. As a FranklinCovey trainer, I introduce the concept of paradigms very early in a 7 Habits of Highly Effective People workshop. 7 Habits is all about changing human behaviour and it starts with the paradigms, the beliefs, the mindsets, we possess. In many cases, the paradigms that people hold dearly are not wrong or incorrect; they are insufficient. In addition, if you become highly skilled at using a hammer, you see every problem as a nail.

Insufficiency

I hold a Professional Engineer license. I enjoy analyzing problems, finding cause & effect relations, optimizing choices, and implementing solutions. Life is good. When I can make all the decisions, life is really good. However, when other people get involved (especially stakeholders who are not engineers) I get extremely frustrated. I also like to work in a very linear, sequential fashion. I dislike uncertainities, unknowns, unpredictable behaviours. What’s wrong with people? How can they disagree with me? Why can’t they see it my way? As a budding engineer, this was my attitude. Thankfully I quickly matured and discovered I had tunnel vision. I could only view things from my vantage point. The world was much broader and wider than that. In Cynefin framework terms, my early formative career years clearly put me in the Complicated Domain. In many instances I was able to argue that I was right. However, I was insufficient because I did not recognize the Unordered side where Complexity and Chaos resided. I had read some things about complexity thinking but still didn’t have a complete picture. That changed when I read Dave’s and Mary’s 2007 HBR article Leader’s Framework for Decision Making.

Too Good for your own Good

Whenever I took a course or attended a workshop, I discovered my return to my office was often filled with employee trepidation. “Uh oh! What has Gary learned now that he wants to try out on us?” In later years as a consultant, I would come equipped with tried and proven methods, tools, and templates. Yesterday’s posting about wanting to start an engagement with traditional interviewing is an example. Hey! Why not? It’s worked in the past and therefore, should work just as well again. As experts we need to ensure that we are using the right tools at the right time for the right reasons.
In Cynefin framework terms, it’s perfectly okay to recommend Simple Domain solutions such as Training 101 when a lack of basic skills is the problem. Here we’re dealing with known knowns. We must be aware, however, when we propose resolving a Complex Domain issue using a Complicated Domain approach. It’s that ability to use a hammer well inside us which wants to immediately jump in and start analyzing instead of patiently stepping back and probing the system. It’s getting the client to appreciate that a safety culture problem won’t go away if more rules are written, training is mandated for all, and documenting crew inspections is added to the supervisor’s already overloaded checklist.

I once was asked in a 7 Habits workshop must a perspective change be earth shattering, tsunami-sized to be called a paradigm shift? My opinion was no. Humour, for instance, is a paradigm shift. Standup comedians like Bob Hope, Bill Crosby, Jerry Seinfeld knew how the play the brain to create laughter. Question: What is a paradigm worth? Answer: 20 cents If you aren’t smiling (or groaning), don’t feel bad. It’s just an indication of the patterns that have formed in your brain. I will be exploring how the brain works in a future posting. Plus provide an explanation if you didn’t get the joke.
I’d like to end today’s ramblings with story of a paradigm shift in my own home.

We were at the dinner table with my young daughter, Jennifer, sitting across from me. “Daddy! I can count to 10!’ she proudly exclaimed. “Great, Jen! Show me!” “Okay. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. See! I did it!” “Good job! Way to go!”
Now being the father who enjoyed giving his kids a challenge, I then asked: “Now, can you count backwards?”
“Sure!” she smiled.
Jen proceeded to jump out of the chair, turn her back to me and confidently shouted: “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. See! I did it!”.
My wife and I hit the floor laughing. Yes, it was a .001 paradigm shift on the Richter scale but one that we will always remember fondly.

U.S. Public School: If it’s not working, just repeat the same mistakes

I recently read about the state of the U.S. public educational school system. What struck me was how powerful old school paradigms are and how people in power are unable to see what is happening. As expert analysts, they are in the Cynefin Framework’s Complicated Domain and suffer from perceptual blindness. Unfortunately they cannot see that existing methods and solutions (i.e., student testing) are not working. However, instead of finding another solution, the direction is to do more testing.

The article was written by Lisa Guisbond, a policy analyst for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as FairTest, a Boston-based organization that aims to improve standardized testing practices and evaluations of students, teachers and schools. Excerpts from her article:

  • As children head back to school after a decade of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), will they benefit from lessons learned from this sweeping and expensive failure? Will schools do anything differently to avoid NCLB’s narrowed curriculum, teaching to the test and stagnant achievement? Sadly, instead of learning from the beastly NCLB, the Obama administration is doubling down on a failed policy.
  • NCLB’s mistakes and coming “reforms” will continue or intensify the damage, not correct it. One reform will increase time and other resources spent on testing instead of unleashing teachers’ and students’ creative potential.
  • NCLB demonstrated many ways that high-stakes standardized testing damages and corrupts education. In addition to narrowing curriculum and encouraging teaching to the test, the NCLB era has produced waves of cheating.
  • Struggling students have been pushed out of school to raise the test score bottom line, with far too many youth entering the prison pipeline. School climate has suffered as fear of failure is passed down from administrators to teachers to students. Many good teachers have chosen to leave rather than comply with drill-and-kill requirements and corrupt their students’ education.
  • Author and lecturer Sir Ken Robinson often speaks about the importance of making mistakes, to learn from them and try again. He says educational standardization and pressure for conformity stunt our children’s growth by teaching them to fear and avoid mistakes. “Conformity and standardization and sitting still and doing multiple-choice questions and being tested at the end — these features of education are inimical to the kind of original thinking and confident imaginations that underpin real innovation,” Robinson says. What we need, he adds, is not “reform” but “revolution.”
  • Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt credited his teammate, Jamaican runner Yohan “The Beast,” Blake, with helping him improve by beating him in earlier races. The defeats forced Bolt to reflect on what he needed to do differently to improve. Bolt’s victory modeled a powerful lesson: Always try to learn from your mistakes, rather than repeat them.
  • To unleash our children’s potential, we need to unleash the full capacity of teachers and schools. That means acknowledging the mistakes of NCLB, learning from them and fundamentally changing course.

To read Lisa’s article in full, click here.

Intractable Problem: The Public School Factory

“The World has changed. The way we educate our children should too.”

That’s the opening page of BC’s Education plan.

“We need to make education more relevant to reflect the world students now live in, and the world of the future. One of the keys to do that is to personalize learning by putting students at the centre of learning so they can follow their own interests and passions within the topic matter. Teachers must be supported. And families must be involved.”
“Our challenge is clear. We need to make sure education in B.C. meets the needs of B.C. families today and in the future, keeping our young people achieving and thriving in a dynamic, rapidly evolving technological world.”

These are nice words to launch a plan. But as we know, Planning is easy; Execution is the tough part.

The school system is a perfect example of an intractable problem. We typically like to tinker on the surface by making changes to class sizes, budgets, teacher & staff compensation, breaks, and so on. Since the school system is political, much of the debate and noise is about getting votes from taxpayers. But if we really want to make significant improvements, we must go deeper and change the culture and the paradigms.

Some paradigms are so engrained – we don’t even know they are there. What are the Education paradigms we must challenge? For some time I thought I had a fairly good level of awareness. Then I was blown away and sent back to Square 1 by author and lecturer Sir Ken Robinson:

Wow. I never thought about the public school system being based on the Factory model. Now with this paradigm in mind, I can easily think of production line characteristics that apply to schools: date of manufacture, Monday to Friday schedule, testing, standards, extended breaks, for plant maintenance, failure and reject handling. I always wondered when the entire school met in the auditorium it was called “assembly”. Now I understand. I have a recurring dream (nightmare?) about a school bell ringing and being late for class. Now I understand. I was just being prepared for the working world.
One more characteristic to think about: the 9 to 5 working day. One would think if the goal is to be student-centric, we should be matching learning when the student peaks. That might be anytime, like 3 AM in the morning. It’s a belief that the Khan Academy holds by being available 24/7/365. But it’s not a view that is shared by all. As Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader Francois Legault says, having secondary schools operate on a 9-to-5 basis better reflects the schedule of today’s families.
In summary, here are 3 education paradigms and the shifts we need to make:

  1. Separate for efficiency –> End the myth of academic/vocational streaming
  2. Cheating is bad –> Most great learning happens in groups. Collaboration is the stuff of growth
  3. Treat students as products on a factory line –> Reshape the habits of education institutions and the habitats they occupy

My  friend and educator Paul Gagnon told me: “We are on the verge of a major change in the way in which we conceive of and deliver learning. Technology is maturing to the point that individual and customized learning is now a reality- with peak learning periods factored under the umbrella of self-directed, learning just in time and place a major feature. Truly and exciting time to be in education, I can tell you.”

I couldn’t agree with Paul more. Education like healthcare, electric utilities, and safety is undergoing a paradigm shift that technology has enabled. I enjoy reading about pioneers and innovators who have jumped to the new S-curve. I do feel sorry for the Education traditionalists who cling to the factory model not because they want to but because they don’t know they are.

The 2012 Twitter Olympics

Are you searching for more evidence of the Complexity/Sense-Making S-curve? Look no further than what transpired at the 2012 Twitter Olympics

It didn’t seem that long ago when TV stations and radio commanded the air waves and we waited for the newspaper printing presses to inform us of the details. But in 2012, the absolute control of information was not in the hands of the broadcasters. Look what the Twitterverse did to the BBC coverage of the cycling race. As TV viewers we were able make our voice heard about NBC’s delayed coverage.
We observed how athletes twittered and facebooked with family and fans. It’s terrific when an athlete with pure raw emotion tweets immediately after a big win. But it’s a two-way street ranging from Hope Solo’s mild rant to a Greek athlete making a racist comment and getting kicked off the team. The wise ones attempted to make sense of Rule 40 and what they were and were not allowed to do.
Would you like to know how the Olympics have grown? Check this Infographic.
How much bigger is social media in 2012 that it was in the 2008 Olympics? Three times? Ten times? How about 100 times? It’s fun imagining what it will be like 2 years from now at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.