Category Archives: The Social Brain

A Time for Striving To Understand Our Neighbor

 

From my point of view, it has always been essential to understand the thinking of our neighbor’s. I am not saying that it is a common practice or that I am good at it.  And I do believe that to appreciate how others feel about being ‘included’ or ‘not so included’ in the community is a big part of what it takes to make a community. To be aware of their view of the future and possibility that may lie ahead for them, their family or their friends.

Now, in February of 2017, it is becoming more and more clear to many of us that we don’t have access to our ‘neighbors’ thinking other than through parody or even mockery.

I have been looking for accessible voices of those that might be able to help me understand how it is that so many of my American ‘neighbors’ choose to support Donald Trump.

We benefit from living in East Lansing: and one of the many benefits is that each February, at MSU, there is the Slavery to Freedom lecture series open to the entire community.  It is a tremendous resource! Last week’s speaker was Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post opinion writer, MSNBC contributor, and he made several excellent points provoking thought and discussion.  The comment that stuck with me is when he challenged us all to seek out voices other than the voices that we agree with in an attempt to learn more, understand more and appreciate more.

Jonathan has a podcast, Cape Up and as I was listening to some of his interviews, I came across this recent one.   Arthur Brooks explains on January 24th how dignity links Trump to Obama.  I found it fascinating and thought provoking.  I started to think a little deeper than I had been about how others chose to vote for Trump.

Go to iTunes, or whatever you get your podcasts and search for Cape Up and then listen to Jonathan’s conversation with Arthur Brooks from January 24, 2017.

To anybody who wants to explore a thoughtful new podcast, I recommend Cape Up with Jonathan Capehart.

jonathan-capehart

Inquiry Combined With Deep Listening

conversation_002Exploring with others through sincere and effective inquiry combined with deep listening for understanding are great tools to develop for working well with others. Often small or large groups of people are faced with working through what seem like insurmountable challenges.

How we ‘show up’ matters: It is worth considering that reframing the situation into many possibilities and opportunities rather than insurmountable challenges is a potentially more proactive platform to be working from.

I do believe that we are in charge of our own perspectives and that any group of people is in charge of their own perspectives. And that our perspectives influence how we navigate opportunity or, as some may see it – insurmountable challenges.

Further, I believe that the questions we ask can be powerful in setting a ‘frame’ for our thinking and actions. Great questions are valuable for the person who asks them – if that person is ready to listen deeply and consider what is shared. Great questions are valuable to those who take them seriously by pondering and responding to them.

Michael J. Marquardt puts it this way: “Great questions cause the questioner to become more aware of the need for change and to be more open and willing to change. The questions themselves may actually cause the leader to become a change catalyst. The leader who leads with questions will more likely champion new ideas heard and developed in the course of inquiry. New ideas and perspectives enable the leader to make strong arguments for advocating change.” Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask, Revised and Updated, 2014, pages 42-43.

Marquardt also states that: “A questioning culture strengthens individual and organizational learning; it improves decision making, problem solving, and teamwork; promotes adaptability and acceptance of change; and helps empower people by strengthening self-awareness and self-confidence.” page 6

These are the kinds of questions that may have the power to help a leader or participant of a group to deepen and improve the culture and quality of thinking and work:

If you were to overhear an honest conversation about this intuitive 30 months from now – what would your highest hopes be for what you would hear? What do you believe you would actually hear, given the current trajectory of the project?

How would describe the way you want this project to turn out?

What resources might we tap into that we haven’t used before or not using currently?

What crucial or vital behaviors can we target that seem to provide the greatest leverage for dramatically advance our goal?

How can this team become more efficient and productive while also supporting its members in the pursuit?

What inspires us about this work?

What happens if . . .?

Have we ever thought of . . .? (This question and the two directly preceding it – may be good ones to go around the group and have everyone add in their ‘. . .’ and then go around again and possibly again to generate new and potentially provocative thinking)

For any of these or other such questions to have value a culture of open shared thinking must be supported and the questions must be asked with sincerity and listened to with a commitment to strive to understand and appreciate the perspective(s) being shared.

How might we make possible what might have seemed unthinkable?

What will bring us together?
How can we – with others, especially others that look at things very differently – develop a shared preferred future?
What keeps us from working across differences toward the common good?
What happens when we do nothing at all to attempt to impact the status qou, even when we believe that the status quo is not serving the common good?
What stops us from embracing our dissimilarities and our similarities while tackling the challenges that are important to all of us as we move toward a shared preferred future?
How can we hear all voices and listen for and appreciate what is unique about the points of view of others?
How can we build trust and rapport across differences?
How can we get better at seeking to understand others and exploring possibilities where none existed before – rather than to win over others?
Note*
In his book: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants (2013) Malcom Gladwell explains that his major purposes for writing this book are connected what can happen when ordinary people (read you and me) confront giants. He sees two basic ways to frame these encounters with giants we all experience.
“The first is that much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of these kinds of lopsided conflicts, because the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty. And second, that we consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong. We misread them. We misinterpret them. Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness. And the fact of being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate: it can open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise have seemed unthinkable.” (page 6)
Might the challenge of facing this ‘lopsided conflict’ the questions that opened this post focus on – be our “giants”? Might we embracing these questions and working through them be about ‘facing overwhelming odds’? And if so, might we ‘produce greatness’?
Might the confronting the shared work around the questions that opened this post uncover that the giants confronted are weaker than we thought? Might moving forward on the engagement and sorting out which will follow from the sincere connection to these questions potentially ‘open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise have seemed unthinkable?’

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*Some of these questions were influenced by Michael J. Marquardt’s work: Leading With Questions: How Leaders Find Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask Revised and Updated (2014)

For Learning to Occur Neither the Organization or Its People can be Stationary

people_and_Organization_boarderIf you want your organization or your group within an organization to grow, change and develop – it is a good idea to help build a culture of learning.  Adaptation requires learning.

The people in the organization need to be willing to learn, grow and develop and, the organization must support their learning.

“Learning” is not a ‘straight line’ activity for individuals or the organization. To move ‘off’ the status quo and into new patterns of behavior and culture is adaptive.  We grow our strengths and develop a new normal.

Actually, this kind of adaptation and forward movement is not only for organizations.  Our families and social groups will also benefit from developing cultures of learning and adaptation.

Yes! To be willing to adapt and learn requires an experimental mindset.  We have to be willing to try things to see if they work and be willing to let go of things that don’t work and further develop things that show progress.  We, in our work and in our families, will benefit from embracing an experimental mindset.

Heifetz, Grashow and Linsky define experimental mind-set as “an attitude that treats any approach to an adaptive issue not as a solution, but as the beginning of an iterative process of testing a hypothesis, observing what happens, learning, making midcourse corrections, and then, if necessary, trying something else.”

“It is not surprising that in organizations with significant adaptive capacity, there is an openness and commitment to learning

Adaptive challenges cannot be solved by taking a course, hiring a consulting firm, or copying other companies’ best practices. Instead, people throughout the organization must open themselves to experimentation, giving up some old truths that have become irrelevant with changes in business, social or political landscape.

What does a continuous-learning mind-set look like in action within an organization?  Here are some signs:

People who make mistakes or experiment with new ways of doing things are not marginalized.

When something bad happens (a client is lost, a bid is rejected), the news is acknowledged and the event is debriefed for its lessons, not treated as a cause for punishment.

Communications and interaction are nurtured across all formal and informal boundaries.

People view the latest strategic plan as today’s best guess rather than a sacred text.”

Today’s challenges require more than a technical response.  We must be willing to adapt, learn and discover our future.  Further, we must be ready to go on this journey with others.

 Tomorrow is an opportunity

Tomorrow belongs to those that can create an adaptive culture

Tomorrow’s promise is complex and welcomes learners striving to thrive

People and organizations that learn will realize tomorrow’s opportunities

Pages 105-107 of The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Heifetz, Grashow and Linsky 2009  and the definition of experimental mind-set from page 304

Seeds and Deeds

A gardener spends time with seeds and the dynamics of seeds 

Gardeners learn things about seeds

Not all planted seeds will germinate

Not all that germinate will survive

Not all of the food that may be produced will be eaten by humans

– ground hogs, deer, rabbits, raccoons, . . . may get to it first

 

Gardeners still plant seeds

 

There are other seeds to plant

Seeds of change

 

Change gardeners work with others by:

Deeply listening to each other

Striving to understand those who think differently

Uncovering and supporting the common good

Being willing to move toward the common good

Endeavoring to have words and deeds harmonize

 

Deeds and seeds

 

Our deeds are not guarantees of outcomes 

Just like the planting of seeds

Not all deeds lead to the preferred outcome

Not all are understood

Not all are appreciated by others

 

Change gardeners still plant seeds of change

                                                                   ~ Jerry Jennings, February 2014

Deeds like seeds, take their own time to fructify.  ~ Gandhi

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It is worth our effort to begin this journey toward developing our social brain

From my point of view, the challenge of being intentional about connecting – mind-to-mind is worth accepting – because the stakes are so very high.  I believe that we live in times where interdependent thinking holds real value for all mankind.

People engaging in conversations where transformation has the potential of occurring are people who can help form adaptive interactions.  Adaptive responses to the status quo can help create futures focused on the common good.  Yes, I use the word “can” because there is no assurance that common good will be the shared focus.

Ron Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky in their book: The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World (2009) write about adaptive leadership.  Their definition: Adaptive leadership is the practice of mobilizing people to tackle tough challenges and thrive (page 14) sounds like the kind of leadership many of us might want to experience.  Tackling tough challenges and thriving is the direction to the future that I want to put my energy into. For me that sounds like the ‘common good’.

These conversations need to be more intentional than casual.  Laura Lipton and Bruce Wellman in their chapter Creating Communities of Thought: Skills, Tasks, and Practices from The Power of the Social Brain edited by Arthur Costa and Pat Wilson O’Leary (2013) write: “When, how and with whom we participate shapes the possibilities of our lives.  Participation fuses with purpose when catalytic questions energize the cognitive reaction.

Purpose, process, and reflection are the essential components of provocative and thoughtful inquiry.  The challenge of the questions that we ask ourselves, and now we ask those questions, make the difference between committees and communities.

Laura Lipton and Bruce Wellman offer the following formulation:  Purpose + Participation + Catalytic Questions = A Sustainable Community of Thought

purpose_ParticipationThe ‘with whom’ part of the above quote is crucial to think deeply about.  I suggest that we need to get very good at engaging with people across differences.

The ‘how and when’ part of the above quote is not to be taken lightly either.  These two components are fundamental to reaching the potential that is possible when people think together across differences. Working toward reaching a solid consensus is a worthy goal as is being sure to tackle tough problems when there are engaged people ‘in the room’ who look at the issue or topic from varied perspectives and are willing to work together to attempt to find a consensus agreement.

Thinking together in complex times requires being willing to develop our skills, abilities, and dispositions. We have knowledge to gain.  We have capabilities to develop.  Connecting mind-to-mind is worth the effort.  Thinking well across differences is essential in these challenging times.  It is worth our effort to begin this journey toward developing our social brain.

Successful Education Systems Make Education A Priority

Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education

Lessons from PISA for the United States

Here is a link to the report.    http://www.oecd.org/pisa/46623978.pdf Warning it is long. It compare the the US to countries across the world.

I find it a very interesting read.

And I have specific idea for you to consider to narrow your focus down from the almost 300 page document.

I am interested in the reading results.  You might want to look at pages 26 through 30 to set the stage for your thinking by viewing some of the comparison information and graphs.

Then focus in on page 30 Figure 2.2 and read the seven levels of proficiency in reading (as defined by this international organization) and try to place yourself among the seven.  And then think about these questions:

  • What value is there to you and your future (or the future of your children) to think deeply about this inter national  reading proficiency description?
  • Think about specific behaviors you can pursue that will likely advance your (or your children’s) level of proficiency in reading.
  • Do you sense that when PISA describes reading they are focusing on comprehension and critical thinking?
  • What kind of thinker are you  when you read?
  • What kinds of thinkers are your children when they read?

PISA_11_with_Attribution_I believe that it is not about Michigan in isolation and that it is about the children Michigan educates and how we educate them.

Do we have a world view?

Do we see the need to be successful in teaching all young people?

Do we want today’s students to be players in a world economy?