(Sailing to different shores - my own picture)
I have been thinking a lot about learning lately and this is my second newsletter on it in a row. One thing I’m exploring is what new forms of learning we can offer that complement the traditional authoritative and input-heavy training courses. It seems to me that for people working on systemic challenges and on transforming systems, getting recipes does not seem useful – if there are such recipes at all.
Of course there are many useful trainings on all things concerning systems (and indeed, I’m working on developing one myself), but there is a limit as to what you can learn by somebody teaching you - the pedagogical dimension of learning if you want. How do we learn about being with the unknown unknowns in complexity?
Nitzan Hermon differentiates between Editorial, Pedagogical, and Transformational spaces:
Editorial space (/mediums) communicate the known. I know something (reporter, writer) and pass it on to you. Pedagogical spaces (say in a university setting) set the variables (curriculum) and operate within to discover the variables. Academic research or technology might extend the depth of those variables, but not their shape.
The shape of ideas only moves in the transformational when we consider the positionality of ideas. And if we’re able to meet people at that moment, that becomes genuinely transformative (say in coaching).
What I’m experimenting with is a form of inter-subjective learning in that transformational space – or to use Nitzan’s words, I’m exploring how to allow people to meet and consider the positionality of their respective ideas. This assumes that nobody has the knowledge to teach anybody because the appropriate knowledge needs to be made up by people who are in relationship with each other – each might have some useful pieces of knowledge and experience. In practice, you would bring people together in a team and enable them to work in a learning-oriented way. But not all of us can be part of a team and sometimes we might also want to dig into knowledge of people who are not part of our teams.
I’m aiming to build spaces in which people can explore this type of inter-subjective learning. I have written about this before in my blog post about the Systemic Insight Circle:
The Circle is not meant to be a place where we are confronted with more material, more content. All of us have piles of unread books, reading lists, bookmark collections, folders with PDFs and lists with videos to watch that would fill our entire lives if we devoted it to get through them. In the age of abundance of information, collecting more does not help. We need a place to ponder the wonders of life and what they mean to us. This is not to say that reading new things is not important – it certainly is. Yet at the same time, knowledge isn’t just what we can read or store in our brains. Knowledge is most easily retrieved when needed, when confronted by the right problem – when we are asked to share knowledge devoid of contextual stimulation, for example in the form of lessons learned, we often struggle.
Living knowledge is intersubjective, it becomes alive when shared with others that build upon it. The Systemic Insight Circle is a place where this generative way of interacting and exchanging knowledge can happen. It is a place where knowledge moved from being atomised in the individual to becoming generative in the group. The Circle is an ecosystem of living knowledge, a moiré of dynamic patterns.
What fascinates me is that the people are learning together but are learning different things - whatever is relevant for them in that moment:
The knowledge in the circle, on the other hand, is living knowledge, knowledge that is continuously created and recreated in the moment. What each member takes away from that is personal and individual – the aha moments and insights that are created during the discussions are coherences that are formed by the thoughts shared into the room at that moment and one’s personal inner world and history. They are necessarily different for each person. The discussions in the Circle are meandering on purpose, to serendipitously create these moments of coherence in individuals – these is the learning that each member can take away.
I’m also working on a second format that I call Critical Reflections on Systems. The topic will be more constrained than the Circle – which is more general about being in systems. And the Critical Reflections will only run during one month - four calls of one hour each. The first instance of this format is planned for October on the topic of Agency and Entanglement. Find out more and sign up for it here.
Also, send me your thoughts on inter-subjective learning in transformational spaces by simply replying to this email.
Let’s stick with Nitzan Hermon …
Delivering clarity is giving someone a fish, a script to use, memorize and pass on as a concise distillation of a moment in time. But we change with time, new thoughts and ideas enter our work, and our message quickly becomes less accurate and less precise.
On the other hand, if we remove the goal of clarity, the end all be all, as the only tool to scale our messaging, product, and services, we can start thinking of our value as a living system and not a souvenir. As we develop, opportunities change. We give ourselves permission to go off-script, negotiate business settings in entirely new ways, and can reverberate these ways of thinking to clients and the people we help. Because when we seek clarity, we pass clarity to our clients, who then pass it on to their constitutes. So the whole chain loses its balance at the first sign of a new idea. Traditionally, innovation would come in to create a new product cycle, a new render of clarity to pass downstream.
Giving clarity is giving people fish and hope that they come back again, but allowing for confusion, is teaching them to fish.
We can help a fellow person by pushing them up a challenging climb, but a cycle of confusion and reorientation might make them realize they are on the wrong path.
Why have I added this to my Paper Museum? It really fits well into my exploration of learning and teaching. Indeed, Nitzan has been a great inspiration for me and a coach for some time. In this piece he points to another aspect of learning that might be seen as counter-intuitive. Teaching people to be ready to face complex and unpredictable challenges is not about providing them clarity but putting them into situations of confusion and enable them to stay with the confusion and turn it into something creative. There is no clarity in complexity. There are only moments of creativity that spark ideas that can be amplified to shape the system.
Reference: Hermon, Nitzan. 2021. “Confusion.” In–Process. July 21, 2021.https://www.in-process.net/confusion/.
Dave Snowden has published his annual St. David’s day reflections, updating us on his latest thinking about Cynefin. Start here with part 1.