I have written and talked a lot about change recently to people in my work life and with those in my personal life. Probably you have too. The pandemic and social justice protests have stirred a lot of talk about rethinking our life priorities, what we believe is true and how to live with neighbors, friends, family and co-workers who think things differently. I believe most of us want to truly understand how some people arrive at a vastly different understanding of reality and why.
In my book, co-written with Rick Smyre Preparing For A World That Doesn’t Exist-Yet we describe the phases that most of us go through in a transformation learning process:
- Resistance to change
- The “hmmm” moment
- A time of “ahah” and
- “Of course, it is”
If you have ever changed your mind or allowed an idea to evolve you will have likely moved through this process. A more recent idea that has gone through this process with me is my coming to terms that a universal basic income makes the most sense for people and families living in poverty (more on that later).
The educational system in the United States is largely a product of Scottish and German influences. One emphasized the unity of knowledge and in-depth, liberal arts curricula, the other scientific reductionism of a curricula based on what is of interest or importance at the moment. Our society used reductionist data analysis to create standardized curricula based on accountability and testing in narrow limits. Learning has shifted from meaning to vocational training. Many of our school systems are hyper concerned with testing, many children across the country are not learning much more than what is skin deep and quantifiable. This dichotomy of seeing the world limits our capacity to see connections and our ability to dive beneath the surface of causal thinking.
Recently, I read Adam Grant’s book, Think Again; it is a fantastic book that I can not recommend highly enough. Adam writes:
“intelligence is usually seen as the ability to think and learn but in a rapidly changing world, there is another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn”
I believe this as necessary and more true than any other skill we can teach others or learn ourselves. Too often, in the face of complexity we ask for and accept simplicity and resist intellectual struggle, many of us are uncomfortable with ambiguity.
In Think Again we read that people tend to cling to assumptions, instincts and habits rather than embracing an open mind. In my way of thinking, the vitality of our future will be directly related to our ability to think within a futures context. The future of learning will require people to become and/both thinkers, connective thinkers, able to see new patterns and leave the whole notion behind that there is “one best” answer. Anything bounded by complexity cannot be simply answered by a debate about which truth is correct (and which has brought the United States government to a standstill). Most things serious people debate are true to some degree and it is our responsibility to understand that perspective – this said, some things are more true than others.
There are two different cycles of thinking that capture how most of us come to a conclusion Adam writes:
The Rethinking Cycle:
Humility > Doubt > Curiosity > Discovery
The Overconfidence Cycle:
Pride > Conviction > Confirmation/Desirability Biases > Validation
Scientific thinking favors humility over pride, doubt over certainty, curiosity over closure. When we shift out of scientific mode, the rethinking cycle breaks down giving way to an overconfidence cycle.
A framework of transformational learning or thinking again will evolve that provides the skills for continuous transformation and aligns with the needs of a constantly changing society. It is imperative that we approach challenges with a fresh mind that is not held back held back by the old way of doing things. Albert Einstein said all of this more succinctly:
“The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we used when we created them.”