REWIRING A COMMUNITY’S BRAIN FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
Aligning the Cosmic Dance
By Rick Smyre
President, Center, Communities of the Future
There are unseen connections growing in our local communities as a result of constant change. The fast pace of these connections create very complex cultural and historical processes that call into question traditional underlying assumptions of how we learn/educate, how we govern, how we do economic development, how we lead, and especially how we think.
Look around us. Tectonic plates of cultural change are in evidence everywhere. In all sectors of society, there are apparent contradictions at work. Business gurus tell us to "think globally, act locally." Concepts of education differ, emphasizing both updated traditional public schools approaches and new market approaches. "Small is beautiful" coexists with the age of the huge. And everywhere there are increased connections in a increasingly fast-paced, interdependent and complex world.
But just as soon as new connections are made, others are broken. Knowledge is quickly obsolete. Management students in the '60s were taught to build models that represented the future. Today, students are taught how to develop probable scenarios in order to respond to different situations as they occur.
In the '60s the concept of accurate prediction was a central principle of strategic planning. Now computer models look for patterns instead of specific outcomes.
It is as if new organizational and community brains are emerging.... connecting diverse people and ideas without prediction....offering innovations that build on the backs of past thinkers, yet shifting in basic concept as we move to a totally different type of society... one increasingly mobile, interconnected and constantly integrating the old with the new.
As society become more fluid and changing, underlying concepts of how society works also change. There is transformation, moving beyond the type of change which improves what has existed for years...which is often referred to as "reforming."
Traditions break apart as larger and more complex systems emerge from the integrations of existing values and structures. In business, AOL combines with Time Warner to form a mammoth organization offering the best of technology for the local individual . However, this same local individual is now challenged by the need to find meaning beyond money values and the use of technology. Many of the assumptions which have undergirded our industrial society for two hundred years are crumbling. This chapter will attempt to establish a framework of understanding how new concepts of learning will be needed to help identify, develop and apply a few of these new assumptions.
As a result of our present societal stresses, a 21st Century futures context seems to be evolving..... as if a new community brain were developing....connecting diverse people, new ideas, and fundamentally different concepts, methods and techniques.
Few local leaders have recognized that communities are in the early stages of such a transformation. Most leaders who have begun to see change as important, have continued to use a traditional filter to understand it. First identified by Alvin Toffler in the book Future Shock in 1972, the idea of an increased pace of change as a cultural phenomenon seeped into the consciousness of communities over the next thirty years as if a new neurotransmitter suddenly increased the connections of an expanding brain.
By the early 1990s, the idea of a "learning community" was introduced by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline. Over the last decade, it has become apparent that the dynamic of constant change requires a different approach to learning in several ways.
As a result of this transformation in society, the future of learning in communities will need to change in concept. Without the structure of the learning experience adapting to the evolution of a futures context, communities will continue to utilize obsolete ideas within the context of inappropriate structures.
Traditional learning focuses on content. An underlying assumption has been that appropriate knowledge is already known and must be transferred from one generation to another. As new knowledge is gained, it is added to the old to make it more efficient. Even the idea of accountability and testing reinforces the idea of standard knowledge. Tradition focuses on the one best answer. True/false and multiple choice testing has been the mainstay of evaluating whether learning has occurred.
As we recognize the transformation in society, new learning concepts will be needed not only for evaluation but also for delivery, content, and methods of creative thinking within a changing context.
Learning in a Society of Constant Change
What is appropriate for learning and evaluation in a time of standard approaches and one best answers needs rethinking in a time of constant change. As the pace of change increases in society, knowledge explodes. As knowledge explodes, more people are born and telecommunications expand, and connections increase exponentially. A society of interdependence replaces a society of independence. In such an environment, the concept of learning and its evaluation needs rethinking. New patterns emerge from new connections. No longer is there one best answer. There is a richness of outcomes as the cosmic dance of reality unfolds.
In a society that is changing and evolving, standard answers are not appropriate. As an example, someone who studies civil engineering in college will need to understand that 25-30% of the knowledge learned by the time of graduation will be obsolete. Thus the concept of content must change from absolute information to core competence. The learner must become a dynamist, comfortable with new information challenging old knowledge. The old idea of static knowledge becomes inappropriate in a changing society. The static learner can be no more. The 21st century learner will need to develop additional skills beyond content of information. Learning in the future will be generative, not static. For this to occur, any learner will need two additional skills - the ability to ask appropriate questions and the ability to connect apparently disparate ideas within a futures context. The connection of all three skills will lead to continuous innovation.
Recently I was asked to design a new approach to learning which would allow students in various parts of the world to take advantage of our COTF concept of transformational learning. Recognizing the need and potential of finding new ways for individuals to take control of their own learning, I decided to attempt to create a research and development project which would test my ability to frame a new type of experience leading to real individual "transformation" of thinking on the part of those with whom I would be working over the Internet.
Realizing that my time was very limited, and that my initial two test students were motivated, I decided to design a radically different approach of interaction. I titled the project "reciprocal learning" to reflect the fact that I would be learning how to facilitate a new approach to systemic thinking within a futures context ( transformational learning ) at the same time the students were hopefully benefiting from my guidance.
Here's how it worked. I identified a list of books , web sites and articles....all of which were appropriate in different ways for the concept of an Overview of Community Transformation. Ordinarily, I would have then suggested specific readings. This time, however, I decided to reverse the process. Instead of asking questions to find out if they had comprehended the readings I assigned, I asked them different types of questions which would help guide them in their own self-organized learning process. Here's an example:
"What will need to occur for communities to rethink and restructure their local
institutions if one assumes that the very assumptions of how we lead, how
governance occurs, how we do economic development, and how learning
occurs will be transformed due to an increasingly fast-paced, interconnected,
and complex society?"
On purpose, I wanted each of the students to have to struggle to think about what factors, issues, concepts and actions would need to be considered. I wanted each of them to consciously and subconsciously take control of their own learning.....and did they ever!
Each student achieved more than I expected with the most optimistic scenario. The most interesting outcome, and the center of my learning experience, was to understand that each student developed a different path to understanding the concept of COTF's Community Transformation.
As a result of my experience, I quickly conceived the first principle of reciprocal "transformational" learning...the role of a teacher is transformed to that or a coach. The second principle of reciprocal learning flows from the first.....there are many paths to success and the coach cannot predict the outcomes of learning. Yet, from this experience I found that motivated students can quickly increase their learning curve through self-organization as they integrate new information, form appropriate questions and make innovative disparate connections. I also found that this type of learning does not occur unless all three factors are involved simultaneously.
Both students developed capacities of transformational learning beyond my greatest expectations over the five month period. As a result, I now have a better understanding of the great potential of reciprocal learning....a systemic approach of integrating all three factors within the context of the transformational learning framework. It has given me more motivation to continue to build my capacity to help students self-organize their own learning. I now know that chaos/complexity theory can be applied to education and be successful.
Diana Bethel lives in California, has a strong advanced educational
background with a broad range of knowledge. She is not a typical student.
However, I have often found that the more content knowledge one has,
the less open to new ideas one may be. I wanted to see if Diana would be
willing to be open to new ideas, and to see if I could take advantage of
her background of knowledge in a positive way.
When I framed the learning experience for Diana ( and Michael Reber, a
student in Japan ), my objective was to help them come to an understanding of the new COTF concepts of community transformation. Because our approach to community development assumes a completely different context compared to traditional experience and thinking, we have determined that "capacities for transformation" will need to be developed with new processes and new leadership techniques.
My question was.....would it be possible to shift the thinking of a well
educated student from old ways of looking at things, and would it be
possible to add totally new knowledge in such a way that the student would understand COTF's 21st Century approach to community transformation.
After I gave the list of resources and questions to Diana and Michael, I told them to get back to me when necessary...but that I didn't want them to do so until they needed my guidance. Within 10-12 days, I heard from Michael and began an intermittent dialogue. However, Diana was absent for two months before I heard from her.
When I heard from Diana, it took me by complete surprise. Not only had she
begun to understand our concepts, she had mastered the underlying assumptions.
As far as I was concerned, she had met the objective of the course. Here's the email I received from Diana. Not only is it well conceived, it reflects an ability
to connect all key COTF ideas:
Sorry to keep you waiting so long. I have read most of the "Creating
Learning Communities" book which has been a great introduction to alternative
education philosophies and projects (I will deal with these articles in another message).
However, to address the issues you raised [regarding concepts which help
construct a framework for reorganizing the learning experience, ideas on
learning and examples of reforming vs. transforming concepts, and underlying
assumptions from Creating Learning Communities contrasted with Hunter¹s
article (in Pathways to Sustainability), and comparison of Hunter and Ellis
on their perspective of "context"], I found it was helpful to get a better
grounding in the COTF/futures terminology and concepts, so I have been
reading your articles (The Gretsky Factor and Community Transformation
[Cook, Kerley, and Smyre 1997], Beyond the Deck Chairs [Smyre 1998], Webs of
Intricacy [Smyre 1998], Altering the Cosmic Dance [Smyre 1999], Lament of a
Local Leader [Smyre 1999], and the last chapter of Pathways to
Sustainability (Transformation in Action [Kruth and Smyre 1999]).
These readings have helped me address some of the areas in a general way. I
hope this initial venture into the field combined with a more long-term
focus, i.e., the issues you raised which I will keep in mind as I proceed,
will be my own parallel processes, and that after additional reading, I will
see things a little more clearly. In the meantime, however, I propose to:
1) read more from the COTF website, specifically follow links on the
2) go back and read more in Pathways to Sustainability (I have read several
chapters already, but reading the last chapter stimulated me to want to read
3) find out about The Natural Step (from Sweden) and The Ecological
Footprint (Wackernagel and Rees);
4) attend a community planning and development public hearing at which
community residents will express their opinions on the General Plan and an
Environmental Impact Report in Rohnert Park, CA.
5) read the booklet about the Blackburg Electronic Village (which I sent
Thanks for any comments you might have on how I am proceeding and my seven
points below. At this stage, I am still finding my way around the terms and
concepts and will be adding to my understanding of them as I read more, but
I feel like I now have a better grasp of them, thanks to your articles. I
will keep plowing ahead with the proposed next steps listed above and any
others you might suggest, if it is OK with you.
1. Futures Context
"The Gretsky Factor and Community Transformation" article gave me a good
sense of what thinking in a "futures context" means. The concept of a
futures orientation is illustrated well in the descriptive metaphor of the
hockey puck which symbolizes the increasingly fast-paced changes of life
today. The ability to anticipate where the hockey puck will go and respond
quickly is a great way to depict the capacity to anticipate future trends
and find innovative approaches to deal with them.
Two important issues raised in "Lament of a Local Leader" which illuminate
the idea of leadership as well as the necessity for a "futures context" are:
***Experience is not an adequate basis for making decisions because the
future context of problems do not exist in the realm of past experiences.
***In addition to anticipating future trends, understanding the "interactive
impact" of those trends on issues is also essential.
2. Models of Education
"Beyond the Deck Chairs" and "Altering the Cosmic Dance" also clearly lay
out the differences between:
***the current model of education (standardized content, one best answer,
the teacher as expert, passive student) and;
***a transformational learning model (generative‹fostering questions,
context based [rather than standardized content based], learning style
tailored to the individual, welcoming diversity of ideas, processes, and
people, encouraging feedback and making connections between complex ideas,
seeing issues in the context of a futures orientation, use of technology,
cooperative learning groups).
The role of process leaders‹facilitators of transformation‹is to help people
examine underlying assumptions related to learning, governing, and economic
development, etc., and help them develop a shared vision of a desirable
future for their community.
3. Transformational Learning and Community Transformation
"The Gretsky Factor and Community Transformation" article also helped me
understand more clearly the common theme in many of the articles, which is
the relationship between concepts of learning and community transformation.
This is the idea that a new approach to learning is necessary for
communities to prepare for the impact of future trends and an environment of
continuous change. The article helped me make the connection between the
concepts of learning and community transformation by illustrating the
process by which you and the other authors dealt with the difficulty of
explaining the concept of "futures context" and consequently developed the
idea of transformational learning.
4. Strategic Planning/Strategic Framing
A point that intrigued me in "Beyond the Deck Chairs" and "Webs of
Intricacy" is the contrast between "strategic planning," and "strategic
framing". The difference being pointed out seems to be that strategic
planning is a slow process that assumes a degree of control and
predictability and is unsuitable for dealing with the fast-paced changes
occurring in society today and in the future. It is useful, however, to
tackle issues that require short-term solutions. On the other hand, the
idea of strategic framing allows for a rapid and flexible response to issues
as they arise by building capacities for dealing with complex issues
("Transformation in Action"). This approach is made possible by "webs of
intricacy," small groups of people throughout the community who develop
familiarity with certain issues and come up with innovative solutions that
can be tested out. This illustrates the idea of "parallel processes" which
help bring about transformation.
5. The Concept of Individualism and the Common Good
The article, "Webs of Intricacy," explores the origins of the idea of
individualism and recommends a reexamination of its underlying assumptions.
"Transformation in Action" points out that one of these assumptions is the
idea of "enlightened self interest" which claims that society benefits by
the motivation of individuals desire for economic gain. In a time of
increasing population density, instant communications, and a deteriorating
environment, the isolationist view of the independent individual, who stands
on his own and takes whatever he can get from the natural environment or
from other people, can no longer be supported. A call is made for a shift
to a more "mature" individualism which values interdependence. The idea of
the "common good" grows out of this perspective of the individual (a central
concept in social psychology is that man is a social animal who develops in
the context of interaction with others). This kind of person will welcome
collaboration with others to solve community problems ("Beyond the Deck
Chairs"). A community made up of these kinds of individuals will be more
concerned about the shared community environment and will work with others
to raise the quality of life in the community.
6. Concept of Leadership
“The Lament of a Local Leader” emphasizes the goal of developing a new concept of leadership and understandings to enable leaders to facilitate consensus on shared visions of their community’s future. The chapter pointed out that an important aspect of leadership is the ability to develop capacities in others, as opposed to the common idea of a strong leader who takes over and directs the activity of followers.
7. Reforming vs. Transforming
The chapter, "The Lament of a Local Leader," defined the difference between
"reforming" vs. "transforming" which is that reforming old ideas and
structures is appropriate in times of slow-paced change, but when change
becomes so fast-paced, transformation is necessary. Transformation is
brought about through experimentation and development of totally new
approaches based on totally new assumptions. It also occurs at different
rates in different areas of activity.
The chapter, "Transformation in Action," adds that "reforming" is trying to
facilitate change by being more efficient while "transforming" involves
reevaluating the underlying assumptions "in all relationships and larger
I decided to restructure the concept of evaluation. Since Diana and Michael had used different approaches and read different resources to come to a basic understanding of community transformation, I decided to determine their ability to change roles and become the facilitator. I therefore asked them to become community coaches and think about three questions they would ask and two concepts they would consider the most important if they were helping to nurture ( coach ) local citizens in community transformation.
I didn't hear from Michael for ten days. When I did, the first key concept he had identified was...."the importance of creating an environment where people themselves see a need to change." Once I saw this, I knew that Michael had more than good content, he had come to understanding. In fact, both Diana and Michael have quickly shifted their understanding of the context of community transformation. I have deemed the experiment a great success and will begin to evolve the concept with others less motivatation and with different educational backgrounds.
As a result of my recent experience, I have come to the conclusion that the ability to evaluate a new system of learning in a dynamic society will require the ability to rethink how testing occurs. Not only will core competencies require traditional testing methods, but new concepts of evaluating how to connect knowledge holistically will be required. Learning how to evaluate the idea of asking the right questions will becoome a new field of study. Finally, the field of "generative connections" will evolve as a way to evaluate creativity within a futures context.
Rewiring the Community
"It is as if the Milky Way entered upon some cosmic dance. Swiftly the brain becomes an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern, though never an abiding one; a shifting harmony of subpatterns."
....Sir Charles Sherrington
As the pace of change in society continues to escalate, the patterns of community transformation will begin to resemble the patterns of brain behavior.....many new connections made as others disconnect forming a shifting harmony of subpatterns.
For local leadership to create new institutions of dynamic structure capable of vitality and coherence in a constantly changing society, it will be important for them to go beyond linear thinking. They will need to develop the ability to make connections among diverse and apparently non-related factors in order to insure continuous innovation. To do this they will need to think differently and overcome the limitations of linear thinking resulting from traditional educational concepts.
One of the ways this can be begun is to introduce leaders to the study of the brain and how it works in simple ways. Such an approach, when combined with other techniques, will insure that local leaders begin to understand the importance of forming new connections....connections of people, connections of ideas, connections of small and large networks, etc. This will lead to the creation of an environment for generative learning based on brainlike, adaptive concepts. As the focus on traditional need for certainty gives way to an understanding and comfort with the apparent chaos of ambiguity, the ability to discern new underlying assumptions and patterns will become a prized skill in the future.
"Rather than allow learning and evolution, rigid technocratic standards freeze the status quo, preventing experiments that might produce new and improved ways. A dynamic system, whether a single organization or an entire civilization, requires rules. But those rules must be compatible with knowledge, with learning and with surprise. Finding those rules is the greatest challenge a dynamic civilization confronts."
......The Future and Its Enemies
The Principles of Transformational Learning
Those who still search for certainty have little tolerance for society's complexity. In a society of increasing connections and complexity, the old concept of specific and standardized rules to be used for all occasions will need to be replaced with the idea of general principles, capable of adaptation and tailored to any specific environment. Those who aspire to be catalysts of community learning will need to rethink and retool how learning needs to occur, for both organizations and individuals.
The following principles will be key elements of transformational learning and undergird any local community approach to adapting its citizens and institutions to the challenges of the 21st century:
. Emphasize individualized learning, yet employ mechanisms appropriate
to all learning styles.
As the society becomes more complex, interconnected and moving
at a faster pace, it will be a challenge to devise methods to insure
that learning offers a balance of core competency content and
individualized knowledge which allows any individual to evolve
in his own appropriate way. The shift to individualized instruction,
no matter how difficult it will be to achieve, will be necessary to
allow the adaptability in a context of continuous innovation
that insures increasingly obsolete knowledge. The very mindset
of educators will need to be released from todays stifling standardized curricula.
. Shift the idea of teacher to learning leader.
Leadership in general will move from top down direction,
prediction, and control of outcomes, to the very natural idea of
facilitating and motivating diverse people in methods of adapting
to changing circumstances. This will impact the professional teacher and educator in several ways: 1) the concept of teacher helping to fill the glass of knowledge with predetermined information will shift to the guide or coach concept, insuring that those involved in interactive learning will be confident and comfortable when reaching for new ideas, 2) the methodology of lecture will be minimized as the key approach to learning for only those 8% who are auditory learners...more and more the use of questions and indirect concepts of facilitating learning will be used as students see the need to shift quickly and understand how to connect diverse ideas within a constantly changing societal context.
. Establish a futures framework within which issues are considered.
The idea of a shifting context of information will become the
new environment of learning. All people will need to become adept at adaptation. Life long learning has come to the forefront of
interest because of changing assumptions, and rethought ways of
thinking about what is necessary within a constantly changing society.
A futures context requires that the idea of a "mindset" be discarded and replaced with the concept of "mindflex." All learners will need to become comfortable with rethinking, reorganizing and redesigning.Understanding the impact of trends of the future on all issues will be a necessity to develop appropriate plans. The interaction of future trends will blend in a constant dance of alignment. Those that are able to understand the changes in context brought about by the transformation of change will be capable of vitality in a dynamic society. As Bill Gates tells his teams of software writers, "cannibalize your products within eighteen months...if you don't do it, someone else will."
. Be open to new ideas of any kind....filter those that do not resonate with
an understanding of a new reality.
One of the greatest obstacles to learning within a constantly changing society is the need for certainty. The idea of certainty of outcomes will be replaced with the idea of continuity of principles. Multiple outcomes will be seen as appropriate for the diversity of life that continues to evolve in a web of innovative connections. Certainty of values will be the glue that holds communities together. It will be important for all education and learning to search for, emphasize and bring to consensus a family of values which will insure the vitality of a dynamic society. Many of those values we hold dear today, such as leader/follower, will shift to new ideas. The value of and/both will replace the idea of either/or as we learn there are many ways to do things and many answers to the same question. Einstein, when told by a student at Princeton that this was the same exam that had been given last semester offered the reply, "yes, but the answers have changed."
. Establish experiments and receive feedback....remember, experiments are
multifaceted, and often are no more complicated than trying a new way to say hello.
The biological concept of feedback will become a cornerstone idea
for learning as we continuously are faced with new challenges and
an evolving context of circumstance. The traditional focus of strategic planning assumes the ability to predict the outcome and control the processes of involving humans and contributing factors.
Neither is possible in a constantly changing world. What is expected to evolve is a concept of parallel processes, where strategic planning is used for short term needs where all factors and outcomes are defined and seen as appropriate ( think about any manufacturing process ), and a process of planning that gives emphasis to the building of capacities for longer term transformation and adaptation. In the former process, all those
involved will need to sees things commonly...thus, one large group
can focus on standardized answers. In the latter process, there will
need to be experiments of different approaches to see what works and what doesn't...thus requiring small groups of interested people who want to take the risks of creating the new.
. Protect the competition and integration of ideas....in an interdependent world, competition does not have to be arbitrarily created....that which emerges as the moment of truth will find it own solution.
The old saying, "throw the ideas on the wall and lets see what sticks," has an element of truth in an evolving age of interdependency. The idea of multiple connections in a system of factors will become a cornerstone idea of learning as we develop new and appropriate ways of thinking and acting. The scientific method focused on the competition of ideas, and the competition of those who debated truth. This will still be an important idea for those involved in the arena of natural sciences where objectivity of concept and design is assured by the independence of input. No matter what is done gravity assures that a ball will come down when thrown.
However, the age of quantum mechanics reflects parts of reality where the concept of independence and linear thinking does not apply. No longer is total predictability possible, but many outcomes will be due to interaction occurring among many diverse factors. We will begin to see the need to think how to make connections as things change to provide an answer for the context of the moment.
. Focus on collaboration among diverse people and ideas and allow them
to combine in different ways.....look for the value in what is said or written in order to connect it to one's own experience. In so doing, the quantum nature of one's own reality continuously emerges, and constantly redefines the learning experience. The result of one phase of learning is the mechanism of the next.....but always at a higher level of consciousness...one's assumptions are tested by the sense of meaning which ensues.
Recently I was asked to go to Scotland to work with the
Scottish Council Foundation, the nation’s leading think tank. We
attended the introduction of what is called the "Scottish Scenarios,"
looking ahead to a vision for Scotland. One of the excellent concepts that was introduced as a key part of developing an appropriate vision for Scotland was the idea of collaboration. As the presentations ensued, it became obvious that the idea of what collaboration would require was not seen in an interdependent way. For example, the point was never made that for connections of diverse people to occur, all people involved in a societal process of collaboration on issues of community importance would have to change their traditional approach of debate, to one of finding value in what any other person says. For this to happen, one has to change one’s approach to listening. No longer will one listen to find fault...this leads to debate. In the future for true collaboration to occur ( for connections to be made among diverse people ), one will listen to affirm the other person and find some value
in what is being said....without accepting all comments as truth. Thus, when adding this idea of dialogue within a futures context ( to prevent the discussion from centering on obsolete ideas ), a concept of "generative dialogue" will emerge.
. Emphasize the integration of future trends into the thinking and
operations of all community people and organizations.
Once a friend said to me, "why should be look at the future, we
can't even deal with the present?" In 1985 I could not answer this
question effectively because I was still caught in the either/or trap of thinking. In other words, we either had to work with the present or plan for the future. It is now clear that we need to do both. There will always be a need to act on todays issues with todays tools at
the same time that we are developing new approaches, often changing underlying assumptions, to prepare for a different future that we can't predict. If any organization or community does not try to anticipate the future by learning what future trends may be, and then developing scenarios to be ready to respond to what does occur, they will be caught in the continued frustration of ideas and action no longer appropriate.
. Focus on the use of the Internet, multimedia and telecommunications.
The advent of today tools of communications open up totally new
vistas of learning. Not only does the Internet give any individual the ability to find any information in the world instantaneously ( thus greatly minimizing the value of the concept of teacher as content provider ), it also allows the ability to introduce new concepts and methods of learning ( such as computer simulations ). As we move to a society of continuous innovation, electronic means of learning will be integrated with face-to-face dialogue of generative discussion. In addition, telecommunications will allow individualized information gathering at the same time that it provides a platform for real time group discussion.
. Develop a new system of evaluation to judge the systemic integration of
core competencies, the ability to ask appropriate questions, and the
ability to connect disparate ideas in continuous innovation.
As knowledge explodes, the ability to know will lessen in importance and the ability to connect knowledge in innovation and creativity within a futures context will increase in importance. Soon we will come to recognize that as we evolve new learning systems of thinking, adaptation and creativity, we will need to evolve new systems of evaluating the learning experience. Standardized testing will continue to be important for the future. In addition, new fields of study will emerge in education as thinkers see the need to evaluate the idea of "how can be test the ability to ask an effective question....and "is the learner capable of making connections among diverse factors? ....and if so, at what level of creative systemic thinking is this particular
. Utilize the technologies of the day to insure real time curricula.
Textbooks are obsolete as soon as published. Textbooks also reflect a political process of acceptance which waters down much needed knowledge in an age of change. The risk of including new theories and ideas can often be met with resistance from many sources, to include educators themselves...who are supposed to be open to new ideas. The future will open new ways to provide information. Modules of knowledge will come in many forms....articles, web sites, teleconferences, and, yes, sections of books...but usually not textbooks.The best of "learning guides" will be an interactive learner with those whom they are coaching, as the coaches experience helps to provide perspective when a learner chances on new knowledge. Thus the role of the learning guide will adapt to the use of new curricula as a part of an continuous evolving and dynamic system of learning concepts.
. Build webs of learners throughout an organization and community. Understand that the subpatterns of change will demand a new concept of individual learner....one who relishes the interplay of learning for oneself and learning for others simultaneously. Interdependence will no longer stand alone.
The ideas of "learning webs" will be added to Peter Senge's
popularization of the idea of "learning communities." Although
many people have accepted the idea of learning communities, few
have realized that the traditional concept of standardized learning
will prevent a true "learning community" to evolve in effective ways.The study of complexity reflects the fact that as organisms and organizations become larger and more complex, their existence and integrity can only be maintained if small units continuously form and are held together with new mechanisms that emerge as a result of a new environment. This is true of the development of DNA and cells, physical ecological systems, and even communities. Until educational and community citizens and leaders begin to understand the concepts of complexity, parallel processes, and non-linear systemic change, it will be difficult for any community to become a learning community.The idea of webs and networks is a key concept in the development
of levels of complexity.
Webs of Learning in a Community
"Web themes ( under many names ) are already bubbling in society at large. Similar rules apply up and down the line. Three big insights - learning, collaboration and intricacy - give more substance to the kinds of changes we need.
The way to create a sustainable civilization is not to give up helping one another, but to figure out how to cultivate intricacy. We already have some clues. Intricacy is encouraged by education, empowerment, infrastructure, mutual support, liberation and love. It grows best when fertilized and organized in circles with human faces and common-cause. It grows best when spurred by binding ideals, like liberty, equality, justice, compassion, and serving a higher design. It requires lots of lessons about how to encourage collaboration, creativity and distributed concern."
..... Sally Goerner, After the Clockwork Universe
My friend Sally combines authenticity, a towering intellect, and a sense of historical meaning. Within the wisdom of her insights is one mechanism of 21st century learning....the need for intricacy. Intricacy refers to the order which arises from interweaving. I will add another fundamental parameter for tomorrow's learning framework.....a need for intimacy.
One of the most important attributes of understanding how to evolve a 21st century learning environment in any community in to connect structure, content, process, capacity building, and emergent meaning in a simultaneous dance of movement. The traditional system of standard learning.....large hierarchies, textbooks, standard answers, one best answer, lecturing, and teacher..... assumes that knowledge changes slowly, otherwise it would not be standard. In a society of dynamic change, the structure of learning found in the creation, distribution and testing of knowledge is transformed into small and dynamic webs ( networks of diverse people, organizations and ideas ), object oriented curricula ( smaller modules of information ), interdependent questions ( the interplay of learners and learning guides ) , multiple learning styles and media, and learning leader ( a coach and facilitator instead of a provider of information only ).
The very nature of the learning experience changes as the needs of society expands. With more choices comes more connections. More connections brings tension to standard answers. The explosion of knowledge exposes the inability of a teacher to "know." Quickness of needs demands quickness of response.....complexity of issues requires interaction of talents in intimacy and intricacy. The need to tell others is superseded by the need to ask. If knowing is asking and knowledge is generative, what is the role of learning? It is transformed from knowledge acquisition ( competencies of knowing ) only to a system of creative thinking within a futures context. The very nature
of learning becomes the creative interaction of diverse people, ideas and technology to insure that innovations of thinking are applied to test the assumptions of how we do what we do in our societies and what values will undergird a constantly changing society. It is my expectation that the present emphasis of education to build skills for employability will soon be balanced with the art of thinking about why.....as the issue of meaning for life again takes center stage.
My silent generation was taught to gain knowledge by listening so that others may listen when my experience earned me the right to tell what to do and lead others when the mantel of leadership was passed. The baby boomers carried the idea of individualism to levels never intended by those who were our libertarian forefathers. The early leaders of individual independence understood the importance of the concept of community. We now watch as cutthroat competition and narrowed truths ( confusing the idea of "what I interpret to be truth" with truth itself ) cause increasing social dysfunction. In his book The Crisis of Capitalism, George Soros warns of the disconnect of our economic, social and political sectors....reminding us of Adam Smith admonition in Theory of Moral Sentiments ( 1759 ) that any economic pursuit separated from a context of ethics and community morality would ultimately slide the society into a wasteland of greed and corruption.
"In societies where individuals enjoy more freedom of choice than at any other time in history, people resent all the more the few remaining ligatures that bind them. The danger for such societies is that people suddenly find themselves socially isolated, free to associate with everyone but unable to make the moral commitments that will connect them to other people in true communities."
..... The Great Disruption, Francis Fukuyama
The X'ers and the Net Generation yearn for a sense of real intimacy lost in their parents search for individualism. When Toffler ( 1972 ) identified acceleration in the pace of society, he warned of the strain in community where learning is defined only in individualistic terms. Fukuyama and Putnam have now brought forth the principle of social connectedness and laid it in our laps. Is it knowledge we have been given or a call for learning...or both?
Our great opportunity is to see learning as a connection of people, organizations and ideas in a parade of emerging meaning for life. Learning can be a process where people help each other to be successful, not just economically, but as moral and ethical people as well. Interactive learning can help us lose the insecurity of finding our place in the world, and give up the potential to be a part of networks of many people who are creating a new and vital culture for the future of our children and grandchildren.
Alexis D'Toqueville was greatly intrigued by the internal contradiction of America's sense of community and yet strong demand for individuality. One of his most important observations is as valid today as it was in 1832..."don't think that Americans' emphasis on accumulating wealth is for it's own sake...it is a search for identity."
An emphasis on a new concept of interactive and transformational learning to build a new 21st century culture could bring diverse people into a new environment where meaning comes from using new methods, concepts, ideas and techniques to build a society capable of integrating the needs of individuals and the needs of community. What better way to provide individual and community meaning by creating a new concept of intimacy brought about by the connections of learning.
The world of either/or is being left behind. As connections increase, increased concomitance occurs. Things that appeared once separate, are now seen as linked in association. And so learning is transformed by increased interactions. One of the key factors leading to renewed intimacy will be the number of interactions that occur on a day to day basis. The more "webs of intricacy" that are designed and integrated into the day to day work of our local communities, the more interactions will occur.....and the ideas of transformational learning will be seeded throughout any community.
As an example, the search for the cause of increasing social dysfunction is often found under the umbrella of the traditional scientific method of cause and effect. A traditional, linear learning framework assumes that there is one reason for the dysfunction. As leaders, we ask the question ( usually a policy question ), what is "the" cause of social dysfunction in our communities. The very nature of how we frame the question based on how traditional education has taught us to think, often precludes our ability to resolve issues. There are many factors interacting simultaneously to impact the issue of social dysfunction...poverty, lack of personal initiative, learning disabilities, governmental policies, breakup of the family unit, etc.
In other words, there is no standard answer to any changing situation. Each situation, though fundamentally the same at first glance, always has different factors at work that make it unique. All human cells, though made of the same constituent parts, have differences in DNA which alters the growth of the interaction of multiple cells leading to the diversity of the physical look of all human beings.
It gets even more complex when there is such constant interaction that the very nature of our growing interdependency influences content and context at the same time. Consider social and learning situations, where many interactions occur all the time.
For example, many of us were taught that individual meaning came from individual achievement and recognition. And yet young adults and youths seem to be saying there is no meaning without family....and others look to spiritual reasons for meaning. In the past, we would have asked the question, "who is right?" That is the right question if the underlying theories of learning is supported by the assumption that all things ( to include reasons for meaning ) exist independently of each other, and that one factor is in control.
However, in an interdependent world, questions need to be phrased differently...ie., "what value can be found in what you say, or in the interplay of all factors which interact to create meaning for this particular situation." This is not to say that all statements are true, all opinions are valid, all values appropriate, or that there is truth in all aspects of what we do. But what this approach does reflect is the need for a new family of questions which look for ways to "connect" appropriate ideas and actions, whether designing a new product, analyzing a complex situation, or building a new foundation for a set of ideas to explain meaning in a constantly changing world.
And so we come to the idea of concomitance. Concomitance is defined as "connection and interaction without being separate." Why Is there a need for citizens to have an understanding of concomitance in the 21st century? Because we live in an interdependent world and that the actual interaction with each other in daily life changes not only who we are but the situation in which we find ourselves. Thus as we create the content of life through out actions, we are also changing the context...and a never-ending dance of new realities emerge, usually with increased complexity ( consider the impact of the Internet in all of our lives ).
Apply this idea to the concept of learning. When I was a school board chairman in North Carolina in 1980 I remember talking to a speaker from Chicago who had come to our community to work with teachers and administrators on the idea of learning styles. It was a new concept for most of us. She proposed ( backed up with several years of research ) that there were four learning styles, not just an auditory ( lecturing ) one. In fact, she suggested that only 8% of all people learning through the mechanism of lecturing. This was content. I could understand this. This made sense since I now have found out that I learn content best if I write down what I want to remember ( 4% of the population ). However, I connect disparate facts, factors, ideas and situations for innovation easily. It was at that moment, without realizing it that I began to understand that as we discover more content of information, and begin to apply it in order to change our actions, we are impacting the context of the situation.
As a result of the new input about learning styles, those teachers interested changed some of the context ( that over which they had control ) in their teaching and in their own learning experience. Later, some of them discovered new methods which they tested and were concomitant ( connected and interactive ) with past experience… yet at the same time, changing the context of the learning experience for themselves and certain of their students.
We are moving to a new age involving many players in an interaction of learning experiences, where the content and context are constantly changing and ultimately seen as inseperable...yet always moving in a new cosmic dance of concomitance.
The emphasis on "content only" will shift to one of an interplay of content and context....outcomes will loop in a feedback mechanism to actually change the original context. Old assumptions undergirding how we learn, what we need to learn, and why we learn are in transformation…..leading to continuous change in the context of learning. In a world of and/both, the content will become the context, and the context will lead to new content.
As we change our filters of learning, we will see a new world of changing hues, patterns, constant interactions, and parallel processes. We will be forced to ask different questions. We will look for new connections. Old facts will crumble as we change the context, and the new facts that emerge will interact to change the context of the original situation and how we see the world. We are now in a quantum society where multiple questions lead to multiple answers in a cosmic dance of emerging creativity within a futures context.
A Starting Point
If transformational learning evokes a new vocabulary.....webs of intricacy and intimacy, content as context, integrated and parallel processes, capacities for transformation, concomitant meaning.... how does a community begin the journey, and where will it end? What actions can be taken so that any local community is able to prepare itself for the challenges of an interdependent society, whose underlying assumptions will emerge only as we learn to think differently?
I have a friend who is president of a chamber of commerce in a medium sized community in Texas. He finds himself in the middle of a transition of power in the community from a benevolent dictator who got things done to a time of broadened involvement but slower action. And, as usual, the cry..."where is our community leadership" has erupted. His dilemma is how to build simultaneous bridges among people, ideas, cultural gaps, and differing historical perceptions....all at the same time.
Consider his need for a new concept of learning. With a divided populace, little listening occurs. With traditional institutional structures based on a historical perception of independence, even the call for collaboration between college and library is seen as ineffective. Underlying assumptions are strong. Leaders do things agressively...its poor leadership to wait if a need is obvious. Various groups strike out to get theirs once the initial discussion hesitates...."how can I trust those with whom I disagree. It's my right and my self-interest to get what I deserve"....and so it goes.
As we talked, I led by asking questions, and giving opinions when asked directly...but mainly I listened. Eventually the chamber president offered his opinion...".I guess we need to build relationships and have people learned to think differently if we are going to get anything done." From there, we evolved to the idea of thinking about the need for a futures context to allow diverse people to be willing to get past their preconceived notions. And we talked about the need to have only those interested and open to new ideas as a starting group for dialogue. He thought, and then ventured that he probably could find six or seven people in his community leadership that would fit that criteria. And that's where we will start...a dialogue among six or seven people who are willing to listen, be open to new ideas, and see the importance of thinking about the future in new ways.
Peter Senge points out the need to change mindsets when establishing a learning community. I believe we have to develop "mindflex," using my wife's good term. If there is continuous change in our future, moving from one mindset to another will not be enough. When Tom Peters used the phase "thriving on chaos," he focused on a quality ( capacity ) that would be important to the future of learning.
To be open to new ideas, one must thrive on the idea of transformation. One must continuously search for patterns where none seem to exist. One must be able to see the whole at the same time that small "webs of intricacy" form in connection to allow new complex patterns to emerge. Just as one is taught to see the "big picture" and "what's in front of you" at the same time when learning to drive.....we must be able to step back to see how to form dynamic structures as we link small networks of people and institutions.
When moving from a world of large hierarchies and standard answers, to one of complex webs and multiple answers, our idea of structure must be rethought. We must relearn how to learn, and rethink how dynamic yet stable structures can occur....and biology becomes our guide.
"The new biology contains a tremendous heresy. The main way life has become
more complex is through cooperation! Organisms band together for mutual
benefit. Cooperative groups survive better than individuals. Over time some
cooperatives become so tightly coupled that they become an inseparable whole,
a new "unity" as biologists call it. This incredible integration turns out to be the
basis of the stepladder of life. Thus, specialists working together have an
evolutionary edge over an organism which tries to do life all alone. The way to
create dynamic strength, therefore, is to follow a new theme ---- specialize and
Sally Goerner, Beyond the Clockwork World
For a community to learn to think about itself in new ways and integrate "new specialities into an integrated whole", it must first find a way to build the capacity to learn about new ideas. A community also must have leadership who can appreciate the need to talk about new ideas as well as "doing something." It must begin to utilize the idea of parallel processes. While many people work on issues, some people will need to think about new ideas. Any community must relearn how to learn.
And so the concept of "webs of intricacy" arises. When any large system reaches a point of instability, it breaks apart. Think about it, when any educational system gets too big, it loses it ability to learn. New business studies show that about 200 people are optimum for interaction in manufacturing units. Facilitation has shown that 10-12 is optimum. When eighty people need to talk, what occurs?.....four groups of twenty are formed and then reconnected at the end of any process.
If a chamber executive has only six or seven who are open and interested in talking about new ideas....if 200 people is an optimum size for a manufacturing plant....if 10-12 is optimum for a dialogue group....maybe nature is telling us something, and, concomitantly, maybe we need to understand that for true transformation to occur, we need to build webs of small groups who are interested in generative dialogue to understand what is happening and why.
When initially forming new learning experiences for people to think about the future, build small networks of interested people....build "webs of intricacy." Let any action to be taken come from the dialogue of those involved. Don't preset the outcome and control the process. Why start small? Because only those interested will take the time and listen to each other and to new ideas. In addition, any major effort to transform ideas and actions at the front end of any process will cause the majority of those who are traditionalists to be significantly threatened because their filter of understanding will often be different from ideas that are transformative. What is needed is a system of multiple processes which allows all people to be able to join in appropriate ways to think about the future. What our Communities of the Future effort is finding is that there needs to be an integration of many different concepts to build a framework of philosophical ideas and self-organizing actions that helps prepare for the challenges of a constantly changing society. At the same time that many structures and concepts need transforming, there are traditional ideas that can be updated and become a part of any overall
transformative system. The search for spiritual meaning by individuals from throughout the world in an age of constant change is one example of how basic traditional concepts can be updated and integrated into appropriate new learning experiences ( ie., as one example John Polkinhorne, particle physicist and Anglican Bishop in England is working to bridge the gap between science and religion ).
Over time, as communities build small network of learning in different places, for different reasons, with different people, under different conditions....new ideas slowly will begin to filter into the thinking and activities of many organizations. New approaches will begin to occur. New ideas will begin to be accepted.
With the use of parallel processes, small groups of interested people will be able to work on new ideas within the frameworks of pilot efforts, while traditionalists will still be able to continue business as usual....but begin to have dialogue from time to time about new approaches. Those interested in relearning for a different future will learn directly. Those that initially don't see the need to rethink their traditional assumptions will be able indirectly to learn over time, often without even realizing it.
Traditional learning has always been focused on providing content, or so it seemed. Students answered true/false tests and gave the one best answer....and then those same students entered business and found out the meaning of the term "art of the possible." As an example, any worker in any organization of any size has always understood the difference between providing the best answer and providing one that those in authority will accept. Only the very brave and very comfortable challenge this age old "reality."
When one idea predominates any part of the society, content was constant. Think about it. We learned that scarcity of land, labor and capital was the basic principle of economics ( now the idea of increasing returns is a new rule of the new economy ); we learned that lecturing was the way to teach ( and now we have four learning styles, the Internet, peer learning, etc ); and we learned that elected officials had all the power
( now look at the use of referrenda....and the way the Internet brought 60000 people to protest the WTO meeting in Seattle).
In a relatively static world standards were easy to develop and apply...now we are realizing that standard answers no longer work in a changing world. So how do we look at the future? How can we prepare a community to think differently if traditionally all of the citizens have been trained in one way of thinking.
Remember, in a constantly changing world, there will always be an interplay between context and content. Without an understanding of how things are changing, what the trends are, and how underlying assumptions are transforming, there will be no way to deal effectively with current issues.
Obviously any issue has specific content that must be understood. Think again about the issue of evaluation of learning. If the focus is only what one knows, then standardized testing is appropriate...one just evolves to a fundamental concept of "core competencies" from one of absolute truth. However, if the context of the issue begins to change, then other needs become important. Needs such as 1) asking an appropriate question, and 2) learning how to be innovative within a futures context.
Several year ago, one of my Pennsylvania associates, Lewis Jaffe, coined the phrase "they don't know that they don't know." I think back twenty years and remember when I didn't know about learning styles, or non-linear thinking, or the use of the Internet. They all existed in primitive forms ( compared to today ), but I didn't know they existed.....I didn't know that I didn't know. And today each is a basic tool of our Communities of the Future work. In fact, we have established a concept called "local 21st century thinks tanks" to help interested local citizens learn about future trends. On purpose, we don't jump to action, we spend time dialoguing about what are the trends and how can a futures context be developed. My point....until we develop more interest in understanding new concepts, new trends and how a futures context is needed, local communities will continue to create strategies that are often based on obsolete ideas.
A Futures Context
Those of us involved in the nationally evolving Communities of the Future network have begun to focus on the need to evolve a futures context in local communities. We have concluded that a key obstacle to preparing local communities for the 21st century is the need to have citizen leaders comfortable with the transformational changes occurring in the society.
There are two key issues. One, to become familiar with future trends and their interactive impact. Two, to rethink underlying assumptions which support the cherished beliefs of how we educate/learn, how we lead, how we do economic development, how we govern, even how we think. Without removing these obstacles to transformational change, few people will be able to develop a 21st century filter based on the way the society is self-organizing itself.
All communities can take two important actions to begin the process of evolving a 21st century learning environment, leading to the creation of a futures context for each local area:
. Establish networks of local 21st century think tanks for 15-25 people at the time.
Focus on the introduction of trends which will impact local communities to
include the following:
. By the year 2004, it is expected that 70% of all houses will have
. By the year 2008, speech recognition will be available for all computers.
. By the year 2013, 30-35% of all diseases with be treated using genetic
therapy in combination with telemedicine.
. By the year 2015, only 4-8% of all jobs will be provided by direct
. By the year 2018, it is expected that over 50% of all goods and services
will be bought over the Internet.
These and other trends can be introduced into the dialogue to help citizens understand that their ways of doing things need to change. As an example, if business trends evolve as expected, local economic developers need to begin to build "capacities for the digital economy" right away.
A second action that local community colleges can take is to establish "futures institutes" at their institutions to help develop a base of interest in the future within the faculty and student body, as well as in the community. It is interesting that in a time of immense change, few administrators have recognized that their graduates will not be effectively prepared unless the concept of identifying trends of the future is integrated into the curricula. Although it is often difficult to distinguish between fads, trends and outright foolishness, unless local communities begin to learn to think within the framework the future, there is little chance that actions taken will be connected to a context of what is coming, instead of what has already occurred. In a dynamic and transforming society, the probability of things staying the same is nil. The trick for communities will be to learn how to integrate appropriate values which give people real meaning, develop effective processes of decision making, and build capacities for transformation....all at the same time.
Traditional community processes have been predominately exclusive. The opportunity to lead was earned over time and the knowledge of the past was passed on to the "up and coming" leadership as the years passed. All that was necessary was to combine traditional knowledge with experience and one could lead. The processes of decision making were relatively simple and usually top down. In most small communities, a few made decisions for the many.
In the future, the emerging complexity of society and the real time information available due to improved technologies insures that more and more people will have the opportunity to be involved with decisions which affect their lives. A great challenge is to evolve a civic environment which encourages people to participate. Leaders will be faced with the contradiction that as many people drop out, others will want to have more control over issues that impact their lives.
"As we approach the twenty-first century, America is turning into an electronic republic, a democratic system that is vastly increasing the people's day to day influence on the decisions of state."
....... Larry Grossman, Electronic Republic
As electronic infrastructure increases in use, more and more people will expect to give their opinions, not as input, but as a part of the decision. One of the learning experiences which will be needed will be to evolve methods of direct electronic involvement. A second will be the need to have a family of processes integrated in parallel to allow different sizes and types of groups the opportunity to impact their community for the common good.
Framing a Learning Community
The idea of integrated and parallel processes are based on the new theories of chaos and complexity. Over the last twenty years, the idea of community based strategic planning processes called visioning or futuring processes were developed to involve more people in setting the agenda and making decisions for any local community. The strength of this process is that is quickly develops specific ideas and task forces are established to implement any concept developed by the overall group. It is appropriate to have action taken within a reasonable period of time.
The limitation of this approach is that it requires everyone to agree on an action and does not allow transformational ideas to evolve. Another limitation is that such a process is usually presented as representing the entire community, when usually less that 1% of the citizens have been involved. With lessening levels of trust in local communities, it is increasingly difficult to "sell" an idea to citizens, as often expressed by local elected officials. In the future, local elected officials will be faced with the
challenge of building a shared vision within a constantly changing society. "Selling an idea" will soon lose much of its appeal as a concept, as more leaders understand the need to integrate many citizen ideas in newly structured processes of decision making.
It is suggested that any "learning community" will need to establish parallel processes, where strategic planning is done in parallel to community research and development process projects. Usually small groups of interested people will work together to develop an innovative idea based on the trends of the future. Any idea is designed to be tested in the community. No matter whether immediately successful or not, learning occurs. The results are fed back to the group and others in the community and the next adaptation will include new ideas based on the experience of the first or second implementation of the new concept.
Any community will need to rethink its learning process. Strategic planning assumes one can predict the outcome and control the processes. When there is ambiguity and total uncertainty, there is no ability to predict and control. Therefore, the old idea of failure will need to be recast as a part of learning. In a constantly changing future, the concept of failure will need to be adapted to that of learning experiences. Some of the situations in my life that would have been considered failures using traditional methods of assessment became the greatest learning experiences in my life. Therefore, leaders will need to help develop environments where people are not afraid to fail, but encouraged to risk and try in new ways and in new contexts.
Experience has always been the capacity builder for any community. Apprenticeship programs have been used for years to prepare the next generation. It was their personalized learning experience, because what had worked in the past would work in the future. Such a concept by itself is not appropriate for an increasingly complex, always changing society. In a world of constant innovation, new knowledge will always have to be linked and applied in new ways to that which exists.
The idea of traditional capacity building will shift in a "learning community" to one of "building capacities for transformation." Any community will need to rethink how to introduce new concepts and test them....always providing feedback for what works and what doesn't.
Suggested Community Actions
There are many ways to build capacities for transformation. Let's define what is meant by the concept of "capacities for transformation." The Center for Communities of the Future defines five such capacities:
. Evolving a futures context.
. Developing process leaders who are able to help network and integrate
innovative ideas, people and organizations within a futures context.
. Creating and expanding an electronic infrastructure.
. Developing an environment of the common good for the 21st century
where the old idea of "self-interest, rightly understood" is transformed in
an interdependent society to that of "helping each other succeed.”
. A fifth capacity is the ability to help citizens develop 21st century skills
defined as, a) the ability to access the Internet, b) facilitating small
groups and c) understanding how to network diverse people.
A "learning community" will begin to realize the importance of establishing full time master capacity builders who can work with people and organizations to help them build capacities for transformation. As an example, a "community capacity builder" could be on the staff of any city and responsible for such needs as preparing citizens for electronic town meetings or working with the chamber of commerce to develop process leaders.
Several recent studies are telling. One reflects the fact that many aging baby boomers wish they had spent more time with relationship building and not professional achievement. Another recent poll found that 43% of those polled thought values was the most important issue for the 2000 election.
More and more the idea of meaning for life slips into the dialogue of people in local communities. Seldom has this idea had more power than when cast against the tragedy of Columbine. What does it say for a society whose traditional economic indicators are out the roof and yet many of its youth are in poverty and groups of Gothics see suicide as a reasonable act. Eccleciastes notes "where there is no vision, the people perish." A 2000 update would add "where there is no vision and meaning......"
Several commentators have recently observed that the lack of balance of values disconnects the society. The fact that optimization of any factor in a system destroys the system is appropriate for today's society. If meaning cannot be found in individual materialism by itself, there is a need for any learning society and community to evolve a concept of "concomitant meaning" which integrates a balance of values into a dynamic context providing vitality and a sense of purpose as we enter the 21st century.
Taking the First Step
Start slowly. Develop small, yet diverse "generative dialogue" groups to begin a discussion of what they think will give meaning in the 21st century. Call each a “21st century values conversation." Include many young adults. Coach facilitators in the art of
generative dialogue. Introduce many articles and exerpts from periodicals and books to help evolve the conversation within a futures context.
Utilize many of the following ideas in the context of the dialogue:
. Relationship building
. Concepts of spirituality
. Helping each other succeed
. How to create openness
. Needs of a family
. Thinking systemically
. Building a futures context
. Networking for capacity building
. The 21st century individual in an interdependent society
The idea of values is an important one. For too long we have taken for granted what is of value for us as individuals and families and communities, and have come up wanting. "I gave you everything.....but not yourself daddy."
We are at a historical divide without the ability to use tools from the past to guide us. Seldom in history have men and women had a chance to impact the future of civilization in such potentially positive or disastrous ways.
At the heart of our challenge is the need to change who we are at the same time that we change our institutions and communities. An even greater challenge is the need to recognize that we must transform our society, not reform it by making old ways more efficient.
The future of learning is at stake. It is both a goal and mechanism. If we don't work to change how we see the learning experience, we will just rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. If we don't build capacities of transformational learning in our communities, we will not be able to make the new learning experiences extensive enough to build a critical mass for our society. Of most importance, we must forget the concept of failure. Without a new concept of learning, there will be no success. Radical individualism must be viewed as insecurity and cast away. We must learn a form of collaboration that will require both the strength of a more mature individuality and the capacity for deepened and authentic relationships within an interdependent world. It is our destiny to be given the opportunity to develop a concept of learning which brings people together all over the world in a cosmic dance of meaning.
Aligning the Cosmic Dance
Fukuyama, Francis. The Great Disruption. The Free Press. 1999
Goerner, Sally. Beyond the Clockwork World 1999
Grossman, Lawrence. The Electronic Republic. New York. Penguin Books. USA 1995
Postrel, Virginia. The Future and Its Enemies. The Free Press. 1999
Restak, Richard, MD. The Brain. Bantam Books. 1985
Sherrington, Charles Sir. Experimental Physiologist. Quote:The Brain. Bantam Books, 1985