Look around you. And then explore, analyse and establish. Can you see the design floors?
A design floor is the ultimate and fundamental design flaw. Individually, design flaws are often simple to identify and, with the right tools, rectify – at least in part. Perfection is an asymptotic concept; striving for constant improvement will get you closer and closer without ever actually arriving. Don’t be fooled though, design flaws can be persistent, ingrained and resistant to change. Flawless is a nonsensical objective but ‘flaw less’ can be attained.
But the design floor might appear impossible to overcome, for it must be achieved through revolution rather than evolution. Design floors can’t be tinkered with, they must be tossed out! A design floor is the foundation on which a program, policy or pursuit is based, a foundation that allows certain things and constrains or eliminates other things.
Floors are low, not deep; when you think about it, floors can be viewed as a shield against the deep. And low is close to the lowest common denominator, low is close to shallow and low is very close to face validity. Low is about appearance rather than substance, low is about the bottom rather than the deep and the deep is the only way to get to the top.
Foundations can be strong but this needs effort, insight and persistence. Foundations can be weak and this just requires disinterest and a willingness to tolerate the design floor; despite these weaknesses, things often keep rolling on:
It’s another fundamental choice in experiential learning and behavioural change. Will you tolerate design floors and pretend that things are as good as they can be? Or will you actively work to rectify design flaws and realise that things can be better than they are?
The last ‘Slow Down Sunday’ post had a strong numerical theme; ‘tis nobler thought numbers could feature in this post to explore some fundamental themes in experiential learning and behavioural change.
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10.
That’s arithmetic – in experiential learning and behavioural change, you’ll use much more sophisticated mathematics without really being aware of it. And you’ll do this even if you think you’re no good at maths. In the artificial world of the classroom, you might struggle with maths but, in the real world of learning and changing, you’re a maths wizard!
10 > 1 +2 +3 +4.
That’s synergy, in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Life and learning are not additive pursuits. When you devote effort to the 1s, 2s 3s and 4s (etc), this experience produces something that is greater, more elegant, more effective and more efficient. Mindlessly following a recipe is a recipe for ‘disaster’. Transcend the mechanical.
2 + 2 = 4, NOT 5, 6, 3.5 or any other number suggested by someone else to satisfy specific circumstances.
That’s a reflection of values. While mathematics is the one absolute and universal discipline, undisciplined or expedient behaviour can be applied to mathematics and, more broadly, the scientific method, to distort the truth. Thinking, saying or doing ‘calculations’ in which 2 + 2 = 5 is the slipperiest of all slippery slopes. Stay true and stay truthful, for numbers don’t lie:
Finally, remember that any number (and the distance between any two numbers) equals infinity. Apparently straightforward tasks possess depth and complex tasks have great depth. It just doesn’t make sense to think that you can skate over the surface and cope with all the challenges.
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10. But there are infinite ways to get to 10.
The last paragraph says it all: “The task that faces us is no different from the one that has always faced human beings – renewing our lives in the face of recurring evils. Happily, the end never comes. Looking to an end-time is a way of failing to cherish the present – the only time that is truly our own”.
This week has seen ‘tis nobler explore the concept of happiness. Apart from the ‘slow down’ post on Christmas Day, this is the last post of 2011. ‘tis nobler can see a personal link between those two statements but would be disappointed if readers made the same connection.
To finish off for the time being, it’s now or never, and variations thereof. ‘Now or never’ is often said with a motivational purpose, so what is the connection with happiness? There is a connection; in fact there are many connections, which is why you must always find your own way. There is no other way to navigate experiential learning and behavioural change; anybody who tells you different is selling you short or sending you off (your) course.
This connection is as much about principle as it is about evidence, it is as much about emotion as it is about reason and it is only about you, no-one else. It is about trying to learn from the past rather than alter its meaning (see Monday’s post) and it is about trying to change the attractively abstract into the contentedly concrete (see Wednesday’s post). And, perhaps most of all, it is about now and it is not now, or perhaps ever, about ‘about’. Or is it, for these choices are yours alone?
There is evidence that ‘small and often’ is more potent that ‘large and occasional’ in producing happiness. ‘Small’ can be a very discriminating predictor – a momentary delay during a pleasant experience can produce higher ratings of happiness as it creates the perception of two pleasant experiences. And two is better than one. Similarly, there are many studies investigating the relationship between money and happiness; in summary, it seems some helps but more doesn’t help more.
It is just as dubious to conclude that money or small pleasures cause happiness as it is conclude that money or small pleasures will cause you to be happy. Understanding the former can be assisted by this insightful and accessible article while understanding the latter can be assisted by appreciating the deep and durable power of ‘Find Your Own Way’.
Being happy now – as they say, ‘IN’ your life – or pursuing happiness – as they say, being happy ‘ABOUT’ your life – are not mutually exclusive or perfectly and consistently relevant to you. Not now does not mean never, just as now does not mean always! You must make personal sense of all of this rather than expect the meaning derived by others to apply to you as well; you must create it yourself rather than receive it from others. After all, effort is essential. And that message is a good way to see out 2011.
Yes, and there’s an irrefutable reason for this outcome.
According to Wikipedia, concrete is the most common man-made material. Concrete is everywhere. Now, where can we find happiness? Rather than consult Wikipedia again, ‘tis nobler consulted other experts, for DJ Andi and Stella know the answer to this question:
It’s in the ocean, yeah!
Happiness is all around, happiness!
It’s in the sunlight, yeah!
Happiness is all around…
Are you following ‘tis nobler’s line of reasoning? The syllogism goes like this:
Concrete is everywhere.
Happiness is all around.
Therefore, concrete IS happiness.
In the movies, it is never true when people say “There’s just one problem”, and it’s not true here either. The first and most fundamental problem is that the use of ‘concrete’ in this post’s title referred to the adjective and not the noun.
Both the past and the future are obstacles to overcome in the pursuit of happiness. On Monday, ‘tis nobler noted that we change the meaning of the past to conform to the present, something that prevents us from learning from our errors in predicting what will make us happy.
And this failing is compounded by the temptation to view the future in abstract ways. In theory, something will make us happy; in practice, however, happiness may prove elusive because it is pushed aside by reality. It’s like the Tomorrowland that never arrives, in which all these magical tools are promised but fail to materialise; it’s summed up in the name of the Scottish Indie music group “We Were Promised Jetpacks”.
Flights of fancy can play useful roles in problems solving and creativity but the link to happiness may be more fanciful. The gap between the concrete and the abstract can be huge and assessments of future happiness based on ‘the promise of jetpacks’ will only ever be a letdown. Dreams must be realised, hopes must be achieved and happiness must be pursued – will anything of consequence happen if dreams, hopes and happiness remain abstract, poorly defined and a long way away?
Concrete is a great way to cement your emotional state in happiness. As always, though, balance is required. Too abstract can just be a mess but too concrete can weigh you down and prevent you from making progress.
Finding ways to transform the abstract into the concrete, the hoped-for into the happening, is a great start for the pursuit of happiness.
Naturally, ’tis nobler is flattered that you might interpret ‘this’ as this post. But we need to think more generally.
Forecasting backwards is a contradiction in terms – how can you predict the past? In terms of actions, the past is fixed; in terms of meaning, the past is much more flexible. Even though you can’t change what happened, you can change its meaning – at the very least, the meaning it has for you – or you can forget that what happened did happen. What does this have to do with happiness?
Happiness is an awkward, nebulous and (unfortunately) often ephemeral condition. Predicting what will make us happy would be hard enough but it is made even harder because we mess up the prediction process. And this means that it is very difficult to learn from past predictions and refine our pursuit of happiness through experiential learning.
How do you assess these lyrics in Kid Cudi’s “Happiness”? He sings that he is:
“…on the pursuit of happiness and I know everything that shines ain’t always gonna be gold
I’ll be fine once I get it, I’ll be good …..”
It’s true – the pursuit won’t be perfect and you will be fine when you get it. But the imperfections in the pursuit will often work against you. A series of studies indicated the nature of the prediction process and its inherent problems – ‘tis nobler will keep the details brief in order to keep you happy. People are generally poor at predicting the happiness that will come from future events, people are poor at remembering their past predictions and people are poor at controlling the influence of how they feel during and after the event on their past predictions.
As a result, people don’t learn from the experience of past predictions and just accept that their current emotional state is what they were expecting. In terms of predicting happiness, the present is not always a gift – you change the meaning of the past by sending the present meaning back in time. You don’t learn anything for you think there is nothing to learn.
It’s hard to learn anything when you change the meaning of the past to conform to the present. And you do need to learn what makes you happy.
‘tis nobler will conclude today’s post at this point. Are you happy now?
It’s not that there are doubts about your ability to juggle, although these doubts could very well be justified.
Nor is it that juggling doubts is a method for resolving them. Doubtless, you will recall that ‘tis nobler has already suggested that ‘double doubting’ is a more potent technique for reducing doubts than juggling could ever be:
Research has suggested that it’s better to question your doubts – be doubtful about them – and, through this internal interrogation, turn the certainty that you cannot into a possibility that you can. Think of this as untying the ‘not’ and discarding it…..Rather than learning in the shadows of self-doubt, realise that these doubts do not reflect certainties but simply possibilities that can be managed and reduced, if not eliminated. Fail to doubt your doubts and they may become self-fulfilling prophecies; doubt your doubts and become self-fulfilling.
You might also recall that ‘tis nobler noted that ‘shouting’ was useless in coping with doubts, as useless as juggling:
Strenuous advocacy can be a reflection of personal uncertainty. In these circumstances, such ‘shouting’ is designed to reduce doubts – a sort of “I must be right because I am stressing my ‘rightness’ so forcefully.” Trying to reduce your doubts by committing more strongly to that which you doubt has an even stronger influence on those topics/skills/behaviours that you deem more important. If it’s more important to you, you’ll ‘shout’ more often and more loudly.
The theme of this post is the doubts that arise from figuratively ‘juggling’ – trying to keep as many things going as possible and being pulled from one to the next in a never-ending struggle that aims to balance competing priorities, problems or personalities. Of course, actual juggling is itself a skill and, within reason, it is possible to keep the balls in the air:
But most of us struggle with ‘juggling’ for task-related and/or social demands can exceed our capacity and/or capability at times. It is reasonable to think that, in these ambiguously trying circumstances, the things that we hold most dear or identify with the most become even more important to us. However, some recent research has produced evidence that such circumstances can make us doubt our ‘mission’ rather than strengthen it.
It’s interesting to wonder whether these ‘juggling’ doubts can themselves be a coping mechanism, a way to refresh and reinvigorate rather than raise the white flag. ‘tis nobler has written about the relationship between the type of task and the effect of doubt:
Introducing doubts can benefit performance on simple tasks or more complex tasks that have become automated through substantial practice. There is no clear explanation for this, although motivation plays a central role. The arrival of doubt could prevent complacency, increase task focus or reduce the likelihood of distractions. If tasks are not simple or automated, doubt could increase conscious/intentional effort and this type of manual control is resource-intensive; performance is not enhanced as all effort is directed at just maintaining performance.
Juggling is an everyday feature of life, whether you are juggling tasks, demands, workload, decisions, responsibilities or people. With balance tantalisingly out of reach, the effort to achieve balance continues on and on. This can be wearing as this constant struggle can encourage doubts to enter. Doubtful juggling and juggling doubts combine to drag you down.
Juggle because you can’t avoid it. Doubt because you can’t avoid it. Find your own solution because you must.
There’s a well-known distinction between those that do and those that talk about doing – walking the walk compared to just talking the talk.
You don’t often hear about tweaking the talk. But tweaking the talk – modifying the content of your talking over time – is a very common feature of our interaction with others. ‘Talking the talk’ is tweaked all the time such that your talking becomes more impressive and more remote from any and all instances of actually ‘walking the walk’. It is likely that when you talk the (particular) talk today, it will deviate substantially from the first time you talked that particular talk. Embellishment is an inextricable component of expression.
Thinking we know, often without either knowing or thinking, can create all sorts of problems. One example is in the false memories we have of our performance and behaviour. To fill in the short-term gaps, we ‘remember’ things that never happened, we assume or infer rather than recall. How often have you heard people explain their mistakes by saying “I thought that ….” when this thinking is at odds with the situation?
Using past experiences as building blocks for present performance is not necessarily a neutral process. Injecting the past into the present can and does assist in meeting current task demands but this can and does change your memories of the past. You effect their retrieval and they are affected by this retrieval. The past is fenced off in time but the fence is not impervious to the present. Over time, facts can soften, fiction can harden and the lines between them can become less visible.
Some recent evidence emphasises the social nature of this embellishment process. We embellish for others and because of others, not just by and for ourselves. Conformity is a frequent characteristic of group performance – don’t stand up, don’t stand out, just stand in line as that makes it easiest to toe that line. These studies demonstrated that conformity can affect memories in an enduring way. Socially-imposed illusion, even ones that are known to be wrong by individuals, can supplant individual memories; these will often remain in place even when the original illusion is shown to be false. It’s seems true that two (or more) wrongs can make an individual’s right (memory) turn into the same wrong.
Do you often talk to be typical, of your friends, of your generation, of your experiences? Conversation is often typified by a desire to conform rather than communicate. Conversation is often the outcome of memory and emotion. Conversation is not just about facts and passive discourse; it can also be about fictions and ‘theatre’:
Fact may be stranger than fiction but fiction is more frequent than fact. How do you find your own way through this quagmire? Do you do it by tweaking your talk?
Is that heading a statement, probably pejorative in nature, or is it a question without the question mark? What’s that – you think it’s a statement? How typical (which ‘tis nobler confirms is not a question). Sorry, that sounded unintentionally pejorative, which is not typical of ‘tis nobler.
And, with your interest in experiential learning and behavioural change (why else would you be reading this?), it’s not typical of you either.
But what is typical, particularly when most of these judgements concern ‘global’ concepts, concepts that may have concrete definitions that mask their abstract nature? Are you a typical teenager? Are you a typical learner? Are you typical of those trying to change their behaviour? Are you a typical driver? Are you typical?
The short answer to these questions is that people regard others who are similar to themselves as typical. You are typical if you are like me for I like to regard myself as typical – I fit the ‘model’, I am the archetype. There’s an interesting interplay going on here:
If you are like me, you are typical (for I consider myself the standard), and/or
If I like you (or what you are doing), you are typical (for I consider myself to be or do exactly like that too).
As Jamie Foxx sings in the song ‘Just Like Me’ - You’re just like me and I’m just like you …… How typical. How typical?
Think about and through the possible processes going on. There may be elements of efficient pattern matching intertwined with perceptions of personal qualities that are influenced by self esteem in this judgement process. It seems that concluding that someone else is typical is typically complicated. The implications of this process can be equally complicated when you think about ‘Islands’:
There is evidence that, if I think you are similar to me and you are behaving poorly, I am more likely to behave poorly. Further, if I think you are dissimilar to me and you are behaving poorly, I am less likely to behave poorly. In both these cases, I don’t need to know anything about you other than your level of similarity.
Assuming someone is typical because they are like you is typical. Of course, people are books but you can only see their ‘covers’ in judging whether they are typical or not.
Do you judge a book by its cover? How typical is this cover of the book? Does your pattern matching transcend the cover? Based on the way you answer these questions, should ‘tis nobler apply the statement, the question or both?
It is extraordinary. If it wasn’t for the plentiful evidence, it would be unbelievable. And the effect that it has on our behaviour is both extraordinary and extra ordinary.
It is extraordinary that we have a predisposition to focus on the extraordinary. It’s a twist on the usual ‘forest and trees’ connection; in this case, we can’t see the trees all around us as we focus on the chance that a sasquatch lives in the forest and the danger this would represent. What makes something extraordinary is precisely why this focus is misplaced. If it was just a question of misplacement, it would be less of an issue for priorities can always be rearranged.
However, concern does grow when displacement enters the cognitive arena. Displacement is close to replacement; once the crucial focus on the very common ordinary is replaced by an unwavering focus on the very infrequent extraordinary, the risks we (fail to) perceive and the decisions we make accordingly affect our behaviour adversely.
How many falling branches, snakes, spiders, cliffs or weather conditions do you tend to overlook because you think that the real danger is found in the possible presence of an angry Bigfoot? It’s extraordinary that the extraordinary is so extraordinarily influential.
This music video for the song ‘Extraordinary’ assembles many extraordinary events and piles them one on top of the other but, as you watch it, you have to remember that ‘extraordinary’ is almost never the problem. However risky you perceive this behaviour, it should never distort your perception of risk towards the extraordinary:
One of the many benefits of effortful experience is the ability to see the bigger picture. But operating at the level of the bigger picture should not and does not arrive at the expense of only seeing/looking for the biggest risks. It’s an interesting contrast – experiential learning allows you to cope with the many ordinary risks automatically while you concurrently focus on the extraordinary risks intentionally.
‘tis nobler hopes that you achieve extraordinary things, perhaps just by doing the ordinary things extraordinarily well. This will involve some risk management – skilled yet ‘ordinary’ performance that should not be distorted by an intentional focus on the extraordinary.
And yet it remains extraordinary that we continually act on our predisposition to focus on the extraordinary. In what way will you be extraordinary?
When discussing the concept of risk in the last post, ‘tis nobler pointed out that the common view of risk and risk taking behaviour was invariably negative. The ‘other side of the risk coin’ sees it as positive, effective and adaptive. Finding your own way both through and away from risk involves both balance and self-management.
You can’t take a unilateral approach to risk as risk is not unilateral. In the same way, consequences aren’t unilateral either. We tend to think of consequences as significant events – the big splash – and ignore the continuing ripples. It’s not just the splash that creates problems; you also have to cope with the ripples. In an aggregate sense, constant ripples may pose much greater problems than the occasional splash. And while ripples always follow a (risk-related) splash, ripples can flow from any disturbance. You can’t have a splash without ripples but you can have ripples without a splash!
Consequences are to risk as ripples are to life; the ordinary poses many more challenges for us than the extraordinary. The latest evidence suggests that ‘ripples’ follow cycles – we are more able to cope with ripples at certain times, times that coincide with the higher points of our daily or weekly life pattern. We don’t call Wednesday ‘hump day’ just because it falls in the middle of the working week; Wednesday tends to be associated with higher levels of negative emotions. In terms of peaks and troughs, Wednesday is a trough.
Compounding these broader cycles is the more volatile ‘ups and downs’ within them. And the more you are (or allow yourself to be) buffeted by this shorter term volatility, the more likely it is that ripples will continue well beyond the point where others have moved on. If you have an experience that you can’t forget, you’ll be affected by the hangover of ripples for some time:
It’s not just avoidance of the splash, or minimising its harm should it occur, that represents the self-management challenge. The pattern of ripples, the volatility of ripples within that pattern and the flow-on effects of past ripples all combine to produce greater challenges than the occasional splash.
In experiential learning and behavioural change, you will make a much bigger splash by effectively and efficiently managing the many smaller ripples.
Is ‘absolutely’ fabulous? According to The Pet Shop Boys, it is:
There are many ways in which ‘absolute’ is anything but fabulous. As a novice, you might have had absolute faith in absolute rules – this is what people are meant to do – and absolute confidence in your ability to follow those rules. And then you realise that the real world is much messier; rules are replaced by skills and normative standards (the spirit) replace the ‘letter of the law’. Absolute often becomes relative, with a ‘black and white’ view replaced by the colours of the rainbow. Learning and changing becomes matters for continual and dynamic balancing, not adherence to blinkered absolutes.
Think of the words usually associated with risk taking or risk takers. These words are probably, and overwhelmingly, negative – stupid, senseless, crazy, immature, thoughtless, idiotic or insane. Risk takers are commonly seen as idiots. Of course, there is an element of truth in these descriptions, particularly when risks are simply taken without being managed. You could be excused for having an absolute position on risk taking in daily pursuits – it’s bad and always to be avoided. Wouldn’t life be absolutely fabulous without risks and risk taking?
The answer is ‘No’, for you can’t adopt an absolute position on risk taking. It can be relatively dangerous (with ‘danger’ being defined in many different ways) but rarely in day to day life is it absolutely wrong. Think of the other side of the risk taking ‘coin’ – have you ever heard of risk taking being described as effective, positive or adaptive? For managed risk taking can and should fit these alternative descriptions.
Experiential learning and behavioural change are traditionally viewed as methods to reduce or eliminate risks. In contrast, ‘tis nobler conceives of experiential learning and behavioural change as methods to better enable self-management of risk, regardless of the type or level of risk.
Risk taking for the sake of taking risks is either unproductive or destructive. Risk taking for the sake of learning and/or change can be managed. It is essential to remember the big difference:
There is a big difference between the (self-) management of risk and risky behaviour. Risky behaviour occurs when you pretend risk is absent, when you underestimate risk, when you are unaware of the consequences of risk, when you don’t reckon it is a problem for you.
Managing risk successfully can be exhilarating, can be fantastic, and can really make you come alive. But you don’t manage risk just by saying that you’re going to be careful or you’re going to pay attention. Successful management of risk involves effort; effortful practice, effortful preparation, effortful planning and real engagement, being ‘switched on’ rather than disconnected, being aware rather than oblivious. Even so, managing risk isn’t perfect and there will be consequences. Serious consequences – but you strive actively to minimise the chances of coming unstuck.
Striking the right risk taking balance as your learning journey unfolds is crucial – too little is boring and too much is, well, you know what ‘too much’ is. And ‘little and ‘too much’ are always relative terms, relative to you and the situation.
Managing risk by striking the right and relative balance can be absolutely fabulous!