Posts Tagged ‘description’

Who Are You Fooling?

November 28th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

It’s not so much a foolish week at ‘tis nobler this week as a fooling week.  Think of this week’s theme then as ‘tisfoolery’.  The first post raises an interesting ‘chicken and egg’ question; sometimes, cause and effect does not always operate in the direction it appears to.  Untangling cause from effect, effect from cause and effect as cause of a subsequent effect is a constant challenge, especially when these causal relationships are accompanied by a host of correlates that muddy the water. Correlates rarely clarify, and never cause.

And carousels only circle, but whether they circle as a cause, effect or correlate is a matter of some conjecture for your experience of them can be ‘deceptive’:

The real point for presenting this video was to illustrate the circular nature of deception and the many other elements that swirl around this process.  An effect can be described but this description is usually limited to the effect, a linear process that begins with ‘this happened’ and ends with ‘this is what happened’.  And the line continues.

An effect can be explained and this explanation transcends the effect, a non-linear process that begins with ‘this happened’ and ends with ‘this is what happened, this is why it happened and this is what it means’.  And the behavioural ‘space’ is unpacked and re-packed.

But much of what we do falls between description and explanation for the former is too glib and the latter requires too much effort.  Welcome to the land of the pretend explanation, a land overrun by justifications, rationalisations, opinions, bias, strategies and stratagems.  In this land, the aim is to prevail rather than understand.

And it is here where deceit and deception can run rampant.

At some times, we deceive others and then believe our deceit to be true.  At other times, we deceive ourselves in order to better deceive others.  And then we deceive ourselves yet ignore the consequences of our self-deception, or we ‘pretend explain’ these consequences by compounding self-deception.  There is compelling evidence that (self-) deception can be a powerful influence on our own behaviour and the ways in which we interact with others.

But it’s not really a question of causes and effects, of lines and directions. It’s a question of circles.

It’s worth remembering that there’s a lot of (self-) deception going around.  Who are you fooling?

Appearing Positive

October 21st, 2011 | Strategic | 0 Comments

Apparently, this week has been about appearances.  At least, that is how it has seemed.  Making an appearance, as appearance has done this week, suggests that there are periods of absence.  Appearing then departing, appearing (in the sense of seeming) then becoming clear(er) or absent and then appearing, the change in ‘state’ may be the most noticeable feature.  Of course, the regular appearance of change blindness suggests that we can be blind to a change in appearance.

Who would have thought that appearance was such an awkward concept?

Still, In the face of continuing uncertainty and constant change, we are often told to stay positive, suggesting we were positive in the first place.  But ‘appearing positive’ – the title of today’s post – is not about affect; rather, it’s about grammar.  And it’s about the relevance of the relative and the abandonment of the absolute.

The positive is the base form of an adjective – easy, safe, hard or dangerous – and it is in this form that many people view experiential learning and behavioural change.  They view it in absolute terms.  Things might appear positive – they might appear safe or easy – but the ways things appear can be deceiving.

But things are rarely absolute and so we need to think of ‘appearing positive’ in degrees – safer, easier or less dangerous.  This is the comparative form, the form that is more appropriate for learners and changers.  You are never safe but you can always be safer, things are never easy but effort can make them easier.  If you think ‘positive’, you see things in black and white.  To appreciate the many subtleties that influence learning and behaviour, you need to see both others and situations (and yourself) in true colours:

As soon as you slip back to accepting that things appear positive, and therefore they are absolute, the potential for error increases.  We can be lulled into this type of thinking for the real world often conspires against us:

  • We operate in forgiving environments and so we are often unaware of being forgiven.
  • We operate in familiar environments and so we are often unaware of the subtle variations.
  • We operate in self-paced environments and so we are often unaware of our efforts to ‘keep up with the Joneses’.

Forgiving, familiar and self-paced are ‘positive’.  But we need more, or less, to guide our journey – more forgiving, less familiar, and more self-paced.  Is more or less more or less appropriate than the positive? Can you be absolutely positive or is it better to be surely relative?

Things might appear positive but they aren’t.  Be positive, think comparative.

Generally Correct?

August 19th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Just recently, we went sailing on the Specific Ocean: on this journey, ‘tis nobler noted:

Sailing the specific ocean can be disastrous.  If something or someone dominates your reasoning by being ‘spectacularly available’, there is every chance that dominance will create distortions…….More spectacular does mean more available and more available pervades and distorts your thinking in many ways. This is one explanation for the ways in which important public debates can be hijacked by ‘spectacular’ irrelevancies…….It’s little wonder, then, that the only valid way to navigate this messy ‘world’ is to find your own way. Finding your own way is not spectacular but it is always available to you.

You might think it’s best to get as far away from the Specific Ocean but trekking what ‘tis nobler calls the Plains of Vague also has many pitfalls.  These pitfalls can be summarised as follows:

Appealingly vague statements aren’t vaguely appealing – they are very appealing!

And this particularly applies when the statements are about you; welcome to the world of subjective validation in which positive and general are perceived as specifically personal and generally correct.  Unlike the Specific Ocean, where you can’t seem to avoid the most available, single ‘reef’ on which to founder, the Plains of Vague envelop you in a blanket of generalities from which there is no escape – not that you ever try to escape -, just the security and warmth of identification.  This blanket is so comforting, so reassuring and so, so true!

The Plains of Vague convince you for its general features can be massaged into any shape that fits you.  Ultimately, though, generalities convey little information for they rely more on affect than effect for their power – of course, that’s me to a T, all the good things that you’re saying about me really ring true.  But information is defined as that which reduces uncertainty and generalities can’t reduce uncertainty; they’re like saying “Thank you for everything, thank you for nothing” in the same sentence, sweeping statements that sweep away little if any uncertainty:

Most of the time, you wander around in the vast region between the Specific Ocean and the Plains of Vague, trying to understand the more than specific and less than general information that confronts you.

Availability of specific information is no guarantee of accuracy or utility.  The accuracy and utility of general information, information in which everyone can find a ‘home’ if they go looking, is equally suspect.  How much of your experiential learning and behavioural change journey is spent at the ‘Poles’ – the Specific Ocean and the Plains of Vague?

As you must find your own way, you are the only valid subject of your learning journey.  Don’t waste your time by subjectively validating the vague!  This is NOT generally correct.

Metaphorically Speaking

May 30th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

‘tis nobler is feeling descriptive today:

Police are looking for a male described as being between 18 and 29 years of age, approximately 180cms tall, with a slight build and last seen wearing a black shirt, blue jeans and runners. He is known to be as cunning as a fox, with the demeanour of someone who has found 20 cents after losing $20.  He should not be approached unless you are backed into a corner and have nowhere to go but up.

Some descriptions are close to useless, some use comparisons that add depth and colour while the reviews for others are mixed, speaking metaphorically:

It is easy to describe skilled performance for the obvious elements are known and you just need to list them.  You can describe the way Federer serves, the way Vettel drives or the way Clapton plays the guitar.  Describing is easy, so, so much easier than doing and yet describing and doing are often seen as the same thing.  If you can describe, does this mean that you can also do?

Descriptions sit on the surface of the ‘What World’, outlining what is done at a very general level.  Being readily available but superficial, descriptions don’t detail everything that is performed for you need to explore the ‘How World’ and the ‘Why World’ to get this information.  All of these things come together to form understanding and, combined with direct, effortful experience, produce competence and expertise.

Descriptions may be a starting point but they never take you very far.  But their influence is not necessarily limited as the way you describe something (or the way others describe it to you) can guide your entire effort (or lack thereof).  For (doing) better or for (doing) worse, metaphors are a double-edged sword that could tip the balance either way!

Is learning to drive like falling off a log?  Is umpiring a football game like stealing candy from a baby?  Conversely, is learning to drive like trying to nail jelly to the wall?  Is umpiring a football game like trying to herd cats?

Metaphors are pervasive and influential, yet another example of the framing process.  How do you behave under the influence of descriptions?  Can you learn something through metaphors or do metaphors just affect your learning?

‘Dressed’ For Success

May 25th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

In experiential learning and behavioural change, how do you ‘dress’ for success?  The first clue ‘tis nobler can provide is that the answer to this question has nothing to do with clothes.

The second clue can be found in these Sinead O’Connor lyrics (and the title of the song):

Everyone can see what’s going on

They laugh because they know they’re untouchable

Not because what I said was wrong

Whatever it might bring

I will live with my own policies

I will sleep with a clear conscience

I will sleep in peace

The third clue can be found in some recent research that demonstrates a link between perception and perceptions or how, rightly or wrongly, assessments of ability are affected by appearance.  In assessments of identical (and thus ‘mimed’) performances, musicians who were dressed less appropriately were judged more harshly than their more appropriately attired counterparts – there was a link between apparel and perceived ability.

The fourth clue relates to the catchcry for this site.  It is ‘Effort is essential’ rather than ‘Apparel activates ability’.

In many experiential learning and behavioural change contexts, appearance appears to take precedence over substance.  It is as though looking the part is more important than playing the part, perhaps because playing the part takes more sustained effort than the purchase of the costume.  Appearances can be bought but substance must be earned.

And, if you combine these clues, you realise that you can never ‘dress’ for success; you can, however. ‘dress’ to pretend you’re successful.  Isn’t it better to be tired after effortful practice than be attired as a means of avoiding the effort?


Who Do You Think You Are?

May 2nd, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

‘Who do you think you are’ is a British television program, with international adaptations, that explores the family history of invited celebrity guests.  The show taps into the desire many people have to uncover and understand where they have come from in order to better answer the question, “Who Am I”?

The question – who am I? – deals with self-image, and this concept potentially affects experiential learning and behavioural change in many ways.  This is often construed in negative ways, yet it need not be for ‘potentially’ does not mean ‘inevitably’.  Neither does ‘affects’ mean limit, constrain or degrade; indeed, ‘affects’ can be positive and constructive.

Thirdly, self-image does not have a one-way relationship with learning and change for self-image is mutable, able to be changed through your learning and change experiences.  Remember, what you do tells me more about the situation you are in than who you are.

And yet many learning journeys are adversely influenced by self-image – ‘I can’t do this sort of thing, I’m not going to succeed at this, I’m not good enough, I’m hopeless, I’m hapless’.  Progress is stifled, effort is curtailed and interest is lost.  There is an element of self-verification at work in which we live up to our own expectations.

Research findings indicate that the effect of self-image on a specific behaviour is generally small, although it seems to have more explanatory power than some (assumed to be more important) alternatives.  That’s the good news.  The ‘bad’ news is that the effect may be cumulative; over time, self-image may become a progressively more important determinant.  Living up to your own expectations becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, an outcome that is increasingly resistant to change.  Fixed and inflexible equates to failure; it’s better to always wonder ‘Who Am I”?, for you remain a work in progress:

When you think of the effect ‘Your Self’ has on your learning and behavioural change, do you think small, flexible, positive and reversible?  For you, what is the relationship between how you think, what you do and who you think you are?



April 29th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

This is what the dictionary says about ‘faultless’:

“Without fault, flaw or defect; perfect”

In experiential learning and behavioural change, it is better to adopt a literal definition – fault less – rather than confuse faultless with fault-free.

Performance is not about absolutes but, rather, all of the shades that exist between unlikely, polar extremes (utterly hopeless, utterly perfect).  The same extremes, and their irrelevance to performance, apply to consciousness,  The dictionary defines ‘conscious’ as:

“Aware of one’s own existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings, etc”

And yet one fundamental aim of experiential learning is to remove ‘conscious’ from the performance equation, to operate below the conscious level.  But this should never be taken to mean that you can also remove awareness and attention from the equation.

There is no such thing as a human autopilot, performance that is free from human (self) intervention.  When operating below conscious level, you may not be aware that you’re aware, but you are aware.  When operating below conscious level, you may attend to your attention but you are attending.  One implication of operating like this after much practice is the inability to describe what you’re actually doing when you’re doing the ‘acting’ for the ‘why’ is being handled subconsciously.  It is possible to describe the ‘how’ but, in the scheme of things, the ‘how’ is relatively unimportant.

But even highly automated behaviours carry the risk of error, for this risk is never set to zero.  It is possible for even the most experienced performers to slip from subconscious to ‘unconscious’ performance.  Not literally, of course, unless they faint but the chance of slipping below minimum levels of (subconscious) awareness is ever-present.  We’ve all heard people say – “What was I thinking?  I’ve done this a million times before.” – as though practice, competence or expertise should provide  immunity from mistakes.  But “it can happen to anyone of us …. cos I made a stupid mistake’:

Faultless isn’t.  Tomorrow, when you’re leaving for school or work, please double-check that you’re wearing trousers!

Almost … Probably Not … Certain

February 18th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

The legendary literary sleuth, Sherlock Holmes described his problem solving technique thus:

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

‘tis nobler has previously talked about probabilities (see, for example, Probably) but this post looks at it from a different angle, the semantic rather than the statistical.  What do you actually mean when you talk about ‘almost’, ‘probably not’ or ‘certain’.

Perhaps, for many experiential learners, these words and phrases sound different but feel the same:

Attempts have been made to align the semantic and statistical meanings of estimators such as ‘almost’, ‘probably not’ or ‘certain’.  They are denoted as words of estimative probability; the following table is from Wikipedia: 


100%   Give or take 0%
Almost Certain 93%   Give or take about 6%
Probable 75%   Give or take about 12%
Chances About Even 50%   Give or take about 10%
Probably Not 30%   Give or take about 10%
Almost Certainly Not 7%   Give or take about 5%
Impossible 0

  Give or take 0%

 How do these estimates compare to the way you use these words?  Whether it’s learning or behavioural change, when you say something is impossible, what do you actually mean?  And, if you don’t mean that it is literally impossible (and you rarely will), what are you actually talking about and why are you talking about it this way?  ‘tis nobler is ‘almost certain’ that you are ‘almost certainly not’ talking about your chances of success!

When things sound different but feel the same, what are the influences that lead to different descriptions of the same, or similar, experiences?  Then again, when things sound the same and feel the same but are actually different, what are you missing?

Of course, using these sorts of words overlooks the many subtle variations that are lumped together within these broad categories.  And it is invariably the subtleties that add learning value and support or hinder behavioural change.

‘tis nobler is certain about that – what about you?

You Are Such A …….

February 9th, 2011 | Strategic | 0 Comments

What are the differences between names and labels?  A person usually has the one name and yet they are assigned many labels by others.  Names could be described as traditional or exotic, they might be straightforward, interesting or intriguing.  Names may have historical derivations or they may be without precedent, created by a novel combination of letters.

If you were to describe the perceived qualities of labels, what words would you use?  Labels may be convenient, perhaps inductive, and, or so it seems to ‘tis nobler, invariably negative.  We name people and objects without prejudice while pre-judging them with labels.

Issues are always more complex than labels indicate, so why do we persist with the use of labels?  Labels have as much to do with experiential learning as the legal system has to do with justice.  Little or nothing!  This is not to deny that there is inappropriate or unsuitable behaviour or people behaving like ‘jackasses’.  No age group, no gender, no suburbs or towns are immune; doesn’t the problem begin when you or ‘they’ start to believe that this type of (infrequent) behaviour is the only problem?

Describing something in a general way, like all of the sound bites you get on the news, is light years away from explaining or understanding it.  You are not a label.  You are not a category.  Life would be very different if everybody fitted into a small number of pigeonholes.

You are certainly not a problem.  Sure, you are different but, if just being different was a problem, then ……. hang on, sometimes, some people unfortunately think it is.  But, in these circumstances, it is their problem, not yours.

Recognise the differences. 

Manage the differences. 

Handle the differences your way.  Find your own way.

By your actions, show the labellers they are wrong.  Reject stereotypes, not just by words but also by deeds and thoughts – it’s time to put your best foot forward:

Make your own decisions – don’t just grab at labels.  Don’t do things just because others want you to.  Do your own thing.  Find your own way.  Be strong, be safe.  Stand for something or fall for everything.  Put your best foot forward!  If you decide not to, do you have a reason, or just an excuse?

The Third Message

November 9th, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

This video is called “The Long Haul”.

The first and most obvious message in the video is reflected in the title.  Experiential learning takes a considerable time; regardless of what you’re learning, you have to be prepared for the long haul.  Progress in the short term may appear to be rapid but the refinement and validation of the basic building blocks will take years.  There are no short cuts, and you shouldn’t waste your time looking for them or pretending that you have found some.

The second message has to do with the (unstoppable) passage of time, which produces change as a by-product.  Stick around for long enough and you’ll gradually, perhaps imperceptibly, end up being different to when you started.  Many experiential learners rely on this passive passage of time; eventually, they realise that they have changed.  At the very heart of the ‘tis nobler world is the commitment to make this process much more efficient.  You don’t go anywhere when you just mark time.

But it’s the third message that is the main point of this post.  The actual ‘story’ component last for less than half the duration of the video; more than half the video is spent nominating who did what and/or how it was done.  Don’t get ‘tis nobler wrong – it can be valuable to review and reflect but you need to think about balance and you need to think about purpose.  Was the allocation of time in the video balanced?  Was there a forward-looking purpose to this allocation?

It is a long haul; what you have done already is valuable in its own right and also valuable in defining or guiding what you are about to do.  But if you spend a lot of time simply describing what you’ve done, these ‘conversations’ could lack both balance and (learning) purpose.

Be balanced.  Be purposeful.  Make the long haul as efficient as you can, for this will enable you to go further in the same time.

Hacking The Usual

September 30th, 2010 | Strategic | 0 Comments

Once, hacking was confined to breaching the security of computer systems, often for malicious purposes.  Now, hacking has a much more general and constructive meaning – it’s all about positive disruption.  Many ‘systems’ are content with the status quo as it’s comfortable, satisfactory and reasonable.  Change, should it occur at all, is modest and incremental.  This form of ‘change’ may not affect the substance of activities; rather, it may just tinker with the appearance.  Welcome to the world of branding and re-branding!

Hackers look at the way things are and imagine very different, much better ways of doing things.  They aren’t interested in marginal improvements; they are interested in significant enhancement, a different way.  People may look at a ‘hack’ and then wonder why things weren’t always done that way.  Hackers aren’t interested in ‘business as usual’ :

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In one sense, hacking starts in the gap between the empirical and the experiential, between what the evidence suggests and what the actual experience is.  A great example is education, which can have a large gap between theory and practice.  The difference between educational rhetoric and educational realities can be of Grand Canyon proportions.  If there was one system that would have an overriding interest in learning and aligning itself with best practice, surely it would the education system.  But this is often not the case.

There are many examples, perhaps the best of which is the empirical debunking of the learning styles approach.  There is a chasm between its popularity and lack of empirical support.  Nevertheless, poor recipes for learning and study are continually reinforced.  Once you leave the ‘controlled’ educational environment and enter the world of experiential learning, the relevance and value of these recipes diminishes greatly.  A ‘one size fits all’ approach does not work in the classroom so how can a ‘one size fits you’ approach work outside the classroom? 

Your experiential learning and behavioural change needs can never be business as usual.  It’s a question of ‘your size fits you’ and you get to define ‘your size’ on an ongoing basis, for ‘your size’ and your needs will change over time.  This approach remains unusual, so it is up to you to transform it to the usual.  Find your own way, usually by hacking the usual.

Go That Way

September 22nd, 2010 | Strategic | 0 Comments

Here’s a simple guide to heart transplantation:

Open up the chest, take out heart and replace with new heart.  Close the chest.

Here’s a simple guide to driving a car:

Not too fast, not too close, concentrate.

Here’s a simple guide to downhill skiing:

Not one of these guides is wrong; they are all just woefully and totally inadequate.  ‘tis nobler wonders how different these guides are to the support, or perhaps direction, you receive from those around you.

Teachers, trainers, instructors, coaches, supervisors, parents and peers can all make important contributions to your learning journey.  But they cannot take this journey for you; you can never delegate your learning needs to them.  Retaining the integrity of finding your own way at all times while incorporating the wisdom of others, once you have thought through what has been said and made your own decisions on what it means for you, is a critical and ongoing balancing act.

It can be difficult and frustrating but finding your own way is the only true way.  If you think that it is possible to learn by being a passive recipient rather than an active participant, ‘tis nobler can only provide the following sage advice:

“Go that way, really fast.  If something gets in your way,…….. turn.”

And now you can answer the obvious question – “Did this help or not?”

Say Or Tell?

September 20th, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

It’s a common phrase, one that you hear all the time:  “I tell you what.” 

And then people proceed to tell you ‘what’, usually prescribing or proscribing the way they believe issues should be dealt with or how they think others should behave.

But if you want to encourage me to change my behaviour, what should you tell me?  Actually, it’s probably better to ask, “What should you say?”, for the sender is more important than the receiver for the effectiveness of persuasive communication.  Where an individual is concerned, ‘tis nobler has previously talked about turning telling off; where interpersonal communication is concerned, it is preferable to concentrate on the quality of your message rather than the perceived desirability for others to change their behaviour.  It’s often unproductive and always unsustainable to tell people what they should do, regardless of how compelling you believe this course of action is.  A commitment to your way leads to contention, exhortation and argument; as The Cranberries sing, there’s no need to argue:

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There are many dimensions to the persuasion process but the research gives clear guidance on how information should be used and, therefore, what you should say.  Do you think it is best to give information on what people are currently doing (descriptive norms)?  Can you reduce vandalism or binge drinking, as examples, by stating that people are damaging property or drinking excessively?  Do descriptions of occurrence discourage?

The answer is ‘No’.  The evidence indicates that the use of this type of normative information leads to a higher likelihood that those receiving these messages will engage in the very behaviour the message aims to deter!  The saying about roads, Hell and good intentions comes to mind – look/listen to how many ‘naughty’ people there are, without realising that your admonitory pronouncements are encouragement rather than deterrence.

It is more effective to be active; presenting information on social disapproval of the target behaviour has been shown to discourage this behaviour.  But this type of approach must be normative rather than condemnatory.  Injunctive is a more powerful form of information than its descriptive counterparts.  Seek to explain in a social context rather than simply describe.  There is a powerful parallel with experiential learning, which often fails to transcend the descriptive domain.

Naturally, you can’t deal with this aspect of persuasion in isolation.  However, if you aim to discourage and not encourage, explain socially rather than describe globally.  Do say, don’t tell.


September 8th, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

Do you remember when I suggested you turn telling off ?  Here’s an excerpt:

There is evidence that suggests that those who make requests of themselves perform better than those who impose requirements on themselves.  The pathways for this outcome aren’t clear; however, just as the external teaching model (You will) fails the experiential learner when imposed by outsiders, it makes sense that the internal teaching model (I will) also fails when it is imposed by the experiential learner.

Let’s now extend declarations beyond statements to knowledge.  There are various ways to categorise knowledge but, for experiential learning and behavioural change, the distinction that ‘tis nobler finds most useful is that between declarative and procedural knowledge.  The difference between declarative and procedural knowledge is the difference between ‘that’ and ‘how’:

I know that Tahiti is an island (declarative).  I know how to knit a scarf (procedural, and untrue for I don’t know how to do this).

While the distinction is clear, these two types of knowledge become messy and potentially antagonistic in experiential learning.  Think through the ways that these sorts of questions and statements interact:

How does that happen?  I know that it happens this way!  How do I do this?  I know how to do this! 

Can you imagine the interplay between objective and subjective, between accurate and miscalibrated and between confident and overconfident, to list just a few?  Can you imagine the interplay between knowing and doing, with doing being driven by experientially-acquired skills rather than book-derived knowledge?

In experiential learning, declarative knowledge is usually at a general and unhelpful level, even if it is accurate or defensible.  And of course, it is often inaccurate or indefensible simply because it will remain implicit in the experience that a learner is yet to gain.  Without this experience, declarative ‘knowledge’ is likely to reflect opinion or conjecture, both presented as fact.  If you want to state and abide by a declaration, this might be the best way to start:

We know that everybody has a right to freedom and equality, to dignity and safety.  Do we know how this is to be achieved?  In the same way, we know that novices can’t do as well as those with more experience.  Do we know how these differences are best overcome?

Find your own way.

Step Outside

August 17th, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

Isn’t life and learning so much easier, more understandable and more predictable when you are able to view it as a spectator?  Sitting in the grandstand and watching events unfold down on the field is a luxury that we all have from time to time.  And everything is much clearer – you can judge what others should be doing, you notice things that they fail to realise and you can often spot the way events are unfolding well before those involved do.

But neither your life, nor your learning, is a spectator sport.  You are always on the field, never in the grandstand.  Without the physical and psychological distance available to spectators, people have to make sense of their actions while being in the middle of the action.  Chris Rea was perhaps only half right when he sang, “And I see you, And I see me, I see it all, Just like a diary”:

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I see you because I am a spectator whereas I can only ‘see’ me because I am the actor.  These perspectives can produce very different results, in part because spectators operate on incomplete information while actors have much more information (including information hidden from spectators) at their disposal.  But the main point for today is how do I see me as you see me.  How do I gain insights into my own behaviour by gaining insights into the way you see me?

The short and incorrect answer is to put yourself in the other’s shoes.  The starting point for this leap into different footwear is the way you see yourself; you take your view of yourself and transplant it onto them.  This is where the inaccuracies emerge for research has shown that there is little or no association between my assessment of your view and your view itself.  I don’t fit into your shoes!

The more correct approach is to introduce some psychological distance into the assessment process by becoming a spectator of your own actions.  In this way, your own assessment becomes more divorced, more abstract; you are not basing it on your own direct information but on an abstraction.  The associations between my more abstract views and your view are stronger.

Don’t just put yourself in their shoes for this act simply changes your shoes.  Step outside yourself before stepping into their shoes and your understanding of how they see you will be a better fit.

That’s Wrong, I Believe

August 13th, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

There’s no real difference between “I believe that’s wrong” and “That’s wrong I believe”.  Both relate to a judgment that something is incorrect (or unacceptable).  However, there is a big difference between “That’s wrong I believe” and “That’s wrong, I believe”, and it’s all in the power of the comma.  The second version, the one with the comma, does not necessarily mean that the something is incorrect (or unacceptable).  What’s going on here?

It might be clearer if I write, “That’s wrong, I believe differently”.  In this case, the something may still be incorrect (or unacceptable) and your belief is valid; however, it is also possible that the something is correct (or normatively acceptable), an outcome that you refuse to acknowledge due to your belief (part of which has been shown to be invalid).  And the evidence is that we’ll do most everything we can to discredit and reject (correct) information that is contrary to our beliefs.  An open mind is a laudable aim and a difficult practice.  When you look at the world around you, what do you see?

When there is evidence that a belief you hold  is incorrect, you generally do not modify the belief; rather, you set out to protect your belief.  You will look for mistakes in the evidence, try to get other information that supports your position, attack the messenger, ignore the evidence or simply and more strongly re-affirm your belief, often with the support of those who share your view.  While there are a number of factors that will mediate your response, the principle of belief protection in the face of correct and contrary evidence is a clear and common practice.  Things may not be as different as chalk and cheese if, for whatever reason, you ‘believe’ that chalk is cheese.  In such circumstances, it can be surprisingly difficult to convince you otherwise.

You will have beliefs and expectations of your learning before you have experience of it.  Before the first ‘practice’ session or before you commit to changing your behaviour, you may already have a belief as to what it will be like, how you will go and what you need to do.  And the temptation is ever-present to force your experience to conform to these beliefs and/or to reject evidence and outcomes that remain inconsistent.

Will you place your beliefs about learning above your learning?  Will you distort your experience so that it conforms to your beliefs?  ‘tis nobler suggests two answers to these questions for your consideration:

Firstly, that’s wrong I believe.  Secondly, that’s wrong, I believe.

Add Information

July 22nd, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

You don’t have to go looking for advice – it’s everywhere, it’s free and freely given.  Do you want to know what I think of advice?  Who cares, I’ll tell you anyway.  Just listen to me, not them.  Now, before I tell you what I think of advice, I’ve been meaning to tell you how to deal with the boss at work, who to vote for, what religion is best and where you can buy the best bananas.  I’m a one-stop advice shop.  So, are you ready?  What’s that?  Bananas?  Well, you know the fruit shop on North Street ……

I hope this doesn’t seem too familiar but I’m sure it is.  After all, it’s the eleventh Commandment; thou shalt not withhold advice!  And this poses particular problems for experiential learners as they are constantly buffeted by often conflicting advice that reduces to – Do it this way, do it my way.

All forms of help provided to experiential learners have to be non-directive; otherwise, learners are being directed down a way other than their own.  Information is the crucial, perhaps only, component of effective advice.  This is more easily said than done but a commitment to giving information rather than direction is essential.

There is one exception and that is when technical knowledge is required.  Should I have bypass surgery?  As my (trusted) doctor, please give me the information I need AND your recommendation for me to consider.  When I consult you as someone with more experience at a particular activity (rather than as a subject matter expert), it is usually neither desirable nor possible for you to provide valid recommendations (why is this, do you think?).  Your recommendations will be general and descriptive in nature and have little overlap with your own actions.  If your recommendations don’t inform your actions, they will have no relevance to my actions other than to hinder me from finding my own way.

Christine Fellows  has a song called ‘Advice”; together with information from others that you can think through, maybe you just need to remember: “Don’t give out, don’t give in, what’s your hurry?”

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I Am

June 24th, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

Depth and complexity are recurring and inescapable themes in experiential learning and behavioural change, although there is little point telling anyone how deep or how complex as these are qualities to be discovered, not heard.  It’s interesting though that the incremental nature of, and extended timeframe for, true experiential learning combine to mask much of this complexity.  Just as they are themselves masked by the experiential process itself – you have to keep reminding yourself that, in the words of David Foster Wallace, “This is water, this is water” (find and read his commencement speech at Kenyon College– it’s worth it).

It’s one of the great challenges in experiential learning – gaining and maintaining an appreciation of depth and complexity.  These qualities are apparently mostly absent but always present in the same way that life skills are apparently mostly innocuous but always potentially challenging.

And so it appears that today is much like yesterday, but it isn’t.  And that tomorrow will be much like today, but it won’t be.  Nothing much seems to happen as you traverse your life skills landscape once you discount the initial period of naiveté, but important things are happening all the time. Is this analogous to you as a person?  Can your learning experiences be reduced to a brief statement in the same way that you can reduce your life to a brief statement?  How would you complete the following sentence, “I am …..”?

Everyone has a story; things are never as they seem to be on the surface.  All experiential learning comprises ‘stories’, which you must delve into to appreciate and incorporate.

So, what is ‘tis nobler’s story?  I am still trying to find my own way, while encouraging you to find your own way too.

The Cave

June 14th, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

How big is the difference between watching something being done and doing it yourself?  How big is the difference between seeing a small part of something and see the whole thing?  How big is the difference between assuming you know what is going on and actually being aware of what’s happening?

How big is the difference between not understanding the way things work and finally, fully ‘getting it’?

How big is the difference between seeing a version of the world while in a cave and actually being in the real world?  This contrast was the subject of Plato’s Allegory:

Can you remember what you thought driving a car might be like before you’d actually got behind the wheel?  Can you remember what you thought working on a building site, sailing a yacht, cutting someone’s hair or investigating a crime might be like before you’d started any of these activities?  Were you in a cave beforehand, seeing just a skewed version of these events, hoping that what others described was actually as it was?

One of the consequences of experiential learning is that it’s not really possible to verbalise your performance.  You can describe, in general terms, what you do but this is very different to explaining, in detail and dynamically, what you are doing.  So much of what you do, where you look, what you see and how you decide is driven by your experience rather than lessons or rules.  So much of what you do, where you look, what you see and how you decide is done automatically because of your experience, not because you are consciously applying lessons or rules.

Every new learner starts off in a cave and every new learner has the same challenge:

To find their own way out!