I started to write this blog at the train station when I saw all the people looking at their screens. I could only awe at the genius of Thomas Friedman, who already years ago concluded that the world is flat again. Looking over multiple platforms, only one conclusion was possible: we live in a flat screen society. A two-dimensional approach to more dimensions and a two-axis way to interpret and store information. We are caught in, if not addicted to, technique. By technique, I do not just mean technical instruments, but also the structures and constructions that allow us to understand the world in a particular way.
Obviously, when using a flat screen in this way, it gives rise to flat screen thinking and feeling, if not flat screen being.
Something that is both a danger and an opportunity at the same time.
The danger comes from mistaken your structured world view, your instrument, your technique for the reality, instead of a tool that you use to work with the reality.
If we mix those up something strange always happens, we get fascinated, hooked, addicted. And we start to adapt our observation skills to the tool. Again: we start to pre-sorting information to fit in the parameters of the technique if we no longer view it as an instrument. And this means we cannot clearly view the impact of our deeds or non-deeds have on our context, our organization or indeed the world.
The opportunity is when you have instruments that are able to deal with all he structural information, with all the technical applications, you have time and space for something else.
It is not the flat screen itself that has such a fascinating influence over us, but the underlying call from the future translated in skills from the past. We even go further in saying that this addiction to our flat screen, so clearly visible all over the world, comes from this real existential impulse, to be connected, challenged, creative, influential. But, unfortunately, is mostly caught in the static nature of the basic need translation of dynamic impulses.
There it is in a nutshell. The content of the book Markku and I are working on. How do we get from basic need techniques to dynamic skills?
Strong drivers that have created a view of the world and a society that is solely there to fulfill our needs from food, shelter, understanding, belonging, satisfaction, pleasure and self-actualization. These drivers were designed to enable us to take care of our basic needs in the world. They gave us a structural, ‘organizable’ or technical view of the world, because this was the most efficient way to organize our life, society, the world as a structure of basic need providers.
They have been moving us forward to a way of life that tries to achieve the fulfillment of those needs. Nothing more and nothing less and it has given us much to be proud of and happy about.
It also has saturated our life completely and influenced our information intake in such a way that we view our life-style and the organization of our society, including our ‘biological’ habits, as life ought to be.
In other words, it takes an effort to think, feel and live outside of the basic need focused world we have created.
The smartphone is almost the paramount of basic need designing, we have the world in our hand. It perfectly fits with the basic need habit of processing of information based on personal or tribe benefit. This gaining, having and controlling, getting grip on information by fitting it in to a model or mold, has given us a structural understanding of live and nature. A wonderful achievement.
The problem arises, when this structural and technical understanding is confused with fundamental and existential understanding.
Have you ever noticed that all the technical designs are static by nature? And that we have to adept to them instead of the other way around? Have you noticed that you have to translate your observations into the parameters of the management information system, thereby losing the vital elements of your observation? Most frustration I have seen in organizations or in society comes from this coercion of structures, programs, schemes, laws and frameworks, because they are static. They are not able to adept to the dynamic of live and the versatility and uniqueness of human beings.
The instruments we use, for example a phone or an information system, stimulate our belief and need to get a grip on the world. This is all due to the static tendency in basic need drivers and this tendency is found, in the roots of everything we create with this mind-set including technique. Static inner and outer activity, has the tendency to become predictable, stereo- and archetypical and therefore easily translated into apparent dynamic reality. The dynamism you experience a flat-screen has to be ‘faked’ by constant “challenges”, arguments, very basic sentiments, renewed and perpetuating information or images that suggest movement or stories and statements that suggest interaction. Because all motion comes from the same source, it is not going to fulfill the deeper impulses to be connected, challenged, creative and influential. It can give a certain amount of satisfaction, but it has to be repeated in ever larger doses to keep it effectiveness. Still it might give us the feeling we are on top of things, we are having fun, we are in control, even in the lead, when we are using a technique. It is a disappointment when it proves to be an illusion, not lasting and sometimes a shock when it has larger unforeseen effects. And we have to be honest in admitting, that the basic needs world view is not capable of overseeing a whole living system.
This may sound as a rejection of modern technology or techniques, but it is not. Because if there is a real dynamic life underneath it, the suggestion of dynamism is no longer necessary and a smart phone for instance, becomes a very powerful tool for change. Technique and the technical world-view belongs to the basic needs era and it works well if it serves the basic needs of all. Our technical/scientific understanding of the world could well be the right platform to support our next endeavour. For human beings, for the world as a whole, the basic needs era is a phase in the dance of mastering the combination of the two creative forces: correlation and differentiation.
On the other hand, we have seen just as much fear and anxiety, if we stimulated people in organizations to let go of all these structures, believe systems and ‘certainties in life’. They went as far as ‘playing’ to discover new information, because it had no direct consequences. Embedding this newly learned information or skill in a system or structure is an entirely different thing.
Structures, organizations or technical systems in particular, have difficulty with the dynamism of information, the dynamism of life, because it differs fundamentally from our present tendency to break down all our observations into static images, structures, believes and systems. The nice thing is al the static information, has given us relative safety, security and prosperity. We also have to honest about the devastating impact on our planet and fellow species our life style has. And even here the belief is strong that the very lifestyle and its products that created these challenges, will solve the problems in the end.
Any idea, invention or plan can only create or innovate what it is based on, what it believes. And our current world-view, it is very much based on personal or tribe well-being and mostly ruled by the fear of or the real shortage of basic needs. It is an ugly thing to see how self-interest or combined self-interest is a most coercive and harmful. It is even more impressive to observe is how addictive having too much basic needs and how devastating shortage of basic needs has become.
It has little to do with good or bad but with the question: Are the deeds you do or not do based on basic needs motives or on something that is more fundamental. What is this more fundamental?
Most people want to do good with all their heart. From this goodness comes the real existential impulse, to be connected, challenged, creative and influential. Why? They want to contribute, if they were not pinned down by basic need cares and basic need obligations they would do so.
More accurate: In our current life-style system to be connected, challenged, creative and influential, is overwhelmed by our basic need skills. We are trained in predictable control and scripted behavior to be able to act. If the information is more complex, too much, unfamiliar or deep, we usually react in an even more control-like and coercive fashion. Everything is streamlined and structured: the more we organize with technology and the technical mindset, the more obligations and liabilitieswe seem to have. By far most of us are busy with the commitments of pleasure, self-actualization or even survival when using our phone in a train station.
A friend was visiting a school to observe their ‘methodology’ in mathematics because of their outstanding results. The pupils had to study fractions. Their assignment was as following: You have seven chopsticks divided them in a friendly way between two people, you have to find the solution in your work-group and you have to make a presentation of how your group came to your answer. My friend was amazed about the difficulty of the task because this were young children. And quite frankly irritated by the remark “in a friendly way”, which he thought highly subjective and also that there was not given any indication about time of manor in which to present an answer.
But the pupils did not seem to mind, they worked actively and with full attention.
My friend also had to work hard. He said he constantly had to move away from all his ideas about education because of what he saw was going on: something which he later described as active learning. He also noticed that the teachers did nothing to help but were very attentive and observant. Even when he could clearly see that one group did not do very well, the teachers simply let the boys and girls struggle.
Of the presentations my friend later said that this was the defining moment for him to understand the difference between learning and teaching.
These were the solutions they came up with: Give each of them three, but the fourth chopstick you are only given every other week. Give each of them three and give the seventh away. Get another chopstick. You only need two chopsticks so let the other three be. And of course, break the seventh into two halves. But it has to be said that this last solution was not approved by most of the children, because you cannot eat with half a chopstick.
And then the teacher said something profound:” that is true, but we use fractions in arithmetic if we have to break the whole down into pieces to be able to do something with it. You are able to share it or join it in a different way. And for some things that works and for others it does not. So sometimes it is a handy tool. Can you give me an example of what you can break down to use it?”
You can imagine the answers. My friend thought this was excellent teaching. But it had not finished because now the groups had to tell how they came too an answer. Those little reflections of the children telling about their collective thinking were wonderful, he said: “I had not previously known that children were so observant”. It became clear that the difficult group, that actually came up with breaking the chopstick in half, did not had a collective intelligence process at all. One boy already knew how fractions worked and told the others this was the answer and left little room for any alternatives.
The teacher asked every group:” What did you learn?” Among themselves that had learned a lot of the principles of “fractions” and “whole”, allocate and join, which created an opening for learning the technique, was my friend’s conclusion. The difficult group started to mention all kind of social-emotional things. “It made it very clear to me that there was learning, but not about fractions” my friend said, when he discussed it with the teachers at the end of the day. But one of them said laughing that in this case it did, because the group had fractioned. I thought this was very accurate understanding of the awareness of the whole, but my friend found it far-fetched. He had greatly enjoyed the school visit and it changed his whole approach to education. “I really had to re-invent myself”, he said. “they somehow provided fundamental learning.”
My friends understanding was: You need to be able to learn, before you can be taught. And learning is always activity of the learner making a connection to the principles of what can be learned. I know quite a few schools that are starting to explore this principle and the Finnish education system for instance, has embraced most of it. Obviously, a born teacher does stimulate learning at all times, but most of the education system is about teaching because that is the only thing you can measure with techniques like examination. It is also the only thing that is going to contribute to the economy. Economy the greatest product of basic need thinking and believing. Most of us were educated to get a job, to find a place in the economy. I am saying that it is a terrible starting position because of its unilaterally. It had just the teaching side in mind. It produces good results, even excels in a system dominated by basic needs criteria. But in the past few decades we slowly begin to see the impact of the drivers behind our education system on society and planet. My teacher friend said to me: ”Not only education itself, it also it the world-view of parents”. And my hammered in world view, I would add, I am just starting to understand the ‘new’ skills we need to learn.
For the content of the blog my insight after hearing the story was: Before you are able to use a technique, you will have to have a connection to the principles, the spirit behind it, on which the technique is based. It does not matter if this is a calculus, a smartphone or a project management tool. Techniques can only serve you as tools, if you have your own connection to the roots and principles that created the tool. Not how it is made, but why it is made.
My being has to be connected to deeper meaning behind the thinking, that created the technique, to be able to use it in liberating way. I know, for our basic need skills this is a very abstract sentence, we want to have an example, we want an explanation, we want good teaching…… But for our dynamic skills, it is a nice exercise. Because learning is activating a different part of ourselves than the ones we are using when we are taught.
Anyway, understanding of being is not a fixed, factual knowing (as tool understanding is), it is a constant dynamic learning. But if we do not have an individual connection to the roots of a technique, it is not uncommon to lose ourselves in power and coercion of techniques. Many experts have this difficulty. We will become dependent and sometimes even addicted to it, with all the recognizable symptoms. The technique is using us. We become our technique and in this there is no future. No way out of a flat-screen once you are caught in it.
The importance of the difference between teaching and learning cannot be overstated.
We have to develop stronger sense of being then we already have to be able to move away from the coercive impact that technical system like governments, institutions, our take on life, the “control” of nature, etc. have over us. Learning is the skill to connect to the “being” of all that is. So that we can use those accomplishments for the well-being of all.
Teaching is about techniques. Learning is about, where things came from, what the underlying principles are and why people start using them. Teaching can be done by teachers, learning I do myself.
The result of too little learning is, techniques are frequently mistaken for indisputable facts, for truths, for “this is how it is” instead of “this is our current tool to deal with the reality”. That is quite a difference, because if we see a technique as a tool, it is there to serve us in any given situation, it can change, it is adapts or we can use something entirely different is that is more effective.
If it is not a tool but fact of live, a fact of being, then I have to adapt then I have to learn to work with it, connect to it and let its purpose flow through me. For instance: differentiation is a fact of live, hierarchy is a technique; observation is a fact of live, knowledge is a tool; creative dynamism is a fact of life, religion is a methodology; love is fact of live, being in love is a tool; balance is a fact of life, accounting is a tool; correlation is a fact of life, relationship is a technique; equilibrium is a fact of life, laws are a methodology; harmony is a fact of life, calculus is a technique; individual being is a fact of life, self-actualization is a methodology etc.
Connecting to these “beings and meanings” is a fluent, constantly changing thing. We are actually very good at it, if we allow ourselves to step into this dynamic.
However, it is not without consequences. If we follow procedures, rules, systems, orders when the reality in fact is asking for something else, we are diminishing our capacity to deal with dynamic situations. And we start to dislike dynamism, place it in the corner of survival, were changes are dangerous and different or unknown might be potentially harmful.
Rules, methodologies, structures or procedures are designed to behave, feel and think within a certain predetermined and mostly two-dimensional framework. In such an approach to life, all dynamic elements are framed and fixed in order to fit in static understanding. They are not designed and equipped to deal with a dynamic situation. Whether we like it or not, getting used to a very structured lifestyle, that is little connected to the finetuned and interconnected dynamism of live, is harmful for ourselves and others.
But these triple loop facts are difficult to observe in a structured worldview, where all information is reduced to linear cause and effect thinking. Where I am used to act only, if the change is directly threatening my static status. We honestly should ask the question: what has been the effect of imposing a static mentality on the dynamic interactive natural system of our planet?
We have been taught so well, we find it difficult to learn. Teaching is about making you accept and deal with the ‘facts’, almost always presented in a statistic package that strives for certainty, safety and stability. It is the perfect basic need development. Teaching brought us a lot, the increase of knowledge through adaptive understanding of which technology is a highpoint. But of course, it invents according to its own nature, trying to bring the dynamic reality within static dimensions and screens, then marvels at the unforeseen effects on life and people.
Progress over a long period of time has been signposted by technical innovation to help us to prosper. We see this development going hand in hand with mastering of our basic needs. A period also defined by the shadow-side of technique become more apparent as our technical knowledge increased. It is a typical basic need driven belief that the next generation of people or technology will solve the problems that the previous generation of people and techniques created. In spite of the fact that the last few ages have shown quite the opposite. It is how we see the future: a projection of the solved problems of today in an effortless paradise of pleasure and personal well-being. This belief makes it difficult to accept that our planet is asking us to change our view on life and world as a basic need provider.
Technology might free us up from the obligations of basic needs fulfillment in future, provided we humanize it. Technique (in the sense we used the word in the blog) itself can never bring us in the next phase of existence as human beings, whatever longing, desire and fascination we project in our instruments, nor can it diminish its shadow side of coercion and addiction.
We can do both, if we learn to master the dynamic skills, we already have start using, in a much more active and conscious way. These skills include: awareness on the impact of our deeds and non-deeds on the whole (what do we contribute?), awareness of the beauty of the equilibrium of existence( have we shared equally?), awareness of the living element forms and structures we make (do they provide quality live and living?) and awareness of ease (do our actions give freedom and understanding?).
We need to learn those skills to be ready for our next task: taking care of the world and all the life on it.
Instead of going back to become two-dimensional beings ourselves, caught in cause and effect, we should take the step to become four dimensional: connected, challenged, creative and influential. The world is no longer flat, it has granted us three-dimensional awareness for ages. Now it is time to access a fourth dimension: the future. Connecting to the future however, is up to us.