What’s changing for you right now?

                  When we are no longer able to change a situation,  we are challenged to change ourselves. ~ Viktor E. Frankl

All learning happens at ‘the edge’.   Going to the edge, and looking beyond, creates uncertainty.  After all, when nothing is changing and your world is predictable, what is the need to change, or learn anything new?  Sometimes changes are forced on us, sometimes they are sought.  Either way, they induce learning and growth.

This appears to be at the very heart of our existence as a species.  Skulls found in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa, the cradle of humanity, point to increases in skull capacity, and by definition brain size, at specific points in the earth’s history that correspond to periods of dramatic environmental change.

Professor Brian Cox’s recent BBC programme, Apeman to Spaceman,  explains that Brian Cox skullsthe earth experiences major and rapid climatic changes approximately every 400,000 years.  The skulls of various generations of hominin species (i.e. from australopithecus, to homo erectus, through to early homo sapien) reveal an almost doubling of brain capacity every 400,000 years.  The theory he advances is that human intelligence is quite literally a response to periods of rapid changes in the environment as a result of violent climate fluctuations.

And while this theory is concerned with enormous changes over thousands of years, the conditions for changes driving growth and learning are no less evident within single lifetimes.  Continue reading

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The Danger of Conviction

What do you do if you can no longer live with the doubt…? You try to cure yourself. And the best cure for doubt is over-conviction. ~ Richard Holloway (2013)

As a Scot, I have been intrigued by the developing rhetoric of the politicians on either side of the upcoming referendum question. They hone their arguments in an attempt to win over voters to one or other side of the debate. Should Scotland be an independent country? Simple enough question, but it sits atop a mountain of uncertainty, doubt and fear.

source: with thanks to Marf (Martha Richler)

source: with thanks to Marf (Martha Richler)

Many people have already made up their minds, and nothing the politicians do during the campaign will sway them from their conviction. They are people who are clear on the question, they are certain what the answer is, and they are in no doubt. But, ultimately, the people who will determine the outcome, are the currently undecided people of Scotland. They remain uncertain, they have doubts, they have no clear conviction.

And what is it that people want to hear from their politicians and leaders when they are unsure? What engages people who are having doubts and uncertainties about the future? Personally, I want to hear leaders tell me that they understand my concerns, that they too have those feelings of uncertainty, that doubt and fear have entered their head too. I am unlikely to respond or relate to yet another ‘conviction’ speech. The sort of argument that suggests that there is no room for doubt. And, yet, what I am hearing, from both sides of the referendum campaign, are entrenched arguments, conviction statements, and a total absence of humility.

Both sides appear to have forgotten Continue reading

Embrace Confusion

Stop and think!  How much of your waking hours do you spend being confused?  Or puzzled? Or maybe you prefer to use the the word ‘uncertain’?  If the answer is hardly at all, I would suggest you get yourself more confused, more often.

Being certain, being sure, having it all figured out, is not conducive to learning and growth. We are primed for learning when we are at the edge of of our knowledge. When our beliefs are challenged.  When the bubbles of our old certainties are popped. Continue reading

The Power of being ‘Clueless’

“There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.” ~ Robert Burns

When we believe we are right, we don’t go looking for data to check otherwise. We close down our curiosity antennae and remain blissfully unaware of alternative views of the world. It can be cosy and comfortable existing in this state of course. Sticking with what you know keeps life simple. You don’t have to experience the dis-orientation of constantly questioning and challenging your assumptions. It lets you go about your daily business with minimal fuss. Life’s complicated enough, after all, without setting out to make it more challenging.

But, think about it a little longer. What if we all adopted this approach, all of the time? Nothing would ever change. Where would innovation come from?  What would happen to creativity?  The problems that we face, big and small, would simply become ‘accepted’ and incorporated into our ‘reality’, our ‘truth’, and not open to question. I guess this approach is more prevalent than we care to imagine. How much of our world, and ‘your’ individual ‘reality’, is governed by assumptions and beliefs? Continue reading

Leading with uncertainty

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” ~ Thomas A. Edison

I’m getting more than a little concerned about the world’s changing attitude toward ‘risk’.

src: stuartduncan.name

A fundamental part of our biological makeup, and a reason for the way our limbic systems work the way they do, is that we are well equipped for surviving. The very fact we are around today, writing and reading this post, is evidence of our species’ success in navigating millenia of ‘survival’ challenges. Being able to assess risk, and make decisions based on the available information, is key to that continued success. Certainty and absolute prediction do not exist in nature. The best we can do today is build up banks of data based on past events, use super-computers to model trends, and use experts to ‘predict’ based on probabilities. And, even then, it is remarkably difficult to get it right. The US Presidential elections were being predicted by political analysts and pollsters using many different indicators of what has happened (or not happened) in the past. But, they did not all get it right. Hurricane Sandy was being tracked minute by minute, modelled by the most powerful computers, and its likely course predicted by the best weather forecasters, but no-one could be certain exactly where, and how it would strike, and with what level of ferocity.

Now, I like to think that, as humans (who are inherently wired to understand probability, risk and prediction), we are tolerant and acceptant of the fact that getting predictions absolutely correct is simply not achievable.  But, I fear I am naive in this belief. I sense Continue reading