Want more on how to make aptly focused learning a vital part of your organization? The navigation bar below offers
you some additional reading on this high-leverage issue. Please treat what you read that is valuable to you with
proper respect for its author, your fellow human being, Angus. One way to do so is to acknowledge the work of this
essay and its copyright.
As children we often sensed or believed, whether accurately or only fantastically, that the adults who had charge of
us either would not appreciate our expressing some of our feelings or, alternatively, would be particularly pleased
with how we felt inclined to dramatize some of them. These beliefs, which later become pre-dispositions, determine
to a very large extent which aspects of learning/discovery we later come, sometimes perversely when seen by
another, to shun.
If we were often praised for being stoically brave beyond the expectations of the adults who had charge of us, we
learned to 'stuff' the fears then bothering us -- thus providing 'emotional soil' for anti-dependent, and sooner or later
dysfunctional, behaviour to take root. Unless later events in our lives empower us to modify such behaviours, they
will typically develop into bravado, cavalier insensitivity, and even arrogance, all of which will later limit our
capacities to enjoy and contribute to a mature inter-dependence of the kind described in Stephen Covey's "Seven
Habits of Highly Effective People". Likewise, if we were ignored as a child, we learned to discount the value of narrating,
or commenting upon, any event that was not downright harrowing or upright ecstatic for us. Moreover, whether we
were praised for stoic behaviour or simply ignored, and most of us experienced both 'treatments' in different
circumstances, we will be unlikely to recognize the possibility of vitality arising in a team from acknowledging
everyone's ultimately unavoidable inter-dependence -- except through personally experiencing a trauma at a time
when a much more mature social role will be expected of us. Yet specific recognition of ineluctable inter-
dependencies is becoming ever more necessary for productive harmony in the inter-connected world that each of us
must, whether we like it or not, accept as what we must live in.
If, on the other hand, we found as a child that we could amuse our seniors by dramatizing our dislikes, we learned
we could get away with less than honest behaviour – from which habits of either exaggeration or false modesty, or
derivatives therefrom, would develop. This experience will lead to organizationally dysfunctional habits of ignoring
or chronically and even contemptuously, discounting the values of honesty, authenticity, accuracy, reliability,
empathy, and aptly intelligent sharing.
Thus, when as children we imagined our seniors comprehended 'the world' better than we did, we learned – or often
took on automatically – the habits, as if they were wisdom, of either hiding those ideas and thoughts we judged
would be unacceptable or exaggerating those that would be fun or advantageous to pretend. By these very often
forgotten means, our interests in exploration, and our abilities to learn by exploration and genuine curiosity, became,
almost imperceptibly, either fragmented or constrained by childish senses of 'others' wisdoms. As my friend and
client, Johanna Pennings, a retired Ontario school teacher, recently said to me, we become 'oddamatons'! What a
lovely new word!
The consequences in the present of this phenomenon of 'childish presumption' -- whether induced by family,
institutional, ethnic, or other cultural means -- are that each of our personalities has evolved stunted to a greater or
lesser extent in traits of either stoic bravado or false modesty. Both these aspects of character may be conceived as
attempts to possess a monopoly on veracity – the first extrovertedly and the second introvertedly. But whichever
course such stuntings take, they present obstacles and dilemmas to leaders seeking to grow an aptly focused learning
culture. Nowhere are these obstacles greater than when a team leader must address such stunted capacities. But
somehow the leader must find a way to evoke the authenticity and empathy that are needed in mutual reciprocity for
his or her team to succeed.
Much has indeed "gone awry" in at least some of our childhood processes of socialization – as we all eventually come
to recognize from more adult processes of observation and self-discovery. Put another way, the social and
organizational costs of most of us being unaware of the constrictions arising in childhood to the natural blossoming of
truly rounded personalities are enormous. So what can you and I now practically do to lessen the ill effects of
characteristic habits of ignorance – temporary inabilities to learn from certain of our experiences – upon the quality of
our lives? Very broadly speaking, there are three channels in which we can focus our attention.
First, as individuals, we can pay closer attention to our emotions -- particularly those which, being inconvenient to
attend to, we have, and the effects, over time, of our habits of expressing them . This is not at all easy, for how does
one pay attention to 'something' of which one has become accustomed, either heroically or self-indulgently
depending on one's experience as a child, to avoid becoming fully conscious! Most of us will become more fully
aware again of mysterious currents sabotaging our intents and intentions only when they have become moods
projecting statically sterile world-views to which, to our surprise and alarm, another objects strongly. This is the stuff
If we are fortunate, the comments of an unusually insightful and honest person in whom we have either confidence or
on whom we must depend will awaken us to the emotional-intellectual rigidity of such low levels of authenticity as
protesting "I'm fine" when truth is more likely to be, on the one hand, "I fume at this moment" or "I want to weep, but I
just can't" or, on the other, "What did I do?" or "Can't people take a joke?". If we are less fortunate, a string of bad luck
that seems to be destroying the last vestige of a hope – to which we have been clinging increasingly desperately – that
we will some day achieve our fondest aspirations – will bring about a comeuppance. Such unwanted experiences,
arriving by what seem to be force majeure (a power we are unable to control) are termed 'wake-up' calls.
Giving attention to eruptions from such hitherto largely sub-conscious moods enables us to discover that we are not
actually conscious of why we are doing what we are doing (or worse, why we did what we did). When first we
become aware of these unbidden eruptions, paying attention to them seems to be both unnatural and a 'waste of
time', and we will not lack for advice from cronies to 'move on' rather than to pay them present attention. But, when
eventually we decide to do so, we begin to become aware of the vast 'internal universe' that we have come, often by
small degrees over virtually an entire lifetime, to be 'shunting by' our conscious minds – the parts of our lives we
have, in effect, been habitually ignoring -- or in some barely conscious way distracting ourselves from recognizing
and attending to.
As we complete stages in this initially very strange process, we start again to enjoy a zestful discovery of the intricate
'stitching' of an increasingly seamless web connecting our instincts, emotions, perceptions, intuitions, and insights -- a
web less and less burdened with moods and idiosyncratically reactive behaviours. We extend our capacities to enjoy
both discovering and focused inquiry into a broader range of circumstances. We learn that curiosity and minute
observation, both external and internal, are the keys to turning each scrap of our experience into a growth of our own
unique store of wisdom. We have acquired what might perhaps be the key, to what psychologist, researcher, and
author Daniel Goleman terms emotional and social intelligence. In due course we may find we can do this as
enjoyably, if not as effortlessly, as in the more blissful moments of our childhoods.
Second, as inter-dependent members of the various communities in which we are learning to live as continuously
growing human beings, we can begin conversing with others, on this issue of ignorance as a mood. Whether directly
or through media, we can discuss ways that help more people make accurate distinctions between the procedures
that I might describe as 'personality-stunting teaching' or unnecessarily inflexible training and what turns out to be
truly enlightening education and coaching. This distinction may sound a dramatization that is unfair to some in the
professions of teaching and training. If it does to you, it probably is. Yet, whatever may be your immediate reaction
to this observation, many people now acknowledge that teaching is characteristically an inefficient, hit-and-very-often-
miss process -- and indeed almost every educator will admit this after reflecting carefully upon his or her 'failures'.
As human beings, we naturally learn more by being encouraged to reach accurate and satisfying learnings from
differentiation of our experiences than by being compelled, or even expected, to believe what others tell us are the
lessons we 'should' or 'must' or 'need' to learn. This is especially the case when we feel obliged to pay attention to
theories or abstract pontifications that our teachers have sought hard to instill in us.
And third, as leaders of teams or organizations, we can emphasize the worth of combining empathy and scrupulous
authenticity in our relationships, and become -- in successive phases of a relationship -- more proficient in the
discipline of, and capacity for, both. Many people confuse empathy with compassion and/or sympathy. But
empathy is different from either of the latter in that in empathy one does not presume a superior status as most of us
do in sympathy and some do in 'compassion', nor does one presume that one’s imagination of another’s situation or
thinking is accurate. Instead we give sensitive attention to small details and imaginative, considerate curiosity to
discovering the evolving circumstances of others and the emotions related thereto. Most important, unlike in
extending compassion or sympathy, in extending empathy we do not create dependence or encourage the settling in
of either a victim or an entitlement mentality, but rather we encourage and enjoy the reciprocal flow of goodwill and
fellow feeling -- or, as author Marshall Rosenberg puts in, "what's alive in us now". Only in a culture in which
genuinely reciprocal flows are 'the norm' can the curiosity essential to learning flourish. In such a culture we all
can learn in good time what our community or organization needs us to learn, and we also learn to pass on what we
learn in good time also.
And now it’s your turn: has this writing helped you recognize, in your life, the moments when you have not asked as
many relevant questions as perhaps would have been optimal for you and your family, friends, colleagues, boss, the
people you supervise, clients, customers, acquaintance, or constituency? Has it given you some ideas for
encouraging someone else to develop and articulate optimally his or her talent for organizationally useful curiosity?
If you would like, you can tell me by email. I certainly would love your feedback, which will certainly find its way
into the book/communication project launched on May 22, 2013, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 080221-140309, excerpted from manuscript of "Pipe Up or Pipe Down: Finding Your Ear and Voice for Problem-Solving
Conversation" (planned for publication in 2014)
|Reading Material Sample
|Services to Leaders
Coaching Essay: Developing Curiosity
|Growing a culture of aptly focused learning is becoming recognized as the key leadership objective of our time. As
events continue to bring, at a seemingly ever faster pace, novel situations to which organizations must research,
decide, and execute responses, interest in learning what is useful and timely for one's organization becomes more and
more the factor that most clearly differentiates organizations that are growing stronger from ones falling behind. How
then does a leader nurture the interest of the people he or she leads to learn in real time from unfolding events what
the organization actually needs to learn, and then to relay that learning to others capable of turning the new
information into a benefit for the organization?
This question is complicated by the reality that each of us experiences different reactions, and
also more slowly developing responses, when the word 'ignorance' is used or inferred as having
been implied. Yet a discussion of the means to grow an aptly focused learning culture in which
the word 'ignorance' is neither used in, nor inferred from, the context is hard to imagine. 'Blind
spot' is an alternative term sometimes used to describe the tendency of all human beings to
ignore what we lack, for whatever reason, interest in learning. But whatever the term we use, the
question remains: how can we help a person through a lack of interest in learning? Traditionally,
the management solution has been to 'increase the incentive'.
But is that optimal? We begin to unravel the complexities involved when we recognize that
curiosity is the natural state of a child -- until some event causes the child to be disposed to
believe there is danger in subsequent circumstances. These circumstances may feel similar to the
child but yet be different in a significant way -- which is worth any supervisor keeping in mind
because ignorance can then usefully be conceived as originating in temporary inabilities on the
part of both supervisor and employee to differentiate their current experience from
sub-conscious or preconscious 'echoes' of similar past experiences. Looked at in this way, what
appears as a lack of interest in learning on the part of an employee can be conceived as a fruitful
opportunity for the supervisor's recovery of his or her natural curiosity, whence joint discovery
of a solution can then be discussed. A solution will emerge from their conversation if each can
bring their observations of the present situation into a shared focus in which the vital needs and
concerns of each are authentically and empathetically revealed to the other.
|Visits to this URL: 438 Updated: 100118-140309
|Growing an Aptly Focused Learning Culture:
Acknowledging Ignorance to Nurture the Capacity
for Focused, Unabashed, & Empathic Inquiry
(c) 2008-2014 by
Principal, Authentix Coaches
|Parents and Exes, 2007
(Photo by younger daughter, below)
|NewBook! To download Preface, Introduction and Table of Contents, see menu item below.