|The word indigenous* means ‘born into and part of’, and by inference ‘inseparably connected to’. We are all, I think, indigenous at birth, born into the Earth-organism and connected in a profound and primal way to all life on the planet, even if we are born in the sterile confines of an ‘antiseptic’ hospital. But we are quickly indoctrinated into the civilized conceit of human separateness, and that conceptual separateness is reinforced by a physical separateness until, soon enough, we forget that we are a part of a constituency greater and deeper than family or state. Conception thus becomes our reality.
My most important moments of learning and discovery have occurred in those rare moments when I’ve been able to briefly shake that illusion of separateness, and re-become indigenous, liberated, part of the real world.
Many of the books I have read about creativity, collaboration and innovation seem to be striving for a similar re-becoming as a means of getting out of the inculcated strait-jacket of linear, abstract, conceptual thinking. This article is about what we need to do to re-gain the capacity to learn and discover.
I have written before about the ‘process’ of learning and discovery that I call AHA!, but I’m beginning to wonder whether it’s actually a process, a cycle, or rather a set of capacities that we apply iteratively, as needed, to learn and discover. Ross Mayfield’s thinking on The End of Process is prompting me to recast my innovation and creativity model as a capacity model rather than a process model. These capacities could also be called practices as long as they’re not confused with ‘best practices’ which (except in very simple and very risky situations, like water supply inspections) tend to be context- and situation-specific and hence of limited value. I had originally conceived of a list of principles, but concluded that, since principles are guides to what to do, if you have the right capacities or practices you don’t need a lot of principles — and without the appropriate capacities or practices, principles aren’t very useful.
The diagram above right represents a first cut at a model of 20 indigenous capacities that might re-equip us to learn and discover, alone or in a group, with the kind of acumen we had when we were born. The application of these capacities, if encouraged and exercised in a coordinated way with others who have the same capacities could, I believe, transform business and social organizations in ways that top-down programs and processes never could.
This list of capacities has been scavenged from a number of sources: my own AHA! ‘process’ model, the Open Space model, the Presence model, Cyndy‘s seven steps, and several others. I’m showing them in the gerundive (ending in -ing) to stress that they are capacities of self-action. Had I written this model in French, I would have used verbs — In French this sense of self-action would be apparent because all these verbs are reflexive (a subtlety, alas, lacking in English).
Twenty is a large number. To make the model manageable, I need to group them into meaningful categories, and perhaps even devise a ‘curriculum’ of exercises that we can practice to re-acquire these capacities. For the time being, I’ve put them in a very rough order — red for the capacities you need to congregate and aggregate information, blue for the capacities you need to broaden your thinking and imagination, purple for the capacities you need to make meaning of all the ideas and information that comes out of the red and blue activities, and green for the capacities you need to act on the understanding that emerges from the purple activities. But I’m wary of such a sequential, ‘process’ grouping, because in fact we need (and we use) all these capacities in every aspect of learning and discovery, and as a consequence we use them in most areas of human endeavour.
The second challenge with this model is showing how the dynamic of their application changes when one moves from individual action to action as part of a group or a larger community. I initially tried to group the 20 capacities according to whether they are exercised most in individual, small-group or larger community activities. My sense, though, is that these capacities defy such easy categorization. Importantly, however, the process (oops — the way in which these capacities are exercised) varies depending on the number and nature of participants in the activity.
Perhaps what I need is a series of stories to illustrate how these capacities are applied in different circumstances — from a program of self-study to a large-group complex colloquium on how to end global poverty.
Well, that’s all I have so far. Please let me know if you think this could be a useful model (or ‘curriculum’), rather than just an idle exercise. Also, if you have any ideas on how to group the capacities in a meaningful and intuitive way, or to illustrate the model in a more compelling or graphically interesting way than the ‘dumb’ diagram above, I’d welcome your suggestions.
Finally, which do you think are the capacities that we most urgently need to (re-)develop, if we hope to successfully tackle ‘wicked’ problems and make the world a better place? Do they correspond to the ones that you, and the people you know and admire, are best at?
*The word indigent (poor, needy) has a completely different word origin. It is only a cruel irony that so many of the world’s displaced indigenous peoples are also indigent.
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