Re-becoming Indigenous: Capacities of Learning & Discovery

IndigenousCapacitiesThe 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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7 Responses to Re-becoming Indigenous: Capacities of Learning & Discovery

  1. Mariella says:

    Dear Dave, after a quick view of these capacities/processes, my personal “feeling” (o will re read it again later) is that i would have started the list, maybe in a color white frame like the one used at the bottom to represent individuals, groups…. : with ATTENTION AND INTENTION, because i feel that the quality of all the others depend on the lucidity and coherence of this two, i mean something like “the focus of your will”. This has also a direct effect over individuals, groups or communities perceptions…. it is the achievement of a consensual coherent intention what may lead any proposal to a positive result.(¿?)Mariella

  2. Mariella says:

    Back again…. I´m not sure if I understand this view of changing a process into a capacity… maybe it is a Linguistic trap called Nominalization, i am not so sure because a capacity is not a static thing… I remembered this ancient Chinese tale I once read in a book called

  3. Nadine says:

    My initial organization “hit” from reading the list is to group them by those that are inward facing (reflecting, sensing, …) and those that are outward facing (becoming part, persuading,…). There will of course be overlaps (paying attention, integrating…). In grouping them this way in overlapping circles it becomes a less linear feeling concept as well.

  4. I have been working on something similar and decided to combine some stuff. Take a look at the info graphic

  5. I like the way you think.This postconnects with some ideas I have been sharing with colleagues regarding innovation and risk taking– specifically in getting teachers to adopt/adapt to collaborative technologies or to simply approaching their teaching from a new or different perspective.My colleagues and I are curious if there is some way we can nudge or scaffold teachers’ learning experiences to get them to take risks, to be innovative in the way they approach their own learning, their own picture of themselves.I would like to play with your chart and see if I can adapt to some teaching and learning scenarios and see where it leads.Thank you for sharing your many creative and refreshing ideas with the rest of us.

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    Mariella: Thanks, good idea. I think the magic fills the capacity, but is often repelled by process. The indigenous cultures of the world understand this, and expand capacity rather than imposing process, so that the tree branch presents itself to the artist’s capacity, is enfolded by it, but resists the process. It’s interesting that we sometimes say in English “how do you feel about X?” when we mean “what do you think about X?”, and vice versa, when they’re not the same thing at all.Nadine: Believe it or not, I originally had them as interlocking circles, but there was too much text to squeeze in to make each concept intelligible. Damn the poverty of our languages.Patrick: Interesting model of yours! I think the capacities and focuses are more dynamic than that — some of the greatest creativity and artistry has been collective. Christopher: Thanks. Love the world ‘scaffold’ as a verb describing learning experiences — suggests framework and enablement without imposed process.

  7. Theresa says:

    I’ve been learning some excellent note taking techniques from this ebook:http;//“How to make a complete map of every thought you think”Almost like making a wiki on paper if you know what I mean. I started using a Tiddley wiki for organizing my thoughts and ideas but I like the paper methods best. Both sides of the digital divide. Got to understand your own mind and how it works before developing the capacities for collaborative thinking.

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