Home > Conference: November 2009 > ShiftingThinking tools

ShiftingThinking tools

October 20th, 2009

Ok, see I’ve promised that the thinking tools that we offer at the ShiftingThinking conference will be the best that I can find, which has me pouring over books and past presentations, and working with most of the conference organisers and the Act I cast to figure out what it is that would be most helpful—in the smallest space—for you to hold on to and be able to use, not only at the conference but into the future.

So there’s lots of evidence, from a whole lot of different places, that change is super hard, that shifting your thinking is, for a whole lot of reasons, NOT what your brain and body and our society are wanting you to do. In fact, we know a couple of cool things from brain studies about this.

Our brains pass right over novel data, or refigure it to be less novel and more familiar.  We ignore things in personal ways (like the you your friend ignores all the ways her partner treats her badly and focuses only on the three ways her partner treats her well) and in big systemic ways (like the way scientists ignored the hole in the ozone layer and figured the data that showed the hole was just wrong).  This means that while there are some things that humans are great at learning, unexpected change is not something we’re wired to go toward.

Thinking about learning as something our brains push against is sort of a bummer for those of us in education, and thinking about change as something our brains resist is a bummer for those of us who work on organisational change. Ah well.

In education, we’re really used to the swinging of the pendulum, which is like a kind of change, and it can seem (and certainly did seem to me as a teacher),  like the fad of the day would swing us one way until there would be some backlash, and then we’d swing the other way until there’d be backlash in that direction. And we could carry on like that for, well, forever it seemed to me.

But with all this swinging, nothing is really shifting—we’re just getting kind of car sick.  Teachers tell me all the time that the fads come and go but nothing really changes. But there’s lots of agreement with lot of people that in fact, we really need things to change. What tools could we use so that we could stop swinging and start shifting, start tipping over into a new space?

Imagine this basin, and that you have a marble that you’re dropping inside it:

one basin

one basin

You can imagine where the marble would go, right? You drop it in at the top and it swings back and forth and back and forth, and eventually rests on the bottom. This is NOT an unusual experience for us, eh? Swing one way, swing the other way, finally settle near the middle. The story of most great change initiatives I’ve seen in education and in organisations.

So the question is, how do we get the marble up and over the edge of the basin and into a whole new basin?

over the edge?

over the edge?

How can we stop just flipping back and forth up the sides of the one we have, and begin to move in a whole new direction?

If you pictured the marble, you’d imagine that you couldn’t just DROP the marble in, because if you did that, it wouldn’t have enough energy to make it up and over the hill to the next place. You’d have to THROW the marble in, hurl it, and see what happened next. The thinking tools are supposed to help us all do a little throwing of ideas into the basin with such newness and force that they might slip over the edge and into the next place.

So really, it’s the crest of the hill we need to talk about, and it’s the power to get us over the crest that we need to find. Let’s see if these thinking tools can help.  I have a handful of tools in mind and I’ll try to blog about them in the next week or two before the conference (have you registered yet??). But I’m wondering now what changes you’ve seen in your life and how they’ve actually worked with the energy to tip the change over into the next place. Any advice for the rest of us rolling marbles?

Conference: November 2009 , , , ,

  1. | #1

    Hi Schoolgover,
    HA–you were paying attention and offered a perfect summary! The fourth thinking tool–which I was not explicit about (shame on be because it’s an important topic) is TIME. I think one of the thinking tools we neglect most is just straight out time to have the ideas and conversation we need to reach into the future. So in that fourth thinking tool space, I gave you just some time to think and talk to one another–which I always think is time well spent!
    I’m glad we had time together…

  2. | #2

    Hi, Jennifer

    I’m sure we covered four thinking tools (and the programme says we did) but as I’m reflecting on the conference experience I can only come up with three – so I expect I’ve collapsed some of them into different ‘bundles’ from how you’d explained them. Either that or I was so engrossed in doing it that i’ve forgotten to note it down…8-)

    I’ve got
    - the neutral zone
    - competing commitments & shadow commitments (as one tool)
    - the view from the balcony.

    What was the other one, was it the marble? I do remember that, but I didn’t register it specifically as a separate tool.

    *sighs.* So much to think about! So many threads to catch hold of and weave with.

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