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Mapping the Natural Territory

A new paradigm involves an X-factor — a principle that was present all along but unknown to us.  It includes the old as a partial truth, one aspect of How Things Work, while allowing for things to work in other ways as well.” – Marilyn Ferguson

The importance of a new way of mapping the territory.

My Navy-generated epiphany (see HOW WAS THIS SITE’S KNOWLEDGE CREATED?) about the relationship of maps and territories made it easier to accept Korzybski and Senge’s reminder that “the map is not the territory.”  It made sense to me since in Senge’s terms, “maps” are the mental models we use to frame and make sense of the world around us.

This is not a newly discovered need as the decade-old quote below indicates.

…America already knows enough to fundamentally change the ways schools function, …the problem instead is that our society needs to look at its schools through a different lens.  “Without a sense of the whole, we end up with what has become a familiar cycle of patchwork improvement and disappointment.”

Using What We Have to Get the Schools We Need:
A Productivity Focus for American Education.
Consortium on Productivity in the Schools, 1996

So why does it seem so hard to draw an organizational map that reflects the natural conditions of a familiar territory within which we dwell?

How do maps and territories differ?

A territory has unchanging features.  In geography, these are natural conditions that will be encountered and can’t be ignored.  They provide the context for the journey. (The things we keep bumping into if even if we think we have no way to deal with them.)  Whether or not they are considered positive or negative may depend upon whether they are recognized and that knowledge used to further that journey.

Maps are created from assumptions and beliefs about those natural features.  These maps represent what we think we see, or have the knowledge to understand, there.  On these maps we “draw lines” to connect what we believe are the territory’s unchanging elements and their requirements.  In our work settings we similarly build organizational “pathways” of relationships and information flow to sustain the interactive requirements of the traffic that must navigate the territory.

Without realizing it, these “maps” become the plot boards for organizational problem-solving.  Paper versions called organization charts can be found in every organization.  Their ubiquitousness and acceptance derives from their pre-existence as an embedded mental model in everyone’s mind.

But, as will be noted later, while they have some value, their limitations are a major factor when organizations try to use them to frame their thinking about how to respond to the problems they face today.  For example:

  • The “organizational maps” we use to plan and support the work seldom reflect the nature and needs of the territory.

Continuous indicators from both research and management theory suggest that this map doesn’t portray the nature and interrelationships of the system’s work.  And our personal experience continually reminds us of the gap. [1]

Yet tinkering with the map by flattening it, turning it upside down, or making some of its “boxes” autonomous doesn’t seem to work.  Advocates of “top-down” or “bottom-up” change strategies don’t seem to notice that (except on their paper maps) systems don’t have “tops” and “bottoms.”  They have “insides” and “outsides” …and a lot of connecting relationships.

Apparently this “map” is not the same as the territory.  What we need is to see the natural features of that territory in a way that can make it possible for us to develop organizational maps that can enable us to use what is inside to get where we want to go outside.  Consider this criterion as you read “MAKING SENSE THROUGH A SYSTEMIC LEADERSHIP & MANAGEMENT LENS

  • Maps (as paradigms) have X-factors (“…a principle that was present all along but unknown to us.”)  For Copernicus that relationship-defining X-factor was the Sun.

Paradigm-creating X-factors live at a deep level.  Joel Barker, paradigm guru, tries to dig them out with his “One-Thing” question: (“What one thing is impossible to understand and do today, which if it could be understood and done, would fundamentally change your organization for the better?“”).

How might that have helped Copernicus’“ resolve his map/territory” problem?  For example, if he could call upon the ghosts of Copernicus and Galileo and ask them their relevant version of that impossibility question:

“If anything had been possible, was there any one thing you could have done when you were alive that could have convinced everyone that your way of understanding the solar system actually described the way things naturally were?”

I would imagine that, with the benefit of hindsight, they would tell us that they would have liked to have been able to take people to the surface of the sun.  There, from that previously unavailable perspective of reality — at the center of the natural system — they would tell them to look up and see how the planets actually fit and moved.

Now they would no longer be the “Common-Sense Realism” conflict between what people could see with their own eyes and the new, hard-to-envision ideas from science about the actual nature of their world.   From that time on, understanding of possible actions would be developed by looking through the same lens of understanding — one ground from a common belief about reality at it’s center and the scope and nature of the elements of the system that relate to it..

Consequently, its usefulness back on the ground would come from the fact that it was a lens ground from personal experience reinforced by scientific fact.

There’s an obvious similarity to Copernicus’ dilemma and ours today except that schools don’t have 2-300 years to wait for a new “worldview” to evolve.  So, what if we were to ask ourselves the same “one thing” question: —

“If anything were possible, what one thing might we do that could convince everyone that what we observe as a school district already is a system within which all its parts have natural relationships to a common “fact” [or knowledge-based] center-point?

What might convince everyone that what cognitive science is learning about the biological functioning of the brain provides a common “given” that we don’t get to vote on, but whose acceptance makes it possible to understand relationships that we currently can’t see, and therefore use, when we try to make sense of what schools deal with each day?

Our answer might be similar to that of Copernicus’: We would like everyone to be able to stand at the “center” of the educational system — a child’s brain — and look out at the surrounding real world that it interacts with as it develops the capacities of its mind through the process we call learning.   Then they might “see” a natural world operating according to simple principles.

From this shared common perspective might we then perceive relationships that we currently can’t see, and therefore use, as we make sense of what school’s deal with each day?

How could we use it to develop the “Common-Sense Realism” necessary to support a new common sense of common practice?

Most important however, could it offer a better “logic model” or “theory-of-the-business” to frame the tasks of leading and managing the work of schools today?  As Drucker so accurately foresaw,

“when previously successful organizations are facing a ‘what to do’ dilemma…  (and) find themselves ‘stagnating and frustrated, in trouble and, often, in a seemingly unmanageable crisis,’ the root cause of the apparent paradox is that the assumptions… that shape any organization’s behavior, dictate its decisions about what to do and what not to do, and define what the organization considers meaningful results … no longer fit reality.

…what underlies the current malaise of so many large and successful organizations worldwide is that their theory of the business no longer works.  …Whenever a big organization gets into trouble–and especially if it has been successful for many years–people blame sluggishness, complacency, arrogance, mammoth bureaucracies.  A plausible explanation?  Yes.  But rarely the relevant or correct one.””

  • Maps can be re-drawn to reflect the centrality of the territory’s X-factor.

The explorers Lewis and Clark had to traverse a given natural territory, and use the product of their experiences to draw maps that would make it easier for others after them to get where they wanted to go.

Today, cognitive science makes it possible, in effect, to take a similar journey inside people’s heads.  The knowledge generated by that journey can be used to create a “map of the Territory” that can better serve the needs of those who must navigate through education’s confusing waters.

But here’s the problem.  We have the “science,” but haven’t had the “personal experience” of Lewis and Clark-like systemic journeys that can give it practical meaning for schooling.

The body of knowledge on this site attempts to integrate the two.

First, the lens described in MAKING SENSE THROUGH A SYSTEMIC LEADERSHIP & MANAGEMENT LENS offers a way of seeing and understanding this “given” natural territory by aligning organizational relationships and roles to a common brain-based center point where the processing of experiences begin the journey that transforms them into knowledge.

From what cognitive science tells us about how a brain functions to support the mind’s “learning” from interactive experiences, we have sufficient “facts” that make it possible to describe the common learning capacities that schools must develop in all children.

But we’ve lacked a “lens” with this individual learning process model as its center that would enable us to see and understand the daily actions of people and organizations as they respond to the nature of that brain-driven learning process.  With this perspective, we can then begin to “see” new relationships between familiar occurrences, and can begin to think about new, more effective ways to get where we need to go.

Second, it uses this different lens — with the X-factor of the biological core of an individual’s learning process as its center — to capture, understand and tell the story (CATCHING THEM DOING SOMETHING RIGHT) of a decade-long journey of a major American school system transforming itself from the inside out.

Over the decade, the lens’ practical usefulness proved to be the way it reinforced personal experience with scientific fact.  Thus reducing the conflict between what people see with their own eyes in schools and the new, hard-to connect ideas from science about the actual nature of that world.  Together they offered a common lens of understanding from which possible actions could be envisioned.

And, for me, it seemed to offer a theory-of-the-business that might help raise questions better able to empower society to improve the processes and products of its schools.

Here are some thoughts to consider in determining whether or not it meets that criterion for you.

The Theory behind the Lens as a tool of Practice.

“The natural sciences have lacked a theory.

Education as a natural science has functioned relatively theory-free, relying instead on assumptions and beliefs generalized from direct observation, much as people in the hard sciences theorized that the earth was the center of the solar system.

Theory comes from the next level — to understand culture, you have to understand mind, to understand mind, you have to understand the biology of the brain.”
– E.O Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge E.O Wilson

The need to break the Brain/Mind Connection.

As Drucker suggests, the commonsense practices of an organization’s common work must be rooted in a “theory of the business” that reflects the reality to which they respond.  Today’s pressing needs to systemically “restructure” the functional relationships of our schools’ work therefore depends upon a capacity to build from the natural relationships already embedded in the “territory” of the system — but which, like the elephant’s blind men, we have been unable to “see” and make functional.  Tapping that capacity would enable a work system to support “doing what comes naturally.”

But to drill down to the common core of that theory may first require disconnecting the yin/yang of “brain” and “mind” in our own thinking.  Two analogies may help separate these two intertwined dimensions.

Each human being is born with a unique gift – his/her own “learning machine,” the mind.  But unlike other gifts, this time the batteries are included.  This source of energy to drive their life-long learning is the brain.

We’re all born with a common set of “organs” – each a biological engine that serves to process something necessary for individual survival as a total being – lungs/air, heart/blood, stomach/food… and the brain – information.  At this “simple” level of thinking we are looking only at the common level of biological wiring that makes it possible for the lungs to support the interactive exchanges with the air around us to access what we need to survive, or what the heart similarly does to support the exchanges of nutrients in the blood stream.  Similarly, here, we are dealing with the brain-embedded processes that drive the exchanges of information needed for the mind to then play its role in the body’s survival.

Or if you prefer a more mechanical analogy, the brain’s embedded information-exchange process offers what, in a computer, would be called a hardwired OS [Operating System].  Like the “never-stop-running” Energizer Bunny, it serves as a continually cycling pump that supports the “trial and error” information-giving and -getting interactions that the mind’s sense– and meaning-making Software then processes.

In other words, what our mind’s “software” helps us learn is first driven by, and depends upon, the product’s of the interactive exchanges of information that are our brains support.

The function of the mind’s “software” is to make sense of the “data” continually fed it by the brain.  This sense-, or meaning-, making mind also plays a reciprocal role at times acting like a polarized filter that simultaneously separates the data coming into the brain from experience into answers to two questions: What does it mean? What do I mean?

As we’ll see later, (see CATCHING THEM DOING SOMETHING RIGHT) this understanding has implications an integrated, dual knowledge management strategy that make it possible for organizations and individuals in them to be “asking the right questions,” and then have the capacity to find answers appropriate to their conditions.

The role of Cognitive Biology

For simplicity, the theory and principles of the approach to understanding embedded in the territory-seeing lens, purposefully stay in the realm of cognitive biology.  It’s at this level where we can identify the “simple rules” and principles that enable the brain to serve as the engine driving the exchanges of information the body system needs to develop the capacities to solve the problems of continual growth and survival. [2]

For the past decade or so, neurobiology and cognitive psychology have contributed knowledge essential for the improvement of teaching and learning under the umbrella of “brain-based learning.”  But the levels and diversity of this psycho-social knowledge has been expanding so rapidly that it is difficult to translate it into effective sustainable practice for all children.

However, beneath those neurological and psychological understandings lies a field of more accessible and translatable knowledge from cognitive biology about the brain. This is the simple level of functioning as a biological process that converts information from external experiences into useful internal nutrients the mind needs to support development and growth.

George Locke Land noted this when he suggested how psychological processes are extensions of biological processes:

In essence, the destiny of a cell, and a human is to reach out and to affect the environment . . . The single process of Nature that unites the behavior of all things is the process of Growth.

…As are organizational processes:

“Continuous improvement processes are an organization’s way of modeling natural human behavior.” [3]

A simple cell and an individual human learn and grow in similar ways, he suggested.  Each acts, then takes in and processes the environment’s response to that act in a way that produces learning and growth, and then acts again.  This single cyclical process unites the behavior of all living things.

And through this lens we can extend Land’s perception one step further to suggest that organizational processes also are extensions of this same biological drive to learn and grow through cycles of interactions that bring in new information. [4] This has been the natural process that has been operationalized in the management concept of PDSA (Plan, Do, Study, Act), and can explain the unique systemic role it played in the school district’s an continual improvement.

This Site’s Biological X-factor

“A new paradigm involves an X-factor — a principle that was present all along but unknown to us.  It includes the old as a partial truth, one aspect of How Things Work, while allowing for things to work in other ways as well.”                                Marilyn Ferguson

This common nature of biological, psychological, and organizational growth (always the product of learning) is the X-factor ground into the lens described, and then applied, through the content of this website.

For some, it can become the missing common denominator for understanding and solving the continual problems and paradoxes of schooling.  For example, we will see that at the simplest level of “meaning” all living things seem to be pre-wired to make a difference.  At personal and organizational levels, learning and growth are processes that begin with purposeful action and end with purposeful action.  In between they create changes in capacity through interaction of new “information” with that previously stored.

And we will have an opportunity to consider whether this simple level of understanding of the nature of the core work that schools exist to support meets Drucker’s criterion for a Theory-of-the-Business for schooling.

Applying the Theory:
Work as Knowledge-Creation and Management, …and the Mind as the Workplace

While the brain’s simple rules serve to shape the map-of-the-territory, it still is the mind that has to use it to navigate.

Leading and managing the Work:

While it makes sense to think about leading and managing in terms of the work that teachers, administrators, students and others do in the workplaces the system provides, this lens focuses on, and enables us to map, that actual worksite at a deeper level.

That is, while the acts of educators as they respond directly or indirectly to the learning needs of children is the visible work of schooling, the actual work is invisible — taking place in educators’ minds as they determine the most appropriate and responsive within the range of resources they have.

At that level, the value of the map/lens as a leadership and management tool derives from the following beliefs and the questions they raise for our thinking:

  • the workplace of schooling can be found in the minds of educational practitioners.  Behind each work action lies (conscious or unconscious) human thought, driven by each person’s search for meaning through making a difference.
  • Any permanent changes in schools can only come from changes in that “workplace”– where personal and organizational routines are stored in the form of beliefs, assumptions, and knowledge of previously-effective strategies.
  • For a “theory of change” to address sustainable systemic change, it must first understand that “workplace” at the biological level.

This is one need that this tool fulfills because on traditional organizational “maps,” no matter how the “dots” are connected, individuals with these already-running biological “programs” are not perceivable as resources to be tapped as part of the organization’s work.

With this alternative lens, however, one might see how:

  • Organized education’s three “managed” work processes – learning, teaching, and schooling have a common nature with certain common information needs embedded in it.
  • Learning is the product of what happens in the minds of children. Teaching is the product of what happens in the minds of adults –- and the biological nature of common wiring in their brains shapes both products
  • At the center of each work process are individual purpose-driven, cognitive beings whose brains and minds continually process information and experience to determine actions that will achieve their (and the organization’s) needs to “make a difference.”
  • Choosing cognitive biology’s understanding of the brain as the base level for understanding the territory of schooling makes it possible to begin with a coherent framework for addressing the systemic tasks of leadership and management.  For example,
    • If information is the nutrient that the brain processes.
    • then Information exchanges can form the “scaffolds” around which relationships form and then, through continual mutually reinforcing exchanges, can be sustained by the system.
    • Moreover, the system’s effectiveness can be seen and understood as a function of the connecting relationships among its parts.  The system ‘s success then can be optimized by the nature and frequency of the information exchanges that these relationships support.
    • New organizational structures can be developed around the scaffolds that support continual learning from work.  The concept “Scaffold” has dual meanings.  Both are intended here, and can be found at the core of the systemic transformation process that emerged from the district’s work:

    — a temporary structure for holding workers and materials during the  repair of a building that enables work to go on as usual.
    — a temporary support reinforcing a new behavior that fades out as new ways of acting become internalized and natural.

“The ability to act on knowledge is power.
…Most people in most organizations do not have the ability to act on the knowledge they possess.”
– Michael Schrage


[1] See the Truth or Consequences test. On it, participants are asked to assess the extent to which their organization charts reflect the way the work is done,  No one believes that to be true.

[2] To better understand the implications of this perspective, see:
(1)“An Introduction to Maturana’s Biology” by Lloyd Fell and David Russell and “Maturana’s Biology and Some Possible Implications for Education” by Joy Murray. Both in Seized by Agreement, Swamped by Understanding, Lloyd Fell, David Russell & Alan Stewart (eds) and   (2) “The Neuroscience of Leadership,” by David Rock and Jeffery Schwartz, strategy+business ,  Booz & Company

[3]  Grow or Die:  The Unifying Principle of Transformation, George T. Lock Land, Random House, 1973

[4] “Organizations are created when people must cooperatively assume roles and play out role relationships in order to transform inputs into outputs. Since cooperation is limited by people’s limited capacity to process information, people seek ways of arranging themselves and the tools of production so that they can overcome, at least to some extent, their bounded rationality. A particular organizational form can be evaluated by its ability to help people achieve, despite bounded rationality, goals and objectives in an effective and efficient manner.”  (Weick and McDaniel “How Professional Organizations Work:  Implications for School Organization & Management” in Schooling for Tomorrow, Sergiovanni & Moore, Allyn and Bacon,1989)


Comment from Argemira
Time July 6, 2012 at 3:03 pm

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Comment from admin
Time July 7, 2012 at 9:33 am

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Time July 7, 2012 at 9:57 am

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