How Do We Prepare for the Time when Rapid Change Happens?

Prague Castle

In my experience the real change happens when there is no choice, and that moment is chaotic enough to scramble the previously perceived possibilities, (I call them the PPP). New possibilities arise and the people who step up are never the ones anyone expected. The ideas that emerge in the upheaval are not the ones discussed in meeting rooms. Nora Bateson

One of the earliest challenges I faced when developing my Theory of Empathetic Evolution is fundamental. It was expressed by Utah Phillips, one of my favorite folk singers and activists, who has a set of rants on a compilation album engineered by Ani DiFranco, called The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere. One of the pieces — Korea — has him reflecting on a question from his son, driving north toward Massachusetts. The question was “how did you get to be that way?”

Lots of people have weighed in on that question throughout the years, most notably people like Jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg, or Robert Kegan. Each has their adherents, and all are sort of the same. We move up through a vertical progression of stages, until we stop, for whatever reason. The actual definition of the stages, in virtually all of the theories, is left to the author, who through some process of observation, has concluded that that’s “how they got to be that way.”

Inevitably, philosophers pile on, and your arguments for and against for some incremental change in one of the giants’ theory is dependent on how many Dead White Guys you can cite. The deep reality is not that people like Piaget or Kohlberg were stupid. They weren’t. They were really smart, observant folks. But fundamentally, they had insights that made sense to them. And all of those systems? They maybe gathered some data, and then they MADE THAT SHIT UP. There were no deep physical principles involved. They didn’t even exist at the time.

They might have constructed some experiments involving the 18-year-old Psych 101 students of their time, or messed around with their own kids to refine said theory. That doesn’t mean that it is wholly invalid. A lot of it is super-cool. But inevitably, it meant that they didn’t think of it in terms of rectifying it with any larger principles of neuroscience, or the knowledge construction paradigms that we carry forward in this blog, on how social structure affects the way we think. Most of them had never heard of neuroscience, or even really given much thought to how the physical brain worked, or interfaced with their contrived models. We’ve had the philosophical dodge of the human mind for a while. Assuming some sort of magical consciousness apart from the brain might actually be right. But it’s still unknowable, and it’s not pragmatically going to get us where we need to go.

All were academics, and so it’s no surprise, out of the stacked hierarchies of academia, stage theories emphasizing meta-linear progression (first you get here, then you get here, and so on) hold sway. That’s the knowledge structure that the social structure generates. As such, they are also most appealing to other academic readers, who get to decide whether you, the reader, ever get exposed to any ideas OUTSIDE the academic insistence on reliability (repeatability) as opposed to validity (whether this actually applies in the Real World.) The problem with this is simple — reliability requires closed boundaries and exclusion of information, while validity (which likes reliability to some level, of course) is open-ended, and more about how one explains the exceptions. And academics, in their absolutistic hierarchies, don’t like exceptions, to the point where they simply ignore them. It’s even worse. They really don’t like theories that explain HOW they think, and WHY they’d come up with linear stage progressions. They just ignore you. Trust me on that one.

The deep reality is that the world is scattered with examples of what I call meta-nonlinear change. All of the sudden, something like friend Nora refers to happens, and then things are different. Very different. They’re often partially assembled out of the old stuff (and I do want to emphasize that word partially.) But then there’s also likely new stuff that shows up that didn’t exist before, imported from somewhere else.

I’ve written about my favorite little analogs for information development, bacteria and all their fancy-name prokaryotic and eukaryotic cousins in earlier pieces. Horizontal Gene Transfer, which was thought not to exist only about 30 years ago, is how bacteria got mitochondria (through capture through their cell wall of another organism) as well as how flagella got stuck on the end of single-celled organisms. It was, even in the case of the bacteria, a survival-driven case of expediency. They were gonna go out of business unless they stole some new genetic material, and there was enough floating around that the ones that incorporated into their code lived, while the others died. The vertical evolution process of slow mutation was in the background. And there was no “intelligent design” process involved — it just happened, and numbers are always in bacteria’s favor.

But the process was (and is) highly meta-nonlinear, with a huge jump discontinuity in all of it. One day you don’t have any mitochondria, and then the next, you wake up with a stranger inside your cell wall. Bacteria DO often evolve in the classic, vertical way, through slow mutagenic reactions to the environment –the slow, budding of another branch of the tree that we’ve been trained to expect. Except, well, when they don’t. Then they drive that information into their genetic code like they stole it, and something fundamentally new emerges.

Naturally, I’ve spent a fair amount of my own navel gazing pondering Utah Phillips’ son’s question. My tool of stage focus has always been Spiral Dynamics, and while I’ve mapped out a standard route for human development up the Spiral (see the figure below) and can kinda see how I followed it, upon a deeper inventory, my own personal reality has been much different.

I was born, Mama fed me, I believed in Santa Claus for a little while. But then everything pretty much went off-script. My dad was an alcoholic, my mom pretty much had Avoidant Personality Disorder, and my mom used me to beat the hell out of my dad emotionally, if not exactly physically. Not that he didn’t deserve it at some level. The whole “healthy authority” stage eluded me. And if I followed the rules — of society, as well as the household — that wasn’t going to turn out to well for our intrepid hero. Sparing you the stories (many of which are as black humor funny as you’ll find) I’d be dead.

So instead, I got tossed up the Spiral, developmentally. I became Performance/Goal oriented at the age of about nine. And I was Performance-based, in the truest sense of my information-driven empathetic perspective — I relied not on the belief structures of the lower v-Memes (Dad is a good guy, Mom bakes cookies) but data collection on my father’s and mother’s volatile moods. It could be different every day — sometimes my Dad was a happy drunk, and I could guide him into bed where he’d fall asleep. But other times, it was full-on, game on. My mom would be weeping and wailing, screaming at the top of her lungs. I’d get the other kids into their bedroom, and then it would be time for me to manage the situation. Instead of running away from danger (appropriate egocentric behavior for a 10 year old) I’d run toward it — a programmed behavior I maintain until this day.

Needless to say, all of this was traumatic, and while it might sound enlightened and esoteric for a ten-year-old to be data-driven in their decision making, the reality why those modes don’t make sense for the underdeveloped mind is that a young mind doesn’t have a large enough bank of either cultural mores or personal experiences to judge the larger context or the validity of the data. Data-driven thinking makes sense only in the context of whether you can decide whether the information stream makes sense. Otherwise, it’s Garbage In, Garbage Out.

And one of the pathologies it creates is hypervigilance — in my case, the process of scanning the 10′ radius to analyze what moves the perp might pull and confound resolving the situation (in this case, my father being drunk) as quickly as possible and return to some normative state. I’m convinced that hypervigilance also evolves the brain much as normal rational empathetic function evolves the brain. You read faces, you make decisions about what you’re going to say or do based on some literal Lean/Agile interpretation of the situation.

But you’re also doing it with a brain flooded with cortisol. I’m also convinced that this also likely impeded my own development of emotional empathy, and correct attribution and assessment of signals that lead to healthy attachment behavior, which is a subsystem that relies heavily on the empathetic system, and is intertwined with it.

What is interesting is that later events in life forced me back down the Spiral to fill in those gaps. Just because one doesn’t meta-linearly, in a healthy (or at least normative) mode progress doesn’t mean you get to skip filling out those lower v-Memes and associated knowledge structures in all their glorious detail. They still exist implicitly and intuitively, even if you don’t care to acknowledge them. After my second divorce, I was forced to realize that I had been living by my own sets of externally defined labels (I was a kayaker, I was a father, I was an environmentalist, I was generous.) It wasn’t until THAT major trauma again cast me up into the Second Tier, and forced me to emotionally and rationally self-separate from my own set of eclectic, pretty non-standard labels and get down to who I really was. I was ‘me’. And the ‘Who’ is always separated from the ‘What’ that I was.

For those worried about my emotional empathetic development, trust that I sometimes do cry when watching romantic comedies. Well, a little. I’m still a guy.

Which brings us back to Nora’s quote at the top of this piece. What can this tell us about how people, and systems change in the face of trauma? I had long ago thought through the implications of trauma on the standard meta-linear progressions of the Piagets and Kegans of the world, and decided there had to be something else.

And this is what it is: trauma (if severe enough) drives one back down into the Survival v-Meme, and your brain into a state of maximal neuroplasticity. When you feel like your survival is threatened, if you are in a strong enough state of mind, you will rearrange those various knowledge structures in your head (and nervous system) to create a new “you” that can survive. Not all your past knowledge, in its various memetic forms, will be destroyed. But connections that exist between those as part of your own autobiographical narrative will be broken. You’ll realize, at some level, what you believed happened in the past is not necessarily what actually happened, and what got you here. It’s a different array of patterns that will begin the reconstitution of that newer sense of self. And because, if you don’t undergo this process, you’re not going to make it. There’s not going to be any ‘you’ to figure it out.

And it can be cool. Not to go all ‘Deepak Chopra’ on you, but at some level it is the way a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. The decomposing soup of the caterpillar body is reconstructed by deep DNA sites of what are called ‘imaginal cells’ that exist through the caterpillar soup phase to create the butterfly. Deepak’s physical description of how this happens is pretty much rubbish. But I investigated the actual mechanism. Turns out, as an analogy, it’s not too bad.

That much I’ve known for a while now. But the big question has always been for me is “why did I survive, while others didn’t?” How can we understand the distribution of survivability for those that pass through severe trauma and not only don’t die, but come out the other side in a more highly evolved state? And, as humans go, how will this work for societies, since the two are linked in a self-similar fashion?

One of my favorite concepts that I use in my work is Ken Wilber’s notion of ‘pre-conscious, conscious, and post-conscious’ thought. It is a useful paradigm, especially when faced with the degenerative post-modernism of the contemporary university.

For example, for the last 28 years, I’ve worked with underrepresented minorities on the WSU campus — mostly Hispanic students. Intuitively, I was never very interested in working with middle-class Hispanic students from the west side of Washington State (W of the Cascades, for my international readers.) They were pretty much the same as the white, middle-class suburban kids that filled most of the seats in my classes.

Instead, I focused on the poor students from the Yakima Valley. Often children of migrant farmworkers — trabajadores migrantes — they started off with numerous strikes against them. Many of them were what we call ‘first generation’ college students — from families who had worked in the apple orchards and asparagus fields, and had never had anyone graduate from college.

If we apply Wilber’s model to how we might perceive these students, the Pre-Conscious interpretation would be through a derogatory, racist lens, regarding their capability. Not good, nor evolved at all, and very low-empathy. Little appreciation for their individual situation of the students, and the inherent challenges (especially if female) of leaving the family structure and attending a large institution with low familiarity of even the existence of places like universities.

A Wilber ‘Conscious’ perspective would be more evolved, and likely along the lines of ‘Hispanic students are just the same as all others, and worthy of attending college.’ No one’s going to say nasty things about you for this egalitarian perspective, and you’d be safe inside the academic organization if you used that as a basis for all your various decisions, including grading and exceptions granted. Inside the Legalistic/Absolutistic walls of the contemporary academy, advocating blanket fairness, while occasionally questioned, will NOT get you into trouble.

The problem is that poverty-stricken communities sending forth their sons and daughters DO have problems that ordinary students from the suburbs don’t have. One is the presence of a number of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) that show up as a high ACE inventory score. There is lots of research that show a high ACE score negatively affects academic success, besides the simple, common sense insight that people who get beat, or are otherwise victims of some type of violence (sexual or otherwise) can be messed up! And there may be some need to address these issues, as well as have some compensatory mechanism to help them get through college, or they’ll end up dropping out.

So, the Wilberian ‘Post-Conscious’ perspective might agree with their fundamental humanity, while at the same time, recognize that some mechanisms might need to be enacted to facilitate underrepresented minority success, or you’re going to have students dropping out who will likely end up in indentured servitude to their student loans that they can now no longer repay.

To recap — Wilberian understanding of the three states of consciousness for the issue of my Hispanic students:

  • Pre-conscious — in this case, racist, discriminatory stereotypes that are low empathy, and disavow the dignity of the individual.
  • Conscious — Egalitarian perspective asserting equivalent rights and responsibilities for minorities regardless of background.
  • Post-Conscious — A deeper, empathetic, time-dependent history of individual students and their needs, as well as allowances for a history of trauma that moves the starting line back for these types of students.

We’re going to generalize this in a moment, but bear with me. Within the context of the academic community, which mode is more likely to overcome the aggregate trauma, and develop a path out of trauma for underrepresented Hispanic students? Obviously, we are going to increase the odds for generalized success of Hispanic students if we adopt an adaptive (we need to learn as well!) Post-Conscious, high empathy perspective toward student success.

Yes — some of the students can emerge from the adversity of the Pre-Conscious perspective and go on to being leaders formed in the crucible. Sometimes, heroes are made, even at the lowest level of Pre-conscious society. The Old Guard of the United States civil rights movement are testament to this. People like John Lewis, for example, are heroes of mine for confronting extreme trauma and overcoming it. Here’s an example from Wikipedia for those unfamiliar with the history:

In 1960, Lewis became one of the 13 original Freedom Riders. There were seven whites and six blacks who were determined to ride from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans in an integrated fashion. At that time, several states of the old Confederacy still enforced laws prohibiting black and white riders from sitting next to each other on public transportation. The Freedom Ride, originated by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and revived by James Farmer and CORE, was initiated to pressure the federal government to enforce the Supreme Court decision in Boynton v. Virginia (1960) that declared segregated interstate bus travel to be unconstitutional. In the South, Lewis and other nonviolent Freedom Riders were beaten by angry mobs, arrested at times and taken to jail. When CORE gave up on the Freedom Ride because of the violence, Lewis and fellow activist Diane Nash arranged for the Nashville students to take it over and bring it to a successful conclusion.

But if anyone advocates for a Pre-conscious program for making successful citizens, we’d laugh them out of the room. You don’t prescribe racially oriented beatings as a way to build character.

There are likely empathetic reasons why people like John Lewis saw extreme trauma, and overcame it to be a leader and politician for the rest of his life (he’s still alive as of this writing.) He was married to one partner, Lillian, for his whole life, and he had a strong support group. But this alone still doesn’t create a probabilistic argument for ‘trauma as a path for evolution’ for successful humans. We love heroes in American society, and we can honor Lewis’ sacrifice. At the same time, we can realize not everyone has the robust neural circuits of a John Lewis.

We can now generalize Wilber’s perspective to trauma in general, and answer the larger question:

In the face of trauma, how can we

a.) understand what trauma will do?


b.) prepare ourselves to deal with it?

The short answer is this:

We need to move as many people as we can into a connected, Post-Conscious network as possible, so that when the Trauma comes, there are as many robust brains as we can muster to manage and gather information for multiple solutions.

The question then arises: what are the fundamentals, from a trauma perspective, of a Post-Conscious perspective that we need in order to deal with the chaos that unspecified trauma will create? Here’s an introductory list — I’m sure there are plenty others:

  1. Emotional self-separation from the news cycle. One of the most frustrating things I see among current leaders on Twitter and Facebook is the breathless reactions to poor data and low-level scientific studies. It’s not that the sky ISN’T falling — it is. But leaders will be mirrored by the less personally developed, and hysteria does not lead to cohesive action. Rather, emotional contagion gives undeveloped, and potentially psychopathic leaders the opportunity to practice what Naomi Klein has coined ‘disaster capitalism’.
  2. Self-inventory and recognition of one’s own past trauma. So many activists come to change movements with deep core trauma. They’ve been abused, or lost something of deep meaning to them. Activist movements can resemble large sessions of Group Therapy. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But cognitive therapy alone has proven to be a poor solution for individuals suffering from PTSD, whose manifestations can lead to movement pathologies.
  3. A deep understanding of what causes trauma, and the pathways toward healing. There has been much progress made in the last ten years with understanding the deep, basal ganglia level need for healing among people experiencing trauma. Prisons have started implementing programs for prisoners doing traditional sensorimotor work, like yoga, with great results. We need to do the same thing for activists.

Naturally, after doing the work of connecting and empathizing with ourselves and others, and healing the gaps, we also move far more thinking into the Spiral Second Tier, of deliberate action at all the lower v-Memes. We also enlarge our capacity for growing our own meta-cognition, and accepting the fact that we’re moving into an uncertain future, and tactics must be adaptive. Long-range plans, outside of large targets, make no sense whatsoever in the light of rapid environmental change. But we must evolve ourselves to accept our ignorance, and count on our resilience.

And we can’t get there from here without moving people to a deeper awareness of their trauma.

What happens if we accept the status-quo, stay with our meta-linear stage theories, and ignore trauma? It is impossible to say. The same mechanisms of maximal neuroplasticity will still be in play, as more people move into the Survival v-Meme. But what we will likely see is more people, especially in the Pre-Conscious category, get converted to psychopathic, relationally disruptive, low empathy behavior.

In fact, I’d argue we’re already seeing this with the election of Donald Trump. People in the U.S. Midwest, in the face of a true Survival-level crisis, with vanishing jobs and pressure from the opioid epidemic, already are susceptible to messaging ranging from ‘Make America Great Again’ to the more darker forces of racial nationalism. Trauma is a key ingredient in probabilistic psychopathy (see the work of Simon Baron-Cohen for those doubters) and the more trauma is sown, the more psychopathy we will see.

Additionally, we need to be aware that this type of psychopathy and degenerate empathetic development will not only happen on the current Right of the political spectrum. U.S. statistics showing 25% of all African American children being evicted from their home at least once in their childhood. At best, such trauma will mire underrepresented communities in neo-Tribal v-Meme behavior, incapable of organizing themselves. Or make them susceptible to overtake and overreach by a trauma-laden white majority willing to fly their own banner of noble cause, but really driving conflict over their own, unresolved past histories. I want to state for the record I’m not in the camp of ‘only the suppressed group can speak for that group.’ Ta-Nehisi Coates isn’t the only spokesperson for African Americans. But there are more complicated, and complex backgrounds for those outside a given group speaking on issues where they don’t immediately have a dog in that fight. It certainly was true for me at the outset of helping Hispanic kids. Doctor had to heal himself, though now I can still contribute.

Regarding Left and Right — this is absolutely not to be taken as a centrist perspective. The answers to most of the upcoming crises will likely veer far from even our current understandings of things, and can’t be sorted into the lower evolution knowledge structures of Right or Left. Rather, we must create that group of people who recognize their trauma, heal themselves from it, and move clear-eyed into the future, while equipping them at the same time with an understanding of the tools and processes of contemporary activism.

But in order to solve this problem, we have to acknowledge that our own meta-linear growth models are insufficient to the task, in an increasingly traumatized world. Knowledge about what we CAN know has to be a first step.

Let’s get back to Nora’s original comment.

New possibilities arise and the people who step up are never the ones anyone expected. The ideas that emerge in the upheaval are not the ones discussed in meeting rooms.

As you can see from the piece above, I completely agree with Nora’s assessment. The real challenge we face is for us to be as rational and clear-headed when those ideas emerge out of the upheaval. We have to prepare for that moment mindfully, and in full understanding of the empathy stack of mirroring, emotional empathy, rational empathy, and conscious empathy, because that will give us the widest set of knowledge structures in our toolkit, as well as the ability to call ‘bullshit’ on our own dearly held ideas. We have to heal our own trauma, explicitly, and it has to be a priority — not “we’ll get around to it when we get around to it.”

Here’s the good news. Well, sort of. Trauma opens the door to nonlinear, discontinuous positive progression. It enables, through Survival-level reconstitution, advances in consciousness that we don’t have the time to generate institutionally within the timelines of current crises. And my argument is simple — we’re more likely to do that healthy reconstitution by being Post-conscious and aware. We absolutely need to lay in the healthy development patterns that the Piagets and Kegans have advocated for, where we can. These are sound developmental ladders for our institutions, and even the majority of our children.

But at the same time, we need to recognize that we’re not likely, for many of us who will lead change in the near-term timeframe, to have the benefits of that meta-linear system. For us, it’s going to be that reconstitution of fragments, healing and recognition of past trauma, while adding the new stuff in. And the positive ‘how’ of the rapid change we’ll see will depend on how empathetically healthy we are walking into the door of the situation, as we’re not likely to get any do-overs. And our actions may very well dictate how many of our fellow living creatures, both human and otherwise, make it through the portal. As well as ourselves.

Coda: At some level, I do realize that this is stating the obvious — we need to get our shit together. Understanding this through our own trauma lens, though, can point to directions. And the newest research in sensorimotor psychotherapy means we have to start from the bottom up, and move into our larger activist communities.

Fun Post — Heuristic, Empathetic Thinking isn’t just a Human Thing

Anyone can be a Rajasthani Taxi Cab Driver — including my son

Coming in over Facebook, I watched this amazing video of a human/elephant performance team led by Rene Casselly, from Germany. It is amazing not just in the tricks themselves, but the fact that the connection of inter-species sentience to create coordinated, goal-based heuristic behavior is stunning.

Some might say the elephants are trained through conditioning, but I’d argue that this isn’t the case. I’ll bet the elephants view the watermelons as salaries, just like humans. And the fact that the elephants can pursue a shared goal, complete with algorithmic motions, indicate a much higher level of group cognition between the humans and the elephants.

To finish the video, there’s also a little direct empathetic mirroring. Also fascinating. Highly recommended! Sentience is sentience is sentience, folks.

Linking the Four Pillars of Brain, Empathy, Social Structure and Knowledge

On a wave in Canada, May 2019

I’ve just returned from an awesome vacation with two of the best kayakers in the world — Benny Marr, and Tyler Bradt — who were running a clinic in Ontario for both mastering surfing big waves, as well as improving overall wellness and mindfulness through yoga practice. Both are awesome humans, as well as elite athletes (and kayakers, of course.) In my younger days, I had pretty good kayak game, but these guys are wildly next level.

What was as interesting was the fact that they are not just kayakers, but also truly world-class athletes. When I would flag in strength, one of the two would shoulder my boat, along with their own, and start running up the hill to the car, or the put-in, or whatever. I could barely keep up holding the paddles. And when I’d flag with my confidence, they’d shove my fat ass in the boat, help put my skirt on, and give me the requisite attaboys to go out there and continue the battle. As I told them “Can we actually get a walrus to surf?” The answer turned out to be “yes” — if you have two coaches like them.

Needless to say, if you’re a Class III-V boater, I can’t recommend the experience highly enough. We also ate awesome vegan food, and had some great philosophical discussions.

Three Tree Poses, May 2019

One of the things I was put on the spot to explain was this:

“Why do I really need the complexity in our Theory of Empathetic Evolution?”

When I got back home, I wrote the piece (slightly edited) that I sent to them below. It forced me to draw a meaningful table that shows how the Dots are Connected. When you stack neural function next to empathy, social structure and knowledge structure, you gain a ton of different system intervention leverage points where you can create meaningful change.

Here’s the table I came up with. Not perfect, but not bad.

The text is a little small, but you get the idea

So… for Tyler and Benny, this was my pitch for the book/blog —


Why should you put the requisite time into reading this book or my blog?  It’s not easy, it’s from a dude you met on the river, and it uses a bunch of big words and concepts (like value, or v-Memes) that you’ve likely never heard before, and almost no one else uses.

The main reason – it shows you how to construct a map for solving large, complex problems, and how you have to develop both your people, and your organizations to the level where they can a.) process knowledge of a given complexity, and make decisions when they have to, and b.) know when they don’t know shit, and either compensate or learn so they can win.  The book shows the linkages, so if you can’t leverage one of the items in a given column, you may be able to leverage another column to get at the same developmental outcome.

What our Theory of Empathetic Evolution covers is the connection between four columns that govern how humans know things and create perspective.  These four things are:

  1.  Brain Structure
  2. Expression of Empathy – how we connect
  3. Social Structure and their Value Sets – the structure of our connections and what values naturally emerge from that structure
  4. Knowledge Structure – the varying complexity of the knowledge of the different things humans know.

How do you use this – or really, how do you know an action you need to happen will actually succeed (or at least has a chance of success?  Probability plays a role, especially as complexity increases!)

The short version is that the people have to have the brains for it, the ability to connect, the right organization, and the right structure of knowledge.  If one of these is lacking, you should expect potential failure – or, more importantly, you should back up and develop the situation in that category so that you can have success.

Let’s look at a simple situation – a river trip where you’re the leader.  You say “watch me, and run this line.”  You peel out, and the other two people with you follow and make it.

From the matrix above, it means:

  1.  The people had fast enough brains to mirror your motions.  (Brain/Neural Structure)
  2. You were connected enough to them (and them to you) where they could mirror you. (Empathy Development)
  3. Your social structure was well-formed enough (a bunch of homeys where you’re the best boater) that the basic hierarchical structure worked well enough. (Social Structure)
  4. The knowledge of where to go (you pointed the line on the bank) was not so complex, nor did it require them to make any decisions, that you all nailed the line. (Knowledge Structure)

One can now do a deconstruction if that weren’t the case.  Let’s say you made the line, but your two buddies beatered (‘to beater’ is a colloquialism for blowing the move, and a ‘beater’ is someone who beaters 🙂 ) the drop.

  1.  Maybe the people didn’t have fast enough reactive skills to mirror your Big Move.
  2. Maybe you met them at the put-in, and not established enough rapport.
  3. Since you didn’t know them, you were really isolated individuals, not really a tribe, and certainly not a hierarchy where they respected your authority.
  4. You used hand signals they couldn’t interpret, or the sequence was too complex and their brains couldn’t hold on to the information in the short time you discussed the line at the put-in.

How would you fix this so you’d have a positive outcome the next time?  In the four categories, you can start to see how solutions emerge.

  1. You make those loser beaters practice their moves to speed up their reaction time.
  2. You run a couple of easier rivers with them so they know you are the resident badass and that following you is smart.
  3. You line up your signs so those beaters don’t misunderstand you.

You can ALSO see that there are higher complexity answers – and if you execute them, you will gain a much larger range of ability in your combined crew – not just the ability to run one drop.

  1.  You hang out enough with them so they know when you’re joking or not (rational empathy, Theory of Mind.)
  2. You make them practice prescribed moves so they have them in their toolkit, and when you tell them to do something, they can do it. (Authority-driven/Legalistic/Algorithmic Rules/processes.)
  3. You develop their ability to read water so they take the general rules you give them, and develop their own heuristics (rules of thumb) so they can gain reflective agency on their own abilities and run that rapid without watching you (Tyler/Benny can do that, but I can’t without more practice.)
  4. You paddle with those beaters so much, they’re your community, and they help you by giving you deep insight on being a beater, which helps the next time you show up at the put-in alone looking for someone to paddle with.

The book and blog connect in multiple and diverse ways those four columns.  What’s interesting is:

  1.  If you reflect on the deeper meaning of the four categories, you’ll likely find you already intuitively do these kinds of assessments for all sorts of situations.
  2. The book makes the modes of interactions EXPLICIT in a way that enables much more complex planning.  That’s really the purpose of it.  You go, assess a group AND the problem complexity, and then make a decision how the plan HAS to be structured to pull off the task.

So… the book ain’t that easy.  But it is the way you can make maps, that considers other people’s maps, to pull of really big things. 

This also illuminates the more complex figure shown below, which is explained in the book.

The older, likely more confusing depiction of the larger model

The OTHER cool thing that can happen, when you internalize enough of this, is to know when you’re on the receiving end of bullshit, as well as the degree of the bullshit. Take the book Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. Quinn does a solid job of contrasting the bottom of the above figure (Leavers are Tribal, Takers are Authoritarian/Legalists.)  But Quinn doesn’t give much headroom for the higher modes that count on self-authoring and heuristics.  So… Quinn gets a moderate bullshit score.  He’s relatively pure down in the lower v-Memes, but falls apart when you start talking about something like the ability of refugees to create new lives in a different country. But he can’t begin to discuss in any meaningful way EITHER of you two’s lives.  As Robert Kegan would say, both of you are profoundly self-authoring and self-transforming.

Contrast that to Sapiens and Yuval Harare, where he extolls the virtues of hierarchy, and conversations between the Little People is fingered as gossip.  “Gossip” is often how we build empathy with each other.  Big Bullshit score there.  But once again – once you know something about Harare personally – he goes away for three months every year in solitary just to meditate – you know something else is going on. To me, anyone who isolates themselves for three months a year is just out there.  It takes most of us a week in solitary to start losing it.  Empathy much? Eh, not so much.

And here’s a little preview insight/enlightenment – Authoritarians (which Harare most definitely is) all have poor consequential thinking abilities, which means that Homo Deus, which I haven’t listened to, is going to really painful when I queue it up in my audiobook stack that I listen to during bike rides, because everyone is always asking me about it. 

And needless to say, most books about the future are written by Authoritarians.  It doesn’t mean they’re all wrong, and maybe we’re fucked, but I’d still rather go down fighting.  That’s what my consequential thinking tells me.  It ain’t over ‘till it’s over – spoken by a true enlightened master – Yogi Berra.

As a practice exercise, though, of course, the theory is designed actually for “wicked problems”, you can now deconstruct Lars Holbek’s famous advice:

“Don’t fuck up… and don’t boat with bozos.”  J

Stay in touch and talk between you.  It’s gonna be fun when I finally see both of you again.

Hopefully this sheds some light on all of this, for those that were missing something. For my math friends, there’s a whole ‘other column to be written on how much of this is a meta-level Jacobean/normalization process for complex systems. But that will have to wait.

Leadership for Creativity Isn’t all Child’s Play

My favorite stall vendor, Sorong, Indonesia, December 2018

I’ve recently been on Twitter, attempting to understand how the dynamics of the medium, which are definitely different than Facebook, work. As such, I’ve picked up a few followers in the complex systems application community. All these seem to be in health care, which is interesting to me, as I’m mostly embedded in the generalized aerospace/AI community, and hadn’t thought much about complex systems in the context of health care. It’s obviously my problem of linking awareness, as I’ve written about diet pretty extensively, and how all this linked to a decline in the aggregate mind, so it’s obviously an oversight on my part.

One of my new followers posted the following article from MIT Sloan School of Management Review, titled Leadership Lessons from your Inner Child, by one of their instructors, Douglas A. Ready. It’s the standard stuff about how children are bold, take risks, and other such icks. It’s centered around the individual (egocentric) and almost needless to say, centers around a mythic view of the past. If you want to be creative, be as a child.

Another book espousing occasionally a similar philosophy is the best-selling book, The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle. In his book, he leads with a chapter about how creative young children are, in that they can build a taller spaghetti and marshmallow tower than some laundry list of executives, like lawyers and bank officials. I gave back the book, so please forgive my incorrect listing of professions. If we could just be like those kids, Coyle asserts, we’d be more creative, and better professionals.

Inevitably, advice like Coyle’s and Ready’s is enshrined in games that people are made to play at corporate trainings, and, unfortunately, design professor get-togethers as “icebreakers”. You’re given an assortment of random items, or a box of spaghetti, and told to go at it. Some people gleefully leap into the milieu, seizing their child mind because they’re what I call ‘puzzle people’, or alternately because that’s their actual stage of development. But you can’t dodge the social physics of this blog. Design professors that can’t build tall marshmallow towers, or can’t generate a cute group nickname, inevitably feel shame. You don’t just jump out of a status-based Legalistic/Authoritarian social structure because someone hands you a box of pasta.

When I read things like this, however, I’m busy pondering the deeper “Why” of the Matrix. Let’s get at the core of the fundamental validity question. If kids are supposedly so much better at leadership than those hospital executives, why don’t we let 6-year-olds run hospitals? Of course, this is a laughable idea, and not because I’m a traditionalist. We’re never going to get to run the experiment because people would DIE. What’s funny is how our brains have enshrined this myth of childhood creativity so deeply that people from MIT bring it up and preach it as gospel truth.

What it really shows is that we don’t understand creativity, even at an egocentric, individual level very well. And that we have some pretty deep cultural sidebars that lock in that lack of understanding. Our standard process of dealing with the ‘creative child’ myth is to let the nostalgic emotions flow while we’re daydreaming through the inevitable speech, not say anything against the dominant paradigm, and get back to work.

The deeper truth behind the ‘creative child’ myth is not all B.S., however. Children do possess a greater amount of neuroplasticity, that brain flexibility thing that means beliefs (and the meta-linear, incremental single solution sets that accompany them) are more easily overcome, and multi-solution thinking, with its meta-nonlinear characteristics is far more possible. Neuroplasticity comes mostly naturally to kids, but once we’re over the age of 25, it starts to decline, unless it is triggered by trauma, and what I call a grounding validity crisis. If you’ve been mapping yourself to single solution thinking forever, that doesn’t have much to do with reality, when you think you might die, it’s a wonder how creative you can get in order to avoid expiring.

Calling out this transition in individual neuroplasticity can be a good thing. But it still needs the larger adult processes of incorporation and scaffolding in order to be meaningful. Kids exist in what Ken Wilber called the Preconscious stage. This maps to a Spiral Dynamics level of Tribal Authoritarianism, with lots of magical thinking. Counting on adults who have personally evolved to what Wilber would call the Conscious stage to maintain the same level of neuroplasticity, if those same adults have a limited experience base and haven’t really grown empathetically, doesn’t happen. They’re used to being surrounded by people who look like them, figuratively or literally, and that lack of empathetic development means that their neuroplasticity is going to go into the toilet.

What it also means is that in order to get to some level of Wilber’s Post-conscious development stage, which requires self-awareness, means they’re going to have to wait until their mid-life crisis, or until someone they love gets hit by a bus. Not particularly valid methods for building egocentric creativity in your work place, if your needs for multi-solution thinking are more immediate.

I found the picture below in my Facebook feed, and in many ways, it is a.) deeply tragic, and b.) a great example of the stuck-in-lower-stages of development hell. The couple pictured likely wanted to impress their friends by telling them they took a plane trip, which is beyond their means. Instead, their photo of their superficial creativity has gone viral on the Internet, making them a laughingstock. (Maybe — maybe their intent was to fool someone like me and have an image go viral!)

From Facebook, 2019

How, then, do we as leaders, unlock real creativity? The answer is creating conditions that march up the Spiral developmentally. Safety matters, at the bottom, and to be fair, Daniel Coyle mentions this. But further up the developmental chain, the main thing that starts making a difference with creativity is an increase in personal agency. You have to trust yourself to make good decisions, and being given by leadership decision-making heuristics and processes where that agency matters. That experience of personal accomplishment can ground a person, and then make it far more possible to merge into a creative community and contribute. You’ll feel assured you know what you know. But you’ll also look out and realize that others might know stuff as well.

What then follows is a far more complex creative dance. When multiple people are involved, think of people exchanging ideas freely as throwing a ball back and forth, with no end in sight unless everyone can agree, or at least agree to disagree, on a final concept. That blending in the design space is highly meta-nonlinear, and I write about this extensively in this post. Be forewarned — it’s a bit of a deep, systems-goodness deep dive.

The short version is, though, that meta-nonlinear dynamics, naturally produce multiple solutions, with a little piece of everyone synergized as a whole when the group finally reaches conclusions. Because fundamentally, creativity, outside the ranks of flashes of genius, is inherently an emergent group process. When you couple this with noble purpose and meaning, also keyed to the developmental needs and place of the group, things will really take off. And you, as an empathetic leader, can facilitate that by setting up your social structure with more profound empathy.

And the more independently generated relationships you can help your people make, to build their empathetic capacity, the better off they’ll be. So put away the box of spaghetti, the Legos, or (heaven forbid) the Plasticine clay. Next time you’re working to stimulate creativity, crack open a nice bottle of wine and let people talk and get to know each other. Give them a task with deeper purpose, that maps to their ability to contribute and find meaning. Stop any inner urge you have to have your engineers jump on one foot while they brainstorm. They’ll appreciate you for it. They’re not children, after all.

P.S. Not wanting to get into a big discussion re: alcohol, because, well, it’s complicated — but alcohol is much more of a ‘We’ drug when used in moderation, than an ‘I’ drug. Something to think about, creativity-wise. There’s a reason for the old saying ‘when the pub closes, the revolution starts!’

Is Donald Trump a Manchurian Candidate?

Queen Anne Lowboy, photo Mike Beiser, April 2019 — about 200 hours for those that are curious

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I’ve recently connected with the Intellectual Father of much of what I base my own work around — Mel Conway, of Conway’s Law fame. I found him on Twitter, interestingly enough. We’ve a had a lot of fun bouncing ideas off each other in the meantime. For me, it’s kind of a Bladerunner moment, where the android gets to meet his maker and ask him questions. Considering Mel’s advanced age, I hope he’s getting one of those “it’s never too late to have a happy childhood” moments.

Mel recently floated the idea of Donald Trump as a Manchurian Candidate type of persona, subject to hypnotic suggestion by a larger Russian psy-ops program. Well, maybe. But probably not. For those that don’t remember the cultural allusion, a Manchurian Candidate is a person brainwashed to do a foreign government’s bidding. The title comes from the eponymous novel about a Medal of Honor winner who almost gives the Presidency to the Communists.

Far more likely is that Donald Trump is just a garden-variety, super-rich narcissistic psychopath. And largely why we can’t seem to wrap our heads around Trump as an individual with a deep empathy disorder is because we, as a society, have such a poor understanding of how empathy disorders, as well as empathy in general works. The reason, as I’ve said in the past, we have such a poor understanding, is the structures we’ve set up to explore new knowledge– academic institutions– are empathy deprived in their fundamental social structure. They just don’t get empathy as a connecting force, because they don’t connect, and can’t conceive of it as an important dynamic. Check the link above to understand how egocentric academic understanding can be.

And when it comes to understanding disorders of empathy, what that means is the people that study what psychopathy is are very good at listing endless, fragmented characteristics of a given individual. But those same people in charge of our shared understanding are uniformly awful for understanding how these individuals work inside systems.

This matters greatly for the present moment, because the President of the United States is a narcissistic psychopath. I’m not the only person that’s said this (though I did call it early! 🙂 ) But what’s lacking, again, is how someone like a narcissistic psychopath operates inside a social system.

Two very important characteristics matter in understanding how narcissistic psychopaths operate. First is the primary emphasis on mirroring empathy, with the extremely short-term time- and spatial scales that dominate that mode. No one would deny that Donald Trump is fundamentally impulsive — all you have to do is look at his Twitter feed to understand exactly how impulsive he is. Just like The Joker in the movie The Dark Knight, Donald Trump is a dog chasing cars. He wouldn’t know what to do with one if he caught it. Look no further to the story of his transition team into the Presidency.

The second is delving deep cultural knowledge on how narcissistic psychopaths have been viewed in the past — the iconic image of The Vampire. Vampires are characterized by the following:

  1. Concerned to the exclusion of almost everything else regarding their personal appearance.
  2. Possessing no reflection in a mirror (indicating no profound internal definition of self.)
  3. Fear of daylight.

I’ve called the condition “collapsed egocentricism” — there is nothing else in the world of Donald Trump but Donald Trump and his desires. This lack of boundaries also directly links to a profound inability to make or maintain personal attachment. The end result of this is endless relational disruption of the social network in his reach, which, unfortunately extends out past his Cabinet, and to the rest of our nation.

The problem with all this is that Trump also tends not to respond well to anyone below him in titular authority. That means basically everyone in the United States. He IS President, after all. All here are beneath him.

That means he has to look outside of the country to find someone who he might consider a peer. That means other heads of state. And he’s naturally going to gravitate to people whose brains are wired like his. Kim Jong Oon, the head of North Korea, is probably the best (and most recent) example. The problem with all this is Trump is really only receptive to suggestion from other authoritarian heads of state, like Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

The problem with having these folks as your operative Old Boys Club is that these folks aren’t stupid. Donald Trump got to his current status as President through an instinctive reading of media markets. Anyone denying his insight on how new media works needs to start adopting a performance-based ethos toward realizing that Trump was no accident, even if the currents of history favored his ascendancy. He had the one characteristic that mattered in the face of an ossified political system — the ability to use new media channels to turn the rage over neglect of a majority of the country economically into political support. That talent propelled him into the White House.

But Putin, and Xi are different animals. While both are most definitely authoritarians, both rose through myriad political Authority-driven hierarchies to become top dogs without either a.) landing in jail, or b.) getting killed. Donald’s been flying around on an airplane, making screwy business deals and whoring. These other two guys mean business. They may both be Authoritarians, and potentially narcissistic, but the circumstances they evolved in demanded far more sophistication for basic survival. Sophistication demanded they learned to control their darker impulses.

So when it comes to getting Trump to do what they want, they know how to manipulate someone with empathy mirroring distortion. Until, of course, something inside Trump’s brain starts squawking that they’re moving up in status above him. And then he threatens trade sanctions.

Or war. That’s the deep problem with all of this. One of the pathologies of the condition is called splitting. While the phenomenon is well described in infants, it is disordered thinking in a 70+ year old man. Referred to sometimes as ‘black and white thinking’ it is the sudden shift in thinking someone is your friend is now your enemy. This is hardly OK on the playground between six-year-olds. But one can see the peril in this among world leaders. Lots of people have made fun of Trump watching Fox News all day, and carrying on with the hosts. I’m different — that kind of news makes me happy. The last thing we need is for that guy to be more active.

Which then brings me full circle to Conway’s Manchurian Candidate hypothesis. It’s not that it might not be true. Those Russkies are an interesting bunch. But I’ve seen so much incompetence at elite levels in the last ten years, in all sorts of institutions, I’ve become convinced that there are few world-class players who could pull something like that off. Most folks are there through a combination of sophistication, suppression of ego, at least temporarily, and a good bit of luck. The last enlightened authoritarian I witnessed was Deng Xiaoping, and it was clear that empathetic evolution was taking place in his brain throughout his life. The fact that he got sent to prison by Mao and emerged alive is amazing.

But I’ve never favored any organized conspiracy when that same behavior could be explained with emergent dynamics. Donald Trump, as a relational disruptor/collapsed egocentric is prime for above-board manipulation. Being locked in with low-order empathetic functioning — dysfunctional mirroring is all that other world leaders need. Manchurian Candidate? More likely Vampire of New York.

P.S. For a little more lighthearted world-leader influence, this message from (ex) President Vicente Fox is awesome.

Unfortunately, using the logic from above, Trump isn’t likely to listen. Fox is out of office.

Why Humans Aren’t Getting Climate Change

Inside AJ Redhawk’s Teepee, Cochise County, AZ – March, 2019

I’ve lately discovered Twitter, after having dismissed a couple of years ago as a primarily Authoritarian value set format. 240 character fragments, blurted out to the world, didn’t inspire me as a mode for doing much besides asserting one’s viewpoint. I was wrong. Twitter actually has relatively amazing possibilities, and I’ve become convinced the short text length is actually an asset — not a liability. For intelligent people, it forces a conciseness that also requires building on others’ arguments. There’s only so many times you can type “This” and re-tweet someone else’s stuff.

And if you are high-conflict, or stupid, there’s only so many times you can write “You’re STOOPID.” You can follow me on Twitter if you’re so inclined. I’m Empathy Guru, or #PezeshkiCharles.

I have relatively few people I follow, and also relatively few followers. One of the ones I picked up was a friend of my chronic co-conspirator, Ryan Martens, Tom Higley. Tom got pegged with reading the MVP of my manuscript, and is also the founder of 10.10.10 — a serial entrepreneur/institutional connector looking at bringing people together to solve the world’s problems. They’re declared as a “wicked problem” meta-incubator, running workshops around these big questions.

Long story short — Tom’s feed throws up big questions, some that actually are longer than a Twitter comment. One of these today was ‘why don’t people care about global warming?’ The answer, of course, has to be grounded in understanding human empathetic development. Why? Everything we do has to go back to the brain, and how we connect and relate is what evolves that organ. “As we relate, so we think.” You can’t escape it.

Global warming is a sticky wicket, because, at some level, it is a long time-scale/spatial scale problem. Long temporal scale problems become problematic in people’s minds, as many people who have the actual free time to think about them — older people — are going to be dead by the time the excrement really hits the ventilator. Younger people are mired in the economic crisis of the time, and while they have the most to lose, they don’t have the luxury of thinking about it.

Spatial scales in the same way affect concern about global warming. When we’re suffering through an ice storm here in the U.S., it becomes almost impossible for people to conceive that maybe halfway across the world below the equator, a part of the world is suffering the worst heat wave they’ve ever seen, People’s brains just don’t work on that level, unless relationally they have friends who live where the heat wave is taking place. And if that place is someplace like the outer islands of Indonesia, it makes it doubly difficult. No one even has any sense where those places are on the globe.

And it’s worse than that. One of the more depressing exercises I’ve engaged in was to ground myself in people’s actual ignorance of the physicality of our planet. It can be tough, but if you have a hard time understanding where people are actually at, grab a clipboard, put a pen behind your ear, and walk around asking people the simple question: if gravity pulls down (few will deny this) why don’t people on the bottom of the Earth fall off?

Long temporal scales, and large spatial scales also mess with people’s sense of consequentiality. We’re happy to give enough money to buy a baby calf to Heifer Project for a poor kid in an ad in one of those benighted, and inevitably dark countries. Fragmented, interpersonal identification is something our brains fundamentally relate to, with only a little social evolution. Most of us don’t want poor children to starve.

We also understand things like ‘plant a tree in the rainforest’ — the rainforest, besides being a real thing, is a mythic icon after 40 years of campaigning. But getting how to change utility systems at home mystifies us. The hardcore campaigners are always happy to put solar panels on their roofs — and there’s nothing wrong with adding another layer of insulation. But to get people out of their box and connect with others with the goal of rearranging electrical supplies from their local utilities mystifies most. A few communities (Boulder comes to mind) are attempting to do something. But the list ends up being countable on one or two hands. An actual movement outside some place like Germany, where social cohesion AND agency are both strong, as well as a wicked performance mindset, is still elusive.

Current economics, and the income crisis gap affecting the middle class don’t help. Why? Empathetic development is measured in terms of temporal and spatial awareness, of course. But it is also grounded in energetics, meaning you have to have some free time to make and maintain those independently generated relationships. In order to get the masses involved and thinking rationally, they need to not be in a Survival-level crisis all the time. And far too many people are. You can’t run from the thermodynamics of the situation.

The short answer, then, is to fix global warming, we might focus on the well-being of a socially-supported middle class first. People are plenty smart, and if they possibly can participate, they’ll find a way. And then those emergent solutions will start popping up, at larger and larger, appropriate self-organizing scales. We can goose this along with smart technology and appropriate evangelization, of course. There’s nothing to be gained by NOT talking about AGW. It’s happening.

But if we don’t work concomitantly, aiming to expand people’s temporal, spatial and energetic scales, along with working on improving their consequentiality, then larger solutions will remain elusive. Until AGW really does burn folks, and creates that Survival Level Maximal Neuroplasticity crisis. Once you’re down there in the Survival Value Set, anything is indeed possible. But that ‘anything’ is as likely to be magical or authoritarian thinking, and those low empathy modes always result in a lot of people dying who are unfortunate to be in the Out-Group. Not desirable.

So far, from my perch on the Palouse, I’ve seen AGW affect places on the tails of the weather distribution in dramatic ways. Short version — storms nuke places beyond recognition. Puerto Rico and Paradise, CA are the exemplars, as well as Mexican Beach in Florida. The impacts are still small enough that absorption, and at some level, reconstruction are possible with development of those In-group/Out-group low empathy dynamics. But as the problem gets worse, the number of displaced people will grow. And humans are not known for sitting in one location and waiting to die. We can see some of this happening already with crop failures in Central America, which are driving migrant caravans. Larger cause-and-effect will happen. It will not be pretty.

There is no one solution. It is a wicked problem. But any solution that does not include stabilization of the people capable of peacefully thinking through the problem will fail. And then, all bets are off.

PS — though when I started writing this post, I didn’t realize it is Earth Day today! So — Happy Earth Day! Go out and share it with someone whom you can have a meaningful conversation with. Or help someone. Every little bit of personal development helps!

Quickie Post — The Netflix Success Strategy — Scaffolded Heuristics

The camp cassowary — not exactly the best pet, but this is West Papua, Indonesia, Dec. 2018

As usual, the headlines are incendiary — but the text of the actual strategy is exactly what our Theory of Empathetic Evolution would recommend. More agency and personal development, less rules, and elimination of empathetic disruptors. Netflix is famous for its ‘take as much vacation as you need’ policy, as well as encouraging high performance employees through taking care of them. From the article in Inc. magazine, by Justin Bariso:

In contrast, Kruse explains, Netflix asserts that a business should focus specifically on two things: 

1. Invest in hiring high-performance employees. 

2. Build and maintain a culture that rewards high performers and weeds out continuous, unimproved low performers. 

The result?

“Netflix leaders believe that responsible people–the people every company wants to hire–are not only worthy of freedom, they thrive on it,” Kruse continues. “Creating an environment where these individuals are not inhibited by myriad rules allows them to become the best version of themselves.”

In other words, instead of stifling their employees, Netflix uses emotional intelligence to inspire them.

The article’s real takeaway? Give your employees performance-based heuristics, with appropriately set goals, so they can adapt to changing circumstance, and you’ll win. Box them in with algorithms, and you’re on your way to business parthenogenesis. Which means early death. And nothing shows that this works like Netflix, which as the article states, has changed from a DVD delivery company, to a streaming company, to a content creation company.

And whenever you see that term ’emotional intelligence’ — remember that it’s used by people who haven’t pondered the systemic effects of empathy. That’s OK — they’re just getting started.