On to becoming Steak Florentine, the Mercato, Firenze, Italy
I don’t much like to write solely about personal empathetic development. The reason is simple — I’m a systems guy, and writing about how one person can move up the Spiral seems to be counterproductive. There are lots of self-help books out there. On top of that, I also personally feel that one of the largest problems with SD is that it easily lends itself as a tool for hierarchicalization — my v-Meme’s better than your v-Meme — with higher being necessarily ‘better.’ You go to work on yourself, you evolve, maybe — but the larger structure just doesn’t change.
That said, we NEED more evolved people. And yes — it’s been a universal problem forever. Various cultures and religions have been working on this for thousands of years, using different aspects of empathy. My favorite example has to be Tibetan Buddhism, which places all its money on an enlightened, Global Holistic v-Meme leader (the Dalai Lama), magical thinking, and mirroring behavior. Realizing that there’s no way the resources exist to pop everyone out of the magical v-Meme, where so many poor Asians reside, they formed a system where everyone looks up (and copies) the head honcho, whom a select elite makes sure grows up to be one of the coolest dudes on the planet. Add to that a pipeline through which many young men and women pass through (many young people become monks for a couple of years, then go back to more normal lives) that teach meditation and self-reflection — pretty unbelievable.
In that spirit, there’s nothing wrong with a little thinking, especially with the approaching New Year, on how the various v-Memes actually work, knowledge-structure-wise. Most of us would like to improve our Performance-based behavior. Performance-based behavior is the first v-Meme where real New School Design Thinking becomes emergent. So it’s worth a little time pondering over the holidays.
Let’s start with a little deconstruction from our basic empathetic social/relational structure background, and see if we can’t reason through this together.
Here are some principles that govern all of the v-Memes:
- As we evolve, our temporal, spatial and energetic scales necessarily increase.
- We increase our agency (capacity for independent action) and responsibility toward ourselves and others.
- As we increase our agency, we increase our awareness of timescales, and our ability to affect them.
- We transition more and more toward data-driven thinking.
- As our empathy increases, we also increase our receptivity toward grounding our thoughts in larger and larger circles.
The transition from Legalistic/Absolutistic thinking to Performance-Based thinking is one of the most important of the transitions. When we make the transition, we are now opening ourselves up to independently generated, trust-based relationships — meaning that we will evaluate/perceive people not just on WHAT they are, but WHO they are.
The line that divides this portion of the Spiral is what I call the Trust Boundary, and starts a very important transition from primarily belief-based thinking to rational, data-driven analysis. At this point, it’s important to remember the nested, emergent nature of the Spiral — we don’t just throw away all our lower modes of thinking — beliefs still matter — but we incorporate them into new modes.
For Performance-based v-Meme development, here are some good vectors.
- Develop authentic mastery of a given area. Authentic mastery develops the empathetic relationship to self — if you want to have independent, data-driven relationships with other folks, you first have to have one with yourself. Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, insists in his book that he never felt comfortable hiring someone who couldn’t do real work with their hands — an implicit endorsement of this authenticity principle.
- Reflect on your level of mastery and expertise — use data and examples to accurately assess where you are on your journey toward expertise. Looking at what others have done gives you metacognition — making you aware of what you don’t know, and how much further the journey will take you. For example, I am a woodworker, and participate in Internet groups that have lots of other work displayed. This lets me see how far I’ve come, as well as how far I have to go — and also gives me people whom I can ask for advice and consent while seeing the real results they’ve produced.
- Be aware of your own impulsive thought — slow down your timescales and pause before making decisions. One of the books I’ve discussed, Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, exhaustively catalogs the benefits of slow thinking.
- Practice engaging in multi-solution thinking, preferably with a partner that you respect and trust. Brainstorm multiple solutions to a given problem, and then list the reasons why or why not you think the solutions might be good (or not so good) ideas. A fun book that shows this (especially if you like the Beatles) is Powers of Two by Joshua Schenk. He details the paired interactions of some of the most creative people in the world.
- If you’re given a problem, assemble multiple paths that could be followed to arrive at a solution. Write down what you’re trying to optimize, and then judge those paths based on your criteria. Think of this as being similar to finding your way across town during heavy construction. There are many roads that you can travel — but which one you’re interested in is the one that suits your temperament.
- Iterate, iterate, iterate! — This word was a gift from a new friend, and is the key toward becoming a Performance-based thinker. Iterating naturally puts different timescales in your process, and starts you on the path of decoupling your emotions from your process, and focusing on getting results. Modify the path, and perhaps, modify the goal as new data becomes available. Make fewer parts of your final state set in stone, and adopt a fluidity of mindset.
- Ask someone (or work with someone) outside your normal group cohort for their opinion, and then actively work on incorporating that person’s ideas into a synthesis of your work and their ideas. Nothing beats a diverse workforce, or a strong customer ethic, for growing this part of your brain and empathetic profile.
- Understand your own path as a heuristic — a series of assembled steps that you control, that have inherent potential for good outcomes as well as bad. Estimate the risk in each step, and in your overall path.
- Understand that there will always be factors you can’t control — the other side of metacognition — while at the same time, work towards defining these and exploring them so they become more and more concrete.
That’s a start. And maybe one more. Practice saying ‘I don’t know’ if you really don’t know. Change this from “I don’t know, and so therefore I must be stupid” to “I don’t know, and now that I know I don’t know, I’m going to find out!” It’s the sign of real expertise.
Takeaways: Here’s a Powerpoint Slide I use to describe Performance-based thinking and data structures. Worth a read!