‘Hindsight no longer leads to foresight after a shift in context.’ (David Snowden & Mary Boone)
‘What does this new situation call for?’ is a vastly different question to, ‘What did I do last time that worked?’ I learned this the hard way. In my younger days, I led a youth and community work project in the North of England that was, by most accounts, a great success. I subsequently moved to the South of England where, instinctively, I replicated that same approach. This latter initiative was, sadly, an unmitigated failure – yet a very important way to discover that context is critical.
Increasing dynamic complexity in the world means that, in many situations we now face, the past is no longer a reliable predictor of the future or sound basis for action. In contrast to earlier views that change happens sequentially and linearly with one state of play building on another, Michael Lewis argues that, ‘change may be the result of complex emerging connections that are often random.’ Significant influences can, and often do, emerge unexpectedly at any time and from left field.
There are parallels at an individual level. Karen Franklin comments that for the common maxim ‘the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour’ to be true, ‘the anticipated situation must be essentially the same as the past situation’. Yet, when is it? Is any context really that fixed? Eleanor O’Leary reflects astutely: ‘Everything that we have learned, everything that we have experienced is carried in the present moment.’ The past is known and feels familiar. We can get stuck there.
Whether dealing at macro-strategic-systemic levels or with the people, relationships and situations in front of us, learning to critique our presuppositions-from-experience has never been more crucial. A simple aide-memoire? Post an image of traffic lights on your cell phone, laptop or desk: red light - pause; amber light - reflect; green light - act. Alongside amber, ask: ‘What am I assuming?’ (This can be a difficult question to answer, owing to deep personal-cultural blind spots or defensive routines)*.
Yet, to discover a way to see the past, present and future through fresh eyes is absolutely key. What techniques have you found that help you and others do this well?
(*Interested to develop your own critical reflexivity and critical reflective practice? Get in touch!)
14/1/2022 12:34:43 pm
Very true , and I love using the traffic lights in this way. I think that now more than ever we need to tune into our intuition, and the collective unconscious. And then use our logic to carry out the necessary actions.
14/1/2022 12:55:59 pm
Thank you, Wendy. 'I think we need very different ways of working now...' I agree. I believe that practices such as rest and meditation - and, in my own spiritual tradition, prayer - can allow us to tune out of our thinking and tune into our intuition.
14/1/2022 11:32:16 pm
I love that you quote Rumi in your Intuition article - "there is a Voice that doesn't use words." I believe a deeper knowing that we can all access... when we are quiet enough.
14/1/2022 11:36:57 pm
Thanks Wendy. I guess a variation of 'sit with it' may be 'sleep on it' - both of which are often about switching off or slowing down our rational thinking...especially in those situations where our thinking (or over-thinking) can be a block to deep insight, rather than an enabler of it..?
14/1/2022 05:10:04 pm
It's the same at school: if I discuss and design a topic for one class, another class may interpret and respond to that same topic completely differently. So I have to be flexible and cater for the distinctives of each class. Simply transferring a topic directly from one class to a different class doesn’t work. It depends on the composition of the class. For example: the students in one class may be very creative, the students in another less so...
14/1/2022 05:32:10 pm
Hi Kathrin. Thank you for sharing such useful insights from a school classroom-based context. It demonstrates well the importance of being sensitive to and adapting to the needs, preferences and interests of different people and groups; rather than assuming that all people and groups are the same.
15/1/2022 12:27:26 am
Thank you, Nick. Yes, it is. Many factors affect working with a class. The topic provides the framework and goals. I can give ideas for achieving the goals, but I have to react so spontaneously and flexibly to student ideas and student situations that it is always surprising how the class achieves the goal.
15/1/2022 09:20:00 am
Thanks Kathrin. Yes, you reminded me of the notion of 'field' in Gestalt psychology. Michael Parlett, a Gestalt therapist and thought-leader in this area, describes field as the 'total situation or context'. I find that helpful.
Dr John M. Read, PhD
14/1/2022 11:38:38 pm
My first thought was, It’s the process rather than the contents. It’s the analysis of the context, the purpose and the key stakeholders that are and remain in each new case essential ingredients for developing what might work. Second, is adopting an agile adaptive and reflective process that itself learns as you go along. What Chris Argyris would call double-loop learning. Finally, appreciate successes, do more of what’s working and continue to change what isn’t including your own practices. As tough as that may be, lest you get changed by the circumstances that over run you.
15/1/2022 10:18:20 am
Thank you, John. Yes, 'context, purpose and stakeholders' is a very useful way of framing some of the critical factors that I didn't pay sufficient attention to when I took on leadership of that new youth group! We live and learn..I hope. :)
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