Unpredictability & Three Answers
Tolstoy’s story of the emperor’s decree asks whoever can answer to receive a reward:
What is the best time to do each thing?
Who are the most important people to work with?
What is the most important thing to always do?
I feel afraid at times. It stems from unpredictable feelings. I don’t like them! Overtime, I recognize what’s happening. Self-judgement. It’s on autopilot. Call it ego or the last person I interacted with that got under my skin. Fear has become my a motivator to search for underlying messages, though.
With national news, political fighting, and my own emotional calibrator, I have watched the gift of life snatched away like an on-line gaming duel. It scares me because life isn’t a game. Unpredictable yes. But it’s not a game of who lives and dies. Worse? Those picking off humanity like a sorting exercise dehumanize all of us.
What can I do? Who are the important people to work with for the thing I should do to value humanity? What are the most important things to do now?
The answers to the emperor’s decree are simple. Don’t strategize alone.
I retired from public education as an administrator in 2018. Years before, mass shootings were on the rise. Columbine and Sandy Hook shocked the nation. Then, I began to follow mass shootings rise. They don’t stop.
After Columbine, school trainings did an about-face with Lock-Down drills. Don’t duck and cover. Run if there’s an active shooter. Teacher meetings, administrative meetings and trainings planned to prepare for an unpredictable breach. Plan the unpredictable? Police and state believed so. Trainers arrived at public schools. Professional development consumed months of teachers’ calendars. Some shunned directives kicking the can down the road. It’s not going to happen here. Others jotted notes as if in a college lecture.
Students masked fear. A student entered my office after an unscheduled lock-down once. Nope, this narrative wasn’t a drill!
“Ms. Soto, Mr. Teacher, went right on teaching when the speakers announced a lock-down. That’s not right. I was scared. We all were.”
I was one of those teachers long ago, consumed by my own lesson design, punctuated by the day, month, year. Teachers like us don’t fall behind. Disciplined. Orderly. Others’ judgement-initiated perfection. But chaos redesigned my outlook, perspectives.
That day, a looming presence commanded this tin can –portable classroom. Speakers reverberated looping calls for action.
“This is not a drill. Lock doors. Teachers, read email for information.” Students strained to hear directives overstepping the instructor’s inconsequential instruction at the time dumped at the front of room.
“What if something happened? I wouldn’t know what to do.”
The unpredictable opens a window for awareness. We can’t control it. We can’t ignore its message. Often it is, in fact, life that we have the potential to save.
The best time to complete the urgent task is the present moment over which we have control.
The most important person is always “the person you are with who is right in front of you” (not who will be with you).
The most important “pursuit is making the person standing at your side happy, for that alone is the pursuit of life.”
This is respect for Human Dignity!
Thich Nhat Hand The Miracle of Mindfulness
There’s a Point for Systems Thinkers with Facilitation
To become a systems thinker, facilitator for social change, actions and reactions are worth attention. They reveal our Values. Who I am. What I do. Awareness can be folded into a systems game, too.
We’ll pivot, here. And focus upon yourself as the observer of what you think. What’s evident? Your own thoughts, right? Are you accustomed to being had by yourself? Hubris? Knowledge?
Awareness is the ultimate teacher. Know yourself!
A Strategy for Trainers called Game Day
Facilitators / hosts lay out objectives. Systems play is interactive, peeking into participants thinking when they ignore objective(s).
Situation: A planned presentation. A meeting. You studied. You prepared ad nauseam. You deliver. In the middle of the tight plan of action, a lone voice hijacks the meeting.
You know the one. It’s the non-stop talker in the room. Can’t talk over you, so he goes under you to submerge the day’s objective! Anything you can say, I can say better! And more. It’s the babbling know-it-all teacher.
Shift the group’s attention, to its own thinking.
And Stop to play a game.
The game. A good facilitator prepares for bird-walkers. They take away the heart of the meeting. You can preplan this as a debrief for the end of a discussion.
Here’s What you’ll Need
- Any number of people
- Five Minutes (approx.)
- Chart paper, markers. Writing utensil
- Spacing: People should be able to see charting
- Index Cards
The Prompts (take time between each word)
- People write on an index card the answers to the first word that comes to mind when hearing the following:
- Share out: How many said blue? How many said chair/couch? How many said rose, daisy? (Now watch with surprising output. Most will have the same answers)
There is a physiological reason for this that has to do with neurological pathways in our brains. They can be called ruts and grooves, but a biologist would call them ‘neural networks.’ The more we think in a particular way, the deeper the rut we create. When we unconsciously continue in the same thought patterns, grooves deepen, the more things look to us as if they fit our groove. Considering that there can be an underlying, natural biological explanation that can enhance or hinder our thinking is an immensely powerful step toward understanding and challenging our habitual patterns of thought.
Oh, so the teacher fell into a “rut”? A Fixed Mindset.
This exercise helps us to see that those who did not give the typical responses may be the most potent in helping us to look outside our own mental models. When it comes to surfacing, evaluating, and exploring our mental models of how the world works, we can be each other’s greatest assets.
The Point for Facilitators to Make Connections
The unexpected spaces offer wisdom. People, ideas, policies, beliefs (add anything you wish here) can disconfirm mental models. Use this as an ingress into other schools of thought. Consider this as sources for insight and learning.
Let’s return to the teacher who ploughed on teaching. Fixed mindset about school shootings? About simulated lockdowns? Did he need to know that police had called in an armed man near the perimeter of the school?
Catch yourself the next time the mind goes on autopilot with “my” way. My way may be the demise of human dignity. My way robs the outlier to nudge us towards discovery. It’s always unpredictable. It’s most certainly right in front of us each day.
Discovery with ST Consulting trains facilitators to select appropriate functions to surface, test, and explore mental models.
Game Day can be a stand-alone strategy. But I would consider using it as part of a string of functions as a leader. Other factors: seating arrangements, agenda design, visuals, group collaboration (nix the stand-n-deliver power point). Then Game Day fits like pieces to a puzzle with an aim in mind.
Denise consults with trainers to identify unique strategies for collaboration among groups.
Meeting long-term objectives during unpredictable times is doable. Working in community is important. Dignifying humanity is the most important thing to do always.
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Sweeney, L. B., & Meadows, D. L. (2013). Mind Grooving. In The systems thinking Playbook: Exercises to stretch and build learning and systems thinking capabilities (pp. 15–21). essay, Chelsea Green Publishing Co.