Thursday, June 25, 2009

Zone of transformational development

For many people, change is an existential threat. We become used to the certainty of an income from a job, the relationships we have, where we live, the skills we can use and the rules of the system.

But every so often a tidal wave crashes/washes over us, like the big one in 2008-2009. We are unprepared for it, and it totally disrupts our lives. Many of the rules of the old system go out of the window and the rules of the new system are not yet fully apparent. Our skills are no longer in demand as new tools we don't know how to use displace those with which we are familiar.

It all has to do with how humans learn.

The Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, whose ideas underpin much of what we know about constructivist models of learning showed that young people (and older people as well) learn:

* Through interaction with tools - physical, psychological, symbolic etc - often involving "inner speech", so the new capability is practiced externally and then internalized;

* With assistance by an adult or a more capable peer, through what he called the ZPD or Zone of Proximal development;

* Through imitation via collective play, such as playing mothers and fathers, or doctors and nurses, so that they "perform as if they were a head taller", and bring themselves into the ZPD.

But there is another kind of developmental space which Vygotsky described but did not name, which I call the Zone of Transformational development or ZTD. It involves a shift to a new kind of order, where our tools become smarter, give us more power, transform the way we relate to each other and the world and allow us to play new roles. The witchdoctor becomes a brain surgeon. The Roman Charioteer takes on the new role as jumbo jet captain. Basket weavers morph into computer programmers.

In the human mind, it is new combinations of kinetic melodies (speech or motor routines we perform automatically), which form into higher level capability, like the shift from concrete to abstract thought.

Vygotsky compared these kinds of changes in child development "with the historical ages or eras in the development of mankind, with the evolutionary epochs in the development of organic life, or with geological epochs in the history of the earth's development. In the transition from one age-level to another we find the emergence of new structures that were absent in earlier periods we can see a reorganization and alteration of the very course of development."

These large scale changes begin slowly, accelerate away as we rapidly accumulate knowledge about this new kind of human activity and then eventually slow down, as we run out of ways of reinventing the way we do things, within the current paradigm. Each new paradigm involves radical re-arrangements of not only the cognitive system, but also the tool system and thence the socio-cultural system. As the new tools emerge, they form into new ecosystems of tools, e.g. the motor car, freeways, mechanics, gas stations, etc. and radically transform the way society works/relates. The new tools also automate and democratize the skills of the previous period. As the new kinds of jobs emerge, fewer people are required to perform the old kinds of work.

When we look back over human history we see a remarkable pattern of transformational technological and cultural change. Some 10,000 years ago our nomadic hunter gather ancestors, began the shift to the permanent villages and plowed fields of the agriculturalists. Then, in the 1700s, a new wave of change began to transform our lives. Industrial Age machines displaced the labor of humans and beasts of burden. Then another giant disruption occurred in the 1970s, when the working lives of millions of clerks and secretaries were disrupted/made redundant by the photocopier and the computer.

It all became a blur in the late 1990s when "knowledge workers" began to automate knowledge creation, distribution and implementation. About 30% of all people are now employed in this sector; software programmers, inventors, consultants, educators, researchers and other professionals.

Right now, about 5-10% of us have begun creating/using new tools to automate/democratize the wise application of knowledge, so it is a capability available to all. Wasteless production loops. Spiritual intelligence. Integral learning. Servant/serving leadership. Ethical dialectical discourse.

So what if we could harness the power of wisdom, and make our way through the next zone of transformational development? Here's some questions that might help:

1. Thinking about the major problems/opportunities that exist in the world today, what are some outcomes we could expect, if we learned/practised how to apply knowledge more wisely?
2. Thinking about your work/job/career, how could you re-invent/transform your job so it makes better use of the wise application of knowledge?
3. What kinds of tools could we/others create that would help people apply their knowledge more wisely?

No comments:

Post a Comment