I would like to illustrate the nature of instant learning through contextual intelligence aided by SONEL (Self Organized Nemetic Environment for Learning) through a story written by Leo Tolstoy.
The basic objective of SONEL is instant learning through real life situations (praxis). This is done by applying contextual intelligence through the NEME process to gain new knowledge. The NEME process may be briefly described as:
Notice — changes in the dynamics of a situation in a given context generally observed through movements
Engage – with the interdependent elements as found in a situation or context
Mull — over the numerous interactions that take place within the event/situation/context
Exchange — create new value and behavior from the new knowledge gained (from the context) in the form of adaptation or re-design or destroying earlier understanding, paradigms, assumptions and systems.
- How do we gain new knowledge (emergence) gained through interactions of various elements in a given context (event)? The generator of learning is an event, which in Nemetics is called the R wave. The aim of the learner is to learn from the R wave to change his/her B wave (collective understanding of an individual or a group) to modulate the G wave (new behavior and actions).
- How do learners and facilitators create the quality of a story or the learning process from the R wave? I would like to illustrate through Tolstoy’s story how the process evolves by changing direction several times bringing Energy, Damping and Constraints (EDC) into a well coordinated play.
- How does a learner know that the learning is effective?
About the Author: (Leo Tolstoy)
Tolstoy designed a unique form of story telling for children – sometimes half a page (The Mother Eagle – the present story) and at times even in four to five lines (‘The Indian Elephant’). Despite their unusual shortness, his stories are divided into three innate interlinked parts that gives rise to new knowledge and behavior. These are as follows:
A) Event (R wave) –> Reaction (Old Behavior; existing G wave)
B) Experience (Interactions) –>New Knowledge (B wave)
C) New Behavior (New G wave) –> New Events… (new R waves)
(For a pictorial depiction of the Red, Green and Blue waves see header of this post)
The Story —
The Mother Eagle
The mother eagle had built her nest atop a tree next to the highway, a long distance from the sea. Having laid the eggs, she started raising the little birds that hatched out of those.
One day, the mother eagle came flying back from the distant sea with an enormous fish hooked to her claws, and found some people busy doing something underneath the tree. Spotting the huge fish in the eagle’s claws, they surrounded the tree and started throwing stones at her, making a great noise all the while.
Eventually the fish slipped out of the eagle’s claws, and the people took it away.
As soon as the tired mother-eagle perched on the edge of her nest, the little ones raised their heads and began clamoring for food.
But the mother eagle was so tired that she no longer had the strength to return to the sea. So she hopped down into the nest and spreading here wings to cover her babies, started petting them. She carefully arranged and smoothened their tiny feathers, as though telling them – wait a little longer babies, just a little longer. But the more she tried to soothe them, the more they cried in their treble voices.
At last the mother fluttered her wings and swept away to a higher branch, away from her babies.
But the little birds kept crying out all the more piteously.
Suddenly the mother eagle let out a loud cry with all her strength.
Then she spread her wings and dragging her heavy body, flew off towards the sea. She came back well after nightfall, flying very low on slowly beating wings. But, like the last time, she had a big fish hooked to her claws.
Having reached the tree she looked around her carefully, checking for humans in the vicinity. Then she swiftly folded her wings and perched on the edge of her nest.
The eaglets parted their beaks and held up their open mouths. Their mother tore up the fish into little bits and fed them to their heart’s content.
- Notice that this short story has been told in three separate sections (Event, Experience, New Behavior), which is structurally the strongest point of story telling or any process for that matter more so for creating the Nemetic environment for learning.
- The middle section contains the vital reaction of the mother eagle that leads to new knowledge. There lies the greatness of Tolstoy. It is from the reaction of an interaction that new knowledge emerges (Knowledge as emergence).
- In the middle portion (Experience), Tolstoy has inserted part of the eagle’s reactions with an account of her movements; how the exhausted mother eagle tries, for some time at least, to use affection as a substitute for food (the determining authentic constraint in this context, which can’t be ignored, how much we wish in a Complex Creative System). The tired mother expects understanding from her children but the children do not realize their mother’s exhaustion (interplay of energy and damping).
- And then, at the end section (New Behavior through instant learning) the mother eagle seems to suddenly arrive at a moment of enlightenment (new knowledge through insight and understanding). At the personal level, she realizes that she must meet her children’s primary need (authentic constraint) before she can expect understanding from them and that is her main and only responsibility. On the social plane, her mind blazes in protest against those torturers who have usurped the food she had procured, with great labor for her children (the damping inherent in any context). Immediately, she cries out loudly. This cry expresses, not irritation with her children but the ecstasy of discovering two of life’s ultimate truths – one personal and the other social. Lesson for supervisors, officers and managers: primary responsibility – provision, and protest against wastage (social). It is not a ‘take-create-waste’ society – which goes against the fundamental principle of sustainability that is presently affecting the world.
- The second section ends and the direction changes (sudden) – shown through a new movement (always shown by a phase change followed by a sudden amplification of energy). By now, armed with new knowledge (by rejecting the older knowledge – the easiest method to unlearn) the mother eagle’s character and subsequent behavior has undergone a change – it is marked by knowledge, inspiration, new intention and protest. Notice that this can’t be shown without bringing in the vital second section – the reaction part that leads to new knowledge. The story thus evolves and the quality changes and unfolds in a new way.
- The secret of gaining new knowledge is revealed: Event –> Reaction –> Experience –> New Knowledge –> Try out New Behavior –> New events –> New reaction…. Thus learning evolves over time, not necessarily in a cyclical fashion. It is more of a spiral nature. Interesting to note as to how the mother eagle instinctively goes through the NEME process — she Notices the changes (loss, human behavior, hunger); she Engages with the interdependent elements (children, human, food, time, exhaustion, sea, tree…); she Mulls over the possible interactions that can bring about new emergence to her disadvantage; and then she skillfully executes the Exchange of new value through her new behavior. Most management techniques, processes and strategies forget this fundamental premise of behavioral change. They all want to directly change people’s behavior through rules, polices, guidelines, counselling and cascading training and change management programs without creating the requisite nemetic learning environment that enables a change of people’s behavior through understanding events (the R waves), learning from those (B wave) and changing their behavior appropriately (G wave). That to me is the fundamental reason as to why most management processes have failed the test of time as evidenced by our effort to continually upgrade, revise or replace the methods that fail to work. They are not aimed at learning. They are aimed with ‘compliance’ and ‘auditing’ in mind.
- We may also like the story because of the variety it provides – the mother eagle’s character is marked by variety. Variety is essential in whatever we do. But notice that the eaglets don’t provide variety. Therefore, the variety can only be provided by showing and mulling over the detailed interactions as much as possible. This is another fundamental reason why most well meant change management programs aimed at improving Productivity fail. They all aim to rule out variety which in management lingo is called ‘variation‘. Little do they realize that variation is healthy. Variations are to be welcomed with open arms. Variations are not to be despised or be ashamed of. Variations need not be hidden from view or brushed under the carpet. Variation is a feature not a bug in a system. Without noticing, embracing and playing with variations no system can ever hope to improve. It follows that without allowing people to see and mull over the detailed interactions that cause new emergence and variations it is not possible for any organization to effectively face and embrace uncertainty to create long term values. In fact, the principle of providing variety might be applied to any human activity – to create lasting values that can be effectively used and exchanged created by means of the SONEL knowledge process.
- Facilitators must learn how to guide learners through the NEME process by helping them move from the event (R wave) to new knowledge (B wave) to create new behavior (G wave) and actions (through self awareness). However the event upon which the learner creates new knowledge must be brought to the table by the learner since all new knowledge is essentially born out of pain, agony and hunger, nothing else. The learner feels the pain and the joy of learning.I leave it to you to reflect upon.
I dealt with the SONEL approach to learning in an earlier post which you would find here: http://wp.me/p2CS2f-5b .
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