My take on the problem with force management is that it has been treated as a complicated problem, suitable for central planning (PPBES) and not as a complex problem, rife with social & political context, in a dynamic state where the variables change parameters far faster than the planned decision cycles. Consequently, we never get what we planned for, it’s always too costly and the steady-state never is.
My suggestion that FM be treated with design, as a complex problem, would engage with fundamental questions of the purpose of the Army and process by which it is designed, fielded and sustained. I’d argue against an Archimedean perspective because that’s what has led us to the cumbersome, over-planned, under-executing Byzantine bureaucracy we have in place. The owner/operators (ie operational career field “end-users”) have generally stayed outside of the process and have let the “experts” run this system. I argue for them to be part of the FM process, and thus believe design-thinking is needed in order to get the Army you want.
I consider it to be complex, and not just complicated, because of the multiple actors, time frames, values, purposes that combine to resemble March’s “garbage can decision making model” w
A rather longish discussion of how social, political and “unplanned” FM can be is here: http://usacac.army.mil/blog/blogs/dlro/archive/2008/11/24/a-reflection-on-army-force-structure-decision-making-from-1995-1996-passing-on-the-bct-based-army.aspx
I am naturally skeptical about charismatic leaders, but I have seen its power in action.
He spoke in a very relaxed manner, hardly the tone you might expect for a guy getting ready to take on the most politically sensitive mission around, one frought with peril, and which could go wrong in a thousand different, easily imaginable ways
It was surprisingly intimate moment, as he spoke humorously with and about his aide de camp and some of the other majors in his morning running group
he spoke frankly about the challenges ahead and the values we were going to use to see our way thru the fog and danger.
after about 10 minutes there was a palpable feeling that we were in good hands at the top and that we were going to prevail, and that if there a way thru the forest we were going to find it
it was the opposite of demagoguery, yet charismatic in its own way in that it was authentic, and appropriate and somehow “fit” who we all were at that moment in time
So, I am intrigued by charisma, where it comes from, how it works, why it works, and all that jazz
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Reflecting on self-directed leadership in a military college environment (an action research approach)
The purpose of this assignment is reflect upon my learning through this course and to describe what I am doing to provide for the development of leadership capabilities in those who look to me for direction and guidance. My professional work centers on preparing Army organizational leaders for a world of complexity and uncertainty, and specifically in designing a teachable curriculum that satisfies both the accreditation system and the needs of individual students and faculty. As a result of many cycles of action research involving a variety of stakeholders, I have been designing curriculum that seeks to maximize the opportunities for student and faculty Voice in all phases of the classroom experience, including: design, preparation, delivery, assessment and follow-through. Because the strategy represents a significant shift from the traditional methodology, I am finding many leadership challenges and opportunities throughout the program. I will explore a number of important themes and strategies in this paper.
Chaos and complexity theory point towards a need for multiple points of view and an accommodating culture and practice in order to account for uncertainty in the world. Leaders set the stage for an organization that seeks to thrive under these conditions and therefore become primary leverage points in setting the conditions for success. Because our students are not objects at a distance, not third-party objects of study but rather thinking, feeling human beings with insights and experiences and discretion, we have shifted our design team composition to include routinely groups of students in the form of focus groups and co-researchers in the action research tradition. Incorporating students in the design of lessons that will be taught that academic year represents a paradigm shift.
I am shifting our feedback system to incorporate more qualitative assessments from both faculty and students. This is a departure from our standard practice of relying exclusively on quantitative instruments. Our new feedback system for programmatic assessment is much more from the mixed methods tradition, which seems to me to be central in going forward in our efforts to understand and appreciate complexity. My intent is that the mixed methods approaches in the classroom will expose students and faculty to this methodology as a way to prepare them with a useful tool beyond the boundaries of the college environment.
I am systematically pursuing outreach and connections with faculty and curriculum designers from other teaching departments in order to establish a network-centric approach to integrated curriculum design. This is taking the form of a leaderless, self-directed workgroup, with group norms and processes emerging to take the place of formal assigned individual hierarchical leadership. This self-directed work group presents recommendations of consensus to the traditional leadership of the College and is proving to be more and more influential with each successful project.
Because collaborative and adaptive leadership represents a shift in the cultural and operational perspective of the college, students and faculty, it is necessary to build up a resource and reference base that can be used to justify and support our inquiries. We are building a set of wiki’s and blogs that are interactive in order to prepare for our new lineup of lessons, to support collaborative learning inside the lessons dynamically, to document the results of our in class inquiry and to expand the knowledge base both for future lessons and for the field force in general. There is evidence to show that our students and faculty are getting the hang of this technique. This is reshaping the way we approach lesson preparation and our resource base and it is carrying over into our distance learning and remote site teaching strategy. Remote site teachers now have access to our growing experience base on the wiki and blog and can use that in their classroom for air where they do not possess personal experience and expertise.
Finally, I am working with interested others in formalizing our new approaches into college policy and SOP in order to lock in our games in the college’s infrastructure. Without these changes, initiatives are only as enduring as the energy of the interested parties. By incorporating them into our explicit rules and policies, we can institutionalize changes and ratchet our way towards success.
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remember that Hunt is writing his synthesis in 1996, and he comes from the leadership discipline, not education or cognitive neuroscience. He is good when it comes to synthesizing existing literature, but his excursions into the future of “what-if” are not very convincing.
There has been a lot of important work done on the very issues of rationality vs intuition, on (control & prediction) vs (emergence & adaptation), but it hasnt come from the land of leadership.
I have been doing a ton of research in this area, and in fact the limitations of rationality, and the implications for leaders, leadership skills, organizations and culture, strategic planning and operational execution are precisely the reason i started this program.
my mission is to figure out what leaders need to know, be, and do to manage problems & opportunities outside of the bounds of rationality and convention, and then design and deliver a teachable curriculum that prepares students and faculty for fuzzy situations and coalitions. where goals, cultures, standards, criteria, resources, time horizons are much closer to chaos than order, and with no interest among the stakeholders to move away from the apparent chaos.
I take Heifetz as representative of the state of leadership which has apparently spent the last 2 decades trying to micro-refine the individual models of leadership, and which in my opinion have been left behind by the nature of the challenges for organizations. Even seen as a consultants handbook, Heifetz is comfortably situated inside conventional, stable organizations trying to tweak their way to success.
Back to your point.
The rationality vs intuition debate is best developed from the world of decision-making and cognition. The essential and representative authors to read are Gerd Gigerenzer & Gary Klein, on intuition and heuristic decisionmaking. William Poundstone’s “Labyrinths of Reason” is an excellent introduction to the limitations of rationality. James March on decision-making systems is foundational. Mintzberg is pretty good on recognizing the implications Tversky & Kahneman’s Nobel prize winning work on cognitive biases and behavioral finance is the top level theory basis (spanning 40 years), and all of these guys connect back to the incomparable Herb Simon’s bounded rationality from the 1940s, and which still is some of the best writing and thinking in this area.
The most promising area of current research is found in the fields of emergence, chaos and complexity theory (including complex adaptive systems) but there are miles to go to connect these ideas to the leadership disciplines
So, i think Hunt was intuiting that something else was needed, but hadn’t connected to that body of work.
There is another whole discipline that’s waiting to be incorporated: education, especially adult education, and that’s where i seem to be centered: in the preparation of leaders for these new demands/considerations, while satisfying the constraints of an accreditation system which values certainty, objectivity and standardization.
it seems to me that education lags about 20-25 years behind the cutting edge, as accreditation’s fascination with certainty, objectivity and standardization reflects what was thought to be essential in business and commerce 2 decades ago. So education is just discovering that which the rest of the world is abandoning (or at least moving well beyond)
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It’s not “survival of the fittest” in the wild, it is extinction of the unfit & toleration of the “good enough” which promotes a broad gene pool. A broad gene pool gives us the adaptive flexibility to adjust to “black swan” events, (Taleb).
well, our educational system should seek to promote that kind of diversity in outreach, methods, programs etc and not just short-sidedly focus on how to efficiently pass the next round of standardized tests which are geared for the immediate environment, but which leave us uneducated for the possibilities of an infinitely rich future
there are many skills, habits, behaviors, attitudes which dont thrive in an individual, cut throat environment, but which may be needed for an environment that favors cooperation: such as living in a nuclear age.
I think it’s important to remember that “the failure” is in the system’s inability to provide a medium for the seed that is the person to flourish.
We know from “The Long Tail” that digitization and globalization allow for the creation of feasible 1:1 relationships. we are less constrained to find “economic” tradeoffs that satisfy the many and underserve the tails of the distribution.
We should, therefore be looking to expand the set of possible methods and resources to serve those further out on the tails of the distribution in order to broaden our “gene pool” of human potential.. See Axelrod on “The Evolution of Cooperation” for example
Good survival strategy for the a species, all species, for life itself, is to maximize biodiversity, because of the possibility of discontinuous “shock” events to the environment, for which prior specialization is unsuited.
The examples of Branson and Gates amply illustrate the rich rewards waiting for us on the untapped wide tails of the human distribution
It is arrogant of education to presume it can forecast the future and determine what can and should be precisely taught for “success”.
If education hasn’t learned that yet, then it should attend some of its classes in the sciences and arts to discover the limits of pure rationality and control
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The purpose of this paper is to examine my current leadership skills. I will describe and reflect upon a recent curriculum project that I was in charge of at the US Army command and Gen. staff College. I will use a lens of the Bolman and Deal four Frameworks to evaluate my leadership skills in each frame and look for opportunities to extend my skill set in each (Bolman and Deal, 2008). Since my project is continuing into a second year, I will use this paper to prioritize and guide my professional development.
2. Description of the Situation
The U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas is the centerpiece of the Army leadership development focusing on field grade level, organizational leaders. The year-long course is divided into approximately equal thirds. The first third is the core curriculum received by all Army majors and focuses on critical and creative thinking, leadership, history, change management and basic organizational level doctrine. The middle third, known as the Advanced Operations Course (AOC), is focused on 1500 resident officers whose career path will take them back into tactical field units in leadership positions. The final third is an elective period where students can meet their own particular educational needs based on interest and follow-on assignments.
This past year ,the middle third of the course underwent an extensive redesign and reengineering process which represents the largest single change to the curriculum since its current form was originally implemented five years ago. I was responsible for approximately 1/3 of the redesign program which focused on the addition of new material concerning the largest educational gap in the Army as identified by senior Army leaders, field unit commanders, faculty and students. I received a set of ambitious and broad design principles from the college’s senior leaders and assembled a team of students, faculty, curriculum designers, and recruited experts from Army proponent organizations in order to create a teachable block of instruction that addressed the identified gaps
3. Desired outcome for the situation:
We defined two dimensions for our endstate: organizational outcomes for the college, and curriculum outcomes to address the educational gap. Our participatory action research design team, consisting of curriculum developers, faculty and students identified the top six desired organizational outcomes, as follows:
- Produce a quality staff recommendation for AOC force generation curriculum and an elective for “spillover” material
- Produce an interdepartmental “application- level “curriculum fully integrated through the AOC Working Group process
- Employ an inquiry- based research process that models the principles of group-learning in real time, which can serve as an example for other inquiries in important topics
- Establish an infrastructure that supports student learning while in attendance, and after graduation as a reachback
- Create a knowledge base that focuses on support of our student and faculty population, and which synthesizes quality research & knowledge from Army staff and support organizations
- Document the staff process that will support our ongoing accreditation and scholarship standards
Our desired student curriculum outcomes were:
- Students applied the Army process map to build ready forces
- Students are aware of concepts, challenges, and best practices
- Students and faculty contribute to the growing body of professional knowledge
- Students use a team oriented approach
- College provides a reach back capability for graduates to stay current
- Curriculum establishes linkage to lessons in the Core and Parallels
- Create opportunities in electives for deeper inquiry
4. The Bolman and Deal Four Frameworks summary: Bolman and Deal created a four framework approach to leadership situations, which enable change agents to systematically view multiple approaches to an issue. Here is a summary of the four frames and a characterization of leaders (Clark, 2004)
a. Structural frame: emphasizes creativity and seeks to establish clear goals and roles and coordinated activity established by authority policies and rules. The structural leader is a social architect whose leadership style is analysis and design.
b. Human resource frame: focuses on the needs and motives of individuals who live and work in social systems, and considers opportunities for participation and shared decision-making as a way to enlist commitment and involvement. The human resource leader is a catalyst and servant who looks to support advocate and empower.
c. Political frame: based on negotiated collaborative political structures aiming to find trade-offs for scarce resources, and emphasizes conflict resolution and balancing interests. Political leaders are advocates who seek coalition building and the distribution and balancing of power and interests.
d. Symbolic frame: focuses on culture, meaning, believes in faith by examining and supporting since making through symbols, metaphors, stories and other narratives. The symbolic leader is a prophet who seeks to inspire through multimedia communication and visioning.
5. Skills used:
a. Structural frame: bureaucratic structure and existing policy were important parts of my leadership strategy as I sought to leverage existing infrastructure. For changes to remain permanent and meaningful, it was clear to me that our design group had to create infrastructure changes. In many cases this involves a carryover into the political frame as we considered how to build coalitions to gain approval for our structural changes. As much as possible we tried to make our recommendations fit within the existing formats of college policy in order to ensure we did not jeopardize our accreditation, which is an important value for the college.
b. Human resource frame: from the beginning of the program design sessions, I made sure that we kept our discussions centered on students and their educational needs and outcomes by emphasizing the concept of student Voice. After the first meeting, it was clear that we also needed to incorporate faculty Voice in order to accommodate a variety of educational methods which in existing policy was difficult because of the needs for a standardized curriculum for accreditation. This proved to be a very difficult set of values to sustain throughout the design process because the natural tendencies of developers and faculty were to revert to traditional methods with which they were comfortable. Having students as members of the design and development teams, however, ensured that this remained visible throughout the process.
c. Political frame: this turned out to be a crucial component of the entire process. Because of initial successes with our wiki and blog, and the early incorporation of Army-staff level action officers, we got a lot more senior leadership attention than I expected. This made the project a high-stakes payoff and it quickly became an area where competing values emerged as teaching departments lobbied for time and resources to reflect their goals. At the same time, when we used a political process to negotiate the structure and content of the curriculum, there were many faculty who considered it business as usual. My opinion was that only a political process would allow us to integrate the multiple perspectives. I could have chosen to have our directorate’s position dominate the proceedings but it was clear to me that an integrated curriculum was necessary for the students. This was a position that students also shared, which helped me carry the day.
d. Symbolic frame: throughout the project I tried to emphasize the importance of the top down and bottom’s up gap analysis which pointed to this set of curriculum topics as being of central importance to the Army. By connecting the purpose to the bottom’s up and top-down vision to establish its relevance and create the energy to see us through the change. I created top-level vision diagrams in order to highlight in a visual way the broad outlines of the program and used very visible blog postings to maintain progress reports for the population at large. The senior leader in the college, the Deputy Commandant, was an important source of symbolic strength as he had committed fully to our vision and endstate.
6. Skills that could have been used:
a. Structural frame: I could have emphasized more interim written reports to lock-in procedures and SOP changes during the year-long program, instead of waiting for the conclusion to make permanent infrastructure changes. I wasn’t aggressive enough in incorporating administrative managers from the higher headquarters in our process in order to enlist them in our change program. I should have offloaded more technical work to others in order to maintain my focus on the creative and guidance processes. I could have used more faculty from different departments in building the interdepartmental curriculum .
b. Human resource frame: I should have committed more group resources to the faculty development program once we had completed the design and production of the new curriculum. I expected that the lesson plans could stand on their own and being trained in the usual way, and I was surprised at the amount of pushback. I should not have been surprised, however, knowing my peers, and more resources in this area would’ve been helpful. I could have used more student and faculty Voice in telling the story of our change program, instead of using my own personal blog and wiki reports; this would have placed the ownership for our program more in the hands of students and faculty and less in our group. I could have spent more resources on providing timely feedback to students and faculty based on their design inputs, as I’m not sure I did enough in that area to satisfy them. I could have emphasized more of the value of flexibility in our central design; we had a lot compared to our traditional methods, but I don’t think I emphasized enough what we had achieved. I should have put more effort into rubrics and examples from different faculty members of the design team in order to demonstrate our commitment to flexibility in the classroom.
c. Political frame: because I enjoy the political dimension of this program, I was too willing to frame this as individual or group winning and losing compared to the status quo; I should have put more focus on strategy and tactics and cooperative solution finding than in winning and losing. I should have planned for more interim rewards for cooperative and supportive behavior both for members of my team and from among the faculty that voluntarily supported the effort. I should have spent more energy on changing the mindset of the “warring state” to one of the cooperative tribe with respect to integrating departmental issues; the “warring states” is the default orientation of most interdepartmental programs for proposed change. I should have created a central interdepartmental design team in the form of an alliance to maintain momentum across the college. I could have spent more energy incorporating team members from other military colleges above and below us in the hierarchy in order to create a continuous wave of change.
d. Symbolic frame: I could have used more of our inside group-produced artifacts in the lesson plans themselves in order to improve the acceptance of the new lesson plans. I could have made better use of our wiki and blog sites to support collaborative design and collaborative teaching in the classroom. I should have used more strategic communications avenues and media to bring students on board with the program for change before we went into execution. I could have used more partnership programs with field units to demonstrate the relevance of our material to the students follow on assignments.
7. Lessons learned: I found this reflective exercise to be very useful in generating insights for me. Here are my ten most important takeaways.
a. In an interdepartmental, complex process it’s important to publish everything with transparency and trust everybody.
b. It’s not enough to ask for feedback from customers or in this case students and faculty, it’s important to engage in multi-loop dialogue and demonstrate a willingness to adapt to their requirements.
c. Tell the story at every opportunity to everyone that you can find, because the accumulation of small strategic communications events all add up to strategic success in the long run.
d. Leave no stone unturned in enlisting support even if you don’t think you need it or you think you have more than enough. There will come a time of surprise when you need every extra resource and it will be too late then to try to find them.
e. Reinforce the main effort in every action, even if it is only a supporting or shaping effort. Because resources are limited, everything must support the endstate.
f. Aggressively look for connections between departments, teams, resources, opportunities; in a network environment you never know where the next connection will come from that can make the difference between success and failure.
g. The moments of positive emotion and inspiration must be followed and supported by long periods of preparation and perspiration.
h. Question the boundaries that seemed reasonable early in the design, because you may find that your initial efforts have changed the game.
i. Reinforce the essential partnerships between key stakeholders in order to define success as group success.
j. Be open to unexpected opportunities to achieve unplanned successes. This is an extension of the idea of looking for connections. Sometimes the moment will show you unexpected treasures if you’re open to picking them up and making them yours.
Bolman, L., & Deal, T. (2008).Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice and leadership. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
Clark, D. R. (2004), Bolman and Deal’s Four Framework Approach. Retrieved March 7, 2010
Representative Army capstone documents defining the requirements for new concepts in leadership.
TRADOC, (2009). A leader development strategy for a 21st century Army.
TRADOC Pam 525-5-500. (2008). Commander’s Appreciation and Campaign Design.
Army Regulation 6-22 (2008): Army Leadership
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the argument for diversity is that when the rate of change is too large to “control” and/or when your system is subject to environmental changes that are non-linear/disruptive, you cannot use a “most efficient” command and control system, because you find the world moving on without you and you have no slack left to adapt with.
This is seen in organizations that have engineered out all of the flexibility.
Flexibility and adaptability are not free; there is a price to be paid in “inefficiency” in the same way that the insurance you buy that you dont use is “inefficient” when it comes to your investment returns.
But, we buy insurance precisely because we know that non-linear, disruptive events can occur without warning, AND we have evidence that they happen often enough that we should expect them.
To know that they are coming does not imply we can “control” them or plan to avoid them. Tornados and sickness will occur when they will. we can plan for, however, a way to minimize their effects.
wise leadership to me prepares for the things we can’t plan for or control
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there are some countries that are complaining about the motives that the impute to the US with respect to the military forces engaged in relief operations in Haiti. Most of those countries are not in a position to provide significant humanitarian relief to the area in that they are quite confident in denigrating the US efforts. No one likes the US, no one is in favor of our rampant consumerism, and no one would do it exactly the way we do it. Nevertheless, we are there with overwhelming support of a humanitarian nature with as much security as seem sensible and we can fully expect to be underappreciated except by the people whom we are supporting. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
We are still in capable of gaining the strategic communications message environment to our damage. I suppose it comes from a natural dislike for spin and nuance and a preference for direct action. I don’t know that that’s necessarily a bad thing.
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Erich Fromm is an influential social philosopher and prolific writer, whose life work offers a provocative synthesis of Western capitalism, Marxist humanism and socialist rational planning. He defines two modes of being: “to have” and ” to be”, and examines the characteristics and values of lives led in each mode with respect to materialism, politics, religion, spirituality, knowledge, love, sex, language and economics. He asserts that modern living is dominated by the “to have” mode and generalizes it as a soul-less and thoughtless pursuit of material things that disrespects the human soul, love of nature and fellow humans and leads to unsustainable pursuit of things which can lead to poverty, war and extinction. Fromm discards the idea that either conventional Western capitalism or Soviet-style communism offer a way out of the darkness, since both systems remain entrenched in the “to have” mode of being. He offers an escape from this bleak vision of the future, by suggesting that a shift to the “to be” mode of being will bring a change in perspective and behavior at the individual, family, tribe, state and national levels. He asserts this change can bring lives back into harmony with the needs of the human spirit and permit sustainable societies to emerge.His utopian vision of modern living blends the freedom, liberty and productive power of Western capitalism, the central planning and rationality of Soviet style communism, and the tempered and non-materialistic spiritual centeredness of Buddhism and European- style mystics like Meister Eckhart. A society organized along these lines could manifest as economically linked villages of perhaps 100 families. They would be voluntarily joined in support, satisfying the legitimate needs of healthy living through the free exchange of goods and services produced by craftsmen. As craftsmen, people would take pride in and develop a sense of identity through their careful, mindful work and whose stewardship of precious resources would be reflected in a sustainable, respectful partnership with nature and their fellow man. Appetites are suppressed to just those that are commonly and wisely thought to be legitimate. Common spiritual needs are valued and encouraged at each level of social organization. Language itself is amended to reflect the importance of creating “states of being” that reflect nurturing, loving spiritual lives, families, and communities. You will notice this description is full of passive voice, because it is never quite clear “who” will be taking the lead or being the instrument of action in a transformation on a species level. I will address this later in greater detail.
I admire the scope, depth and breadth of Fromm’s vision, and the passion he brought to his life work, and his commitment to living his principles, as seen through his direct engagement with the dominant issues of his day. He was a social philosopher who lived his words and put himself into the arena of ideas and actions to make a difference. He made a positive difference in the lives of millions and those who worked closely with him testify to his optimism, energy, and basic human goodness. Granting all of that, and acknowledging that I have changed my opinion of Fromm’s work after spending time in background research and reflection, I want to engage his work in two useful ways: through disinterested philosophical discourse, and through an abbreviated dialectical materialism: a method of argumentative inquiry that would have come naturally to a Marxist. I decided on this approach after Dr Armstrong asked what Fromm might have said in response to a couple of extended Moodle discussions that were critical of some of his positions.Constructivism is a world view that asserts we are active participants in the creation of our knowledge of the world, particularly in the human, social areas of our lives. There are two well-known forms of dialogue that have been instrumental in the development of social, political and economic knowledge: the disinterested philosophical discourse of ancient philosophers described so well by Hadot (2002) and the dialectical materialism of Karl Marx, which is a fusion of Hegel’s dialectics and Feuerbach’s materialism with roots that reach back to the ancient Greeks as well. (S.E.P, n.d.) (Mao, 1938)
Hadot’s discussion of discourse is thorough. Discourse obliges you to set aside your own perspective, to accept the other participant’s positions and truths, and to transcend disinterestedly to a new perspective which leads both to increased self knowledge, knowledge of the other, and to a new appreciation of the synthesis that is possible through a fusion of different opinions. There is a sense of philosophical cooperation and wisdom in play for true discourse. (Hadot, 2002)Marx’s dialectical materialism describes a dialogue between opposing views as a struggle between forces, with each committing passion and insight to argue a position. The initial argument is known as the thesis, the opposite view as the antithesis. Out of the tension of the vigorous exchange between thesis and antithesis, a broader, more comprehensive synthesis is created, which contains elements of both previous positions but which can be said to resolve the tension, encapsulate the essence of both, and move on to a new and deeper understanding of the situation. As an example, Marx characterize the struggle between owners (thesis) and workers (antithesis) over the means of production as a dialectic which becomes resolved into a synthesis of communism, after the tension of class warfare has run its course and been resolved.
I experienced both of these modes of dialogue and constructive knowledge in my readings of and reflections on Fromm’s work. The effect of the two different modes on my thinking has been instructive for me and serves to demonstrate the utility of both modes. I like the idea that they contribute both heat (the dialectic) and light (the discourse) to my own understanding of Fromm.
The dialectic generated heat from my emotional reaction to my initial reading of Fromm, as I discovered deep seated and argumentative reactions to his assertions, conclusions, and matters offered in in evidence to support his claims. These responses have roots in my undergraduate days as a student of Asian history and political science in the 1970s when I did a lot of work in the historical events surrounding socialism and communism in Asia and Europe, while simultaneously experiencing and exploring non-Western cultural and religious responses to the challenges of defining and living the good life as seen by Hindus, Buddhists and Taoists.
I read Fromm from that perspective: as a modern who sought to synthesize the ancient and modern thoughts of the good life and human nature with the tidal forces that were defining and shaping human culture through economics and political struggle. I understood his perspective and rationale for opting to follow the path of enlightened Marxism with its foundations in rationality and central planning, its concern for social justice, and his belief that freedom includes the ability to shape our destiny through choice and action, even if it means confronting and opposing what has been thought of as human nature combined with the power of tradition.
The heat came from the difference between his choices and my own, since I have chosen a different approach to understanding, framing and drawing policy conclusions from the same data set. My beliefs and values follow along the lines of valuing individual freedoms in the traditions of Payne and Locke, the political freedoms and limited government of Jefferson, the lack of central planning found in the tenets of laisse-faire capitalism, and the intellectual humility and disbelief in the perfectability of man epitomized by Twain. When the dialectical smoke had cleared though, I found room for Fromm and I to coexist:
Here are three samples of the thesis-antithesis-synthesis threads that I worked through in the dialectical tradition. In each case Fromm plays the role of thesis, as is his right as “first speaker” since we are using his text, not mine. They are representative of the more than 20 different annotated emotionally charged differences I discovered upon my first reading.
a. Tennyson’s poem: Fromm’s thesis is that Tennyson’s speaker tore the flower from the ground to understand it, while the enlightened spirit became one with it as co-members of the scene. My antithesis is that it is a matter of interpretation as to whether Tennyson’s speaker killed the flower, since it could have carefully and mindfully been moved to a new place for examination and understanding without harming it. Indeed, later in the book, Fromm describes the wisdom of a Japanese gardener who transplants plants without harm to create beautiful, spiritual gardens. My synthesis is that while the passive appreciation of the flower in nature is groovy, it is the Western scientists’ inquiry which leads to new knowledge of the world around us, but that a science without humble mindfulness can easily lead to disaster for the race given the reach and consequences of modern technology.
b. Human nature and central planning: Fromm’s thesis is that we can reshape our actions beliefs and destiny through the power of rational thought and disciplined action, and that we can design a universally applicable, better life for everyone. My antithesis is that man is in equal parts, a rational and emotional being; that there are limits to rationality and the persuasiveness of logic and reason; that life is too complex to be reduced to centrally planned, universal designs for the good life; and that the political realities of life do not permit simple transitions due to the nature of power. My synthesis is that we can appeal through dialogue and discourse to the good that is in human nature, and aspire to an improved life for others, and that rugged individualism is not the ideal life for everyone either, despite its personal appeal to me.
c. Black and White classifications: Fromm’s thesis is expressed in absolute terms, making mutually exclusive distinctions in almost every category he considers. Examples include his unqualified support for the success and goodness of the sexual revolution of the 1960s; the characterization of language itself as a conscious means whereby those in power create the meaning of individual words to further their materialistic agenda; that the choice of capitalism must inevitably lead to unbridled appetites for more and more until we exhaust the planet. He takes everything to its logical and often illogical extreme to dramatize the differences in the modes of beings and in the choices presented to people and nations. My antithesis is that there are checks and balances between your values, between members of your family, between friends, interest groups, communities, branches of government, and between nations themselves. Further, these checks and balances are adaptive and dynamic and that it is in the peaceful accommodations and adjustments we make that we have hope for a better future for all; that there are limits to how far a theory or model may be taken to explain phenomena; that there is a limit to the region of fit for any theory. My synthesis is that black and white characterizations can be useful to make dramatic statements that get your attention; that sometimes taking things to the logical extreme is a valuable way to demonstrate the very need for the compromise and discourse that I favor. Discourse:
After declaring a week of truce for reflection and research, I engaged Fromm discursively. I researched his background, his other writings, and the testimony of friends and colleagues concerning his impact on their lives as a scholar and a person. I found that by conducting dispassionate research, I was able to transcend the heat of the dialectic, which actually helped me to complete the synthesis portion of each dialectic thread where I’d experienced an emotional reaction. The syntheses in the three example of dialectic above were only reached after a cooling off period of discourse, research and reflection.
I found that the heat of the dialectic helped me raise the energy to conduct the research. Once engaged in research, my natural curiosity took over and carried me deeper than I would have gone if just motivated by a need to be right in some fanciful, contrived “argument” between Fromm and me. Fromm’s Germanic background reminded me of Hesse’s story of Magister Ludi and the Glass Bead Game, where a traditional game continued to be played long past the time when its origin, relevance and importance had been forgotten.
I grew to respect for Fromm’s independent thinking, even as it caused him to depart over and over again from groups once friendly to his thinking, and where he could have remained and enjoyed the fruits of inclusion. He was a German Jew who left both Germany and the Jewish faith in search of a better life and a deeper spirituality. He was a trained psychologist and psychiatrist who left the confines of the Freudian, Rogerian and Jungian schools of thought to elaborate his own ideas of personality and psychological balance. He was a social philosopher who engaged in the practical worlds of politics and punditry by fighting peacefully against nuclear proliferation and the Vietnam War , and in support of social justice. He was a prolific scholar, yet he wrote many popular books that made his ideas on the good life accessible to the masses. He was a systematic thinker, yet his ideas and concepts evolved through time as he reflected on his experience and the world around him. He was a good friend and a generous humble person by the accounts we have from his friends and co-workers.
And so, I find in Fromm all the elements of the good life defined by Socrates and the ancients. He is a man of passion, intellect, scholarship and good works, who lived an examined life, and who sought to apply his values in daily life. If he and I disagree on certain aspects of how precisely to define the good life and how completely we might propose a design for a good life for all, surely the world is large enough for us to both live in it at the same peacefully and in mutual support.
In the course of thinking about this paper, the design of its concept and flow, the research I conducted, the Moodle discussions where I began to partially explore some of these ideas and in the actual writing this paper, I found the heat of dialectic and the light of discourse to be useful and enlightening. I think that the combination of both perspectives was more important that the exclusive use of either by itself would have been. To have applied just the dialectic would have resulted into an argumentative essay between Fromm and I, whereas a pure discursive paper, with the energy of passion, may have been a theoretical inquiry without the motivation to go beyond my own beliefs.
In conclusion, I have enjoyed and learned from my engagement with the life and works of Erich Fromm.
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What follows is a 1st person, stream of consciousness reflection written to my mentor & committee chair.
I describe what it was like to record a 10 min video “telling the story” of some preliminary findings emerging from my action research cycles into curriculum and adult learning.
It will be shown at an international conference in Athens, as part of the Collaborative Action Research Network (CARN) annual conference, as part of a bundle of reports from the Future(s) of Education project, an international participatory action research network.
i am just glad to get it out of my head
i had a real out of body experience recording that one;
i am a very effective briefer in person, because i can read the audience pretty well.
i have recorded hundreds of mini lectures etc for my business and for use here at the college on various topics.
i have never, ever needed more than a single take to record, decent and sometimes even inspired voice-overs until last night and that briefing.
I literally needed about 30 takes to get thru it; most i stopped when less than a minute into it because the tone just didn’t feel right
i think it has to do with being a fish out of water, and the difficulty i felt in trying to tune my story for an audience i couldn’t see, but more importantly didn’t have empathy for
because the audience characteristics still feel fuzzy to me, i couldn’t call up the right tone, voice, persona to apply
this caused me to have almost a split personality in the moment, when i am ordinarily dialed in
i had a “talking part” and a “look ahead part” that is concerned with shaping the transition to the next point/slide
but now i had a disconcerting 3rd part that was trying to anticipate the possible reactions of an unfamiliar, and hard to imagine audience
this is what made me feel so out of sorts
until i “wore out” the last, 3d part and was able to trust in just telling the story, and accepting the vulnerability of knowing that i couldn’t know the audience, i found i just couldn’t get thru it.
this is the same phenomenon I spoke with Prof Mike Wesch, the digital anthropologist at Kansas State University, and world thought leader on social dynamics in social media: the camera eye represents the unlimited, unfathomable infinite future of all possible audiences across time and space who can be looking in on the “telling moment”.
in a sense, its like coming face to face with the unblinking eye of God and wondering what she is thinking
it is trust that lets us get thru that moment, the accepting of vulnerability, that creates the empathy that hopefully fills the story, as told, with hope.
that’s a clumsy way of trying to express my meaning of the risk and vulnerability to “telling” and why it can be such a powerful learning moment, and why we need to model it, embrace it, encourage it, and support it.
Your “producer’s draft” was exactly what i needed to be able to get out of my own comfortable fishbowl;
you gave me a bridge to the audience that i could not create on my own.
this has become an interesting reflection to me already
please put the video on the website, and any or all of this reflection as you deem suitable
have a great time at the conference!