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Hugging the cactus

January 19, 2012

Early into Dave Snowden‘s presentation in #change11 this week, I nearly bailed.  Admittedly, I hadn’t made time for any of the readings yet (sometimes I use this as a test of how easily one can jump into the content).  I was distracted, flipping back and forth between Collaborate and other work I was doing and I couldn’t get ‘in’ to what he was saying.  His work sounded too academic, prickly and uncomfortable for me.

About 20 minutes in, I was glad I hadn’t bailed because we moved into more practical examples and metaphors that made Dave’s expertise more accessible to me.  Here are my takeaways:

– Don’t just hang out hugging your fellow fluffy bunnies.  Invite the ‘devil bunnies’ to rattle your own viewpoint, on purpose.

– Decide whether we want to develop recipe book readers or chefs.  The former can regurgitate ‘right’ ways to do things.  The latter can adapt to circumstances and make do with whatever is available.  Chefs are risk takers, experts who know enough about the tools and ingredients to put them together in ways that fit the complexity of the moment.

– My fellow moocer put together this Ferrari and the Brazilian rainforest post to highlight differences between complicated and complex things.  I’m grateful for his concrete distinction.

– If you’re not failing, often, you’re actually failing.  Flipped around, a good learning experience is one that doesn’t go smoothly.

– Dave’s principles of knowledge exchange fit well with the fascinating book I’m currently reading: Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink.  Had I thin-sliced Dave’s presentation early on and decided to bail, I would have missed out on something valuable.

Maybe I’ve got it, maybe I don’t.  Let me know what you think.


From → Smarter worker

  1. jennymackness permalink

    I love the title to this post- describes so well the often uncomfortable nature of learning. Jenny

    • Thanks, Jenny, the whole idea of embracing discomfort seems to be a recurring pattern for me in moocing and is about to get more uncomfortable (on purpose) with #ds106 and #cck12. Keep well! 🙂

  2. Found myself a bit put off with Dave Snowden’s terminology but sense some very useful concepts that I could use at work on certain projects. Our department has a closet full of interesting but abandoned projects that are waiting for:

    *the people blocking them to be promoted to another campus on another planet
    *the co-evolution of all levels of the hierarchy into a synergistic wholeness
    *a new way to understand the problem that allows a strategy to emerge that actually works

    My sense is we’ve been defeated by the perception of complexity in many of these projects. Combine this with an unrealistic picture of what the problem looks like when it is resolved and the whole thing is just tossed out as impossible.

    Thanks for this posting Brainy, it’s helped me reach that optimal level of confusion that always results in something useful.


    • Thanks, Scott, I’m grinning ear to ear about ‘optimal level of confusion’. I will continue to chase that myself. 🙂

      I was musing in this Monday’s backchannel during #change11 about whether an institution can actually be ‘open’ and I see that question linked to the hierarchical road-blockers you described above. One might call them wombats (big lumpy animals famous for sitting in the middle of the road oblivious to threat of oncoming traffic). Seems complexity makes some wombats dig their heels in even further rather than rise to the challenge of sorting it out. Wrestling complexity takes time and I am surrounded by time victims…sigh. 🙂

  3. Hug the cactus…or work within and beyond you ZPD 😉

    I like the chef vs. reader analogy. Readers can become chefs, but they first need to be comfortable with failure. I haven’t mastered being comfortable with failure, at least as far as food preparation goes 🙂

    • Thanks, AK, I hear you on the food prep thing. I had the benefit of a grandmother who often cooked without following the recipe so I’ve learned a bit of risk-taking from her example. Quite likely, she knew the recipe by heart already and felt comfortable modifying it based on her considerable experience with other recipes.

      Others in my family are more inclined to measure everything out in separate cups as dictated and never deviate. A balanced approach, recommended by my best friend, is to at least try the recipe as written the first time and then consider modifications from there. Particularly true of baking, which is less forgiving of errors than other types of cooking. 🙂 Keep well in the kitchen! 🙂

    • Update: I’ve opened up a forum for #cck11 too. I’m not sure what’s going on with the #cck12 course. It all seems to be dead.

      • Thanks, Matt, it’s so nice to see you taking the initiative to build and share new stuff for our moocs. Keep up the great work! 🙂

  4. Hey there, I did the learning for the past session on Cynefin a bit back to front too: I found this short essay a good summary of the principles and it helped me put it into perspective.
    Opinion Makers Section – Simon French
    I’m particularly interested in how this links to post-disaster/conflict reconstruction – very complex environments but not quite chaotic.

    • Thanks, Robert, I’ll look forward to reading that link on Cynefin today. Always nice to know I’m not the only one working ‘a bit back to front’ on these topics. Cheers 🙂

  5. Hi brainysmurf, glad you didn’t bail. Your presence was appreciated!

    Here’s a copy of a message from me on the CCK12 newsletter:

    I’ve been participating for the last two weeks in #change11 and I’ve been missing the opportunity to have extended discussions about the webinars and connected articles and resources. I currently have an empty installation of PHPBB3 (popular open source bulletin board software) on my server and would like to offer it for exclusive use to participants on #CCK12.

    The URL is here:

    I think it would be an excellent place for co-learners to aggregate links to articles and resources, discuss them in an ordered and structured way. Of course, this doesn’t prevent any participants from continuing with their reflective blogs and they’d also be able to post references to them on the forum.

    If this sounds like a good idea to you and you’d like to support and recommend it, I’ll make the appropriate changes (graphics and titles instead of my ugly mug) and set up the schedule and groups. User registration works on a moderated basis the same way as Change MOOC courses.

    Volunteer moderators would also be very welcome!

    • Thanks, Matt, appreciate the cross-over opportunities with #cck12. Looking fwd to hearing from you in that course as well. Cheers 🙂

  6. “Hug the cactus” is such a clever description for learning. Reminds me of Elliot Eisner’s: “working at the edge of my incompetence.” Which is how I operate 😉

    And you’re so right that baking can be unforgiving. I attempted to bake a gluten-free pizza crust today and let’s just say I think I’ve created a potential meat substitute instead. But I learned a lot!

    Get ready to hug the cactus in ds106 😉

    • Thanks for sharing this, cris, it’s my understanding from various family members and friends that a number of gluten-free items can be difficult to wrestle with (particularly breads and pastas). Thankfully, the gluten-free world is evolving quickly and hopefully more folks will experiment and come up with better products (and lower prices, wouldn’t that be nice!)

      Keep well and see you ’round the cacti 🙂

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