Happy Steve

Innovation and Learning

Start with clarity of intent.

Now build it out with an evocative vision. Improvise progress by tinkering: with lots of trial and lots of error. The not knowing is the best bit: the mysteries the surprises, and from time to time the windfalls! 

Hello there, I'm Steve Collis! 

Click on "contact", won't you, and wave right back at me?


Contrast to the familiar, and home. There is not necessarily a correlation with low energy states and high energy states. I can be in a familiar, homely situation and still experience flow. I'm in my element. I know my stuff. All my energy is going into manipulation of known quantities, and the application of mastered skills.

The alienation process may feel the opposite: frustration, disconnection, bewilderment, disorientation.

The problem with the familiar, and therefore the need to alienate, is that it relies on filters and unquestioned assumptions. There is little room for unknowledge, except for a habitual, throw-away scanning of the environment or field, just in case. This sort of casual scanning is unlikely to identify faultlines or contradictions, because our narratives and ideologies have already rationalised these away in the first place. We wouldn't have been able to attain a state of familiarity and mastery without the paradigm being inherently consistent and compelling.

Alienation is more than the odd rhetorical question, or occasional doubt. 

Alienation is cognitive dissonance in extremis - yes, to the point of death. It is death because our constructions of our very selves are part of the framework that is being put to the side. All reliable notions, even bedrock assumptions, are more than vulnerable, they are ignored..

However, I am not describing a modern scientific spiral whereby cherished dogmas and dominate theories are continually questioned, opposed, tested, in a marketplace of paradigms, as a mechanism to improve our explanatory powers, Popper-style. I am not opposing that spiral, but personally I have a broader framework for alienation.

I could call it narrative-switching. It is the habit of shifting between paradigms, fusing with each one, then defusing, and so on. On a situational basis this involves recounting conversations or critical incidents from different perspectives, sometimes deliberately distorting the narrative but then searching keenly for evidence to support the distortion. One finds it is possible to make a convincing argument for whole range of perspectives.

The heart of this sort of process is something that seems to me profoundly good, and spiritual: I put myself in the other's shoes. You can cue the discourse of 'otherness' right now - press play, and just match it up with my language of alienation. It's like looking in a mirror, reacting strongly to an image that shows what we've suppressed in ourselves, then seeing past that to an alternative and legitimate home.

I am not saying all homes are equally functional or healthy, only that they are equally understandable - by very definition, because someone else arrived there and saw it fit to live there. 

I've steered toward the personal so far, but I originally had in mind the broader sweeps of debate and opinion. In the education sphere, identify the discourses on: gamification, bring your own device, standardised testing, teacher performance pay, etc. 

Each of these discourses is a tangle of insanity, containing a veritable repertoire of anchor points, each containing suppressed self-contradictions, hidden complexities, over-emphases, and even outright denials. No wonder debates arise: there is so much ammunition on both sides. Watching the QANDA program on the ABC in Australia, or The Drum, or frankly the media in general, I can feel a complicated evolving ideas-landscape. 

Ironically, the discipline of alienation is not a clearcut path to wisdom or achievement. Many wonderful achievements in history have come from leaders who show no doubt whatsoever in their convictions and paradigm. They waste no energy undermining their own positions. 

In retrospect some of these individuals are dramatically exonerated and celebrated. Others are universally damned for the large-scale damage they have caused.

There is nothing so dangerous as an idea whose time has come. Nothing so powerful, nothing so dangerous.

Releasing a new idea is like releasing a beast, or bringing rabbits to Australia.

Well, I don't want to have my fingers on a trigger of such a large gun. So I shall continue the practice of alienation. I will continue to develop a repertoire of lenses, paradigms, narratives, coherent explanations, and practise switching between them, especially when under duress or stressed. I accept the high cost to productivity that this entails. My doubt is an investment in future growth. 

This sort of process is well understood via the brain-as-muscle metaphor. Thinking processes are like dance moves or piano or guitar riffs: the more we practise, the easier it becomes. The language I've adopted for the process is:

- fusion... where I am in the system

- defusion... where I position my centre of self in a system-less space

- mindfulness... I can now observe all aspects of my experience: thoughts, emotions, sensations

It is a very interesting 'I' that does the observing. What a surprise to me, after 30 years, to come across a centre of self that had been operating invisibly for so long.

It is a one-trick pony. The only thing it can do is observe.

As I type this in 2012, the pace of ideas-exchange is only intensifying. I am a node in a super-network that is itself the strata for something moving faster than all of us. I mythologise the network traffic like an ancient Greek god: the NOISE, I call it. The NOISE. 

Like that Guinness guy, I like to watch. Observe the NOISE as if it were a cake, then slice it 10 different ways - 10 different messy ways.

This sounds to my ears a seductive process, but I use the word alienation because it also comes at a cost.