Friday, April 23, 2010

Education and the economics of happiness

Some excellent useful & interesting work's been going on over the past decade on "happiness economics" - bringing the focus of economic analysis back to its first principles - of measuring value in terms of "utility" - ie the using the term "values" in its broadest sense in terms of what makes peoples lives worthth living, rather than simply what generates greater monetary wealth. In other words, quality of life over standard of living.

Much of this ties in very comfortably with the values-led culture of schools and other public education institutions.

Here's a taste:
The return of happiness as a theme in economics is due to the emergence of a new fact.
Economists themselves has always known that wealth alone does not bring happiness. The often implicit hypothesis underlying economic analysis was that even if wealth or economic well-being did not always bring a “proportional” increase in happiness, it did not would not however entail its diminution.

For this reason, especially in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, economics has confined its concern
to a sphere much less complicated than happiness: that of wealth or (economic) well-being –
realising of course that much of peoples’ happiness depends on non-economic factors such as
relationships and emotions, which have nothing to do with the market.
Luigino Bruni (2004)“The Economics of Happiness”

So -how long will it take for us to incorporate these ideas into political decision-making and educational policy?

Here are some articles that may be of interest if, like me, you are just coming up to speed with these ideas. (Yes, just a quick google search....)

New Economist: The economics of happiness: a progress report

Luigino Bruni (2004) “The Economics of Happiness”

Carol Graham (2005) "The Economics of Happiness"
 Betsey Stevenson (2009) What are the economics of happiness?
Carol Graham  (2005) Insights on Development from the Economics of Happiness

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Why being an agent of change isn't easy (or common)

I've had a couple of interesting conversations recently about the difficulty of getting people (and by extension, their organisations) to deal with the fundamental issues and ideas that underpin their day to day activities.

So often, when I try to have a conversation at that level it's dismissed as pedantry or triviality.

It's all very frustrating, but on reflection it's absolutely predictable in terms of transformative learning processes.

At the core of Transformative Learning Theory, is the process of "Perspective Transformation." Clark (1991), identifies three dimensions to a perspective transformation: psychological (changes in understanding of the self), convictional (revision of belief systems), and behavioral (changes in lifestyle) (in Mezirow, 2000).  [accessed 10 April 2010]

The energy and maturity of approach required to reflect critically on your own frame of reference (perspective) is significant. It requires a capacity to enter, more or less at will, that space where all things are simultaneously possible - where cognitive dissonance prevails; Schrodinger's cat can be simultaneously alive and dead. This is the land of the White Queen,who could believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast. It's also described as the "neutral zone" of transition; and the bottom of Scharmer's U of profound change:
...we move down one side of the U (connecting us to the world that is outside of our institutional bubble) to the bottom of the U (connecting us to the world that emerges from within) and up the other side of the U (bringing forth the new into the world). On that journey, at the bottom of the U, lies an inner gate that requires us to drop everything that isn't essential. This process of letting-go (of our old ego and self) and letting-come (our highest future possibility: our Self) establishes a subtle connection to a deeper source of knowing. [accessed 10 April 2010]
The U metaphor illustrates why this process takes so much mental energy: in order to enter that 'neutral' space where real ("profound") change  - i.e. a perspective transformation - is possible, it is necessary to abandon all forward momentum. In order to exit from it, it is necessary to create a new direction and movement from scratch. As anyone with even a passing understanding of basic physics knows, both of these processes absorb energy. Think for a moment of how much fuel is required to stop a tanker on the ocean, or turn it. It's not just a matter of not accelerating, engine power is needed to brake, or to push in the new direction. The same is true with our movement through life.

None of which is going to make it any less frustrating for an agent of change, an innovator or an early adopter dealing with people who are not able to do this; but perhaps it may make it easier to accept that it's just how it is. Everett Rogers' Diffusion of Innovation theory where those terms come from, suggests that 1 person in 40 (2.5% of the population) is an 'innovator' and about 1 in 8 (13.5% of the population) is an early adopter (also known as opinion leaders or lighthouse customers).

All of which ties in quite neatly with this article in CLO Magazine about Ambiguity Leadership and the art of mastering uncertainty.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


    Letting go (what we don't do in education)
    How familiar does this sound?
    A whole book could be written on the way that repeated changes are today sapping the energy and confusing the purpose within corporations and public institutions. Many of the initiatives launched by leaders—initiatives that are intended to lead to organizational renewal—all too often simply add to the burden of change. The new strategic, structural, and or cultural plans are all meant to bring new life to the organization. But few of them do justice to the natural renewal sequence of letting go, embracing and exploring the time between realities, and then setting off on the chosen path to the future. 


    Transition is not just a nice way to say change. It is the inner process through which people come to terms with a change, as they let go of the way things used to be and reorient themselves to the way that things are now. In an organization, managing transition means helping people to make that difficult process less painful and disruptive.
    . ..In what sense, could it be time for you to let go of that particular way to use your talents? In what way are you outgrowing the identity that you've been trading on for these past years? And if you can't get appreciated any longer in your old work situation, is that loss in any sense a timely one?
    Such questions give you a place to start, a path to follow. Every one of them suggests some learning, some discovery that may lie ahead. Each of them represents a gate in that change-wall that blocked your path.

    This ties in with the idea that cognitive dissonance, which some traditional educators regard as an evil to be avoided, is in fact the signal that learning and growth are possible. It may be uncomfortable, but it is important. 'Cognitive dissonance' is a way of describing the state of transition between the old way of understanding and the new, the "neutral zone".


    This is the same phenomenon that Otto Scharmer describes at the bottom of the U in his Theory-U. In the executive summary to his book Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges he says this about it:
    On that journey, at the bottom of the U, lies an inner gate that requires us to drop everything that isn't essential. This process of letting-go (of our old ego and self) and letting-come...
    That process of simultaneously letting-go and letting-come is another way of describing the experience of cognitive dissonance - what we experience (and do) in the neutral zone.