Wednesday, November 11, 2009

“Memories, misty water colored memories..” reinterpreted

Today's democratic court systems draw on ancient wisdom when they emphasize an eye witness as the best sort of evidence of guilt or innocence that can be given. Television and movie scripts validate this in many of their scripts. Yet, like the famous song "The way we were", time has “rewritten every line”. Evidence from current brain research says that our memories are based upon a better or worse ability to recall details. Some sing, ski, build electronic gadgets, sew, we all have a range of abilities in relation to others. We all know that we are better at some things and have a harder time with others. Why should memory be different?

Studies have shown that the way in which questions are asked influences the perception of the memory under inquiry. Memories change over time; they are not objective and are always reconstructed. We can even remember incidents that did not occur if others we trust validate that the incident occurred.

Other research suggests that we create the future based upon the memories we have from the past (the more detailed the better). Our present is colored by the interpretation we place upon the past and how we use that as a component of future scenarios.

Florence Kluckhohn, a famous anthropologist, determined that people could look at the past on a spectrum running from a people positive perspective to a people negative perspective, in more dynamic language people are basically good to people are basically evil. By evil we mean that they have no conscious, act only in their own self-interest, have no remorse or compassion, in other words psychopathic. About 1% of the population fit that diagnosis and the cause is complex and based more upon physiological and social conditions than it is values and beliefs.

Complicated? Yes, because the brain is complicated. One complex concept that has occurred recently is that of plasticity. Our brains build new neuron connections all the time and we have the capacity to revisit old memories and reinterpret them by sliding more toward the people positive perspective or more toward the people negative perspective. We can re-interpret them with new insight, maturity and understanding of the world and how it functions. Once again, it is not our memories that are important, but our interpretation of them.

What we are able to create for the future is largely based on the quality of our interpreted past. To have high quality memories, we have to be able to recall, not what was done to us, but what we derived from the situation that matters most.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Look Back to See the Future

In a recent 60 Minutes news forecast (American TV News Magazine, there was an interview with President Obama. The major focus of the interview was the battle to initiate health insurance into the American system.

In a revealing article in the Fall 2009 issue of Yes! Magazine, author Brooke Jarvis reveals all the mistakes Barak Obama is making, despite his background as a community developer and his successes in poor communities with an example from the past. She tells the story of academics and analysts who came together over the issue of health care as they saw workers, elderly and poor people who were in desperate need. However, they din't go to the people who need the care and help them to organize, they made their appeal to those they saw as having the direct power to make the necessary changes. Those in power were, in this particular case, the medical profession, the insurance industry and conservative politicians who got defensive and killed the initiative.

This sounds very much like what happened in the last struggle for a comprehensive health coverage intended to bring services to the masses of un- and under-served under President Clinton. Ms. Jarvis surprises us by saying that this particular incident describes a health care initiative from 1915!

She points out the same pattern in the 1920's, as a part of the New Deal, "the Wagner-Murray-Dingall bill of the Truman era." They ignored grass roots movements and succeeded in sucking the fight out of what those movements felt was their initiative.

Jarvis quotes historian Beatrix Hoffman, who states the real problem to be faced is that the proposals came from elites who sought to compromise with interest groups, where they believed real power lay, rather than to ally with grassroots movements and their supporters among everyday Americans. Those trying to make the reforms gave in to the powerful stakeholders, ignoring the strength of people in need. Even existing social movements for "civil and women's rights, organized labor", and those from the grassroots fighting for attention for specific diseases like AIDS, cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes could have contributed to the fight.

This article highlights the need for looking back and finding patterns. Isn't that what good psychiatry is about- helping people to understand that there is a pattern to all the mistakes they make and then encouraging them do something different? Why is that different when talking about large populations of individuals? The message for President Obama is clear. Go back and encourage those who propose a single-payer solutions encourage them to be heard, to demonstrate and fight for what they want. Look back and you will see the future!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Your inate ability to create the future

The current financial crisis of 2008-9 has hit all over the world. Many people find themselves out of work and in far too many cases out of a place to live. For many this will be a time for rethinking what truly brings meaning to our lives. However you see it, nature, evolution or the higher being of your choice has given us a variety of coping mechanisms for just such occasions. One of these is the capability of our minds to form our behavior in anticipation of future consequences. We can now see these capacities at work with the help of MRI and fMRI. We can anticipate future consequences, plan and monitor the direction of events in relation to how we see ourselves partaking in future activities. While these three are considered executive skills (used by leaders), everyone has the capacity to use them more or less. Everyone can be their own leader. Some need to learn and practice them and others perform them naturally.

The best way to practice is to create a specific event in which we have the roll we desire. It should to be an event that has meaning for our lives. For example, we are receiving acclaim for work we have done that has contributed something of value to others and has had meaning for ourselves. An event in which we are being handed a lot of money for winning a lottery, for which we did nothing may be exciting and come in very handy, but has no meaning unless we use the money for a cause we think contributes to the greater good. Try to picture that situation in as much detail as possible by using all your sense organs. See place, the colors and sounds, smell the smells and the feel the feeling you and others around you have. This is called an episodic future thought.

What does one gain from such an exercise? In the first place, it puts us in a position of thinking about the future, which is one of the first abilities to go when we are depressed. It means you are not deeply depressed or you are able to shake yourself out of depression. That is fantastic news. In the second place, the process of formulating an event in detail strengthens our ability to do that in the future. It is like working out at the gym.

The next step is to think about what consequences might arise from this event, both positive and negative. From there, we can begin to form our current behavior in the direction of strengthening the development of the positive consequences and giving as little energy as possible to consequences that may have negative outcomes. All the way, you can monitor if a given behavior contributes to your episodic future thought. Science tells us that that we have the capability. Wouldn’t now be a good time to nurture it?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Is this a description of you?

Do you tend to have people around you who are different from you and each other? Do you interact with them as individuals? Do you look for patterns in the world around you? Do you tend to do several things at once? Do you partner with others in order to accomplish tasks? Is it easy for you to see how you and the people around you make a difference together? Do you see the events around you as unfolding based upon what came before? Do you see them as a kind of evolution? Do you sense that there are many truths, which grow from varying circumstances?

This is an interpretation of one of four strongest mindscapes found in research by Professor Emeritus Magoroh Maruyma in some very interesting work he has done in the field of psychology and sociology. He argues that his methodology works over cultural borders as there are many more similarities between people of like mindscapes than there are between people from the same country. His work has an esthetic aspect as well. Professor Maruyma has found that individuals have an audio/visual preference related to redundancy (repetition) and symmetry or harmonic interactivity among dissimilar elements. He calls this entire spectrum the degree of nonredundant complexity. Examples of this for the mindscape above are: some traditional Japanese gardens and floral art, Picasso’s Guernica, Stravinsky’s Rite of the Spring, Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben and Pergamon in Greece.

The more we understand about the possible preferences of the brain and the senses in making decisions, the better we can understand the individuals and the society around us. This is complicated business as Professor Maruyma has shown. Even though he was able to identify the four strongest mindscapes there were others, not as strong, but still relevant for individuals that exist. Putting people into categories is something that our brains tend to do, some more or less than others. For every stereotype you can identify, there will be some exception. This body of research has much to offer Foresight Styles. You may not feel at home with the above description; remember that there are others and that life is diverse and everyone is needed. As we look at such complex research we begin to understand just how that complexity is reflected in us.

On that rather complex note, have a relaxing and healthy summer. You can look forward to more insightful articles from The Foresight Files in the fall.

Friday, May 8, 2009

What is your action style?

Propensity to Action

Being/becoming/doing is an orientation, a range of human propensities to action or “the nature of man’s mode of self-expression in activity” report anthropologists Florence Kluckhohn and Fred Strodtbeck.

We all have the whole spectrum in us, but we have natural preferences as well. Our preferences are guided by our beliefs in how the world is structured and also our own image in that world. For example, because I came from a highly individualized culture, where action is prized over whom you know and what you can do, my self-image is based very much upon what I have accomplished through doing. When I am not "doing", I criticize myself for laziness and lack of initiative.

"Being" is related to the spontaneous way human beings satisfy their impulses which has nothing to do with passivity or development. It lies nearer instinctual behavior. If my lips are dry, my concentration is totally on how I can get to lip balm. If I am thirsty, a drink is upmost in my thoughts and motivates my actions. Being occurs when we accept our environment, living instinctually with a certain amount of “flow” made famous by Csikszentmihalyi.

“Becoming” is a creative activity, motivated by one's will, which is triggered by our emotional, intellectual and sensuous experiences. If one believes strongly that wife battering is the root of many of society’s problems and possibly have some more personal experiences, then your activity level might drive you to volunteer at a shelter for battered spouses. It is in becoming that we can understand the workings, patterns and systemic connections in our environment.

“Doing “ is dominant in Western society and is characterized by “…the kind of activity which results in accomplishments that are measurable by standards conceived to be external to the acting individual” (Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck,1961, p.17), like succeeding in being responsible for large profits in your working situation. It is often that monetary gains are the standards conceived to be external to the acting individual". Whether our reward is monetary, status or fame depends upon what we need most. Our actions are directed to changing something, making something, as we see it, better.

The being, becoming and doing continuum influences our foresight ability. The individual focused upon “being”, is totally involved in his or her work, enjoys the work, doesn’t make a conscious effort to develop, and is not as motivated to wander into thinking about what might be.

However, an individual focused upon "becoming" might be studying what is going on around him or her and seeing links, consequences and systems. They might begin to see what future activities or trends might result from such systems. It requires a certain amount of distance and the ability to see the whole picture rather than focus upon details. Generalists, who know a little about a lot, can often see the connections between divergent situations and activities.

When the situation under our inspection becomes personally connected to our emotions or grows out of an unfulfilled need is when we move toward action and "doing". In positive situations, the activist within steps forward and tries to make a change not only for him or herself, but for others with similar problems. Watch the TV program Dr. Phil to see examples of both. Some people are just caught up in their tragedy and can only tell how they feel. Others have the ability to realize that the situation, in which they find themselves, happens to others as well.

Which propensity to action do you find yourself using at this moment? Are you able to identify personal examples of when you are “being, becoming, or doing”. One of the biggest lifestyle complaints has been that we are so wrapped up in doing that we have no time for being (playing with the kids) or becoming (watching the interaction between the people around us, or observing world patterns and systems).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Do rules reign?

How much structure do you require to feel save and happy in your life? The theory of foresight styles postulates that one’s personal need for structure partially affects where on the foresight style continuum one sits. Naturally, there are other personal characteristics that affect it as well. Earlier I have written about the temporal factor.

You can test your personal need for structure on a Scale.

Personal Need Structure or (PNS) is one of those few academic descriptions that don’t need interpretation. Think about the structure that you have in your life. Do you always put your keys in the same place? Do you want a written job description or just verbal instructions in the beginning?

I first became aware of the concept when I worked with thirty-five women in learning/executing a study of the future of the public sector in Sweden. Every time we had a participants meeting, there were some that asked question after question and others who understood directly and wanted to leave and start working. Those in the middle needed a little clarity, but pretty much understood and were greatly irritated by those who wanted more information and those who had one foot out the door. When I thought about it, I realized that every meeting I had ever been a part of had the same dynamic which illustrated individual differences of the participants. Obviously, others had made the same observation and have done some very detailed research on it. PNS is conceptually similar to how tolerant or intolerant we are of ambiguity, or as Geert Hofstede called it, Uncertainty Avoidance. These concepts, when applied to foresight have to look at what a high need for structure might mean to someone who is asked to thinking about the future. A logical extrapolation from the current situation could make the future a better or worse version of how it is today. Someone who has a low need for structure, and can handle more ambiguity and not shy away from uncertainty, might feel freer to create visionary or dystopic images of the future. Those in the middle of that spectrum might be inclined to put together current and past ideas, creating something new and yet not totally unfamiliar. It is clear that both positive or negative or mixed futures can come from individuals on the personal need for security spectrum. This is the starting point for many scenarios. However, when looking at why people choose one or the other or both, might lie in their orientation on what anthropologist Florence Kluckhohn used, scale of good to evil. In other words, we all sit somewhere on a belief spectrum from: people are basically good to people are basically evil. You are possibly starting to get the idea that there are a lot of factors that influence foresight. Research continues to flush them out. Keep reading here, we have and will discuss others.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Theoretical entree, practical dessert

Recent interest in the theoretical background of Foresight Styles Assessment has lead to a paper soon to be published by the Journal of Futures Studies titled Foresight Styles Assessment: A theory based study in foresight competency and change.

For Certified Consultants who use FSA in their consulting or coaching, insight into our "entree" (some light theory) might be useful in working with clients. For "dessert" practical suggestions are offered.

The intentions of FSA are the same as for most assessments, allow for wide divergence in clients' views, attitudes, values, and behaviors, recognize the diversity with which they and their colleagues face change and aid clients in choosing approaches to change that consider both short and long term aspects.


FS has its background in Innovation Diffusion research or how new ideas become integrated into a wider population. It is a scale from non-acceptance to quick adaption of the new. It is not just how we accept what's new, but has to do with the origin of the new idea and how each different adaption style affects long and short range results. When economic, climate, ecologic and energy questions fight for our attention and energy, the long-range and the short range come into perspective in a new light.

A number of assumptions that influenced the foresight theory are:

  • individuals have a greater affinity for and can be placed upon a temporal spectrum of past - present - future,

  • individuals think from analytic or holistic paradigms,

  • individuals have a greater or lesser affinity for activity as described by the continuum for instinctual behavior, development directed behavior or action oriented behavior,

  • individuals have a greater or lesser need for structure.

  • Evolutionary development has endowed Homo sapiens with genetic and physiological capabilities that allow them to do what no other animals can; form their future.

    Holistic thinking is summarized as a spectrum, from the ability to see the larger picture with all its messy detail: holistic causality, everything-is-connected and a an attitude of contradictions that can see some validity in both sides. The locus of holistic thinking is the whole. Analytic thinking is described as slow, deliberative and conscious, rational analysis and discussion with locus of attention on the parts. Researchers from Eastern cultures refer to their research as holistic and Western researchers tend to use Duel Process and their term of choice.

    The temporal aspect of FSA has to do with ones orientation or alignment to the past, the present or the future. It does not mean that the individual lives totally in one of these time zones, but find one or the other a comfort zone.

    Under propensity to action there are two concepts. Being, becoming and doing describe the activity relationship we have to our total environment. We can be accepting within our environment, living instinctually with a certain amount of “flow” as Csikszentmihalyi describes it. We can understand the workings, patterns and systemic connections in our environment, or we can take action in order to bring about change. The being, becoming and doing continuum influences how each of the styles individualize themselves.

    The other individualization influence is in the varying degree of personal need for structure which enables us to make sense of the world, to form and maintain a clear perception of our personal and work lives. A high personal need for structure implies a need for information and rules about the topic at hand and appears to correlate with a fear of lack of validity, cogency or acceptance by the larger group. In addition, when confronted with a proposed change, a personal need for structure can include a need to know what to expect, the need to maintain a daily routine, the fear of unpredictable situations and people, unclear and new rules, activities and expectations.

    Paractical Tips

    When using FSA with client groups or individuals, one can discuss need for or lack of need of structure, propensity to action, holistic or analytic thinking and temporal orientation. First, talk to yourself about your stance on these four orientations. Consider that your orientation will draw you to clients that have similar orientations and initiate a certain amount of judgment against those who do not. Bon appitit!