Double Loop Learning

While reading a snarky review on Amazon of Difficult Conversations, I was pointed to “Action Science a la Argyris”.  Googling around I came upon this:

[Chris] Argyris (1976) proposes double loop learning theory which pertains to learning to change underlying values and assumptions. The focus of the theory is on solving problems that are complex and ill-structured and which change as problem-solving advances.

Which is pretty interesting since that sounds a lot like the type of Capacity Building issues I deal with on a day to day basis. It goes on:

Double loop theory is based upon a “theory of action” perspective outlined by Argyris & Schon (1974). This perspective examines reality from the point of view of human beings as actors. Changes in values, behavior, leadership, and helping others, are all part of, and informed by, the actors’ theory of action. An important aspect of the theory is the distinction between an individual’s espoused theory and their “theory-in-use” (what they actually do); bringing these two into congruence is a primary concern of double loop learning. Typically, interaction with others is necessary to identify the conflict.

There are four basic steps in the action theory learning process: (1) discovery of espoused and theory-in-use, (2) invention of new meanings, (3) production of new actions, and (4) generalization of results. Double loop learning involves applying each of these steps to itself. In double loop learning, assumptions underlying current views are questioned and hypotheses about behavior tested publically. The end result of double loop learning should be increased effectiveness in decision-making and better acceptance of failures and mistakes.

This is actually pretty clear, and considering this was proposed in the mid-70s, I can say with certainty that this type of process is pretty well-established in current management literature—which is maybe why it seems clear to me.  Of course, that quote above doesn’t really talk much about why it’s called Double Loop, so I looked that up and found in a very interesting article:

When the error detected and corrected permits the organization to carry on its present policies or achieve its presents objectives, then that error-and-correction process is single-loop learning. Single-loop learning is like a thermostat that learns when it is too hot or too cold and turns the heat on or off. The thermostat can perform this task because it can receive information (the temperature of the room) and take corrective action. Double-loop learning occurs when error is detected and corrected in ways that involve the modification of an organization’s underlying norms, policies and objectives.

With this illuminating graphic:

Double Loop

This is very applicable to a lot of the work I do with Capacity Building because it demonstrates a very clear difference between what I would call Technical Assistance (Single-Loop) and true Capacity Building (Double-Loop).  Sometimes all you need is Technical Assistance (like a snazzy new CMS), but often times once you have it, you realize that it’s not being used because your governing culture and values don’t align with the needs of the project (no one in your organization cares about non-targeted external communications); so you have a larger problem.

Excerpt: Sectors of the US Right—Active in the Year 2001

With the political talk about Rush Limbaugh being in charge of the Republican party I—serendipously while cleaning out my office—came across a list of definitions for the US Right from Defending Democracry: An activist resource kit. In reading over the list, the question for me that comes to mind is: if that’s the Right, what is the Left?

There is much overlap and sectors are not mutually exclusive. Populist, apocalyptic, and conspiracist styles can be found in several sectors. Methodologies range from cautious moderation, to activism, to insurgency, to violence. Forms of oppression—racism, sexism, homophobia, antisemitism—vary in each sector.


Secular Right

Corporate Internationalists—Nations should control the flow of people across borders, but not the flow of goods, capital, and profit. Sometimes called the “Rockefeller Republicans.” Globalists.

Business Nationalists—Multinational corporations erode national sovereignty; nations should enforce borders for people, but also for goods, capital, and profit through trade restrictions. Enlists grassroots allies among Regressive Populists. Anti-Globalists.

Economic Libertarians—The state disrupts the perfect harmony of the free market system. Modern democracy is essentially congruent with capitalism.

National Security Militarists—Support U.S. military supremacy and unilateral use of force to protect U.S. national security interests around the world. A major component of Cold War anticommunism.

Neoconservatives-–The egalitarian social liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s undermined the national consensus. Intellectual oligarchies and political institutions preserve democracy from mob rule.

Christian Right

Christian Nationalists—Biblically-defined immorality and sin breed chaos and anarchy. America’s greatness as Godʼs chosen land has been undermined by liberal  secular humanists, feminists, and homosexuals. Purists want litmus tests for issues of abortion, tolerance of gays and lesbians, and prayer in school. Includes some non-Christian cultural conservatives. Overlaps somewhat with Christian theocracy.


Christian Theocrats—Christian men are ordained by God to run society. Eurocentric version of Christianity based on early Calvinism. Intrinsically Christian ethnocentric, treating non-Christians as second-class citizens. Implicitly antisemitic. Includes soft dominionists and hardline Reconstructionists.


Paleoconservatives—Ultraconservatives and reactionaries. Natural financial oligarchies preserve the republic against democratic mob rule. Usually nativist (White Racial Nationalist), sometimes antisemitic or Christian nationalist. Elitist emphasis is similar to the intellectual conservative revolutionary wing of the European New Right. Often libertarian.

Regressive Popular Patriots—Secret elites control the government and banks. The government plans repression to enforce elite rule or global collectivism. The patriot and armed militia movements are one response from this sector. Americanist. Often supports Business Nationalism due to its isolationist emphasis. Anti-Globalists, yet support noninterventionist national security militarism. Repressive towards scape-goated targets below them on socio-economic ladder.

White Nationalists—Alien cultures make democracy impossible. Cultural Supremacists argue different races can adopt the dominant (White) culture; Biological Racists argue the immutable integrity of culture, race, and nation. Segregationists want distinct enclaves, Separatists want distinct nations. Americanist. Tribalist emphasis is similar to the race-is-nation wing of the European New Right.

Far Right or Ultra Right—Militant forms of insurgent or revolutionary right ideology. Separatist or genocidalist ethnocentric nationalism. Reject pluralist democracy for an organic oligarchy that unites the idealized homogeneic nation. Conspiracist views of power that are overwhelmingly antisemitic. Home to overt fascists, neo-nazis, Christian Identity, Church of the Creator.

There was also in the book an interesting graphic explaining the “Producerist Narrative used in Repressive Right Wing Populism” from Right Wing Populism in American: Too Close for Comfort.  I think it’s an interesting use of design to explain a dynamic narrative (click the image to view a larger version):

Producerist Narrative

And as a chaser, it would be could to review The 7 Things Everyone Wants—specifically #4.

Meandering thoughts on creativity, change and consciousness

“The most effective way to manage change is to create it.” —Peter Drucker

I have been collecting quotes for my Leadership class, and this one in particular made me think about my own creative process—or really any process that I can’t do on autopilot.  The above quotation is actually in respect to organizations (yawn), but I think it closely related to my earlier advice for youngish people.

When I wrote about the difference between becoming and being was characterizing them mostly in regards to external cues: as you get older, you are very seldom asked “what do you want to be when you grow up”, nor are the resources to help you decide so readily available.  On an internal level though, you can be constantly re-imagining who you are no matter your age.

In re-launching this blog a month ago, I rewrote my personal statement (that thing on the right-hand side with the hang-loose dude) to include “artist”. I did that because I feel like a lot of the projects I envision (and involve myself in) involve a personal reflection of my identity and values.  And with many of those projects, they languish, frustrate and never get started—despite the grief the cause me before I even begin.  To be clear,  a project can be as simple as writing an introductory email to an interesting stranger or an all night jaunt of coding.

In thinking about the life-flow of these creative projects, I often visualize it as a precipice, a chasm and a path. Beginning at the precipice, I am faced with choices, doubts and fears.  Should I  step off, I’m forced to enter someplace new and unfamiliar—someplace that will challenge me and require me to change: thinking, learning and acting differently than I have done before (I have heard this referred to as  the “messy middle”).  Somewhere in that chasm there is a path that will lead me back out again; it may not lead to “success” as I envision it now, but it will lead to somewhere beyond the pit. The problem is, I can’t see the path from where I am on the precipice.

For myself, the reluctance to step over the precipice of fear and doubt comes from the uncertainty of finding the path back out: I fear I will become stuck in the chasm—unable to recover my identity or right my place.

The following quote captures the danger of remaining upon the precipice and never venturing forth. It is from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (which is entirely about the heroic path) quoting Charles Francis Atkinson’s Art and Artist (reformatted for easier reading):

If we compare the neurotic with the productive type, it is evident that the former suffers from an excessive check on his impulsive life. Both are distinguished fundamentally from the average type, who accepts himself as he is, by their tendency to exercise their volition in reshaping themselves. There is, however, this difference:

That the neurotic, in this voluntary remaking of his ego, does not get beyond the destructive preliminary work and is therefore unable to detach the whole creative process from his own person and transfer it to an ideological abstraction.

The productive artist also begins with that re-creation of himself which results in an ideologically constructed ego; [but then in his case] this ego is then in a position to shift the creative will-power from his own person to ideological representations of that person and thus render it objective.

It is admitted that this process is in a measure limited to within the individual himself, and that not only in its constructive, but also in its destructive aspects. This explains why hardly any productive work gets through without morbid crises of a ‘neurotic’ nature.

At 26, I would say the most amazing thing I have realized about myself is that I am still myself. As a younger person, I was always expecting some conscious-breaking event between youth and adulthood. A clear cusp in which I would know “I’ve made it”, stripping away the old for something new. And as I now believe, there was no chrysalis (at least not in my agnostic, protective, modern upbringing). Change did not come as a distinct event, instead it was gradual and iterative—I am still the same person I was at 8 years old, just with more experiences (and body hair).

I have heard many people say different activities cause profound socio-psychological changes—having a child, the passing of a close loved one, extreme violence or abuse—but I’m dubious that such activities will produce distinct break with the before (not that they would not profoundly affect me). Without sinking too far into solipsism, if I wanted to make a phrase for this, I would call it conservation of consciousness. (On googling this, people mostly seem to refer to this on a non-personal level; ie, when you die, your consciousness hangs around; this is not what I mean.) In other words, I will remain myself no matter what happens or who I become. (I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant.)

To briskly wrap things up change is a given and will happen regardless of if you’re ready for it or not.  The way to most effectively deal with change is create it. And the way to create change is to step off into the unknown (prepare as best you can) with the confidence that you will find the path back out.

Press Release Rhythm

Minimal comment on Microsoft entering the retail space with Apple-_esque_ stores—dumb—but I liked the press release:

We’re working hard to transform the PC and Microsoft buying experience at retail by improving the articulation and demonstration of the Microsoft innovation and value proposition so that it’s clear, simple and straightforward for consumers everywhere.”

You do though have to mis-pronounce proposition as proposation to really maintain the flow. That would also help to further increase the irony of the ending clause.

Thoughts on Nonprofit growth, management and culture

On the ride home last night from my Institute for Nonprofit Management and Leadership Class, I was talking to my classmate about the difficulties of creating a comfortable workplace environment.  Both of us had worked with organizations who’s good works externally did not match internal working conditions.

Nonprofit organizations walk a difficult line. Businesses have an easily measured metric of success. Nonprofits on the other hand have a broader basket of mission, vision, values and promises; these are often enough matched with the weak verb “interpret”. In trying to change society for the better, or just provide stop-gap services for an imperfect society, it can often be difficult to know where you draw the between internal and external priorities.

Can you create an organization that fully engenders your vision and values while, at the same time, effectively and efficiently achieve its mission?  It’s difficult to say. As nonprofit organizations are increasingly pressed to adopt business-style methodologies (“Social Entrepreneurialism”), I’m placed with conflicting emotions. I do not believe that growth and impact (impact being the social version of profit) are the only ways to create change; yet I am aware that these methodologies can quickly and efficiently affect broad-reaching change.  But are these business-style values able to adequately create dialogue and engender engagement with a broad diversity of people and viewpoints? Will they ultimately create the world we want, and if so, does the ends justify the means?

One of the issues is people (well, all issues are people, but that’s out of scope of these thoughts).  Many of the people who want to work within the nonprofit sector have strongly articulated values and vision for the world they would like to live in. In my own experience, I would broadly put the majority of these within the box of Liberal Democratic principles: meritocracies embracing diversity, collaborative decision making, and inclusive participation.  Unfortunately, these ideals can be at loggerheads with the management that is required of business-style growth and impact: strict hierarchies, delineated responsibilities and externally-legitimated authority.  I know many groups—collectives, cooperatives and adhocracies—that are successful; but for the most part they are small, or only act upon narrow missions (for example, planning an annual conference).  I also know of organizations who by growing lost aspects of a communal culture which they highly valued.

Such are the difficulties of trying to create cross-sector models of success.  Our model on the for-profit side seem to be the large, publicly traded corporations: Google, Microsoft, GE. Businesses with professional managers—and for whom much of our current management training, philosophy and literature is geared towards.  And yet the business world is so much richer than that.  The privately owned, mom-and-pop store on Main Street (to borrow the common invocation of our last national election) has values closer to my own: local ownership, community values, emphasis on quality and relationships rather than profits, and not necessarily striving to be greater than they are right now—only better.

The Purpose of Copyright

I assume I’m not the only person making this connection, but it’s interesting how successful the entertainment industry (and anyone with an intellectual-property axe to grind)  has been in making this rhetoric commonly accepted:

Ludvig Werner, the boss of IFPI’s local Swedish chapter, had a somewhat different perspective: The Pirate Bay is about keeping money out of creators’ hands and putting it into Pirate Bay pockets. “Copyright exists to ensure that everyone in the creative world—from the artist to the record label, from the independent film producer to the TV programme maker—can choose how their creations are distributed and get fairly rewarded for their work,” he said in a statement. [from the trial against the Pirate Bay in Sweden]

And this is from the United States’ Constitution—though obviously (I hope) not in force in Sweden:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries

Not that I agree with the Pirate Bay’s methodologies, but as I’ve written before, this isn’t the first time that copyright rhetoric has been manipulated… all the way back to the 19th century.

Existential Charters

I just finished reading a New York Times editorial “ Is the Supreme Court About to Kill Off the Exclusionary Rule?” that ended with this line:

“Nothing can destroy a government more quickly,” the [Federal Supreme Court noted in Mapp v. Ohio], “than its failure to observe its own laws, or worse, its disregard of the charter of its own existence.”

I also just finished reading Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother (which you can download free under Creative Commons).

18-25: moving from Becoming to Being

I got to talking to one of my favorite coffee shop girls at my favorite coffee shop today.  She’s 23 and just graduated from College and living with her younger sister, 21, and we were talking about differences in age.  In my day job I spend a lot of time interacting with people in the 18 - 25 year range—and though I just left range a few months ago myself—also spend a lot of time with those ages in my personal time as well.

The 18-25 age range isn’t so much generationally awkward—though you might hear otherwise—as externally/socially awkward.  In the social service sector, there is at least an order of magnitude decrease in support service spending for individuals once they reach 18. Even in our infantilized American society, there is a marked difference in how people are treated once they reach adulthood.  It’s surprising that, despite the near-general view that our Education system and family/social support networks (learning towards one or the other depending on your politics) do not prepare young people do be adults_,_ that they are still expected to act like them—whatever adulthood means for you, that is.

Off the soapbox…

In my AmeriCorps*VISTA orientation, I give a presentation—a charismatic lecture—that I’ve developed entitled** Advocate for Yourself**. (I am most proud of myself that it does not once include the word “Professionalism”, other than in derogatory aside.) The presentation is geared towards incoming VISTA members, who’s next 12 months of highs and lows is pretty well mapped out.  Because I can’t guarantee that narrow track of experience for you, dear reader, I’ll do my best for the setup here:

The difficulties of the 18-25 year old range have to do with what I call moving from Becoming to Being.  As a young person, most of your energy is put towards becoming a functioning member of society.  But once you get there, well, you’re there—and while it’s liberating, it’s a lot harder to maintain… mostly because it’s so liberating.

Things that used to be provided you must now seek out:

  • Cuing: There aren’t as many people who will tell you when you’re doing something wrong, or help you do the correct thing.  It’s simply no longer anyone’s job; a job usually coinciding with Mandated Reporter.  You’re less likely for someone to tell you “get a job”, “you’re eating what?” or “you should have a doctor look at that”. Even regarding social norms, you’re more likely to be fired, dumped, or not have your calls returned than be confronted about them.  And as time goes on, you’re less likely to have a diverse social network—social networks, unlike your high school, are self-selecting—who can clue you in. At least maybe until your own kids reach maturity—though at this point you’ll probably be living in such an echo chamber that you’ll think it’s them who need adjusting.

  • Paths: You have to make your own.  When I went to school, there was one path: college.  After that (and if not that) it all got a little fuzzy. And if you didn’t go to college—or were never planning on it— this struck you a whole lot earlier.  There isn’t anyone setting goals for you anymore: it’s up to you to figure out where you want to go, and how you want to get there.  There are a lot less options for filling in the blanks in personal and professional development too.  Compare the number of Adult Ed classes that are available to the number of Youth Extracurriculars—it’s depressing.

  • Reinvention:

Remember ever starting your first day at a new school? Planning what you’d wear, the stories you’d tell, the new persona you’d create so they’d think you’re cooler than you were before.  Not so easy anymore; it doesn’t come on a regular schedule of every 3-5 years.  There is a whole lot more baggage you’re carrying around that makes it that much harder to form as clean a slate as possible. That makes it a lot harder to put some distance between your boneheadedness then and your (slightly-) less boneheadness now.

Reading over those, I didn’t mean for them to be so depressing (and caricatured), but it’s something to be mindful of and work against: putting yourself out there, setting personal and professional goals (and revisiting them from time to time), keeping yourself as fluid as possible (as much as Wealth Bondage allows), and having a good mentor, therapist and/org priest with whom you can talk stuff through.

The (false) metaphor of the tube for communication

I love posting from The Tree of Knowledge.  This is what they have to say about tubes (emphasis mine):

Our discussion has led us to conclude that, biologically, there is no “transmitted information” in communication.  Communication takes place each time there is behaivioral coupling in a realm of structural coupling.

This conclusion is surprising only if we insist on not questioning the latest metaphor for communication which has become popular with the so-called communication media.  According to this metaphor of the tube, communication is something generated at a certain point.  It is carried by a conduit (or tube) and is delivered to the receiver at the other end.  hence, there is a something that is communicated, and what is communicated is an integral part of that which travels in the tube.  Thus, we usually speak of the “information” contained in a picture, an object or, more evidently, the printed word.

According to our analysis, this metaphor is basically false. It presupposes a unity that is not determined structurally, where interactions are instructive, as though what happens to a system in an interaction is not determined by the perturbing agent and not by its structural dynamics.  It is evident, however, in daily life, that such is not the case with communication: each person says what he says or hears what he hears according to his own structural determination;** saying does not ensure listening. From the perspective of an observer, there is always ambiguity in a communicative interaction. The phenomenon of communication depends on not what is transmitted, but on what happens to the person who receives it.** And this is a very different matter from “transmitting information.”

So that’s all a bit of a mouthful, but its an important aspect of communication—it’s not the creation or production of something_, it’s the making of an _affect or_ inducing an action_ upon someone.

The ambiguity of language is something that Bakhtin has touched on (and I have posted before):

[Bakhtin explores] the idea that language is indeed ambiguous, but whereas deconstruction would highlight this ambiguity as the inability of words to convey precise meaning, Bakhtin welcomes this vagueness of language as a means by which to create meaning dialogically.

This is a very positive and optimistic statement of embracing dialogue as the means to overcoming the biological and structural limits of our individualism.  And which, you can probably assume, I strongly agree with.

Mission and Promise: there is a difference

I was forwarded this from Angelina, who apparently read it on the side of her Starbucks cup (emphasis mine):

“There is a subtle difference between a mission and a promise. A mission is something you strive to accomplish – a promise is something you are compelled to keep. One is individual, the other is shared. When a mission and a promise are one and the same . . . that’s when mountains are moved and races are won.”

Hala Moddelmog, Pres. and CEO, Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

The last sentence is mostly pablum, but from yesterday’s post about dialogue and creating a shared community, I think it’s important to think about not only what your own committment is, but also the expectations you are committing to with others.  In other words, a mission is a statement, a promise is a contract.