Lessons Learned from Millennials

Perhaps you attended a session on millennials at the annual conference of New Jersey Organization Development professionals held May 4 in Newark, NJ. The workshop “Lessons Learned from millennials—Deep Seeing, Inspired Thinking” was based on my college student essays that I collected over the past 25 years. It also grew out of my professional teacher development using imaginement®, a tool for assessing attentional seeing and the thinking process it engenders at the museum. What fascinated me is that millennials demonstrated the capacity for higher-order thinking when it came to looking at artifacts particularly from Asian cultures.

Reading student essays about their encounter with an Asian art object over the past 25 years has introduced me to the field of attentional science and the research of Neuroscientist Adele Diamond, Research Chair Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia. In her research, the neuroscientist Adele Diamond has identified specific complex cognitive Executive Functions (EFs) in the emerging field of attentional science.[1]

In her research, the neuroscientist Adele Diamond has identified specific complex cognitive Executive Functions (EFs) in the emerging field of attentional science. The student essays can be assessed against neurological studies that specifically map the brain areas of complex cognitive abilities that rely on the brain’s prefrontal cortex when a viewer stops to give full attention to a museum art object. These essays provide the evidence that art educators have always championed from their observations in the classroom. Diamond’s research shows demonstrative evidence of  focusing the attention such as looking at an art object increases inhibitory control, working memory with the interdisciplinary outcome of flexible cognition.What does this mean? The actual brain area that lights up when we truly focus our attention is not the primal part of the brain–the brain stem–that we tap for automatic information but instead bounces up to the prefrontal cortex whereby we slow down to think for a more thoughtful, cogent response. This is a state of mental “experiments:” disassembling and reassembling content information in creative and new ways through the alternation of content data and the imagination, and, generating often what are playfully remixed conclusions, replete with new possibilities.[2]  Once having had a complete, integrated cognitive and creative experience expanded by the imagination only then do we build flexible cognition that operates in all areas of our professional and personal lives.

What is key here is the role of the imagination: only then is our thinking expanded with a long reach capable of taking into account history as well as the inestimable future; only after we have made a beginning on having the “inner dialogue” are we capable of the outer dialogue to enter into cooperative collaborations at the workplace. Looking at art is not just waking up our consciousness, but aligning with the consciousness of a past master and together–creator and viewer–forming a third consciousness.

[1]Adele Diamond’s research on the science of attention identifies three Executive Functions, (EFs): inhibitory control, working memory and flexible cognition.

[2] Diamond’s Executive Function working memory aligns with John Dewey’s description of the process of the alternation of factual content with imagination that result in new interpretations and insightful judgments in How We Think, (1939)

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The Beacon Dims on Women’s Rights, Human Rights

When candidate Trump promised to drain the Washington swamp who would have expected it would instead get an infusion of former Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil executives bolstered by clean coal and fossil fuel lobbyists. With tax cuts coming for the rich including tax breaks from healthcare costs, women, children, the poor and older Americans can now expect to shoulder the burden.

Moreover, women are suffering fresh assaults on their safety and dignity worldwide, a warning sounded by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the opening of a two-week conference and annual gathering of the Commission on the Status of Women. Where the United States has historically been seen as a beacon for Human Rights globally, just days into his new administration President Donald Trump’s “global gag rule” cut US funding to groups that offer abortion services. No surprise that this emboldened his Russian counterpart a few weeks later to ease punishment for domestic violence. Jail time is now reserved for the seriously bloodied woman whereas a ‘less’ serious assault or first offense now only results in a fine.

With its focus on women’s economic empowerment, particularly in the changing world of work, the Commission on the Status of Women will turn its attention to pay inequality and paid parental leave. Under the umbrella of gender quality, the United Nations has set its global goal for 2030. Otherwise, according to the International Labour Organization’s recent labor study, without stronger measures it will take 70 years to close the gender wage gap (1).

As for the American poor who stand to lose health coverage in the revised healthcare bill, Republican Jason Chaffetz proffered a solution: give up your phone and pay your health premiums. And if there is still not enough to pay that premium the House Oversight Committee Chair might also recommend a scaled down diet. Just as the GOP administration dishes American poverty, and science on climate change, it also dismisses in the name of ‘big government’ worldwide poverty and famine. As the UN reports today “in a perfect storm, the Trump administration is reportedly seeking deep cuts to UN relief programs, just as 20 million people face famine.” Once the largest funder to the UN contributing $10 billion to various UN agencies as UNICEF, World Food Program and the UN Refugee Agency, it is reported that President Trump wants to cut that amount by 50% taking away the last lifeline of the world’s most vulnerable (2).

There are important marches on schedule: please get out there and participate. Make an action plan to call and write letters regularly to your legislators. Get a copy of Sam Daley-Harris’ Reclaiming Our Democracy and follow his advice on activism. Finally, print this quote and read daily:

We’re not passengers on Spaceship Earth. We’re the crew.
~Rusty Schweickart

1.http://www.thedailystar.net/world/north-america/womens-rights-under-assault-un-1376200
2. http://www.undispatch.com/cuts-un-20-million-face-unprecedented-famine/

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2017 On Entering an Age of Uncertainty

Below is a copy of my guest blog for the Organizational Development Collaborative for a Flourishing World ODCFW posted on ODCFW.org, January 32, 2017

As a year-end special program, a New York radio station invited listeners to participate in paired on-air conversations. One segment featured an intergenerational exchange; a female twenty-year-old was paired with a septuagenarian (1). When asked what in particular marked their generations, the latter pointed to the Vietnam War as the defining event of his generation, whereas the former summarized and defined her generation in one word—uncertainty.

Coincidentally, results released the same day from a survey of UK chief financial officers assigned uncertainty to describing the “new normal.” Although optimism in that country is up since the summer Brexit vote, it remains to be seen what Brexit’s impact will be over the long haul (2). Here in the states, uncertainty also hangs in the balance with a new administration. One thing that is certain is that organizations will want to manage change that is transformational.

The intergenerational on-air dialogue may very well have contributed a spark to the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017, by harking back to the 1968 protests against the Vietnam war. What began this year as a one-city event for human rights mushroomed into a global phenomenon attracting individuals and organizations committed to equality, diversity, and inclusion and representing the rights and voices of progressive people around the world. The registered tally was 673 “official” sister marches across the United States and around the world on January 21. Moreover, participation far exceeded expectations: at the rally in Trenton NJ, 4000 additional marchers showed up in solidarity with the 2000 registered marchers.

True to its pledge that the march not be “a sprint, but a marathon” the national organizers posted its initiative the following day: 10 ACTIONS IN 100 DAYS (3). That is why we see the timing of ODCFW’s website launch at this time as an auspicious rallying point for organization development (OD) professionals to lead momentous change in the business world, as both internal and external consultants by facilitating meaningful collaborations that are transformational.

Collaboration, as Syracuse University Professor James Haywood Rolling, Jr., writes, is key to elevated change resulting in enduring human achievements (4). Who better than OD professionals who have always been proactive in the workplace by inspiring and supporting others to lead the way for sustainable, flourishing workplaces and communities? As women—as well as men and youth—affirmed at the March, we are not going backwards. Instead, let this be the year that we move toward a more equitable world for the communal enjoyment of the fruits of the world, all of which are for everyone.

(1) WNYC Brian Lehrer Show “Fresh, Non-Politics Conversation Starters for the New Year” December 28, 2016.
http://www.wnyc.org/story/fresh-non-politics-conversation-starters-new-year
(2) “UK firms’ finance bosses say uncertainty is ‘new normal’”.
http://www.bbc.com/news/business-38453908
(3) https://www.womensmarch.com/100/
(4) Rolling, J. H., Jr. (2017). The Challenge of Change. Art Education, 70[1], 4-6

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Uncertain Times: to compete or cooperate?

This is a repost of an essay written in 2012.

Michael Kaiser, Director of the Kennedy Center, is often fearless when it comes to speaking out about the value of cultural organizations in good times and bad. In fact, I think he would agree that they are paramount in the current economy to kick start creativity. Throw those economic impact studies aside, he would say, because now science can back up such claims. For example, recent studies in neuroscience provides new information about the brain and why art and looking at art is so important for an innovative society. For one thing, art can help move human beings to being more socially cooperative rather than just being competitive. Michael Gazzaniga writes about the work of developmental and comparative psychologists Henrike Moll and Michael Tomasello, who have suggested the Vygotskian intelligence hypothesis, name after Lev Vygotsky, an early 20th century Russian psychologist by proposing that while cognition in general was driven mainly by social competition, other aspects of cognition that they consider to be unique to humans (the cognitive skills of shared goals, joint attention, joint intentions, and cooperative communication), were driven by or were constituted of, social cooperation, which is needed to create such thing as complex technologies, cultural institutions, and systems of symbols, and not by social competition.* Surely competition has its place–to get that ‘A’, land that job, earn a promotion–but eventually what drives innovation is social cooperation that taps an entirely different type of cognition of the “higher self.” So this weekend walk on the wild side: take in an art exhibit, visit a museum, or go to a play. Who knows –you may being doing something that’s good for the economy, or even humanity.

Gazzaniga, M. 2011. Who’s in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain. NY: Harper Collins.
Moll, H., Tomasello, M. (2007). “Cooperation and Human Cognition: The Vygotskian intelligence hypothesis.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 362 (1480), 639-648.

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President Obama’s Farewell Speech, January 10, 2017

President Obama gave in his farewell speech a unifying label for all Americans –that of “citizen.” This perhaps is in sharp contrast to that idealistic Obama of many years ago in a convention speech exclaiming there are no blue states or red states but only the United States of America. Yet under its “united” moniker we Americans are often swirling in a soup of contrasts: Republicans vs. Democrats; whites vs. blacks; immigrants vs. native-born; young vs. old, etc. As the administration of the first black President who cut his political teeth on community organizing transitions to that of a wealthy, white real estate tycoon there is no mistaking the heightened sense of anxiety both here and abroad in these uncertain, complex times. Yet I’m reminded that the American poet Robert Pinsky, former US Poet Laureate, would remain unfazed. Instead I think he would see these events actually in line with a longstanding American memory and what he learned of the American psyche in reading American poetry. In his essay “Poetry and American Memory”, Pinsky writes

…the greatness of American culture is its ability to make it up as it goes along taking disparate elements and synthesizing resulting in such cultural products that range from the improvisational transcendent jazz of Charlie Parker to the embarrassing, dumbness of a Super Bowl halftime show. To recognize such continuities should be to acknowledge that the alleged absence of memory is an illusion: cultural artifacts, high or low, successful or failed, shining or dismal, draw on recollection. The supposed American lack of historical sense is itself in part a national myth or delusion: the nobility of Parker’s music and the half-time jumble are both acts of memory, as all cultural deeds must be.

Pinsky points out the characteristically American forms of memory concentrated on such themes as
the fragility of community, the mystery of isolation, and a peculiar elegiac quality that is almost self-contradictory in its yearning toward a past that in one way seems forgotten and sealed off, yet in another way is determinant, powerfully haunting the present.

As in the past, the arts are ever that much more essential to America not only as drivers of its outstanding creativity and innovation, but also to shore and strengthen our cultural identity as “Citizens.”

http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/m_r/pinsky/memory.htm

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Power & Care: essential 21st-century Leadership competencies

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and Alaa Murabit, M.D.

His Holiness the 14th
Dalai Lama and Alaa Murabit, M.D.

It is not so long ago that the word “power” would ever be in the same sentence as “care.” But that is so last century! At the recent Mind & Life Dialogue Europe, held in Brussels, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama hosted scientists, religious leaders, economists and artists for three days to discuss the need for “care” to be one of the most important competencies of the 21st century leader. Our era, HHDL emphasized cannot afford the world wars that marked the past century. Instead, he made the appeal for a century of peace. Today scientists know that mammals are hardwired for care and have observed the chimpanzee in which not only mothers but the entire community all participate in the nurturing of a newborn, including Alpha males. Humans, however, have tended to compartmentalize roles along sharply drawn gender lines. When moderator, Scilla Elsworthy, asked HHDL how to bring masculine and feminine elements back into balance, he responded that love and compassion are always key factors as long as they are not bound up with attachment, but rather a genuine concern for others’ well being. With practice, he said, it can become effortless. This is important to cultivate because in our interconnected world we are dependent on others, “so it’s in our interest to pay heed to their welfare.” Because HHDL is pro-active his main concern is always about educating our youth. Neuroscience can now map distinct brain areas such as cognition, affect or emotions, as well as perspective taking. The latter is a crucial competency–i.e. that of taking into account other cultures. That is why a tool such as imaginement® which came out of my teaching non-western cultures a both community college and universities for the past 25 years is useful. I have have guided and observed firsthand how young adult students develop their perspective-taking through cultivating their imagination opening them up to true social justice: that developing the intelligence requires cultivating the imagination which, as John Dewey points out, is not telling others how to improve their lives but developing a “faith in the social utility of encouraging every individual to make his own choice intelligent.”
*origninal watercolor by the author, Terri McNichol
http://www.dalailama.com/news/post/1450-mind–life-europe—power–care—third-day

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How museums cultivate the imagination

Can art from ancient civilizations be relevant to young adult visitors, particularly Generation X and Y students? Can these objects prompt thinking or experiences relevant to the present day and tap the “capacities of the heart” that Michael Gallagher identifies in addition to wonder—such as “searching,” “listening” and “receptivity?” What might these capacities add to the museum experiences that would inform various experiences in everyday life? One way would be toward a disposition of deep listening and being receptive to others, rather than imposing our pre-conceived notions of what is, or should be. How does viewing and interacting with art objects contribute to this disposition? The Philosopher of Education, John Dewey, describes the process as that of cultivating the imagination and its resulting outcome as “intelligent sympathy” or good will.   Dewey explains what he means by intelligent sympathy:

Sympathy as a desirable quality is something more than mere feeling;

it is a cultivated imagination for what men have in common and a rebellion

at whatever necessarily divides them.

The important thing to keep in mind is that for Dewey it is a sincere benevolence—not meant to mask the feigned benevolence in an attempt to control another, but honor the other in thinking and feeling freely seeking and humbly allow them in finding whatever they themselves choose. An added value of cultivating the imagination is what Kant observed is that the mind’s awareness of freedom grows with trust in the power of the imagination.

An excerpt from “THE ART MUSEUM AS LABORATORY FOR REIMAGINING A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE” Theresa McNichol in Positive Design and Appreciative Construction: From Sustainable Development to Sustainable Value Advances in Appreciative Inquiry, Volume 3, 177–193 Copyright r 2010 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved ISSN: 1475-9152/doi:10.1108/S1475-9152(2010)0000003014

Updated research findings will be reported in forthcoming article late 2016.

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