Category Archives: sustainability

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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Minding The Big Pivot

Last week opened with my attending a Tibetan Buddhist prayer ceremony held on the Monmouth University campus on Monday and wrapping up with a Friday morning program at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Institute of Sustainable Enterprise.  There I heard author Andrew Winston (Green to Gold), internationally recognized economist, present to a gathering of ecologically-minded individuals on his latest book The Big Pivot with the sober warning that we have passed the economic tipping point of the earth’s available resources. As incongruent as these two events might appear at first by being paired in the same blog, they are also inextricably linked in a very deep way.

Andrew Winston began by showing images as evidence of climate change: a polar bear hanging on for dear life with its two front paws to a small ice floe. He contrasted this ‘free range’ bear with images of the destruction wrought by Hurricanes Sandy in 2013 and Irene two years prior that those of us who live on the eastern seaboard know only too well. To drive home China’s burgeoning development, Winston used an  image of the skyscrapers of Manhattan that was duplicated 30 times on a single slide. As if anticipating the government report on climate change today, Winston told the audience we are past the time of debating about climate change—it is here (last week’s images on national television of Florida should convince anyone just looking at what a foot rainfall fraught— swelling waterways, entire roads uplifted and bridges washed away). All is not doom and gloom, however, for Winston offers a ten step plan that comes under the three buckets: Vision, Collaboration, Policy. Although there needs to be a sea change, Winston is confident it can be done with a change in perception.  He reminded his audience that the main forms used in accounting—Profit & Loss and Balance Sheet –have come down to us from the Middle Ages. A radical change to these forms could cause a major shift in perception that would alter exactly what gets analyzed and what gets measured.

Getting back to our Tibetan Buddhist ceremony on Monday: seven monks performed the Empowerment Prayers to both Bodhisattva Manjushri worshiped for his Wisdom, and Medicine Buddha who is dedicated to healing through removing all obstacles. On this particular day it was concentrated on removing obstacles on the Monmouth University campus and by extension, all campuses in New Jersey and the rest of the world. The obstacles are not in the form of physical things, but are the mental afflictions that keep human beings mired in the cycle of suffering of samsara through their ignorance, hatred and greed.  Reining in the mental afflictions begins with a shift in perception that can have a big ripple effect hopefully as far as the Arctic in time for a polar bear that is helplessly adrift.

The Big Pivot at http://amzn.to/1j0kqP1

Also, check out Jeana Wirtenberg’s Building a Culture for Sustainability: People, Planet, and Profits in a New Green Economy with a forward by Winston: http://amzn.to/1fRt4oMImage

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