A Time of Dizzying Change
We’re rushing up the ever-steeper incline of an exponential explosion in technological innovation that is leaving not a single aspect of our lives unaffected. Our economies, our jobs, our environments, our illnesses, the nations we live in, their forms of government – nothing has escaped change, nothing remains unaffected. If we turn around from where we are today and look back, we catch a breath-taking sweep of the past, so high have we gotten on the upward sweep of this powerful curve. In some crucial areas, the last year has seen more change than the last ten years, the last ten have seen more change than the last hundred, and the last hundred have seen more than the last thousand. The exhilarating prospect sweeps far, far back into the past where, compared to our frenzied and fascinating pace of change today, nothing much seemed to have altered for the longest stretches. Into the distant past the curve looks from where we stand like a flat line. Those times are gone by, the long boring tail of the exponential curve that got us to this explosion of newness we know today. Filled with anticipation of all that is yet to come in our own lifetimes, we turn eagerly around to continue our ascent – only to find a few paces ahead the curve shoots almost straight up as far as we can see.
Daunting as it is, this two-dimensional representation does scant justice to our real situation – because it makes it look as though we know in what direction we are headed. In truth, nobody today can be sure what new discovery will pop us off in a different direction entirely – not just in a hundred years, or ten years, or one year; but next week, tomorrow. What’s more, no place is immune anymore from what happens next door or on the other side of the world. In an important sense the concept of place, which reigned supreme in the human mind for millennia, is faltering. Increasingly, any place is more and more like everywhere, and every place is more and more like anywhere. Will our sense of time be next to go? Nobody knows what’s going next, or what’s coming.
To survive in China, to survive in the West, or to survive anywhere, we’re called upon like never before to re-invent what we do, to re-invent how we do it – and even to re-invent who we are. Not once, not twice – but on an ongoing basis. This is true for countries, it is true for industries, and it is true for individuals. Innovators like Google’s Sergey Brin, and Apple Computer’s Steve Job are the dazzling stars of our time. The country or industry that can produce more of this kind of man will own the future.
Who Will Own The Future?
How to train people to be innovative, to be creative, and to succeed in a world so unpredictable? Universities around the world, purporting to train students to meet the future, are schooling them in ways that no longer even fit the present. It isn’t enough today to be intelligent and to be stuffed with the necessary knowledge. Those who go out to succeed in today’s world already need to hone their abilities to deal with the unknown. More and more in the future they will certainly need to deal with the unknowable. To do this what they will need is intuition, creativity, and faith. Of the three, faith is most important because it leads to the other two. Faith doesn’t mean they have to gulp some outdated dogma down whole and for the rest of their lives resist any impulse from their heart or soul to chuck it up and be rid of it. Faith means to have been given a way to find out for themselves there is that within them that knows better than they can, loves deeper than they know how, and is more true than they can ever be – and if they only move their own petty ideas aside and listen to it, they will acquire, not from an outside source, but from inside their own deepest nature, all the intuition and creativity they will ever need in their lives.
In Taiwan for these past years my wife and I have, each in our own way, been implementing a method of instruction that accomplishes these aims. It requires no advanced expertise or expensive equipment to implement, utilizes existing facilities and staff, and is as practicable in the poorest most undeveloped areas of the world today as in the richest most developed ones. It’s a simple course in dreams. Not a course about dreams. The course isn’t based on lectures, it doesn’t involve studying some textbook or outside material, and the students aren’t tested with exams. In this course the students discover faith in themselves and learn to bring out and hone their own innate intuitive and creative capabilities by working in class on their own dreams and those of their classmates using the Montague Ullman experiential dream group method. Of the methods I know for working with dreams, this one alone is safe, fun, and exciting for graduate students and undergraduates alike. (For a description of the method, see http://www.billstimson.com/writing/The_Process.htm).
The course is a boon to the professor because it involves no arduous preparation of lectures, no tedious grading of papers or exams, and mostly because in the Ullman process the professor, as leader of the group, is not the one in control (the dreamer is in control) but merely another group member – who obtains from each and every class the same benefits as the students. The course is a boon for the students because it’s the first time in their lives that most of them ever experienced real education. In the words of one student:
“This course woke me up. I can’t pretend anymore I enjoy my Ph.D. training. I need something more enlightening in the way of education or I’ll wither.”
Or, as another put it:
“Except for knowledge from books, I don’t know what else I got in my other classes. Maybe I learned to understand what people were talking about, but none of it touched my heart. Now I don’t know how much of all that is real and how much I should believe. By working with dreams in this class I got inside my own heart and I also got a chance to look deep inside the hearts of others.”
The way the Montague Ullman experiential dream group process works is as follows. The dreamer tells the group a dream she had that to her looks strange and nonsensical. It doesn’t seem to have any relation to her life. As the group goes through the various stages of the Ullman process it begins to become clear that from the perspective of the dream it is the waking life that is nonsensical, because it ignores certain important feelings in the dreamer’s heart. The dreamer comes to appreciate how accurately the dream really represents her life as she begins to discover those exact same feelings in recent walking-life events. When these “missing” or “underrepresented” feelings emerge to the fore, the waking life of the dreamer takes on a different shape and becomes more authentic. Subsequent dreams carry the dreamer forward, rounding her life out more and more and making her more and more of a whole person.
The way all this relates to a real life situation at work is as follows. Let’s say two individuals try out for the same job. The job has several aspects. The individual who has not worked with her dreams and who has not become more of a full person may be lacking in one or more of the personal aspects required by the job. A zone of professional incompetence may mar her work. But the individual who has worked with her dreams and gotten more in touch with all her feelings and various inner talents will more likely have the subtler aspects of the skill set the job requires. Her performance will display no zone of incompetence. She will approach everything she does with her whole self, like an artist.
This all seems very hypothetical. It is not. M.I.T. researcher Donald A. Schön conducted research on the way professionals in quite a number of different fields approached their work. In one after another, he found that best-of-their-class professionals in essence invented their approach to each project much in the way an artist does. Each job taught these superior professionals how to approach that particular job. They learned by doing (Schön called this the epistemology of reflective practice). In contrast, the mediocre professionals applied to every different job the method or methods they’d been trained in (Schön called this the epistemology of technical rationality). They learned, and then they went out to do, in every situation they met, what they’d been trained to do. The difference between these two ways of working is that the one is intuitive and creative, the other is neither. An issue among educators since Schön published his findings has been how to arrive at a method of teaching that could make professionals into “reflective practitioners.” What my wife and I have discovered in Taiwan these past years is that the Montague Ullman experiential dream group is the perfect method.
Schön’s discoveries are terribly important today. Yesterday an engineer could be an engineer and get away with it, a scientist could be a scientist and escape scot free, without censure. Not today. Not just the engineer, not just the scientist – but every kind of professional needs to approach his work also as an art. There is an art to dentistry, as anybody knows who has sat in a dentist’s chair. There is an art to teaching, as anyone knows who’s sat in a classroom. And there is an art to computer science – as Steve Jobs has shown us all, becoming in the process one of the richest men around.
How do you train a software engineer to approach what he does as an art? Give him classes in oil painting? No. Abraham Maslow studied may different individuals and found, overall, that those who practiced their work as an art had more of a tendency to be whole people than those whose approach to their work was less enlightened, more rote. This is why dreams can figure so importantly in training such individuals. Working like an artist enables one to do fuller justice to the demands of a job because it involves more fully all the aspects of the self. Apple computer had many competitors. Steve Jobs always won out because the solution he came up with always did more justice to the product. Thus the product was more satisfying to consumers.
Most people laugh dreams off as impractical or whimsical. Academics, even in the university where I work, tend to be averse to having a dream course in the curriculum. They feel it is unprofessional and lowers the standards. They ask how I grade the students. They don’t seem to care about what the students learn, perhaps because they assume the students learn nothing. When I invite them to come participate in the dream group to see for themselves, they decline. These are individuals whose training blinds them to the connection in any field, and in every field, between professional excellence and authenticity. Every one of them, though, would love to be a Steve Jobs and make the money he does. But let’s look at what Steve Jobs tells us is behind his success:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Steve Jobs faced the computer industry. He changed the computer industry. He faced the music industry. He changed the music industry. He faced the telecommunications industry. He changed the telecommunications industry. Though he’s now ill, some think he might already have changed the book publishing industry, and who knows how many others. He could have told us so much about innovation, about technology, about strategy. We would have perched on the edge of our seats to grab every hint he cared to throw out at us. Instead, he turns around 180° and points into the distant past. It was Socrates, back down that long, flat tail of our exponential curve, who some 2,500 years ago in ancient Greece, gave the advice Steve Jobs gives us today, “Know thyself” and it was Lao Tzu in ancient China who around the same time hinted why this is so important, “At the center of your being you have the answer; you know.” Some five hundred years after these sages passed from the scene, the Gospel of Thomas quotes Jesus as saying, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” Today every nation is frantic to put more math, science, and engineering into their schools so they can follow China’s lead into the future. Steven Jobs instead sides with Socrates, Lao Tzu, and Jesus – schools aren’t the issue: what we need is already inside us. Our task is to access it. The value of dreams is that they give us the freedom to do this.
(Photo: Jim Hansen)
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|Written by : William R. Stimson
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