Archive for month: December, 2012

The Three Joys of Honda

Heath Harding at the Illinois Leadership Center (here) sent me a link to a post in the Positive Psychology News Daily called Honda and the Joy of Engineering in which the three joys of Honda are discussed.  The title and the post stuck in Heath’s mind and mine, because of the name of this blog and company and because in the Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education (iFoundry) we talked to the freshmen about three joys from the very first day: the joy of engineering, the joy of learning, and the joy of community.

in 1951 Honda’s founder, Mr Soichiro Honda, wrote a Management Policy document which spoke of 3 joys:

  1. The joy of making
  2. The joy of selling
  3. The joy of buying

Of course, these joys are different from iFoundry’s three, but the post author, Bridget Grenville-Cleave, suggests that we all take a page out of Honda’s play book and articulate particular joys for our organizations:

Don’t shy away from positive emotions at work. They have a place in every successful company. If this seems a bit scary, you could start by looking at how to create a more healthy balance of right brain and left brain, feeling and thinking, intuition and analysis. Alternatively, if you had to suggest Three Joys for your company, what would they be and why?

Great question.  What are your three joys at work and why?

Shield and Shackle: The Paradox of Human Development Within Universities

In “Do Universities Retard the Development of Their Faculty?” (October 21, 2012), David Goldberg highlights a seldom-observed consequence of the modern academic organism.  Drawing on his review of literature in the field of adult psychological development, also known as constructive-developmental psychology, Goldberg concludes (in my own words) that universities’ focus on securing and strengthening knowledge comes at the expense of their own faculty members’ acquisition of greater wisdom.  Goldberg laments this limitation on an individual faculty member’s “yearnings to develop and move beyond the bounds of [Expert stage of development, as described by Jane Loevinger et al.].”

Inspired by such authors as Bill Plotkin and Margaret Wheatley, and roused to action by the current era’s well-documented, unprecedented complexity, I join Goldberg’s lamentation while suggesting a subtly different view of universities, a perspective informed by abundant appreciation for their gifts to humankind as well as their limitations:

Humankind is experiencing need for capacities greater than those cultivated by universities up until now.  Like a skeleton or a particular genetic sequence, today’s universities support certain forms of development and prevent others.  Their strengths are, paradoxically, also their weakness.  We ought to consider generating wholly new organizational structures, as well variations within universities, to support individual development beyond Expert stage.

Hooray for Universities and Education!

Let’s truly celebrate the contribution of universities to our species’ development of the capacity for self-authorship.  Once upon a time – and even today in some places on Earth – education has sought to generate sufficient knowledge and wisdom for a child only to conform to social expectations and not to exceed them.  Many girls and women today feel the press of this expectation more tightly than do boys and men.

Yet today, we largely take for granted the pursuit of intellectual independence, whether by man or by woman, if undertaken for the sake of discovering scientific truths that happen to contradict the prevailing mindset.  To an extent greater than before the advent of universities, parents today encourage their children to leave home, learn about the world, and strike out on their own independent paths.

Our educational systems and their flagships, universities, serve as defenders of both expertise and Expert-ism.  They form bulwarks against a society’s Diplomat-ist tendency to hold students and faculty alike within the constraints of deference, politeness, or social station.  We ought to appreciate the great evolutionary gift universities have given to our species: Universities have secured an individual’s right to develop an independent sense of self amid a world of tangled human commitments, statuses, and proprieties.

A Design Feature, not a Flaw

Seen in this light, we can return to the question of “retarded development” for university faculty with a fresh perspective.  Universities do not fail at the task of developing their faculty members (or students, or communities) to later stages of development so much as they excel at promoting development up to Expert stage.

Indeed, setting aside some approaches to continuing education, universities have accepted no developmental task beyond consolidating their learners at Expert stage.  The learning contract involves students absorbing data, acquiring a technique, or otherwise expanding their knowledge without having to change the fundamental ways in which they make sense out of the world.

Further, universities largely presume that their faculty members already possess Expert meaning-making capacities, and universities generally accept no claim to existence for the purpose of transforming the mindsets of their faculty-as-faculty (versus faculty-as-learners).  The faculty contract involves professors researching external and immutable truths, publishing communications about those truths, and imparting those insights to learners enrolled in their courses – all of which, I hasten to add, is noble, honorable, necessary, and transformative work in its own way.  Yet today’s complexity also demands inter-systemic capacities that conventional psychological frameworks cannot hold.

Ignore, Grow, or Evolve: Three Structural Options for Humanity’s Developmental Future

If we can agree that universities meet a crucial developmental need for our species, and if we can agree that they have not, up until now, met other vital needs, what options exist? I see three options for a way forward:

  • Universities can continue to ignore, actively discourage, or forcibly remove individuals who seek to develop maturity or wisdom beyond the Expert stage.  Such people, after all, just don’t fit fully within the organizations’ mission.  This is the current reality Goldberg describes, a future in which universities neither acknowledge nor adopt a mission of post-conventional psychological development.

Perhaps universities will assert that their way of approaching development is the only right way forward, that Expert mindsets crown the pinnacle of human sense-making.  Eventually, experience and universities’ own scientific Expert-driven data will require the abandonment of these beliefs, and the other stages of grief will follow.

  • Universities can choose to grow programs or approaches that address later-stage developmental needs for their adult members.  To some extent, Goldberg recommends this option, which I see resembling a genetic variation, the sprouting of a new appendage to meet an emerging need.

Some universities may choose to distinguish themselves by opening centers devoted to adult development within their communities.  This would be welcome news.  Most, however, are unlikely to experiment in that direction anytime soon; it just wouldn’t fit within today’s existing missions, funding conditions, or social support.

  • Communities of learning can evolve by creating new organizations outside the university structure. Communities could leave to universities the developmental task of supporting Expert-stage consolidation and raise up new structures, new “skeletons,” to address a new environmental demand of challenging and supporting individuals who seek to cultivate greater capacities.

The immediate barriers to this option are its novelty and consequent confusion about its meaning; resistance from people invested in the established way who might perceive a new species of organism as a threat; and paucity of available models to aid in initiating, crafting, explaining, or understanding a viable structure.

Whether through growth of experimental variants or through generation of wholly new structures, I expect our species to meet evolutionary demands by transcending the limited capacities of today’s universities.  The forms of that transformation will emerge only through our shared efforts.

Graham Segroves is an organizational change consultant and leadership development coach whose DevelopmentLens blog seeks to cultivate post-conventional perspectives on the human experience.  Cross-posted on

Do Engineering Professors Want to Be Brains-on-a-Stick?

I went to a small reception for a staff member in my former department and met quite a few of my now-retired colleagues.  It was really a pleasure tripping down nostalgia lane with them, and the surprise of all of us showing up for the same fifteen minute period (in a 3 hour reception) did not go unnoticed by one of my colleagues.  He said, “Dave, you know that the chance of all of us showing up in this way is highly unlikely and is difficult to explain rationally.”

I said, “Yes, I know.  It’s a mystery,” and a I meant it in a authentic way as I’ve been contemplating the things we don’t know, different ways of knowing than we teach in engineering school, and even the things that we can’t know.

He said, “There must be some deterministic explanation. To think otherwise is surrender.”

His use of the word “surrender” rocked me back on my heals, but it seems to me the bias revealed by the word, a bias that all can be known, and that all is subject to rational explanation, although expressed somewhat extremely, is held by many who teach engineering today.

This attitude is increasingly a problem. Many who would make successful engineers shun or leave an engineering education because (1) it treats students as (left) brains on a stick, (2) anything non-cognitive, actually anything not subject to logical scrutiny, is treated as nonsensical, and (3) emotion, body sense, and any form of intuition are not permissible topics of discussion, let alone subjects of study and learning.

Increasingly employers and students alike want more wholeness as part of the engineering educated and educational system. The medical profession has struggled and is struggling with similar issues, and one might think that the pretense of objectivity might be easier to drop in a “naturally” caring profession, but this has not been the case.  Rachel Naomi Remen has written two books that tell stories from her journey as pediatrician to cancer counselor, and the lessons she shares are possibly applicable to engineering education.

Take a look at Kitchen Table Wisdom (here) and My Grandfather’s Blessings (here) for moving accounts that might help us achieve a more whole, human approach to engineering education.

In the Year 2023

In the year 2023. The year is 2023, and engineering has become the education of choice for an increasing number of college-bound high school seniors. Where once top students aspired to business, law, or medicine, engineering is now seen as both a prestigious and balanced liberal education in a human-centered age dependent upon scientific and technological advance. With an increasing emphasis on engineering as a people profession, larger numbers of women now join their male counterparts to take a growing number of opportunities at engineering schools around the country to the point where gender parity is all but achieved.  Furthermore the broader appeal and nature of engineering education has encouraged what used to be called underrepresented minorities to increasingly find their way into engineering colleges.

From the basics to the missing basics. The change is a startling one, and engineering remains an education where science, math and engineering science remain important elements, but widespread reforms adopted in 2018 now teach an engineering canon that respects reflective thinking as applied to technology, human organizations and society, and lifelong learning alike.  These missing basics (here and here) helped engineering educators early in the century to stop thinking of the great gifts of Greece and the Western tradition as soft skills, and to start thinking of them as a way to bring conceptual rigor to the mathematical and scientific kind (here and here).  Education historians trace the rise and diffusion of these innovations to the Big Beacon movement of collaborative disruption, the diffusion of courses such as Olin College’s (here) User-Oriented Collaborative Design (UOCD), Design Nature, and Foundations of Business and Entrepreneurship (FBE), and the adoption of practices such noticing, listening, and questioning (NLQ) by an increasing number of faculty and students alike.

No more dancing with lone wolves. The lone wolf student of the late 20th and early 21st century is also a thing of the past.  Teamwork pervades engineering education from the first day a freshman steps foot on campus.  Research showed the socialization advantages of such arrangements (here), but it wasn’t until some practical experiments earlier in the century showed how to (a) include such teamwork scalably and low cost and (b) in a way that respected student aspirations for helping others, entrepreneurship, and the design of cool technology (here) that schools around the country were able to integrate such pervasive teamwork into the education of young engineers at low cost with modest administration.  In 2023, engineering schools and engineering education, more generally, are themselves, more innovative, creative, and entrepreneurial.  Engineering education earlier in the century was a stodgy affair, where strictly disciplinary professors talked confidently about “the basics” of engineering as though they were handed down from Mount Sinai by the almighty himself, but now curriculum/programmatic incubators are de rigueur in all the best schools, and continuous and discontinuous innovation is carried on perpetually within a spirit of perpetual novelty, interdisciplinarity, and innovation

Innovation & entrepreneurship as more than a chrome cognitive hubcap. A primary change is that innovation is no longer an add-on or an option.  Where once schools innovated because of the public relations value of jazzy freshmen programs or industrially sponsored senior design courses, or because NSF infused large amounts to create curriculum coalitions, today engineering schools are connected to one another in rich collaborative networks that encourage pervasive and immediate sharing of best practices.  Many respectful structure spaces for innovation (RSSIs) connect the departments and colleges of yesteryear, helping them to continue innovating within and between schools.  Change artifacts (CAs) are regularly posted on a diverse network of public and privately maintain social and digital media.  Moreover, a rich network of bloggers and digerati covers the fast-moving world of engineering education innovation in a way that contrasts with the dearth of coverage that existed as recently as 2012.

Motivated students through autonomy, mastery & purpose. Particularly important to the attraction of innovative students and faculty alike as of late has been the replacement of a carrot and stick approach of traditional extrinsic motivation with a inner-directed sense of intrinsic motivation.  Books earlier in the century such as Dan Pink’s Drive helped to focus attention on two decades of research by such pioneers as Deci & Ryan (here) and Dweck (here).  These led to an understanding of the explosive potential for emotional engagement by students and faculty.  Earlier in the century, schools learned the value of respecting student aspirations, thereby helping them develop initiative, confidence, and engineering identity in activities and projects of meaning to them; this opened up the possibility of converting other courses to intrinsically motivated pedagogical style in which students take a significantly large role in mastering traditional course material, relatively autonomously, and for their own purposes.  This transformation in student motivation and treatment led to a second transformation in creating a more intrinsically motivated faculty and faculty evaluation.

To hasten this not-too-distant day in engineering education, contact and learn about ThreeJoy Associates, Inc. and coaching, training, and smooth change consulting services.