In the last two blogs, I rummaged through my life experiences noticing themes and patterns of interaction that helped to inform an idea I later came to call Generative Communication.
I describe Generative Communication as distinctly different from how we normally think about and practice human communication. “The difference that makes the difference” (using anthropologist Gregory Bateson’s words) is both significant—as in paradigm-changing—and ordinary common sense. It reflects ancient teachings and contemporary theories in the physical and social sciences.
Examples of Generative Communication practices are often prescribed in “how-to” models developed by authors and consultants who “talk” new-thinking approaches, e.g., appreciative inquiry, collaborative problem-solving, complexity theories in social science, and a multitude of others. Yet, if you listen and watch closely you’ll notice most are thinking and operating out of the currently still-dominant paradigm imprinted on our brains for centuries.
So, my talking and writing about “a radical, new way of thinking about and practicing communication” sounds vaguely familiar to people, as if what I’m saying about Generative Communication is simply reinforcing what reasonably informed communication-savvy people already know.
But they’re missing the difference that makes the difference.
Our dominant way of thinking has many variations evolving from 16th- and 17th-century philosophers and scientists who sought to establish truth, objectivity, and certainty, in part as an antidote to societal superstition and authoritative church rule of the time.
The positivistic methods of science and philosophies of logical positivism aptly informed the remarkable industrial revolution that followed. Later theories of scientific management and the behavioral sciences helped keep our assumptions of relative certainty, control, objectivity, and predictability alive in our thinking.
However, the complexity sciences in recent years are helping us understand that our physical, biological, and social realities are continually moving and changing and, therefore, defy our underlying and sometimes imperceptible quest for certainty, control, objectivity, predictability in modern society.
Generative Communication is founded on a dramatically different worldview.
A wise professor once suggested that when introducing a new idea, distinguish it from existing ideas by describing what it IS NOT. I used his suggestion in the left-hand column of the table below. And while I was at it, I added a right-hand column with a short description of what it IS. See what you think.
|What Generative Communication is NOT|
|does NOT see communication as a tool for achieving predetermined outcomes|
|is NOT strategic communication with an intention to manipulate, persuade, direct, or otherwise control the thinking and behavior of others|
|does NOT assume certainty or a fixed “objective” reality outside of an individual’s interaction with reality|
|does NOT assume a singular “right” answer, belief, or view of reality|
|does NOT subscribe to dualistic (either/or, black/white) thinking that tends to oversimplify what is going on|
|does NOT presume a linear, causal, logical progression of movement|
|does NOT assume that person A at time A is the same as person A at time B|
|does NOT assume that person A is the same as person B—ever—even if persons share similar ethnic, economic, or religious backgrounds|
|is NOT a prescribed model, set of steps or list of effective communication best practices|
|does NOT exclude commonly understood effective communication practices, i.e, listening well, seeking to understand, and being present|
|is NOT driven by ego and self-interest, even when one believes their point of view is in the interest of others|
|is NOT rocket science|
|What Generative Communication is1|
|sees communication as a process in which people jointly construct a composite understanding and mutually acceptable outcomes|
|is strategic communication intended to generate new/expanded thinking with others that likely influences behavior|
|acknowledges that reality is an intersubjective phenomenon understood through an individual’s interaction with reality|
|assumes a multiplicity of “right” answers, beliefs, and experiences of reality, depending on individual perspective and the context|
|subscribes to non-dualistic thinking that examines gray areas of interpretation and possibilities of truth somewhere between extremes|
|recognizes there is rarely a straight line between cause and effect given multiple variables that interrupt a simple progression|
|recognizes that individuals are continually changing physiologically, emotionally, and mentally as they interact with changing realities|
|assumes that the characteristics, beliefs, points of view and behaviors, like fingerprints, are unique to each individual and cannot be generalized to another person or group|
|assumes that constructive communication cannot be prescribed or repeated in the same way twice given its dependence on situational awareness|
|assumes useful models of effective communication practices can be adapted to fit the situation|
|calls for conscious observation and management of ego and subordinates self-interest to common interests|
|is a naturally intuitive way of communicating with ourselves, others, and our circumstances|
Presenting the distinction between “what Generative Communication is NOT” and “what Generative Communication is” in a comparative table may help to feature the differences from a paradigmatic viewpoint. BUT doing so sets up an either/or dichotomy, which is clearly a violation of the Generative Communication mindset. Welcome to the world of recognizing and working with paradoxes. A Generative Communication point of view helps us notice paradoxes and work with them.
Two things that appear contradictory can be true at the same time—and it is so in this case. The “radically new” mindset of Generative Communication is big enough to accommodate the both/and perspectives of the dominant paradigm and an expanded, emerging paradigm informed by the ever-evolving sciences and philosophies. For example, there is a place for positivistic science methods as we grow knowledge and understanding. However, most scientists are skilled at qualifying their findings and avoiding claims of certainty and predictability. We non-scientists need to learn how to do that in our everyday thinking and communicating.
A Generative Communication mindset and the practices that follow enable us to generate meaning, understanding and workable solutions to address both our mind-boggling societal challenges and our everyday challenges–TOGETHER–if we put our minds to it!
[…] Okay. So, my last blog was a little esoteric and maybe even perplexing. Maybe it turned a few readers off. My bad. My goal […]
Been reading a lot about cognitive/intellectual development in early adolescence and developing interdependency. William Perry’s theory on intelletual and moral development in the college years discusses many of the concepts you discuss. I’ve compiled a number of articles and a good starting point is to Google “Devon Barker Perry’s Model of Cognitive Development during the College Years” and go to the BYU site. In the pdf Baker has a link to a Prez he developed in 2011. According to the research I have done, one of the challenges is most college freshmen enter having only developed dualistic thinking. A lot of work is required to move to multiplicity and relativism. Another good discussion can be foundby Googling MODELS OF COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT: PIAGET AND PERRY and going ot the Purdue University link. The following is quoted from Barker
Measured, evaluative thinking of the kind reflected in
the higher stages of Perry’s model is not the only kind of
thinking that has value, but the ability to systematically
weigh ambiguous evidence and take committed action
in the face of uncertainty is one of the most important
skills to modern life. That is one of the principle benefits
that can come through the formal training of a university
education. Developing such high-level thinking takes years
and requires lots of practice in making evidence-based
commitments. Along the way, students should expect to
feel insecure, become frustrated, doubt themselves, and
possibly want to quit. They may experience a profound
sense of loss and the need to grieve that loss. While
discomfort accompanies this development, persistence
will bring success. There are no known shortcuts to higher
stages that don’t require some time spent in the lower ones.
The research I have done leads me to think that “Generative Communication” is a learned behavior and may not be intuitive.
Thanks, Joe. I appreciate your comments.
I suggest the Generative Communication mindset, and related practices, encompass both learned behavior AND intuitive responses to changing circumstances. The behavioral sciences, i.e. the theories highlighted in Chapter 14 of TEACHING ENGINEERS, provide useful insights into the challenges of paradigmatic shifts in cognition. Additional perspectives in the social sciences, some prompted by the study of complexity processes in the physical and biological sciences, are also informative. I will soon post a sampling of the theoretical perspectives that help to inform Generative Communication on my website for future reference. 🙂