Archive for the ‘Crossing Curves’ Series

Crossing Curves
1. Crossing Curves

Posted by Bob on November 12th, 2007

What is wrong with the following two pictures? Zhu Minh, general manager of the state-owned Bank of China, suggested the following:

The U.S. needs to reposition itself. Manufacturing is gone; services are going. Research and development is still there. The U.S. needs to move up the development chain.

On the other hand, Margaret Spelling, the administration’s Secretary of Education, wants “No Child Left Behind” legislation renewed intact.

I am deeply troubled that the draft would decrease information and options for students and parents—a key bright-line principle of NCLB.

Here is what is wrong with these pictures!

  • Zhu Minh is right!
  • Spelling is wrong!

What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a failure to think!

The current administration’s inability to think has produced the “crossing curves” of dysfunctional policy (see Figure 1).


Figure 1. Crossing Curves of Dysfunctional Policy

The first curve represents accelerating economic requirements on the way up to Research and Development. The second curve represents decelerating educational performance on the way down to standardize production. As may be noted, these curves cross on the way to our performance targets.

What this means is that we have fewer resources to do more demanding performances. This is a formula for disaster.

We will understand this formula better when we have been introduced to its ingredients.

Crossing Curves
2. Conditioned Responding

Posted by Bob on November 13th, 2007

The Industrial and pre-Industrial Eras required conditioned responses from their performers. The leaders analyzed the data, organized the goals, developed the programs, and assigned tasks or steps to be performed. The performers made the specific responses they were conditioned to make to specific stimuli.

In its simplest form, behavior is viewed in terms of a stimulus → response or S → R sequence (see Figure 2). There is no intervention between stimulus and response. When the stimulus is presented, the response is made, similar to the way a knee muscle reflexes to a tap.

Thus, the responses we made at home to our parents or children, those we made in school to our teachers or learners, and those we made at work to our employers or employees were all conditioned responses. For our purposes, what is critical is that there is no intelligence or intentionality mediating the sequence or relationship of stimulus and response. The conditioned responder simply reacts in an unthinking or mechanical manner. Reduced, the “condition”—or stimulus complex—determines the person’s response. Indeed, it is believed by many learning theorists that the cultural or conditioning context determines the behavior of its human populations.

Figure 2. The S—R Conditioned Responding Paradigm

Crossing Curves
3. Discriminative Learning

Posted by Bob on November 14th, 2007

Processing in the Information Age was based upon the sharing of conditioned responses. The Information Age defined its requirements in terms of “participative learning.” The leaders analyzed the data and synthesized the factors directing an organization’s activities. The performers “participated” in considering alternative goals and courses of action and in operationally defining these goals and technologically developing the programs to achieve the goals. The performers drew from a repertoire of shared responses to formulate the responses most appropriate to the stimuli.

In this context, the difference between conditioning and learning is the intervening organism:


The organism intervenes to mediate or transform the stimulus material into appropriate responses. Of course, in order to make an appropriate response, it is assumed that the organism has a repertoire of responses.

Indeed, it is assumed that the individual organism is defined by a set of conditioned responses (S → R) (see Figure 3). In other words, the individual acquires a set of responses that he or she draws from to respond to the stimuli. Depending upon the stimuli, the individual possesses a hierarchy of responses in readiness to respond. The individual discriminates the stimuli and formulates one or more responses that are appropriate to the stimuli.


Figure 3. The S–O–R Discriminative Learning Paradigm

Our responses to others at home, school or work are, at once, drawn from our response hierarchy and calculated to facilitate increasing our response hierarchy. It is critical to understand that the intervening organism’s “intelligence” is derived from the extensiveness of its repertoire of responses and the accuracy of the ability to discriminate the stimuli. Learning is predicated upon the principle of expanding the response repertoire. Participative learning is predicated upon sharing and participating in selecting responses with others. In some cases, individuals and groups may negotiate new responses based on an integration of conditioned responses. However, individuals or groups are always limited by their conditioned repertoires of responses.

Crossing Curves
4. Generative Thinking

Posted by Bob on November 15th, 2007

Finally, processing in the Age of Ideation incorporated the response repertoires of both conditioned responders and participative learners. The Age of Ideation both defines and is defined by its requirements: a continuous flow of constantly changing information that demands continuous processing. Leaders and performers are defined individually and interdependently by their ability to transform data into effective responses. Frequently the most effective processor is the delivery person, who is at the greatest point of information flow.

In this context, the organism intervenes to process a response that is quantitatively “greater” or qualitatively “better” than the stimuli were calculated to elicit:


Put another way, the processor censors his or her conditioned response in order to process incrementally better responses. For that to happen, though, the processor must have a repertoire of processing responses.

Basically, it is assumed that the individual processor possesses a hierarchy of conditioned responses based on past experiences. What the individual does with this hierarchy constitutes processing (see Figure 4). The individual is able to explore and analyze where he or she is in the stimulus experience. Based on this exploration and analysis, the individual is then able to understand and define where he or she wants or needs to be: in short, to identify his or her goals. Finally, based on understanding those goals, he or she is able to act to develop and implement programs to achieve the goals. Processing is recycled with feedback from acting to stimulate more extensive exploring, more accurate understanding, and more effective acting.


Figure 4. The Responses of Processing Organisms

In living, learning, and working contexts, we can transform raw data into productive information. In a very real sense, after the period of analysis and synthesis of the data, the processor has thrown out his or her own personal “sky hook” in the form of an operational definition of a now-achievable personal objective. In a very real way, processors pick themselves up by their own bootstraps in designing and implementing the individualized programs to achieve their personal objectives.

The difference between human processing and conditioning or learning is profound. Conditioning allows only the highest-order conditioned response to be made reflexively. Learning intervenes to select a more functional response from an expanded hierarchy of responses. Processing explores the experience, understands the goal, and then acts to achieve it. Human processing is qualitatively different from all forms of conditioning, whether reflexive or participative.

In this context, it is assumed that a hierarchy of S–O–R responses are nested within the S–P–R paradigm (see Figure 5). In other words, the individual draws upon a set of acquired S–O–R responses to emit a preferred response to the stimuli.


Figure 5. The S–P–R Generative Thinking Paradigm

Crossing Curves
5. Converging Curves

Posted by Bob on November 16th, 2007

In Figure 6, we see the converging curves of functional policy. As may be viewed, both the educational empowerment curve and the economic requirements curve converge upon the higher level targeted performance. What this means is that the citizen-workers are empowered by processing systems to perform all the way up to and including research and development.


Figure 6. Converging Curves of Functional Policy

“No Child Left Behind” legislation simply does not empower the learners and future workers to acquire, apply and transfer S–P–R Generative Processing Systems. Indeed, NCLB regresses from the threshold of S–O–R Discriminative Learning to S–R Conditioned Responding. It is a product of an ignorant administration that is neither cognizant of the elevated requirements its trade policy is imposing nor capable of converging and integrating economic and educational policies.

In this context, the psychology of processing has come to a critical crossroad. Major theoretical changes have not occurred in more than five decades. The philosophical bases for most current theories have existed since the advent of the Industrial Revolution two centuries ago. But, the world has changed dramatically. The rapid flow of information makes human processing a vital topic of survival and growth. Now the Age of Ideation presents the choice squarely before us: facilitate generative human processing or face extinction in a constantly changing world to which we could not adapt.

Conditioning represents reactive responses to specific environmental stimuli. This stimulus-bound view of humanity relies on the conditioning history of the responder. It assumes an unchanging world, where human development occurs as a monotonic increase in associational complexity.

Learning represents active, expanding responses to variations in the environment. It relies on the individual’s opportunity to share or acquire new responses. It assumes a slowly changing world with behavioral options as the products of an internal cognitive structure.

Thinking represents proactive initiatives used to transform the environment. It relies on an individual’s ability to analyze, synthesize and project the probabilities of any future actions, and then to operationalize the goals and technologize the programs of the preferred actions. It assumes a constantly changing world where all processors are independently and interdependently defined.

As a rule, the unknown is inherently aversive to conditioned responders. They cannot probe what they cannot respond to.

The unknown is existentially acceptable to participative learners. They have been reinforced for transforming it into known, manageable dimensions.

The unknown is attractive to processors. Their mission is to generate the known by projecting the future. They believe that where the brain can project, the body can follow.

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