Saturday, November 21, 2015

Generative Learning - The CIA Strategy

gen·er·a·tive   adjective \ˈjen-(ə-)rət-iv
:  having the power or function of generating, originating, producing, or reproducing

“Through learning we re-perceive the world and our relationship to it... 'Survival learning' or what is more often called 'adaptive learning'
is important - indeed it is necessary. But…
'adaptive learning' must be joined by 'generative learning',
learning that enhances our capacity to create.”

Peter Senge

Generative Learning (GL) is life enhancing. It is a process that can be profound and transformative. The term Generative Learning was first proposed as a learning methodology by learning theorist Merlin Wittrock back in 1974 in a paper published in the journal ‘Educational Psychologist’ and entitled ‘Learning as a generative process’. As expressed by Wittrock (1992), “In the model of generative learning, the brain is a model builder. It does not transform input into output. Instead, it actively controls the processes of generating meaning and plans of action that make sense of experience... the focus in [Generative] learning is on generating relations, (both among concepts and between experience or prior learning and new information), rather than on storing information... [Generative learning] deals with the effects of generation of meaningful relations--among concepts and between knowledge and experience... Within this framework, teaching becomes the process of leading learners to use their generative processes to construct meanings and plans of action.” There is now a strong body of neuroscience based and empirical research support for the model showing its utility for creating deep and powerful learning experiences.

The term Generative Learning has also been used to describe what the philosopher and system theorist, Gregory Bateson, has called Level III Learning. Bateson proposed in his book ‘Steps to an Ecology of Mind’ (1972) that there are five levels of learning, starting with Level 0 which he said was characterised by “specificity of response” that is not subject to correction, up to Level IV which he suggested probably does not occur in any adult living organism on the planet. Learning III (or Level III) was defined in Bateson’s framework as a corrective change in the system of the “sets of alternatives” from which choice is made. Learning 0 can be considered to be stimulus-response learning; Learning I is often called ‘Applied Learning’; Learning II is ‘learning to learn’ and is often connected with Accelerated Learning processes. As learning scholar, Paul Tosey (2006) points out “LII is essentially about learning the pattern of the context in which activity takes place.” And Learning III is a higher-order learning process in which “one not only learns, but simultaneously learns how to learn, and simultaneously learns how to learn how to learn” (Bateson, 1972). Learning III involves enacted and embodied change in relation to contexts and is profoundly reorganizational in character. It produces deep ontological change.

I was first introduced to the term Generative Learning by my colleague, NLP Master Trainer, Marvin Oka back in the mid to late 80’s. Marvin had been studying Bateson’s work and using behavioural modelling to explore Generative Learning strategies. Other scholars and system theorists have followed a separate but similar route. For example the Organizational Learning expert, Peter Senge and his colleagues (Senge, 1990; Senge et al., 2005) have proposed that Generative Learning strategies are important for organizational and personal success and that they relate to Bateson’s Level II and Level III learning processes (Chiva & Habib, 2015). In exploring Generative Learning strategies they claim that Generative Learning encourages experimentation, risk-taking, openness, and system-wide thinking.

While the work of Wittrock and Bateson (et al.) on Generative Learning is not identical, nevertheless it is complementary and has many overlaps. I personally have found in my own work, that a conceptualization of Generative Learning based on an amalgam of both Wittrock’s and Bateson’s ideas is pragmatically useful and powerful for producing generative change in both the training and coaching contexts and in my own life.

Developing the CIA Strategy

I developed the CIA GL Strategy by a process of behavioural modelling of my own learning behaviours. Throughout my life I have always been incredibly creative, generative and inventive, developing many, many generative models, techniques and even whole new fields, a number of which have been profoundly transformative for myself and others. And so I wondered what were the unconscious processes that lead me to be able to do that. As a behavioural modeller I was curious. What I discovered were a number of strategies, foremost amongst which was a process I ultimately called the CIA Strategy. This is a generative intelligencing process that I apply to all new learnings and that leads to new insights, new applications and new techniques. It’s a process that causes re-organisational shifts in how I understand the world and how I operate in the world. It is deeply and re-entrantly ontological (producing deep shifts in my ways of being in the world that generalize across the contexts of my life.)

For example, the CIA strategy is one of the key strategies I used to co-develop the new field of mBIT (multiple Brain Integration Techniques – see As another example of the power of its use, one of the mBIT Trainers who I explicitly taught the CIA technique to shared with me that it had profoundly changed how he experienced mBIT and what he was able to do with it. He said that the CIA Strategy had been an incredibly transformational learning for him.

So I wanted to share this generative learning strategy with you. It’s deceptively simple. It’s what in NLP we would call a BFO – a blinding flash of the obvious. And yet as we know, profoundly simple patterns are often the most impactful, aren’t they…

So what is the CIA GL Strategy?

What I found that I do in life is that whenever I come across a new concept, a new idea, a new piece of information or learning is that I immediately begin to explore it from a CIA perspective. What is that? Well, it’s:

Concept >> Implication(s) >> Application(s)

As soon as I learn a new idea, I immediately encapsulate it or summarize it ‘conceptually’ that is, I treat it as a concept, (and/or chunk up to the concept that underlies it, connects with it or informs it.) I then begin to explore the implications of this concept, in my own life and in the larger world and its various contexts (business, social, behavioural, etc.) For each of the implications, I then determine possible applications, or ways of using the concept and its implications in real life. I also apply the SWT – the ‘So What Test’, to these applications, looking for pragmatically usable, impactful and meaningful tools, techniques and strategies. Once I’ve developed those I immediately put them into action. I action research them. I try them out and fine-tune them. Through practice they become an ongoing part of my behavioural skill repertoire. And I teach them to others and share them. It’s a key part of learning and making use of the process of teaching to learn (Lieberman, 2014).

What makes the CIA Strategy so generative, transformational and re-organisational is that it takes any new learning and immediately begins to connect it at many levels across many contexts. And in doing that it encourages my multiple brains, the neural networks of my heart, head and gut to connect the new learning into existing knowledge schemas and to allow those to start being used in new applications. It’s a way of deeply digesting the learning. Often I find that in using the CIA Strategy I start to see things in new ways, in a new light. My existing database of concepts, implications and applications get refreshed and restructured in the light of the new models and frameworks that emerge in my thinking. Suddenly an emergence of understanding and knowing occurs.

As the great system theorist, Humberto Maturana (1992) suggests, “All true knowing is doing.” And I think this is one of the keys to the CIA Strategy. True intelligencing requires the ‘doing’. It needs the application into the real world for the concept and knowledge to come alive, for you to work out the boundaries, the nuances, to build your deep expertise, to gain mastery with the learning. And once you’ve moved from novice to expert, you find that your understandings deepen. You make new connections. Your ways of being and doing in the world change. This is what Generative Learning is all about.

So I’ve found the CIA Strategy to be very simple yet powerful. It makes learning fun. It keeps my life fresh and alive. It encourages my creativity, my curiosity, my passion and capacity for exploration. It helps build my neural circuits of learning, knowing and creating.

I encourage you to take it onboard in your own life. Start right now. Whenever you learn a new concept, immediately apply the CIA Strategy to it. I’ve just shared with you a great new Concept – that there is a simple three step process for enacting generative learning in your life. So what are the implications of that? And what are the applications? How specifically could you apply it and in what contexts? At a deep identity (as well as a values) level, how will you do yourself differently in the application of this concept in your life? What changes in your life as a result of knowing and doing this?

Doing Deep Inquiry

CIA is a form of deep inquiry. It invokes Creativity, Connection, Critical Thinking and Generative Change. From an mBIT (multiple Brain Integration Techniques) perspective, the CIA Strategy is directionalized through the Highest Expressions (Compassion in the Heart, Creativity in the Head, and Courage in the Gut) of the human spirit. It is through this emergent filter of aligned wisdom’ing that you explore the implications and applications of your learnings. As you learn and embody a new concept, you do so through an orientation that asks, “What is the most compassionate, creative and courageous use I can make of this learning in the world?

Generative Learning also requires ‘active learning’ – the learner must be active in making meaning, in connecting the new knowledge into existing schemas and to directionalize the learning into new ways of being and doing. And the CIA Strategy provides a scaffold and guide for all of this.

The CIA Strategy provides a process for enacting deeper levels of learning as it moves from the conceptual thinking levels back and forth iteratively to the application and doing levels. This is nicely summarized in the following diagram from the work of Senge, Scharmer and colleagues (2005):

“Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we never were able to do. Through learning we re-perceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life.”

  • Scope
  • Assumptions
  • Contexts
  • Values/Importance
Implications also involve and link to Intention, since it is through intention that we contextualize the implications of a concept and how we construct what the concept means in relation to the outcomes it is potentially being linked with. Intention is the bridge or scaffold between Implications and Application.

  • Attention
  • Selection Criteria (for using the application; when & when not, where & where not, how & how not, with whom etc.)
  • Consequences/Outcomes of the application
Applications are where the rubber meets the road; they are where you get to utilize the learnings and concepts in real life and to evoke change in the world. Applications directionalize attention and engagement. They also evoke the environmental triggers and criteria that allow you to know when and where to apply the learning. It is through gutsy application and the dance between conscious awareness and the unconscious competencies that are built through real-world practice that true mastery is created.

CIA Questions:

Questions to ask yourself when deeply learning a new concept or idea:
  • How does this new concept link to other concepts I know?
  • What is implied by this new concept? What are its impacts?
  • How can I apply this? What is the most Compassionate, Creative and Courageous use I can make of this learning in the world?
  • What else is implied and how else can I apply this?
  • Where can I apply this?
  • When can I apply this?
  • With whom can I apply this?
  • When and where and with whom NOT to apply this?
  • How will I do my ‘self’ differently in the application of this concept in my life? What changes in my life as a result of knowing and doing this?