I am one happy and excited guy! I get to meet John Seely Brown (JSB) in person this fall – TWICE!
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not one to ask for autographs or drool at the feet of my heroes.
But, you see, JSB has been a key figure in my academic and educational life since the mid-eighties. He has gained a more popular presence in the last few years – particularly with his publication of the Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big things in Motion and more recently A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change.
In Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning (1989), JSB (with Allan Collins & Paul Duguid) suggested that what students pick up “is a product of the ambient culture rather than of explicit teaching”. This paper caused me to think much more deeply about ‘instruction’ versus ‘construction’ – about setting the conditions for learning – about designing environments that were authentic, complex and rich rather than contrived, simplistic and reductionist.
It made me reflect deeply about kids before they get to school and how they manage to ‘steal that which they need to know’ from the larger gestalt of the complex worlds in which they lived. Later on, JSB & Paul Duguid wrote Stolen Knowledge (1996) which reinforced and supplemented my thinking about this. They started that paper with a quotation I particularly loved:
“A very great musician came and stayed in [our] house. He made one big mistake . . . [he] determined to teach me music, and consequently no learning took place. Nevertheless, I did casually pick up from him a certain amount of stolen knowledge. [Rabindrath Tagore quoted in Bandyopadhyay, 1989: 45]“
Tinkering as a Mode of Knowledge Production in a Digital Age also resonates with my socio-constructionist heart and beliefs. Many of you know I am a fan of Seymour Papert’s deep thinking about tinkering and ‘hard fun’ and his creation of Logo and Lego Logo robotics. I wonder have John Seely Brown and Seymour shared thoughts and conversations in the past. I will be able to have these, and other, conversations with him at either PLP Live 2012: Inspire. Collaborate. Shift. or ECOO12: Learning in the NOW Century!
THAT is why I am so excited.
Ok. He is also an avid motorcyclist and, judging from my occasional emails with him, a heck of a personable guy!
For some ten to fifteen years, I have called my computer ‘Intentional Serendipity’. I did this somewhat flippantly at the time because I had recognized how many wonderful events seemed to serendipitously occur in my professional and personal life. (In fact, my spouse has suggested that I have a well-placed horseshoe that brings me good luck!)
Whether it was in my teaching, or researching, writing, holidays, or adventures- I always seemed to have ‘good luck’ with the ways things unfolded and turned out. Of course, I knew it wasn’t really luck.
It appeared to be related to my willingness to be open and flexible to opportunities as they arose. Although I might have made plans to pursue things in a certain way, those plans were rarely etched in stone. I was on the lookout for chance events, signals, ideas that might lead us in a better direction. I believe we should maintain an opportunistic vigilance.
…maintain an opportunistic vigilance.
So often, if our plans are made in a top-down fashion, we are bound and determined to follow them. Not me. For most things. I see planning as important – but, I view the ability to change those plans rapidly as circumstances dictate, to be even more important.
The Power of “Why?”
The trick, I think, is to know ‘why’ you are making the plans. Understand the ‘why’ deeply to your core. The plans are actually the ‘how’ and ‘what’. The ‘why’ becomes your ‘intention’. The ‘how’ and ‘what’ are the ways in which your intentions are achieved. These can be flexible…and you should always keep your eyes open to changing them to better achieve your intentions.
We, leaders at the YMCA of Greater Toronto, have been asked by our CEO, Medhat Mahdy, to always start with “Why” when we are developing a new project or initiative. It is a request I honour and respect.
Interestingly, I have been reading J.S. Brown’s work since the eighties because he is a cognitive scientist who worked at Xerox PARC. In fact, JSB was the “Chief Scientist of Xerox Corporation and the director of its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)—a position he held for nearly two decades. While head of PARC, Brown expanded the role of corporate research to include such topics as organizational learning, knowledge management, complex adaptive systems, and nano/mems technologies. He was a cofounder of the Institute for Research on Learning (IRL). His personal research interests include the management of radical innovation, digital youth culture, digital media, and new forms of communication and learning.2” So as a teacher and student of ‘learning’, I worked with his extended family of colleagues at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (now OISE/UT) – including Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter.
The Power of Pull is worth the read. One of the points the authors emphasize is the role of serendipity in moving organizations to capitalize on the connections across the organization. They speak of how we can ‘shape’ serendipitous encounters; how we can organize environments so that beneficial communications and connections are more likely to occur; how we can ‘pull’ information, resources and ideas from the ‘edge’ to the ‘core’.
…we must accommodate the rapidity of ‘knowledge flows’ that stream over us.
So I believe in ‘intentional serendipity’. It is not luck. It is a way of being in the world that suggests we must accommodate the rapidity of
‘knowledge flows’ that stream over us.
After all, it was rather serendipitous that I discovered The Power of Pull. I had shaped the possibility that it would be discovered by me – through Twitter, blogs, conversation, and, yes, Amazon bots!