Laying The Foundations
Day two began, as every good rainy Sunday should, with a magnificent homemade pancake breakfast served up on a long communal table with all the possible trimmings. Some of the fellows shared their special and/or secret and/or weird and wonderful items from home that they brought with them to the fellowship for group show-and-tell.
Jessie made the comment that it was “so much fun not knowing what the day holds, it’s almost like being held hostage”. Hearing this warms our hearts and makes us confident that our program is working exactly the way we want it to...
Breakfast discussion topics included whether banana bread was actually cake, where one could legally source Yerba Mate in Australia, and whether straight line tattoos are a good, bad or ‘let’s go and get one right now’ idea!
Following breakfast we got straight into some activation, with Leyla kicking off a long day of deep diving into systems theory, running a powerhouse workshop on how systems work and the practice of systems mapping. After a lengthy discussion of physical and constructed systems, the conversation turned to human social systems such as religion, government, families, marriage, behavioural constraints, and corporate structures. Industrial Systems came next, with utilities, telecommunications, transport, and manufacturing getting a mention, followed by ecological systems. Leyla started to lay the foundations for using systems thinking as a framework for designing activated social change.
Teams of fellows then mapped divergent systems and pitched them back to the group, and Leyla took the floor again to invigorate our brains with an overview of the idea of synthesis—how divergent ideas are the result of a disruptive practice—it’s not reductive, but the outcome of thorough analysis and the emergence of ideas.
"You want to be a problem lover, not a problem avoider” - Leyla Acaroglu
Continuing on with systems thinking, we dove headlong into Feedback Loops and the difference between reinforcing loops as opposed to balancing loops as opposed to positive loops, which work to reinforce negative outcomes. Population growth was a confronting example to Fellows of a reinforcing loop—facilitating its own continual growth. Whereas balancing loops produce stability and are self correcting—although not always socially positive (like disease) and compensating loops are also well intentioned but end up being detrimental to the system and environment (such as some forms of recycling).
"When you intervene in a system, you need to use the correct tactics to influence the specific agenda of your intervention" - Leyla Acaroglu
Then we headed down the slippery slope of Disruptive Design! Leyla discussed how the aim of the game is to intervene in the most dynamic and effective way possible and thereby make the most change and leverage even bigger change by working within the parameters of the current system—to identify the points within the system that you can leverage.
This led to a prolonged discussion of Buckminster Fuller’s trim tab theory, and his (fulfilled) desire to have “call me trim tab, Bucky” on his tombstone. We love Bucky at the Un-School!
"Systems are constantly evolving things, relinquish blame and remember that every problem has a solution"
The afternoon session began with bellies full and bodies stretched and replenished, and then took off running with a crash course in the theory of applied disruption and disruptive design by Leyla again (she gets the rest of the week off teaching after today!). The difference between interruption and disruption is the intent, the meeting of the core agenda of activating the intent.
We also heard about the Action Research Cycle—capacity, knowledge, and skills create a constant loop of selection and action—a hierarchy of actions if you will… The fellows then took themselves off in groups and worked on a theory of change exercise. This ended with everyone throwing almonds at each other’s mouths. But I digress...
The final (or so we thought) session was all about Cognitive Bias starting with the sticky issue of cognitive dissonance—the difference between people's ethics and their actions (recycling for example) and the discomfort it causes along with the dangerous repercussions of people changing their behaviours to suit easier or more negative options.
Talk wended it’s way between fake flies in urinals to improve aim, to how best to express yourself and incorporated one minor laughing fit, a slight group sugar slump (eradicated by the appearance of a perfectly timed packet of biscuits), and a tinge of group hysteria by the end of the session.
Next up it was all about grey matter... Beginning with the neuro chemicals that influence how we make choices, to what makes us desire things, to what makes us fear things, to how we can create or challenge these innate impulses, and on through to cognitive biases—socially constructed norms (bystander effect, loss aversion, confirmation bias, change blindness, selective perception, choice paradoxes etc) that guide so many of our behaviours. There are hundreds of them and by this stage we were beyond taking legible notes, you can find a list of most of them here.
Our next (and actual) final session was an added (and group requested bonus) all about gamification and game theory, as well as the tactics for utilising these theories for creating engaging experiences that evoke change (Leyla’s pet favourite topic area).
Once our fellows were well and truly mentally spent, we surprised them with their evening plans...
Peer Dinners! Curated by the Un-School team in four groups of four Fellows at four amazing restaurants in Fitzroy complete with gamefied conversation starters and their first mini challenge (due 24 hours later). Obviously the Un-School team didn’t go out with the Fellows to dinner, but here are some photos that filtered back to us via social media...