Thursday, February 11, 2010

Meeting People Where They Are and Inviting Them to Take A Minimum Elegant Next Step

When I first learned about Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP), which applies to teaching children ages 0-8, I thought “This is exactly what we do with adults.”

The idea is that there is a developmental progression of acquiring new skills and knowledge. This is pretty obvious when we think of learning a new language as adults. You can’t effectively learn Advanced Spanish if you haven’t had Basic Spanish. And if you are advanced, then a basic course will not be effective either. In education, the term “proximal zone” is used to describe this sweet spot between where someone is and the next step in their progression or development.

This concept can be very useful when we think about making changes in individuals, organizations, and systems. Although you may know where you want to be (to use the metaphor of learning a new language above, fluent in Spanish) you have to figure out where you are to know what the appropriate next step is. Likewise when we are interested in supporting others, if we don’t know where they are and where they want to go, it will be hard to figure out what a useful next step is.

I was recently at a meeting in which someone introduced the phrase Minimally Elegant Next Step. This resonated with everyone. In the current environment there is so much change happening that the next step may be all we can really figure out, and at the same time the most useful thing. So how do we do this?

We must first find out where people are -- what they think and know. This requires asking questions rather than making assumptions about where we think they are or should be. And it also requires knowing what the big goal or desired change is. Then we can attempt to figure out what a minimally elegant next step might be -- and create the conditions for that to be inviting. We often use the metaphor of Mental Velcro. How can we create conditions for new learning, development or progression to occur and stick?

Sounds good? If you said yes, then we need to consider what we need to keep in mind --as people who want to support others in their journey. And we might need to change our own thinking about how best to do this.

“Perhaps the most significant thing we have confirmed for ourselves is that, although actions are important, the thinking that influences and shapes what we do is far more critical. Changing our thinking is the first thing we have to do both individually and collectively, because without that change we cannot possibly change what we really do on a day to day basis. Regardless of what new “method” or latest technique is attempted, the mind/brain will always choose to reduce such practices to fit entrenched assumptions and beliefs. To really restructure anything means to restructure our thinking and shift deep connections in our psyche.” Carrie & Carrie, 1997 p. vi

Cassandra at

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