Emerging Patterns in Business and Education:
An Interview with Prasad Kaipa
Prasad Kaipa is a researcher and founder of the Mithya Institute for Learning and Knowledge Architecture which he founded in 1990. He works with organizations in USA and India on (un)learning, creativity, strategic thinking, and executive education and an adjunct professor of organizational inquiry in the Saybrook Institute(www.saybrook.org). As a native of India, he brings a natural holistic perspective to his work with international corporations and other organizations. Janet Eaton and I met with him in his offices in Cooperation, California, last October to explore with him the emerging patterns that he is finding in his work.
Barbara Vogl, Editor, Patterns and the Founder of Systems Thinking and Chaos Theory Network (www.enhanced-designs.com/stct)
BV: Prasad, I would like to ask you what is the most important thing you would like to tell us today?
PK: My work is about the nature of learning both in adults and in children. I am interested in looking at learning that leads to tool making (technology) and learning that leads to wisdom. I am very excited about both aspects of them. We created some multi-dimensional learning tools (we call the learning pyramids) that allow complex concepts to be explored and have come up with a learning framework that integrates many different theories of learning into one.
BV: It's (learning pyramid) visual and dynamic. Schools could use this too.
PK: Yes. We've been able to use this tool in about 30 organizations in five countries in five years. These are tools that help us to think in three dimensions. It's a natural dynamical structure, a tetrahedron onto which various concepts are mapped.
JE: And you say your mission is breathing life into organizations.
PK: Mithya Institute have a sister organization called the CPR Group that is a management consulting organization focused on 'breathing life into organizations.' It is about bringing the 'heart and spirit' to organizations in addition to the 'head and hand' we need to do the work. These days, we need to find new ways of working people especially creative people if you want to compete successfully in the marketplace. So what we do is to find a way to bring heart and head into alignment so that people enjoy what they are doing while the organizations are also being successful and profitable.
BV: Really what you are doing is creating joy in work?
PK: Yes, in some respects we are really interested in joy and appreciative approaches to work. We are interested in both strategy and leadership dimensions to be two sides of the same coin. It is time to marry hard realities of business with soft approaches to human development.
BV: A holistic perspective. I notice that you've always talked about the need for unlearning and when you talk about unlearning you include self-development. In our Western culture we tend to feel we have to be doing things to the outside instead of doing things to ourselves in order to help the world change. You are on your way to India now. What kind of work do you do over there?
PK: In some respects, similar to the work I do in USA because Indian companies are fashioned after the Western management models. Many of the senior executives in India are Western educated such as at Harvard Business school and Stanford University. Indian business schools are also as analytical and hard nosed as their western counterparts (many times), rather than integrative and synthesis-oriented as the Indian mindset tends to be.
In this visit to India, I'm working with a large British company senior executives. They are spending a week in India, a week in USA, a week in China and a week in France or Australia. The executive education is coordinated by Dr. Jonathan Gosling(Jonathan_R._Gosling@embanet.com) of Lancaster University in England and faculty are coming from Insead in France, McGill University in Canada, and Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore. The question the executives are wrestling with is, "How do we develop a global mindset for executives?" So, during the first week, they explore the reflective mindset beginning with India.
Then in March they'll come to the United States to look at some kind of competitive mindset, and then they will go to and then to France. So, with more perspectives, they'll become more globalized. The participants will develop a different mindset than they had when they started the program We have people from business strategy, Transactional Analysis, and Yoga teachers as faculty. All the executives have yoga sessions in the morning and evening the entire week. They have invited me to lead their sessions on 'self, learning and knowledge creation' topic.
BV: Self in relation to the ego. So you are speaking about ego-transcendent kind of phenomenon?
PK: Unlearning is about transcending ego.
BV: What are you going to say about knowledge creation?
PK: I wonder if the focus with the internet and the world wide web is going to be, not about knowledge you have already accumulated, but about creation of new knowledge and architecting knowledge. Actually, patented knowledge becomes useless very quickly as more and more people are about creating new knowledge and anything that is not put to use quickly becomes meaningless.
JE: I'm fascinated by the program you are going to be part of in India- the globalization of knowledge in business. How important do you feel that is?
BV: And also, you're probably aware of the keynote speech by Tachi Kiuchi, the CEO of Mitsubishi Electronics, at the World Academy Economic Forum, in which he spoke of what he is learning from the rain forest. That was disseminated all over the web. It will be interesting when you meet with your business people in India to see if that speech will be discussed at all.
JE: It is living systems theory and it is powerful to think that somebody with his influence is speaking to so many in the business world. In reference to metapatterns of history, I was curious if you see a metapattern through history as some people like Ralph Abraham would see it as being triggered by major shifts in understanding math and some people see it as technology which shifts the social and economic relationships. There are so many ways to see it. Gebser and Wilber talk about dominant paradigms in human consciousness. Have you seen metapatterns in some way?
PK: I am actually quite intrigued by Ken Wilber's work and my colleagues and I are really exploring and applying his work to organizations.
Your other question is about metapatterns I see. In Sanskrit, in the Upanishads, they say that the world is one large family. What does it mean? We all are parts of the same whole. Some patterns we understand about being part of the same whole and many we don't. Just because we don't doesn't mean that we are not part of the same family. The world has some mechanistic dimensions and organic dimensions. Same with us. We talk, talk, talk and after a while it becomes mechanical.
Suddenly there is insight, there is a flash, there is a smile in the eye, there is a recognition at the heart level. We begin to resonate. Like in physics, if you can tune all the strings on a guitar to the same frequency, you vibrate. One and all of them will resonate with you. So we need to look at the frequency at we are resonating. That is the frequency at which the consciousness emerges. Where we are having dissonance is where we will limit ourselves and become more mechanical. This is where we need structures, guidelines, rules, and procedures etc. When we are resonating, magic takes place and we are in a different domain.
BV: When you speak of resonance are you speaking of dialogue? And is the importance of practicing dialogue to be able to resonate?
PK: Yes, dialogue is a process of collectively exploring the unconscious and the unknown. We must first find out the right (deeper and archetypal) questions to ask and those questions could trigger something magical in each of us and the dialogue begins to emerge of its accord. But most of us are struggling with the superficial answers based on questions focused on the specific knowledge with no attention to the collective and the unconscious. So we get stuck.
BV: And, of course, we've been so well trained to look for the answers to the specific questions because that's our schooling. What you're talking about is an entirely revolutionized idea of schooling, isn't it? You have kids. How old are they?
PK: My daughter is 7 years old and my son is 11 years old.
BV: Where are they in school?
PK: I have them in public school because I have found that the emotional component is much more important than the intellectual component for my children at this point. Sending them to a wonderful private school where I have to chauffeur them twice a day might have some significant academic benefits, but the emotional bonding with neighbors' kids will be reduced significantly. Emotional intelligence is going to be much more important in the future and I would like my kids to develop more EQ. It doesn't mean the IQ is less important. IQ is the foundation. But the competence and co-creativity in the future will depend upon the emotional intelligence.
Children in schools need to learn to relate, communicate, create and be well. It is also important for them to develop shared meaning and shared vision of the future that they like. I guess, teachers, my children, my wife and I have to work on building a foundation for them to have such an education.
JE: There seems to be a lot of emphasis in the public school system now on the awareness of emotional intelligence.
PK: The world frame of looking at the three R's and the logical mathematical approaches to intelligence and feeding that to the children is no longer sufficient. The whole idea of looking at the emotional intelligence, what we are learning in regard to brain development, values and social development: they are all important. Together they create a texture. The container gets shaped by these. Within that, we can explore, stimulate and nurture the intellect.
BV: What have you learned in US that is different from that of India?
PK: What I take away from being in the United States for 17 years is that in the West, packaging is very important. The essence is important but secondary to packaging. The East focused on the essence and in some respects, neglected the packaging and marketing components. The Western countries, especially the United States, are great in packaging and marketing and now are also digging deeper for the meaning and the essence. On the other hand, the East is getting more Americanized. As we move forward, we can work together, and I think, there is going to be an emergence of a whole new consciousness that integrates the East and the West.
JE: How do you see this happening?
PK: People are beginning to discover the mind/body connection quite seriously in the West. Quality and creativity are becoming more important (and rote learning less important) in the East. We have problems everywhere and we have to work together. There is no single answer.
BV: What do you think about the effects of television on children?
PK: Someone said, I don't remember who said it, that TV is a medium because it is neither rare nor well done. Television, by itself, is neither good nor bad. Of course it is passive entertainment. The important question is, how do we mediate what children see and what they interpret. If we are watching what they are watching and helping them to interpret what they see it is much appreciated instead of shutting TV down and saying, 'don't watch this or don't watch that.'
So I ask, is it possible to admit to children that we don't know. Can I say to my kids that I don't have any answers. Am I willing to be vulnerable and am I willing to admit that I haven't got a clue to what is going on in the world. Both parents and teachers have to learn to learn themselves.
BV: That was Heinz von Foerster's (PATTERNS March '96) admonishment to teachers... to have the courage to not know.
PK: Right! Can teachers become facilitators of the learning process instead of purveyors of knowledge?
The question is, how to create a nurturing, caring, development-oriented environment to manifest child to her fullest potential. Each of us is different and we have different learning styles and different communication channels. If you plant an apricot and you are despairing because you are not getting mangoes it is not the apricot's fault.
So the question how can we allow the apricot to be an apricot and the mango to be a mango is gong to be a big challenge because we want everyone to become Bill Gates because he's 40 billion dollars rich. Role models are spread by TV. We have to learn to mediate as Reuven Fuerstein said 'We need to create mediated learning with our children, not negating nor accepting, but to mediate the reality they see through our eyes and their eyes so they can formulate their own independent judgment and interpretation that works for them and so that they have the capability to use that at a metalevel, to learn what they learn, to see what they have not learned, and go ahead and develop it.'
BV: And that's self-organizing education. I like that term self-organizing education. How to bring that about is something else. That's what we were trying in the free school movement in the 60's.
JE: In reference to more industrial, rational mindsets. I have worked at looking at where we are coming from with frameworks as a way of helping people to integrate.
PK: I am very fond of the work of Howard Gardner of Harvard University (his work on multiple intelligences, the unschooled mind and creative mind etc.) and Ckiszentmihaly of University of Chicago (flow states). They are finding what triggers people to go beyond their own individual needs and beyond the boxes we built around what makes learning work. Each person learns differently and each person has a different skillset and each person perceives something to be easy and some other person feels the same thing to be very difficult.
If we want children to develop competence and capacity in addition to their skills and knowledge, they have to shape their own belief systems and their own attitudes. We cannot force our models on others. I am not saying that others don't have a role. Obviously other people's role is to be a catalyst, to create an environment, to hold the mirror in such a way that the people who need to emerge can emerge. Learning is transformational only when people are aspiring to learn and owning what they learn.
And, I found that we all have limitations. I have an industrial age mindset, have an agricultural age mindset which are both very good and are essential for my survival mechanism. It is just that I spend, like many others on the planet, 90+ percent of my time on autopilot. I am neither in touch with my aspirations or even desperations. So learning that I do is very limited and mostly in the domain of acquiring more data points to support my own point of view. This kind of learning leads to better tool building but never to any breakthrough let alone to wisdom.
BV: Gregory Bateson talks about it as the fact that once you learn how to ride a bicycle you don't have to think about it. It becomes part of your autopilot system.
PK: It's about learning to learn....deutero learning that Bateson talked about that is most important now. How do we catalyze such learning? It comes down to providing, I think, appreciation and love to each other. It sounds so new age, so different, but I am becoming more and more convinced that helping people to identify what gives them joy, and appreciating people to help understand themselves is ever so important right now. It does not mean positivistic Pollyanna but to help them see the 'gap' in their own perception of themselves (and your perception of them in a genuine authentic way), not just jack them up and glaze them over.
I think we have to pay attention to the gifts people bring and help them to see their own gift. When people recognize their own gifts, an unconscious competence which seems to manifest when they are unaware, becomes a conscious competence. This is the basis for competence education that also builds their capacity to learn. I think transformational change is predicated on that kind of appreciative joy and love for oneself and others. When people are appreciated, they create a gap in their perception about themselves and grow into that gap. Unworkable mental models no longer grip us when we don't pay attention to them. Because of that larger love, larger purpose, larger vision of staying in love, the mental models which are not working fall apart by themselves.
JE: That's a good point.
BV: What do you think of the use of mantras?
PK: I have found mantras and other rituals are good place holders for us. Especially with technology and the pace of change, we want to move, move, move, and mantras are just to develop an awareness of staying where you are.
BV: I think that's so true. One of the things I have found in my own experience is having the need to work on my own self-esteem having been brought up a girl in the society of my time. I began to use mantras, which I never believed in, but I used them because I felt I was training my unconscious. It's like learning to ride a bicycle. That's something very new to me and it comes out of the Eastern traditions.
PK: It's like swimming doesn't have anything to do with a mental construct. Until you feel confident that you can swim, you will never get into the water or you will never let go of the life support systems. We all need to have a larger, clearer purpose for ourselves and a vision that gives us meaning. Learning that leads to wisdom takes place more as 'unfolding' (in Eastern perspective) or 'developmental' in Western perspective. Both are the flip sides of the same coin. While learning that is about knowledge and skills can be acquired from books, from practice, wisdom based learning has a different track.
There is a role for teachers and parents and friends and coaches during such development of a child but the role is not to feed them knowledge but to hold a space, bring clarity, bring appreciation, help them to not feel alone, and to explore together. Learning is becoming more of a journey. Are we willing to be the journey partners with each other to develop what needs to be developed?
David Waggoner, an English Professor in Seattle, translated an American Indian poem (quoted in The Heart Aroused by David Whyte). It is about growing up and about the vision quest.
What do you do when you are lost in the Forest? is the question the elder attempts to give guidance in that poem (my incomplete recollection of the poem is)
In more ways than one, we are all lost. Are we willing to acknowledge that none of us are visionaries, that none of us have a grand vision for the whole world. We can see some patterns, we can see some glimpse of meaning and insight which relate to who we are and we need to merge these together and, either, we become part of the emerging pattern, or we are left by the way-side. Are we willing to work together? That doesn't mean religion and spirituality doesn't have a place, but it is just like some of the world sayings have to be recontextualized... really, literally reinterpreted.
In Indian wisdom we had the Vedas and Upanishads and Books of Dharma or Justice. But for thousands of years in Indian civilization no one has developed new interpretations. Similarly, do we need to re-examine other spiritual documents and come up with a unified vision that includes and translates the differences in perspectives. I think we need to do it together.
BV: It gets back to your idea of the clean vessels. We each have to be the clean vessels so the essence can be appreciated.
JE: So the essence can be emerging. So it is not about one way or another. It's about all of them.
BV: Not about formulas or formulations. Those things are guides but they're not 'it.' It still has to come out of cleaning the vessel.
JE: I was struck with what you are doing in India. In a way it is moving towards that....to bring the different perspectives together.
PK: Yes, I'm pretty impressed by what is going on in India. I'm finding that, in India, there is less acceptance for their own tradition while many people in USA, may be just in California, have a fascination for that tradition. Interestingly, Silicon Valley has a large Indian population and many of them have been educated with abstract conceptual methods and they are all quite comfortable with multi media and the latest technology stuff here. More and more people are being invited to come and work in USA because Silicon Valley has such a problem in filling high tech jobs.
On the other hand, many people who grew up with technology and educated in modern methods here are struggling to 'retrain' themselves and fill the vacant positions. May be both educational systems have some thing to learn from each other. May be rote learning creates the foundation for conceptual and abstract thinking and experiential learning makes that abstraction and concepts practical. Both are essential. The question is though, How do we weave them together to create a new model for the educational system?
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