2. The “What, So What, and Now What”
of This Training Curriculum
Building blocks, benefits, and next steps.
Sources for Answering Questions on How To Do Good Better
When it comes to doing better at doing good, I find much to learn from immersion service experiences, as I’ll share in the final section of this chapter. I also learn a lot by connecting ancient history and alternative, “speculative history” – otherwise known as science fiction. I’ll periodically bring up points from history, and also from Young Adult Literature (YAL), especially sci-fi and dystopian novels. (As a futurist, I often find YAL to be 15 to 20 years ahead of the mainstream curve in what social trends they explore.) Indulge me for a moment while I draw together a few threads from sci-fi and history to share a key reason I created this entire curriculum.
So – lately I’ve been re-reading the entire Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow sci-fi sagas by Orson Scott Card. These interrelated series tell tales of earth and outer space after humans are attacked and nearly wiped out by the formic race of insect-like aliens. Card’s storylines revolve around preparations being made for war to obliterate the formics on their own home world so earth will be safe from them forever.
The twist is that the International Fleet provides immersion military training for children as young as five years old who have shown exceptional intelligence, an aptitude for strategy, and a drive to win. The I.F. trains them using courses in military theory, history, and science; plus team-based competitions in an anti-gravity battleroom, and simulation video games designed to assess their psychological profile and sharpen their creativity. Everything about the raw materials for patterning their thinking processes had to do with war-making and winning.
Okay, juggle that thought a moment while I share a bookend idea from medieval Europe. It has to do with the tribal social structure of the Saxons in the ninth century. They were among the tribes that the Franks couldn’t really conquer, and part of the reason was the Saxons had a decentralized leadership structure. The Franks had centralized structure – a king and a castle. So, they thought if you captured your enemy’s king and castle, you’d won. However, the Saxons only had fortresses atop hills here and there as temporary places of protection for surrounding villages, not permanent places of rulership. And in times of war, the Saxons selected a chief from among the tribal elders to lead them. So, there was neither king nor castle for the Franks to control.
But there’s an unexpected twist here as well: Not only did the Saxons select a chief to lead them when they were at war, but that same chief was not allowed to lead the tribes during times of peace. They had to choose someone else, a leader with peace-time skills.
And here’s the pay-off from synthesizing the two storylines:
If we were like the International Fleet – but only for times of peace – training children and young adults to lead into the future, what kinds of theories, strategies, and practices would we immerse these next generations in, for them to be shaped into master peace-makers and collaborators?
If people can be patterned for war, surely there must be ways to pattern them for peace. I believe the Opal Design Systems curriculum has elements of learning that advocates and catalysts for peace need. One reason I think I can see things this way is that my own background could be considered like a training program for “welcoming the other” and learning together with people who are not like myself.
I’ll share more aspects of my own story as we progress, but here is one tantalizing tidbit: When I was in middle-school, my parents owned a small rental home and, in a time when it was definitely not the norm, they rented it to a mix-race couple. That was 1967. A few years ago I asked my Mother how that unusual connection came about. She said, “Well, we just took people at face value. We didn’t care so much where people were from, but who they are. This family needed a place, and so we rented it to them.”
What kinds of formative experiences shaped you into someone who cares about self-determination and respect, social responsibility and justice?
What are the Building Blocks for Opal Design Systems?
This entire multi-volume training curriculum is based on the same core of 10 frameworks for building safe and sustainable in-house teamwork and inter-agency collaboration aimed at quadruple bottom line outcomes. Each cluster integrates concepts, skills, art images, and application case studies drawn from movies and various other kinds of media.
- Paradigm systems that integrate our mental (theoretical), operational (organizational), and cultural (practical) models; and the oh-so-mysterious subject of “paradigm shifts.”
- Safe and sustainable organizational development that prevents abusive leaders and systems from controlling people through compliance or chaos, and that responds with flexibility to unavoidable changes in demographics, paradigms, and cultures.
- Teamwork contributions and conflicts based on differing learning and creativity styles.
- Distinctively intercultural approaches to observation, critical thinking, discernment, and decision-making.
- Theories of sets and holistic systems, including concepts like fractals, scaling, and complexity that are useful to marking change and measuring transformation.
- Storying and strategic foresight skills to track a person’s or group’s past, present, and future.
- “Cultural GPS” (Global Positioning System) to determine relative strengths and limitations, compared to a realistic set of intercultural values, and to develop ways to bridge cross-cultural distance between individuals or organizations.
- Transcultural concerns for doing good without inflicting harm (quadruple bottom line outcomes for people, planet, profit, and purpose), and relating respectfully in a culturally pluralistic society.
- Developing a “producerist” approach for teams and collaborations based on our strengths and not just program roles or consumerism, and as participatory and inclusionary as possible.
- Measuring personal and social transformation qualitatively, not just quantitatively.
Volume 1 is a stand-alone book that provides entry-level access to the essentials needed from all 10 of those frameworks. It focuses on how to composite transcultural teams and measure transformational impact. (I will describe what I mean by transcultural shortly.)
It explores bite-sized chunks of framework information, and gradually integrates these building blocks in ever-deepening layers of interconnections among elements of the material. Because of this progressive interlocking among the elements, it really will work best to read the chapters in order so you don’t skip a layer of synthesis. (Please just trust me on this one. I’m a random and creative person and don’t always like a bunch of rules. But I’m also a project manager and a highly analytical processor, and so I know that some things are best done in sequence, or else there are bad consequences!)
The frameworks provide the macro-elements. But there are also micro-elements I use as building blocks. Each chapter has three main points, and may have a few subsections within a given main point. Art illustrations, movies, and other media for each chapter show the points, where words just tell about them. Theme statements, quotes, and summaries help keep the big picture in mind. Charts and lists, bullet points, and boldface type help highlight key details. Workbook sections let individuals and groups apply the material to relevant case studies and to their own situations.
I’ve intentionally included this broad range of material, even though I know that some of it only appeals to people with very specific learning styles. You may not exactly like that, and find yourself wanting to skip over some of it. But, I strongly recommend not skipping anything, even if it’s a mental stretch to keep yourself engaged. Since others who are unlike us in their learning styles should be in a well-balanced team or collaboration, it makes a difference to better understand what best connects with the ways they’re wired to process information. It could help us prevent learning-style-based conflicts later. (This will make more sense after the sections on learning styles in Chapter 3 on Suitable Mission. Those differences can be some of our largest sources of communication breakdown and relational conflict that aren’t really “personality” based.)
What Does “Transcultural” Mean?
After some recent research, at last I finally figured out that the particular interdisciplinary field I work in is called “transcultural studies.” It all came together when I ran across this quote:
In this book, transculture is defined as a form of culture created not from within separate spheres, but in the holistic forms of diverse cultures. It is based on the principle that a single culture, in and of itself, is incomplete and requires interaction and dialogue with other cultures.” [Back cover, Transcultural Realities: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Cross-Cultural Relations.]
Transcultural studies is an emerging academic discipline that uses an integrative, interdisciplinary approach. As of 2013, it looks like only the University of Heidelberg has advanced degrees in it. However, my research showed that the term transcultural still has not settled into just one clear definition.
Transcultural is used by some – mostly international nursing professionals – for what cross-cultural workers would call cultural contextualization. This involves listening to people in your host culture carefully, avoiding language and behaviors they find offensive, and serving with ways and means that they find appropriate. It puts the weight of responsibility on us as guests to transcend our own cultural assumptions and norms in order to be of service to our hosts. It makes sense that nurses would be sensitive to these kinds of cultural concerns, because they relate so personally and intimately with medical patients, their families, and their communities. Cultural missteps by nurses could set off a chain of events that proves fatal to their patients.
Meanwhile, for workers in politics, business, or economics, transcultural is sometimes interchangeable with the term transnational. This involves issues or organizations that affect audiences beyond the usual geopolitical boundaries.
I focus on the integrative processes and practices involved with strength-based teamwork and collaborating, where some other individual, group, or culture has a strength that covers my/our limitations, and vice versa. That is closest to the quote in the Transcultural Realities book. It’s just not the same as multiple cultures co-existing (merely sharing the same geographical space), or multiculturalism (appreciating differences between cultures), or interculturalism (actively communicating, learning, and working together).
My kind of transculturalism is a deeper form of compositing than any of these. It revolves around a spirit of hospitality, and I believe that welcoming attitude lends itself to a stronger emphasis on respectful and productive dialog. And so, it really seems to fit best with activities that integrate personal and social transformation. When we connect with people who are different from ourselves, and embrace those differences as ultimately positive, there is much we can learn relationally to fill in the gaps and file off the excesses in our personal paradigm.
So, What Benefits Come with Using These Systems?
Together, these frameworks give us resources to do better in doing good, for instance, through:
- A more balanced focus between promoting the common good and preventing harm.
- Easier communications between foundations/investors and practitioners when there is a common framework of understanding about human needs, culture, social change, and measuring impact.
- “Measuring what counts,” so that impact becomes tangible and provides fruit for learning.
- Creating teams that are genuine exemplars of diversity and inclusivity in pursuing changes that make people’s lives better.
- Relationships and collaborations which are mature, purposeful, and respectful.
- Standards that are higher in the social sectors (non-profit and for-benefit), and so reinforce these sectors’ credibility with the other sectors – for-profit businesses and government.
- Resource allocation that is smarter and more targeted in pursuit of solutions to deeply-rooted human needs.
These are practical benefits for participants and recipients in all kinds of forums for community development and enterprises for otherwise bettering the human condition. The Opal Design Systems frameworks can equip mentors, leadership trainers, futurists and other kinds of relational or informational workers for doing good. They can also contribute to the emotional and spiritual recovery of people who have been damaged by truly abusive leaders and/or organizational systems.
What are Potential Next Steps?
Once you’ve gotten through the basics in Volume 1, there is more for those who want it. Forthcoming Volumes 2 through 7 will detail intermediate to advanced material on the same overall set of frameworks, but organized a bit differently. Just to give you a preview:
Volume 2. Core Theory for Opal Design Systems (paradigms and paradigm shifts, transcultural theory, preferable futures).
Volume 3. Diagnosing Destructive Systems (abuse survivors and their supporters, abusive people and their enablers, toxic organizational systems and cultures).
Volume 4. Constructing Transformative Systems (systems that provide safe meeting ground for teams catalyzing change, suitable mission for participants and recipients, culturally sensitive messages, methods that are survivable in the face of unavoidable changes in internal demographics and external paradigm/culture shifts, and sustainable momentum to last beyond two generations).
Volume 5. Peers, Partnerships, and Projects (teamwork and collaborations with creativity and impact).
Volume 6. Cultural Interpretation and Contextualization (advanced techniques for team-based “Cultural ReCon,” measuring cultural distance between personal/group culture and the host culture, predicting points of conflict that could push back or pull forward, change and culture shock, unique roles and missions for people who are intercultural or even polymaths).
Volume 7. Theory and Practice in Metrics of Transformational Impact (types of change and their markers, methods for measuring positive and negative changes for individuals and groups, connections between trajectory and change).
Volumes 2 through 7 won’t make much sense unless you’ve gone through Volume 1. But the final six volumes don’t have to be read in sequence to make sense. Check out whatever volume(s) and/or topics are most of interest.
So – enough talk about the material. Time to dive into the material!
Part 3: The “What If …?” – What could things look like in a world of good where we do no harm?