Releasing the anchor of self-perception

The first time I heard the word career was in a high school business class. “You want to make sure you choose the right career, something you are really passionate in,” she said. “If you choose the wrong career, you may later come to regret that decision.” At the time I was sixteen years old. For years, I had been traveling with my parents to Amway conventions; most of these adventures I spent a majority of my time in the hotel room watching movies, swimming in the pool, or exploring the hotel for any secrets it might hold, but in recent years I had begun to attend the actual seminars, and when I turned 16 I bought my first IBO Kit (Independent Business Owner) and then presented my “business opportunity” to my biology teacher, Mr. Cross.

Mr. Cross was known as one of the strictest teachers in the school… or perhaps even the universe. Never smiling, his brow always settled in a comfortable suspension-bridge shaped arc, his bright eyes behind a set of thick glasses, his tall spindly body hovering over students like an ominous shadow. So I decided that he would be my first, because I do enjoy a challenge. I didn’t know it then, but he was also my last. No, he didn’t dissuade me from becoming a millionaire, but he did allow me into his home, he spoke with me not as a teacher but took me seriously, and he wasn’t intimidating at all. He revealed to me something that would later become part of my ethos: that being a teacher didn’t mean that when you left school you carried your job on your back, but outside of the classroom, a teacher was as real as any other man, someone who sat on his couch in his pajamas and watched late night sitcoms, or someone who despite bringing piles of work back to grade, relaxed with some jazz and a cup of tea. The career doesn’t make the man, I learned. The man makes the career.

Fifteen years later I stopped struggling. I became a teacher.

Edgar Schein, more famous for his organizational opus, “Organizational Culture and Leadership” (1992), also was the author of a self-assessment called “Career Anchors” (2006). Schein begins by describing the inner career as a “self-image of competencies, motives, and values” (Loc 85), where competencies are defined as talents and skills, motives defined as aspirations and hopes, and values defined as character, beliefs, and priorities. For Schein, the anchor is a self-assessment which allows a person to understand the drives of his or her inner career (the self-image), and then once understood can more easily manipulate the external career (horizontal, vertical, or inward steps toward advancement) to better suit the purposes of that particular anchor (of which Schein lists eight). The anchor acts as a stable force which provides momentum and direction for movement in an organization or company and allows the worker self-direction and awareness of why he or she is drawn to particular types of work, or why the worker’s dissatisfaction erupts in overcompensating time spent in hobbies, second jobs, or leisure activities (Loc 160).

As confusing and fragmented as it is, experience more than any other power transforms our abilities and goals. Schein focuses on self-assessment and believes that by defining and clarifying one’s primary career anchors, he or she can become more fully developed. Schein lists eight career anchors: 1)technical/functional, 2)general managerial, 3)autonomy/independence, 4)security/stability, 5)entrepreneurial creativity, 6)service/dedication to a cause, 7)pure challenge, and 8)lifestyle. For an organization to be truly efficient and utilize their staff, they need to treat career anchors as strengths. 1)Specialists should be utilized in areas that requires concentration and focus, 2)problem-solvers should be given direct access to conflict, 3)agents should be the external arm of the organization, 4)pillars should be embedded deep in the organizational and offered opportunities to solidify and recognize loyalty and thereby keep the organizational solid, 5)creators should be given the freedom, incentive, and support to be innovative, 6)influencers should be placed at strategic locations in the organization to serve in capacities which drive organizational ethical standards, 7)warriors should be positioned in the hardest zones of disagreement with goals firmly communicated and rules of compromise fully explored, and 8)integrators should be the barometers of health in an organization, queried at periodic times to make sure the organization is healthy and thriving. By transforming the self-assessment of career anchors into action-oriented positioning, an organization can more fully appreciate the diversity present instead of using the self-assessment tool as a repatriation tool or mere encouragement for a single worker to take his or her career more seriously.

Our self-perceptions are the primarily limitation of the career anchor as a tool. Before I took the assessment I read through his book and came to the conclusion that my career anchors be service/dedication to a cause, entrepreneurial creativity, and autonomy/independence, as I identified strongly with those three in my personal belief system. However, after taking the assessment, I discovered something surprising: my three top career anchors were actually service/dedication to a cause, lifestyle, and technical/functional. Initially when reading through the descriptions of lifestyle and technical/functional, I scoffed at both but for different reasons. I believed that people who tested as lifestyle were more concerned with a life free of responsibility, and that people who tested as technical/functional were droll and boring. However, I realized that my own self-perception was flawed, and that my actions were a stronger reflection than my ideals.

For years I struggled with the concept of career, ever since I first heard the word in my high school business class. I was a bookseller, a secretary, an undertaker (yes, I was), a videographer, a poet, a columnist, a projectionist, a lobbyist, a security guard, and a day care counselor. Nothing seemed to fit. “The rest of your life,” my high school business teacher might have said, “is defined by your choice of career.” Of course, she was wrong. Our lives are not defined by our careers; rather, we define our careers. The day I realized this, I was standing in front of a mirror, and on the other side of the mirror I saw Mr. Cross staring back at me, but with one difference: I was smiling.

References

Schein, E. (1992). Organizational culture and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Schein, E. (2006). Career anchors: Participant workbook (Kindle version). San Francisco: Pfieffer.

Dagan: a world at your fingertips

I am attempting… to re-construct several of my stories into the world they were meant to be.

The process has been a longtime coming, and I am not sure if/when the completed project will be finished, but I have started on the basic skeleton. If I can find enough threads in the stories so far I may add to it, but I will also need to do some rethinking and rewriting. All just takes time.

Twine is a new program that is used to create hypertext stories, although I believe the more important value may be in constructing hypertext novels. Most hypertext stories are very short, taking the reader through short moments and highly programmed. The hypertext novel is just an evolution of the novel, where further stories outside of the main story can be explored and the world can be defined more deeply in ways that may help the reader appreciate the story more.

Postmodern Fantasy Literature: an overview of contemporary ideas

Lecture Goal: Give a broad view of contemporary American fantasy literature and where the ideas came from

 

1. Sword and sorcery in the 30s-60s, based on Weird Tales and Lord of the Rings

Weird Tales in the 1920s, born from Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft (Cthulhu)

Fantasy, horror, myth, and swordplay – Conan the Barbarian, Robert E. Howard

Fritz Leiber, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and the idea of true adventure, from Conan

 

2. Heroic fantasy and dark magic in the 70s, 80s and 90s, based on Dungeons and Dragons (1975)

Michael Moorcock, Elric of Melnibone, combination of heroic myth and popular fantasy

Roger Zelazny, the Chronicles of Amber, and castles, dungeons, monsters and sorcerors

Tanith Lee, emergence of dark fantasy based on authors like Mervyne Peake with Gormenghast

Emergence of allegory, deep symbolism and heavy themes with Ursula LeGuin (Earthsea) and Patricia McKillip (Riddle-Master)

 

3. The American-style journey novel in the 90s and 2000s, based on The Wheel of Time

Robert Jordan and the journey novel “Wheel of Time”

Terry Goodkind and the emergence of Mass-produced epic fantasy

George R.R. Martin, the anti-Lord of the Rings, beginning of the New Weird with China Mieville

 

4. Urban fantasy novels in post-2000 era, based on Harry Potter

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter, and urban fantasy

Anne Rice to Laurell K. Hamilton, and contemporary urban vampires and faeries, Wiccan stories

The Fantastic City and the New Weird, with China Mieville and Jeff VanderMeer

 

5. Literary fantasy

Breaking out of the genre, with Octavia Butler and Parable of the Sower, combining different forms

The movement of fantasy to break free from genre

 

Questions to ask at the end:

1) What was the first magazine to have sword and sorcery? 6) Where does Harry Potter take place?

2) Who created Fafhrd? 7) What is the religion about magic?

3) What was the game that inspired heroic fantasy? 8) What old idea does urban fantasy use?

4) The Wheel of Time was what kind of novel? 9) What did Octavia Butler break out of?

5) What happened to fantasy novels after Terry Goodkind? 10) What is current fantasy literature trying to do?

 

words to put on the board:

contemporary fantasy

 

Edgar Allen Poe

H.P. Lovecraft

Cthulhu

Barbarian

Invented world

Sword and Sorcery

Weird Tales

Lord of the Rings

Michael Moorcock

Elric of Melnibone

Dungeons and Dragons

Amber

Tanith Lee

Mervyn Peake

Gormenghast

Ursula LeGuin

Patricia McKillip

Riddle-Master

 

Journey novel

The Wheel of Time

Mass-production

New Weird

China Mieville

 

Harry Potter

urban fantasy

Vampires

Fairy/faerie

Wicca

Otherworld

Jeff VanderMeer

 

Octavia Butler

Parable of the Sower

Literary fantasy

Genre

The Prodigal Son of Jixian

The Prodigal Son of Jixian is a play I wrote back in 2008, for a show my then-school (New Century Language and Culture Center) put on to showcase student talent in speaking the Chinese language. I wrote this basic script, and then each student performing in the play took his or her lines and translated those lines into Chinese, and then our troupe performed the play for the school.

This play is roughly based off of the Biblical parable, “the prodigal son,” although deviates a bit as this story takes place around the turn of the new millennium in China.

 

The Prodigal Son of Jixian

Characters

Narrator: (8 parts)

Father: (26 lines)

Older Daughter: (15 lines)

Younger Son: (21 lines)

Contractor: (6 lines)

Fast Blaze/Ms. Liu: (12 lines)

Wild Kitty/Ms. Chen: (8 lines)

 

Prologue The Prodigal Son

(Enter Narrator)

NARRATOR: Welcome to our play. Some of you have heard of the story of the Prodigal Son. Tonight we give you the story with new clothes. Our story begins in Jixian, near the city of Tianjin, with a businessman and his two children, an older daughter and his younger, impatient son. The older daughter helps her father everyday, cleaning the home, cooking food, and taking care of household business, but the younger son plays everyday, not listening to his father or his sister, returning home late in the evening, and spending his father’s money. He does not go to school, but spends his days at the internet café, playing games and smoking cigarettes. This is the story of his life. This is the story of how he became a good man.

 

Act 1 Leaving Jixian

(Enter Father and Daughter. Daughter is just doing some housework, and Father is arriving home from work.)

DAUGHTER: Good evening, Dad. How was work?

FATHER: Good. That young man from your college came to visit. Do you remember him? The handsome one?

DAUGHTER (exasperated): Oh, please, Dad. You know I don’t have time for that. Everything I do here, with Mom gone…

FATHER: Fine, fine. Have you seen your brother around? I need to tell him something.

DAUGHTER: He’s been gone all day. He left this morning, said he was going outside to smoke. He has not returned home yet.

FATHER: You don’t know where he went?

DAUGHTER: He’s probably at that internet bar, the Great Wall Café.

FATHER: Go down there are tell him to come home for dinner. I have something important to say to both of you.

DAUGHTER: Yes, Dad.

(Exit Father)

(Enter Son)

 

NARRATOR: That evening, the older daughter went to the internet café. Her brother was sleeping next to a pile of cigarettes. She told him to wake up, but he refused. She was very angry. She slapped him and carried him home. His eyes were very red, and he was not in a good mood. The family sat down for dinner.

 

(Enter Father. The family is sitting down for a nice dinner.)

FATHER: Next week, because of the holiday, my workers are going back to their hometowns. Because it will be a very busy week for travel, we can go to see your Aunt in the mountains.

DAUGHTER: That is great! I miss her so much. Is Cousin Li going to come home from Beijing?

FATHER: I heard, but I do not know. He is very busy. He has a really great job, you know.

SON: I’m not going.

FATHER: Of course you are going. What are you going to do here? You need some mountain air.

SON: I’m not going.

DAUGHTER: You’re crazy! Everyday you spend our money, eat our food, but do nothing! You don’t go to school, you don’t work, and you’re lazy.

FATHER: Please, daughter, he is still very young.

SON: I’m leaving.

FATHER: See? I told you. He is already growing up.

SON: You. I’m leaving you. I’m leaving Jixian. I’m leaving this house, and this stupid family.

FATHER: What?

SON: I have friends in Shanghai.

DAUGHTER: They are his internet friends, Dad. He doesn’t know their real names.

SON: I want my money, and I want the car. It’s mine, anyways, you bought it for me.

DAUGHTER: If you graduate from school, but you have never gone to class!

FATHER: It’s ok, daughter. This is his decision.

SON: I am leaving tonight.

FATHER: Be safe, son.

(Exit Father and Daughter)

 

Act II In Shanghai

NARRATOR: That evening, his son drove to Shanghai. It was a long drive, but the son finally felt happy. Finally, he could do as his pleased. No domineering sister, no one telling him what to do. No old father, no dead mother. And money, lots and lots of money. He felt like a king. He would become a king. The king of Shanghai.

 

(Enter Fast Blaze)

FAST: Hey, buddy. What’s up?

SON: Are you Fast Blaze? From the Superman Chat?

FAST: Yeah, buddy. You want to go have some fun?

SON: Yeah!

FAST: You got cash?

SON: I’m loaded!

FAST: Great, really great. Follow me…

 

NARRATOR: The two new friends went out into the night. They gambled at the best places, smoked at the richest bars, drove down the fastest streets. They were children of the night, and they were happy. That night they found a hotel, and they slept at the top of the hotel. They watched TV all night, ate the most expensive food, and when the morning came, they slept all day. That night they met Wild Kitty.

 

(Enter Wild Kitty)

KITTY: Hey, Blaze.

FAST: Hey Kitty.

KITTY: Who is this guy?

FAST: This is “Prodigal”. Remember? He’s the guy from Jixian with the rich Dad.

KITTY: Hey, Prodigal! You’re here! So great! You want to have some fun?

SON: Yeah! Is that possible?

KITTY: I got a place in Shanghai. You can make money fast. Lots of money. Important guys come to my place. If they like you, you might get a job for them, and make more money. What do you think?

SON: This is more than my Dad ever gave me. This is so great.

(Exit Wild Kitty and Fast Blaze)

 

NARRATOR: The son joined Wild Kitty’s company. He worked hard and made lots of money. He spent money fast, bought houses, cars, love, everything he ever wanted. He was at the top of the world. Then one day, everything died.

 

(Enter Son. He is groggy and lying on the ground.)

(Enter Blaze. She looks angry. She walks over and kicks the Son.)

FAST: Hey! Where’s my money?!

SON: What? Where? What’s going on?

FAST: Where’s my money? You owe me 40,000 kuai! Last week I told you to pay up, or else I’d kill you!

SON: Wait! I’ve got your money right here…

(He looks in his pants, but his wallet is gone.)

My wallet, my money, it’s all gone…

FAST: I should kill you because of that! But I’m a generous woman. But don’t think you can work on these streets anymore. You will never again be able to get a job in this city. Leave, disappear, I don’t care. I don’t want to see your face again.

(Exit Fast)

 

Narrator: The son knew he had problems. He started to beg on the streets for money, but when no one would look at him, he started stealing food from trashcans. One day he saw himself in a mirror and started to cry. He stood up and took a job at as a city worker, making streets in the hot sun, wearing broken shoes. Everyday his body became black, and at night he slept on the ground with other dirty men who stayed up all night drinking. After six months of working, he still had not received any money, so he went to see his boss.

 

(Enter Contractor)

SON: Hey, Boss.

CONTRACTOR: Why aren’t you at work? What’s wrong? Are you hurt?

SON: Pardon me, I’m terribly sorry, please forgive your stupid worker, but your worker wanted to ask you a stupid question.

CONTRACTOR: I’m a busy woman! Ask me now.

SON: When do I get paid?

CONTRACTOR: Paid? You want money?

(She laughs.)

You see all those other men? You think they have money? You’re all the same. Don’t forget it.

SON: But the job…

CONTRACTOR: Where do you think you are? You are lucky to have a job and food to eat. Don’t come to me with your problems. You think I have money? I have no money! You think you have problems? I have problems!

(The contractor is getting a little angry.)

You workers, you are all the same. Give us money, give us food. There isn’t enough! If you don’t like it, go home, go back to the farm. Eat your own tomatoes! Don’t beg me for mine!

SON: Terribly sorry, please excuse your stupid worker.

(Exit Contractor)

 

Act III The Return

NARRATOR: The son looked into his own heart and finally understood what he must do. He must return to his father and ask for forgiveness, and become his worker to pay off his debt. That was the only way he could become a good man. Soon, the son left his job, and got on a train to return home. However, because he had no money, he had to hide in the train, but when he was found, he had to find another train or another bus, or a stranger to take him in his truck. It took him many days to return home. And then one day, he saw his home. He felt so sad, but he knew what he must do.

 

(Enter Father)

FATHER: My son! My son!

(He runs out to embrace him.)

SON (weeping and kneeling before him): I am sorry, father. No, do not call me your son. I am a stupid, stupid man. I lost all your money, I lost your car, I lost your face. I am nothing. I only ask you to let me work for you as a worker, and I will give you all your money back.

FATHER: Ms. Chen!

(Enter Ms. Chen)

Bring my best jacket. Ms. Liu!

(Enter Ms. Liu)

Prepare dinner immediately, and call all the family! We are going to have a great feast!

SON: I don’t understand…

FATHER: You are returned my son. Please come inside and rest until dinner.

(Ms. Liu and Ms. Chen make preparations for the feast.)

(Exit Father and Son)

 

NARRATOR: That evening, the father put on a huge feast. Tables and tables of food, music and songs for the guests, and the son seated at the front of the table. His father was so happy seeing him sitting there, smiling like the sun. The Daughter, meanwhile, was working late at the office. As she came home, she heard the music and saw the lights of the feast.

 

(Enter Daughter)

DAUGHTER: What is going on?

CHEN: Your brother has returned.

DAUGHTER: My brother…

LIU: Your father prepared a huge feast and invited all the family. We tried to call you, but your phone was turned off.

DAUGHTER: I was at the office…

my brother is home? He has been in Shanghai for two years. He never called, never sent a letter, and my father invites all the family for a big feast?

CHEN: Just go in, Miss. He will be happy to see you.

DAUGHTER: I will not.

LIU (to Ms. Chen): His children are all the same.

(Daughter storms out.)

 

(Enter Father.)

FATHER: Was that my daughter?

CHEN: Yes, it was. She went out to the garden.

FATHER: What was wrong? I heard yelling.

LIU: She was angry, sir.

FATHER: Angry? Why?

CHEN: She’s not far.

FATHER: I’ll talk to her. You two go inside and serve the guests.

(Exit Ms. Liu and Ms. Chen)

 

(Enter Daughter)

FATHER: Daughter, what is wrong?

DAUGHTER: I don’t want to talk about it.

FATHER: Is it because of your brother?

(She is silent.)

Don’t you understand? He has come home!

DAUGHTER (in anger): I have given this home everything! I have given you everything! You have never given me a feast, you have never even given me a party! But this stupid boy, who stole your money, your car, our family’s respect, he comes back and you throw him the biggest party of the year! I knew you loved him more than me when you gave him the car, but now…

FATHER: Oh, daughter… everything I have is yours. My love I give you, my home I give you, you are the best dream an old man can wish for. But your brother, he died when he left, do you see? We lost him. He died…

(Pause for dramatic impact.)

but now he is alive. Come to the feast, and see him. Eat with us, because he was lost, but now, he is found.

Xun, Dreaming of Lost Names

I admire Lu Xun. Not for his timidness, which he was not; not for his resolve, which faltered often; not for his calculating mind, which carried the burdens of a man blinded with inhibited sorrow; and not for his kindness, which crossed blades with his cruelty so often he might have been his own doppelganger; rather, I admire his perspicacity with words, his transparency of soul, and his exuberant passion in the movement of ideas through the vehicles of people and systems. Once a teacher myself at Peking University, Lu Xun exhibits ideals I wish I had but also showcases the dangers of adorning the armor of a hundred ideals, each engaged in civil strife.

“The present passes step by step,” Lu Xun states, meditating on the temporal, changing, and suffering nature of the world. Relaxing with my wife and son by Weiming Hu in the shadow of Ciji Temple, I am swept in the immediacy and evolution of moments, as if the passing of people through the reflection on the lake were a mirror to another world where time could be rewound and marched backwards. The remaining walls of Ciji Temple show that the present world is unrelenting; pockmarked and fading paint the only memories of her fabled past, when people would stoop by the stone altars and press flame and smoke into their hopes and dreams.

Overlooking a pond while standing on a lotus-pod bridge, I cannot agree with Lu Xun about the suffering of the world. Lily-pads float on the surface of the water, and tiny skittering waterhoppers bounce across the translucent surface, living in an impossible dream of speed and haze. The reflections of the terraced rocks and spaces of rippling blue skies to the small creatures are not the only constants; for a good portion of their life, my figure standing on the lotus-pod bridge becomes an anchor to them, much like watching a tree grow, strengthen against the wind, and shed yellow leaves in autumn. Suffering is inconsequential to the process of time, existing only as a cloud marking the passage of life from one evolution into the next.

If suffering is an inconstant spouse, of what use is education? Learning is the process of uncovering truths, not only about the world but about ourselves. Students are the phalanx of learning, charging forward bravely into the unknown with no expectations. Lu Xun described the brave students of Peking University as “tolling alone in the caverns of wind and dust deep at the bottom of the sea,” and in my mind looking at the surface of the lake from beneath, I begin to understand his meaning. The waterhoppers cause ripples in the water, and the image of Ciji Temple shudders, the red walls and carved altars shrugging as if held by a fierce wind. As I rise to the surface of the water, images between the past and the present shift into one: mendicants kneeling by curls of gray smoke and scholars in long robes are replaced by the sound of a bicycle bell and the flash of a camera.

Emerging from the lake, the world has changed: sky-tall construction cranes towering behind green mesh shielding shoot dust into the sky, students with golden cards rush by with apocalyptic fear pressed into their cheeks, multinational sandwich kiosks hide behind forgotten and overgrown gardens, and an electric buzz permeates the ether: the sound of oil burned into flame and lightning humming through crisscrossed optical pathways. And yet, although the future has arrived I find myself on the dry shore, smiling and viewing the landscape with pride and joy, much unlike the dismal parades of Lu Xun’s dread and phantasmagoria.

Lu Xun always believed that the goal of education was to be “properly adapted to the individual to develop each person’s personality,” and everyday our society seems to be moving closer and closer to this tenable dream. There are mountains to ascend and rivers to pass, but we are on our way. “I am living among men,” Lu Xun remarks when reflecting on his proud time at Peking University, as his students gave him the hope to press forward, even in the dismal hour of warlords and massacres. Our times are lighter and more hopeful today; let us remember that and dare to dream.

Book Review: Images of Organization, by Gareth Morgan

Gareth Morgan’s book, Images of Organization, is a challenging look into how organized groups of people can be understood in terms of eight different categories of thinking. These categories or images are tools that Morgan uses to identify, medicate, and reorganize thinking about organizational structure. The example story written in sectional intervals is an example of all eight images in motion (machine, organism, brain, culture, political system, psychic prison, transformation, and domination; in that order) and will serve as an analogy as I go through each of the eight images and explain how Morgan introduces these topics. The eight images Morgan uses in his book are not only methods for understanding current organizational models, but also tools in which the listening can recognize important organizational needs and faculties which normally are ignored due to either being invisible to the naked eye or due to miscalculated beliefs about an organization.

morgan

Figure 1: Image of Organization, based on Gareth Morgan’s Images of Organization, modified by Benjamin Seeberger (2012)

Machine. According to Morgan, organizations which run as a machine operate through the foundational principles of scientific management, a top-down method dividing chain of command to the coordination of function and hierarchy so as each particular aspect of the organization fulfills a specific role (pg. 29). Classical management theory, also known as bureaucratic thinking (pg. 25), attempts to precisely define jobs through defined vertical structures of command; in other words, those above control, while those below follow. However, the crux of machine-like behavior deals with the concepts of time and motion. Just as a machine’s parts must function collectively in-time with each other, so the job of management is to train workers exactly how to complete an assignment within a given period of time (pg. 30); in order to do this, the scientific method is utilized and each task becomes an experiment, where each worker is a variable rather than a changeable human being.

As the teacher walks into the classroom, the gears and gyros begin to spin. Heads swivel to the front, eyes locked on the instructor standing before them, and time slows until the first words boom out of the teacher’s mouth, calling the students to attention.

Organism. Another method of understanding organizations is to view them as a “living system” (pg. 39), or an organism that must sustain itself through the satisfaction of particular needs unique to that organization. Morgan defines the Organization as Organism as being required to meet particular “organizational needs” (pg. 43), which he bases on the five pillars of Maslow’s Hierarchy (Physiological, security, social, ego, and self-actualizing in that order) but differ on slight points within the scale based on the particular “open system” (pg. 46) the organization evolves as.

All functional organizations must at some point recognize the futility of attempting to complete tasks in utter loneliness. Although different organizations adopt different attitudes towards shared power, organizations that adopt the concept of a “shared future” can be determined to be operating within the capacity of an organism (pg. 69). Organizations that operate with shared futures, in order to complete tasks, will resort to methods in which for brief moments they adopt other aspects, such as machine-like thinking with the Matrix Organization (temporary teams shifting into particular roles based on the circumstances, pg. 57). Although Organizations as Organisms will often adopt other methods, they are first and foremost concerned with the self-sustainability of their own being, given the unique traits and persons working within that organization.

“Good morning!” At once the visage of sternness and sterility fade from the teacher’s face, his eyebrows arching upward and a smile appearing on his face. “How was your week?” he asks, pacing around the classroom, trying to lock eyes with a stunned audience, unsure of what to return to him for fear of giving an incorrect answer. Although they lay in stillness, they understand what he means: that they can relax, take a breath of fresh air and stop counting the seconds until the beginning of class. They are here together, and there is no reason to worry.

Brain. The key to understanding Morgan’s view of the Organization as Brain is to understanding the concept of cybernetics, in which organizations “engage in self-regulating behaviors and maintain steady states” (pg. 85). Just as memory can reconstitute itself from various parts of the brain if lost by utilizing a part of memory from a different location of the brain (pg. 80), so the Organization as Brain has the ability to use holographic systems embedded within the design and structure of the operation as methodology to inform, reform, regulate, and rebuild itself in times of crisis. The Organization as Brain is able to miraculously self-regulate through the use of negative feedback (pg. 85), which allows members to engage in self-questioning and if implemented in a healthy fashion can result in operations such as the Ringi process where decision-making in the organization is a collective-process rather than a dictatorial process (pg. 93).

The instructor marches to the front of the classroom, puts a stack of papers on the first table, and then tells students to come to the front to pick up graded worksheets from last week. “If you have any questions about the markings on the papers,” he suddenly says midway back to his desk and turning half a face to the students, “please come to my desk at the end of class and ask and I will answer any questions you may have. I am here for you, and I do not want you to struggle through this work. I know it is difficult, but we are all here to learn, so please, ask away.”

Culture. Organizations are naturally like little worlds, in which rules, regulations, rituals, beliefs, philosophy, and archetypes emerge and forge new participatory cultures. While most organizations can be understood in terms of having a unique culture, Morgan stresses that the Organization as Culture actually attempts to reconstruct reality through “interpretive schemes that underpin systems of control” (pg. 132). Whether they recognize the construction of reality or not, many organizations attempt to reconfigure perceptions and assumptions about life not only through direct processes, but through indirect methodologies and expectations of workers. Morgan states that “organizational society” cultivates routines, ethics, and rituals (pg 112), and depending on the amount of time required for a work process to be completed, can consume someone’s life entirely. However, Morgan counters that even within the main organizational society, there exist subcultures formed from individual work groups, departments, and even like-minded individuals which will often enhance the main culture or create a counterculture within the organization itself (pg. 121). In analyzing organizations, it is helpful to carefully understand what kind of culture the organization is encouraging, and how that culture is fashioning a new kind of reality for followers.

The lecture the professor discusses with his class details a very difficult application of using Aristotle’s Categories and Rhetoric to the concept of the modern essay. He tries to weave in these two disparate topics by using pictures and videos, but throughout the lecture he is worried the students may not have understood fully. When the lecture is completed, he hands out a worksheet to the students and asks them to work with a partner and read an article in the textbook. The worksheet is meant to break down the material in the lecture in a practical way, explaining ideas through the practice of observing and remarking.

Political system. All organizations, according to Morgan, follow a “system of rule,” which he divides into seven different types (autocracy, bureaucracy, technocracy, codetermination [sic], representative democracy, and direct democracy, pg. 146). Morgan further divides the seven types of political rule as requiring one of the fourteen sources of power, to which he details a majority of his chapter on political systems. The fourteen sources of power are (in my own words): legitimacy, resource control, regulation delegation, decision influence, information gate-keeping, boundary management, uncertainty buffering, technology manipulation, alliance cultivation, countervailing management, symbolic integration, gender management, ecology of action, and personal charisma (pg. 159-185). Based on only the seven types of political structures and fourteen sources of power, there are almost 100 different kinds of power leaders will utilize in any given circumstance within a particular political association. Morgan maintains that due to the vast differences in political power, it is important for leaders to remember organizations are coalitions of “people with divergent interests who gather together for the sake of expediency,” what he terms “loose networks” (page 154). These networks when gathered together comprise the political makeup of an organization; in other words, the politics are chosen by the people, not by the leader.

The worksheets use the same structure each week, so the students know what to expect; however, the material of each worksheet differs from week to week and reading to reading. In this way, the students understand how to function with the curriculum, but are still challenged by new reading material each week. At one point a student raises her hand and the teacher stands from his desk, hovers over her paper and sees where she is confused. “Remember what I said in the lecture,” the teacher reminds her. “I know it is a tough concept to grasp, but do you remember that image I gave you to help you remember?” The teacher waits for a response while the student taps her pen on the table and then nods after a moment. “Oh,” she flusters, “of course, that makes sense. Thank you teacher.” He nods to her and returns to his desk.

Psychic prison. As much as organizations are carefully designed by leaders and followers (as has been shown in the previous images), organizations are also created unconsciously by dreams, desires, and fears of people involved in them, notably the leader or group of leaders who set the vision for an organization. The unconscious organization is what Morgan calls “the shadow of the organization… a reservoir not only of forces that are unwanted and repressed but of forces that have been lost of undervalued” (pg. 225). Morgan also illustrates how actions people take within an organization are not based on rationality, but rather on “reaction formations” in which repressed feelings and unconscious drivers manage the pool of actions someone takes within an organizational setting (pg. 207). Based on the unreality of the organization and the unreality of action within an organization, Morgan admits to the “illusion of realness” (pg. 213) and how people involved in an organization attempt to preserve an image in their minds based on fantasy and desire for immortality.

As he is waiting for the students to complete the work, he doubts himself. Is he too hard? Are his methods for teaching too difficult, that he needs to sit down and explain every concept to his students? He wonders if the design of his pedagogy, meant to fill a vacuum from his own life as a student back in undergrad, really necessitates the difficulty of teaching students whose second language is English, when native English speakers would most likely have a difficult task of completing his assignments. But even though these doubts plague him, he pushes them aside for the greater goal: to craft beautiful and intelligent writers.

Transformation. When one element in an organization changes, another also changes. The “mutual causality” of action and reaction within the organizational environment is what Morgan terms “holoflux… the flowing nature of implicit order” (pg. 234). Mutual causality is a recognition that within an organization no one person or procedure has full control over the direction of that organization (pg. 250). While an organization’s power can be understood in terms of political systems, the vision in terms of the organization’s shadow, the culture in terms of interpretative schemes and rituals (and so on), the direction of an organization can only be understood when doing a dialectical analysis, a three-pronged survey into the methodology of change: the struggle of the various elements in opposition, the organization’s methods of struggling against that struggle, and plan of action to exact a “totality shift” and force a social organization to abandon particular elements in favor of strengthening other elements (pg. 258). In order to arrive at a point where an organization can even embrace the dialectical method, however, they must first have a “dialectical imagination” (pg. 265), which allows leaders in an organization be not only be aware but open to change.

He understands there is a give and take in the process. Every term he teaches he must scale back the workload and find new ways of challenging his students so that no moment of time in the classroom is wasted and no word written on a page is without meaning. He is commonly criticized by former students as being a very strict teacher, and he tries to amend his classroom assignments and policies by offering help outside of the class, skimming down assignments, and listening to student issues and changes in the university system. However, even though there is a give and take, he is still the teacher.

Domination. The last image Morgan introduces is that of the Organization as Domination. While similar to the Organization as a Political System, Domination differs in that while people based on inherent differences choose a political system and a leader chooses a source of power which to utilize, systems of domination are invisible much like the shadow of an organization. Domination is a form of rationalization (pg. 278), which results in one of three different forms: charismatic, traditional, or rational-legal domination (pg. 276). The modern form of the organization, Morgan argues, developed from the rise of the oligopolistic market (pg. 284), in which a few major sellers controls the decisions of other organizations involved in the same operation.

Additionally, since the advert of diversification, the market has become internationalized, and the once domestic players have become players on a global stage (pg. 302), setting trends for their entire dominated market. Multinational organizations (or organizations which operate across national boundaries) have increasingly used forms of social domination in controlling followers, including using wage slavery (pg. 310), transfer pricing (pg. 311), hard bargaining (pg. 312), and most importantly resource dependencies (pg. 307). Whether the result of social domination is a conscious act or a rational reaction to market forces, organizations still play a huge role in controlling markets and setting cultures for not only followers, but those on the receiving end of organizational services and goods.

Being the teacher, especially in China, requires a certain form of social antagonism. He wants to be there for his students, but the culture demands otherwise; the culture demands without apology that a teacher be not only a practitioner of knowledge but also a bastion of respect and authority, whom the students recognize has a vast amount of knowledge intrinsically, not only extrinsically. To do this he must be stern, give out assignments that challenge not only the mind but also the body, and refuse to back down when a student challenges him in front of the class. He must have confidence and control, and through this gain the respect of his students so that he may come alongside the shining stars in his midst and help them shine even brighter and perhaps if he is lucky, forge a friendship that will last.

References

Morgan, G. (1986). Images of organization. Sage Publications: Beverly Hills, CA.

Book Review: The Medici Effect, by Frans Johansson

2:30 in the morning. I am sitting at the desk, the light burning, the sounds of snores coming from the bedroom, the sour taste of coffee burrowing into my throat, my eyes bulging with caffeine, and my drive never further from the end. 70 unique essay topics based on 16 different team subjects, composed of students from forty different majors and disciplines: my goal is to give each student a unique topic, which combines not only with their team subject, but also offers a special personal challenge only he or she could complete. The task sounds insane, but the summer before I read through The Medici Effect, a book by Frans Johannson, which ensured me that with a combination of disparate and different elements creativity can flourish. My intention was to see whether even in a stolidly uncreative environment such as a Chinese university creativity could still take root and possibly fly into the sky once given the… proper incentive.

The plan then, based on the book, was to place students of differing majors and years in school together in research teams. Once in a team, I was going to give each team the choice of a different and unique subject, and from that subject I would design a topic based on that particular student’s major, year in school, writing preferences, and writing level. The first essay would be a test to see the methodology the student performed, and the second essay would be a sharpening of the wits, taking the subject heading and defining it even further until specificity was no longer a mystery but a requirement. However, to spin the matter even further, I was going to teach narrative research, a form of research commonly used in popular nature magazines but hopefully transformed into a pure academic subject.

Creative methodology is a particular interest of mine, and Johansson’s The Medici Effect has had a huge impact on my own ability to manage creative enterprise by capturing the moment of creation in an image known as the Intersection. The figure below is my interpretation of how Johansson proceeds to the Intersection and beyond, and I will use the space in this paper to describe the process of not only how to move from zone to zone, but how the Intersection ties in with the creative energy in my own life, work, and education, as the Medici Effect has had a profound effect on my ability to function as a husband, teacher, and student.

medici

Figure 1: The Medici Effect (Johansson, 2006), adapted by Benjamin Seeberger

According to Johansson, people exist within field value networks, or areas of experts such as organizations, companies, informal gatherings… in other words, the contexts of a given field (146). Field value networks exist in what I call Zone 1, or the Comfort Zone. Most people live here, working in their chosen professions, following in the paradigms of those who came before. However, in order to begin the journey to the Intersection, a person must first approach the chain of dependence, the support system designed for the maintenance of value networks (154). The only way a person can approach the Intersection, Johansson believes, is to totally abandon his or her field value network, and enter what I call the “leap instance” (189), a battlefield where a person must break free from the preconceptions of his or her field and embrace the discomfort of fear (157).

Zone 2, or the Risk Zone, is where the magic of intersections occur. Once freely disentangled from the field value network, the process of Intersectional innovation can begin (18). Johansson divides deeply two types of ideas: direction innovation and Intersectional innovation. Whereas directional innovation occurs through evolution and addition, Intersectional innovation occurs with disparate, clashing ideas “hitting head-on” where past experience and knowledge cannot be directly applied (163). Part of the reason for the strange environment of the Risk Zone is the constant barrage from what Johansson terms “associative barriers” (38), assumptions and beliefs about the way things are based on associations developed through professional, academic, and subconscious learning. In the Risk Zone, associative barriers can only be overcome through the application of various methods to rid the self of preconditional thinking regarding established ideas. The four methods Johansson mentions in the text are highlighted in Figure 1 and are integral to breaking down associations so that new pathways are open which can offer different solutions using unique combinations of concepts from varying but different fields (46-58). In order to discover the Intersection, however, concept trials must be constantly taking place, which are growth-over-time seeds placed in various aspects of the Intersectional grid (113), one eventually flowering and allowing for the progression into Zone 3.

The Possibility Zone is where the Intersection explodes and expands. Ideas like the internet, the automobile, and electricity all came out of the Possibility Zone, as once an idea is discovered, a hundred more ideas follow suit and build on the initial concept. Johansson describes the Intersection as “a place for wildly different ideas to bump into and build upon each other” (16) but more importantly as a place that can be found, built upon, and then acted upon rather than just a magical moment in history which luck might grant to a few (84). The Intersection is not just a random evolutionary quirk, but rather a solid action and search an individual takes. Once the Intersection has been found, Johansson states that the exponentials of that action taken explode in a flurry of activity (101), sometimes staggeringly too high to even count. Through this method, a person can not only navigate his or her way towards the Intersection, but he or she can actually create the Medici Effect (186). As compared with Johansson’s initial image of the Medici Effect as being a place in time, such as Renaissance Italy or Peter’s Cafe (2), having the power and ability to actually create the Medici Effect is an amazing and tantalizing goal.

Trying to plan for change however, can backfire. Johansson says that “the problem with all of this is that if we are willing to take risks and pursue intersections only when we are doing poorly, we’ll hurt our overall chances of success” (175). Just as trying to find creative enterprise as a last resort and trying to force action rarely has a chance to work, so sometimes even the very act of trying to create intersections in places where there are none provides little success. Creativity is built upon energy, and the Intersection thrives on this energy. Planting a forest in a desert without water, or pushing change on an obstinate old man will do nothing but cause resentment and possibly catastrophic brokenness. Innovation is a delusion when existing only as a dream without incentive or cause. Leonardo Da Vinci designed a flying machine in the 15th century, but airplanes did not take flight until needed in a multinational war which threatened not only one country but an entire continent, therefore needing intelligence and reconnaissance on a level that had never before existed. Without incentive, drive, and push, change is only a dream in the mind’s eye.

Some of my student papers have succeeded, others have not. Learning, as I have learned myself, is an intensely personal activity and cannot be engineered. Once I believed that with the right system anyone can learn, but I have learned over the last few years that even with the best of designs if the drive and desire is not there, learning does not. On the other hand, when it is there, it is beautiful.

References

Johansson, F. (2006). The Medici effect: What elephants and epidemics can teach us about innovation. HBS Press: Boston, MA.

The Banana Tree: A reflection on conflict dynamics

Once upon a time, there was a banana tree. It was a very large banana tree, so large that her shadows crept across the whole earth. Her roots reached down into the bottom of the earth, and her trunk found solace in the sky, among the clouds. It is said that if you walked among the roots, bananas would fall from the sky like raindrops, sweet-smelling and fragrant tears of their loving mother in the sky. All across the earth were her children, sharing their fruit among a world at war with itself; full of shadows and disease, but among all of these, the banana trees stood, beautifying the earth and giving food to the hopeless, remembering their mother in the heavens.

This illustration is a vivid image in my mind, a memory of my wonderful time spent in Kenya, wandering the backyard of Dr. Kiiru’s home in Sigona, wending my hands through his red soil and the fresh scent of his farm. After a grueling week-long course in group and conflict dynamics, I can recall the instant that suddenly everything made sense. I was standing before a grove of banana trees, while his wife Nelly was explaining the nature and growth of the banana tree, when suddenly it was like a shaft of beautiful light came down and hit me, bringing everything I had learned that week into sudden perspective. The seven most important aspects of conflict dynamics came into reality, with sharp clarity.

There are seven aspects of conflict dynamics that affected me deeply: 1) having a lack of fear toward conflict, 2) recognizing that as a leader, I am an agent of growth, 3) admitting that I am fundamentally part of a group and that my response towards that group is equally important, 4) learning specific communication skills that will develop my competence in delivering my message, 5) learning how to delegate properly, with the fundamental understanding that delegation is a much larger task than simply giving out an assignment, 6) mastering a set of team-building skills that will allow me to not only lead a team from tragedy into opportunity, but foster new growth from that opportunity, and finally 7) working my way through a tragedy using solid steps that turn conflict into growth. Each step I will illustrate by using the example of the banana tree, preceded by the number of the aspect of conflict dynamics.

1) The banana tree begins its life as a small tree, surrounded by hostile plants and animals that would seek to do it harm. Yet it stands alone and soon grows other trees, without fear of those elements that surround it. It begins weak, but becomes exceedingly strong, with bark as strong as bamboo and as thick as a column of stone. 2) As an agent of growth, the banana tree grows in almost any climate, and needs little water or sun. It is flexible and adaptable in many diverse habitats. While there is a central tree, it supports the building of other trees in duplication. They transform the environment by beautifying the earth, not destroying the soil. Finally, they drive their roots deep, deep into the earth, and continually grow in depth. 3) Banana trees are group-oriented. Every tree forms other trees which are then grown and become reproducers of more trees. They are connected to each other through a root system that sustains them and brings them into a kind of harmony.

4) The banana trees are efficient communicators. They transform the environment around them, shielding plants from the scorching sun with their huge leaves and bringing a sense of peace to the earth. As well, the entire grove acts on behalf of the whole system, even when they are relocated. 5) Banana trees are collaborative, as they are all part of a central tree. Each banana tree has a different personality, in terms of amount of fruit and size, but when together, they form a beautiful team of individual personalities that work towards the whole. 6) The banana tree fruits are sweet-smelling and fragrant, plentiful and grown as a team. The mother tree grows new trees through its roots, rather than scattered seeds and are homeless and without roots. The mother’s roots form new trees, which when cut at the right time, form new groves. They all share the same soil, but each grows independently and strong. The more trees rooted in one spot, the stronger the central root becomes. After a tree has grown to a certain height, it immediately begins to grow another tree. Finally, that new tree then helps to feed the mother tree.

7) The banana tree is not affected by the plants around it, but it does not conflict with them. However, it does conflict with the environment through its very large presence, but it collaborates with the environment by taking up minimal space and shooting her roots down far into the earth. At the beginning, a tree starts out rootless when planted, much like we are when God puts us in a new place, but soon turns this conflict into opportunity by using the nutrients of the soil in order to grow strong and eventually reproduce through its roots, causing the whole cycle to beautifully repeat itself, and begin this cycle of perfect leadership once more.

The art of narrative research: Discovering resonance and creativity in academia

Mindfulness and mission. My task was simple, or so I thought: to put together a book of magazine articles from nature magazines and short stories from old textbooks. My hands were sticky with glue, and ever since the fifteenth article the joints of my fingers had ached from the constant use of the old pair of scissors which when I started were not broken. Most schools allowed teachers to use books from well-known publishers, but no, I had chosen to teach in China where university departments have no budget for purchasing textbooks (Lin-Liu & Bollag, 2004). In the face of ancient grammar books and 1970 conversational English texts, I chose to create my own textbook with stories relevant to not only the students I taught but also to the subject I was trying to teach: narrative research. I worked late into the night until my eyes could barely see and the noises of the night served me as alarm clocks to the resounding sound of logic. My pregnant wife was already in bed, dozing away but even so I could still hear her voice tell me to come to bed. Not so easy.

Later in the term, the night was yet drawing down on me, but this time my wife was standing next to me. She sighed, shrugged her shoulders, and headed to bed. The light burned on, acting as a poor heat source in the frigid and dry Beijing winter. I would never tell myself the life of a teacher was difficult, because how can passion be difficult? I charged through websites, researching topics I had never heard of before: urban economics, linear regression theory, ideological platforming — but not for me. I was designing topics for my students to write about in their papers, topics which would challenge them but also allow them the opportunity to practice what I was teaching them in class. I wanted my students to not only learn how to write, but learn how to write in their specific disciplines but do this under my guidance. Holism, practicality, patterns, and scalability have always been passions of mine, and I hoped to put them into reality while teaching concepts of creativity and collaboration to my students as methods of engineering positive change.

When I was in California the summer before, I struggled with what to teach. My university was handing me a new class: advanced writing. I remember clearly one afternoon on the hill behind our house. My parents built a shed in the back to hold all of the objects from me and my brother’s childhood: books, toys, balls, clothes, and very important to me, old National Geographic magazines I had collected over many years from the throwaway bins at our local Redwood City library. The sun was hot that day; sweat poured down my face as I lifted the dusty box of magazines onto the grass outside of the shed. Picking through the articles, I suddenly realized how excellent the writing was and wondered if I could use the magazines as a textbook for my class. However I soon forgot the insight, although a seed was planted. When I returned to Beijing that fall, walking along the tree-lined university avenues and piles of wrinkled leaves, I discovered a vendor selling English versions of National Geographic. I bought one and a week later I was feverishly snipping away, tearing pages out of the heavy binding, cutting my fingers on industrial staples, washing my hands of book glue, and breaking scissors in my excitement. Perhaps there was something to the idea.

The following autumn, I walked to a print shop with one of my students. She had graciously offered to help me print out the textbooks, gone to the printer, negotiated and bargained for a good price, and then accompanied me when I went to pick up the books. I had never done anything like this before, a project so monumental and important. When we walked into the print shop, my jaw dropped: my textbooks were stacked to the ceiling of the shop, sagging under the heavy weight of pages and ink. XM offered again graciously to help me transport the books to my office, and off we went, our bikes weighed down with the future and hopes for my students; outside I managed to control myself, keep a calm face, but inside I was surging with concern and worry. Were the articles going to be too hard? Were they going to be too easy? Would I be able to read through each article and prepare a lecture which explained the concepts I wanted to teach using this material? I was doubly doubtful because in my frenetic pace to finish the textbook, I had only glanced at a few of the articles in detail, while most I pulled out as I sped-read through the magazines and textbooks I had on-hand.

I was embarking on a quest for a new concept. In my mind swirled the possibilities of a hundred different ideas, classes, concepts, and principles. I was bored to death of college essays, the five-paragraph structure, and simplistic notions which had little relevance in the real world. Looking back on the essays I wrote for my college career, I envisioned them as being somewhat ennobled versions of proper essays but realized in retrospect how simple, unstructured, and dirty they were. My intentions, although severe and possibly insane, were to teach second-language learners of English to write better essays than native speakers of English – to teach second-language learners to write better essays than I could ever hope to write. I had a plan, I had a dream, but I had not the experience or knowledge that it would work. I felt as if I was preparing for a trip to a desert, and the only bottle I had with me was filled with my dreams.

I had difficult decisions to make. In my hand were two articles, one detailing a mountain expedition up the edge of Everest, and in the other a conversation with a Mongolian herder and his family about life on the grassland. The primary goal for my writing course was to ask students to read an evaluate articles, and then glean methods and principles on writing from the actual writers of those articles. My methods were centered on story, imagery, detail, and other aspects of creative writing — while at the same time, teaching methods of collaborative and personal research through reading and absorbing knowledge in a particular field. While the article detailing with the expedition up Everest was exciting and filled with action, the Mongolian herder told stories within stories, even while the writer was telling a story about him and helping to educate the reader on traditional Mongolian culture. Gardner (2008), in his book 5 Minds for the Future, explains that one of the key aspects of synthesis is narrative, which often “require us to put together elements that were originally discrete or disparate” (pp. 47). Therefore, narrative as a function of creativity becomes a far greater tool than action, thrill, or even intense and intelligent argument. In the end, I took the scissors to the Mongolian herder, and he happily (I would imagine so) became a part of my quilt of learning.

The Mongolian, however, was the last part of a long chain of stories, beginning with the very simple story of a Chinese-American woman struggling to make sense of love when comparing the clashing worldviews between her very Chinese family and her French boyfriend, all the way to a travelogue of a worried sinologue trying to understand the impact which the Three Gorges Dam had on the surrounding communities through relating the personal experiences of villagers living on the bank of the mighty Yangtze. The lessons were designed holistically, bringing students from understanding basic concepts of using narrative to communicate deep concepts, to applying tone to vocabulary to rhetorically sway the emotions of the reader through the application of stylistic pathos. In designing educational systems which encouraged the environment for conditions of group flow, cumulative learning served as forward moving momentum (Sawyer, 2007), creating a situation where learners and participants were guided not only by the teacher but also by the system itself. The student was guided through ten lessons about the invisible world beneath the written word, while at the same time reminded and taught about external principles in collaborative research, format, and style.

When I was in college, I studied writing. Learning about the process of writing in college in the United States is a combination of workshops, peer review, and practical writing but has little theory or textbook learning besides emulation. In my classroom at North Park University, I sat in Dr. David Cho’s classes and heard the sound of other students telling me how they would write my short story, but never did I hear an opinion from Dr. Cho – much less teaching. The primarily responsibility of the writing teachers I had in college, from Dr. Cho, to Dr. Matson, to Dr. Acosta was to facilitate the art of writing, not to teach a particular methodology or instruct in the classical traditions of writing. However, one of the requirements for mindfulness “is the capacity to be fully aware of all that one experiences inside the self — body, mind, heart, spirit — and to pay full attention to what is happening around us — people, the natural world, our surroundings, and events” (Boyatzis & McKee, 2005). Only focusing on the self, but ignoring experience, belief and spirit, inspiration, learning, and knowledge, is a grave mistake anyone can make through the inundation of cyclical systems. In my courses I make an effort to not only teach classical traditions, but also to lecture on subjects that are practically important for writing, such as structure, aesthetics, imagery, abstract detail, argumentation and the development of a thesis, trying to encourage mindfulness among my students. Surprisingly, during my four years at North Park, not once in any class was I educated in any particulars regarding writing – rather, it was purely trial and error and the experience of discovering where one found him or herself in relation to the written word.

However, in my mind writing serves a particular and very important purpose in this crazy world of ours: to communicate experiences and knowledge through the application of well-researched data, individual and group narrative, and personal style in an effort to address serious issues society faces which cannot be addressed without speaking to the soul of a people at the same time through the written word. “Students need to understand why they are learning what they are learning and how this knowledge can be put to constructive uses . . . if we are ethical human beings, it is equally our job to use that understanding to improve the quality of life and living and to bear witness when that understanding (or misunderstanding) is being used in destructive ways” (Gardner, 2008, pp. 142). Hence, ethics is a very important charge for writers, but along with ethics is the ability to actually communicate those concepts in words and phrases that can be understood on a universal level. Living in another country opens up new vistas of ethical understanding.

People do things differently, and they don’t think what they do is wrong but rather right. An action as simple as traveling on the train in China and watching the interaction between a mother and son, as she urges her son to walk up to a stranger and interrupt his sleep so that the boy can practice his English with a living, breathing vessel of hope for her child – or studying the architecture of the countryside as it flashes outside the window in a blue, the smokestacks sending curls of gray across the ceiling of a village as if the stars were made of dust – even the small discoveries can wield huge insights into the differences of culture and more importantly, the right and wrong nature of attitudes.

Beyond the ethical mind, however, lies a space of knowledge both hard and soft. Hard knowledge is gained simply enough through raw experimentation and experience, but soft knowledge is a core aspect of learning which can only be discovered through inquiry, conceptualization, and theory-crafting. A large focus on mine in teaching writing is not only to speculate on the ethical nature of basic assumptions, but also to relate the principal of theory in practical speech through writing and story. To accomplish the combination of the ethical and the theoretical, however, requires patience and will. Gardner (2008) describes “disciplinary juxtaposition as “a failure to realize the illumination that may accrue when different perspectives are synergistically joined” (pg. 55). As I design the topics for my student papers, I must model the behavior I want from them and learn about their subjects, sometimes spending an entire week of just learning how ethics can be applied to particular theories in each students’ chosen discipline of study at university, while also allowing for human experience to be utilized in the expression of ideas.

Hope and dissonance. Reading through YDH’s paper, I was reminded of the reason I decided to become a writing teacher. One of the joys of teaching for me is the freedom to learn anything you desire, and through learning become a different person. When I gave YDH the topic of “online gamers” little did I realize he would embrace the topic so willingly, writing an intricate account of ludological concepts both abroad and in China, focusing on a topic that few have the capacity to understand and fewer the ability to write. Resonance is the ability to read people, but not only through knowledge but also emotional intelligence, consisting of dreams, desires and feelings through the demonstration of empathy, concern, and commitment to help each person discover their passions (Boyatzis & McKee, 2005). I thrive on helping students find and expand their passions, and although the approach of using embracing subject matter in assignments have sometimes caused consternation and inconsistency, when resonance occurs from me to the student the results are magifnicent. DH is just one example of students who have been able to pursue subjects not normally covered within academic subjects, yet pursuing those subjects with academic rigor. As a teacher if I can focus my energy on teaching principles to fuel passion, then my service to my students is fulfilled.

Not all topics create resonance, however. The first student to receive the topic of “online gamers” was XTY, a young girl who had barely even played a game on her cell phone. Just as sparks (according to Sawyer) require collaboration to become insight, so TY required extra care, and I had to change her topic to something different that matched her interests, which she then embraced fully. A process of evolution was used for other student topics; in order to achieve resonance with a majority of students, papers were read for particular ideas and then a second topic was assigned asking the student to further research the inner topic, allowing them to use previous research and add to their knowledge by expanding the pool of information. Sawyer (2007) explains that innovation can only occur when insights (also known as sparks) combine over time and in a particular time and place emerge as something new. Insights occur “deeply embedded in the knowledge and social interaction” of collaborative work (pp. 81). For students to truly engage material with experience and narrative, the subject matter must be close to personal interests. Perhaps some might consider interest in writing common sense, but the teaching acting as coach rather than facilitator seems to work much better for me in my discipline.

Interest must be tempered with discipline. Gardner (2008) claims that one key aspect of the mind is the disciplined mind, acute awareness towards repeated self-education, restraint, and building of character. A year before I started teaching writing, I began to prepare by visiting book dealers around Beijing at night. My goal was to find articles from popular books, and use those books are the discipline for my course; weekly readings, and weekly writing assignments which dealt with topics of worldview and cultural integration with a globalized world. Night after night, I traveled to the markets lit only by a single light bulb, with books carried on the back of a wagon and bargained with book dealers. Later, I scanned the articles into my computer, and then when my class website finally opened used those same articles as weekly reading material. Gardner also claims, however, that “students must see information not as an ends in itself or as a stepping-stone, to more advanced types of information, but rather as a means to better-informed practices” (pp. 30). The best discipline is self-discipline, but a second best is classroom-discipline as assigned by a teacher who is aware of procedural and practical development.

Around the middle of the term, cracks began to emerge in my finely tuned plan. Students arrived to class late, with exasperated and long looks on their faces; students dropped the course, sending me a short e-mail politely explaining their other classes had precedence over my class; and at home, the time with family including my wife and baby son stretched thin, as I stayed up longer each night, going to bed commonly at 11:30 and waking up at 5:00 to finish not only the work I assigned the students, but also the work I had to prepare for lectures and worksheet before each segment. In one particular class, each following class one student would not show up, and after the midterm week several stopped coming at all. Sawyer (2007) talks about the “edge of chaos” as a place where ideas are refined and people discover who they really are; in this “edge of chaos” I had begun to find myself and my purpose in teaching, but it would not be until the challenges had passed that I would truly understand the lessons learned.

Around the middle of the term, I had a discussion with HK, a student who expressed concern over loneliness. I had intentionally designed the writing class with teams in-mind, as in previous classes I caught cohesive and collaborative group design worked well, solidifying students together towards a common purpose. However, with the modifications I made to the course this term, my collaboration methods seemed to have failed. HK explained to me that she was Chinese, but because she had been accepted by Hong Kong University as a student next year, Peking University did not allow her to live with the other Chinese students but rather forced her to take residence in the foreign dormitory. While she openly admitted the more comfortable accommodations, she also expressed discontent with the removal of persons she could identify with. I was concerned, because for the first time I realized my methodology may have been flawed; why were her team members not talking to her? Were any other groups collaborating together? Upon checking the internet BBS, I noticed that although some groups spoke with each other, when reviewing the papers submitted by students I discovered much of the online collaboration I had intended to foster connection had only been done as a requirement for participation.

Dissonance erupted after the midterm week concluded. My class on Wednesday, which had begun with more than 27 students (my largest class) suddenly dropped down to 17 students, with ten students deciding to en mass leave the course for safer waters before they had to turn in the midterm paper, safely ducking away from the storm. During the second half of the semester, my best student decided to stop showing up on Wednesday and started appearing on Thursday’s class; she seemed much happier, and continued to be reluctant to attend Wednesday’s class until the end of the term. What happened with Wednesday’s class? Dissonance.

“The ultimate result of enduring a prolonged period of sacrifice, emotional turmoil, and unrest is that it becomes increasingly unlikely that leaders will sustain resonance in their teams and organizations, or among family and friends. When we are in emotional turmoil and under stress for protracted periods and are sowing the seeds of dissonance in those around us, it becomes difficult to maintain top form personally or with the people around us” (Boyatzis & McKee, 2005, pp. 51).

Trust disappeared. Work teams did not click, some teams not saying a word to each other the entire class, even when they were required to speak to each other. Students came to class with a frown on their faces, and left with a sigh. My classes on Tuesday and Thursday, however, remained upbeat, jovial, and often ending in applause.

To recreate hope after a disaster is difficult but necessary. In my past research, a team can be broken if trust is lost and personality fails to ignite interest. For much of my Wednesday class, the students who survived the traumatic events of team members jumping ship were strengthened by the departures and continued to turn in some of the strongest essays I received during the term. One of my initial goals was to engineer groups with a diverse collection of students from different majors; in most classes, this plan worked beautifully, but in the Wednesday class differences did not bring students together but rather divided them. Johansson (2006) claims that “the Medici Effect” can be engineered if organizational members are forced away from assumptions, but he also mentions that often the effects can be disastrous on a organization if the Intersection is not found within the chaos.

At the end of the term, I met with a business professional in a local cafe. When I sat down for our meeting the second time we met, he leaned over in his chair and proudly showed me his cell phone. He was an older man with slightly graying hair, a wide smile, dressed in a tie and suit; a professional under any circumstances. However, on his phone was a picture of the doorway in the cafe, a unique blend of french architecture and Chinese faux imitation – the picture was pasted onto a microblog webpage, to which he proclaimed proudly that much of his business came from being online and posting to Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. For an older man living in China, he had adapted brilliantly, breaking past associative barriers formed by his generation regarding social functions and rules of conduct in business. Considering my friend Mr. Zhou’s acceptance of the new world and realizing that through encouragement and education people could move past associative barriers in China greatly helped me revision how I perceived my students’ struggles. The Intersection, as exemplified by Johansson (2006), is a place where anyone can arrive, no matter their age, profession, or background, which meant that even my students who had traveled through their own valley of shadows could come out refreshed and renewed.

Specific issues had to be handled first, however. At the beginning of the semester, many students failed to understand the purpose of assignments due to my lack of ability or care in explaining why I was asking them to complete particular assignments. For proper collaboration to occur, all objects within a plan must meet strategic fit (Austin, 2000). Students suffered assignment anxiety, and as I held their essays in my hands and read through their words, I could tell that while some of the principles were clearly delineated (formatting and research, primarily) the more important lessons of the class were untouched (narrative and imagery). “Finding the right fit is a process that entails an investment of time and commitment to dialogue. The alignment task involves meshing missions, matching needs and capabilities, and overlapping values” (pp. 59). I was asking students to ally themselves with my theory and myself as a teacher, but I was failing to accurately communicate those concepts. I needed to spend more time with my students, not only in person but also on paper, but the stress began to affect me in terrible ways, restricting my ability to even process the issues clearly.

By the second half of the term, the dissonance which affected Wednesday’s class finally began to affect me. Sickness invaded my body, tiredness grew on me like barnacles, assignments were given back to students later and later, and eventually I walked into class one day without the ability to even speak. I had finally been infected by the Sacrifice Syndrome. “We have the distinctive ability to create our own stress, with its full bodily response, merely by thinking about or anticipating future episodes or encounters that might be stressful” (Boyatzis & McKee, 2005). The authors continue to explain that stress causes bodily shut-down, destroys immune system protections, and strikes the brain of the ability to process information and learn (pp. 43). However, at the time I was fully aware that the Sacrifice Syndrome had taken over my body, so in order to make the best of a bad situation, I sat down at my computer, pulled out the cord for the projector, and began to type my lecture on the screen. While the students were amused, I was not; yet the class had to continue.

Compassion and forgiveness. Staring at my computer screen, I open each e-mail carefully, read the contents with a discerning eye, and try my best to answer every student with a request for help as soon as they write me. I have made myself open to my students, because I have realized that in a course, feedback is a primarily felt need in learning which is often not stated but always wished for (Santos, Lopez-Serrano, & Manchon, 2010). Sometimes my answers take thirty minutes to type out, requiring research, careful wording, and evaluation of student grades; other times a simple response is needed. One of my challenges this term has been to try and develop feedback mechanisms which were appropriate to student need as well as my needs for them in learning. Among ESL educators, knowing when to use personal feedback, when to use error correction, and when and how to deliver a quantifiable score on a subjective piece of writing is heavily debated, but the one concept that scholars agree on is ethically, a educator should respond to student need (Shabani & Meraji, 2010).

Sometimes meeting students on their level took more than a simple e-mail response. I often found myself sipping a cup of coffee across the table from a student, walk him through his paper step-by-step, trying to be approachable and reachable across the heavy barrier that divides the teacher and student relationship in China. Last semester, to my surprise, I surveyed my students to find out at the end of term if they believed I was approachable and a stunning majority of them said I was not, even though I made a concerted effort to be so. “So people aroused by a need for affiliation look for evidence that their loved ones or close friends really care about them. They value proof such as frequent declarations of affection, frequent calls, visits, chances to spend time together, and even some degree of excluvisity” (Boyatzis & McKee, 2005, pp. 180). Opening my home and my time to students has always been a prerogative for me in teaching, schedules allowing. However, the teacher student relationship in China utilizes a very high power-distance (Zhang, 2011); therefore, meeting the full needs of compassion (according to Boyatzis & McKee) could never be allowed, but empathy could be possible. “Empathy helps us connect with people . . . we must begin with curiosity about other people and their experiences” (pp. 178-179). Therefore, I made an effort to meet students outside of class, and while not in my home, I gave them full attentions as if I were their personal tutor.

Twice a semester, students arrived to class with essay in hand, which they then handed to me and I then handed back to other students to read and review. Thee process of peer review was an activity which required heavy altercation as I gained more experience. The first year I used peer review, students claimed the activity did not help them at all, because the review partners did not tell them what they needed to hear, only what they wanted to hear. “It is evident that organizations and communities work more effectively when individuals within them seek to understand one another (despite their differences), to help one another, and to work together for common goals” (Gardner, 2008, pp. 116-117). However, in China culture often prevents students from being totally honest with one another, preferring to speak words which in no way assign blame to another person for any action (Hu & Lam, 2010; Zheng, 2012). Using blind peer reviews this term, I intended to make sure students had as much freedom as possible in commenting; time will tell if the blind methodology will pay off.

Students also discussed their topics within collaborative topic groups. Last semester I used the same process and discovered that most students did not choose to participate in their topic groups besides sharing a few online links. Currently the collaborative topic groups have been a far bigger success as in the beginning of the semester I told the students how much they personally invested in their group discussion would end up being 10% of their final score, with some teams talking about discussing in over 100 topics alone. “Collaborative conversation accelerates the innovation process because the sparks happen in real time” (Sawyer, 2007, pp. 128). What I have discovered so far is that my best papers inevitably came out of those groups where discussion and sharing carried the most weight.

When I went to my wife’s home in Tianjin for the winter vacation, I brought a collection of my essays from the first semester with me. My mother came to visit us in Tianjin to spend time with her new grandson and be with my wife and me in the process of becoming parents. I proudly handed my mother some of the papers of my last term, as I was stunned students could write papers like this, many far-surpassing the papers I had written in college or even some of the best writing I had read published in the United States by university students. My goals this term have been to increase the level of consistency, pinpoint the functions of creativity and collaboration and try to engineer vehicles for closer cooperation of team activity, coordination of lecture principles to the written word, and an enlargement of the pool of trust between student and teacher. I have tried to infuse hope into my work, as “a combination of clearly articulating goals, believing that one can attain those goals, charting a course of action or a path, and arriving at the goal while experiencing a sense of well-being as a result of the process” (Rand, & Cheavons, 2009). I have used principles I have learned from Austin, Boyatzis & McKee, Sawyer, Gardner, Johansson, as well as Covey & Merrill, Morgan, Shaw, Greenleaf, Price, and more, in addition to an innumerable number of researchers who write on the subjects of EFL learners, Chinese culture, Sino-American and Sino-Western connections, creativity, trust, and general leadership topics dealing specifically with contextual issues I have encountered in my time as a teacher. More importantly, though, my goals have been to teach students a new form of writing called narrative research, in which students come story, imagery, and detail, with the constants of a well written essay with lucid style and an engaging thesis while backing up their logic with research referenced through official academic formats.

From the long hours I spent at the cafe reading through papers and talking with students, to the piles of paper that littered my desk and my office with the smell of fresh ink and A4 dust, to trying to balance all of this with a new baby, the semester has been challenging for me but not without merit. In the past, I would have given up and waited for a future time; dropping courses from my Master’s program when I was unable to finish all my papers due to wedding preparations, or choosing not to respond to student queries and disappearing from the scene, only to appear as a shadow in the classroom and then disappear as a visage or remnant of a teacher with far too many things to do to be bothered with students. Perhaps I am too hard on myself.

The last three years have been a journey of discovery and growth for me; teaching at what most Chinese consider to be the best school in the country has grafted a new kind of skin on me. Whereas once I was content to show quality in my work, now I must achieve the highest in the field, and whether I make that or not is not a question of effort but of skill. For the first time, I have all of my grades ready to turn in; completed all of my assignments (generally; at least by the last day of the course) on-time for my Master’s program, met with students thorough the term, created a system where students could freely engage each other outside of lengthy time commitments outside of other courses, and given students a textbook and material which has planted seeds in them so that even if during the course of the class the stress of time and due-dates overwhelmed their abilities to properly use the principles I taught, later in life those ideas will surface when needed and help them. I have read through and graded 1,200 pages of student essays, scored 600-800 pages of classroom assignments, read through 2,100 pages of research material regarding creativity, collaboration, and trust (in books alone), and written over 120 pages of research. My students have had an effect on me, just as I hope I have had an effect on them. They have made me for conscientious, hard-working, and instilled a belief in me that regardless of situation, the best can be achieved.

Next fall, I change to a new school in the city of Tianjin. I change to a new program, filled with a different kind of student. My hope is that I can take the learning and inspiration I have gleaned from my time at Peking University and affect the students at my new school, while also learning valuable lessons from my new students which could never have been discovered in Beijing. Mindfulness and resonance require two-way learning, although only a one-way commitment. I look around at the piles of papers and baby clothes inhabiting the corners of my apartment, listen to the coos and cries from the bedroom as my son struggles to put together words in his infantile mouth, and smell the crackling of oil and egg as my wife cooks breakfast from the kitchen; I know that this moment is transitory, but that the collection of moments, from today, to tomorrow and then to the next day, combine into something wonderful. I bind that emotion up in a gift, display it proudly on my shoulder, and await for the next challenge.

References

Austin, J. (2000). The collaboration challenge: How nonprofits and businesses succeed through strategic alliances. Dorchestor, MA: Jossey-Bass.

Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A. (2005). Resonant leadership: Renewing yourself and connecting with others through mindfulness, hope, and compassion. Harvard Business School Press: Boston.

Gardner, H. (2008). 5 minds for the future. Boston: Harvard Business Press.

Hu, G. W., & Lam, S. T. E. (2007). Issues of cultural appropriateness and pedagogical efficacy: Exploring peer review in a second language writing class. Instructional Science, 38(4):371- 394.

Johansson, F. (2006). The medici effect: What elephants and epidemics can teach us about innovation. Boston: Harvard Business Press.

Lin-Liu, J., & Bollag, B. (2004). Textbook pirates find a huge market in China. Chronicle of Higher Education, 50(30): A43-A45.

Rand, K. L., & Cheavens, J. S. (2009). Hope theory. In S. J. Lopez and C. R. Snyder (Eds.), Oxford handbook of positive psychology (2nd ed.) (pp. 323-333). New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press.

Santos, M., Lopez-Serrano, S., & Manchon, R. M. (2010). The differential effect of two types of direct written corrective feedback on noticing and uptake: Reformulation vs. error correction. International Journal of English Studies, 10(1):131-154.

Sawyer, K. (2007). Group genius: The creative power of collaboration. Basic Books: New York.

Shabani, E. A., & Meraji, S. R. (2010). Preference consequentialism: An ethical proposal to resolve the writing error correction debate in EFL classroom. International Journal of Language Studies, 4(4):313-332.

Zhang, Q. (2011). Teacher immediacy, credibility, and clarity as predictors of student affective learning: A Chinese investigation. China Media Research, 7(2):95-103.

Zheng, C. X. (2012). Understanding the learning process of peer feedback activity: An ethnographic study of exploratory practice. Language Teaching Research, 16(1):109-126.