Seeing Mind Traps as Opportunities as a Director

Seeing Mind Traps as Opportunities as a Director is a skillful way to affect change.

In environments involving human interaction, traps and miscommunications are inevitable.  We may go into an environment with the best of intention, and yet our own motives may skew our view of a common goal.

Meadows (2008) defines these traps and offers the way out that could be used in almost any situation.  Let’s paint a picture of a new Director hired to direct a play with children age 5 to 12.  The Common Goal of the play is to co-exist in a club setting day after day.  When the director arrives, she sees strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and strategies to take this group of children to a whole new level of understanding and engagement, and jumps in right away with ideas and implementing change.  As you can imagine she hasn’t gained the trust of the parents yet, of whom deal with the repercussions of her changes in the evenings.

The group of children were modeling poor communication, disrespect, verbal and physical abuse between each other, so the new Director took it upon herself to facilitate a division among the ages.  Grades K-2 have their own safe zone, and Grades 3,4 have another.  Unfortunately, due to trying to provide to everyone’s needs, the divide that the group chose was right down the middle of the room leaving very little room for a Common area.  This lead to the great wall of China being built, with fortresses and warfare and verbal and physical abuse again, with melt downs and chaos.

If you gain their trust first and calm down,

“those pulling against you will calm down too.”

Meadows, 2008

Since the Director was open to feedback, watching reactions and receiving instant feedback from the parents, she decided to minimize the separate spaces and allow free play to occur.  In the common area, there were regulations set.

  1. When you play in the common area you must play activities that anyone can play, things must be fare.
  2. Since the older kids want their space, when they come to the Common area, if needed, they need to take on leadership roles
  3. The Directors role is to focus more attention on playing with the younger children to engage and distract, allowing more freedom and creativity for the older kids.

Once this regulation was set and bad behavior was banned, an incentive of imaginative play and creativity was introduced.  The children were engaged on an epic adventure to find the “Centre of the Universe.”   Once finding this centre, they will find balance and order, which will lead to a new order and fellowship among the actors.

Seek First to Understand and then be Understood ~ Steven Covey

 Throughout this experience, the director became aware of different archetypes emerging from those children.  It became apparent that “system structures that produced such common patterns of problematic behavior” (Meadows 2008) molded a repetitive behavior.  An archetype.  An instincts or “pattern of behavior” or “inborn modes of psychic behavior” (Lawson, 2008).   These archetypes then guide people to manage their own experience in a certain way.  Some have coping mechanisms that work well in a common area, some don’t.

The reality with a common area is that it is a rich space to develop life skills, and yet poses the most challenges.  If that system is not set up in a way that is condussive to those children thriving, then the system must change.

It is up to the director to understand the system, recognize the pitfalls, and figure a way out.  She can inforce policies such as banning certain behaviors, providing quotas, permits, taxes and incentives, and inforcing these policies and penaltyies.  Furthermore, monitoring and interpreting feedback, making corrections and deterring negative interaction providing a common area that is good for the whole community.  Similar to the effects of the traffic light on street intersections.  (Meadows, 2008 p. 119).

“The structure of the commons system makes a selfish behavior much more convenient than responsible behavior to the whole community and future.” (Meadows, 2008 p. 119)  If we do not want to face our flaws and become better people, this is not the place to convene. Yet as an after school facility to care for and engage children, the tragedy of the commons is the best place to place those children, the system of good feedback loops needs to be in place to encourage growth.

Notes for a new Director taken from Donella H. Meadows’ book “Thinking in Systems.”

P. 112  How to escape traps within a system

Option A: avoid the potential of the interaction

Option B: Alter the structure by reinforcing goals, strengthening or altering feedback loops and by adding new feedback loops

p. 119 How to avoid the tragedy of the commons

1. Educate the people.  Help to see the consequences of their actions.  Pursuade them to be pleasant. Relate their actions to social approval.  No Respect/Honor = No Go.

2. Privatize the Commons.  Divide the area and they will reap what they will sew.

3. Regulate.  With items that the group mutually agrees upon.  Such as banning certain behaviors, making quotas, permits, taxes and incentives. These are enforced by policies and can be penalized.

p. 123  How to keep good performance.

– Keep the standards absolute

– Let standards be enhanced by the best actual performances instead of being discouraged by the worst

– don’t allow standards to be influenced by past performance

p. 124  How to prevent Escalation

Refuse to compete OR Create a new system.

p. 135 Relieving the burden from the leader

– Focus on the long term gains rather than short term relief

– Beware of symptoms to the problem and acknowledge them right away.

p. 137 How to enforce rules in a proactive way

– “Design rules to release creativity not in the direction of beating the rules, but achieving the purpose of the rules.” (Meadows)

p. 140 How do we know it’s the right common goal?

– “Specify indicators and goals that reflect the real welfare of the whole group”

– Focus on the results rather than effort.

I have work to do to produce Wild Play!


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