Iā€™m Wrong (again) – Time to Learn (again)

On several occasions, in recent days, I’ve come to the realisation that something I’ve been taught was wrong.

Take this most recent scenario:

A former colleague retweets this post:

Being of sound mind, I decide to check it out.

Can this be true?

For those of you who haven’t managed to make the link Tuckman Theory is the model for teams that goes through the Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing phases (F.S.N.P.). From experience the whole F.S.N.P. thing appears to work for many of the teams that I’ve been involved in. Teams spend a whole heap of time at the beginning trying to work out who they are, why they exist, and how they are going to work together. Those same teams eventually get to a place where they are highly productive (sometimes).

Time to do a bit of digging into the research. It didn’t take long to find reliable evidence that F.S.N.P isn’t a great model for how teams come together. Bother. I’m wrong. I don’t like being wrong.

How am I going to cope with this news? How am I going to respond?

I suppose I could look to the Kubler-Ross Model with its five-stages of grief. Surely that’s safe? Apparently not, there doesn’t appear to be any evidence for the five-stages either. Bother, bother, I’m wrong, again.

This post isn’t about F.S.N.P., or Kubler-Ross, it isn’t even a post about how all models are wrong, it’s a post about the process of changing our understanding.

How am I supposed to process these, and many other, changes to long held understanding? How do I even know what needs to change, or what to change them to?

Perhaps the easiest thing to do is to ignore the new evidence when it comes up and carry on as if nothing has changed. At one level Kubler-Ross hasn’t had that big an impact on my life, but how would I know? It may have influenced the way that I’ve behaved in situations where a different approach may have resulted in a different outcome. What if this wrong thinking has closed a door that would have stayed open had I approached it in a different way? Every one of these models sit amongst a web of other understanding, they aren’t self-contained boxes of knowledge they each interact with all the others. What if F.S.N.P. together with another untruth create in me an understanding that is outright dangerous?

Ignoring the problem doesn’t sit well with my deep need for truth. Even if it requires work and even if the impact is small, I still need to change my understanding.

This is where it gets a bit tricky, because, as we’ve already seen, I’ve been burnt before. How do I choose a model for change that will work, and is correct? How far do I have to go to convince myself that I’m not just replacing one falsehood with another? What benchmark does the new way of thinking need to reach to be accepted as truth?

There are, as you might imagine, several models for change.

In healthcare there’s the Transtheoretical model (TTM) which talks about six stages of change ā€“ precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, relapse. It accompanies these stages with a defined ten step process for change that includes self-reevaluation, self-liberation and counterconditioning amongst other word gymnastics. TTM does show good results in some areas of behavioural change, but it also has areas where it would appear to be less than effective. Also, I’m not really contemplating outright behavioural change here, I’m wanting to replace one model of understanding with a different one.

Maybe a different field of thought has an answer for me? Change Management? Here we find the Lewin model of unfreezing, changing and refreezing, and John Kotter’s 8 step process, the Proci ADKAR model and many more. These models aren’t that helpful either, they are focussed on organisational change and that’s not what I am wanting to do either.

Perhaps I’m looking in completely the wrong place by thinking about this as change when what I am actually talking about is learning. Understanding how we learn ought to be simpler, didn’t it? Or maybe not, it turns out that theories of learning abound – behaviourism, cognitivism, constructivism, transformative, geographical…

I quite like the idea of constructivism which highlights that we learn by building on to what we already know. We understand new things in the framework of what we already understand – we get to understand algebra through an understanding of basic maths, people who learn a second language can often add a third and fourth relatively easily.

Thinking about constructivism became a bit of a light-bulb moment for me. I’d been approaching my untruths as if they were a problem, which they are, but not the problem I thought they were. I thought that what I needed to do was to get rid of the bad models so that I could replace them with good models. What constructivism allowed me to see was that bad models were gateways to better models. As an example, understanding the Tuckman F.S.N.P. model helps with understanding the variant DAU model. What’s more, understanding the problems with the Tuckman model allows me to critically assess the DAU model and decide whether it’s a better way of talking about team dynamics in the future.

Anyway, I’m off to talk to some people and hopefully I’ll learn something.

PS: One thing I have learned and that’s to be cautious of all models that propose phases of human behaviour which appear to be fraught with dangers. Humans clearly don’t work in phases, which isn’t surprising, we aren’t machines, we are unique highly complex biological organisms. Whatever makes us think that we can simplify our behaviour down to a series of steps especially with something so personal as grief?

PPS: For everyone who’s mind drifted off into thinking about different styles of learning while reading this – that’s also wrong, probably, there’s certainly no evidence for it.

Header Image: The days are starting to get longer around here and my morning walk in the dark is transitioning to be a morning walk in the midst of a sunrise.

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