How do you be more discerning?

Carol notes by Veera Hyytiä

The continuation of an interview series with Carol Sanford, business educator. You can read the first part here.

When looking at things in a new way, you have to start with putting on a new pair of glasses. I call this a framework. I look at things through a framework to invite non-mechanical thinking. Until you can learn to look at your own mind and what it is doing, how it’s driving you to do certain things, you will be mechanical. That is how I have worked with human beings to help them build their capacity to work differently, by using a framework for increasing perception and work. – Carol Sanford.

How can we be discerning about how we take in information and learn? We’ll dig into that, in these holiday slumber bursting pages that follow.

During our interview, I asked Carol how to be discerning and conscious about the information we take in. Having just visited Kaospilot and taught our class for two days, Carol said, ‘I’m teaching you how to listen to all the other teachers that you’ve got. Because I think you get a lot of incomplete ideas. And I don’t think the capacity to discern is developed well. Because you’re put in kind of a machine where the next instruction becomes the next knowledge and then treated as unexamined research – or truth.’

Carol distinguishes three aspects related to learning and taking in information; knowledge acquisition, learning, and development, which all have their own processes for discernment. As she says, ‘Knowledge acquisition is the way most university subject matter is taught. It can be either through research or through the work of others that teach you, or books or something. If you don’t have the ability to ascertain which paradigm or worldview something was collected from, developed from, sourced from, then aggregated, made into a model and system from, then you are going to be taking in stuff, unexamined, you likely shouldn’t be taking in. You have to be discerning as you listen. You need a framework in order to be able to assess that. When you do knowledge acquisition – which you’re going to be exposed to all of your life – you have to read and listen with discernment.’ 

Carol defines learning in a more functional sense, and development as something related to personal growth and the expression of your unique essence. ‘Learning in a traditional sense also has more to do with ways of working on things in different models. You’ve got to become discerning about these models that frame the learning. The thing I want people also to think about is where the development is for you. Is it growing you as a person? Or is it only giving you predigested knowledge and data skills. Development has skills. It has all of those other things in it but it needs to be achieved with discernment.’

When a university is too laden with knowledge, knowledge gets ahead of being. So, people get more knowledge than they know what to do with it. So they pick and choose mix paradigms that are inconsistent and don’t work out of a whole philosophy.

Carol talks here about wanting people to be discerning of the paradigms from which a thought or piece of knowledge comes from. I ask her how exactly to test knowledge, and discard or accept it. She says, ‘You can try and rely on your mind sometimes. I mean, this new podcast that I’m doing, Business Second Opinion, is based on the idea of taking people’s writings or speaking, and critiquing it from four paradigms. I’m not saying anything is wrong but I’m saying ‘This is where that person is coming from. They’re coming from this way of seeing the world.’ What I want is for people to become skilled at doing that. Because the minute you see something as incomplete it will look different. You’ll never be able to accept something unexamined again. So it’s not like you have to clean out the closet of your mind. It will fall out of the closet when you find something that’s better. And that’s what I work on a lot.’

She describes how better frameworks for understanding help people discard more incomplete methods, ‘People will say to me, ‘I love feedback, don’t tell me we shouldn’t do 360 degree feedback. I’ve learned so much about myself.’ I say, ‘What if I give you some ways for you to test whether it’s actually caused you to not be able to do some other things? There might be something better you can understand.’ And that’s very hard for people to grasp. But when I give them different  examples of ways to use their mind, to try in a little exercise, or in work, or go and apply it to your business, people let it go. It can be that fast, as they see, oh, here’s something better than feedback.’

She also highlights the pitfall of automatically rejecting something in the filtering process, advising that we should question ourselves as we take in information and ideas.

There’s always the challenge of rejecting it before testing it. That’s why I say don’t trust me but test it before you accept it and test it before you reject it.

‘There is a strong tendency first to reject something that our little neural network in our brain doesn’t have a pathway to put it into. In other words, we don’t already know it. We don’t think we already know it.  Our tendency is to compare it to what we already know and how we see the world. That’s why you have to learn to question ourselves all the time. How am I viewing this? What am I using as the world view to decide whether this is right or wrong? Without that discernment capacity, you adopt things that are untested. Like personality typologies – that had never been tested. Now it has been examined and found not to be true.’

Carol prescribes two mental tests to apply to new information or practices; one that focuses on the effects something produces, and one that asks about its source. She gives the example of evaluating the paradigms of ‘extract value’ and ‘arrest disorder’ by looking at their effects. ‘If you look at the paradigm of extract value, you could say ‘I can test this in my mind. What’s the effect of that on the world? On people? On the planet? What is the effect of the paradigm of arrest disorder? I can test that. The effect is we’ll reduce the harm we do but we don’t actually ever create something that works in a more meaningful way.’ So, I tested it in my mind. Now I could go out into the organization and I can test some things, I can try different things. But I always encourage people to test things in their own mind first and look for the effect of the thought, idea or proposition.

She suggests the following questions for testing source;

Testing for source means asking: Where did it come from? Not the person who’s talking to you, but where did they get that idea? How did that come about? What world view? What is that holding? What does that mean? What’s behind it? So, check it for source and check it for effects in your own mind against the framework.

Doing these sort of mental exercises requires a framework. As Carol says, ‘You’ve got to have a framework. That’s the uniqueness in what I do. If you don’t have a systemic framework, you have no reference to hold this. What you have is you are using whatever pops into your head, and that will be a mechanical response 99% of the time.

You can find out more about Carol’s work at:

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