The Future of Learning is Already Here: Let’s Take Up the Call

“The Book I would pass to my children would contain no sermons, no shoulds and oughts.  Genuine love comes from knowledge, not from a sense of duty or guilt… My wish would be to tell, not how things ought to be, but how they are, and how and why we ignore them as they are.” – Alan Watts, The Book, p. 19-20

This is an essay about what learning can be, not what it “should” or “ought” be.  I have been in education reform for over 20 years, and I can say with some authority that forcing education to change has been spectacularly unsuccessful.

If examined carefully, successful social change in other areas, like social and economic justice, happened more as a result of “pull” (not push) by conscience-driven groups or cultural creatives who demonstrated a different way and refused to abide by conventional rules.

Likewise, the success of present and future learning relies almost wholly on the pull of creative engagement, the “can” do of conviction, invention, and idealism meeting the problem-solving spirit.

The problem with “should” is simply this: “Should” has its roots in systems of thinking that have failed significantly enough on the practical level for us to distrust its assumptions on the concept and value level.

… And assumptions mean everything to success.

‘Grid’ Knowledge and ‘Spaghetti’ Knowledge

 “You cannot teach an ego to be anything but egotistic, even though egos have the subtlest ways of pretending to be reformed.  The basic things is therefore to dispel, by experiment and experience, the illusion of oneself as a separate ego.” – Alan Watts, The Book, p. 20.

The ego in learning and life is a box among other boxes.  Knowledge created from an ego framework, what I call “grid” knowledge, can only add and rearrange boxes, it cannot transform its fundamental assumptions and therefore the nature of learning.

That is why reform continually fails.  What looks different is essentially a variation on a failed assumption theme.  “The learning code” has remained the same.

It is time to transform the learning code and therefore the learning possibilities that spring from the learning code.  We need to follow learning back to its DNA, the malleable primal pallet of what is possible to learn, and find new ways to express our learning genes.

Basically it boils down to this, we are re-emerging into an organic, integrated, oral “spaghetti” knowledge world, but we still have the habits of a mechanistic/industrial, discrete, linear “grid” knowledge world.

“Grid” knowledge rests on resisting change and establishing order, “stability,” and authority through accepting and imposing certain forms of knowledge as the foundation of legitimate thought.  Then it “builds” subsequent knowledge from that.  Grid knowledge says, “Been there, done that… Now let’s build more on it.”

The inductive “spaghetti” knowledge world is actually quite a bit like our own brains.  Everything is interconnected.  Memory and thought is held in changeable, flexible, orientations and relationships that grow and reorient in tune with our experience.  Spaghetti knowledge is provisional, always experimenting and looking for more coherent and effective ways to organize itself over the lifespan.

In ways we need both “spaghetti” and “grid” knowledge, as a way to buffer possible excesses, too much change or too much stasis.

Here is the problem though:  We are collectively addicted to grid knowledge.  We’ve let it take over and run our lives for us, and now it is literally and figuratively killing us.

Just look at societies, bureaucracies, and institutions—departments, rules, standards, roles, classes, castes, prejudices, stereotypes, hierarchies, specialties.  So much is assumed and automated for the purposes of an almost mindless industrial-like production.

“More and more, faster, better.”  It has gotten so absurd that we have hyper-competitive kindergarten selection processes for elite schools in the U.S. and globally.

The evolution of the world into greater complexity and interconnectedness is outstripping the ability of our individual and collective egos to manage.  So ego is doubling down by trying harder, imposing harder, and asserting ever more strongly maladaptive values, methods, and ways.

Reform will not do the trick.  We need transformation.

How Might We Learn to Transform?

What are the “grid” assumptions we must challenge, and what might the “spaghetti” knowledge alternatives look like?

The overarching “grid” assumption is one of separate beings whose benefits are maximized through material attainment and serving either the self or some exterior authority.  It is a philosophy of zero-sum, win-lose, either-or finiteness.  Hence “the grid” sees competition as a kind of natural law.

The overarching “spaghetti” assumption is one of being intertwined, what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “interbeing.”  Beings either win together or lose together depending upon their ability to optimize their connections in an aware way.  This mentality tends to focus on non-material benefits like close community and creative opportunity and sees collaboration as the facilitator.

Here, to consider in broad terms, are some of the past failed assumptions and new possibilities to accelerate creative learning transformation beyond conventional education, economy, community, politics, and spirituality.

Education: Grid: Education is for training (especially for a job), reproducing and expanding old knowledge and structures.  Assessment is about graded answers to someone else’s questions.  Problem: Now we have colleges graduating too many job applicants, and students who can’t think for themselves and don’t know how to create their own paths. Spaghetti: Maybe schools could be community-based and embedded in the world, where learners can initiate engagement and collaboration on actual problems and opportunities they experience in their community and within themselves.

Economy: Grid: Enlightened self-interest: “Everyone works for themselves and their families and it will all work out.”  Acquisition drives achievement and advancement.  Problem: We are running out of natural resources and fewer and fewer powerful individuals are stacking the economic deck in their favor. Spaghetti: Local economies, globally-linked, can produce non-material and material benefits that benefit the community and can be exchanged with other communities.  Contribution becomes more important than achievement.

Community: Grid: Community is mostly a container for the family, a place where people of similar background and interests can live together separately, so each is in his or her proper place.  Problem: We have unprecedented mixing, interethnic and cultural marriages, job mobility, social media, and so on making “community” no longer a box or space but a kind of market bazaar.  Spaghetti: Community can be a potential place for fulfilling friendship and cultural exchange.

Politics: Grid: People are elected to represent the “interests” of their constituents. Through haggling and maneuvering some kind of compromise is worked out where all sacrifice some and benefit some.  Problem: This simply does not describe current politics.  Extreme elements are pulling parties away from acknowledgement of the values of others.  Compromise is being replaced by gridlock all over the world.  Spaghetti:  Grass-roots coalitions can be formed across dividing line over areas of broad agreement.  Different approaches can be tried, for instance, to reduce unwanted pregnancy, rather than focusing on the contentious after-the-fact issue of abortion.

Spirituality: Grid: Everyone has their own religion and denomination or can choose “none of the above”.  Freedom to worship is institutional in nature.  Problem: Churches are losing membership in droves.  Young people do not agree with the hyper-engaged bigotry (against gay people, immigrant, poor, black) evident in some churches, and they are bored by the ritualistic format of others.   There appears to be no effective place for moral formation and spiritual leadership that is current with the needs of emerging generations.  Spaghetti: As shown within the huge explosion of people that define themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” opportunities are arising to deinstitutionalize religious experience and create actual, active communities of worship tied to shared spiritual conviction and informed (but not dictated) by tradition.


This list or essay is not complete.  It is provisional and quite broad at this point.  It is suggestive.  This essay is meant to promote consideration and engagement with new premises, directions, and experiments in learning applied to all areas and sectors of life. We are building our plane as we are flying and we will be experiencing in real time what it means to be connected and knowing.

In other words, we will be the fork and the spaghetti.

Now, I need you to continue the conversation.  Sign up on Citizen Zeus and send me an email at: to contribute your own insights and questions.  Which of these areas resonates most with you?  Which areas have I missed?  What insights came to you as you read?

The Starting Line is What You MUST Be (Not what You Should Be)

It seems like such a simple question, “Who are you?”  Yet you’ve almost certainly been taught to answer it wrong.  School, family, community, and nation tell you, “You are what you should be.”

You are told that you are your role, your function for others, your bottom line, your possessions.  You are taught that you are everything but that massively inconvenient, gnawing “must” that emerges from your deepest intuitions.

Erika Napoletano outed this dirty little contradiction in a July 28, 2012 RiffRaft event in Sacramento.  This is backwards she asserted.  You are what you “must” be not what you “should” be. You are that ache you cannot escape in your quietest moment.  You are that thing you are trying to cover with a manic haze of drama, activity, and procrastination.

With a combination of gratefulness, vulnerability, and strip-it-to-the-bone savvy, the inspiring redhead, went on to include a whole host of personal examples evoking the triumphs and tragedies that befall those willing to commit to their must.

This turned out to be not only an engaging take on personal authenticity, but a valuable catalyst for decision-making as well.  Returning to and committing to your must, centers you and clarifies what you may best offer others.  When building the foundation of your website, your “must” may be the key issue.

“This could be your first blog post,” offered Tea Silvestre, aka The Word Chef. I had agreed to serve as curricular advisor to Prosperity’s Kitchen, and she was helping me build a rock solid website around my “must.”

I had been scattered, trying to decide which of my diverse interests should guide my website:  I have joy and experience around accelerated, creative, non-conventional education.  I have an abiding interest in mystic spirituality.   I have also developed a sizable web following with guest posts on alternative approaches to the present economy.

What “should” I do?  The conventional path would have been to leverage name recognition and exposure from my economics readership into marketing a full-scale book on the topic. But does this drive me long term?

Ultimately, my economics articles are about learning to change something that doesn’t work and creating effective alternatives.  One way I do this is by exposing the inner workings of corrupted economics, and presenting better, more promising and fulfilling community-connected directions.

What “must” I do? Tea Silvestre helped me understand that each of my interests are connected with transformative new ways to learn, based upon a different philosophy, including different purposes, different methods, which serve different people and environments.  Once I embrace my “must,” I am able to use my uniqueness as a strength to serve other unique learners cast aside by generic social conventions.

Aha. So “new learning” is what drives me. I have my kernel. Now I have to crack it open.

I have agreed to walk through Tea’s “Find Your Secret Sauce” sequence, come up with goals, and develop questions as an adaptive experiment practicing my own creative learning principles.  Guided by Tea’s know-how and Secret Sauce course I will be able to articulate and connect my philosophy, purposes, methods, audiences, and webpage design.

It is not always the easiest process, identifying what you “must” be, committing to it, and offering it to the world, but what other choice do you have?  You could squelch yourself, be what others expect you to be, and get screwed in the end with a layoff, a pay cut, an unfunded pension, or just plain, good ole death.

There’s never been a better time to be who you are.  When society loses its commitments to you, then you have to step up.  You must commit to you.

So the lesson is clear: Quit trying to be a good little boy or girl, dammit.  Daddy ain’t delivering. Pin down your bliss, commit to its implementation, and get down to business.

Are you waiting for permission, or some expert to set you straight before you embrace your mission?  What stories do you have, what fears, what bumps in the road have you experienced in trying to strike off on your own?  What people have helped you?

“Learning on the Leading Edge” (TM) of Online Business

The ground is moving underneath online business and social media.  If you want to be relevant in a few years, listen up!

We all know how fast technologies can develop, but few people are paying attention to the meta trends in human growth, that which technology serves.  Answer correctly where human growth is going and you can get a very good idea what will fulfill people’s needs a few years, or even months, down the line.

So where are things going and how can online businesses stay one step ahead of the game?

Right now, niche marketing is all the rage.  Businesses accustomed to mass selling are being tuned out by a savvier younger generations wanting experiences and products tailored to their tastes. So businesses are seeking web wunderkinds like Erika Napoletano, Scott Stratten, and Chris Brogan to guide them on how to bring the “human touch,” establish “trust,” and provide a product that can appeal to a core group of committed consumers.

Many of these successful webpreneurs started in early to mid-2000’s, learned the ropes, and got a name as social media was taking off and revenues were soaring.  Now a flood of aspiring entrepreneurs are following, just as expected revenue growth from internet publishing and broadcasting is expected to sharply decline (like Facebook’s stock price).

Is this all a bubble?  Where lies the future of the web?  In one word: Learning.  The driving force in commerce and conversation on the internet is moving from mass selling to niche marketing to interactive learning.

You have to be out in front of the human wave to catch it.  Otherwise services or products you offer turn obsolete.  Let’s demonstrate how learning as an “experience product” grows naturally from the trends we see now.

The Past (Mass Selling– The era of the “big box brand”): Once businesses could get you to pay big bucks to advertise their product.  Coca-Cola and Benetton shirts were not cheap, but they helped you become popular.  “Cool conformity” was the mantra.  Mass consumption was the rule.  Doubts about your identity?  Corporations could sell you the answer and help you fit in.  They called the shots.  You let them choose for you.

The Present (Niche Marketing– The era of the “indie brand”): Boom, technology exploded and became “the thing” along with the nerds that understood technology.   The sexy geek came of age, along with post-modern irony, hipsterism, alternative music, and cultural experimentation.  Now folks cherish “awesome individuality” and customized consumption.  “I choose what works for me to show my distinctness, not to fit in.”

The Future (Interactive Learning– The era of “everyone is a brand”): Business is about exchange, usually between producer and consumer.  What, however, would happen if everyone starts to produce?  What if “sales” rested upon helping others produce and share better? Call the new motto “ecstatic sharing.”  Value is moving toward richer and richer exchange.

The evolution of marketing is the evolution of who tells the story.  Once it was the big, top-down guys who told the story and we consumed their story.  Now it is bloggers who best voice what is on our minds and in our hearts.  We half-live our stories by connecting to their authentic style, creativity, and ballsiness.  Tomorrow, each of us will directly create and share our own stories.

The future of business is in helping others tell their story, find and apply their talents, and learn new things in increasingly accelerated, customized, simple, and systematic ways.  In short, the future belongs to those who can help others on their human quest.  When everyone has something to offer, those that command the market are those that best help others to develop what they offer  .


The Zeus Experiment

So we are kicking off The Zeus Experiment. (There, see that, I already inserted a hyperlink with html code… baby steps, baby steps.) I am interested in creating not only an attractive, manageable site, but a real online business helping others transform their lives by transforming the way they learn.  And I am willing to walk my talk. I will be the public proverbial guinea pig in transfoming my own learning in unfamiliar territory. From the initial intro to The Zeus Experiment:

Like many of you trying to develop a web business, I’m smart and motivated, but completely bewildered by the flood of options out there. What can I really do with all the random apps, free content, and webinars thrown at me online all day long?

(Okay, don’t be too impressed with the above text box.  I swiped the html code and just inserted my quote.  But fake it until you make it right?)

I am comfortable with using social media on the front end, but much less versed on how to design, produce, and manage the technical and business strategy and layouts on the back end.   It’s a learned craft skill to assemble what you need, leave out what you don’t, and make progress.

I want a platform for my powerful content, a “product” place to showcase what I can do for others, and eventually an advice and  community forum.  You can’t do that very successfully without knowing how to manage a website and develop an email subscriber list.

I started doing this because I’ve written some very successful guest posts on new ways to understand debt and debt forgiveness. (This article had over 27,000 reads on one site alone).  I realized people are looking for new ways to learn about the economy… and education, and spirituality, and a host of other areas. Current approaches are simply not working.

But I didn’t have a way to channel this desire, because I did not have a website the could receive and focus this desire in such a way that I might serve it with my own abilities.

So now I am working with Tea Silvestre, aka The Word Chef (who also happens to be a “web wizard”) to develop an understanding of what I have to offer and how I can begin to link and develop lasting relationship with an audience to address their needs, make a living, and improve the world.

Wish me luck. This is going to be fun… and quite a ride.