A Consortium-Based Model for Education in the MG Taylor Network

July 11, 1997

"Knowledge, for us, is an abstraction with no independent existence. . . When I listen to Native people I get the impression that knowledge for them is profoundly different: It is a living thing that has existence independent of human beings. A person comes to knowing by entering into a relationship with the living spirit of that knowledge." --F. David Peat

"Communication is not a transmission of information, but rather a coordination of behavior among living organisms through mutual structural coupling [a structurally coupled system is a learning web that responds to its environment by changing its structure]."--Fritjof Capra

"The power of abstract thinking has led us to treat the natural environment--the web of life--as if it consisted of separate parts, to be exploited by different interest groups. Moreover, we have extended this fragmented view to our human society, dividing it into different nations, races, religious and political groups. The belief that all these fragments--in ourselves, in our environment, and in our society--are really separate has alienated us from nature and from our fellow human beings and thus has diminished us. To regain our full humanity, we have to regain our experience of connectedness with the entire web of life. This reconnecting, religio in Latin, is the very essence of the spiritual grounding of deep ecology." -- Fritjof Capra


Editor's Note: The models in this paper were developed at the knOwhere store in Hilton Head, South Carolina by a team consisting of Gail Taylor, Bill Rutley, Dave Desmond, Brenda Eckmair, Jay Smethurst, Todd Johnston, Michael Bell, and myself. However, I have chosen to add a number of my own views here, which are not necessarily held in common by the team; indeed, some of these ideas were not even presented during that session. I hope the team will indulge my solo excursion.
Bryan Coffman, editor


We're not going to reinvent the university system. Our approach to education has nothing to do with reinvention.

In early discussions concerning education and training in the MG Taylor network, we coined the term "Flock University". University implied the educational aspect of the initiative, and flock referred to the emergent property of complex systems that enables a collection of agents following simple rules to coordinate their behavior for mutual support without resorting to a command and control, top-down method of direction. The next time you watch a group of birds flock, you'll understand how impossible such behavior would be if it relied upon a chain of command. The flock's efficiency and reaction time would allow for massive predation of the community and probably an inability to compete for food sources in a requisite time frame. Sounds like what a lot of ventures of all sorts are facing today.

Unfortunately, the term "university" conjures up a strong mental image of departments, buildings, exams, lectures, and labs. Tables in rows. Professor and students. Grades. I'm not attacking the university system. However, it cannot serve as a model for our own education and training.

Even the term "education" brings deeply ingrained assumptions to the forefront of consciousness. It requires considerable effort to create a system that is both workable, yet leaves much of the baggage of a 19th century, industrial economy-based invention behind.

With those thoughts in mind, what follows is a somewhat different approach to education and training in a distributed network.


The Six Components of the MG Taylor Education and Training Model

The shell that maintains the structural integrity of the entire system is purpose, or reason for existing. Purpose is not merely a statement of intention. Pattern Lanaguage elucidates purpose. Purpose is a complex, dynamic description of an archetype. People in the web refer to and act from these patterns in order to replicate and evolve its structure.

Communication creates and maintains the web and allows it to adjust in balance with the environment. We need to expand our sense of dialog for purposes of this model, however. By dialog we mean that everything speaks. Nothing is passive. Nothing is merely an object. People, machines, artifacts, images, physical environments all interact with one another. The quality of this interaction and the management of the resulting body of knowledge determines the fitness of the web as a whole.

Quite simply, the efficacy of the purpose is demonstrated through our work with our clients. This is the story-making part of our work.

This is as close as we'll get to a traditional approach to education. Simulations are algorithms designed to allow individuals and teams to get a feel for the dynamics of a system without the expense or risk of engaging the real system. They also allow us to repeat the experiment over and over with some control of the variables--to run a number of iterations to gain more understanding of the system from a variety of vantage points. When I refer to simulations I include computer simulations and computer-supported group immersion simulations as well. Putting a team through an "office of the future" scenario is an example of immersion simulations. The Patch Theory simulation we've run at several 7 Domains® Workshops is another example.

Using the term "simulations" only serves to remind us that each workshop contains a simulation component and a simulation feel, much like a DesignShop® event. People interact with each other as individuals and in teams engaged in exploring and experiencing concepts. Explanation and example are kept to a minimum.

Tribal Councils
I confess to some uneasiness using this term--I am sure that many Native Americans would find the application offensive, and rightfully so. I just can't think of an alternative other than the term "Consortium of Transition Managers." I don't believe Westerners have any sense of what it means to be tribe--at least the vast majority of us don't. We make and break our bonds with each other far too easily. We have no conception of interconnection in general. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, we consider the individual as the focal point of life--we're consumed with our own self, our behavior, our angst, our passion. We have an entire, burgeoning legal and theraputic system that attempts to compensate for our inability to maintain the strong relationships implied by the term "tribe." Committing to tribe is not about being unselfish; it's about changing what we mean by the "self." Remove an organ from a person, and the organ dies. Is is incapable of separate existence apart from its ecosystem. If the viable unit is the individual person, then our vision of education is in trouble--we had best recant, retrace our steps and adopt a more conventional approach to education that focuses on the success or failure of the individual in the system. If we can casually remove ourselves from our mutual commitments then we haven't any web at all. And if we preach web from this vantage point, we're engaged instead in an act of self-deception.

However, if the viable unit is the tribe or web, then we have a chance of changing the world.

Organizations and ecosystems take time to build. Transformations take time and stable networks to effect. The MG Taylor approach to delivering NavCenters™ facilities calls for a three year roll-out and transfer of the process to support organizational transformation. I used to think this was too long. Now I think it's too short. The connection ought to last much longer.

Simply because the rate of technological change increases at some geometric rate doesn't necessarily imply that all transformations on a human scale should follow suit. Some things require a lifetime to learn and can't be gained in a 30 second sound bite.

So, hampered by having no experience of what it means to be a part of an Indigenous Tribe, let me paint a picture of the purpose and actions of the MG Taylor Tribal Council.

The council consists of every member of the network who has been determined fit to represent the MG Taylor philosophy and methodology (which is not necessarily the same thing as representing MG Taylor, the organization). The council meets to reaffirm and recreate the Pattern Language for the Web, the Rules of Engagement, and the Modeling Language--the MG Taylor way. Council members work with each other to improve the ways in which they all work within these three components. These components express our collective belief concerning how the world works and our place in it. They bind the tribe together. Members tell stories that illustrate the Pattern Language, the Rules of Engagement and the Modeling Language in their own practice. The council follows the Four Step Recreative model by creating and recreating Vision, Templates, Actions and Feedback.

The Council also determines fitness. A new member to the network receives a sponsor and joins a Community of Practice. When the sponsor and the member agree, they come to a Council meeting where the Sponsor will advocate the new member's qualification to represent the MG Taylor philosophy and methodology. The Council members discuss the issue in the presence of the sponsor and the new member and at some point make a decision, which must be unanimous. There are no secret ballots.

There are only two "standard" fee rates for KreW in the network: one fee for new members, and another for those who are fit to represent the MG Taylor philosophy and methodology. Other fee rates exist, and here's how it works. Once a member is fit, he or she may engage their own clients (they may choose not to, but some will want this option) and deliver to them the process within the boundaries of the pattern language, the rules of engagement, and the models. For example, there must be an appropriate environment, etc. Within these boundaries, the member may represent that the process the client is entering into is an MG Taylor one. Outside of these boundaries, the member may consult but may not use the modeling language, nor represent that the process they use is an MG Taylor one. Whatever the member can charge for the session is what they can charge. Of this fee from the client, a portion will be available for KreW, which may come from local sources or through the MG Taylor network Stew function. The member states the parameters of the session and offers a fee for the KreW members. The fee can be any value. The Stew function posts the information for the network to see, and then we have created a market place for Council or Consortium members.

The last function overseen by the Tribal Council is the approval of individuals to serve as Sponsors in the network.

Sponsored Communities of Practice
The Sponsor, the Community of Practice and the Tribal Council are the three organizations that hold the network together. Every new member to the network receives a Sponsor. (see also the Learning Path: Five Points of Mastery model). Sponsors are not assigned: instead, the new member may peruse a directory of Sponsors and which communities of practice they belong to. (It's not necessary for the Sponsor and the new member to belong to the same Community of Practice.) The new member then asks the Sponsor to be their advocate. Once a Sponsor accepts, then it's up to the two of them to work out and follow a program that leads the new member towards attaining fitness in the network and membership on the council. This includes participating in Events, Simulations, and also attendance at Tribal Councils (without decision-making authority). Or the member may decide that working in the web is not for them.

A Community of Practice is a ValueWeb™ community consisting of a small group of people, perhaps up to twenty or so. It may have one or more foci:

  • Geographic proximity, for example, a small Management Center, Design Center or knOwhere store may have one or more communities of practice.
  • A particular client, for example, a NavCenter facility in a company may have its own community of practice.
  • A small manufacturing or service organization: perhaps a small company builds components of WorkFurniture™ for AI as a community of practice.
  • A skill-focused community like a group of scribes or facilitators.
  • A group focused on a particular project, for example, a multi-media package or the Journal of Transition Management on the MG Taylor website.

There could be many different types. However, a true community of practice has a purpose and an ability to demonstrate its viability within the network.

Each community of practice has a Knowledge Work Information Broker (KWIB) as its point of contact, and a web page describing its activities.

Each member of a Community of Practice will serve in all of the five points of mastery, as indicated in the following diagram.

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