On Intelligence – Feedback, expectation and event design

I’ve been reading Jeff Hawkins’ book On Intelligence, and have been itching to put up a post about it…trouble is, that a quick review really wouldn’t do justice to all that’s in there and all the touchpoints the book has with our process.

One of the concepts in the book that has gotten me thinking is the idea of feedback, and how it affects perception. Hawkins points out that for all of the senses, there is as much as ten times more information flowing back to the sensor as there is coming in to the brain. Put another way, our brain is telling our eyes, ears and nose more about the world around us than the other way around.

What is happening is the brain is creating a mental model of the world around it in real time, based on what information is coming in and what experience it has had in similar situations in the past. What it looks for is any time the senses pass back information that is inconsistent with the model. If you want an example, think of the sensation of walking down a set of stairs, then finding one more step at the bottom than you had thought; you are jolted to attention as you compensate for the difference from your model.

The implication is that the human mind is set to sense patterns, store them, and live within the model of expectation it creates. This is part of what helps us survive as a species, but it is also the mechanism that keeps us from getting creative. Think: “if you always try the same approach, you will always get the same result”.

What is interesting is finding out that we are actually wired that way: we look for patterns at all levels of perception and cognition, then unconsciously play back those patters in order to make predictions about the world, constantly telling ourselves “what to expect next.”

I would suggest that people come up with the best ideas, and are at their most creative, when those predictions are consistently – or systematically – upset. Having your expectations and models broken forces the brain to create new ones, and it is in that process that new connections are made and new possibilities arise.

One of the ways I think this fits into the ASE is in the design of our session as we move through Scan, Focus and Act. It seems to me that during the Scan phase, it would make the most sense if we not only deliberately disrupt their normal patterns, but actively disrupt their attempts to form new predictive patterns within the process. Varying the type of activity, shifting the environment and switching up teams as much as possible will maximally switch the minds of the participants over to “surprise” mode, which is where I imagine they will find the highest levels of creativity.

As the event moves through Focus to Act, allowing the participants to sense the pattern of the session will build their unconscious predictive ability and will ease their minds into a rhythm that will allow them to take ownership of the event. As comfort builds, their thoughts can coalesce with minimal disruption from the environment and process.

The role of “expectation” and “prediction” obviously would be quite significant for clients who use the ASE continuously. If disruption is part of the benefit of using our methods, how can we design it into our sessions?

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