Exploring Applied Critical Thinking with Jane Lorand
Video runtime: 3:34
The Roots of Catalytic Thinking Practices
THE EARLY DAYS
A wise teacher of Jane’s, Dr. Donald Uhlin, was a childhood victim of polio. As he hobbled past her desk one day, he tossed a throwaway line that hit her like lightening.
"Love is giving what is needed."
The simplicity and challenge of this wisdom stunned her then and it has informed all of her work. This body of work represented in Catalytic Thinking Labs is her best effort to help you learn what you need to become an architect of a life of meaning, in your own way and your own time.
We are all standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, and who gifted us so much.
How did Jane’s life path support her contributions into the Labs?
From a difficult family, she was gifted with the need to strategize early. Along with her two brothers, she was blessed to have been taught to play a card game, duplicate bridge, by her grandmother and mother. She played as a young child, on through her teens and into college.
Why did this matter?
Bridge is a complex adaptive systems game where one has a partner and there is a symbolic language that is used to communicate. Playing gave Jane important habits in her thinking. Bridge has lots of trials and errors with quick feedback. She was routinely facing the questions, “Why did you do that?” “What were you thinking?” “What made you think that?”
Jane learned to talk about bridge but the thinking and language was specific to bridge. It did not transfer to other areas where thinking was required, such as school, for example.
All of this was unconscious, and even into her 20s Jane did not recognize how she operated.
She developed collaboration skills by putting herself in her partner’s position, given what he/she knows or doesn’t know. Bridge is about cooperation and competition with another pair of players. Party bridge was very popular in the 20th Century; however, duplicate is more akin to chess. Duplicate bridge takes most of the luck out of what had been a game where those who got the high cards most often won. (Bill Gates and Warren Buffet play duplicate bridge frequently, both online and in tournaments.)
Another sleeping influence on her thinking was the Girl Scout Handbook. It worked as a kind of recipe, a message that self-education is possible in any area of interest. This was a big inspiration for a fairly isolated 8-year-old.
The family story about thinking was that some people are born smart and some aren’t.
Smart parents have smart kids. The end. Smart people get more, create more value, and should get more. This worldview never sat well with Jane, and it was completely upended in the years ahead.
In the late 60s, Jane fell into the first ecology course ever offered at UCLA. It woke her up about the state of the environment. It began a lifelong commitment to be a global citizen and advocate for protecting our natural beauty and resources. It also introduced her to systems thinking in the service of conservation and environmental justice.
After UCLA, Jane began teaching elementary children at 22, and thrived in figuring out how to best help them learn and refuel their excitement about new things. She loved the children, who were endlessly interesting, and the significance of the warmth of a loving classroom came home to her.
Children could learn to think when they felt safe, loved, and had a place.
THE AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT
Jane struggled with the flawed system of public education. At 27 she left for law school where the thinking from bridge paid huge rewards; it turned out that law professors rewarded exactly what she had been groomed to do playing cards. Constitutional Law and the social engineering of Tax Law for business and individuals were her interests. She graduated at the top of her class at University of California's law school in San Francisco when her first child was one year old. She practiced tax law for seven years while raising children.
Raising children and coaching youth sports, she witnessed many children not knowing how to belong or fit in with the team. Drawing from her years as a teacher, she designed a curriculum, A System of Teamwork for Kids, for children 7-14. This is available as a book for teachers and parents. She wrote another book, How to be the Coach Kids Love and Remember. She met Alfie Kohn during this period, whose book, Punished by Rewards, strongly influenced her thinking.
At 42, as a result of Teamwork as a System, Jane was asked to present at the International Conference on Critical Thinking, in 1991. There she met Richard Paul, Ph.D., and drew from him insights into ways to understand how we can think more rigorously.
He showed her that there are frameworks and a language of thinking that she had never met consciously.
Jane spent months floundering, trying to figure out what Richard was talking about. What became clear was that his life’s work was helping people to strengthen their thinking directly, essentially “thinking about thinking to improve one’s thinking.” All the patter she had heard from her family and teacher training programs was unmasked: intelligence is not what people think it is, and thinking can be taught.
It dawned on her that Richard’s work would enable any teacher to actively teach thinking, itself. At Richard’s Center for Critical Thinking, they wrote and taught together in university in-service programs for professors for three years. Richard's book, Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs to survive in a Rapidly Changing World and his four wonderful Critical Thinking Handbooks for primary through high school age students providing adaptation of lesson plans for teachers to inspire critical thinking in their students are available through the Foundation for Critical Thinking.
THE SYSTEM IS FLAWED
Jane was frustrated with the resistance of college faculty to grasp the importance of this work: they were specialists in a content area and their power, prestige, and position depended upon them knowing more and more about less and less. To recognize that what the students really needed was consistent thinking education across all subjects was to acknowledge that their jobs would need to change. They had crawled up the PhD ladders and weren’t willing to acknowledge that from the students’ perspective, the system was flawed and to recognize their part in perpetuating it. After all, they would have to change their syllabus, way of thinking, and teaching! Too much work!
A NEW DIRECTION
Jane left academia to take the critical thinking practices into the corporate arena. She knew that there, at least, was a bottom-line accountability that motivated business people. She was busy immediately.
She began consulting as her five children were attending Waldorf Schools. She began to study the work of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), who founded the first Waldorf School in Germany in 1921. A pioneer in systemic thinking and disciplined thinking practices, Steiner’s work brought her a broader view of our human capacities and a deeper, richer and more meaningful understanding of human nature.
Her work as a consultant, bringing critical thinking and strategic planning for the publicly owned utilities in California (1994-2002), showed her how the environment was being seriously compromised by state-wide and national deregulation efforts in electricity and gas. The environmental activists lacked business experience, and yet had a culture conflict with business school education.
Jane thought that our society needed a business school that taught us how to transform business, not perpetuate it in its rogue practices that were inflicting so much damage on the environment and social justice. She watched the state and federal government being bought and sold.
As an attorney, confident in her business background, she met with Michael McAvoy, of New College of California (NCOC-West Coast “sister” of The New School in NYC). NCOC had begun a branch campus in Santa Rosa, close to her home, focusing on creating a Just, Sacred and Sustainable Community. The idea of a GreenMBA was appealing to them and a partnership was created. Michael suggested Jane establish a new nonprofit organization and contract with New College. Jane and her colleagues set up the Institute for Environmental Entrepreneurship, creating all of the courses, marketing, financing, recruitment of faculty and staff, and finding a lovely facility. New College brought wonderful colleagues, some administration, inspiration, and accreditation. Their first cohort was May 2000, which included John Stayton. John was a leader for the program through its next seventeen years and taught finance and business planning.
Navigating Complex Issues
Video runtime: 3:07
A MEETING OF MANY MINDS
In 2006, New College had to close for financial reasons, and the nonprofit sold the GreenMBA to Dominican University of California, 40 miles down Highway 101 toward San Francisco. That same year, Bruce McKenzie met Jane at the International Society of Systems Sciences (ISSS) conference, where Jane was giving a plenary talk on Complexity, Sustainability, Democracy and the GreenMBA. They found many connections in their work. Bruce was a pioneer in bringing systemic thinking to navigate complexity, with wonderful practices that he had developed for clients around the world, from his home base in Australia.
Graciously, Bruce began to fly in several times a year and teach in the GreenMBA. They co-created the Systemic Labs, which the students found highly valuable. In 2008-09 they designed and facilitated the Fort Baker Leadership Summits, bringing 40 business, NGO and government leaders to three sessions, striving for a Sustainable Future for California. At the summits, Bruce and Jane met Orland Bishop, a pioneer in social justice and practices to help us become more fully human. His book, The Seventh Shrine, Meditations on the African Spiritual Journey is powerful.
Recognizing that technology could be built to facilitate Bruce’s systemic methods, Jane and Bruce invested with Brian Hamlin, a former student with a big tech background to build the initial iterations of the WindTunneling software toolkit for managing complexity. With the help of a colleague, Jason Skinner, they built TheFulcrum, which is an online, four-month training for facilitators of WindTunneling. The Catalytic Thinking Labs team was developed as an initiative of Future Insight Maps, Inc., a company shared by Bruce and Jane.
THE MISSION CONTINUES
When Jane resigned from the GreenMBA in 2017, she set about fulfilling an imagination she had to use technology to make available what cost students $50,000. Sensing the need, and having learned more about the reach of technology, she pulled together a team of GreenMBA alumni and invested in building the Labs. She continues to consult within the US, and has been working closely with the team toward the launch.
Bruce McKenzie recently completed a master’s degree in Buddhist studies, and continues his systemic practices in Australia, under his original company, SDA, Systemic Development Associates. He has taken a mentoring role with the Labs.
The team will carry the management of the Labs into the future. They are envisioning launching, from the Center for Systemic Leadership, a Research Interns for Social Innovation initiative where individuals choose a given local area of concern (homelessness, foster care, local food security, water quality, police-community relations, etc.) and spend a year researching the local system and creating a systemic proposal for social innovation. During the year, the Research Interns work through all the Catalytic Thinking Labs.
Beginning in the fall of 2020, Jane is returning to another dream of hers, that of mapping and making available access to some of the insights of Rudolf Steiner and Waldorf education. With the Covid-19 reality, although living down the street from her grandsons, ages 6 and 2, she is adapting to the constraints of life in 2020. She does not get to see the boys, but reads to them and visits on zoom each evening.
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