What does the Law of Steady State have to do with learning?

Going Around the Cycle of Experiential Development

Going Around the Cycle of Experiential Development

A few blogs ago we introduced the Cycle of Experiential Development and its origins.  I've done a Google search on it and it shows no other source.  Messrs Kolb and Perls have been attributed with "The Cycle of Learning" and "The Cycle of Experience" respectively, but no-one has published anything on "The Cycle of Experiential Development".  Both of these theories add good thought to the discussion on how we learn, so very useful.  There is a third concept put forward by Gestalt theorists which I think adds a great deal to the role of arousal or disruption to force us to re-think our paradigms and ways of doing things which can lead to accelerating our learning and development.  I call it the "Law of Steady State".  Here's an illustration:

About a year ago, as we were working on the final stages of our basement remodelling, I was in our car on my way back with supplies from our local DIY store.  I came up to a stop sign on a busy interchange of roads -- there were 6 lanes altogether.  As I looked west, I could just see the sun disappear of the mountain range, and thought how wonderful it is to live in Colorado.  I was intending to cross straight through the intersection, so once the oncoming traffic cleared, I promptly drove out into the thoroughfare where there was a median with trees and bushes slightly impeding the view of traffic coming 90 degrees to the right of the direction I was travelling.  You guessed it, I proceeded just in time to see a car coming quickly from my right.  i swerved my car violently to the left,  but the torque of my forcing the car onto the left side and the oncoming car's hood hitting it about wheel high flipped it over for 270 degrees!  "What a ride", I thought as we tumbled, just like my flying days!  Very fortunately no one was hurt badly, and it certainly disrupted my "steady state".  Question:  What do you think it did to my next few driving experiences?  

I had gone outside of my comfort zone by accident (pun intended), and the catastrophic event affected my driving.  In the short term, my comfort zone shrunk.  But, because I know how damaging it can be to not "get back up on the horse once you fall off", I began driving again, and needless to say took fewer risks.  Even now, a year on, my driving conscientiousness has improved as I learned from the experience.  The Law of Steady State says that there is a universal principle, like the Law of Gravity, which says a body, a situation, group of people, etc., tends to form a steady state, a norm, or a rhythm which allows it to exist in that state. Physicists may refer to it as "Newton's Law", expressed in a formula, F=MA.  (Force equals Mass Times Acceleration).  When anything comes along (stimulus) to disrupt that steady state, the object, person, group etc. will seek once again to reform into a new steady state.  The universe, it seems does not like high volatility.  Whether it is the stock market, governments or parents with children, we all dislike unpredictability and constant change. As I write this we are experiencing a new President of the United States, who is bringing about many volatile changes to "the way things are normally done".  The protests are coming from all over the political spectrum, because he has disturbed the status quo.  

How does this apply to learning?  In order to get us to see things differently and actually become aware there is another way of seeing/doing things, we very often need to have our "steady state" become unsteady.  The best leaders, teachers and professors patently understand this, and will deliberately disrupt the norm to get our attention, before they go ahead and help us explore how to "fix" the problem caused by the provocation.  Once out of our comfort zones, we'll grab at any plausible "how to" that might get us back into a steady state.  

Here's an example:  Someone asked me recently how they could improve the relationship they had with a partner.  Once we discussed what they wanted to improve and why, it was concluded by this person that the problem was the way they listened.  To get this person out of their steady state I asked them to describe what happens currently, and what the consequences were.  This pictured in the mind of the non-listener a very uncomfortable situation that no longer was acceptable.  They became uncomfortable with the steady state and wanted it to move on badly enough they were very open to explore new ways of improving their listening.  From a coach or mentor's point of view, the real work was already done.  We had helped the person to dislodge their steady state in how they related with a significant other, and then once aware that going back to their old way was not a good option, they became very open to explore new and proven ways.  Something tells me, if properly re-inforced, this person will make significant strides to create a new steady state of listening and therefore relating to others.  It is the Cycle of Experiential Development in action.  The change in attitude by the person wanting to be developed led to exploring some new ways of behaving outside of their comfort zone.  They so did not want to go back to the way things used to be that they were committed to practicing something new.  If the new way of behaving yields positive results, what are the chances the person adopts this new behavior more often?  Exactly.  They now have a new level of steady state which includes a new skill for relating well with others.