Unreasonable Learners

How do we move forward?  – a Strategy for the Whole


Introduction – our need to tackle the whole

Our society is highly interconnected. For example:

  • Those involved in the limitation of drug use may want to decriminalise drugs but the majority of those not involved have yet to be persuaded that this is a step forward.
  • Educationalists might want to do away with “Qualifications” but parents and industry still use them to judge and grade students.
  • The Scottish Government, who have responsibility for to managing the “public purse,” may wish to move away from command and control methods; but they will be constrained by society’s flawed assumptions is that this is achieved by regulations and holding people to account.

Aim/Purpose (as per UL web site)
To revist our aim which is to facilitate a learning and innovative society that is driven by knowledge and has a belief in people. Furthermore our purpose is to see the implementaion of knowledge.

We achieve our aim/purpose in many different ways and in many different sectors. The fact the Unreasonable Learners cover such a broad spectrum is our strength.

Below is a way forward as expressed by some of our memebrs – we are looking for more contributions from members.

Our outstanding task is to develop a strategy that underpins and supports this variety.




Thoughts – from Jim Duffy:

Make them curious enough to start questioning their current thinking/theories/strategies, rather than telling what their alternative theories should be.

In other words, the whole tenor of each strategy should be looking at arousing a willingness to consider alternatives, and I think we do that best by highlighting the unwanted results from current thinking and relating to the current thinking by referencing the Einstein quote about madness being doing the same things and expecting different results. So it is not about directly challenging their thinking – it is about demonstrating the difference between what we get and what we would want to get, then challenging the thinking – same thinking will keep giving us what we currently get – to change the outcomes, the thinking must change. I think we have to make that explicit.

Jim goes on to suggest the following headings:

  • Segment of society
  • The message to arose curiosity
  • How do we address the sector
  • Those proficient in the sector
  • Barriers
  • How to overcome those barriers
  • The structures necessary to secure continuous improvement (PDSA cycle)

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Conversations with Leaders constrained by the system

 These conversations all have the same message – to change the parts we first have to address the whole.

With a member of the UK parliament:  In this conversation the author sketch a rough diagram show the interdepenancies between education, the media , the politicians and the electorate in depicting our democratic system. The striking thought is that the primary means a member of parliament has in communicating with his/her electorate is through the media. However the media have no aspiration in this area. Their focus is on selling papers and making a profit (even just surviving). They believe that “conflict” sells papers. So this system is fraught with problems. But again changing the parts is not sufficient; we have to change the whole.

With the Head of Organisational Development of the Scottish Government – An excellent conversation, but one that recognised the complexity of the challenge and her own very limited ability to effect change. She could instigate training of individuals in modern concepts but then the individual has to return to work in the established system that he/she has no authority to change. Furthermore the role of the civil servants is to respond to the dictates of the politicians, who in turn have to respond to wishes of the electorate, as portrayed through the media. None of these bodies have knowledge of modern concepts and are put off by the language or terms that we are likely to use.

With Politicians – The Deming Learning Network as part of The Unreasonable Learners participated in having a stand at the Scottish Parliament for three days in November 2011. From this stand we were able to engage and have discussions with approximately a third of our politicians. We left with a great respect for the people we met, and an appreciation that Members of Parliament represent the electorate. If their thinking is out of step with the electorate they will, quite rightly, lose their jobs and not be re-elected. They cannot for example abandon educational qualifications or decriminalise drugs before there is acceptance of these issues in the wider society. From our hierarchical upbringing we have the misconception that those at the top, Politicians and bosses etc., have the authority to lead us through radical change. This is not true, they can only lead us into areas that we as a society are prepared to accept.


Section Leader of the Organisational Development unit of a City Council. The section works to bring modern concepts such as Systems Thinking, Intrinsic Motivation and a Customer focus to individual projects within the council. On each occasion they achieve significant improvement in the service provided. They then move onto their next project. Their frustration is that if they return, after say a gap of two years, the methods and practices have invariably returned to the status quo and the unproductive bureaucracy has returned.


Head of Safety within an Oil Major – The Deming Learning Network were fortunate to be allowed to carry an in depth analysis of the safety operation of an Oil Major. Their findings were that the company was very innovative and progressive in context of engineering, but the opposite was the case when it came to management. The prominence of targets, performance management and staff appraisals reflected their belief that if their people just tried a bit harder then everything would be OK. We talked with a person whose role was to write procedures for offshore installations, and when asked what the offshore personnel thought of them, the response indicated that he had never thought to ask, it was his boss that approved his work and not those who were meant to use them. We were also told of Offshore Installation Managers who had brought in modern management thought in overseeing their platforms; with considerable success. But the company had not learnt from these examples, and when the person in question moved on, the management culture reverted to the status quo. When we submitted the report to the Head of Safety North Sea, his response was to congratulate us in clearly articulating the culture within the company, but the changes we were suggesting were way beyond what he could implement, even beyond what the North Sea operations could implement.

Conclusion: If we are to secure a progress we do have to think in terms of the whole.
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Meeting Notes- Jim Duffy, Gordon Hall, Tony Miller and Chris McDonald met on Friday 20th Jan

  • The need to work with politicians
  • As elected representatives of the people they cannot lead ahead of how the people think.
  • The people of Scotland are already engaged in wanting to search for a better future


Inspection Agencies

              • Their work should be based a full knowledge of modern management concepts
              • Their focus should be in overseeing the continual improvement of the design of the systems providing the services.
              • A focus on the service user as the customer rather than the regulation
              • They want to look at how they report

Public Sector

              • The need to include local politicians
              • The succinct message of “better services for less”
              • The prevalence of Myths

Private Sector

              • The message of relationships and sustainability
              • The need to differentiate between Public/shareholder owned companies and companies privately owned.
              • Recognition of the profit requirement

The Stock Exchange

              • They need to change their purpose
              • The contributors to the various funds held by these fund managers should play a greater role in monitoring the activities of these managers
              • Rewards should be in stock rather than money

Business Schools

              • At present money and the need to comply with the Funding Council dominate.
              • The opportunity to set up  a “Systems Thinking Research Centre” supported by all Scottish Universities
              • The need for a safe place to learn and experiment – the need to concentrate on “thinking” – and then translate that thinking into actual application
              • We gather that there is a social innovation lab at Kent University. There is also a Systems Thinking centre at Cardiff University
              • The need to not only teach modern concepts such as systems thinking and intrinsic motivation but also connect with local organisations so that modern thought is actually applied.
              • The opportunity to apply modern concepts to the management within the Universities.


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