Seeing the best in life's challenges

The Reality Distortion Field

When I read Steve Jobs’ biography over Christmas break 2011, Chapter 11 hit me like a ton of bricks.  I know this Reality Distortion Field very well.

As described by Andy Hertzfeld, “The reality distortion field was a confounding mélange of a charismatic rhetorical style, indomitable will, and eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand.” (p. 118)   Apparently, Jobs consistently insisted that impossible tasks be completed in impossible time frames, and somehow, through sheer will, the impossible would be accomplished.  The phrase had been adopted from a series of episodes of Star Trek, “in which the aliens create their own new world through sheer mental force.”

The biography is a great read, and very meaty.  It is at once the history of a company, the life story of a very interesting human being, and the tale of how our world has changed.  All fascinating.  For me, Jobs is a perfect case study of a human being who came into this world with a consciousness well ahead of most of the rest of us.  He felt that the rules did not apply to him, and he had a very strong sense of what he wanted to accomplish.  His path was also fraught with many challenges and obstacles.  In the end (as he left this world), just look at the impact he and Apple have made.  Go back 20, even 10 years, and where the company is today is stunning and unexpected.  I used Macs in the early 1990s, and I know very well how they were positioned in the market at that time and how they were viewed by the establishment.  Everybody knew that the IBM compatible PC was the way to go.  Ha!

I know this reality distortion field because I am the mother of a similar human being.  The Jobs biography speaks very little about how his childhood affected his parents, but I can only imagine how busy he kept them.  It is also obvious that they believed in him.

Steve Jobs was a pioneer.  When we look back at what pioneers accomplish, hindsight allows us to appreciate and idolize them, but we tend to forget how tough the process was when everyone thought they were crazy, arrogant, and impossible to deal with.

The thing we have to remember is, where pioneers go, more will follow.  Kids today come into this world as different animals.  We want to diagnose them, drug them, control them in any way we can, to make them act like kids “are supposed to act.”  Well, maybe kids were supposed to act like that 30 years ago, but it’s not the way they are built today.  They are not the same type of human being and all of our efforts are only going to frustrate us and hold them back.

Parenting these kids is a whole new ball game.  I have read more parenting books than you would care to imagine.  I understand that my kids are here to teach me lessons that I would not get if they were “easy”.  I have learned so much and grown so much because of them.  I have been amazed at their wisdom and what they are capable of when we trust them.

Instead of viewing kids as flawed, what if we looked at them as pioneers?  As wise, powerful beings who will push us, teach us, help lead us forward?  What if we strive to enable them, rather than tether them?  Stop holding them back and making them “wrong” and start appreciating them for who they are?

I feel for these young pioneers, because the world does not understand them and tries to beat them into submission.  Our educational systems are designed for the child of yesterday.  We no longer live in yesterday.  No wonder kids are acting out, parents are out of their minds, and teachers are exhausted.

How much longer will we try to force that square peg into a round hole?


Interested in more thoughts on our educational system and how it can better serve today’s kids?  Take a look at David’s blog Eduspire.  He has lots of interesting things to say about educating our kids.



1 Comment »

Conceptual vs. Linear Thinking

(note:  I wrote some more on the topic more recently: Looking Toward the Future:  Linear vs. Conceptual Views.)

I was listening to something the other day, that spoke about the idea that more kids these days are born “conceptual” thinkers.  They already see the big picture, they already intuitively understand things.  The suggestion was, give them the big picture, then ask what questions they have.

The step-by-step approach, or linear thinking, just makes these kids bored.

Well, I can relate.  I realized from the description, that I am a conceptual thinker.  My mind is always multi-tasking and working out puzzles and possibilities.

Have you seen the move Next with Nicholas Cage?  Cage’s character, Cris Johnson, is a magician who has a special ability to see a few minutes into the future.  When I watched the movie, this idea didn’t seem so far-fetched to me — most of the time, if you are paying attention, the consequences of people’s actions and human behavior aren’t too hard to predict.  Ok, so the movie goes on….. Cris meets a girl named Liz.  Somehow, when Cris is with Liz, he can see far into the future.

At the end of the movie, as Cris is trying to figure out how to handle a situation so that it works out for everyone, there is a scene where he runs through possible scenarios in his mind, very quickly one after the other.  When I saw this, it blew me away, because THAT’S HOW I THINK.  I thought, that’s me, that’s it.

No, I can’t see into the future.  But I can, very quickly, weigh possible outcomes, what is likely to happen, and how it will affect people.  It’s a constant search for the best outcome.  It’s not just thinking logically, it’s a big part inspiration or intuition, and it happens all at once.  It’s definitely not a step-by-step, linear process.  If I had to force myself to slow down, or to explain the steps, that would be really difficult and maybe impossible.  It just happens.

No wonder we label these kids with ADD.  Their brains don’t work the way we expect them to.  We put them in school, which is still primarily linear, and drive them crazy, bore them to death, tell them there is something “wrong” with them….

Inside, these kids “know” that they understand things.  If you talk with them and observe them and let them tell you about something they are interested in, this is very obvious.

In years past, when we needed to educate people to live in a linear world of assembly lines and accounting firms, we needed people to be linear thinkers.  And now, as China is following in our footsteps, they are churning out linear thinkers, kids who spend hours and hours doing homework, who follow the steps and the rules, and they are doing a better job at it than we are.

MAYBE that’s because we are moving on to the next step.  Our innovators and creative thinkers, those who will come up with cutting edge technologies and ideas, aren’t linear thinkers….they are conceptual thinkers.

Read about Steve Jobs and how he drove his employees crazy with his approach (“I’ll know it when I see it.”)  Malcolm Gladwell wrote a great article that speaks to this.  Jobs life story is a good example of how a creative, conceptual thinker navigated a largely linear world.

Seems to me that there is a lot of hand-wringing going on, that is a result of trying to fit square pegs (conceptual thinkers) into round holes (the linear paradigm).  If we reframe the issue, and instead focus on how we can nurture the conceptual thinkers, the path forward will be much easier!

A continuation of this discussion is here, in case you are interested.