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- Recognize a concern or issue that you want to work on (e.g. ‘How to improve our school’)
- Brainstorm bipolar strategic concepts relevant to the concern e.g.
- Select just one of these bipolar concepts that comes across to you as interesting or relevant (e.g. stagnate/innovate)
- Identify firm examples of each pole from your area of concern – e.g. ‘We haven’t changed our teaching methods for some time’ (stagnate); ‘We have developed the new science hour’ (Innovate).
- Try to restate each example so that your evaluation of it is reversed but still true for instance:
- The unchanged teaching methods could be re-stated as: ‘We have a stable and well understood teaching practise’
- The new science hour could become: ‘We have created a science hour, that we don’t have the time to fit into the timetable’.
- As both evaluations are true, you can choose which to focus on at any one time. What are the implications of taking the alternative evaluations seriously?
- Return to Step 3 again, ad lib.
The following Zen story (adapted from Vaughan, 1979) demonstrates this theory succinctly:
A farmer who had just acquired a stallion came to the Zen master in distress, saying: ‘Master, the horse is gone the horse is gone!’ for the stallion had run away. The master replied: ‘Who know if it is good or bad?’ The farmer returned to his work feeling sad and miserable. Two days later the stallion turned up and brought with him two mares. The farmer was overjoyed and went back to the master, saying: ‘The horse is back and has brought two mares with him!’ The master replied: ‘Who know is it is good or bad?’ Three days later the farmer was back crying, because his only son, his only helper on the farm, had been thrown by one of the mares, and his back had been broken. He was now in plaster and could do no work. Again the master replied: ‘Who know if it is good or bad?’ A few days later, soldiers came conscripting all the young men in the area. But they left the son because he was in plaster…