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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Watzlawick

Seth Godin: Send Yourself Fan Mail

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On Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Wright was a pioneer in using windows almost like walls, to bring the outside in

Frank Lloyd Wright was a pioneer in using windows almost like walls, to bring the outside in

There’s a fascinating chapter in Paul Watzlawick’s The Invented Reality (NY: Norton, 1984) on Self-fulfilling Prophecies. Those are the statements someone makes and then the world seems to change and grow into it. Watzlawick cited the situation in March 1979 when California newspapers made “sensational pronouncements of an impending, severe gasoline shortage,” which fueled (haha) an actual shortage. Looking back, there had been enough gas to meet the need, but the dire pronouncements changed buying behavior (people topped off tanks and hoarded gas) and so the shortage was born.

Watzlawick also cited the famous “Oak School Experiments” (eliciting the Pygmalion Effect) where teachers’ expectations of their students were tampered with using so-called intelligence tests. Though the students were actually picked at random, the teachers’ high expectations elicited stellar performance from the (purported) high-achieving students.

One of the more famous examples of self-fulfilling prophecy is that of Frank Lloyd Wright. Even before he was born, Wright’s mother was busy planning Frank’s architecture career and putting up images of great buildings in the baby’s room. And long before Frank had done any actual work he was boasting of his great career. He was one of the greatest boosters of his work as he reinvented himself several times and well into his 80s. Actually Wright’s story is even more interesting because he came from a clan where generations were known for resolutely going their own way.

And as we all know, Wright’s architecture turned out well—stunningly well. Pivotally well: much of what we know today of good architecture stems from Wright’s willingness to break with Victorian tradition and bring the outside in.

I like how Seth Godin puts it today (“The opposite of anxiety”): picture the compliment your seminar attendee will have after the seminar you’ve not yet done. See your product on the shelf at the local grocer—the product you’ve not yet completed. Write the fan mail from the person changed by the thing you’ve not yet done. In this Godin has a technique for getting at the emotional reward at the other end of your process—and it’s all anticipatory.

One need not be sold on the power of positive thinking to realize that what we tell ourselves—along with the questions that consume us—all have a bearing on where we go, what we do and who we become.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston


Written by kirkistan

August 2, 2013 at 8:06 am

Am I a constructivist?

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Not sure. So I’ll jump.07262013-tumblr_mqipucFB1w1qbcporo1_1280

There’s an old notion—an image, really—of jumping off a high point and building wings as you fall. That’s the image Paul Watzlawick offered as he began his account of constructivism in The Invented Reality (NY: Norton, 1984). Constructivism is a way of thinking about how the world works and how we know anything. Constructivism would say we invent reality as we move forward, as we talk and walk and work. Wikipedia’s entry on constructivism as an educational theory seems like a reasonable synopsis. I definitely cannot buy into the whole thing (few “–ism’s” are entirely believable), but there are pieces of constructivism that ring true:

  • My growing theory of a conversation has elements of constructivism: what happens between us as we talk is a new thing constructed on the spot (and, frankly, from past conversations and experiences). Our communication and relationship morph with each engagement.
  • Aphorisms and self-fulfilling prophecies do have a certain amount of power in anyone’s life to adjust expectations if not experience—give or take/depends/your mileage may vary.
  • In writing, my argument or story unfolds entirely dependent on my word choices. Outcomes change before my eyes as I write, not just in fiction, but also as I sort through a business problem.

One wants to be very careful—of course—about agreeing entirely with any particular -ism. In philosophy and theology, to agree to one thing is to disagree with another, and sometimes unwittingly. All the threads are connected, so when you pull on one, something unravels on the other side of the garment. I can see from just this little glimpse that constructivism might be hostile toward the notion of a central truth in life, which would not fit with my theological commitments. Constructivism also has wise-cracks to make about the determinism/free-will debate raging in my brain. And yet, there is some truth to the constructivist way of seeing life.

What do you think? Are we all making it up as we go?


Image credit: Dustin Harbin via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

July 26, 2013 at 10:23 am

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