What is the future of mediation? That’s the very question I was invited to answer by Mediate.com’s Mediation Futures Project. The project is inviting leading thinkers in the field to share their ideas and hopes about the future of the mediation field and of mediation practice.
So I contributed The Future of Mediation: Mediators As Problem Finders, Makers, and Designers. Here’s an excerpt:
In 1964 two University of Chicago social scientists conducted an experiment at the Art Institute of Chicago. They invited a group of students to select from among random objects set up on tables, and then draw a still life.
Some of the students examined just a few items, selected the ones that interested them, and got right down to drawing. Other students handled more of the objects, turning them over many times before selecting the ones that interested them. They rearranged their chosen objects several times and took longer to complete the assigned still life.
The social scientists, Jacob Getzels and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (renowned for his work on the state of flow) asked a panel of art experts to evaluate the resulting works. Without knowing anything about the source of the drawings, the art experts judged the work of that second group of students as far more creative than the first. What’s more, in follow-ups about five years and 18 years after the initial study, the students in the second group were more likely to remain artists and have had success in the art world.
What differentiated the first group from the second? Csikszentmihalyi characterized the first group of students as problem solvers who were asking themselves, “How can I produce a good drawing?” He characterized the second group as problem finders who were asking themselves, “What good drawing can I produce?”
I am drawn to this research story as a relevant lens through which to ponder the future of mediation because it speaks to my interest in the continuous re-examination and reframing of the ways we think about and carry out our work. Much like the way sports sunglasses with interchangeable lenses help us see with greater clarity in varying light conditions, non-traditional lenses through which we look at our work help us notice new things.
Why is this important? When we consider our work through unfamiliar lenses, we push ourselves out of our comfort zones and out of familiar patterns that feel safe and reliable. When we do that, we give ourselves a fighting chance to avoid mustiness in an evolving world. When we consider our work via surprising metaphors, we spark our own creativity. When we look through lenses we haven’t looked through before, we can’t help but ponder our own relevance.
It is in this spirit that I offer three lenses through which we might view the future of mediation.
I’m in terrific company over at the Mediation Futures Project. It’s well worth spending some time over there if you’re in the mediation field.