Moving and motivating given the gaps

My pulling-together-the-pieces form of curiosity  together with asking about what motivate curiosity, in what directions, and how far led me to explore a schema from past work about “gaps.”  Rather than wait till I had time to write and revise the ideas, I speak about them in this 18-minute video podcast,

[partial transcription]
I came back to this schema when I was thinking about the question of guidelines for curiosity—in what directions and under what and how far to be curious. First let me explain this diagram and then see how to fit in my current thinking about those two questions.
The bottom, left-to-right axis corresponds to the view that has been popularized in the book Crossing the Chasm (Moore 1991). This work suggests that innovators need to move from appealing to early adopters, who will try almost anything new. Instead they need to appeal, on the other side of the chasm, to users who are interested in the product but need it connected with their everyday concerns. Eventually the number of these customers builds up and you get to a place where most people take it on, not only people who are interested in adoption—the early adopters.
The vertical axis comes from thinking about social change, about alternatives to the social order. In many cases the designs that take off in the world or the knowledge that people pick up are those that depend on or perpetuate the current social arrangements. However, there is knowledge and proposed technologies that make sense if you imagine society could be organized in different ways. If you’re interested in organizing society in different ways, then you won’t simply be satisfied with innovations that use knowledge or technology that perpetuates the current social arrangements.
Having said that, the world isn’t so deterministic or predictive. Sometimes the new technology which seemed to use existing social arrangements ends up creating many new possibilities that hadn’t existed before, that until then had been counterfactual. At a broad level, for example, we can think of the Internet, which was originally ARPANET, which was built for the defense industries and the defense system and then adapted by the international community for high-energy physics. Once it created an infrastructure and protocols that made it easy for different places in the world to be connected, the rest of us could join and a lot of things have changed. During the last 20 years some of those things have enabled our big businesses to grow and, as is the case with the likes of Amazon, have put most local independent booksellers out of business. Yet, the internet has also allowed us to explore many different things—including making podcasts that maybe not too many people listen to!
Back to gaps. There are gaps between using knowledge that depends on or perpetuates current social arrangements (the bottom of the schema) and the counterfactual social arrangements (the top). There are also gaps between innovations and “crossing the chasm” to get more and more people involved. The x-axis is size of constituency built to support any action around the changed knowledge or technologies. Considering the two kinds together: If you have some ideas about new knowledge or technologies that require counterfactual social arrangements, then you have to build a constituency to support them. You might decide to do that—this is where movement comes in—by saying “I will stick to what I hope which requires, say, egalitarian, self managed, decentralized society” and slowly build more people moving (horizontally) across to the right on the schema. Maybe this movement gets a bit quicker in times of crisis when lots of people haven’t got jobs so they might get involved in a new social arrangement—that’s if they don’t get involved in a right-wing so-called populist party. But you might say: “It looks like my constituencies are not going to get much bigger unless I move this idea down (vertically) so it’s doesn’t depend on so many different new things about the world changing; then I can build the constituency.”
This diagram does not tell you which way to go; it doesn’t tell you which way you might be motivated to go. Movement is necessary, but the schema doesn’t tell you how best to move or what motivates you to move. It doesn’t even tell you what motivates someone to think of knowledge or technologies that depend on social arrangements that don’t yet exist.
In another schema (post) I referred to microworlds, messy worlds, and the real world. Microworlds involve learning and creating within clearly bounded containers, such as an alternative school of a design situation with reliable rules. Often playing with technology in computer labs or playing computer games where the rules are well defined—that would be a microworld. The messy world would be to pursue threads of inquiry that connect some case or the topic with one’s own developing interests, but doing so over a delimited period of time. That’s what is done in a collaborative exploration but also a project-based learning case in a course. You might pursue such delimited-period inquiry in order to have the space to play and explore as in the micro worlds. I would put the microworlds down in the bottom left because we’re relying on using existing knowledge and inside the containers we’re not really trying to get anyone else interested. The messy world allows us to move across the chasm, to connect at least with our own interests. But it is of limited duration; it’s not saying that whatever ideas we come up—some of which might push a long way up in the vertical direction—we have to build the constituency for them. It’s not action research. It’s not social movements…. (to be continued)


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (

4 Responses to Moving and motivating given the gaps

  1. Teryl says:

    I have found this extremely helpful. I think about how if there are two gaps of course people who do “take a leap” and continue on will pick the easier and more comfortable (horizontal one). They generally can’t handle two big gaps at once, we need footing on something solid in one place to make a leap elsewhere.
    I really am intrigued by how to focus on the gap in the vertical.
    It doesn’t seem possible to tackle incrementally (like a diagonal line on the graph) or even build the constituency and then build upward. To have this diagram explains so much of what I am facing at work and even what people are facing in the shifting landscapes of culture, learning, economy. The description of spaces such as messy etc. was also key to consider where do the changes or testing them first occur. I look forward to hearing more especially about the vertical gap.
    Thank you for sharing, these ideas from your thinking will really help me with some dynamics in my job.

  2. I’m puzzling these days over my disposition to dig down into various realms to try to make the principles clear, in a way, moreover, that invites attention to the dynamics of the context in which the realm was situated. And, if I understand that about me, does that help others?

    But some years ago I wrote about counterfactual social arrangements, which I later posted to

  3. Pingback: What moves and motivates people to make changes when working within the framework of a profession or a particular form of practice? | Probe—Create Change—Reflect

  4. Pingback: On Practice Research Networks and the changing of thinking and practice | Probe—Create Change—Reflect

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