Moving and motivating given the gaps

(Transcription of a podcast 22 June 2014, in which movement and positioning on the schema is shown visually.)

I came back to the schema below when I was thinking about the question of guidelines for curiosity: in what directions and how far to be curious? First let me explain this diagram and then see how I fit in my current thinking about those two questions.


The horizontal, left-to-right axis corresponds to the view that has been popularized in the book Crossing the Chasm (Moore 2002). This work suggests that innovators need to move from appealing to early adopters, who will try almost anything new. Instead they need to appeal to users on the other side of the chasm—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 more 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 and quote 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 predictable. 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. For example, we can think of the Internet, which was originally ARPANET  built for the defense system and then adapted by the international community of high-energy physics. Once it created an infrastructure and protocols that made it easy for different places in the world to be connected and the rest of us could join, 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 horizontally, between innovations and “crossing the chasm” to get more and more people involved. The x-axis, therefore, 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 for that requires, say, egalitarian, self‑managed, decentralized society” and slowly involve more people, moving horizontally across the top 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 is, 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. 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 (Taylor 2013) I referred to microworlds, messy worlds, and the real world. Microworlds involve learning and creating within clearly bounded containers, such as an alternative school or 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 your own developing interests, but doing so over a delimited period of time. That’s what is done in a collaborative exploration (Taylor et al. 2014) but also a project-based learning case in a course (Taylor 2018). You might pursue such delimited-period inquiry in order to have the space to play and explore as in the micro worlds. (I put microworlds down in the bottom left in the schema below because we’re relying on using existing knowledge and it is in containers, so 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 (Taylor and Szteiter 2012) or social movements. So the messy world is also reasonably safe container. So I would place it down towards the bottom left corner of the schema, with a little bit of possibility of crossing the chasm—at least for oneself, as someone who is entangled with everyday concerns.


So: guidelines for how to be curious and in what directions? My current thinking—and it raises more questions than I have answers for—is that working in the microworld, where it is just yourself or people who like you are prepared to play around in these containers—can fuel your sense of creativity. You can explore in a game, say, Dungeons & Dragons just how to get through to a certain level. You can be incredibly curious about digging inside the game to do that. You can also be curious about how to put together new bits of Arduino technology and make neat little gadgets. However, you’re not being curious about the social arrangements—you’re taking them as given. So you’re not pushing very far up in the vertical direction.

If you move to the messy world of Collaborative Explorations or Project-based Learning, you are, at least, opening up some inquiry that can move you in the vertical direction. And you’re working with other people who are connecting the topic with their own interests which are different from yours. So you are making some steps across the chasm; you are not just depending on early adopters for your ideas to make sense. But you are leaving a lot of the constituency-building work for later. You are relieving yourself of the pressure of having to think, am I prepared to move across the horizontal gap? So what does that mean about guidelines for curiosity? You can be quite curious. Again, there’s some safety. You can also be more curious about the way knowledge and technologies depend on current social arrangements. But again you’re not doing the work to move across the gap in the horizontal direction.

Some people are motivated when they have a new idea, to ask how to get other people involved. It’s kind of lonely to have an idea by yourself. In fact, let’s not even get to think about ideas very much unless we can connect them to our everyday concerns. In fact, some people are so involved in everyday concerns that they not really interested in innovations unless they come from their everyday concerns. Rather than thinking here (on the left) is where innovation happens and we are going to have to move (to the right) across this chasm. Instead, here (in the middle) is where the motivation to make changes happens; it will pull upon some work that some other people done (on the left) if need be, if it exists. Otherwise it will emphasize building constituency. That constituency-building work can also make it more possible for people to imagine working on counterfactual social arrangements.

I have some examples for all these abstract points, but I’m not going to include them in this in this video. I’m just trying to give a work-in-progress report on my thinking about curiosity—in what directions and how far? And what motivates people to go in which direction, in particular, in the direction of being very curious within a realm but not about the wider context. And being very curious about the wider context without worrying about whether I can build a constituency of people who are going to act with this greater knowledge.

The last thing I want to say is more personal. What motivates my own movement in this realm, my curiosity? I think I feel great pressure—emotional and mental pressure—to make views coherent. So once I learn about some area of knowledge, I start to think about the social contexts, about the social assumptions that it entails—whether perpetuating the current social arrangements or imagining a different social world. I need to keep working on that until I have made those connections clear, even spelling out the counterfactual social arrangements—even though I don’t have many people to work with to cross the chasm. This video is about me showing my awareness about this horizontal gap while being prepared to work on the vertical gap until the ideas come here fit together, until I’ve got rid of the inconsistencies.

So why am I motivated in the vertical direction, which is not the same as everyone else? This probably has deeper psychological roots, deeper roots in my Dharma. But there’s also some resistance to pushing to build a constituency around an idea if I can see it at the very beginning how the knowledge is not paying attention to the way it’s perpetuating current social arrangements. That doesn’t make me a social radical; it doesn’t make me do the work that many people do to build that constituency—wonderful work. But it does make it very hard for me to be motivated to move across to the right when there are inconsistencies, even if resolving those inconsistencies involves imagining a world where that we have quite different social arrangements.



Moore, G. A. (2002). Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers. New York: Harper Collins.

Taylor, P. J. (2013) “Modes of creative learning in microworlds, messyworlds, and the real world, cont.” (viewed 22 Oct 2018)

Taylor, P. J. (2018) “Project- or problem-Based Learning (PBL)” (viewed 22 Oct 2018).

Taylor, P. J., & Szteiter, J. (2012). Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research and Engagement. Arlington, MA: The Pumping Station.

Taylor, P. J., Sullivan, F., & Szteiter, J. (2014). Slow EdTech: Pedagogical principles, collaborative explorations, and persistent challenges. Working Papers in Critical, Creative and Reflective Practice. (viewed 22 Oct 2018)


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" (

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: