Have you read “Steps to an Ecology of Mind”?  It was written in 1972 by Gregory Bateson.  I won't blame you if you haven't read it because it’s not necessarily an easy read and the subject matter includes essays on anthropology, cybernetics, psychiatry and epistemology.  Lots of big words!

However in chapter 4 of the book he talks about porpoises learning from a trainer.

On day 1 they were taught a new trick and rewarded with a fish.  What’s strange about that, I hear you say.

On day 2 and 3 they performed the trick and were not given a fish.  Sounds strange!

The logic of the trainer was to reward with a fish only when a new trick was learnt and mastered.

This continued for two weeks. When she came on stage for the fifteenth session she put on an elaborate performance including eight conspicuous pieces of behaviour of which four were entirely new — never before observed in this species of animal.

The porpoises had learnt that learning, not tricks, is what gets rewarded.

According to Gregory, "two aspects of the genesis of a transcontextual syndrome are illustrated:

First, that severe pain and maladjustment can be induced by putting a mammal in the wrong regarding its rules for making sense of an important relationship with another mammal.

And second, that if this pathology can be warded off or resisted, the total experience may promote creativity."

I told you there were big words in it.

Put into plain English, the moral of the story is:

Reward people for their learning, not their imitating.

You can also read an article on The Learning Organisation here.


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