Disorienting Dilemmas

Someone at work asked me the other day to explain "disorienting dilemmas."

Not having heard that phrase before, I did a google search. There were a lot of hits all pointing to Dr. Jack Mezirow and his theory of Transformative Learning.

At one site, disorienting dilemmas are defined like this:

"Catalysts for transformative learning are "disorienting dilemmas", situations which do not fit one's preconceived notions. These dilemmas prompt critical reflection and the development of new ways of interpreting experiences."

If I get this concept correctly, disorienting dilemmas are stressful events that destabilize some aspect of a person's mental schematic, causing them to "lose their bearings," and forcing them into a mode where they need to reconfigure their thinking and perhaps even their values.

Perhaps that's what Paul experienced on the road to Damascus?

A couple years ago, I participated in a leadership development program at work that may have been designed based on the concept of disorienting dilemmas. Suffice to say, it was as adverse as all get out.

Was it memorable? Yes.

Effective? Yes

Did I like it? No

Would I ever design and deliver a course like this?

No, not the way this course was done. Making people feel miserable, like failures, does not strike me as a great basis for learning.

Should training, such as leadership development, be about conversion?

Posted by Terrence Seamon, May 23, 2007

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