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19 June 2004

Attitude Entrainment

Communicating thrival skills and insights

-- / --


Much is made of the acquisition of the skills necessary for survival and success in modern society. The skills on which emphasis is placed may include the full range of technical skills that are explicitly valued by employers on a curriculum vitae. They may include certain loosely defined qualities like leadership skills for which particular forms of training are available. On the other hand the emphasis may be placed on "experience" or "maturity".

The concern in what follows, however, is with the communication and acquisition of "attitude" understood as a precursor of skill acquisition and an essential quality in the successful use of any other kinds of skill. The focus is on the nature of the attitude that tends to be fundamental to thrival -- often irrespective of the possession of more formally recognized skills, notably those for which certificates can be acquired. These attitudinal skills may be as significant to "success" in a conventional monetary and career advancement sense as they are to thriving under the most modest conditions -- or those in which the recognition of others may be absent, or limited to the simplest forms of appreciation.


"Right attitude" and "Wrong attitude": More generally, and with few specifics, judgements may be made on people as to their possession of the "right attitude" -- or the lack of it. Lack of the "right attitude" may be aggravated by having whatever is understood as the "wrong attitude". "Positive attitude" may be an alternative descriptor for "right attitude".

"Bad attitude": This term is used in recognition of subtle signals indicative of unacceptable behavior. It is notably used in relation to situations where an expected level of respect is considered to be lacking. It may be a trigger for violence between urban gangs, for example. or in settings such as discos and bars where some may be "looking for a fight" citing "bad attitude" in others as a justification. "Lack of respect" is often a concern articulated by the older generation regarding the attitude of younger people.

"Getting it": Many educational and training situations may be associated with acquiring a form of understanding indicated by the term "getting it". Failure to "get it" may effectively render the person unsuitable for the challenge for which they are being trained -- even if they succeed in fulfilling all formal requirements. Under certain conditions failure to "get it" may be a determining factor in "failure" of the training course however the reasons for such failure are labelled.

Indicative examples of "attitude"

Employment: Employers may be very sensitive to whether an employee has the "right attitude for the job". However this attitude may be very difficult to articulate, even when it is not a purely subjective and biased judgement by the employer.

Work ethic: Whether employed by others or not, the attitude towards work may be a vital factor in the acquisition and use of skills. This is most often described in relation to employment as an appropriate "work ethic". Employers may exhibit a natural bias in favour of employees from cultures in which this ethic is valued (eg the "Protesatant work ethic"). Having a work ethic may however also determine ability to engage in creative expression or to develop a new skill -- most obviously seen in the application of kids to acquiring skateboarding skills. However the attitude is clearly not the ability to perform in the company of peers and for their admiration. The ethic in question is more obvious in the assiduity with which individuals practice regularly, or in private, and without such reinforcement -- as in the case of long distance runners. Its appropriateness may also be questioned as in the case of workaholics.

Team membership: Successful membership of any team may be highly dependent on some form of "attitude" that enables a potential member to "fit in". In this case the emphasis is placed on being able to share an attitude held by other members of the team -- or possibly complementary to the variety of attitudes held by others, such as to enhance their expression and interplay.

"Street wise": Survival in urban environments may be dependent on acquisition of an attitude often described as "street wise". This is the ability to sense potential threats and to be vigilant, rather than naive, in response to particular situations. The threats may be physical but they may also be associated with any vulnerability to theft, confidence tricks, solicitation, or salesmanship.

Military: Acquisition of the appropriate attitude is vital to the military profession, whether as a team member or in relationship to leadership challenges. It may be explicitly seen as vital to the survival of a team of soldiers in a life threatening situation. A more extreme form of inappropriate attitude is even subject to severe sanction as "dumb insolence" -- an attitude that is much more difficult to sanction in other institutional settings.

Sport: Performance in sport may be recognized as highly dependent on "having the right attitude". This may be applied either to attitudes towards training, as with the long distance runner, or towards competition. Much is now made of the ability of a competitor to think themselves into the challenges of the competition -- often to the point of mentally rehearsing a course.

Physical challenges: Beyond the challenges of recognized sports, a particular attitude is associated with the ability to take up, voluntarily, physical challenges and hardships. These may include cross-country trekking and exploration. In such cases, beyond the physical challenge, is the ability to stay the course.

Social challenges: Change agents of every kind require a particular attitude to sustain their efforts in the face of every kind of discouragement -- notably the labelling of their persistence as irrational obstinacy.

Religious practice: Many religions prescribe spiritual disciplines and practices. The ability to engage in these on a long-term basis -- especially in discouraging contexts and circumstances -- may be seen as associated with an attitude essential to acquiring the insight they are designed to evoke. It is such an attitude that sustains a person in a monastic environment or -- as an extreme case -- in a hermitage.

Obligation: Individuals or groups may experience a sense of obligation to another that transcends anything that can be adequately articulated. A sense of obligation may be incurred in such a way as to have life-long implications as with when one person saves the life, the career, or the status of another (notably as in the Japanese concept of giri).

Environment: There is considerable expressed concern about the lack of an appropriate attitude to the environment. At its simplest level this is seen in littering habits -- in contrast with an attitude that automatically seeks to protect the environment from casual degradation.

Neighbourhood consideration: Aside from such obvious forms of environmental degradation as littering, neighbourhoods may be extremely concerned at the possibility of their degradation by less tangible forms of pollution. A particular concern may be noise pollution. The expectation is that in order to sustain the quality of the life of a neighbourhood, those having the right attitude should be favoured and, to the extent possible, those having any other attitude should be excluded.

Consumption patterns: Changing patterns of consumption has become a major concern for those recognizing health issues and the environmental consequences of certain food choices -- as encouraged by corporations seeking to shift people to such preferences. The challenge is most evident in the case of obesity. The question, as with other forms of addiction, has become how to change attitudes to avoid over-consumption and inappropriate consumption -- and why some people are only exceptionally tempted into such patterns. A unique household eco-team program has been developed by Global Action Plan in response to these challenges.

Research: The history of science is filled with examples of isolated researchers who have persisted over years in their investigations of particular phenomena -- without recognition or adequate resources. Such persistence is indicative of an attitude that is especially valued by scientists. Even in well-resourced environments, the ability to sustain engagement with a problem area, despite discouraging results, is an essential feature of scientific discovery. It is exemplified by research on intractable mathematical problems often known only to the few.

Art: The challenges faced by isolated artists, creative writers and poets are widely documented. The attitude that nevertheless sustains them in their artistic endeavour is much more difficult to articulate.

Customer service: The service industry is especially attentive to the competitive advantage associated with an appropriate attitude towards customers. This may be articulated as going beyond the formal requirements of courtesy and identifying with the needs of customers. It is the ability to project engagement into the interaction with the customer that is highly valued -- provided the customer experiences this as sincere rather than contrived.

Conventional approaches to communicating appropriate "attitude"

Apprenticeship: This is one of the oldest methods of communicating attitude -- by example in a practical setting. The system of apprenticeship dates from the days of medieval guilds and before. A boy would join the household of a master craftsman, perform menial tasks and learn the trade. Eventually he might reach a skill level where the relevant guild would recognise him as a journeyman. Ultimately, after years of achievement, he could become a master himself. Universities still echo apprenticeship schemes in their production of scholars: bachelors are promoted to masters and then produce a thesis under the oversight of a supervisor before the corporate body of the university recognises the reaching of the standard of a doctorate. [more]

Discipleship: This is a specialized refinement of the apprenticeship mode of communicating attitude. In its most classic form it is the relationship between guru and chela. In Asia this is understood as a spiritual relationship that is not frivolously established, that requires faithfulness and commitment by both guru and chela to the common goal of raising the aspirant to states of communion, mastery and liberation [more]. This may be understood somewhat differently from a New Age perspective, especially the stages of disciplineship [more]. (Christians have a distinct understanding (see, for example, Discipleship Resources, Introduction to the discipleship Jesus taught, Kierkegaard and Radical Discipleship, The Cost of Discipleship). Again much of what may be communicated in this mode may be lacking in specifics or rather more related to how coherence is given to the specifics that are communicated.

Mentorship: Tutoring may be considered to be the more conventional educational form of communicating attitude, although the subtler insights may be more closely associated with mentoring. In the case of freemasonry, for example, it has been common for a young man to have an older Masonic Mentor, maintaining contact during the candidate's progress through the Degrees and assisting him in preparing for each Degree (see, On Being A Mentor). Carter McNamara introduces a selection web resources on mentoring and its definition with the comment:

There are many perspectives on the definition of mentoring, especially since the relatively recent popularity of personal and professional coaching. Traditionally, mentoring might have been described as the activities conducted by a person (the mentor) for another person (the mentee) in order to help that other person to do a job more effectively and/or to progress in their career. The mentor was probably someone who had "been there, done that" before. A mentor might use a variety of approaches, eg, coaching, training, discussion, counseling, etc. Today, there seems to be much ongoing discussion and debate about the definitions and differences regarding coaching and mentoring.

Parenting: The mentoring role provided by parents in developing particular attitudes in their children is well recognized [more].

Community groups: Groups such as "scouts" and "guides", and the many other variants, have often been designed and promoted in order to develop appropriate attitudes.

Education: Schools may be deliberately selected by parents because they offer, beyond the formal curriculum, to instil an appropriate attitude in children. However, although "education" can be extolled by its practitioners and philosophers as the best and and most generic approach to the cultivation of the attitude that is the focus of this argument, it is often the "attitude" of students to the education offered that is far from being effectively addressed by the educational process.

Bonding: Attitude may be closely associated with membership of a group and acceptance by the group beyond more obvious formalities. The process of becoming a member, especially in institutional environments (universities, military, prison, etc) may be associated with some form of hazing ritual -- possibly involving painful, humiliating or dangerous features. Appropriate attitude is perceived to have been acquired if the neophyte can "take it" and in consequence may be said to have "bought into" the attitude fundamental to the coherence of the group.

Training camps: Possibly milder approaches to acquiring an appropriate attitude may be offered in "summer camps" and other forms of training camps. Independently of any specific skills acquired, the experiences offered may be largely designed to elicit an appropriate attitude, however that is described, understood or recognized. More rigorous experiences may be offered in "boot camps" inspired by military discipline and training practices. Perhaps in its most severe form, the boot camp approach may be applied to re-educating convicted offenders in certain prison environments (through a "short, sharp shock") -- particularly when offenders are perceived as having lacked the opportunity to acquire any personal discipline to counteract the temptations to re-offend.

Physical punishment: A much used traditional approach, long practiced by parents, is to ensure acquisition of the "right attitude" by simply "beating it in" -- in response to every action that fails to recognize it.

Community work experience: Many community development programmes seek additionally to provide individuals with the opportunity to develop particular attitudes in their volunteers. Well-known international examples include the UN Volunteers, US Peace Corps, the UK Voluntary Service Overseas. Such activities are considered by employers as a valuable additional to a curriculum vitae.

Alternative communities: Creation and membership of alternative communities may provide unique environments in which individuals can elicit and sustain attitudes distinct from those necessary for mainstream survival.

Publicizing exemplars and role models:

Re-education: Communism was especially attentive to the possibility of "re-education" as a means of inculcating the right attitude -- even through the use of brain washing techniques. Many of these methods have been adapted by intelligence services of every political persuasion in order to facilitate processes of interrogation. Prisoners may be "softened up" (as widely publicized with regard to US military intelligence operations in Iraqi prisons) until they have the "right attitude" -- to collaborate and provide required intelligence information, notably through denouncing their colleagues and friends.

Research on "attitude"

Tacit knowledge: As explored primarily by philosophers and cognitive scientists, this is a form of knowledge, given prominence by Michael Polanyi (1958), that enters into the production of behaviours and/or the constitution of mental states -- but is not ordinarily accessible to consciousness. It is hard to verbalize because it is expressed through action-based skills and cannot be reduced to rules and recipes. The distinction between tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge has been expressed in terms of "knowing-how" as opposed to "knowing-that", or in terms of a corresponding distinction between embodied knowledge and theoretical knowledge. The acquisition of tacit (silent) knowledge has been associated with "implicit learning" as the capacity of a person not to know what they do know or have learned. Increasingly however tacit knowledge is understood in a management context as the stock of expertise within an organization which is not written down or even formally expressed, but may nevertheless be essential to its effective operation. [more | more].

Flow: Following the initial work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. 1990), athletes and executives seeking peak performance and excellence have explored the concept of "flow". For athletes it is referred to as being in "the Zone." Daniel Goleman identifies it as the "neurobiology of excellence." Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. The whole being is involved. Flow, whether in creative arts, athletic competition, engaging work, or spiritual practice, is a deep and uniquely human motivation to excel, exceed, and triumph over limitation.

Cultural creativity: Paul H. Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson (The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World, 2000) distinguish a cluster of people, "cultural creatives", with characteristics that overlap those indicated above in relation to "attitude". These are people, identified by a number of surveys, who are concerned notably with spiritual transformation, ecological sustainability, and the worth of the feminine [more]. An important distinction may however lie in the difference, if only in degree, between being "concerned" with such values and the self-determined ability to act out of them.

Self-efficacy: For Albert Bandura (Self-Efficacy in Changing Societies, 1997), as the founder of self-efficacy theory, this is the belief in one's capability to organize and execute the sources of action required to manage prospective situations. Perceived self-efficacy is defined as people's beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives. Self-efficacy beliefs determine how people feel, think, motivate themselves and behave. Such beliefs produce these diverse effects through four major processes: cognitive, motivational, affective and selection processes [more]. James Maddux and colleagues (Self-Efficacy, Adaptation, and Adjustment: Theory, Research, and Application, 1995) provide a review of theory and research on self-efficacy and its relationship to psychological adaptation and adjustment. It focuses on applications of social cognition in clinical, counseling, and health psychology.[resources]

Self-confidence and Self-esteem: The US National Association for Self-esteem defines this as the experience of being capable of meeting life's challenges and being worthy of happiness. According to Robert Reasoner (The True Meaning of Self-esteem): Educators, parents, business and government leaders agree that we need to develop individuals with healthy or high self-esteem characterized by tolerance and respect for others, individuals who accept responsibility for their actions, have integrity, take pride in their accomplishments, who are self-motivated, willing to take risks, capable of handling criticism, loving and lovable, seek the challenge and stimulation of worthwhile and demanding goals, and take command and control of their lives. There are extensive web resources on building self-confidence and self-esteem, notably Caring About What's Beneath The Skin: Online Resources For Building Self Esteem. [more | more]

Improvisation: Improvisation is an eclectic mix of ad-hockery and know-how. The attitude basic to this technique mixes together a fresh way of doing things with lessons previously learned. According to P Berliner (Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation,1994), improvisation involves reworking precomposed material and designs in relation to unanticipated ideas conceived, shaped and transformed under the special conditions of performance, thereby adding unique features to every creation. Interest in the enhanced function of various kinds of team has been highlighted by the special relationship amongst a group of musicians, especially jazz musicians engaged in extended improvisation (Ingrid Monson. Saying Something: Jazz Improvisation and Interaction, 1996), or in a theatre group with actors engaged in improvisaation (Viola Spolin. Improvisation for the theater; a handbook of teaching and directing techniques, 1963). Howard Becker has endeavoured to generalize from such situations (The Etiquette of Improvisation, 2000). As a jazz pianist, John Kao uses the idea of a "jam session" as a metaphor to explain the process of human creativity and the methods that can be used to stimulate and manage that creativity. He defines "jam" as taking a theme, a question, a notion, a whim, an idea, pass it around, break it up, put it together, turn it over, run it backward, fly with it as far as possible. If jazz is used as a metaphor for creativity, a jamming session encourages strategic insight, inventiveness, and strategic fit. For Marie Jasinski, although the concept of improvisation is perhaps more familiar in the contexts of theatre and jazz than in instructional design and online learning, "Yet the fluid, fast, irregular, spontaneous and unpredictable online world is undoubtedly an expressive medium and lends itself to the creative, responsive, nimble and spontaneous approaches associated with improvisatio" (E-games: Improvisation through open platform design). Improvisation can be explored as an approach to organizational analysis (see K Weick. Improvisation as a Mindset for Organizational Analysis, 1998).

Entrepreneurial attitude: This specific and widely recognized ability is much valued as the key to continuing economic growth and development. There are many resources and training courses concerned with its development. For example, Chad Simmons (The Anonymous Entrepreneur: 12 Steps to Build the Entrepreneurial Attitude, 1998) argues that: "The entrepreneurial attitude includes three things: vision, excitement and performance. The people who go out and take action have a vision. They can articulate that vision in such a way as to inspire themselves and others. And they're willing to go out and do what it takes to make it happen. The people who don't [have it] just haven't gotten there yet. It doesn't mean they won't." [more | more | more]. Entrepreneurial educators continuously seek innovative teaching methods. For example, J. Donald Weinrauch (This is the Moment: a metaphorically interactive student learning approach for entrepreneurial educators. 2003) summarizes the benefits of metaphors, with particular emphasis on musical lyrics examines an anatomical case study on the process of playing music to encourage interactive student learning.

Dedication of efficiency: According to R K Srivastava (Swadhyaya: A Movement Experience, 2003), the Swadhyaya movement makes particular use of individual and community "efficiency" through a process of dedicating it to God in order to sustain community and its development. Members are encouraged to talk to villagers about whatever they are efficient in and through this create a "we feeling". Emphasis is placed on using personal efficiency and time as a devotional offering, generating, what is called, apaurusheya laxmi ("impersonal wealth") that is redistributed n response to communal needs. These insights are used to generate and sustain self-esteem and counteract conventional ills (alcoholism, domestic violence, practice of untouchability, gambling, petty crime, ethnic violence, etc). [more]

Operacy: The term "operacy" has been defined by Edward de Bono as deriving from "operate" and "operational" and thus indicates "the skill needed for doing". He believes that operacy should rank alongside literacy and numeracy as a major aim of education. "We need to change our conceptions about thinking and action. To effect this change we need a concept such as operacy which gives status to the thinking involved in doing. We need to appreciate effectiveness and not just intellectual games". (De Bono's Thinking Course, 1985). [schematic] De Bono has also associated "operacy" with an earlier thinking innovation using a new term "PO" -- now to be understood as "Provocative Operacy".

Attitude entrainment

In the light of the many pointers above, the question remains as to whether individuals currently have access to appropriate processes through which to acquire attitudes vital to their thrival in the turbulent conditions predicted for the 21st century [more]. How might the various approaches indicated above be integrated into a coherent approach to the cultivation or entrainment of such an attitude?

One approach might be to conclude that no single approach to eliciting such an attitude is adequate. A case could be made for considering a set of complementary approaches that together entrained the emergence of such an attitude. It is possible that any one approach may only bias any elicited attitude such as to make it non-viable in other contexts. This point has been explored elsewhere in the light of a metaphor based on the quenching of plasma in nuclear fusion [more | more]

University: Again it might be argued that exposing an individual in some such way is the fundamental preoccupation of a university education -- as an education in "universality". Whilst the array of university faculties may indeed point to this possibility through a curriculum, and the architecture of a university may symbolize such a function, the many controversies associated with university education suggest that it is far from achieving any such objective or even aspiring to it in practice. Such education notably lacks, and may even implicitly disparage, the insights to be obtained from praxis of any kind, as well as those associated with tacit knowledge..

Community: At its best, a community does indeed provide a setting in which an adequate variety of influences are brought to bear upon the individual to elicit the emergence of a fruitful attitude. But clearly if certain qualities of influence are inadequately represented in the community, or totally absent, or present in their negative form, then the process will not be as successful. An alternative metaphor might be to foresee the need for the co-presence of "cultural vitamins" in a community, as suggested by others (cf Alberto E. Fresina. The Laws of Psyche, 1999). In such a case the metaphor suggests a concern for possible "vitaimin deficiency".

Pantheons and temples: Such a context may be understood as modelled symbolically by pantheons and mythologies that hold the variety of psycho-cultural influences. These are especially valuable because of the articulated dynamics between these influences as described in popular myth. These may well be brought to a focus in the design of temples of which many are, for example, characterized by 12 paired pillars each representative of such an influence. In this sense 12 distinct influences is an indication of the requisite variety recognized in a range of cultures. Celebrants meet in the sacred space created by the array of such pillars.

"Entrainment contexts": This perspective also suggests the possibility of attitude entrainment contexts in which an individual is exposed to the co-presence of 12 mentoring individuals (as role models) representing quite different insights, perhaps typical of the extreme variants noted above. Suggestive pointers are to be obtained from extremely different cases :

But such examples tend to obscure the nature of the complementary tacit understandings to be acquired. In the light of the wide range of experience in organizing a variety of training courses and conferences, the question is then how best to design an interface through which to expose an individual to a variety of influences. This design question is significantly different from the conventional challenge of organizing an array of speakers or panelists. In that case the emphasis is on fitting in recognized specialists and/or ensuring coverage of a topic in an effort to ensure communication of explicit rather than tacit knowledge. Here, however, the challenge is to recognize the need for a requisite variety of influences and to ensure appropriate exposure to them. Possibilities can be tentatively ordered as in the following table.

Attitude entrainment
. Planned / Organized Interaction
(with 12 exemplars)
Haphazard / Spontaneous Interaction
(with 12 exemplars)
Attitude entrainment of: 1. Serial 2. Simultaneous 3. Serial 4. Simultaneous
A. Single individual One individual exposed sequentially to 12 (one-on-one) One individual exposed simultaneously to 12 ("immersion") One individual exposed sequentially to 12 (one-on-one) One individual exposed simultaneously to 12 ("immersion")
B. Small group Small group exposed sequentially to 12 Small group exposed simultaneously to 12 Small group exposed sequentially to 12 Small group exposed simultaneously to 12
C. Larger group Large group exposed sequentially to 12 (conventional conference model) Large group exposed simultaneously to 12 (conventional panel model) Large group exposed sequentially to 12 Large group exposed simultaneously to 12

Comments on table:

The various types of interaction can be usefully considered in the light of:

The challenging issue of the gender balance of the "Knights" would of course need to be meaningfully addressed. Of great interest, in reviewing the table, is the converse process in which it is a single individual -- possibly as a charismatic leader -- who entrains a diversity of distinct others (say 12).


"Attitude" is necessarily subtle and difficult to pinpoint. However many of the examples given point to a common set of complementary qualities that may be essential to thrival. It is also the case that some actions, that such a common attitude may sustain, may well be far from being widely appreciated. As an extreme example, it may be argued that some of these qualities are as valuable to a fanatical terrorist as they are to the team of "special forces" called upon to act against them. A different example might be cases where there is total appreciation for what is said or done, but fundamental disagreement for why it is done. Speculating on the potential traps of dialogue with "aliens" -- whether terrestrial or extraterrestrial -- also suggests a need to consider the attitudes sustaining their mode of thrival (Communicating with Aliens: the Psychological Dimension of Dialogue, 2000).


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