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A Conversational Framework
Thinking in public about the ASPIRE Mastery model as a conversational framework.
Here, I am asserting the idea that the conversations we have with both ourselves and others are more critical than we realise in shaping our lives. Applying intent and structure to conversations, as a discipline on the path of mastery, will elicit valuable insights to help us to progress and grow.
Much of what I’ve written here seems obvious and simplistic. We all have conversations every day, what’s the big deal? And yet so many of our conversations don’t go the way we intended, or make things worse. It’s easy to talk, but harder than we realise to have actual conversations where we truly understand each other, and bring out the best in each other.
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I’m taking a ‘building in public’ approach to the creation of a mastery framework to be used in a self-development, coaching, mentoring, teaching or facilitation context and as part of that approach, this article is a ‘thinking in public’ piece. My ‘building in public’ approach also means that I am ‘learning in public’ so as always I invite critique from others who may have alternative or supporting perspectives from their vantage point.
The ASPIRE Model
I initially proposed the ASPIRE Mastery Model as a ‘Coaching’ model, but as I’ve been building out the model in (yet to be published) posts and thinking about the various scenarios in which it could be used, I’ve come around to the conclusion that what I am actually trying to create is a Conversational Framework.
I will elaborate shortly, but first here is a quick overview of the ASPIRE model:
Each box in the grid of the ASPIRE model represents a different perspective from which someone may view their path of mastery for any skill, craft, hobby or profession. The grid can also be traversed in different ways to open up conversations from a range of angles. For example, the top row focuses on direction, action and commitment, while the bottom row is for inquiry and reflection. The Reality box, for example, is used to assess the natural tension between all other boxes in seeking to rationally explore and resolve tensions. Together, all boxes can relate to one another in a feedback loop to help people to learn about themselves in the context of mastery so they may integrate those learnings as they develop and grow.
Conversations shape us and narrate our lives. It’s often through conversation that we make sense of the world and test our ideas.
Perhaps it’s the voice in my head, the ongoing dialogue I seem to have with myself about what I’m trying to achieve here, that has made me realise the importance and impact of conversation. Whether in casual interactions with friends, formal interactions with work colleagues, or ongoing negotiations with myself, a persistent feature when trying to become a more masterful person, is the ongoing conversation.
Most often the conversation is with myself and I guess this is true for many others - even more so in the atomised and isolated loneliness of the modern world. I talk myself into doing things, as well as talking myself out of doing things when fear or resistance takes over. I talk to myself to work out who I am and who I aspire to be and indulge in continual self-dialogue when working out how to get to where I want to be. I will also involve other people in parts of the conversation and their thoughts and feedback will inspire further internal dialogue as I work it all out.
Sometimes the conversations are automatic, talking on autopilot without much intent. But sometimes they are more formal and more intentional, especially in a work environment when I’m playing the role of coach or mentor in a one-to-one setting, or the role of facilitator or teacher in a group setting. In fact, it is the conversations I’ve had in the past with the teams of software engineers I’ve worked with that are a major inspiration behind the ASPIRE model. I wanted to find out whether more structured conversations would be of help when talking about their aspirations and ongoing development in the craft of software engineering.
Deliberately Exploratory Conversations
We are social animals. Conversation and dialogue are a natural way for us to navigate and find meaning in the world. Conversation is how we think. Conversation implies the interweaving and triangulation of multiple perspectives, aiding the critical thinking process to make better decisions than those that would come from just one person’s monologue. If the conversation is deliberately exploratory, an open-ended infinite game of idea exchange, then we have the conversational foundation for co-creating our outcomes in light of the widest possible perspectives.
The ASPIRE model will be a framework for encouraging deliberately exploratory conversations where each participant seeks to understand the viewpoints and experiences of others, rather than simply pushing their own opinions or agenda. If the conversation is with ourselves, then it can take place exploratorily with the different parts of ourselves - both the naively optimistic self that sets out on a path of mastery, as well as our stubbornly resistant self that fails to keep to the commitment. This would require a high degree of humility and a willingness to question one's own assumptions and biases.
In exploratory conversations, people would participate in active listening, open-ended questioning, and seeking clarification when necessary. Participants would also practice reflective thinking, in which they consider their own thought processes and assumptions in response to the ideas and perspectives shared by others. They should feel they can express themselves freely and honestly.
A deliberately exploratory conversation around the ASPIRE framework is a collaborative effort to explore ideas and perspectives in a respectful, open, and honest manner. It will be a tool for building relationships, promoting insight and exploring possibilities. The ASPIRE framework is a way of bringing structured intent to the conversation, a way of creating conversational space and orchestrating the dialogue for the emergence of mastery.
Intended use Scenarios
So I realised that I shouldn’t restrict the potential use cases of the ASPIRE model by calling it a 'coaching' tool. Below I am experimenting with some scenarios in which I see the model being useful to guide the conversation. The context for this could be a work environment where someone is focusing on mastering certain skills as part of their professional development; a hobby or sporting context where someone is practising specific skills or wanting to explore new paths of opportunity; or even a life situation where someone wishes to develop the self-discipline to commit to a fitness routine or develop mastery in their relationships1.
Using the model as a tool for having conversations with ourselves as a personal framework for self-guided growth and learning. This would have the widest potential reach and impact so the model would need to be intuitive - easy to use and engage with.
One approach could be a ‘Written Self Inquiry’, in the form of a written assignment using all of the sections of the ASPIRE model to tease out potential paths of mastery aligned with a person’s inner values, aspirations, and everyday life situation. We are the authors of our story, authors of our ego, and as such our stories, our conversations with ourselves, can be edited, and rewritten.
Mentoring is an ongoing relationship between two people where the mentor is passing on specific skills, experience, advice and instruction to the mentee. The approach is directive, guiding the mentee by telling and showing - offering direct feedback and talking them through a particular learning activity. The conversation would take place around the Systems box, the practices and routines followed by the mentee with frequent evaluation of progress guided by the Reality box.
A one-to-one setting where the emphasis is on a trusting dialogue to elicit personal insights, devise systems, evaluate progress, address barriers, and review options. As a conversational aid, the ASPIRE model would help the coach and coachee to structure an investigation of the coachee’s deepest values and motivations from which their aspirations emerge and explore the various paths and systems available as their mastery journey unfolds. Coaching is a non-directive approach where the primary role of the coach is to engage in a conversation that will help the coachee to discover their own inner capabilities and potential and design their own systems to reach their aspirations. The coach plays more of a facilitatory role in the conversation.
Often coaches will be formally trained and will bring their preferred models and methodologies to a coaching setting. The role of the ASPIRE model is to bring a mastery perspective to the conversation and the development of the relationship.
An interesting application of the ASPIRE model would be bringing together small groups of people each following their own paths of mastery in their particular domain to share their insights, learnings, and struggles with others. This would be a learning-in-public experience which would help with people’s accountability to their personal commitments, as well as creating a supportive, inspirational and motivating space as others share their progress.
A possible format would be a weekly facilitated online meeting where we each retrospectively reflect on the previous week while making adjustments and plans for the coming week.
Podcast Interview Conversations:
This last scenario is a foray into the world of podcasting, something I’ve never attempted before, but I think there could be an opportunity to create compelling interviews with people sharing their mastery journeys using the ASPIRE model to structure the conversation. Not only would this provide insights for both the interviewer and interviewee, but it would also have the potential to inspire and inform others on similar journeys.
I am working towards an alpha release of the ASPIRE model as a free trial with a small cohort of people on a mastery path in a variety of domains. I’m thinking of using the ‘Group Conversations’ format mentioned above for people to come together over a number of weeks as we trial the model and experiment with the format. Ideally, I would like to have people with diverse mastery paths so that the core principles of mastery emerge as commonalities between the activities of the participants.
Alpha release is a term borrowed from software development. Alpha releases are early product releases, typically trialled by a select group of early adopters, who are willing to work with the product and provide feedback to the developers. This feedback is then used to identify and fix any bugs or issues, as well as to refine the product's features and functionality.
While I’ve categorised a few use case scenarios for the ASPIRE model, real-life situations rarely comply with neat categorisations. Typically we have a hybrid of categories and messy human interactions.
The mentor/mentee relationship may be muddied by envy or resentment of the mentee towards a mentor who can’t resist showing off or patronising the mentee. Or maybe the mentor finds themselves becoming angry or impatient with the slow progress of the mentee.
Perhaps a coach is frustratingly vague with their questioning techniques from the perspective of the coachee, or there is a lack of trust between the participants resulting in an inauthentic dialogue which prevents the coachee from discovering their deeper values and aspirations.
We often find ourselves playing roles of mentor, coach, teacher, and facilitator in our ordinary interactions with friends or with colleagues in the workplace. Without formal training in the role we’re performing we naturally converse with each other to work things out and take actions to move towards desired outcomes. I especially want to keep this in mind as I build out various resources to support the use of the ASPIRE Model as a conversational aid for the many ad-hoc situations we face when motivated by the everyday desire to better ourselves by working on our mastery.
Our greatest achievements and downfalls are the results of conversations, internally with ourselves, and externally with others. We never commit to anything without talking ourselves into it - or having others talk us into it. Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are created through conversation - the ordinary everyday conversations with ourselves and others. As I’m developing a framework for Mastery, it seems to make sense to build it in a way that elicits useful conversations in whatever scenario it may be used.
Perhaps I should call it the ASPIRE Mastery Conversational Model? We improve ourselves and those around us, through the quality and intent of our conversations.
Thank you for indulging me while I’m exploring my own thinking about what I’m trying to build. This will be an iterative approach as I course-correct and find my own path. The model itself will be open source, so anyone will be able to use it in any format, as long as they credit the author, but more than that it will live on GitHub, a version-controlled repository where anyone can participate in its evolution by making improvement suggestions. In this spirit, any thoughts and feedback are always welcome.
The ASPIRE model is absolutely not a model for exploring deeply personal or medical issues.
While the model will draw on information from the academic worlds of psychology, philosophy, neuroscience and others in how those fields can be applied to learning, development and mastery, there is no claim of authority in these areas and inherent in the idea of presenting this as a conversational tool is a recognition that tools can be misused and we will need boundaries around the proposed use cases.