Certification: Undermining the Ability to Reason

This post is part of a podcast and blog series called Business Second Opinion, where I give a contrarian view on ideas presented in publications like the Harvard Business Review. You can listen to the corresponding Business Second Opinion podcast episode #114 and subscribe to future shows on iTunes, Sticher, Audio Boom, or Google Play.


Carol’s Lesson: Examine what a certification is, how it is applicable in today’s business, and who should get one.

What is a certification?

  • A certification is a formal process whereby a community of knowledgeable, experienced, and skilled representatives of an organization, such as the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) or B Lab (offers B Corp certifications), provides formal recognition that a person (or program or organization) has achieved competency, proficiency, or attainment in specific areas (demonstrated by education, experience, and knowledge).
  • Certification differs from a “license,” which is a permission granted by a government entity for a person to practice within its regulatory boundaries.
  • Certification also differs from a “certificate” that documents the successful completion of a training or education program.
  • Certification also differs from a “license to use” which related to materials for which the licensee pays the licensee for use in their own business.

History of Certification

  • Teacher training became available in the 1820s in what were the secondary schools of the day.
  • This training was created because women were forbidden to enter the men’s preparatory schools, thus these academies were their only resort.
  • A private “normal” school, created solely for the purpose of administering a two-year course of instruction for teachers, was opened in 1823, by Samuel R. Hall.
  • The state of Massachusetts followed with a government funded public normal school in 1839.
  • Henry Barnard (Connecticut lawyer/legislator) and Horace Mann (Massachusetts lawyer/legislator) were passionately interested in improvements to the school system, fostered a rapid growth in the number name for learning by contrastof normal schools in the late 1800s.
  • Their emphasis, however, was on elementary school teachers, and training for those at the secondary level was still the province of liberal arts colleges. It would remain so until after World War II when rising school attendance demanded more teachers than the colleges were turning out.
  • Supplementing the regular normal schools, were “county normals” and teacher’s institutes, some of which remained as alternative training methods beyond the turn of the century.
  • Normals would put on “summer schools”—short, intensive periods of teacher instruction, whereby a promising student could supplement their basic schooling with additional skills and begin teaching.
  • County normals, often sponsored by the county school board, and staffed by an academic’s master and a practical instructor, offered a budding teacher who couldn’t afford even institute training the opportunity to get their training for free.
  • Catholic Church used the concept of “schools” through indulgences and pilgrimages.
  • Indulgences were “certificates” produced in bulk that had been pre-signed by the pope which pardoned a person’s sins and gave you access to heaven.
  • Basically, if you knew that you had sinned you would wait until a pardoner was in your region selling an indulgence and purchase one as the pope, being God’s representative on Earth, would forgive your sins and you would be pardoned.
  • This industry was later expanded to allow people to buy an indulgence for a dead relative who might be in purgatory or hell and relieve that relative of their sins.
  • By doing this you would be seen by the Catholic Church of committing a Christian act and this would elevate your status in the eyes of God.
  • Pilgrimages were very much supported by the Catholic Church as a pilgrim would end up at a place of worship that was owned by the Catholic Church and money could be made by the sale of badges, holy water, certificates to prove you had made it there and completed your journey.
  • Nearly 100 years ago, after rulers and churches lost power, people became enamored with technology and science, and behaviorism arose as a new source of certification.
  • John Watson, who coined behaviorism, told us that if you could study it with the scientific method, e.g. the study of rats and other versions of fixed variable method, then it was not knowable.
  • And in fact, humans could not study themselves. You could not study the mind because no instrument could see it at work. So, it required third parties and external methods.
  • This ignored completely that all the hypothesis, forming of method, collecting of data and interpreting of data/information was done with the mind Watson said could not be trusted.
  • He brought deeply into science the cognitive admonitions of self-examination. Although the ancient sages and teachers like Socrates said this was the only way to study.
  • Even modern brain science is still barreling along this path using fMRI to do examination and neuroscientists interpreting the results. Again, using third party people and mechanisms.
  • Indulgences in the Catholic church are the earliest known source of third-party certification that enriches the certifier with power and wealth and often fame beyond the grave.
  • The church was forbidding the exercise of human reason. In fact, thinking for yourself was deemed heretical. It was heresy to have an idea of your own.
  • To claim the power of discernment for oneself was cause for eternal damnation. You needed a certificate. To be certified that you were not a heretic and accepted the teaching of the elders of the church.

Certification and Modern Society

  • Rather than cruel intentions, such as those practiced in the past, it is more a matter of following a centuries-old pattern that remains unexamined. Plus, an alternative paradigm and epistemology is needed to build full human expression, which we also need for a viable planet and society.
  • Humans cannot play their role by discerning what a forest or life-shed needs, or ascertaining what it takes to make society work for all. The capability does not exist.
  • This is inherent in the toxic nature of certification and other third-party processes like feedback. There are seven limiters that predict toxicity, which makes the brain work improperly. It is inherent in the design of the certification even if you work to correct the seven I will list today. It is inherent in any third-party process and anything that does not build capability in individuals to discern for themselves and about themselves.

Seven limiters that predict toxicity in certification

1. Unchallengeable, if you want to belong.

  • The certifications are offered as truth, the way toward the light. Because there is no engagement in how it came about or tested its validity, the organizations are doing people’s thinking for them.
  • This decreases the capacity of people to do this for themselves. There are no challenges to the premises, and everything else stands on them.
  • Further they are rarely if ever tested and evolved as critical thinking processes. It is more incremental when change is made and most often they are downgraded in terms of rigor to be more inclusive to bring in more people.

2. Require experts who hold the knowledge and judge the others

  • Require the idea of experts and final answers. They don’t invite the discernment capacity that exists in all of us. The third party has the knowledge and expertise and you are assumed to be unable to gain it.

3. They are exclusionary of those who don’t hold the same beliefs, and lead to ostracizing and shunning.

  • Birth, marriage, and professional certificates bound off who can be in the club, and a certification does the same thing.
  • The exclusion tends to be protective of the members in the certified community, not those they serve. Particularly anyone who has a paradigm difference and thinks another way.

4. They use a fragmenting process, which doesn’t connect to wholes

  • Since the industrial revolution and advent of mass production, computers and the internet as well as modern scientific method, we have moved increasingly toward a fragmented mind. We say, without even pausing, that if we don’t understand something, we need to break it down into its simplest parts.
  • That is like saying, if you don’t understand how a frog works, you don’t observe it in life, but instead dissect and label the parts leading to extrapolating to a metaphoric knowledge. And then maybe we dissect into even smaller aspects.
  • We can know the names of parts, but not understand the working of the frog until we observe and imaging it at work in a habitat within an ecosystem. You have to think like a frog to understand frog and imaging it ‘working’.

5. And they foster utopian thinking, which doesn’t pay mind to the place and peoples of a place

  • The fifth toxic input is a process that is necessary to create any certification: you have to develop ideals to shoot for.
  • Besides the fact that this is fragmenting, it is the premise of a utopia, which always comes from the frame of a culture. John Mohawk, who is a Mohawk tribal member of the Seneca Nation and Associate Professor of History exposes the skeletons in the closet of Western political and religious utopias built on a set of ideals. These are imposed on other cultures in the name of “doing good” and colonizing the land and minds of the people it absorbs in the process. Mohawk points out that “Utopia” literally means “no place” or some future existence.
  • It ignores current stories and lives often using military or brainwashing to normalize their ideas. We think we are okay here since the new certification substitutes some “good ideas” for the bad ones of the past. But all impose and colonize without awareness of their own paradigm and worldview.

6. Whatever isn’t part of the certification gets ignored.

  • You have heard about schools that have testing and certifications based on a test. Then we know the teachers “teach to the test”. That is, they want people to pass the test so the teach what is needed on the test and pre-test people on what will be on the test to ensure they pass the test. The teachers are judged on how many of their students pass the test. That is also what happens with certification.

7. Unexamined biases are embedded and don’t get challenged.

  • Not only cultural and paradigm but personal biases of seeking to prove we are right. They get embedded into certifications and if interviews are involved, into that process as well.

Measured obfuscation, which is what a certification is

  • A measure of your ability to match our ideals. They obfuscate the essence of a business, the essence of employees, the whole of a community and place.

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