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D as Diagramming: From Sandwich to Containers

Yes! The ECHO Way is a solution to Epistemic Development!!!

This is a short note for the previous article D as Diagramming: Challenge as Opportunity which mentioned a plan of building a community of inquiry about Epistemic Development.

@Daiana Zavate made a comment on my Linkedin post:

I really love the story and how it’s layered. The two-selves come into conflict whenever we want to grow, that resonates a lot with me today. I’m curious how you’d come back to build a community of practice (Would it still be like you envisioned it before you started the journey? Is it still meaningful to you? How similar and how different would it be from the usual communities?). This is one challenge I’d like to turn into an opportunity too :)

I replied to her with a new reflection about my new projects. See below. In addition, I also provide more background information for the conversation.

My replies

Last year, I reviewed the 2018 plan and I found I just returned to the track with new themes and frameworks.

In June 2020, I decided to work in the Knowledge Curation direction. This decision is about Platform Orientation. I consider a theory as a special type of developmental platform. A platform has many possible applications, however, the creator has to choose one direction to try it. I called this challenge Platform Orientation which is part of the Defining Zone.

I used the HERO U framework to guide my Knowledge Curation projects. The first project is the Activity U project which produced two books (drafts).

In June 2021, I expanded the HERO U framework to The ECHO Way (v2.0) which is about general boundary innovation. You can find more details here:

The ECHO Way (v2.0)

I have talked about these frameworks with my friends and mentors. From their feedback, I realized that I have developed my own solution for Epistemic Development. My solution has its theoretical background and accessible practical frameworks.

The only problem is that it has its own theoretical stance. If a community has its own theoretical stance, it will reject other theoretical approaches. This is a trade-off. If you don’t choose a theoretical approach, you can’t reach the deep level of knowing.

Since I have almost done my work on the Ecological Practice approach, I am moving back to the Practice Container from the Theory Container.

I use “The Path of Creative Life” framework to manage my own work. The core of the framework is the “Exploitation — Emergence — Exploration” triad which is inspired by James March’s idea. I need to make a balance between exploration and exploitation.

There is a simple way to apply the idea. I use “Phase I” and “Phase II” for managing projects. For example, I will launch the Activity U project (Phase II) soon. Phase I of the project focused on theoretical concept discussions. Phase II moves to the practice side.

More Background

Why did I claim that the ECHO way is a solution to Epistemic Development?

We need to talk in more detail about these ideas.

1. What’s Epistemic Development?

In the previous article D as Diagramming: Challenge as Opportunity, I introduced the Sandwich diagram (see below).

At the top of the Sandwich, there is a branch of philosophy: epistemology. Also, a related discipline is the Philosophy of Science.

At the bottom of the Sandwich, there is a real daily life world. I pointed out two keywords: Narrative and Action. These two keywords refer to two approaches: the narrative approach is about biographical studies while the action science approach refers to Chris Argyris’ Action Science and Donald Schön’s Theory in Practice and The Reflective Practitioner.

In the middle of the Sandwich, there are several areas. One layer is about academic professional research themes such as Metacognition, Epistemic Cognition, and Conceptual Change. These themes belong to different disciplines and different theoretical research traditions. For example, Metacognition is part of cognitive psychology. Epistemic Cognition belongs to educational studies. The term Conceptual Change is only used by North American scholars.

In order to connect academic research and the daily life world, I coined the term Epistemic Development and used it to replace my old terms such as intellectual development and life reflection.

So, the term Epistemic Development means intellectual development by connecting theory and practice. To be honest, I didn’t have a solution for it in 2018.

2. A Solution for Epistemic Development

Two weeks ago, a friend of mine talked about metacognition with me. She is a founder of a community of practice for connecting educators. Since some members of her community discussed the topic of metacognition, she asked me for more information about the topic. I shared some papers with her.

Later, I realized my work about the ECHO Way could be considered for improving metacognition. Since metacognition is a scientific professional term, I’d like to claim that the ECHO way is a practical solution for Epistemic Development.

On June 30, 2021, I published an article titled The ECHO Way (v2.0). The subtitle of the article is:

A practical framework for Knowledge Curation and Boundary Innovation.

In this subtitle, I didn’t mention Epistemic Development. However, I could claim it now.

In April 2021, I wrote a 312-page book titled The ECHO Way: Echozone and Boundary Knowledge Work in Chinese in order to share my reflection on the HERO U framework and my knowledge work with some Chinese friends.

The book has three parts. The first part introduces the Theme U diagram for connecting Theory and Practice with three examples:

  • Activity U
  • Affordance U
  • Knowledge U

The HERO U diagram looks like a pipeline and balls. It presents six types of “Objective of Knowing”. Let’s look at the terms I used for the diagram.

mTheory: Meta-theory
sTheory: Specific Theory
aModel: Abstract Model
cModel: Concrete Model
dPractice: Domain Practice
gPractice: General Practice

Its advanced version is the diagram below. There is a connection between mTheory (meta-theory) and gPractice (General Practice).

Part 2 focuses on the second half of the HERO U framework: Project I and the Echozone Container. I use 76 pages to describe what I experienced with the Echozone. It’s all about deep thinking, personal reflection, boundary dialogue, etc.

The above diagram presents fits of two pairs of opposite themes. The “Theory v.s. Practice” fit is described with three movements:

  • Practice-based Reflection: building rough models with intuition.
  • Theory-based Reflection: improving models with theoretical resources.
  • Theory-Practice Dialogue: turn models into frameworks and test it with cast studies.

The article Platform Innovation as Concept-fit offers a real example of these three steps. The Concept-fit framework was developed within three months.

Part 3 introduces several theories about academic creativity as a background of my knowledge curation activity.

The book is about The ECHO Way (v1.0) which only focuses on the HERO U framework which is about knowledge curation. However, The ECHO Way (v2.0) expanded its scope from knowledge curation to boundary innovation which covers more general topics.

You can find more details in the original article: The ECHO Way (v2.0).

3. From Sandwich to Containers

In 2018, I used the sandwich metaphor to make a diagram for Epistemic Development.

In 2020, I used three containers to make a diagram for knowledge curation and boundary innovation.

The concept of Container is the core of the Ecological Practice approach. By adjusting the quality and quantity of the Container, we can create advanced frameworks for discussing complex phenomena. The quality of the Container can be potential and actual, the quantity of the Container can be one and two. If we develop a new framework with one potential container and two actual containers, the outcome is the above diagram.

I named the potential container (Container Z) Echozone which refers to a creative space containing echoes between Container X and Container Y. The term “Echo” of “Echozone” refers to a dialogue between two containers.

The above diagram sets a foundation for boundary innovation. A more concrete version is the WXMY diagram. WXMY stands for When X Meets Y. The WXMY diagram says nothing about practical issues, but pure abstract relations between two groups of entities. Container X means one group which contains entity X and its related entity X’. Y and its related entity Y’ form another group Container Y in the same way. When X meets Y, there is a new group called Container Z which emerges from the process of coupling, connecting, competing, cooperating, and interacting between X and Y.

The WXMY diagram is not a practical framework for directly solving a domain problem, but it can generate domain diagrams if you use it to visualize your ideas about a particular issue in a special context. By using the WXMY diagram, you can create your framework. The HERO U framework is generated from the WXMY diagram. In fact, the original name of the HERO U framework is When Theory Meets Practice.

The Theme U diagram is a simple version of the above diagram.

4. Ecological Epistemology

The last chapter of the book The ECHO Way (v1.0, draft) is titled Ecological Epistemology. Based on the ECHO framework, I developed a new model of knowing.

First, I consider a triad of “Object of knowingActions of knowingSubject of knowing” as a whole and I see Knowing as a dynamic process.

Second, I select Domain as the Primary Object of Knowing and make the Epistemic U diagram. For each domain, we can understand it from six types of objects of knowing.

Third, I consider an advanced model of boundary knowing. If we consider two domains as two containers, the boundary knowing project is the third container: the echozone.

In fact, the above diagram can be seen as an example of the ECHO Way (v2.0).

5. A Solution for ALL

There are three types of purposes for adopting the ECHO way (v2.0) for Boundary Innovation:

  • ECHO for Self: You just use it for your personal innovation.
  • ECHO for Others: You use it to help others for their personal innovation.
  • ECHO for Team: You use it for your team in order to achieve collective innovation.

Different types of purposes require different levels of applying the ECHO way because different contexts need different kinds of knowledge. For the context of ECHO-for-Self, you might just directly use the ECHO way as a general thinking tool. You even just use one diagram of the ECHO way without applying the whole process and its related methods.

It all depends on your needs and situations.

The above diagram shows the whole landscape of the ECHO way (v2.0) and its possible applications.

6. The ECHO Way (v3.0)?

On August 7, 2021, I had a conversation about the connection between Meta-theory and General Practice with friends on Twitter.

Though I have highlighted the connection in the original diagram of the shape U, I didn’t pay attention to it. The reflection led to a diagram blending work. On August 8, 2021, I put the Theme U diagram and the 3I model together and designed a new diagram below.

This is a major improvement for the HERO U framework and the ECHO Way in general.


As mentioned above, I pay attention to the third container ECHOZONE and consider it as a “Figure” and the space outside the ECHOZONE as a “Ground”. The connection between Meta-theory and General Practice is considered Ground.

To be honest, I didn’t think about the Ground. The conversation inspired me to reflect on the whole framework of the ECHO Way. This is an amazing unframe journey. I have to detach from the ECHO Way framework and think about the relationship between Meta-theory and General Practice from different perspectives.

Though I put a link to connect Meta-theory and General Practice, I have not figured out the real meaning of the connection yet. In the unframe journey, I thought about the issue for a while and adopted the 3I model to help me. You can find a detail in the original article: D as Diagramming: Meta-theory and General Practice.

This small piece made a major impact on my work because it connects the ECHO way and the NICE way together. Moreover, it inspired me to upgrade the Life-as-Activity framework to v2.0.

The ECHO way is about Boundary Innovation while the NICE way is about Creative Actions. The Life-as-Activity framework is about Life and Work.

How can I connect them together?

The key is an insight into three timescales for the 3i Model which is a part of the NICE way framework. Moment refers to situational actions at a short time duration. Project refers to medium-duration activities. Theme refers to life themes of a person’s whole life.

  • Moment: creative action
  • Project: creative work
  • Life: creative life

The NICE Way framework goes beyond the traditional view which focuses on creative products. It considers creative actions as products. From the perspective of timescales, a person can produce a creative action at a particular moment. A person also can run a creative project for a short period of time or a long period of time. Finally, we can consider the whole life of a creative person as a creative product.

This insight led to the Life-as-Activity framework (v2.0). The diagram below is the primary diagram of the framework.

The above diagram presents several concepts which connect to different frameworks. For example:

  • Moment: The 3i Model and The NICE Way
  • Project: The Project I diagram and Project-oriented Activity Theory
  • Theme: The Theme U diagram and Themes of Practice

The original v0.3 was developed as an activity-theoretical approach to biography-based study. However, v2.0 expanded from reflection to anticipation. It means v2.0 is not only for biography-based studies but for life development.

In the past year, these three projects were developed parallelly. Now I can use the Life-as-Activity framework as the main framework to curate other frameworks.

At the end of his 1981 book Darwin on Man: A Psychological Study of Scientific Creativity, Howard Gruber wrote the following wonderful sentences:

If you have effectively organized your experience of the world and the record of your own actions in it, you can take better cognizance of the choices open to you. You are better able to choose one of the paths that increase the likelihood of reaching your goal. You can avoid wasting time looking for regularities that do not exist. The more you are aware of the actual probabilistic structure of your environment, the more able you are to search for a really favorable opportunity, rather than plunging through the first open door. (Darwin on Man, p.252)

This is the path of epistemic development for a creative life!

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