Loop/Spiral Framework as Lynchpin for Multiple Futures


At the Stanford 2025 exhibit, we unveiled four different visions that emerged out of the @Stanford project’s experiments. My experiments produced intriguing results and I integrated them into my life when I got the opportunity to decide between going back full-time into the startup and venture capital world or pursuing a PhD degree here at Stanford. One of the many tools I created to help me with the decision is a looping visualization of my life path that I detail in a previous post  The loops – and my materials explaining them – made it into the Stanford 2025 exhibit to help set the foundation for one of the four visions: Open Loop University  I am sure we can unlock more of its potential, but I strongly believe in the looping framework. Since it is a framework, I wanted to see how well it matches the other three visions.

 

Loops and Paced Education

 

Paced education introduces three phases into one’s learning process: calibrate, elevate, and activate. In the calibrate phase, students spend as much time as possible exploring multiple directions before choosing a particular direction to follow. In the elevate phase, students advance along the path they choose, devoting more time and effort to a smaller set of endeavors. In the activate phase, students take their endeavor into a new environment (e.g. from the university into the marketplace). Whether or not these phases are in the right order or if their names are in the right form is secondary to how we can map the looping framework onto the overall process.

 

Loops + Paced

 

As I illustrate above, I imagine the calibrate phase as a series of short and frequent loops, the elevate phase as a series of longer and less frequent loops, and the activate phase as a series of long and infrequent loops to establish a new direction. Also important to note is that most of the loops until the end of the elevate phase are at Stanford itself. The inward-facing nature of these early loops allows students to explore their interests in the safety of the university environment before venturing out into more high-commitment arrangements with outside parties.

 

The elevate phase lends itself especially well to the looping concept because of the upward (elevating) motion of the thematic spirals the loops comprise. Here, the calibrate phase can represent the bottom loop and when students catalyze their journey, they enter the elevate phase. The elevate phase, then, becomes less about pursuing a particular direction and more about finding ways to catalyze the journey in the upward direction.

 

The activate phase represents, in my opinion, a departure from the current central backbone for the loops. In other words, the central backbone for a stusent’s experience up until the activate phase is the university system. No matter what direction the student chooses through the calibrate phase and pursues through the elevate phase, the direction remains in the loops. The activate phase uses the momentum of a loop to establish a new central backbone to loop from. The direction cases to be a loop and becomes a platform from which to launch future loops.

 

Loops and Purpose Learning

 

With purpose learning, the looping framework perhaps emphasizes less the loops themselves and more the central axis. Purpose learning introduces two specific concepts. First, students change from declaring majors to declaring missions. Second, Stanford sets up impact labs all over the world (and one even in outer space) to provide students with bases of operation as they work to fulfill their mission. No matter the mission and no matter where the mission takes the student, the mission is what matters.

 

Loops + Purpose

 

With this re-frame, the backbone of one’s journey changes from the Stanford ecosystem to the mission. The different loops, instead of representing individual workplaces and projects represent impact labs. Working at impact labs in different locations can still drive the mission forward, and the looping framework encourages this drive. There are two intriguing possibilities for how to leverage the impact labs. In one scenario, students travel between impact labs but always returning to the impact labs at Stanford. The impact labs at Stanford would do exactly what other impact labs do – produce local impact with global implications. The location would simply happen to be Stanford. In another scenario, students travel to impact labs and use whatever they learn there to launch real-world projects. The critical feature of these projects is that they are possible only because of the learning and training the impact labs offer to their students.

 

Loops and Axis Flip

 

The axis flip model introduces competency hubs that allow students to focus on skills and mindsets rather than material and content. I see the competency hubs as similar to the impact labs with two key difference. First, the competency hubs are all right here at Stanford, so all of the loops will be Stanford-facing. Second, rather than advancing a mission, the competency hubs shape one’s skillprint. I imagine the competency hubs as springboards for out-of-Stanford projects that require the specific competencies students acquire by looping through the hubs themselves.

 

Loops + Axis

 

I do not believe that the competency hubs are one-off fixes for targeted skill set gaps. Rather, I believe that they provide opportunities for testing out different roles and ways of learning/doing/thinking that we can always return to. I think that this is where the role-based spiral evolution comes in. In accordance with each loop in an upward spiral providing a different role for students to explore, the competency hubs could be providing similar scaffolding. As with the spirals, students could re-visit the same roles but from a higher vantage point and only after some time passed. The competency hubs could potentially even instigate the spiral development for students based on individual needs and preferences. If possible, the hubs could also identify what each student is looking for to catalyze from one role/competency to the next.

 

Putting it All Together

 

We can now combine the different visions together in a single framework. From the descriptions above, each vision informs a core aspect of the loops/spirals:

• Purpose Learning clarifies the central axis.

• Paced Education provides the upward momentum.

• Axis Flip identifies the myriad roles/competencies.

• Open Loop University maintains the looping structure.

I am sure that there are other combinations and frameworks for understanding these visions of the future. I chose the loops and spirals because I understand their underlying structure. Within that structure, I now also see parts of the four independent visions.

 

Integrated Spiral

 

This integration is significant because it shows that the visions are not mutually exclusive on one hand and that the loop/spiral framework can incorporate them all with each other. During the exhibit, we used the analogy of light splitting into multiple colors when we pass the light through a prism. If the visions are the light, then, in this case, the loop/spiral framework is the prism. The loops and spirals represent the concept that allows us to integrate as much as unpack the future.

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