Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies™

The Eden Conspiracy

Dr. Joe Harless was one of Dr. Carl Binder’s main mentors in the performance improvement world.  Thanks to Carl and Dr. Harless’ widow, Carol Harless, the Center will be republishing The Eden Conspiracy, a visionary book by Dr. Joe Harless about designing educational curriculum anchored in the accomplishments students should be able to achieve professionally and as citizens, rather than being built around bodies of knowledge or subject matter.

When Dr. Harless retired during the late 90’s as a thought leader in the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), after a successful business consulting career, he turned his attention to what he and his mentor, Dr. Tom Gilbert, had always cared most about: “the educational revolution.”  A prime mover in the world of human performance technology (HPT), Dr. Harless shifted focus in the analysis of performance and the design of instruction from behavior for its own sake to accomplishments – the valuable products of behavior.  Following Gilbert, he recognized that it is accomplishments that are valuable, while the behavior needed to produce them is costly. This accomplishment-based performance improvement methodology has not only laid a foundation for the field of Human Performance Technology (HPT), but has also influenced OBM as practiced by some of our behavioral colleagues who also anchor analysis of performance in accomplishments, then follow up with behavior management.

Before Dr. Harless retired, he conducted an informal but extensive study of what accomplishments people would agree are characteristic of competent citizens. They ranged from secured job and satisfactory housing arrangements to informed reproductive decisions, balanced checkbooks, positive family relationships, well-written documents, etc. Of course, career options and paths can also be described with a list of accomplishments rather than as skills and knowledge or clusters of behavior. The core idea in this approach is that once you decide what the accomplishment should be, and what criteria for a “good” one are, you can then more easily pinpoint the behavior, discover best practices or exemplary behavior for producing the accomplishments, and then apply what we know from behavior science and instructional design to establish and improve performance.

After he retired, Dr. Harless spent the first year or so writing about an educational vision founded on this accomplishment-based approach that had proven so successful as a path to performance improvement in organizations. He asked, what if we were to create an educational system that enabled people to become very good at producing and maintaining the most important accomplishments?

After publishing the book, The Eden Conspiracy, he began pro bono work with his county school system in Coweta County, Georgia, and with a broad range of stakeholders in the community, to establish and develop a hybrid high school-college program called the Central Educational Center, with curriculum and a teaching approach focused on accomplishments. It has been quite successful, resulted in several large companies locating facilities nearby and hiring as interns and employees the students and graduates of the program, received broad support and funding from the State of Georgia, attracted the attention of the Gates Foundation and others who funded dissemination of its model, and has been replicated in 36, soon 38, locations around Georgia.  It has also attracted interest from educators and policy makers in Germany, India, and elsewhere around the world.  The re-published edition of Eden Conspiracy, which lays out the vision and delineates the underlying methodology, will include a new Introduction by Dr. Binder linking Harless’s work to behavior science with an added chapter summarizing what has transpired in the meantime.

The original run of some thousands of the books sold out, and it is currently unavailable.  We hope to have the new edition of The Eden Conspiracy available in the Fall of 2016.