Weblog Entries for January 2008
January 30, 2008
Your moment of Zen
Thanks to Daryl at Anecdote for this.
While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about wanting to learn Zen. The master poured the visitor's cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. "It's overfill! No more will go in!" the professor blurted. "You are like this cup," said the master.There's something rather valuable about the quality of receptiveness, and for some of us it's worth practicing.
January 29, 2008
Watts is framed as some kind of anti-Gladwell, because his work challenges the Tipping Point view that some folks have much more influence than others in the propagation of ideas.
January 28, 2008
King of the Swingers...
And come to think of it, this feels like a great accompaniment to yesterday's post about primal politicians... King Louie wants to just like Mowgli but also to be King of Swingers. The paradox of our ape inheritance...
Oh and this clip about the making of the soundtrack - is pretty joyful too.
Trust in me...
January 27, 2008
I've been involved in some work around conflict resolution lately and I find it very engaging. It has reinforced my practice of "one less thing" as championed by the likes of Harrison Owen. The temptation for a facilitator is to be seen to resolving the conflict when actually I think it's more about demonstrating a willingness to hold it. I avoid what I call "premature encapsulation" - the effort to tie everything up in a neat bow for participants. I train myself not to panic when people appear to be taking rigid or incompatible positions; these often soften or change with continued engagement. And there's a lot more going on between people who choose to engage with each other than the explicit statements they make to each other.
So I agree with Dave's point here about trust being an emergent property of interaction, not the precondition. Those discussions about "how we create trust" often end up devoid of any real passion, and go nowhere or lead to lists of ideal behaviours that don't actually inspire any change.
(Actually, I think a lot of things we value are emergent from interaction. That's the pitfall of a lot of training and books that claim to examine success and tell us the success factors. Those success factors are really byproducts of something else, and not the actual building blocks of success.)
I found some interesting articles in the latest online edition of Greater Good. This one is all about power.
Dacher Keltner challenges the Machiavelli notion of power in organisations with some interesting evidence. Here's a snippet which gives an idea of where he's headed.
We accomplish most tasks related to survival and reproduction socially, from caring for our children to producing food and shelter. We give power to those who can best serve the interests of the group. Time and time again, empirical studies find that leaders who treat their subordinates with respect, share power, and generate a sense of camaraderie and trust are considered more just and fair.There's some interesting material here and a good primer for dealing with those who are cynical about soft power. It leaves me with questions about how come organisations don't actually seem to follow the social intelligence model; and also a desire to leave room for mess and a bit of shadow.
Social intelligence is essential not only to rising to power, but to keeping it.
Christopher Boehm has a great piece called Political Primates. He looks at a paradox that has interested me for some time. Here's how Boehm frames it:
Before 10,000 years ago, only egalitarian societies existed on our planet—tiny societies with no strong leaders at all. Keeping in mind that gene-selection requires at least a thousand generations to change our nature significantly, we must assume that most of our genes have evolved from the genetic makeup of people living in these small Paleolithic bands. This includes our "political genes", if I may call them that. Yet, of course, we do not only see egalitarian societies in the world today; we also see nations ruled by fierce despots. So, somehow, prehistoric egalitarians set us up to live not only in egalitarian democracies but in these despotic nations as well.
...Once we recognize that humans throughout prehistory have had to cope with this tension between attraction to power and desire for social parity, it's much easier to see why power has always posed such a problem for our species—and why there can be such variety in human expressions of power today.
...This theory about our political evolution helps us understand why we are so often ambivalent about power. Our genetic nature makes both its abuse and our counter-reactions equally likely.
Bonus link: Bob Sutton also notes research showing how rudeness impairs performance.
Wasting or engaging brains
Annette Clancy spotted this YouTube: A vision of students today. Michael Wesch asked his students - what is it like being a student today? - and dozens of them collaborated to produce this response.
For me, the opening is the most provocative part. We enter a standard lecture theatre and I'm struck by how hopelessly antiquated is the model of learning it represents. It's pretty much the antithesis of the peer-to-peer learning that the video goes on to explore. A phrase repeats in my mind as I consider that lecture hall. It's a phrase I hear in my head in many business conferences based on expert-to-supine-audience models: what a waste of brains.
January 26, 2008
Here it is. And you can hear Matt reading it on mp3. I'm now supposed to respond to Matt in some manner of my choosing... that may take a little reflection...
The Children of Israel
Were in the desert.
They cried out unto me
Beseeching me for a display of
My level five leadership.
Have I not given them manna from heaven?
And quails and bread and sweet water
And drinks with nibbles
After each quarterly update?
Have I not delivered them
From bondage in Eygpt
And offered them a Land
Of milk and honey and share options
Set at a reasonable strike price?
Truly they are a stiff-necked people
but I am the Lord their CEO
and employee engagement
is a key focus area this fiscal.
I summoned my COO to the Mount Sinai off-site For forty days and forty nights.
Amid the fire and the smoke
And the golfing,
I gave him my laws
And bade him formulate
A training plan.
I bade him write ten action points
On 2 slides of powerpoint
With handouts carved in stone.
Everything will now be right.
My COO returned to the Mount of flame
And team-building trust exercises
And told me of a golden calf
That stood without
The strategic plan.
The Children of Israel are many
And in need of rightsizing.
Mark pointed to this the other day: Henry Mintzberg on Beyond Selfishness. I agree with almost all of it. I especially liked this table of two ways to manage - a simplification, of course, but a good one.
Beware the crows
Rob just left a comment that linked to this Dumbo YouTube, which is one of my favourite movie clips. As Rob says, it's a mocking tribute to "all the doubters that you have to cope with when you want to do something extraordinary".
(At some level, I kinda love the crows as I think most of us enjoy a good sneer from time to time.)
Social objects and magic feathers
I just want to add a caveat before we all get carried away, and talk about Dumbo.
In the film, Dumbo stops believing he can fly, but his only friend, Timothy Mouse, improvises to rescue him. Timothy plucks a feather from his hat and persuades Dumbo that with this magic feather , his powers will be restored. It works a charm, and Dumbo soars to glory. Later on, there's a turning point where Dumbo has to fly without the feather.
So the feather is not really magic, it just catalyses the magic. It might be convenient at times to put your faith in the feather but the deeper truth is more exciting.
So don't let all the talk about social objects make you think that marketing is all about the props. The props are great if they spark relationships, and they may look important as markers of relationships... but they're not the real magic.
Ok, the bad news is I've been tagged again in one of those memes. The good news is that the protaganist is Leisa "ambient intimacy" Reichelt, which makes me feel like playing. Here are the rules for this one:
1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.Well I'm not going to follow 4 which seems bothersome. And, like Leisa. I was tempted to recycle five from the last time this happened. But, no, I'm going to shoot for a new eight.
2. People who are tagged need to write a post on their own blog (about their eight things) and post these rules.
3. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
1. I'm partially sighted in one eye. So I have no idea what binocular vision is like and things like 3D glasses just make things look a funny colour.
2. I can't resist Onion soup on a menu though it's often disappointing. The best ever onion soup I tasted was at a French restaurant on the island of Tortoga.
3. On a winter's evening I find few things as satisfying as a peaty malt whisky like Laphroaig.
4. I find Economics and Economists baffling. I still haven't decided if that's a failure of intelligence or a mark of it.
5. I only tried cannabis once and even then I only pretended to inhale. I'm quite certain any kind of recreational drug would just make me throw up. Though I am really curious about the effects of LSD.
6. I have a strong phobic response to lawyers and dogs.
7. I have a recurrent nightmare in which I have to retake finals at Oxford. I think it comes up whenever I'm doing something in life I don't really want to do.
8. I am tempted to blog more about politics but currently choose not to.
And now I get to tag eight others in the confident knowledge that they won't play unless they actually want to: Rob Paterson, Chris Corrigan, Mark Earls, Tom Guarriello, Ton Zjilstra, Charles Frith, and my evil brothers Alan Moore & Matt Moore.
My mate Tony Quinlan makes a good point about storytelling as a change technique in organisations.
Storytelling is a misnomer. It conjures up the image of a passive audience sitting listening to someone with the charismatic, persuasive power to entrance them. It revolves around a carefully-constructed story designed to carry you out of the day-to-day to somewhere else and change your thinking while you’re there.Tony also talks about how he struggles to avoid his views being dumbed down, and references this Nasrudim story recounted by Dave Snowden.
..some of the greatest opportunities for employee engagement lie in listening to stories, not telling... The real power and opportunity for using stories in organisations is in listening to stories, helping others to create their own authentic stories and making sense of the stories told.
Nasrudin found a weary falcon sitting one day on his window-sill. He had never seen a bird like this before.
‘You poor thing’, he said, ‘how ever were you to allowed to get into this state?’
He clipped the falcon’s talons and cut its beak straight, and trimmed its feathers.
‘Now you look more like a bird,’ said Nasrudin.
January 25, 2008
The myth of someone in control
Mark Earls has another good post on the pitfalls of seeking the "key influencers" as a way of instigating change.
I share Mark's scepticism about over-rational models for explaining how change happens, and also about the hero-centric notions of leadership that seem to go with them. (I've been browsing through Ramesh Khurana's Searching for a Corporate Saviour, which challenges that worldview too.)
I wonder if I am alone in being a little bored of conversations about the difference between 'innovation' and 'creativity'. The same goes for 'leadership' and 'management'.
Most of the time, I sense these are really a sort of one upmanship where the speaker's propostion boils down to this: innovation is the creativity that I approve of. And leadership is the management that I approve of. (And possibly want you to pay extra for)
January 19, 2008
Wish I'd been there
Paul Levy is a consistently interesting blogger over at Applied Improv. He describes an improv activity he set up for his actors.
Three chairs placed upon the stage. Three actors. One hour.I really love minimalist structures like this. I think they surface an enormous amount of the rich interactions that go on between us that usually go quite unnoticed.
The following rules: to allow reaction to occur rather than pro-action. Yet of course someone has to make a move yet no one quite knws who - the reaction emerges quickly.
Three rules to the improvisation (apart from no proactivity)
- actors may look at each other
- actors may move across the stage
- actors may stand or sit
No other action or reaction is allowed.
Some incredible contact tensions emerge, politics of movement and gaze, rising and falling drama of a simple but powerful kind.
January 18, 2008
Matt Moore made an offer on his blog the other day.
I have another life. A few times a month, I stand up and do performance poetry in various pubs & cafes around Sydney. Sometimes the punters love it. Sometimes you could hear a pin drop in the pained silence. Thems the breaks. I've been doing this for a year and I'd like to broaden my horizons.This is a crazy notion, so of course I accepted. A couple of Skype calls later and Matt is crafting something around a personal bugbear of mine. The quid pro quo may be that I have to write one back.
Would you like a poem written for you?
This could be fun.
January 14, 2008
And, this idea is what's going to push the expansion of MMORPG technology in the way that porn pushed the expansion of the Internet, the desperate-but-untapped desire to interact with others without the bothersome interference of genetic flaws and poor diet and exercise habits...He goes on to describe where these games may take us in the not too distant future. Worth reading the whole thing.
Wouldn't those long Calculus lectures have been easier to sit through if, every time you learned something important, gold light shot out from your body?...
Big interventions:small understanding?
I realise I keep quoting Dave Snowden in this blog, but dammit he keeps writing stuff that engages me. I think it's partly that he can argue positions in logical terms that I tend to feel more in my gut. There's a certain tension in that difference but that may be a post for another day.
Anyway, today he writes about the pitfalls of "best practice" and the downside of case studies. I especially agree with him about this:
Following industrial best practice, a variation on the above which manifests itself in Government. This is one of the great consultancy con tricks; after something no long sells into industry (mainly because it has failed or its limitations have been realised) go and sell it to Government.He goes on to make this point:
What I am finding is that the more accurately you can describe the situation, the less you need formal intervention methods.... The corollary of this is that the more structured your intervention approach the more likely it is that your diagnosis methods are weak."This idea resonates incredibly strongly: I find most conversations about designing events boring or painful as they seem to focus on crafting effective interventions in the absence of the the most important factor: the human beings who actually care about this stuff and the stories they have to share about it.
So many management processes and training courses reduce the wonderful complexity and uncertainty of human experience and reduce it circles, triangles and arrows. In doing so, I think they often set artificial notions of perfection that make us feel worse about ourselves in all our untidiness. (See anything I've written about Richard Farson for more of my schtick on that.)
Caveats: As ever, language creates a few bear traps. I might use a different word for diagnosis if I could think of one. Perhaps that's because of the adage from psychotherapy about the "presenting problem". Often the presenting problem isn't really the problem so rather than diagnosing it, one might frame it as exploring more of what's going on, getting a fuller picture.
Also, I tend to associate diagnosis with doctors in white coats and expert intervention; I'm more interested in groups of people sharing multiple perspectives about what's happening - which is -what Dave's practice sounds like.
I suppose "accurately" may also tip us into attempting precision rather than ambiguity too. But I'm nitpicking.
January 12, 2008
Grooming or bullying?
I found myself making this point to someone the other day and thought I'd share it here.
Conversation is NEVER just about the content, it’s connected to grooming. What we say has an impact on others, it’s a way of showing care for them – or not. If we forget that we become the stereotypical, picky barrister, nitpicking over logic. We pretend it's "nothing personal". We act like we're fighting fair, but we're not.
Goodness knows I'm a culprit sometimes.
Bonus link: Rob Paterson explores the grooming idea.
Lessons from Star Wars
Sometimes I take the Web for granted, and then something like this comes along to remind me what an incredible gift it is... for the sharing of gifts.
Stephen Anderson shares his presentation about what designers can learn from the making of Star Wars. (I'd love you to do the audio track, Stephen.)
One highlight for me is Lesson XIV (starts at slide 139), looking at how the script for Star Wars changed radically through multiple iterations. Moral: don't get attached to your first idea.
Brian Oberkirch spotted this and I like his headline for it: Only Do - which I think relates to the same point. Get started and adapt.
January 11, 2008
Mark Earls writes about the pitfalls of language. In particular, he looks at how European languages emphasise objects doing things to other objects. Other languages are much more into processes.
I think one manifestation of this is the word "brand". Our language treats it like a fixed thing with an independent existence, that can have its own mission statement, values etc. I think brands are way more fluid than that. (I've talked about this before...)
By coincidence, a few minutes ago I was reading this article about organisational theorist, Saul Alinsky. It makes this point:
The word ‘community’ has a somewhat static.. connotation, something which has boundaries and stability. In contrast, Alinsky’s philosophy.. accords with interactionist, processual, relational modes of conceptualising and analysing society. Organisations and communities are constantly in the process being made, there is a constant engagement in organising and ‘communifying’, through communicative practices.(Reminds me of the Alan Watts podcast I blogged here.)
Sometimes I get a website in a foreign language and use the Google autotranslate. What I get is a very crude approximation of what the orignal might mean - but it's clear that a lot of nuance in lost in the translation. I think that's what happens in some analyses of Web 2.0 - a complex set of human relationships get rendered into a cruder language of transaction...
Actions, words etc
Do you remember that in classical times when Cicero had finished speaking, the people said, 'How well he spoke,' but when Demosthenes had finished speaking, the people said, 'Let us march".Adlai Stevenson via E J Dionne by way of Andrew Sullivan.
I'm upgrading the application behind this site (Movable Type) and it may involve a fair amount of fiddling, so apologies in advance for potential disruption.
Disruption may include: temporary (hopefully) broken links, general ugliness, non-functioning comments, and who knows what else.
Please cross your fingers that my inner geek is not biting off more than he can chew.
UPDATE: Heh, I've discovered that MT4 is pretty sophisticated but the transfer looks beyond my skills and patience. So I'm reverting to MT3.3 and looking at moving to Wordpress.
January 7, 2008
Moral judgment is like aesthetic judgment. When you see a painting, you usually know instantly and automatically whether you like it. If someone asks you to explain your judgment, you confabulate...Moral arguments are much the same: Two people feel strongly about an issue, their feelings come first, and their reasons are invented on the fly, to throw at each other.Again, the suggestion is we're more rationalising than rational beings.
January 6, 2008
Podcast: marketing, bananas and more
Last week I had a great conversation with Hugh Macleod and Mark Earls (author of Welcome to the Creative Age and, more recently, Herd.) We talked about lots of stuff loosley related to Marketing 2.0, especially social objects and how the old idea of branding is looking a bit unconvincing. We managed to weave in metaphors about banana, celery sticks, the Wizard of Oz and village life, as well as what can be learnt from sweeties, Rizla cigarette papers and lots more besides. Enjoy.
Download the Podcast - 49m - MP3 (17.2 MB)
Podcast RSS feed for iPodder etc.
Here are the show notes with my usual health warning: Timings are approximate and this is my paraphrasing of what was said. Don't take them it too literally.
0.00 We decide we're going to look at social objects in marketing and how they connect to the notion of a "purpose idea", coined by Mark in his first book. Hugh explains what that means in English. Example of Body Shop/Anita Roddick. Refers to folks in Brooks Brothers and fake Chanel suits going, "what does the brand mean?"
1.40 Mark on the game of branding and choosing your vegetable analogy for your brand and "a vast army of logo police" - a way to avoid the task of making products or services interesting enough for people to bother with.
2.50 Johnnie gets Mark to recount his encounter with a branded, plastic boxed-banana ("this most terrible of artifacts") and how it changed his life. Bascially, it captured all that was wrong with the idea of branding as generally practiced.
7.25 Johnnie says the boxed banana is a metaphor for wider trends in organisations of taking something natural that works and then imposing an unnecessary process designed to make it happen supposedly more efficiently.
8.10 Hugh: isn't a lot of this is ego-driven? Remembers when advertising was the sexy end of command and control - and then you get sick of meetings about banana snacks. Blogging was an escape route for people fed up with that.
9.45 Hugh: the notion of making business more human and personal.
10.15 Mark: the big bad wolf now is marketing and management science, pretending to be full of insight but soulless and very partial.
10.50 Hugh: mass production and mass media arrived at the same time, leading to a hundred year riff of factory and advertising - that's how we organised the commercial world. But now we live in an era where you don't need factory and you don't need advertising to be successful.
12.00 Mark: I'm not sure you ever needed advertising; it was an excuse for products that weren't interesting enough. Hugh recalls the days when television actually did capture people's attention and packaged goods had a wow factor they don't now.
13.15 Mark: Marketing folks mistake what they see through a particular media channel for what is happening in the real world. Real people have always bought stuff without advertising.
14.05 Hugh talks about his favourite sweets and Rizla cigarette papers. Simple products that work. Goes on to describe how advertising is often not really addressing customers but a way to get buyers at Walmart/Tesco to stock your product.
17:00 Mark talks about the mistaken assumption that there's a lever to be pulled, out of which will flow store traffic. An underlying picture of business as a machine with levers and buttons. Assumes an amount of control that isn't really there.
17.45 Johnnie: how conversations about "organisational change" are often really about control. Change isn't a problem, being in control of change is a problem. Going for "leverage" is trying to take on more power and responsibility than we actually have.
19.10 Hugh: ok, we've covered our malcontents. What are we going to do about it? Prompts Mark to talk about "purpose idea".
19.25 Mark: purpose idea is based on a more human idea of what business is for and our desire for a sense of purpose in our lives. Hugh: it's partly about how you engage with whatever trade your in, not whether it's glamorous or not.
21.50 Mark talks about the importance of belief and Hugh's line - the market for something to believe in is infinite.. The importance of belonging and social connection. Hugh: everybody wants to have something to be excited about.
25.10 Hugh to Mark: What are you trying to say in Herd that you didn't say in your previous book? Mark answers. How the description of human beings you might get from a marketing or mangagement expert would be like a description of aliens and wouldn't correlate with the real world. Misses our herd or social nature.
26.50 Hugh on The Grateful Dead as pioneers of Marketing 2.0. Bootleg tapes as social objects. How music allows people to interact.
28.10 Johnnie: interesting that as humans we are massively social but have cognitive biases that exaggerate the individual rather than the group.
29.50 Hugh: a human predisposition to see things as linear rather than complicated/chaotic.
30.15 Mark on lessons of behavioural economics. How our minds our lazy and highly tuned to social interaction. We're brilliant social creatures. Dunbar's numbers.
32.40 Hugh on living in a small village and how it creates a different dynamic from big cities. Why he likes Asterix books.
34.00 Mark: we will organise ourselves and change organisations, sometimes a little bit every day, sometimes rapidly.. but efforts to bring big change through powerful levers leads to all sorts of problems.
34.40 Johnnie on dangers of pseudo-compliance and the Hewlett Packard nod.
35.10 Hugh: pitfalls of politieness and mission statements.
35.40 Hugh: ok so the world's changing. And we have this new marketing. It kinda works in Silicon Valley, where else does it work? For instance very few Fortune 500 companies are blogging...
36:30 Johnnie on difference between the companies and the people who work for them; the difference between the official and unofficial networks. How Web.20 has made visible informal networks that weren't seen before. In biology at school, the teacher stuck celary in a pot of ink and we watched it rise through the celery through capilliary action. That's a bit like how Web 2.0 makes things visible.
37.50 Mark: Web 2.0 is pulling the curtain back. We'll never quite believe in the Wizard again. The lie of command-and-control is revealed. Describes an improv game that looks at how we think about working with each other. Johnnie: what if we see change as something that is already happening and I make a choice whether to be part of it or not.. an emergent process to be present to.
40.35 Mark's looking at how behaviours cascade through populations and we do we work with them or subvert them. Hugh: companies don't like to work with random.
41.35 Hugh: what's worked for me is to get away from the idea of message and think instead of social gesture. How this works for Stormhoek.
43.05 Johnnie: Social objects are incidental to the fundamental process of relating. The brand is secondary to the process and branding goes wrong when it tries to make the product the star. Hugh: paying more attention to the conversations that are happening rather than creating a message.
45.10 Johnnie: grandiosity was great for Marketing 1.0. Marketing 2.0 might be more about humility. Mark: humanity and humility. Hugh on VW ads from the 60s that acknowledged humanity.
46.10 Mark: we are experts in other people. If there were a quiz show for species, then human beings' specialist subject would be other people. We see objects made by other people and we see people in them.
47.00 Closing thoughts from Hugh and Mark then Johnnie.
January 2, 2008
Seeing (some of) the world
And while online indiscretions may be a problem, among the upcoming generation those who have polished, indiscretion-free online personas will NOT be trusted because they not only have something to hide like everyone else, they are too good at doing it.