Weblog Entries for February 2009
February 27, 2009
Appreciating what we've got
In these difficult times, this guy has a few smart things to say about appreciating what we've got.
Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan
Sig has an interesting post about ownership and its meaning. Here's a snippet:
Does a small shareholder in a large corporation feel the ownership? Would you feel the ownership if some little clique of managers has taken charge of the whole thing, informing you occasionally through Wall Street Journal or an annual report while jetting around on your penny?I think there are a huge number of delusions about financial incentives, some of which are becoming a little more exposed during the current financial crisis. One of my favourite books, Punished by Rewards, does a terrific analysis of how incentives are often horribly counter-productive.
True ownership on the other hand has meaning, balances short and long term purposes and yields true pleasure. It binds, it drives, it makes sense, in short it's basically human - but only ownership that transcends the legal meaning of the word.
February 26, 2009
Let them take cake
I was very impressed by Dr Ben Goldacre in this remarkable TV smackdown of Prof Susan Greenfield and Dr Aric Sigman's sensational claims about Facebook rotting children's brains.
There's even more in Ben Goldacre's Bad Science blog.
Hat tip to David Smith's highly nutritious daily feed.
Podcast: Viv McWaters
This morning I recorded a podcast with Viv McWaters. Viv's a fellow facilitator and we shot the breeze about a few common interests.
Download the Podcast (30m, 10.5 MB)
Some of the stuff we covered:
GFC: Global Financial Crisis or Geelong Football Club
The pitfalls of strategic planning and the need for it to be The Truth. Dealing with our need for control and the lessons of losing the car keys.
Roland Harwood of NESTA's model of conversations, relationships then transactions
The dilemma in the audience: we know what we should be doing but we're doing the other thing because it's someone else's agenda
Does this get you in the gut?
Bush fires and facilitation in recovery..
Responding to the global economic crisis.. trust leaders or go peer-to-peer... the idea behind We20
Going from filter then publish to publish then filter as a model for media, and taking responsibility for the information you're receiving
The world is more complex but that doesn't have to disable us. Human beings can be great at complexity.
Letting go of the need for certainty. Standing on an enormous sea of jello.
We look at these communities and label one of the ants The Queen, as if this one has special powers over all the others. Actually, she's just laying eggs and is no more in authority over the colony than anyone else. Somehow, the individually dumb ants demonstrate remarkable collective intelligence.
I think us humans are a lot smarter than ants, but we're quite prone to investing in the idea that hierachies are what organise things when, in reality, something rather more brilliant and complex is at work. We don't need another hero.
February 24, 2009
Good post by Lloyd Davis on the recent flurry of articles having a go at Twitter.
February 20, 2009
Planning... for the rest of us
Chris Corrigan has a great post about strategic planning.
Most of the small non-profits I work with seem to think it’s wise to use mainstream business strategic planning frameworks to plot their way forward. Even though these frameworks are pursued with the best of intentions, for many volunteer Boards of small and meagerly funded organizations, it’s usually overkill to adopt highly technical frameworks for planning. It might just be too much.Amen. Actually, I suspect this is true for a lot of larger organisations too, where this process becomes a game of high-status abstraction: I'll meet your mission-critical goal setting and raise you a core values deliverables statement. Etc.
Even the process of vision, mission, goals and objectives is often too overbearing because it tends to force conversations into boxes, and it often results in Boards spending a lot of time designing statements that are too high minded, and largely forgotten. It also constrains the process and uses valuable time to talk about abstract notions that might be over kill for an organization that just does one thing well. Sometimes “providing quality child care at an affordable price” is all you need to say.
I like Chris alternative format, written in ordinary English. You know, the stuff the rest of us speak.
Earl Mardle writes about New Zealand's proposals to black out alleged copyright infringers - the idea is to cut off their access on the mere accusation of illegal downloading. It sounds draconian and Canute-like.
Still, reading Earl's analysis of how this might work in practice, I feel heartened in my view that these bits of centralised silliness will unravel very quickly in the face of intelligent insubordination.
And nice work by kiwis protesting by blacking out their pictures.
Another side to Burger King
I posted the other day about some entertaining post-modern marketing happening to Burger King. All good fun.
This video looks at BK through another lens. It compares the compensation culture at BK with that at its part-owners, Goldman Sachs. A good reminder of the shadow side of brands.
Hat tip: Daily Kos.
February 19, 2009
Pollard summarises Taleb
Dave Pollard does a great summary of Nassim Taleb's thinking. I'm very interested in all the cognitive biases listed there; it's so easy for us humans to think we know what's going on when we're really making up reality based on a few fragments of hard data.
February 17, 2009
It's hard to know where to begin in talking about the state of the world economy, but one theme that constantly returns for me is this: there is a lot to be said for placing less faith in supposedly exceptional leaders. Many of those claiming authoritatively that they know what's best for us have been exposed as implausible if not downright deluded.
Watching their recent performances tends to make me angry, probably because it stimulates a feeling of helplessness. I also wonder if that is the most damaging aspect of the recession: that it leaves many people feeling helpless.
I think that looking to our leaders to somehow rescue us is simply going to reinforce that helplessness.
I also think that what we are facing is not merely a cyclical downturn, or the need to recover from the greed and folly of just a few people. I think what we're seeing is the systemic failure of a version of capitalism that has outlived whatever usefulness it once had.
We need something new, and I believe it needs to emerge in a new way, not from the powers-that-be, but from the rest of us. And we are all the-rest-of-us now.
In a few weeks, the great and good will meet for the G20 and let's hope they make some progress; they'll be doing their best in very difficult circumstances. But I don't expect too much from a high-status gathering mired in protocol.
My own hope about what may emerge from this crisis will be something based on a less hierarchical, excessively individualistic world view. It will come from a more peer-to-peer worldview.
And that's why I feel excited, perhaps foolishly optimistic, about the thinking behind We20, a group I've been involved with for a few weeks now. Various forms of web presence are in the works, but for now there's a facebook group.
The central idea is that around the world, folks like us gather in our groups of around 20 to talk about the state of the economy and how we, are ordinary citizens, might respond and what we'd like to see happen. We very likely won't agree, but at least we'll come together looking to each other for help and solutions, rather than to the TV or mainstream politicians. Perhaps in some small way this will contribute to what I hope becomes a better, more humane and collaborative way of managing our economies, and our planet, than what we've settled for these past years.
For those who doubt the power of communities to make a difference, it might be worth taking a look at what Rob Paterson has helped to catalyse in St Louis, where the local PBS station has helped people to come together resourcefully to help each other get through the housing collapse there.
Whether We20 gets anywhere close to its stated goal of thousand of conversations, I have no idea. I do know that the conversations I've had so far under it's emerging banner have been exciting and challenging. It's been very good to find that many, many people share my concerns and are willing to think deeply about how we get out of this economic hole in a peaceful and resourceful way.
And if we can at least have a peaceful conversation in which our many diverse needs, fears and hopes can be acknowledged and better understood, then that will be progress. No grand communiques will come of this, but perhaps the fear of helplessness and isolation will be changed for the better.
February 16, 2009
Podcast: letting go of planning and control...
Rob Poynton, Mark Earls and I recorded a podcast this morning, around the benefits of doing less planning. The podcast itself was largely unplanned but we managed to cover quite a few interesting topics.
Download the Podcast (27m45s, 9.8MB)
Here's my rough summary of what we talked about but hopefully you'll want to hear for yourself.
We begin talking about the workshop Mark, James and I ran with NESTA a couple of weeks ago and looking at what improv can teach us about control and influence. Mark refers to Simon Caulkin's recent piece in the Observer highlighting dual standards among CEOs when it comes to control - they seem to advocate light touch control of their companies by government but tight control by them of their internal processes.
We go on to explore how this paradoxical attitude to control goes on in each of us, and start looking at two different notions of power - one which is more about power over others, the other more about sensing our intimate connectedness to the world and operating from that sense.
Rob is based in Spain and explains that the Spanish
have two different words for power use the same word for 'power' as for 'capability' that relates to this idea. We talk about how Improv can teach us the difference between controlling a narrative, say, and realising that we can have great influence over it. I get in my mantra of "notice more, change less" and how it influences how I manage my own anxieties, as well how I work with groups. Rob elaborates on the flow state of almost disappearing from groups he facilitates.
We look at the connections between Lenin, Henry Ford and Frederick Taylor - and how we want to move away from a brain-based, mechanistic notions of how the world works towards approaches that are, literally, more full-bodied. As Mark puts it, "the twentieth century dehumanised this amazing, collaborative, co-creative, brilliant species of ours into something which is a gross distortion, and we've lost a lot as a result." And Rob ends by talking about how we can, paradoxically, use the fruits of that divisive way of thinking to have a kind of connectedness we've never had before.
Whose brand is it anyway..
Like Nicholson emailed me a link to this interesting case study in user-led branding. The cease-and-desist part gets very postmodern I think.
This is Luke's synopsis, which I can't beat:
punter goes on twitter, claims to be Burger King, follows and extends BK's brand ethos, sells about a million burgers, sends CEASE AND DESIST to another BK impersonator, is left alone/ tacitly suppported by BK, and hailed as one of the best official corporate uses of social media by mainstream press!
February 14, 2009
Top down guide to bottom up
Sean Howard catches a good example of questionable thinking about participation. The International Associaton for Public Participation has put out a one pager (pdf) with a remarkably top down notion of getting bottom up involvement.
The language is very telling:
We will keep you informed... we will look to you for advice... we will implement what you decideThis strikes me as patronising and also based on a very reductionist model that seems to think decisions are ideologically separate from implementation.
This is why I think bottom-up is not the same as peer-to-peer. Bottom-up seems to embody the same underlying logic as top down, whilst peer-to-peer points to something rather more interesting, complex and challenging.
February 12, 2009
Chris Corrigan shares his experiences of cultural diversity, and this particular learning experience.
While hearing a round of introductions, a young man was introducing himself but was going beyond the one things I asked people to say about themselves. At one point I interrupted his train of thought with a friendly reminder about saying only one thing so that we could allow everyone to have a chance to speak. Instantly one of the hereditary chiefs rose, and in a big resonant voices said “point of order!” He then chastised me for “taking the talking stick out of that young man’s hands, and that is something we never ever do.” I apologized to the chief and the young man and he continued his introduction.I suppose these are the moments in facilitation we sometimes dread, when we get challenged like this. I think it's true for me that I tend to favour apologising. Here's how Chris frames it:
It became a little teaching moment for the whole gathering, local politicians feeling their way into working together and the non-Aboriginal ones were quite nervous about protocol violations. Luckily I have no such qualms about making mistakes – in my 15 years on the west coast, I could never hope to be perfect all the time - and in apologizing, everything was set to rights and we continued, but the power was very visible in the room.As I've got more experienced in facilitation, I've learnt to comfort myself with the thought that making mistakes graciously is a large part of the work. There are times when you can simply take the blame for what's going on in a group.
I remember one painful day's work when a misleading brief, a highly fractious group with elephants under the table, and a measure of naivete on my part led to a tortuous morning. Well it was tortuous for me.
I remember going for a walk at lunchtime and deciding this was one of those occasions when instead of trying to parcel out the blame, I'd fall on my sword, apologise for my ineffective process and restart. I'm not sure anyone there was terribly impressed, but they did manage to unite that afternoon, quite possibly initially in an unspoken dislike of me, but subsequently around some very productive ideas for their company. I chose to be a kind of sacrificial anode. It wasn't fun, but I comforted myself with the thought that this is one reason why I get paid for this stuff!
A couple of weeks ago I went on a superb weekend workshop on Improv and Mask. It was run by Shawn Kinley and Steve Jarand from the Loose Moose company in Calgary. One of the themes was mistakes and how improvisers experience them. Shawn's practice seems to be one of embracing the mistake... not so much that notion of "celebrating failure" but getting to a place of being interested in the mistake and seeing what could be learnt from it rather than just ignoring it and charging on (or indulging in self-flagellation over it). Interestingly, Shawn also advocated participants blaming the teacher if they weren't having a great time. That seems to me to connect to what I'm talking about here.
None of the above is universally true, and there are certainly times when as a facilitator you might want to challenge a group and not take the blame. It's a paradoxical job, where you get a chance to make new mistakes each time.
My friend Jennifer Rice has just started a new business, Fruitful, to help/encourage companies that emphasise social good. It's great to see Jennifer heading out on her own again and it seems to have coincided with a return to blogging.
February 11, 2009
Maverick professor has some interesting lessons
Nick Smith highlighted this article in a recent tweet: Professor makes his mark, but it costs him his job.
Prof Denis Rancourt implemented Ben Zander's idea of giving all his students an A grade at the start of term. The consquences were kinda interesting.
by abandoning traditional marks, Prof. Rancourt apparently sealed his own failing grade: In December, the senior physicist was suspended from teaching, locked out of his laboratory and told that the university administration was recommending his dismissal and banning him from campus.It's a fascinating article and I'm sure there are lots of other perspectives on what actually happened. But it does resonate with a long standing feeling I've had that our universities may be heading for the kind of shakeup the music industry has been going through. Rancourt seems to have a telling critique of a system that hitherto seems to have gone unquestioned. But in tough economic times, network-savvy young people are surely going to start wondering more and more what value they really get from these expensive institutions.
Firing a tenured professor is rare in itself, but two weeks ago the university took an even more extreme step: When Prof. Rancourt went on campus to host a regular meeting of his documentary film society, he was led away in handcuffs by police and charged with trespassing.
Whatever you think about exams and certification, is it healthy for those giving the award to be the exact same people charging large amounts of money for training you to pass it?
Given the ease with which the actual factual content of courses is now available, and the how easy it is to create our own social networks... what exactly do universities do that's worth all that money they charge students?
Time for that dalek, I suspect.
But I'm a good facilitator!
There's a game that improvisers sometimes play. It allows any actor to simply reject any offer they don't happen to like from another player. At which point, the offeror is dragged off the stage by his fellow actors, and has to cry out, "But I'm a good improviser!"
Like all improv set ups, a simple framework sparks all sorts of responses but for me it's an exercise in naming, accepting and letting go of the part of us that think it knows what's best for the group.
I was reminded of this by Chris Corrigan's recent post, this bit in particular:
Imagine this construction:
1. People are yelling at each other.
2. They are in conflict and I hate conflict.
3. I am a peacemaker.
So yes, but in the moment, you are going to suffer some when the meeting you are running counters your experience of yourself. You will think that you are failing if you are “a peacemaker” and yet your participants ar eyelling at each other. As a facilitator, when I get caught in that kind of thinking, I notice that I immediately become quite useless to the group. Why? Because I have left reality and I am spinning around in my thinking about reality, suffering and self-involved as my identity and ego get challenged.
People who have no thoughts about conflict are incredibly resourceful when yelling arises. They simply see yelling, they are able to listen and observe and notice what is happening. But those of us that are still working on our comfort with conflict might shy away from it, shrink away in fear, try to paper over differences or deny the reality of the moment in favour of a temporary comfort.
February 6, 2009
Community on community
I met up with Neil Perkin today and heard about his elegant solution to making a presentation about community. Which was to get a community to do it for him. Actually, Neil did a bit of collating and linking, but then that's what people in communities do.
February 4, 2009
Who's in charge here?
I'm looking forward to Monday's gig at NESTA, Innovation and Networks of Influence. It seems to have sold out, which is pretty cool for something we organised at less than two weeks' notice. And the idea for doing it arose accidentally, from the cancellation of an event we were booked to speak at. I kinda like that, as one of the themes for me will be that life is not as predictable or controllable as it seems.
It's of course another accident that Amazon today emailed me recommending Philip Tetlock's new book on the reassuring failure of experts to make accurate predctions (reviewed by Mark earlier this month.) These are the folks on whom you might rely for identifying the mysterious levers by which you exert influence over things.
I also appreciated Keith Sawyer's pushback against the fixation with Steve Jobs as the centrepiece of the Apple story... and against our general fashion for identifying supposedly pivotal heroes instead of seeing the more complex patterns at work in success.
February 2, 2009
Open for conversation
Earl has a good post about how Obama is continuing to work with his network of supporters. Earl's highlighted some key phrases that resonate for me, emphasising the value of talking and sharing rather than simply pushing out sound bites. That makes me hopeful.