Weblog Entries for March 2010
March 31, 2010
links for 2010-03-31
A funny, and very telling, pushback to Lily Allen and the corporate interests she appears to support in trying to strangle filesharing.
Lovely bit of journalism, following up on the life stories of the five boys in the classic photograph of the class system in Britain. via David Smith (http://delicious.com/Preoccupations)
Snowden really gets the benefits of sticking a keynote on the web, here's a podcast and the slides. He jokes at the start it allows him to talk as fast as he likes as people can run the podcast at their own speed. Some good insights on the world of KM and the limits of explicit knowledge
Good Wired article looking at the Conservative's evolving engagement with the Web. My impression: some parts switched-on, really improving engagement; other parts grandiose and a bit deluded (eg supposedly accurate targeting by using tired old market research clusters)
March 30, 2010
links for 2010-03-30
Stunning collection of portraits of gamers, which says a lot about the level of engagement video games provide. (Found via Ewans post on the value of games in learning. http://bit.ly/cK7AIh)
Podcast: The tyranny of the explicit
Yesterday, I recorded a conversation with Viv McWaters and Roland Harwood on the theme of The Tyranny of the Explicit. We explore how the need for certainty in an uncertain world, the over reliance on metrics and the demand that learning be made explicit, can often kill energy in meetings and get in the way of innovation.
Here's the podcast and some show notes:
Download the Podcast (22m, 9MB)
This isn't a transcript, just a rough guide, with all the pitfalls that go with trying to summarise a human conversation in text.
0.10 Johnnie paraphrases Woody Allen ( the exact quote is "My heart’s desire is to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race. And then see if I can get them mass-produced in plastic") ... and introduces the subject of the tyranny of the explicit: how we take the sublime/complex and try to make it into something measurable/deliverable/saleable. How as a facilitator he sees this often killing the dynamism of meetings
1.20 Roland: Recognise desire of organisations to pin things down in numbers. "The only metric I use is one of time". Getting away from trying to sum up nebulous agreements/measures
2.00 R: there is a need to be explict at some point but most organisations try to do it much too early
2.20 Viv: Calling it a tyranny names "this process that absolutely drives me nuts"; refers to post by Roland about conversations, then relationships, then transactions. "All the numbers in the world aren't worth anything... unless you've built relationships."
3.30 R: There is value in giving something a name... so there is a role for the exlicit.
4.00 J: Yes, it's a paradox. There has to be a role for naming the elephant in the room; the thing is to avoid addiction to the explicit at the expense of the vague, the uncertain and the implicit. Pressure in meetings leading to "premature encapsulation" - lots of post it notes and the next day, no-one wants to actually implement any of them.
5.25 R: Dealing with large organisations, they crave Return on Investment. They want to start there, so we can begin with that but as conversation develops you tap into what the real issues are, which are often political and social.
6.35 V: The numbers start to take over from everything else. eg in Australian education system's league tables leading to false comparisons. Unintended consequences, it's become a monster.
7.55 R identifies with that and relates his experience as a parent looking at all the school performance data but then exercising judgement. Chooses a school he thinks is brilliant despite some test scores not being so good. Those data are often based on very limited interaction. Can't use metrics to abdicate responsibility.
9.40 J: Nothing wrong with measures but we must create a space in which that data is held, judged, reflected on.
10.40 V: The dangerous allure of certainty. Relates it to this TED talk by Barry Schwartz about the peril of having too many choices: We fall back on numbers to cope with choice overload.
12.00 R: Excited by the way, with economic downturn, the experts are proving so massively to be wrong. Moving from an age of certainty and metrics to one where people might take more responsibility for their decisions.
13.15 J talks about the pitfalls of insisting on having models for everything. The downside of making all learning explicit (echoing this post)
15:10 R talks about how he responds when people ask him how NESTA measures its effectiveness. Usefulness and helpfulness. Poss dangers of having no hard metrics.
16.25 V has a go at the trend for increasing numbers of "accreditation programmes" for eg knowledge managment and accreditation. She and J look at the pitfalls of this aspect of explicitness.
20.00 R talks about the Newtonian, cause-and-effect worldview and the new physics of uncertainty. "It's not about certainty, it's about responsiveness and responsibility."
March 29, 2010
links for 2010-03-29
More inspired video storytelling from Michael Wesch (hat tip to Nancy White http://bit.ly/d0G3N3)
Good post about the mypolice controversy, where the powers-that-be trample over a fledgeling social enterprise. It captures a lot of what's missing in the way established powers see the web - using the language of participation but being patronising and clunky. In contrast, the real power is in relationships... (Thanks http://delicious.com/Dominic_Campbell)
The government is us
David Wilcox produced this excellent video report on people's involvement in their neighbourhoods. It features community organiser Jim Diers who was in London recently. Kevin Harris also wrote about Jim's visit.
As I've said before, much of the discourse around "citizen empowerment" seems full of think-tank cleverness and easily sounds patronising. This seems to be the real thing. I particularly liked Jim's challenge to the paradigm of government-as-business, which reduces citizenship to mere customer status. When he says "the government is us" it's not a slogan, it's actually quite a radical rallying cry.
March 27, 2010
links for 2010-03-27
Nice recap, well illustrated
"A company doesn’t have the right to get married, seek asylum or enjoy state-sponsored education, after all. Government bodies don’t have the right to sue for libel, and the sky hasn’t fallen in for them. It seems worth asking whether it really makes sense for companies to use up valuable court time on their “right” to an unblemished reputation."
via David Smith's feed http://bit.ly/91QUGa
"...world leaders focused on fixing Haiti are admitting for the first time that loosening trade barriers has only exacerbated hunger in Haiti and elsewhere. They're led by former U.S. President Bill Clinton – now U.N. special envoy to Haiti – who publicly apologized this month for championing policies that destroyed Haiti's rice production. Clinton in the mid-1990s encouraged the impoverished country to dramatically cut tariffs on imported U.S. rice."
Dan Pallotta makes a lot of sense to me.
More often than not we see life through a barely translucent movie screen in our minds that is running nine shows at once. These inputs deafen and blind us to reality. It is a testament to our capacity for unconsciousness that we hefted luggage around airports for decades before anyone thought to put wheels on the suitcases. We literally couldn't see that they didn't have them...You have to ponder the reality of a thing before you can ponder a new vision for that thing. Before it can occur to you that there could be two different flush volumes for a toilet it has to occur to you that there is presently only one... No presence in the moment, no innovation. No now, no new. This is not taught in B-school. In fact, the B-school culture encourages the opposite of it... The truth is, our time is too valuable not to be present. The opportunity cost of worry, anxiety, stress, and incessant activity in terms of unmanifested innovation alone is inestimable.Last year I ran some workshops with my good friend Kay Scorah with the title "Notice more, change less" in this spirit. This year, they are mutating into something I'm calling Crumbs!
Crumbs! will be (amongst other things) about the power of tiny moments, small connections and the surprises to be found in the ordinary. It's a kind of antidote to brainstorming and much of the effortful discourse that seems to surround creativity and innovation. The first outing will be in Sydney on 13 May,courtesy of my evil twin brother, Matt. I'll be co-hosting with Viv.
And there'll be another iteration in Copenhagen, pencilled in for June 1st - more on that later.
The moments of life
I couldn't resist trying out tweetnotebook.com. Enter your twittername and it creates a notebook. At the foot of every page, there's a randomly selected tweet from you entire twitter history.
I leafed through the preview. It's an interesting experience, being reminded of these little fragments of my life, many of which bring back a series of memories of people I've met, places I've been, rants and raves of various kinds. It's a reminder that life is made up of these little moments.
Hat tip: Dom Campbell's Delicious Feed
March 26, 2010
links for 2010-03-26
" Without us using Twitter, by the millions, Twitter would just be a bunch of software cogs in a cardboard box. It is our animation that makes Twitter worth a billion dollars, not just the cleverness of the developers and the openess of their APIs... To a great extent, Twitter is ours, like the air we breathe."
"The similarities between ants and neurons 'suggest there are general principles of organization for building groups far smarter than the smartest individuals in them,' Seeley says... By looking at decision making in all of its diverse incarnations, we can step outside of standard modes of reasoning and find new ways to talk about complexity in our ecosystems, our communities, our governments, and our minds."
So by changing the way observations are made, scientists find a whole lot more of the universe that was there all along. There's a moral there somewhere.
Riproaring stuff from Rob on the failings of central authorities of all stripes
"Because innovation is often messy, unplanned, and serendipitous, companies should be careful about how much order, discipline, and oversight to impose on individuals who bring urgency and initiative." <--- Too true
Complexity without conscious design
There was a terrific documentary on the BBC last night, and happily it's also on YouTube for anyone to enjoy: The Secret Life of Chaos.
I particularly enjoyed the last ten minutes or so. It describes how the principles of evolution and self-organisation are being applied to computers.
It's very hard to explain, so please watch the video. But here's my stumbling attempt to summarise it:
A company called Natural Motion sets up computers to use the principles of evolution to shape and refine their own programs - in the way the natural world uses those principles to shape and refine living organisms.
The computers are, in effect, given little animated humans and tasked with trying to get them to move elegantly. They start with "a hundred random virtual brains" to control the figures, which stumble around pretty helplessly. The algorithm then selects the slightly less clumsy of the brains, and allows them to create offspring. After a few iterations, these new virtual brains can get the figures to walk... and with more iteration, ever more lifelike motion is possible.
Again, watch the video, I found it breathtaking.
The guy behind all this says of the successful animations, that it works but you don't know how it works. "You create these algorithms but then they do their own thing."
As the narrator says, from simple rules and feedback, complexity spontaneously emerges, without any conscious thought.
Design doesn't need an active, interfering designer, it's an inherent part of the universe.
I think there's something profound about this that is missing from most of what is said about creativity and innovation in organisations - which seems preoccupied with the need for management, control and interference.
March 25, 2010
In this podcast, I talk with Rob Paterson and Neil Perkin about agility in organisations. This was sparked by Neil's post about agile planning - ways for organisations to respond more effectively to the speed of change in a networked economy.
It's the usual non-linear kind of conversation exploring what makes for agility in organisations and what gets in the way. We wander off into wider topics of education and innovation along the way.
Download the Podcast (30m, 12.3 MB)
This is not a transcript, just a rough guide with approximate timings.
0.40 Neil: agility is a philosophy as much as a process. Traditional business approaches involve big goals, lengthy cycles and rigid processes which don't necessarily work in a fluid environment where things change rapidly.
2.00 Rob recalls working in a bank where every project was 5 years and 50 million dollars. It didn't really work very well back in the day and certainly not today. We're often dealing with issues we can't fully understand, eg health care reform in the states where the old system is breaking down but no-one can know what will emerge. The process of iteration is the only way to discover the really new. "You've got to sit around the campfire and talk about stuff and try things."
3.40 R agreeing with N, it's about what your philosophy is. Conventional planning only good for simple things like building a 1000 square foot bungalow.
4.05 Johnnie asks Rob to say more about budget process in organisations, how this gives power to those with the biggest budget and works against those with lower cost, faster approaches.
4.35 R talks about how innovation was squeezed out in an oil company because the big money and the big budget was lodged in oil.
5.05 N The process of budget setting in organisations is very laborious and budgets are out of date by the time they are approved.
6.00 N talks about alternative budgeting process which allows much more rapid revisions
6.40 R talks about KETC St Louis. They decided that the meta-project is transformation; that's the criterion by which they evaluate projects
7.30 N refers to IBM research confirming many CEOs felt their organisations weren't ready to keep up with the pace of change. Reacting to change very different from being hungry for change.
8.40 R: most businesses today are set up to not change. You see this in the school system, in the conventional media. People would rather kill the newspaper they work for or own than change.
9.40 N many organisations don't know who their competitors are going to be in a few years' time.
10.10 Johnnie talks about this YouTube video by Dan Brown: how the education system needs to change or risks dying. Not good enough just giving students content and then testing to see if they've remembered it.
11.10 We now have technology that allows us to do for ourselves things we used to rely on instutions for. The way we've organised organisations doesn't reflect that change.
11.30 R: If your local college's Professor Paterson is a third-rate physics professor and you can get the best physics guy in the world on YouTube at MIT, there's something wrong. And that's assuming lectures are still the way to go.
12.00 J: And some of those online lectures reveal the weaknesses of the system.
12.45 J: Our education system, more than anything, has taught us that the way to learn is to sit in serried ranks and listen to an expert. And that doesn't work any more. A lot of business meetings and conferences are still organised around that idea.
13.15 N: Contrast with conversation. In conversations, thing change and you need to react, change your position. That's what businesses need to be able to do.
13.45 R: Play's an important part of this. Imagine early humans sitting around a campfire and things happened by accident. Discoveries were made that way. Learning by playing.
15.00 N: Play doesn't work by setting a big fat hairy goal; the requirements are barely sufficient. All things to change as they go. End goal may not be the one you set out with at the start.
15.45 R on writing a book without knowing he's writing it.
16.10 N on how iterative development mitigates risk.
16.25 R: depends if you think change is going to be more of the same, you may not have to go down the agile route. But I don't think that the way things are going.
17.25 N: a lot of organisations in marketing, my career area, the marketers are falling behind the audience, they're playing catch up.
17.55 J: A lot of the BS talked about innovation misses that it's already happening, doesn't need to be invented, just needs to be noticed.
18.40 J: problem for organisations set up around achieving shareholder value is that they exist to perpetuate themselves, whereas disruptive technology is not about perpetuating institutions. "Social software is here to speed the creative destruction of dinosaurs" (getting a bit carried away I think.)
19.20 N talks about time and speed; technology is about things happening in real time; organisations are slower. It's a scary prospect for them, they're used to having time to plan and react.
20.00 R: when he became a consultant, had to match his pace to that of his clients. Corporate time is very slow.
21.00 N: Agile methods are changing the rhythm of work
21.20 R: Dinosaurs will die because power comes through the budget process which gives a lock on power and prestige.
22.20 J: Hierarchy is toxic to innovation
22.30 Good improv relies on the ability to change status, not keep it fixed
23.30 N expands on the idea of toxic assumptions in organisations eg that change will be incremental, that they're entitled to a certain market share or that things will be the same next year
24.20 J has a go at the notion of having to get "management buy in" and how it blocks innovation
25.10 R talks about the role of benevolent despots at eg wikipedia and wordpress. They're concerned about the health of the system.
26.15 N on the wikipedia as one part anarchy, one part democracy; one part aristocracy; one part monarchy.
28.00 J returns to the idea of getting agile around a philosophy rather than a profit margin
28.20 N talks about the agile manifesto
29.50 R: Paint by numbers or be a painter.
March 24, 2010
That's how to recruit
My kind of job ad:
Recently, someone in the office asked, “Who here was the last person to be picked for a team in the school playground?” Around half the company put their hands up – and that’s the kind of freaks we’re interested in meeting.Hat tip: Lloyd Davis tweet
Stakeholder engagement sucking
I liked Dan McQuillan's Social Engagement Sucks slideshare. (click here if you can't see it above.)
Stakeholder engagement is a management cliche in dire need of some shaking up and Dan takes some good swipes at it here. I especially liked
Engagement is a platitude that avoids issues of powerThat makes sense to me straight away; it's so often code for "does my bum look big in this?" I think he nails it here:
Corporates and NGOs see themselves at the centre, surrounded by buzzing stakeholders.The most exciting thing about social media is that it's peer-to-peer, not just a new conduit for for established power to patronise us.
Empowerment for real
I wrote the other day about the pitfalls of empowerment. Neil Jameson of Citizens UK has a good piece in the Guardian, describing the success of the campaign to get all Londoners a living wage. He manages to be much more articulate than I was, when he says
What the political elite has not always understood, however, is that such "power to the people" is complex and unlikely to happen if it only means a world of disparate good works, extensive volunteering, and neighbourhood improvement schemes initiated and controlled by the state.And it's nice to get a bit of philosophy thrown it too
Philosophers offer us clues as to why the giving of power, or "empowerment", is so difficult for any elite. John Stuart Mill wrote: "That which people get for themselves is so much better than that which they are given."
Hat Tip: David Wilcox tweet
March 23, 2010
links for 2010-03-23
A great example of the curse of expertise - it's so easy to let your ego stop you from seeing the gaps in your knowledge
This post contains a really brilliant example of the power of story.
Nice review of some recent social media #fails
Good post about the limits of both events. Esp liked the point that TED's strapline is Ideas worth Spreading but isn't actually great at spreading them. (HT Dom Campbell's feed http://bit.ly/6pqq5z )
On a hack day, a few folks get together and create a board game to make learning about pregnancy engaging. Nicely done. There's so much creative talent out there for worthwhile challenges - part of why I'm sceptical of the whole innovation-is-difficult worldview.
Neighbourhood sharing "in a moderately uncheesy way". Nice. (HT Kevin Harris http://bit.ly/9clZCW)
March 22, 2010
Beware those who seek to empower you...
Kevin Harris punctures the pomposity of the RSA's latest wheeze, the Launch of Citizen Power. Why, Kevin asks, is this project about empowering people in Peterborough being launched at a VIP event in London? And how come it's being led not by Peterborough folk but by the RSA and Arts Council East? Great questions.
The tone of the RSA site is a bit breathless ("a unique and exciting partnership") and it says:
the Citizen Power project will span two years and be made up of a number of programmes based around the arts and social change, an area-based learning curriculum, a sustainable citizenship campaign, user-centred drug services and the use of online social media.Which sounds suspiciously like the superior intellects of the RSA have saved the poor citizens of Peterborough all that tiresome work figuring out their own priorities.
I'm a big fan of social media and what it makes possible. But I am weary of old institutions seeing it as just another tool with which to patronise us.
The RSA conclude: "In the meantime, please feel free to join this site and add your thoughts, ideas and opinions!". Soooo empowering. Not.
links for 2010-03-22
"Most British children grow up with the internet and have the means to learn what they want in minutes, and this challenges the traditional idea of school being about learning things that will come in handy in the future. They become disengaged." Indian professor gives a well needed prod to trad education (HT Harold Jarche http://bit.ly/9ZiuBH )
"A look into the future that never was" A collection of past predictions of the future with many delightful illustrations. Apart from anything else, a wise warning about the fallibility of our predictions. Maybe strategic planners could learn some humility from this?
John Kay has an article on decision-making in the FT (may vanish behind a paywall soon). This bit caught my eye:
Psychologist Gary Klein has studied the expertise of people with exceptional practical skills. One of his experiments involved showing videos of paramedics in action – some novice, some expert – to various observers. He discovered that both experienced paramedics and lay people were more successful at distinguishing the novices from the professionals than were teachers of paramedic skills. The teachers monitored adherence to the rules they taught and saw such adherence more often in the novices. Lay people, by contrast, didn’t know or care whether the practitioners were following the rules or not – they just valued results. And they saw results most often in people who had been well trained, had reinforced that training through experience and who stood out for their expertise.There's a warning there for trainers of all kinds.
PS I see the FT is still pasting this insane boilerplate to its journalism: " You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web." Jeez.
March 21, 2010
links for 2010-03-21
"We are making a shift from a machine metaphor of cause and effect to a natural metaphor of emergence...We are confused now because all we know is the machine metaphor. So we apply machine thinking about top down, cause and effect, inputs to our problems. In every case, we are not only failing but making the situation worse."
We are confused, for our institutions, where we have lodged all our social power, are all children of the past mindset. So at the moment we are helpless. They have the power and they make it all worse and we don't know what to do."
"As anyone in our age group knows, to shift gears you first have to disengage the clutch and literally give up control for a moment. In the context of the Second Adulthood transition, letting go—of worn-out demands, of old news, of empty promises—is like stepping backward off a cliff." True at all ages.
March 17, 2010
links for 2010-03-17
Pithy slideshare giving corporates the low down on social meeja.
A festival that's free to punters... the gift economy in action
"The country's love affair with standardized testing and charter schools is ruining American education."
Recently, I have noticed the word ‘Agile’ showing up in the ‘Strategic Objectives’ of agency and corporate plans. Whilst it great to see that agility is being recognised in words, I see little evidence of agility being practiced. When we begin to talk about what organisations need to become to be agile in a complex environment, I notice a lot of push-back and fear. In fact recently, when I presented the features of High Reliability Organisations (HRO’s) the response was that they appeared ‘too risky’. In other words, many are fearful of letting go of control … and are not prepared to make (and learn from) mistakes.He goes on to riff on a few qualities that contribute to agility.
March 15, 2010
links for 2010-03-15
Excellent rant by Neil Perkin on how business needs to become much more agile to succeed
Steve Ellis has a very nice summary of soundbites from the recent Dachis Social Biz Fest. Stuff like this really does feel like a good substitute for going to events, especially those with mostly experts-opining formats. I liked this bite from Frank Eliason:
Metrics won't get you anywhere. Take the customer's story and stick it in the face of your executives.And this too:
Social media will drive culture change. Don't try and change culture to enable social media. It won't happen.I also liked this from John Hagel:
Knowledge is created through friction not consensus.FWIW, I am glad I didn't spend a lot of money to hear this from Sam Decker, though it's mean to sieze on it out of context:
To get attention you have to use the language of business. Ask yourself, will the CEO understand what you are talking about?The "language of business" is usually an invitation to take a good story and make it dull, safe and boring. And I'm wary of any sign of the cult of the CEO as some remote creature unlike the rest of us.
March 14, 2010
links for 2010-03-14
Techcrunch article on how innovative tech is allowing low-cost mobile to be rolled out to the remote villages of India, and the consequences...
Tea and intangibles
Viv had an old fashioned afternoon tea filled with gossip. And reflects:
It was a different world in the days when this sort of afternoon tea was more common. No-one would deny that. Yet when it comes to work we still hear the mantra to work harder, produce more. Measure the output. Be clear about outcomes. Pull the lever faster, produce more. Problem is, just like we're not indulging in long afternoon teas so much, we’re not producing so many 'things' any more – a lot of work is knowledge work, thinking, engaging with others, generating ideas and solutions. Asking us to think harder is just silly.Good stuff. So many people doing completely intangible work use the language of the tangible to create some illusion of productivity. HR folks are awash with "tools" none of which have any resemblance to something real like a spanner. Others moralise about the superiority of "action" over "talk" but (as Chris Corrigan pointed out a long time ago) it's not as if any of them are actually beating metal or pulling up potatoes. And don't get me started on "deliverables" which almost always seem to be the subsitution of one abstraction for another.
It's a real con, this search for the fake-concrete.I often find much more satisfaction in holding space for some things that are less linear - which may well be as pleasant as afternoon tea, or sometimes more challenging and discomforting.
March 13, 2010
links for 2010-03-13
"It it is important for them to recognize the irresolvable tensions that exist in every aspect of organizational life. To do so opens the door to quite a different understanding of organizational dynamics from that which dominates conventional management thinking. And it further exposes the flaws in those approaches that view the search for clarity, predictability and control as the essence of orgnizational leadership."
"Bottom line ... if the US Navy - with all its layers of hierarchy and security concerns - can be moving forward on social media, so can your organization."
"Want to develop game-changing ideas that will disrupt your industry and bring you wealth, fame, and the respect of your peers? Then do it by yourself. Research consistently shows that groups redefine creativity as conformity"
Singh recounts the enormous stress and cost in time of defending oneself against libel... and how UK libel laws impinge on free speech
How to write
I'm not a big fan of "how-to" lists. On the other hand, I am a big fan of Patti Digh and think there's much to be said for a good rant from time-to-time. So her post on how to write gets a free pass from me. Here's how it starts:
Don’t set out to write a book. Form is not content. Let’s say that again: FORM IS NOT CONTENT. A book is nothing more than a commodification of ideas. Start with the ideas, the emotions, the thing you most long to say. If you don’t know, the writing itself will help surface what it is you want to say, but sitting still and waiting for a book to spring fully formed from your forehead will never happen. Will. Never. Happen. Listening to what other people have to say also won't help. Good god, no wonder we all have writer’s block. We’re not even writing. Plumbers don’t have plumber’s block, do they? NO, THEY GET ON THE FLOOR AND CLEAR OUT THE WINDEX AND EVIDENCE OF MOUSE POOP UNDER THE SINK AND GET TO PLUMBINGMakes lots of sense to me.
March 12, 2010
links for 2010-03-12
"I think it’s time we recognised speeches, key note presentations, Q & A sessions for what they are – an anachronism from a past era. An era where the verb google didn’t exist, and where the media determined who and what we listened to"
"One Billion Minds challenges student and alumni crowds from universities worldwide to come up with innovative solutions to real-world problems."
March 11, 2010
links for 2010-03-11
Dave Snowden's doing an experiment in collecting stories around the future of public services. It's a novel approach that could subvert "expert researchers" & I recommend giving it a go
March 10, 2010
links for 2010-03-10
"Our government should be at least as capable as a quickly organized group of virtual volunteers. It will certainly have the budget for it."
Ton links to fantastic 6min video of TBL showing what great stuff can happen when govts release open data
March 9, 2010
links for 2010-03-09
“If we in the Third World measure our success or failure as a society in terms of income, we would have to classify ourselves as losers until the end of time,” declares Peñalosa. “So with our limited resources, we have to invent other ways to measure success. "
Fundraising show to support challenging UK's demented libel laws. If you're in London on March 14th this could be fun
Gavin Heaton has some good ideas about what works and doesn't in social media. This one definitely resonates for me.
Nervous – Does your content make you nervous? Do you get a small thrill when you write it? Do you worry that people will respond in a way that is unpredictable? If so, you may be on the right path. To produce content that is remarkable – you need to invest something in it. You need to have an opinion. The best content makes you a little nervous as you release it to the public.Yeah, feeling nervous tends to go with getting into the "zone of proximal development".
I seem to have got back into the habit of adding links to Delicious, but the addon for cross-posting them here isn't working. Perhaps that's a good thing.
Update: Hmm, the addons working now. Clearly I'm not really in control here.
Enough lectures, already
I really liked Jeff Jarvis's latest, unpicking society's addiction to the lecture format. I've blogged before my frustration with rooms of smart people listening politely to long winded keynotes and dire panels, as if they're not actually capbable of intelligent thought or dissent. The whole post is worth reading, but here's a sample:
We must stop our culture of standardized testing and standardized teaching. Fuck the SATs.* In the Google age, what is the point of teaching memorization? .. We must stop looking at education as a product – in which we turn out every student giving the same answer – to a process, in which every student looks for new answers. Life is a beta.
March 5, 2010
The practical action con
There's a twitterstorm going on in the UK over the Digital Economy Bill (Mike Butcher's post gives some background and resonates with how I feel about it).
Part of what's getting the twitter pitchfork mob animated, myself included, is a recent amendment put forward by Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Clement-Jones, who apparently is paid £70k a year by an IP law firm.
My local Lib Dem candidate is, I'm pleased to see, on Twitter engaging with us all on the topic. What I'm less pleased about is this tweet from her:
thanks for all the comments on Digital Economy Bill, we're after practical specificsThere's a risk of misinterpreting tweets, given their length, but I detect a trope here that I really hate. It's related to the one that provoked Peter Block to write his book, The Answer to How is Yes. What appears to be a virtuous demand for practical steps may actually be a thinly-veiled demand for others not to be angry and not to protest. The author presents herself as if determined to take action but really it's a way of avoiding responsiblity - in this case, for expressing a clear opinion on the behaviour of a colleague. I could be forgiven for translating it as
Oh dear it's all so difficult and you're not being very helpful.The Lib Dems initiated this noxious amendment and they should not demand someone else take the initiative in cleaning up their own mess. An apology would be a better place to start than patronising your passionate critics.
We're calling it Crumbs! and here's the blurb on Matt's site. I suppose this is the nub of it:
We’re going to reveal our own prejudices about facilitating change and innovation, which emphasise letting go of the effort to be spectacular in favour of being open to surprise and attentive to small ideas instead of chasing grandiose visions.I can pretty much guarantee it won't be death by powerpoint and will be genuinely interactive.
I was going to say this is a Beta version of the workshop but I think it's a case of perpetual Beta, and builds on the one I've run before called Notice more, change less.
Watch this space for iterations in Copenhagen and London...
In the Spectator, Alastair Heath voices his horror at the prospect of a hung parliament. (For non-Brits, that's one in which no single party has a majority of seats - no jokes about members, please). His post is titled "Britain on the brink" and includes this:
It is a calculation that should fill all of us with an immense sense of dread: there is now a 72.2 percent chance of a hung parliament. Or so says Michael Saunders, Citigroup's chief European economist and the one man in the City everybody listens to when it comes to the interaction between parliamentary politics and the financial markets. His model, which incorporates the standard data about the Westminster first-past-the post system, and into which he has fed all of the latest polls, also suggests that there is just a 6.2 percent chance of strong Tory majority, a 19.1 percent chance of a weak one and 2.5 percent chance of a Labour majority. Given the terrible state of our public finances, and Britain's desperate need for a strong government with a clear commitment to fiscal reform, all of this is little short of disastrous.I'm exasperated at the framing of a parliament with no dominant party as "hung". Our electoral system has constantly allowed parties without any natural majority in the country to govern as if they do. If the electorate is genuinely divided, then let parliament reflect that and deal with it.
And I'm wary of this use of the word "strong " to define the sort of government we should have. Does that mean strong as in: strong enough to drag us into crazy foreign adventures we later deeply regret? or strong enough to have created the economic hole in which we now apparently find ourselves? Sounds like "strong" just means "unhibited".
And while I'm on the soapbox, are we seriously going to allow the folks in the City to guide us on what's economically best for us?
March 3, 2010
Bureaucracy, targets and pseudo-surveys
Mark Fisher picks up some fairly grim examples of bureaucratic bullying in the public sector and the abuse of targets and surveys. Just reading the absurd form-filling required if a student arrives late to a lecture makes me want to weep.
And it's good to this example of Sussex students boycotting the National Student Survey as a sop to genuine consultation and a trojan horse to justify cuts. Far too much money gets wasted on this kind of shallow quantitative research.
Podcast: The tyranny of excellence
Update, cue twilight zone theme. Interesting coincidence, here's Hugh's cartoon of the day:
Viv McWaters and I are developing a workshop called Crumbs! We look at how creativity is not about big ideas and sudden leaps of insight. It's much more incremental, and involves closer attention to the detail of the present and how we relate to it.
We've decided the tyranny of excellence is one of the things that can get in the way of collaboration and creativity.
There may be contexts, like manufacturing, where the pursuit of perfection and processes like Six Sigma can be effective. But when you get humans involved, it all becomes more complex. Then a lot of striving for excellence is counterproductive. In fact, the demand for excellence is often a code for "do it my way", and its pursuit is quite destructive to working relationships.
Viv and I recorded a podcast to expore this with our friend David Robinson. David's a theatre director who now works with with organisations on managing diversity.
It's definitely not an excellent podcast... and it did get me thinking some more about the topic.
Download the Podcast (25m, 23.5 MB)
This isn't a transcript, just a rough guide...
0.20 David: improv theatre notion of putting down your clever and picking up your ordinary. The things people judge as their most ordinary is the source of their greatest gift.
1.30 D talks about the notion of the anit-hero inside our head, the criticial voice, and how it's polarised with the hero, the part that wants perfection. The search for perfection creates this enormous monster in our inner dialogue that yaps at us all the time.
3.20 Johnnie: Allowing ourselves to be ordinary can make it easier for people to have a relationship with us.
4.10 D talks about Parker Palmer's distinction - in his book The Courage to Teach - between being an expert and having a real engagement with a subject. Being expert locks people out. The idea of mastery, doing what you do to get better at it, never assuming that you know it all.
5.20 D reflecting on the relationships we create with others or ourselves when practicising. So being ordinary is not a diminishment at all; it's a place of presence.
6.10 J: The distinction between advocacy and enquiry. Being excellent links to advocacy; enquiry, living with questions, allows more relationship. The "In Search of Excellence" myth.
7.20 J: There can be more surprises when we allow ourselves to really notice what's going on than when we're trying to be remarkable.
8.10 D: Cult of excellence comes from industrial age thinking, a factory model. Need now is to show up with what we bring and not just as consumers with what we demand.
9.40 D: excellence is an arrival word, sets our a place to get to; mastery is a process word - you never get there, you continually work on improvement. You don't become masterful if you're trying to be clever.
10.40 Viv on the pressure created by the urge to be perfect and how it gets us stuck. Why do people resist just trying things and making mistakes?
11.50 D: the education system reinforces the idea that there is an answer and it is outside of me somewhere. If trainers are expected to get perfect scores in sessions this negates the power of the work. Getting to places of discomfort is important.
13.40 V: Testing and measuring in education and the expectation that teachers, faciltators, the person at the front of the room has the answers and will be liked.
15.30 V: Facilitator as disruptor, asking awkward questions.
16.00 J: Organisations have this idea the everyone should be aligned as if they are all the same. Groups should experience friction and discomfort.
17.30 D: We brief clients to expect disturbance.
18.10 D: Collaboration isn't about easy agreement nor is it always about voices being equal
18.50 V: Sometimes we're asked to generate consensus when actually one person is going to make the decision.
19.30 D: You need obstacles to make stories move forward. Red Riding Hood needs the wolf. Hobbies are all about creating obstacles, it's the obstacle that creates the engagement.
20.55 J: What often marks our a satisfying group... is not that everything is solved, but that there's a willingness to go on together. Perils of neat looking pseudo-agreements and "commitment ceremonies".
22.00 J: Some of the best Open Spaces end where people aren't that clear what has been achieved but do sense that something useful has happened. They suspend the requirement for a neat and tidy ending in favour of a willingness to live with ambiguity and carry on.
23.10 D talks about the permitted messiness of Open Space.
23.40 V: the importance of valuing relationships instead of trying to be someone we're not.
24.20 J offers a suspiciously neat and tidy closing comment.
March 2, 2010
I have a longstanding beef about what I call celebrity government reports. The MO is this: some contentious issue arises in society. The government responds by appointing someone to do a report. The choice of author is often capricious but they're usually either a Lord or someone skilled at having a high profile in public (ie a tendency to narcissism). This single person gets given a staff to labour in the salt mines. They produce a long report.
This is typically full of intense research on the problem. You could easily mistake the plenitude of footnotes for evidence of deep thought. This is followed by an enormous list of recommendations. The tone is rarely enquiring and the list often feels like something a PR agency would scare up in a one-hour brainstorm. The complexity of the issue is paid lip service and this simplistic list is rarely thought through in any detail. Rarely is it proposed to do limited trials or experiments. The possibility of alternative solutions or ways of interpreting the data is closed off.
There are plenty of examples, but one in particular is the Laming report on social services in the wake of the Baby Peter scandal.
It turns out the cost of implementing his proposals is horrendous. Why am I not surprised?