Weblog Entries for November 2010
November 29, 2010
links for 2010-11-29
Suggests two parts of the brain can alert us to anomolies but then, in some circumstances, delete them from our awareness. Meaning we're not good at learning from them. via @davidgurteen
The human touch
Andrew Sullivan highlights this story in Susan McGregor's report on the peace processes and technology. It's told by Jimmy Carter, describing the final days of the Camp David accord between Israel and Egypt:
Three days before the accords were signed, Israeli Prime Minister Begin announced that he would be withdrawing from the negotiations. He had taken an oath that he would never dismantle an Israeli settlement, and the discussions had reached an impasse. Before departing, he sent eight photographs to Carter for his signature: commemorative photos of himself with Carter and the Egyptian President Sadat. Later that day, Carter personally delivered the photos to Begin, each inscribed with the name of one of Begin’s eight grandchildren, as well as the president’s signature.
Begin, moved to tears by the personal gesture, agreed to return to the negotiating table.
November 28, 2010
links for 2010-11-28
Restates the argument that less equal societies can mean even the rich in them are less happy than in more equal societies.
via Neil Perkin. Crowdsourcing finance.
Neil Perkin looks at a simple service that let's you add clickable captions to videos. Another example of the capacity of technology to build interaction.
Abused children, complexity, emotions and rewards
That's a catch-all title that attempts to point to the many responses evoked by a recent article.
In the last year or two, I've learnt a little about the system of care for young people which perhaps prepared me for what I learnt in a year in the life of a foster carer. Nevertheless, I found it extraordinary. There are so many stories within this story, in turn moving, inspiring, bewildering and enraging.
Foster carers are at the very sharp end of managing those children who have been most failed by their families and effectively by society as a whole. For tiny financial compensation, they have to deal with kids who have been terrribly damaged. And they have to work within a very flawed system. Of course, any system that has to work in such circumstances is bound to struggle, but some of the situations exposed in this piece are shocking.
It seems woefully slow to respond effectively to powerful evidence of abuse by parents of their children. When a child is moved with almost no notice, after much confusion, largely at the behest of his abusive father, it's another child, the carers' own daughter, who seems to me to have the most appropriate response: astonishment and anger:
Our daughter cannot understand why Dan had to leave, and why we can't even meet up with him occasionally. She has a clearcut child's sense of the unfairness of the system. She finds it incredible, as we do, that the parents of these children, even after neglecting, abusing, abandoning them, still have the right to dictate the details of the placement. It's a constant source of frustration that the children in the care system appear to have far fewer rights than the people who have let them down.At times, I found the stories overwhelming and wanted to distract myself instead fo reading the whole article. Goodness only know what it must be like to be carers, and even more so the children, at the centre of all this.
I have too many other responses to this to capture in a simple post. But I would say that for anyone who insists that we can't bring emotional responses into management I would say this: without the emotional responses of these carers, there would be no hope whatver of responding to the terrible abuses that seem to continue in this system.
And I am left wondering at the tiny pay of foster carers set against the importance and complexity of the challenges they face. And then I think about the arguments advanced for the necessity of huge incentives to managers atop other complex systems which, right now, I suspect can't be more challenging than this one.
(Indeed, what do we mean by someone being "atop" a complex system? These carers are clearly low in the pecking order but are arguably more engaged with complexity than many others with higher status.)
Hat tip: Tweet from Philippa Perry
November 26, 2010
links for 2010-11-26
James Gardner argues that people working in government are more prone to placating their superiors in pursuit of promotions. Anecdotally, I've sensed this more working with government than in the private sector myself... but I'm wary of generalising too much.
November 25, 2010
Identity, beliefs and behaviour
Andrew Sullivan points to this suggestion that our beliefs follow our behaviour, rather than the other way round. It's certainly a good pushback to quite a lot of marketing and organisational thinking which seems to focus on fantasies about changing people's minds. I think the same applies to our sense of identity, which we take to be fixed but is actually more malleable.
I've experienced this lately, as I've taken up the cycle hire scheme which has started in London. I've never cycled in the city before, but I quickly became an enthusiast.
And minutes into my first ride, I noticed that my attitudes to etiquette at junctions changed. Behaviour which I frowned on a pedestrian became perfectly sensible as a cyclist. It was easy to start thinking of pedestrians as reckless hazards (whereas before it had been the other way round). I've also noticed that as I've acquired the gear (eg helmet and high-vis jacket) I've actually experienced a rather funny pleasure in feeling I'm now even more of a cyclist.
Our identities, beliefs and behaviours are not the realm of simple cause and effect, but of unexpected, unpredictable interaction.
November 24, 2010
links for 2010-11-24
A classic piece from 1999. Central idea: 20th century an aberration in following a broadcast, rather than interactive, model. "We are natural villagers. For most of mankind’s history we have lived in very small communities in which we knew everybody and everybody knew us. But gradually there grew to be far too many of us, and our communities became too large and disparate for us to be able to feel a part of them, and our technologies were unequal to the task of drawing us together. But that is changing."
November 23, 2010
links for 2010-11-23
The Gutenberg Parenthesis
Jeff Jarvis talks about the Gutenberg Parenthesis. Those who bemoan the supposed short attention spans of the networked generation, typically measure this by the capacity or willingness to read a book cover-to-cover. This assumes that reading books is normal; but what about the vast span of human history before books? Perhaps we're seeing a reversion to ways of knowing that were diminished by the printed word... to a more oral culture in which remixing is natural.
This reminds me of the book, The Alphabet and the Goddess which also suggests that reading had a powerful and not always positive effect on how we think and behave.
November 22, 2010
links for 2010-11-22
A bit of philosophy for a Monday morning... HT Rob Paterson
November 18, 2010
links for 2010-11-18
Yikes. So that's why the internet is so addicitive...
Following the debate on airport scanning, I keep seeing versions of a particular kind of argument. It takes this form:
I'd rather be groped/x-rayed than blown up by a terroristI just want to point out that this fails to recognise that it pits a certainty against a (remote) possibility. I could argue back that if we want to try equating possibilities we might consider weighing the health risks (on which there isn't an absolutely clear scientific consensus) of the X rays against the apparently statistically remote risks of terrorism.
Anxiety on flights
Shortly after posting about connecting airport security to human contact, I read Chris Corrigan's latest: Plane gripped by fear. He gets the impression that the suits on his plane in Canada appeared to be living in fear. I haven't had that impression so much in Europe, but I might pay more attention next time I fly.
Humans vs machines
Essentially, the Israeli system makes very smart use of technology but its focus is resolutely on people: both running a system that takes care of the passengers and also gets the value of making real eye contact as a key way of spotting dangers. It's relational and human.
The clumsiness of processes that fail to get this can be found in a lot of places other than airports.
November 17, 2010
links for 2010-11-17
The pushback against body scanners continues.
"I am not selling a tool or a process or a method or a product. I am making myself available to work with you."
Paul Clarke tells how with little effort, an astute use of the Freedom of Information Act, and a cool website called WhatDoTheyKnow.com, he was able to get a very unattractive shop sign removed in his home town. A nice lesson about appropriate effort and how a networked world can help us recover a little of our power.
November 15, 2010
links for 2010-11-15
Viv suggests getting rid of the tables in meetings. Makes loads of sense to me.
November 14, 2010
links for 2010-11-14
Jeff Jarvis interviews teens in New York on their use of Social Media. They're massively into Facebook, Twitter not so much. He suggests they use the net to connect, us older folks are still thinking publishing. "I see the Wall — as I think others my age do — as a place to publish or broadcast; we instinctively see it as media. So Twitter fits our reflex; Facebook theirs. But I think the young people are making use of the internet that is truer to its nature: It is not a medium but is a connector"
"Info-monopolies tend to be good-to-great in the short term and bad-to-terrible in the long term." via @BoingBoing
Skype launch a directory to match teachers with students for online learning. Could be the start of something big. HT @monkchips
Matt Taibbi uncovers the extraordinary mess surrounding the foreclosure crisis in America. It's extraordinary how a financial system can lead to people treating others like this.
Bohm on enfoldment
One of Bohm's ideas was that of the implicate order; that everything in the world arises from an unseen world and will eventually revert there. An acorn is not so much the source of the oak tree as an aperture through which the tree unfolds into the world. In the interivew, Bohm uses this metaphor:
Everybody has seen an image of enfoldment: You fold up a sheet of paper, turn it into a small packet, make cuts in it, and then unfold it into a pattern. The parts that were close in the cuts unfold to be far away. This is like what happens in a hologram.And here's his take on death:
Death must be connected with questions of time and identity. When you die, everything on which your identity depends is going. All things in your memory will go. Your whole definition of what you are will go. The whole sense of being separate from anything will go because that's part of your identity. Your whole sense of time must go. Is there anything that will exist beyond death? That is the question everybody has always asked. It doesn't make sense to say something goes on in time. Rather I would say everything sinks into the implicate order, where there is no time. But suppose we say that right now, when I'm alive, the same thing is happening. The implicate order is unfolding to be me again and again each moment. And the past me is gone.
Hat tip: Tweet from David Holzmer
November 11, 2010
links for 2010-11-11
Interesting research suggests just giving the homeless money, rather than advice or other forms of support, might be more effective. Also looks at other examples where social issues are treated by offering money. Would be interested in the nuances because "Punished by Rewards" has a lot of evidence of the downsides to financial incentives in many contexts. Though the homeless case doesn't really fit the "incentive" frame, some of the other egs in this piece do.
November 10, 2010
Kathy Jourdain writes about working with the our shadow side. It relates to an idea from Jung about the parts of our personalities we keep secret but which inadvertently leak out in a variety of ways.
Sometimes we just need to clear the agenda to enter into the unspoken conversation and to do that we need to do to be present with it, create the opportunity for things to be spoken, experiences to be validated and clearing to take place. What if, instead of fearing shadow, we normalized it? The real breakthroughs in our work and relationships come from the tough conversations. Being able to navigate our way through these conversations is what makes a group tight – the group learns to trust itself when it comes through the fire.I might talk about acknowledgement rather than validation but this really strikes a chord with me. Kathy continues the theme in a further post. She's dead right about the time trap, where our need to stick to a schedule provides a reason or excuse not to explore our more challenging responses. And about the toxic consequences for a team which continues to avoid dealing with the difficult stuff. I also thought this was a great point:
A second thing that stills us from voicing shadow is people’s goodness. People generally are trying hard and if we bring up shadow it seems to imply they – or we – are a bad person. Whatever shadow shows up gets generalized to the whole person rather than to the specifics of this particular shadow or context. If it is named, the response is often defensiveness – “I’m doing all I can”; “I’m doing the best I can”. People’s goodness and the tendency to generalize become a barrier to talking about hard and difficult things. It comes back to not wanting to hurt another person and also our lack of skill in addressing difficult topics. We are afraid for their reputation and for ours.Hat tip: These tweets from David Holzmer
links for 2010-11-10
Nice pushback against some of the less useful attributes that go with being a pirate. Via @jevon
A few fab factoids which might come in handy when people worry about "touchy feely" processes
Richard Wilson writes about the urgency of libel reform in the UK and the likelihood of rich vested interests lobbying to block it. I'm happy to join today's mass blog on this and hope you'll consider signing the campaign petition and maybe even chipping in financially.
The BPS Research Digest takes a look at the value of narcissism in creativity. I take all this sort of research with a pinch of salt, two pinches since coming across the WEIRD perspective on psychological research.
But I still found this interesting. They measured the degree of narcissism of particpants in some creative activities. They claim to find that
..narcissists on their own aren't any more creative than usual, even though they think they are. The narcissist's braggadocio also leads others to overestimate the originality of their ideas.And this rings very true for me as a recovering adman:
The implication seems to be that the braggadocio of the narcissists, rather than the true quality of their ideas, led evaluators to rate their pitches more highly. The researchers said that this finding should be alarming for people who work in fields that lack objective measures of the quality of ideas. 'In such fields, creative output may gradually decline as true creative talent is continuously traded for charisma and enthusiasm,' they warned.Very long term readers may understand why I laughed out loud at this.
There is a small flip side, apparently.
On the other hand, Goncalo's team show that when it comes to group creativity, the competitiveness of multiple narcissists really is beneficial, so long as you don't have too many of them.Hat tip: This tweet from Jan Kovitch
November 9, 2010
What a great example of spotting an assumption everyone makes about how a game is played. Viv and I sometimes talk about the tyranny of effort, where we are trying so hard that we don't spot simple, less manic solutions to problems.
Divergence and convergence
I wanted to log a couple of thoughts about our expectations of how groups will work together. It relates to what I've blogged before about closing the field: it's easy to make an assumption about what is and isn't the appropriate problem to solve and likewise who is and isn't the set of people who should solve it.
When a group meets, there is often an expectation that this particular group of people should agree on things at the end and go forward together. If we take the model of divergence and convergence which Geoff refers to in this post, are we going to expect it to apply to the whole group, or are we open to it working at many different times and levels, as individuals and smaller groups go through the day? I'm often asked in the course of a day's work what I'm going to do "to pull it all together at the end?" but it might be very useful for different people and subsets to end the day in different places on their learning journeys.
People assume that the entire group should converge at 4pm because that's when the day ends. But what justifies that assumption? Perhaps the most useful thing the day will bring about is to surface deep disagreements that can't be easily resolved rather than (if we push for convergence) cover them up? Or what if the most useful thing that happens is that small tribes within this group converge on projects and don't need/want/expect everyone else to agree with them?
I remember running a barcamp style workshop to generate social media initiatives for a client, which mixed together their customers, some developers and a variety of employees. It was a lively day and a huge number of ideas for projects were generated. At the end, someone in the room asserted that we should end with action planning... as if this group should somehow collectively process and filter all the ideas. That would have been bonkers in my view: this group was never going to meet again; some of the developers wanted to incubate their schemes rather than parade them before a large plenary session. We had a very short closing that allowed everyone to share the experience with absolutely zero need to pull anything together. The people who had ideas they wanted to advance were sure to do so anyway, without any silly affirmation ritual at the end.
Of course, that's one anecote about one particular context. But if we define our field as "this large group of people for the next 8 hours" and have some expectation of converging to schedule we are making a big intervention. And we may not have noticed.
November 8, 2010
links for 2010-11-08
Analysis of facebook status updates shows the times of year when relationships are in most danger. Funny.
November 6, 2010
Small details and focussed attention
Viv writes about activities that mess with our minds - science experiments on the one hand, improv games on the other. Both draw attention to how quickly we add interpretation to simple inputs. It's part of what makes us effective and also trips us up sometimes.
Being able to apply focussed attention to how we interpret small gestures can be helpful in unravelling conflicts and creating new ideas. A lot of arguments are what I call pub arguments, where the logical content is only a small part of the heated battle and there is more heat than light. Being attentive to small details may help to de-escalate things.
The paradox of talking about complexity with certainty
Jonathan Rosenhead, in an article dating from 1998, takes a critical look at how ideas from complexity sciences get applied to management. It is not a light read, but I thought he made some interesting arguments. This is the nub:
This account of attempts to apply ideas from complexity theory to management practice has been broadly critical – critical of claims for the authoritative status of what would be better presented as stimulating metaphors. It is indeed curious that a message based on the importance of accepting instability, uncertainty and the limits to our knowledge should be presented with such an excess of certainty. The explanation for this paradox may lie in the twin heritage of management complexity. The ‘systems’ community world-wide has been particularly prone to sectarianism and evangelism, while the audience for management texts is conditioned to expect large generalisations supported anecdotally. It can be a heady mixture.That itches a scratch for me. I find it very helpful to look at management as complex rather than complicated but sometimes feel uncomfortable with the tone of voice with which this analysis gets presented. Rosenhead puts his finger on the paradox. Years ago, I titled an essay on this topic "Simple ideas, lightly held" and I think the lightness still feels significant. I often forget it myself.
Rosenhead goes on to suggest which aspects of the complexity metaphor are useful to managers, and which seem to take things a bit far. And he has some provocative things to say linking some complexity gurus with Adam Smith's invisible hand, which I'm not quite sure what to make of. It's worth reading in full, if you can find the time.
November 4, 2010
links for 2010-11-04
A great insight into the staggering brokenness of conventional publishing
November 3, 2010
links for 2010-11-03
Roland Harwood points out the lure, and the pitfalls, of investing in buildings to support innovation. Instead, government should put more effort into connecting people. An interesting restatement of the "links not nodes" school, and it makes a lot sense to me.
Sensitivity and intelligence
Keith Sawyer reports some interesting research on group intelligence. I'm always a bit sceptical of clinical measures of intelligence but was interested in what they found. Groups can have a collective intelligence that is different from the intelligence of individual members; so the average intelligence of a groups members is not a strong predictor of how intelligently the group functions.
Here's the really interesting bit.
What I particularly like about this study is that they also looked at what factors caused a high c. Group cohesion did not; motivation did not; satisfaction did not. The factors that resulted in a high c were: the average social sensitivity of the group members; and the extent to which participation in the conversation was equally distributed across group members.That makes a lot of sense to me.
November 1, 2010
Feedback, part 3
Ok, I'm getting back to the subject of feedback, riffing off Andrew Rixon's post. (Here are parts one and two.) The story so far: Andrew reflects on why feedback on our work so often sucks. It's partly because it triggers a lot of primal responses that put us on the defensive. He links to Roger Schwarz's takedown of simple techniques like the feedback sandwich, and I reflect on the pros and cons of techniques in general, suggesting that management models have their uses but tend to ignore the more animal or lizard parts of our nature.
So now I want to focus on another link from Andrew's post, Amy Mindell's ideas about 721 Feedback. Here's the article (word format). Andrew warns us it goes into spooky territory, which may be Australian for what stiff-upper-lip Englishmen would sneer at as "touchy feely". I say, bring it on!
Here's part of Andrew's synopsis:
With most of our everyday experience being focussed around what he calls “Consensus Reality” there is a whole other layer that lies beneath. And that is the layer of Dreamlike awareness. In Consensus reality, you are you and I am I. Things are as they seem. Words are words. The said is what’s said. But within the Dreamlike layer, our experiences become more shared. We are both teachers and learners simultaneously.I found a lot to like in this paper and I can relate the idea of "dreamlike" reality to the ideas of Bill Isaacs about dialogue entering domains where we get beyond politeness and conflict. It's as if we connect to a field that embraces self and other, rather than treating them as different. As an evocation of a way of relating, I think it's quite exciting.
I think there are overlaps with the Roger Schwarz approach, in the pursuit of conversations that are conducted in a spirit of shared enquiry, loosening attachment to teacher:pupil formats, but the language used is very different.
I notice that I don't feel the same irritability about the language of the Mendel approach as I did about Schwarz's model and I'm not entirely sure why. I think in part because the Mendel approach - to me - seems to evoke more of the richness that lies in our relationships. It's probably also because I'm more comfortable with an approach from the world of pyschotherapy where I've done a lot of my own development and training.
I also found I could relate to Mendel's notion of the "Big U" (with a slight cringe at the spelling). I think on a good day, when confronted with a difficult situation in a group if I come from that deeper sense of myself I can avoid getting drawn into a futile status contest and meet people in a more useful way.
Possibly more to follow.
Ideas and the project plateau
Tim Kastelle discusses Scott Belsky's vimeo talk about the idea generation trap. Here's Tim's description of what Belksy calls a project plateau: When ideas are new, we're filled with energy and excitement.
However, once we settle into trying to make the idea real, the levels of both excitement and energy go down – it starts to feel more like work. How do we respond to this? According to Belsky, the natural response is to look for the excitement of a new idea again – and succumbing to this temptation is deadly. If you do, you’ll end up with a lot of partially-executed ideas, which is functionally equivalent to having, well, no ideas at all.Oh boy, that makes sense to me. Makes you wonder about the side effects of brainstorming or companies that are all about new ideas.
It also reminded me of a reference in Wikipedia's page on learning styles (and their defects) which includes this interesting observation:
Chris J Jackson's neuropsychological hybrid model of learning in personality argues Sensation Seeking provides a core biological drive of curiosity, learning and exploration. A high drive to explore leads to dysfunctional learning consequences unless cognitions such as goal orientation, conscientiousness, deep learning and emotional intelligence re-express it in more complex ways to achieve functional outcomes such as high work performance.I'm going to have to spend some time following that up.
Unless I get distracted...