the medium is the message

Hossein Derakhsahn states that with social media platforms like Facebook, “The very idea of knowledge itself is in danger”. He goes on to describe how the web started as a text-based medium but has flipped into a new form of broadcast television.

“Social networks, though, have since colonized the web for television’s values. From Facebook to Instagram, the medium refocuses our attention on videos and images, rewarding emotional appeals—‘like’ buttons—over rational ones. Instead of a quest for knowledge, it engages us in an endless zest for instant approval from an audience, for which we are constantly but unconsciouly performing. (It’s telling that, while Google began life as a PhD thesis, Facebook started as a tool to judge classmates’ appearances.) It reduces our curiosity by showing us exactly what we already want and think, based on our profiles and preferences. Enlightenment’s motto of ‘Dare to know’ has become ‘Dare not to care to know.’” —WIRED 2017-10-19


myths, markets, & mistakes

Every fortnight I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds.

“Data will lead you wrong if you pay attention to that and don’t pay attention to people.” — Bozoma St John via @MarkFederman

@KevinDoyleJones: “Markets are collective consenual reality.”

@ChrisCorrigan: “There is never a point to failing if you aren’t doing it with rigorous attention to learning.” (more…)

leadership is helping make the network smarter

Organizations face more complexity in the type of work they do, the problems they face, and the markets they interact with. This is due to increasing connections between everyone and everything. To deal with this complexity, organizations should loosen hierarchies and strengthen networks. This challenges command and control management as well as the concept that those in leadership positions are special. Leadership in networks is an emergent property.

In networks, everyone can be a contributor within a transparent environment. Effective networks are diverse and open. Anyone can lead in a network, if there are willing followers. Those who have consensus to lead have to actively listen and make sense of what is happening. They are in service to the network, to help keep it resilient through transparency, diversity of ideas, and openness. Servant leaders help to set the context around them and build consensus around emergent practices. (more…)

cities and the future of work

Note: This post is based on several earlier ones. These have been edited and synthesized to a single composition in advance of my sessions in Helsinki on 3 November 2017 with The National Foresight Network and the Prime Minister’s Office where we will discuss the transformation of work and its consequences. This post looks at the roles of cities, and city regions, in a network society.

Tribes & Networks

“According to my review of history and theory, four forms of organization — and evidently only four — lie behind the governance and evolution of all societies across the ages:

  • The tribal form was the first to emerge and mature, beginning thousands of years ago. Its main dynamic is kinship, which gives people a distinct sense of identity and belonging — the basic elements of culture, as manifested still today in matters ranging from nationalism to fan clubs.
  • The institutional form was the second to emerge. Emphasizing hierarchy, it led to the development of the state and the military, as epitomized initially by the Roman Empire, not to mention the Catholic papacy and other corporate enterprises.
  • The market form, the third form of organization to take hold, enables people to excel at openly competitive, free, and fair economic exchanges. Although present in ancient times, it did not gain sway until the 19th century, at first mainly in England.
  • The network form, the fourth to mature, serves to connect dispersed groups and individuals so that they may coordinate and act conjointly. Enabled by the digital information-technology revolution, this form is only now coming into its own, so far strengthening civil society more than other realms.”
    Overview of social evolution (past, present, and future) in TIMN terms, David Ronfeldt

There are strong indicators that society is heading toward a quadriform structuring (T+I+M+N) with network culture dominating in many fields: open source insurgencies, Blockchain financial transactions,  political manipulation through networks, crowdfunding, etc. This is also bringing tensions between the old Tribal, Institutional, and Market forms against the emerging Network form.

“The more entrenched an older form, the more difficult it will be for a newer form to emerge on its own merits: This mostly occurs where tribal or hierarchical actors rule in rigid, grasping, domineering ways; but it may also apply where pro-market ideologues hold sway … Examples may include governments rife with a clannish tribalism, militaries wallowing in lucrative business enterprises, and ostensibly capitalist market systems fraught with collusive, protectionist cronyism. The stronger are tribal/clan tendencies in a society, the more likely are corrupt hybrid designs. A society of myriad monstrous hybrids is likely to be a distorted society, even a mean-spirited one.”
Explaining social evolution: standard cause-and-effect vs. TIMN’s system dynamics, David Ronfeldt


distributing power for the network era

A certain amount of command and control, exercised through a hierarchy is often necessary to get work done. I suggest temporary, negotiated hierarchies so that teams can form and re-form depending on what needs to be done. Reorganization can be inherent in the enterprise structure and not a cataclysmic event that happens only when management systems fail.

We are in the early stages of an emerging era where network modes of organization dominate over institutions and markets. Networks naturally route around hierarchy. Networks also enable work to be done cooperatively, as opposed to collaboratively in institutions or competitive markets. (more…)

the future of work is perpetual beta

Automation is a force that is continuously changing the nature of human work. First it replaced brute force with powerful machines, changing the nature of agriculture, mining, construction, and other fields of human activity. Then automated programs replaced simple work like withdrawing money from a bank account. Now automation is replacing complicated work, like coordinating drivers and passengers within a community, in real time. Any process that can be mapped, analyzed, and understood will be automated. As networked computers and the algorithms behind them become more powerful, even more complicated work will get automated. One banking industry analyst expects 30% of banking jobs disappearing in the next few years due to automation.

“Everything that happens with artificial intelligence, robotics and natural language — all of that is going to make processes easier,” said Pandit, who was Citigroup’s chief executive officer from 2007 to 2012. “It’s going to change the back office.” —Bloomberg, 2017-09-13


radical ideas

Every fortnight I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds.

@holden: “So a radical idea — maybe instead of teaching learners to code we should teach coders to learn: sociology, history, policy.”

“No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them.” —Assata Shakur, via @IamMzilikazi

@existentialcoms: “Philosophy is important because otherwise we would just be doing stuff without thinking about doing stuff. Come on, you can’t just do stuff.” (more…)

creating resilient knowledge networks

The personal knowledge mastery framework is a combination of seeking knowledge, making sense of it, and sharing it with others. It can become a long-term discipline of individually constructed enabling processes to help each of us make sense of our world, work more effectively, and contribute to society. Two key variables are how we make sense of knowledge and how we share it, in order to:  seek > sense > share. (more…)

adapting to life in perpetual beta

Twenty years ago I was finishing my Master’s thesis on learning in the information technology workplace. A significant part of my research relied on the work of Marshall McLuhan, especially his laws of media. My job at the time was the development of all training related to a fleet of helicopters employed in tactical aviation: from pilots, to technicians, and including flight simulation and computer based training. The web was a new thing in 1997. But I was convinced, based on my readings of McLuhan and many others, that it would create an epochal shift in how we work and learn. I decided that understanding this shift would become my professional focus.

I retired from the military in 1998 and took a position as project manager at The Centre for Learning Technologies, a now closed external department of Mount Allison University, here in Sackville. This is why we live in such a remote place. Later I was in charge of professional services for an e-learning company. In 2003 I started my consulting practice and soon after, this blog.

Over the past +14 years I have always had a challenge describing what I do for a living. Today I came across an article on the future of work, by Deloitte. The image included with the article pretty well describes my professional focus for the past twenty years. (more…)

thinking about facebook

This is a follow up on my post about the convenience of platforms like Facebook, which dominates online social networking. That one company has such global influence should be of concern to all of us. Our social networks define us, as Christakis & Fowler clearly showed in their 2011 book, Connected.

“Most of us are already aware of the direct effect we have on our friends and family; our actions can make them happy or sad, healthy or sick, even rich or poor. But we rarely consider that everything we think, feel, do, or say can spread far beyond the people we know. Conversely, our friends and family serve as conduits for us to be influenced by hundreds or even thousands of other people. In a kind of social chain reaction, we can be deeply affected by events we do not witness that happen to people we do not know. It is as if we can feel the pulse of the social world around us and respond to its persistent rhythms. As part of a social network, we transcend ourselves, for good or ill, and become a part of something much larger. We are connected.” —Connected

This is not the same situation as when companies once dominated TV advertising, as today even ad-driven Google has less influence on us than Facebook does. (more…)