curiosity and resolve

Jony Ive, Chief Design Officer at Apple, was the first recipient of the Stephen Hawking Fellowship at Cambridge Union. His lecture to a crowd of about 400 was covered by The IndependentApple designer Jony Ive explains how ‘teetering towards the absurd’ helped him make the iPhone

What struck me was how Ive clearly showed that to produce creative work one has to balance between getting lots of ideas and getting things done, especially creative new things. This constant dance between bigger groups of ideas and smaller groups of people working together requires both cooperation and collaboration. What makes it work is a desire to learn in order to get better.

Social networks can provide inspiration but sense-making requires the resolve to solve problems

“There is a fundamental conflict between two very different ways of thinking. It is the conflict between curiosity and the resolve and focus that is necessary to solve problems. Curiosity, while it fuels and motivates, despite being utterly fundamental to the generation of ideas, in isolation just culminates in lots of long lists, perhaps some ideas, but alone that’s sort of where it ends.” —Jony Ive


the origins of creativity

It is possible that early humans diverged from other primates when they began eating meat. This meat was likely burnt from frequent lightning strikes on the African savanna. They did not even have to know how start a fire, only how to keep one going. Eating cooked meat gave a much higher caloric intake and human brains grew significantly larger than their primate cousins. As humans developed a taste for meat and a source of constant fire at their campsites, they had to work together socially. Hunting or gathering during the day was very task-focused but in the evening groups of our ancestors sat around the fire for protection. This is where storytelling began. Modern day Ju/’hoansi of the Kalahari Desert reflect this in their daily routine — ‘daytime talk’ and ‘fireside talk’ are quite different. The vocabulary of the latter is much larger and evenings are much more engaged in storytelling.

This is one of the initial premises of Edward O. Wilson’s book, The Origins of Creativity. We all belong to, and still carry some of the attributes, of this early tribe. The creative arts, enabled by our ability to share language, are what makes us human. But the study of the humanities has lost its way, says Wilson. (more…)

cooperative leadership

Last week I hosted a video chat on the changing nature of leadership. Part of the discussion was on the changing needs of society as the dominant organizing forms shift — from Tribes to Institutions to Markets, and now to Networks. We are currently in a post-modern phase transition where the vestiges of the old form (Markets) still dominate as new forms of Networks are being experimented with. The ensuing uncertainty drives the current rise of populism, xenophobia, and demagoguery. People are scared. But the future can be positive.

The new network form is retrieving cooperation — sharing freely with no expectation of direct reciprocation — as the primary way of getting work done. We can only influence networks, not direct them. Collaboration — working together for a common object — worked well in markets because companies could collaborate in order to compete. Collaboration also works well in relatively stable institutions where the rules don’t change too quickly. But collaboration is too limited to work in networks. (more…)

it’s the system

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

“It pays to keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out.” —Carl Sagan, via @LucLalande

@suitpossum“The conflict is not ‘AI vs. Humans’. The conflict is ‘Humans who control AI infrastructures vs. Humans who don’t”

@MazzucatoM“David Ricardo was in 1821 talking about effect of mechanization on jobs and wages. But as long as profits were reinvested in economy, new jobs appeared. That stopped with maximisation of shareholder value. Blame financialization & bad governance, not robots! “

@gideonro“Without changes, we will eventually have algorithms to keep us perfectly perched just at the edge of financial ruin, but not over it.” (more…)

finding community

Many work teams today are distributed geographically, culturally, or in different time zones. But trust is required before real knowledge-sharing can happen. This is especially the case of sharing complex knowledge which requires strong social ties for trusted professional relationships.

“Being motivated to share what you know with others requires trust — not only trusting those others (something that is diminished with competition), but also trusting the larger institution within which the sharing of expertise is occurring.” —Hinds & Pfeffer (2003)

However, new ideas come from diverse networks with structural holes, often outside the organization. Therefore increasing innovation requires weak and diverse social ties.

“Connections drive innovation. We need input from people with a diversity of viewpoints to help generate innovative new ideas. If our circle of connections grow too small, or if everyone in it starts thinking the same way, we’ll stop generating new ideas —Tim Kastelle (2010)


21 lessons

“Without realizing the value of solitude, we are overlooking the fact that, once the fear of boredom is faced, it can actually provide its own stimulation. And the only way to face it is to make time, whether every day or every week, to just sit — with our thoughts, our feelings, with a moment of stillness.

The oldest philosophical wisdom in the world has one piece of advice for us: know yourself. And there is a good reason why that is.

Without knowing ourselves, it’s almost impossible to find a healthy way to interact with the world around us. Without taking time to figure it out, we don’t have a foundation to built the rest of our lives on.

Being alone and connecting inwardly is a skill nobody ever teaches us. That’s ironic because it’s more important than most of the ones they do.” —Zat Rana 2018-06-15

In 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari concludes:

“Self-observation has never been easy, but it might get harder with time. As history unfolded, humans created more and more complex stories about themselves, which made it increasingly difficult to know who we really are. These stories were intended to unite large numbers of people, accumulate power, and preserve social harmony …

… In the near future, algorithms might bring this process to completion, making it well-nigh impossible for people to observe the reality about themselves. It will be the algorithms that will decide for us who we are and what we should know about ourselves.

For a few more years or decades, we still have a choice.”



For the Web is part of the Worldwide Web Foundation“established in 2009 by web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee to advance the open web as a public good and a basic right … fighting for digital equality — a world where everyone can access the web and use it to improve their lives.”

For the Web is currently asking for stories.

How has the web changed your life? What do you use it for? What are your hopes for its future?

Well I have to say that the web changed my life. My blog has given me almost everything that is positive for my work. It has allowed me to connect with a global network. In 2003 I started freelancing, working from here in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada — population 5,000. Even our timezone [Atlantic Time] is unknown to many people. In 2003 my professional network was comprised of my ex-military connections, a few university ones, and some professionals in our rural region. The Canadian Maritime Provinces —  New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island — have about 1.7 million people, with no large cities. The region has relatively high unemployment, no head offices of large companies, and my town is 1,000 KM away from the next major urban centre — Montréal or Boston. There are few regional opportunities for me to find good paid work. (more…)

network literacies

Distributed governance was part of the conversation at RESET18 in Helsinki last month, where I discussed networks, communities of practice, knowledge-sharing, and sense-making, in the context of the Finnish civil service. I concluded that a network society needs networked models for organizing and for learning. Governments and their departments need to transition to the network form. Each network form will be different, so there are few best practices to follow. New practices have to emerge from those testing the new methods.

New practices, and literacies, are needed to maintain our democracies and to help each citizen thrive in this newly connected world. Frameworks like personal knowledge mastery provide the key concepts and vocabulary to become network literate.

“The complexity of the media landscape today places high demands on our own digital and media literacies and the role of adult education, and indeed the entire education sector, is crucial if we are going to raise awareness of both the dangers and the opportunities of the digital world that is forming around us.

However, the task of enabling citizens to make sense of and navigate today’s ever-changing media landscape (i.e. media and information literacy) depends on a major coordinated investment in training and research involving many sectors of society. For this to happen we need coordination and incentives from governmental level, something that may be difficult in countries.” —Alistair Creelman

While in Helsinki I was interviewed on a number of questions that had been provided by civil servants, to inform part of a public sector training program. These interviews were put together as a five-part video and are available free online at eLearning Finland [eOppiva].

1. Civil servants using networks
2. Seek > Sense > Share model
3. Differences in working and learning in networks
4. Efficient networking
5. Civil servants in external networks

Several graphics are included in the presentation and I have put these together as a PDF — PKM for Civil Servants.


serendipitous finds

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

@haymarketbooks“No human being is illegal.”

Prof. Jason Stanley — Three Essential Facets of Fascism

  1. Conjuring a “mythic past” that has supposedly been destroyed (“by liberals, feminists, and immigrants”)
  2. Fascist leaders sow division; they succeed by “turning groups against each other,” inflaming historical antagonisms and ancient hatreds for their own advantage.
  3. Fascists “attack the truth” with propaganda, in particular “a kind of anti-intellectualism” that “creates a petri dish for conspiracy theories.”


understanding leadership

My introduction to leadership came fairly early, as I was in Army Cadets and took my first leadership course at age fourteen. Every Summer through high school I would go to Cadet camp, with other boys who looked, acted, and sounded like me. I finished school and joined the Army thinking I had leadership potential. The Army thought so, as I was accepted into military college to become an officer.

College was a bit like Cadet camp, with drill and military stuff that I was used to. There were no women until my last year, when the first female officer cadets entered RMC. So I had no female peers, and on graduation went to an Infantry unit, which was only men at the time. The introduction of women to an all-male military school was not without its challenges. Many years later one of the first-year students for whom I was ‘responsible’ — more like I was responsible for making their lives difficult — told me that she appreciated that I had treated the men and women equally in our section. Several of my colleagues had not. I’m not sure why I had this moral compass, but it’s likely from my mother who has lived a life of many challenges and raised us in a disciplined way. She had grown up in what could be called the Prussian military tradition. (more…)