Every fortnight I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds.
“Leadership is a serious meddling in the lives of others. Managers/leaders with poor self-awareness and not knowing how their behaviour affects staff do not get the best out of their teams.” —@shauncoffey
No matter how stupid and powerless we have been led to think of ourselves, we have at our fingertips — in our pockets, even — access to the near-totality of human knowledge and capacity.
It’s not too late to rise to this occasion. Omniscience requires good filtering. We may have gotten access to every piece of real and fake information ever produced but without the ability to discriminate between them. We got the intimacy of universal connectivity but without social skills to navigate it. We got perfect memory but without the necessary corresponding compassion for one another’s past missteps and failures.
Much is made about Silicon Valley’s culture of “innovation.” But the model for startup venture financing, and the system of rewards driving this supposed innovation, isn’t creative — it’s masturbatory. It wastes potential. It’s uninspired. It leaves founders like us staring at the ceiling.
The problem is that the platform Zuckerberg created does more than “give people voice, and bring people together.” It is economically incentivized to drive people apart. In the process it shatters an underpinning of democracy … Social media has, indeed, changed the way people create information. But platforms such as Facebook have also changed how people consume content; corporate algorithms are now the “centralized power” in control of that consumption. Openness and transparency must come to social media. Targetcasting should not destroy foundational elements of our democracy.
Empathy, therefore, is the human capability of discovering the equivalence of one’s internal self-model with that of its observations of the world. Empathy is how we make sense of the world. Conventionally, we employ the word ‘understanding’ to this capability. The origin of the word ‘understanding’ comes from the Latin prehendere, to grasp. Understanding means to grasp an idea, to hold on to an idea. The problem with this metaphor is that it fails to express the notion that understanding of any new idea is possible only when it relates to one’s own internal mental models. One cannot grasp a new idea if one has not developed the cognitive roots to hang that idea on to that mental tree. That is why you cannot achieve ‘symbol grounding’ in a top-down manner.
So when we understand ideas, we don’t grab and take ideas and separate them from their original sources. It is more like we empathize with what is external. What this means is that we don’t internalize everything that is external. We only internalize the bits and pieces that we can attach to our existing cognitive models. The remainder remains in external form. So when we look out into the world with our eyes, we don’t internalize everything we see. We only internalize what is important to our self-models, the rest we discard. We discard the rest because there are limits to our cognition and that our cognition is very frugal. The key to understanding the uniqueness of human cognition is understanding how we recognize what is relevant and what is not.