the balance between emotion and logic in the digital age

The recent research report — the rise and fall of rationality in language — shows a significant shift to emotion in the published public discourse  during the 1980s, after 130 years of predominately logic and reason.

After the year 1850, the use of sentiment-laden words in Google Books declined systematically, while the use of words associated with fact-based argumentation rose steadily. This pattern reversed in the 1980s, and this change accelerated around 2007, when across languages, the frequency of fact-related words dropped while emotion-laden language surged, a trend paralleled by a shift from collectivistic to individualistic language.—PNAS 2021-12-21

This trend accelerated again in 2007 according to the researchers. They go on to observe that social media may have played a role in this shift. (more…)

the power of social learning

On 26 January I will be presenting on — The Power of Social Learning: Building Knowledge, Community, and Trust — hosted by Valamis LXP. Several questions have already been submitted by some of the over 150 participants registered so far and I will not have time to address most of these. Instead, I will try to answer these here — by topic — though they mostly do not directly reflect the content of the presentation. Some of these questions would require much more contextual understanding to give an adequate response and others could make for a month-long consulting assignment. (more…)

sensemaking through irony

How can we thrive in a broken system? This is perhaps one of the greatest challenges many of us face today, whether it be where we work, the institutions we deal with, or the governance systems that control us. Geoff Marlowe explains that how we perceive the situation and what type of humour we use, are critical in getting to a point where we may be able to take constructive action. Neither apathy nor cynicism will get us there, only irony may.

Ironic humour is often misunderstood and maligned by the positionally powerful because it challenges the deference they can assume is their due …

Which raises the question that if irony is so vital in maintaining a positive state in the face of an aspiration / actuality gap, why not just focus on humour?

That’s because without honesty and humility, any humour intended as ironic runs a real risk of sliding into sarcasm – literally “tearing off the flesh” of others.

Humour deployed as a form of violence isn’t going to contribute to the collective sense making, decision making & action taking that’s vital in an increasingly uncertain and unpredictable world. —Thriving in a broken system


learning from the influenza pandemic

In July 2018, one hundred years after the influenza pandemic began, Extra Credits started a 6 part animated series to explain what happened. Little did they know what would happen 18 months later. The series is great for all ages and does simplify many aspects of a complex situation but I think they have done a good job. This series seen in light of the current pandemic shows how human behaviour, power elites, and vested interests have not changed in the past century. We have a better understanding of the science than we did in 1918 and our tools are much more sophisticated but we are acting pretty well the same as they did then.

Episode One covers the initial cases discovered in the USA and Canada and how these were covered up by authorities. Remember, there was a global war still going on.

Episode Two examines what happened in the trench fighting in Europe and how it was only when the disease hit neutral Spain, which did not censor the press, that it became known as the Spanish Flu. If you want to give it a geographical name, the North American Flu would be more accurate, even though it may have originated in China. (more…)

value network analysis masterclass

Value Network — “A web of relationships that generates economic or social value through complex dynamic exchanges of both tangible and intangible benefits.”Verna Allee

I participated in my first value network analysis (VNA) workshop in 2007. My impression at the time was that humans work in complex environments and we are by our very nature unpredictable. The result of a VNA allows us to ask better questions but it doesn’t give specific answers (it’s not a tool for bean counters). I felt that VNA was an excellent change management tool. I could see the use of VNA and the resulting concept maps enabling better communication within organisations, with clients, with funders, and throughout communities. These perceptions have not changed (more…)

farewell 2021

On the last Friday of each month I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds.

“I fell in love with what now seems to be called web1. It was limitless, open, free. We now seem to be rushing towards the opposite of that with web3. Needlessly replicating the problems of the real world online. Scarcity, exclusivity, even eco-destruction. I don’t get it.”@iamharaldur

“If you want to understand the difference between a network and a community, ask your Facebook friends to help paint your house. Networks connect; communities care.”@mintzberg141 (more…)

the blind monks are running the show

There is a story, told in various forms, about the blind men, or monks, and the elephant. These men are sent away by their ruler to find out what this creature is and to report back to him. Each only feels a part of the elephant so each one reports a different description and they argue with each other. In the Buddha’s version, he concludes, “Just so are these preachers and scholars holding various views blind and unseeing…. In their ignorance they are by nature quarrelsome, wrangling, and disputatious, each maintaining reality is thus and thus.”

I have often told this story, and then ask — What if a group of women was sent instead? I would wager that the women would have talked about their experiences and come through consensus to a more complete description of the elephant. Who knows, and perhaps our future really lies in being networked and more feminine. (more…)

our leadership crisis

The past 20 months have witnessed a global crisis in leadership. We will not distribute vaccines to poor countries because we are letting the market lead our pandemic responses. Public health officials have held on to droplet dogmatism in spite overwhelming evidence that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is airborne. Schools have been kept open while many children have not been able to get vaccinated. This pandemic has become a crisis in network leadership.

One design problem of almost all organizations and institutions is the inability to quickly change who is in charge. In dealing with complex challenges the best organizational form, according to Verna Allee, is loose hierarchies and strong networks. I also advocate for ways to enable temporary negotiated hierarchies for working and learning in the complex domain. (more…)

yes, it’s the system

Only in the past month have public health authorities in Canada acknowledged that SARS-CoV-2 is primarily spread through the air, after more than a year of prevaricating by ‘Droplet Dogmatics’ in face of the evidence.

“Since March 2020, Ontario [Province of Canada] public health guidelines have stated that droplet precautions are adequate to guard against COVID-19 transmission. According to the province, airborne precautions, such as N95 masks, are needed only by those performing aerosol-generating procedures, such as intubating a patient [in June 2021].” —CBC 2021-06-20

COVID-19 is an airborne disease. Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer only publicly acknowledged airborne transmission this November. But many protocols to control fomite transmission continue, such as plexiglass dividers and surface washing conveyor belts in supermarkets.

In view of overwhelming evidence, our structures — workplaces, schools, eating establishments — still do not change to adapt to the evidence. Peter Drucker is attributed for the saying that ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’. Or perhaps Robbie Burns said it best when considering what happens to our ‘best laid schemes’. (more…)

distributed work 2021

I am quite certain that distributed work is here to stay. Even Dr. Anthony Fauci at the US CDC is surprised at how long this pandemic is lasting. With the highly infectious Omicron variant becoming dominant in many countries, it does not look like it will be over soon. In a few months time, some people will have been working distributively for two years, not at their request, but having found new work norms to get things done. I have spoken to many people who will not go back to a carbon-intensive work commute.

Here is a review of some thoughts on distributed work throughout 2021. (more…)