weird stuff

Fiction sometimes explains reality in a much better way.

“Corvallis had asked the usual questions about job title and job description. Richard [CEO] had answered simply, “Weird stuff.” When this proved unsatisfactory to the company’s ISO-compliant HR department, Richard had been forced to go downstairs and expand upon it. In a memorable, extemporaneous work of performance art in the middle of the HR department’s open-plan workspace, he had explained that work of a routine, predictable nature could and should be embodied in computer programs. If that proved too difficult, it should be outsourced to humans far away. If it was somehow too sensitive or complicated for outsourcing, then “you people” (meaning the employees of the HR department) needed to slice it and dice it into tasks that could be summed up in job descriptions and advertised on the open employment market. Floating above all of that, however, in a realm that was out of the scope of “you people”, was “weird stuff”. It was important that the company have people to work on “weird stuff”. As a matter of fact it was more important than anything else. But trying to explain “weird stuff” to “you people” was like explaining blue to someone who had been blind since birth, and so there was no point in even trying. —Neal Stephenson (2019) Fall: or Dodge in Hell


chocolate over broccoli

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

@csessums“My new favorite definition of Gamification — the process of pouring behaviorist chocolate over instructionist broccoli. Via @bjfr.”

@white_owly“A lecturer told us a story of a woman who had lived in abject poverty most of her life. She was taken on a tour of an affluent area — an almost utopian existence. She glanced around and said ‘there must be a lot of extremely poor people somewhere nearby’.”

@GWillowWilson“I never want to hear another bad word about cultural practices of the Aztecs, the Egyptians, the Celts etc. now that we have ‘a pyrotechnical celebration of fetal genitalia burned down 100k acres in 2020’ in our history books.”

@marklittlenews“Truth is social media [e.g. Facebook] did take power from old gatekeepers and democratise information. But reality is a new algorithmic gatekeeper with a proven record of promoting lies and undermining democracy.”

@BallouxFrancois“I had never fully realised until now that the reason pandemic brought down so many empires and kingdoms in history, wasn’t the death toll, but the fear, the sense of doom, the irrationality and the disunion they unleashed.” (more…)

power shifts

“The illiterate of the 21st Century are not those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” ―Alvin Toffler,

I read Toffler’s book, Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Power at the Edge of the 21st Century, shortly after it was published in 1990. He saw a shift in power developing due to advances in technology — from force and wealth — to knowledge.

It means that we are creating new networks of knowledge … linking concepts to one another in startling ways … building up amazing hierarchies of inference … spawning new theories, hypotheses, and images, based on novel assumptions, new languages, codes, and logics. Businesses, governments, and individuals are collecting and storing more sheer data than any previous generation in history (creating a massive, confusing gold mine for tomorrow’s historians).

But more important, we are interrelating data in more ways, giving them context, and thus forming them into information; and we are assembling chunks of information into larger and larger models and architectures of knowledge.

None of this implies that the data are correct; information, true; and knowledge, wise. But it does imply vast changes in the way we see the world, create wealth, and exercise power.

Not all this new knowledge is factual or even explicit. Much knowledge, as the term is used here, is unspoken, consisting of assumptions piled atop assumptions, of fragmentary models, of unnoticed analogies, and it includes not simply logical and seemingly unemotional information data, but values, the products of passion and emotion, not to mention imagination and intuition.

It is today’s gigantic upheaval in the knowledge base of society — not computer hype or mere financial manipulation — that explains the rise of a super-symbolic economy.


innovating with pkm

Last month I published the latest e-book in the perpetual beta series (163 pages) which is focused on actionable insights for working and learning in a networked world. I have extracted the 23 pages of Chapter 7 on personal knowledge mastery to provide an idea of what the remaining chapters in the book look like and as a reference for the online PKM workshop.

This chapter proposes that the connection between innovation and learning is evident. We cannot be innovative unless we integrate learning into our work. Improving our ability to see contradictions, by seeking disconfirming data, can easily be integrated into the discipline of PKM. (more…)

connecting knowledge

In early March I wrote how I was making sense of our digital world at the beginning of this pandemic. Some of my practices have held but after six months, some have changed. For example I see information from the WHO and CDC as lagging indicators, and no longer my first stop to find out what is happening now. I understand that they reflect the makeup of their members and funders more so than being a neutral point of view from the medical community.

I am also starting to understand that public health experts and epidemiologists, while both medical professionals, can have widely diverging perspectives on this pandemic. These are not the only knowledge silos dealing with a global problem from their unique and often blinkered perspectives. No single perspective can understand all the complexities. (more…)

six months later

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

Dr. Dipshikha Ghosh — “A 28yo woman died of post-covid myocarditis today. She was asymptomatic and treated at home and then developed complications after being declared negative. Let that sink in.”

Learning to live with Covid 19 coronavirus is not a viable option

What experienced epidemiologists do is to systematically identify and critique the totality of evidence, something most commentators on the subject simply do not have the skills or experience to do. This systematic and critical approach is particularly necessary when examining evidence about Covid-19 infection because it is hugely influenced by the setting in which the infection occurs.

How OCAD’s Dori Tunstall is rewriting the rules of design education

There’s a lot of talk about how design is going to save the world after COVID-19. I approach that talk with a sense of cynicism, because design hasn’t even addressed how it’s harmed communities for the last few hundred years. It’s only been in the last couple of months when all these brands like Mrs. Butterworth, Aunt Jemima, and the Washington Redskins moved away from racist representations of Black and Indigenous people for entertainment or consumption purposes.


an exploratory

On 30 September I will be participating in a series of exploratory sessions with Dave Snowden — learning & sense-making in uncertainty and continuous flux and I have discussed some of the concepts previously in sensemaking in uncertainty.

Dave Snowden and Harold Jarche have been exploring different aspects of learning, knowledge management and innovation for decades. This is the first time they are coming together to explore the similarities, differences and potential synergies between their approaches.

As part of our preparation, Dave and I are recording a video for participants to understand each of our frameworks/models/perspectives before we get into deeper conversations and explorations.

First, I would like to recognize my early inspirations for personal knowledge mastery.


sensemaking in uncertainty

When the pandemic broke out, the situation was generally chaotic and the best response was to act firmly, such as establish a lock-down as soon as possible.

“In the chaotic domain, a leader’s immediate job is not to discover patterns but to stanch the bleeding. A leader must first act to establish order, then sense where stability is present and from where it is absent, and then respond by working to transform the situation from chaos to complexity, where the identification of emerging patterns can both help prevent future crises and discern new opportunities. Communication of the most direct top-down or broadcast kind is imperative; there’s simply no time to ask for input.” —Snowden & Boone, HBR 2007

Now the pandemic is in its sixth month. We can make some sense of it, even though much is complex. The best response therefore is to probe — the Cynefin framework calls for those in positions of decision-making to probe, sense, and respond, using safe-to-fail experiments. A reductionist approach will not work in the complex domain. (more…)

push-button education

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

“Any idiot can impose and exercise control. It takes genius to elicit freedom and release creativity.”@DeeWHock

“LinkedIn is bragging that ‘member engagement has hit a record high’, which I’m sure is due to how great LinkedIn is, and has nothing to do with 30 million people being laid off and desperate for work.”@MeetingBoy

“When all are guilty, no one is; confessions of collective guilt are the best possible safeguard against the discovery of culprits, and the very magnitude of the crime the best excuse for doing nothing.” —Hannah Arendt (more…)