filter failure is a human failure

There was an explosion on social media over an incident between school boys, on an official school trip to demonstrate in Washington DC, shown in a video vocally berating a Native American elder. Here is one of the latest articles about it, showing additional video — don’t doubt what you saw with your eyes. Mainstream media, like our own Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, are trying to establish a very difficult-to-find middle ground. I have opinions on what I have seen and read but I am not ready to share these in public. I am talking about them in private with some trusted friends and colleagues. I will share if and and when it is appropriate.

“It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure”, wrote Clay Shirky a decade ago. As the online space of social media gets more polluted and manipulated by trolls, bots, and hidden agendas, then filters become critical. Sensemaking cannot be done alone. Every thinking person has to find ways to understand issues of importance. If professional journalists can be co-opted by bots, what about the rest of us?

“Using bots to seed a divisive meme is akin to lightly blowing on an ember to start a fire. In a healthy society, that ember quickly burns out, starved for fuel. In a society in transition, the landscape is littered with desiccated institutions and ideas, ready to ignite.” —John Robb


learning in complexity and chaos

Most of our current work structures are designed to address complicated situations, such as constructing a building, launching a campaign, or designing a piece of equipment. But more of our challenges are complex and cannot be solved in a standard way —  inequality, refugees, populism, racism. Whenever people are involved, within a global context of climate change, the situation is likely complex. In complex situations there is less reliance on detailed plans and analysis and a greater emphasis on continuous experimentation coupled with good observation and tracking. We have to learn constantly in complexity.

Complexity & Chaos

According to the Cynefin framework we should Probe > Sense > Respond when dealing with complexity, as opposed to Analyze > Sense > Respond when the situation is complicated. Mechanical systems are complicated, but human systems are complex. It means that we cannot over-plan, though planning itself prepares us to deal with what emerges as we probe complex situations and environments. In complicated conditions we can rely on established good practices, but in complex ones we need to continuously develop our own emergent practices.

In Chaos: A User’s Guide, Bruno Marion concludes that the world today is not just complex, but even chaotic.

“Never in the history of humanity has a single human being had so much power. Never in the history of humanity have YOU had so much power!

Optimistic or pessimistic, it is like being a spectator of a film of which we seem to know the ending, whether happy or unhappy. Today one must cease to be a passive spectator but an actor in this fast-changing world.”


gaining insight at work

With increasing complexity in most aspects of a network society, the way that we support organizational learning must change. With low levels of complexity, knowledge can be codified into documentation and distributed throughout the organization. Best practices can be determined and then people can be trained to perform these methods at work. Basic aircraft flight operations can be taught in this way. But complex problems require implicit knowledge that cannot be put into a manual. This type of knowledge is nuanced and dependent on the context and situation. For example, negotiating the creation of the United Nations required many conversations and involved a myriad of social connections. It required social learning, which is how we gain insights, by connecting with others and learning while we work.

Social learning is the process by which groups of people cooperate to learn with and from each other. The network era is creating a historic reversal of education, as discourse replaces institutions, and social learning in knowledge networks obsolesces many aspects of organizational training. It is as if Socrates has come back to put Plato’s academy in its place, but this time the public agora is global. (more…)

in the beginning was the word

A fairly lengthy article in The New HumanistAre we city dwellers or hunter-gatherers? — questions the accepted wisdom that it was agriculture that domesticated hunter-gatherer societies and as a result imposed hierarchies and created societal inequalities. The authors cite many discoveries of hunter-gatherer societies that managed to organize on a massive scale and create large complicated structures.

“Still more astonishing are the stone temples of Göbekli Tepe, excavated over 20 years ago on the Turkish-Syrian border, and still the subject of vociferous scientific debate. Dating to around 11,000 years ago, the very end of the last Ice Age, they comprise at least 20 megalithic enclosures raised high above the now barren flanks of the Harran Plain. Each was made up of limestone pillars over 5m in height and weighing up to a ton (respectable by Stonehenge standards, and some 6,000 years before it). Almost every pillar at Göbekli Tepe is a remarkable work of art, with relief carvings of menacing animals projecting from the surface, their male genitalia fiercely displayed. Sculpted raptors appear in combination with images of severed human heads. “

These required some form of institutions and command & control to coordinate work. But these works were mostly done on a seasonal basis with large groups of people getting together for a period of time and then going back to egalitarian tribal ways. This trend was also in evidence in North America and the Arctic. People were willing to get together and give up control in order to hunt or create something larger than themselves. There is also evidence that a selected few of these people were revered and their deaths celebrated to show their wealth and influence. (more…)

What is happening to our intellectual world?

Literacy — the written word — empowers our “harsh desire to last”. It enables our words to extend beyond our lifetimes. Western literacy is basically a tool to escape death. But the new electric media will likely inform and change literacy. George Steiner notes in a 2002 lecture that all our electric devices are based on Victorian era Boolean logic. We harbour the illusion that our current type of literacy is the result of some inevitable and logical progression, but it only reflects one narrow perspective of human understanding. For example, mathematics is a universal language. Mathematicians who speak different languages can still collaborate on problems through mathematics. Part of the future of literacy may be numeracy.

Steiner likens grammar to the musical scale. How can we make music without knowledge of notes and scales? How can we write for understanding without mastery of grammar? Like mathematics, music is a universal language. (more…)

first finds of 2019

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

“To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.”
—Kurt Vonnegut, via @ShaunCoffey

@robpatrob“In Athens, democracy degenerated into populism, leading to the war with Sparta and defeat. Maybe there is a cycle?”

@PhilosophyMttrs“Word of the Year” — Ultracrepidarianadjective noting or pertaining to a person who criticizes, judges, or gives advice outside the area of his or her expertise


citizen sensemaking

Finland has taken a private-sector initiative to introduce people to Artificial Intelligence and turned it into a state-supported program to train 1% of the population.

“The idea has a simple, Nordic ring to it: Start by teaching 1 percent of the country’s population, or about 55,000 people, the basic concepts at the root of artificial technology, and gradually build on the number over the next few years.” —Politico 2019-01-02

This is a good idea and nobody could find fault with an educational program that helps citizens understand types of technology that affect much of their lives. But is it enough? Is it merely treating symptoms instead of looking at systemic factors? Is the long-term objective of the Finnish government to train 1% of citizens in 100 different things, so that all of them know something about a specific field that someone else has considered important?

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” —Old Adage

Or is the real objective of any democracy to foster an aggressively engaged and educated citizenry?

Teach people to learn for themselves how to fish and they can learn anything else for a lifetime. —Harold Jarche (more…)

embrace the snowflakes

Q. Why in the age of the internet does the British army need the ‘snowflake generation’ more than ever?

A. Their compassion in dealing with local populations, and their technological prowess, are essential qualities in any modern military operation

Major Heloise Goodley, army chief of general staff’s research fellow at Chatham House, says that new skills are needed for the modern, machine-augmented battlefield.

“The proliferation of automation and artificial intelligence has not decreased the requirement for a human component in war, but it is changing the decision making and cognitive skills required of those soldiers. The army needs soldiers who have the intellectual and psychological aptitude to work in an increasingly automated operational environment, the very computer skills Generation Z have become derided for.” —The Independent 2019-01-05

This is not your father’s Army. It’s not even the Army I left 20 years ago. Back in 1998, on leaving the Army, I felt that global digital networks would change everything — they have. I have more recently noted that the future is networked & feminine and that we need to retrieve gender balance to adapt to new societal and economic realities. That balance is not just masculine/feminine but a balance that utilizes a broad range of human capabilities —  including “phone zombies” & “snowflakes” as the UK recruiting posters state. Just look at the leadership skills that 32,000 respondents indicated were the most important in today’s work world. (more…)

the democratization of media

“You’re just hearing about it [microaggression] more, because the people who have been suffering it for a long time have decided that they aren’t going to suffer it anymore. The disempowered recognize that it’s time for them to be heard.

Social media gives them a platform to broadcast that message for the first real time in history. Prior to a decade ago, they’d have to find some way to get their message out through media dominated by the very people who were looking down on them and oppressing them. The democratization of media gave them an equal playing field now.” —Peter Kruger, on Quora

Last year I wrote a series of posts on the retrieval of feminine characteristics necessitated by a network society. This started with the future is networked and feminine, the most viewed post I have ever written here.  It was summed up in retrieving gender balance, a much less controversial title. My intent with these post was to show how diversity is essential for innovation, and ignoring or sidelining 50% of the population is just plain stupid. Heather McGowan gave some positive feedback which I appreciate, given my own privileged position in society. (more…)

nine shifts — one is critical

Nine Hours

In 2004 Bill Draves and Julie Coates wrote Nineshift: Work, life and education in the 21st Century. That was the same year I started blogging here. Nineshift is based on the premise that there will be a major shift in how we spend 9 hours of each day.

“There are 24 hours in a day. We have no real discretion with roughly 12 of those hours. We need to eat, sleep, and do a few other necessary chores in order to maintain our existence. That hasn’t changed much through the centuries, so far.

That leaves approximately 12 hours a day where we, as individuals, do have some discretion. That includes work time, play time, and family time.

Of those 12 hours, about 75%, or 9 hours, will be spent totally differently a few years from now than they were spent just a few years ago. Not everything will change, but 75% of life is in the process of changing right now.”

The authors put forth that society will significantly shift what we do with those nine hours and this will be complete by 2020 — one year from now.

  1. People Work at Home — “Work is an activity, not a place.”
  2. Intranets Replace Offices
  3. Networks Replace the Pyramid
  4. Trains Replace Cars
  5. Communities Become More Dense
  6. New Societal Infrastructures Evolve
  7. Cheating Becomes Collaboration
  8. Half of all Learning will be Online
  9. Education becomes Web-based