creativity needs just enough social connections

During this pandemic and various lockdowns  there have been many discussions about the need for physical contact and how it supports creativity.

The writer and scientist, Isaac Asimov, reflected on — How do people get new ideas? — after a short stint at an MIT spinoff company in 1959. New ideas are not often received well by those in positions or power or influence Asimov noted.

It is only afterward that a new idea seems reasonable. To begin with, it usually seems unreasonable. It seems the height of unreason to suppose the earth was round instead of flat, or that it moved instead of the sun, or that objects required a force to stop them when in motion, instead of a force to keep them moving, and so on.

A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance. Since he occurs only rarely, he must seem eccentric (in at least that respect) to the rest of us. A person eccentric in one respect is often eccentric in others.

Consequently, the person who is most likely to get new ideas is a person of good background in the field of interest and one who is unconventional in his habits. (To be a crackpot is not, however, enough in itself.)

Once you have the people you want, the next question is: Do you want to bring them together so that they may discuss the problem mutually, or should you inform each of the problem and allow them to work in isolation?

My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it. (The famous example of Kekule working out the structure of benzene in his sleep is well-known.)

The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.

Asimov felt that isolation is required for creativity. (more…)

sensemaking’s secret weapon

“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a passion for something that they know how to do and who interact regularly to learn how to do it better.” —Etienne Wenger

“Communities of practice emerge in the social space between project teams and knowledge networks.” —Verna Allee

It is not the size of our networks and communities that matters but how we engage people with diverse opinions and experiences. Networks help us see opportunities and new ideas. Communities give us a place to discuss and learn about these. We need to engage in both. (more…)

“data are never neutral”

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.

“Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.” —@taylorswift13 in Innovation Lessons from Taylor Swift by @skap5

Reg Revans“Unless your ideas are ridiculed by experts, they are worth nothing.” via @ShaunCoffey

In the Pursuit of Knowledge, There Be Dragons

“Data are never neutral. They are biased. They are rife with uncertainty and limitations and all sorts of other imperfections. But for data to be legitimate in the eyes of non-technical actors, data must be performed as precise and objective and neutral. This creates a conundrum from anyone whose practice relies on communicating data. When high-powered people want to rely on data as truth, they don’t want to be faced with confidence intervals or error bars. They want to be told that the data are reliable, by which they mean accurate, by which they mean a perfect representation of whatever they wanted to measure. Ignorance is bliss. It’s also political.”


the fifth wave

One way I keep up with this pandemic is from 13 experts who share their insights on Twitter — my pandemic list. As we enter a fifth wave of the novel coronavirus, let me share some of these insights from the list and elsewhere.


“The question of whether SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted by droplets or aerosols has been very controversial. We sought to explain this controversy through a historical analysis of transmission research in other disease … Resistance to the idea of airborne spread of a respiratory infection is not new. In fact, it has occurred repeatedly over much of the last century and greatly hampered understanding of how diseases transmit.”
—Echoes Through Time: The Historical Origins of the Droplet Dogma and its Role in the Misidentification of Airborne Respiratory Infection Transmission in SSRN 2021-09-21 (more…)

adapting to the network era

The TIMN model developed by David Ronfeldt states that people have only organized in three basic forms — Tribes, Institutions, Markets — and that a fourth form appears to be developing in societies — Networks. I have suggested that new forms appear and are adopted when the dominant form of communication changes. Institutions developed with the advent of Writing. Markets grew to dominance with Printing. It looks like digital (electric) communications are pushing us toward Network forms.

I use Marshall McLuhan’s Laws of Media and his tetrad for sensemaking to understand the effects of new communication technologies. (more…)

the house always wins

Terry Yu discusses the perils of creating online content and distributing it via consumer social media platforms. Here are the highlights of Yu’s Twitter thread discussing survey data from 150 ‘creators’.

  • 90% are burnt out
  • 71% are considering leaving social media
  • 51% say it is taxing to make a living on social media

The main contributor to this pressure is of course — the algorithm. Creating on social media media looks very easy at first but then the pressures of competition and changes to the algorithm ensure that the platform makes the most profit. With consumer social media, the house always wins. (more…)


Several times over the past year I have been asked to conduct online masterclasses to help organizations with their internal change initiatives, such as digital transformation, distributed work, or online community building. These sessions are usually two to three hours and have from 20 to 60 participants. Each one is focused on the needs of the client which we discuss in advance. Here are the various components that we have used.

  • Value network analysis
  • The PKM framework
  • Network mapping exercise
  • Managing in the complex domain
  • Network leadership
  • Understanding communities and networks
  • Innovation and social learning
  • Understanding media


active transportation

This is a presentation I am giving to Sackville Town Council.

Thank you for allowing me to address council this evening. I would like to discuss active transportation in our town. I am not an expert in this field but I have cycled over 125,000 kilometres since moving here in 1998 and much of that distance has been within town limits. I know our roadways — intimately.

Bicycles are not the only form of active transportation. Town council has recently allowed skateboards on our streets. In addition, there has been a significant increase in the use of electric bikes, often by older adults. This trend will likely continue given what we are seeing elsewhere.

As you know, Sackville recently won the ParticipAction active community challenge for New Brunswick. As the town has claimed, Sackville is a different kind of small town. We have a continuing history of unique road users — horses, hay wagons, logging trucks — and we usually use the roads in harmony. Vulnerable road users — walkers, runners, cyclists, skateboarders — are fellow citizens using our public thoroughfares. (more…)

network literacy

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.

“The biggest butterfly effect is how a horny college student wanting to rate girls caused the collapse of global democracy.” @santiagomayer_

“Levels of scientific literacy among non-scientists doesn’t seem important until all of a sudden it does.”@paulisci

“The [Federal Reserve Bank] can hike interest rates all it wants, it’s not going to make it rain in Brazil, open ports in China, find truck drivers in the UK, change covid-0 policies in Australia. Bet that the Fed will hike rates if you want, but don’t bet it will help this supply-driven inflation.”@francesdonald

“Disinformation will always get more viral traffic than the truth, because disinformation comforts people that everything is connected and purposeful, while the truth is coldly random and offers little sense.”@rothschildmd


algorithmic amplification

What is the impact of constant misinformation on consumer social media? Dave Troy discusses the effects in a long Twitter thread:

“Disinformation is the operational end of a process designed to break down society and radicalize it into cultish forms. This process leads people away from truth. We can’t address this process by distributing truth; the cure for disinformation is not simply truth … Truth is, rather, a goal we must arrive at … We need to turn our attention to what is being lost: social ties, social trust, social capital … We don’t look enough at the relationship between identity, in-group, and belief. They are all reflections of the same thing and you can’t alter one without altering the others. This is why injecting garbage breaks down social ties and alters belief and identity. Sufficiently radicalized, people won’t recover their prior social connections, leaving them stranded on ‘islands of dissensus’. There is no natural pathway back from this. It’s a one way process. Throwing truth at them doesn’t restore lost social/family ties; it alienates them.” —Dave Troy

Twitter recently revealed — Examining algorithmic amplification of political content on Twitter — that its algorithm that decides what you see in your stream can have a social and political impact. (more…)