making sense of our digital world

The spread of the novel corona virus SARS-CoV-2 is having a massive influence on our connected world. Schools are being shut, quarantines are in effect, and airlines have cancelled certain flight routes. So where are we getting our information from? If it’s from Facebook then some secret algorithm designed to maximize advertising revenue is deciding what we see. This does not make for a well-informed citizenry. There are also forces at play that want people to panic. Some misinformation may be designed to push stock prices up or down so profits can be made. Other forces see panic as a way to destabilize competing or warring nations. The digital information sphere is constantly being manipulated and we should understand this and find ways to counter the post-truth machines. (more…)

remote work and learning

I have been working and learning remotely since 2003, when I became a freelancer. I live in a fairly remote location — Atlantic Canada  — away from major metropolitan hubs. I had to understand remote technologies in order to stay connected to my peers and potential clients. There was little chance I would bump into them here in Sackville, New Brunswick. Over the past decade the work with my colleagues at the Internet Time Alliance has been mostly remote, as we span between the UK and California. Necessity has been the mother of invention for a lot of my work.

“Harold Jarche is a true pioneer. Nine years ago [2005], long before online activities were commonplace, we conducted a series of Unworkshops on the topic of web-based learning. We relied on free software. Our students came from Australia, Lebanon, Canada, Austria, the Azores, and points in between. Lessons were both synchronous and offline. To give people exposure, we used a different platform each week. I can’t imagine anyone (aside from Harold) crazy (and innovative) enough to sign up for something like this.” —Jay Cross (1944-2015), founder Internet Time Alliance

I recently came across a site dedicated to remote work — This site has a number of questions to which over 100 companies have posted responses. I would like to highlight what I think are the most interesting responses to some of the questions. While many of the responses come from start-ups I will try to focus on those from larger or more established companies. Today, the drive for more remote work, even in established businesses, is quickly ramping up. Given the current global health situation, this site, which includes a blog, is quite useful. (more…)

PKM in practice

What is cognitive load?

“When the brain has to deal with multiple elements of information, difficult material, and you have to manipulate or process those different elements, working memory can struggle. It imposes a heavy working load on working memory – that is cognitive load … Intrinsic cognitive load is the load complex material places on working memory. It is subjective, intrinsic and there’s not much you can do about it. Extraneous cognitive load is in the designed instruction and can be redesigned to reduce cognitive load.” —Donald Clark

Worked examples can lessen cognitive load, according research by John Sweller, which is reviewed by Donald Clark in the quote above. “A worked example is a step-by-step demonstration of how to perform a task or how to solve a problem”, according to Psychology Wiki. Cognitive load management is one of the four beneficial skills that can be acquired through the practice of personal knowledge mastery (PKM). For example, off-loading some cognitive tasks to an external network or community of practice provides time to focus or reflect. (more…)

the end of control

Did print enable democracy, and is that why the founders of the USA put freedom of the press into their Constitution?

“ … just invent the printing press. Wait a couple of hundred years while literacy spreads, and presto! We can all talk to one another again, after a fashion, and the democratic revolutions begin.” —Gwynne Dyer

If print enabled democracy, will the emerging digital medium destroy it?

“The main handicap of authoritarian regimes in the 20th century — the desire to concentrate all information and power in one place — may become their decisive advantage in the 21st century.” —Yuval Noah Harari


learning in the flow of work

Networked humans in a connected society:

  1. Our increasing inter-connectedness illuminates the need for cooperation.
  2. Simple work keeps getting automated, but still needs human oversight.
  3. Complicated work gets automated, outsourced, or contracted to the lowest cost of doing business.
  4. Complex work can provide a unique business advantage — but complex work is difficult to copy.
  5. Creative work can find new opportunities — but creative work is often intangible and constantly evolves.
  6. Complex and creative work require greater implicit knowledge.
  7. Implicit knowledge is difficult to share and takes time to understand.
  8. Implicit knowledge is often developed through conversations and social relationships.
  9. Social learning networks — with trusted relationships — enable better and faster knowledge feedback loops.
  10. Hierarchies constrain social interactions — so command & control management models need to change.
  11. Learning among ourselves is integral to complex and creative work.
  12. Social learning is how work gets done in a networked society.
  13. Management’s primary job is to support social learning.
  14. Work is learning, and [mostly informal] learning is the work.

This is real learning in the flow of work— connected, social, and human. (more…)

a mixed bag

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

“Humanity’s problem today is that we have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology.” —E. O. Wilson, via @Kpaxs

@snowded“In complexity … you define a direction of travel, not a goal, because if you start on a journey you will discover things you didn’t know you could discover which have high utility, if you have an explicit goal you may miss the very things that you need to discover.”  via @sys_innovation

@UNHumanRights“Social Media is the new public square to which all Human Rights apply, including freedom of expression, privacy, access to information, transparency, equality. We need to make it a safe space for all.”

@suzie_dent  — “English has an ancient law: in words like ‘chit chat’, ‘zigzag’, and ‘seesaw’, we always put the part with an i (as in ‘pit’) or e (as in ‘be’) first. We instinctively know this rule of ‘ablaut reduplication’. You can’t have a pair of flop flips or jamjims, or play pong ping.”

@dpontefract“Over the past 5 years I’ve interviewed 500+ senior leaders. CEOs, CIOs, COOs, VPs, SVPs, EVPs, Deans, Directors, Provosts, CHROs … The top workplace issue is busyness. They are stressed, overburdened and in too many meetings. No time to coach. They are just trying to survive.” (more…)

our natural stupidity

The platform monopolists and the surveillance capitalists are at war with us, citizens of the world. They have engaged some of the best minds — from psychology, cognitive science, usability, addiction research, human factors engineering, anthropology, etc. — so that our evolutionary developed cognitive biases are used against us to sell us more crap. Some people call this ‘peak capitalism’. We have been marketed to for ages but now our every action online is used to manipulate us to buy something or believe something that will influence our actions. Monopolies are not good for democracy.

“The people can be successful only when they are right. When monopolies succeed, the people fail; when a rich criminal escapes justice, the people are punished; when a legislature is bribed, the people are cheated.”Henry Demarist Lloyd 1881

leadership through cooperation

One of the few areas where most nations cooperate is in infectious disease control. For nation states, cooperation is the best option in this type of ‘prisoner’s dilemma‘.

“On 31 December 2019, the World Health Organization was alerted about a cluster of pneumonia cases of unknown etiology in Wuhan, China, which prompted international concern of the potential public-health impact of an outbreak of a new virus [COVID-19] … With the now global spread of the virus, the urgency of a coordinated international response has amplified … This multi-pronged approach to curtail the outbreak, strongly supported by existing R&D, is a testament to the collaborative response of international organizations and the research and clinical communities … The initial global response to the 2019-nCoV outbreak illustrates the power of rapid communication and the importance of sustained research and collaborations that can be leveraged in future outbreaks. Sustained cooperation is essential to their resolution.” —Nature 2020-02-03

In Canada, special funds of up to $1 million per project have been allocated for rapid research into the recent outbreak of the novel corona virus [COVID-19]. Other nations, institutions, and corporations are also cooperating on molecular assays to diagnose COVID-19, including — China, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, USA. A special English-Chinese translation engine for scientific and medical use is being made freely available to researchers around the world by UK-based St. John’s Innovation Centre. (more…)

learning about machine learning

Why is machine learning [ML] important for your business? If you work at Nokia, your Chairman can explain it to you in a one hour presentation he developed over six months of research. Risto Siilasmaa helped make his network smarter. Everyone needs to know if ML can help with their business problems, but first they have to understand the basics, says Siilasmaa.

  • Digitization has created an explosion of information
  • ML is based on models like logistic regression, which can be fairly easy to understand
  • ML is fitting the model to the data
  • ML is neural networks learning from data sets
  • The more high quality data, and computing power, the fewer mistakes ML will make
  • In a large neural network you can have 100 million parameters in a single layer
  • Flawed outputs can happen if human oversight confirms incorrect ML conclusions (human oversight becomes very important)
  • A neural network first learns from a data set (time consuming) and then can be tested against other data sets
  • The important work is done by systems of ML systems
  • Machines are still getting faster and more tools are being developed
  • The data we are helping create (e.g. through use of speech recognition) is feeding AI corporations
  • ML can be tricked if you know the underlying algorithms
  • Remember: Garbage-in, Garbage-out
  • Big question: What data will we need in the future to make better decisions?
  • Business and human work is moving to — Low Predictability + High Complexity
  • ML can help to experiment faster and better in order to deal with Low Predictability + High Complexity
  • The future of work: First experiment … then develop a strategy



If you find that people on social media have a tendency toward anger and outrage there is one action we all can take to diffuse the situation. It’s simple, but first we have to stop and think. If there is but one practice that will help make social media more civil, it is to always read the full article or reference before sharing and especially before commenting. In short — RTFM.

I recently posted a link to an article on Twitter — How McKinsey Destroyed the Middle Class — with this quote, In effect, management consulting is a tool that allows corporations to replace lifetime employees with short-term, part-time, and even subcontracted workers, hired under ever more tightly controlled arrangements … Technocratic management, no matter how brilliant, cannot unwind the structural inequalities that are dismantling the American middle class.” I don’t agree with the entire article but there is some truth that large consultancies have helped to get rid of middle management, blocking career growth for workers at the bottom of the hierarchy, and shifting non-management personnel to contracted or part-time workers. (more…)