status update on society

Many of the changes we face today are similar to a time when a new communications technology came along and changed the face of Europe — print. The Protestant Reformation saw the rise of religious wars, which were later followed by the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment. An age of exploration and colonialism followed, which brought not just gold and silver to the coffers of Europe, but new foods such as potatoes, to fuel the Industrial Revolution.

Today the world is dealing with another new communications technology — electric, now in its digital form. It too is and will continue to change a now globally connected society. These changes continue, with the concurrent challenges of natural resource depletion, pollution, over-population, and the effects of climate change. We are now all members of Marshall McLuhan’s “global village”. What happens in one remote location can be felt across the world through our collective digital nervous system. Our senses are overwhelmed.

The impact of the electric revolution, which started with the telegraph, are now evident and reactions vary across societies and cultures. For example, new technologies and scientific breakthroughs show great promise while these new discoveries put into question older scientific work. This is a natural process for scientists but this can be jarring for citizens, many of whom seek solace in certainty from those selling easy answers, such as anti-vaxxers or homeopathic healers. We humans have difficulties dealing with complex answers. (more…)

a decade of finds

I started Friday’s Finds in May 2009 as an attempt to capture what I was finding on Twitter, as I had joined that platform in December 2007. I felt that I was making a lot of connections but at that time it was difficult to search and retrieve tweets.  So I started curating weekly compilations. After a few years these became fortnightly and remain so. Next week marks 10 years of my Friday’s Finds. I now have a decade of links and references that I have found to be of professional or personal interest. I often search these in my ongoing research or for client work. They add to my social bookmarks on Diigo. Last year I compiled a list of the best finds of 2018. You can also go back and see what were the best finds of 2013.

Here are some finds from the previous fourteen nights [a fortnight].

@GeorgeMonbiot “If you asked me: ‘which industry presents the greatest environmental threat, oil or media?’, I would say ‘the media’. Every day it misdirects us. Every day it tells us that issues of mind-numbing irrelevance are more important than the collapse of our life support systems.” (more…)

narcissists at work

The following series of tweets by @HoarseWisperer is an incredibly good examination of how people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) control those who work for them. I am sure many of us have witnessed similar behaviours in toxic workplaces. Naming and understanding these behaviours can help us deal with them. I have expanded some abbreviations and highlighted what I think is the key insight. (more…)

What is innovation?

In writing almost 100 posts on innovation since 2007, it’s time to put the core observations together into a cohesive narrative. Here goes.

Innovation is fifteen different things to fifteen different people.

“An innovation is the implementation of a new or significantly improved product (good or service), or process, a new marketing method, or a new organisational method in business practices, workplace organisation or external relations.”OECD

The Learning Link

As Marina Gorbis concludes in The Nature of the Future, “much new value and innovation will move from commodity-or-market-based production to socialstructed creation.” Innovation today is people making connections. Innovation is dependent on learning in networks. Social learning is about getting things done in networks. It is a constant flow of listening, observing, doing, and sharing. Effective working in networks requires cooperation, meaning there is no fixed plan, structure, or direct feedback. Through social learning we can co-develop emergent practices. Social learning is how we move from transactions to relationships and foster knowledge mobilization.

Innovation is inextricably linked to both networks and learning.  Innovation is not so much about having ideas as it is about connecting and nurturing ideas. Tim Kastelle says that, “Innovation is the process of idea management.” Effective knowledge networks are composed of unique individuals working on common challenges, together for a discrete period of time before the network shifts its focus again. The network enables infinite combinations between unique nodes. For example, better connections enabled a high school student to create a better cancer diagnostic tool. Connected discoveries will be the hallmark of the network era.

The connection between innovation and learning is evident and we cannot be innovative unless we integrate learning into our work. It sounds easy, but it’s a major cultural change because it questions some common assumptions about work —

  1. A JOB can be described as a series of competencies that can be ‘filled’ by the best qualified person.
  2. Somebody in a classroom, separate from the work environment, can ‘teach’ you about a job requirement.
  3. The higher you are on the organization chart, the more you know.


three pillars of leadership

“Hierarchical authority is much more effective at securing compliance than it is in fostering genuine commitment.”Peter Senge

Senge and his team have identified three types of leadership in organizations.

  1. Local level — to experiment
  2. Executives — to support local level & model behaviour
  3. Networkers — to make connections between people

Leadership today is all about making the network more resilient. It is helping the network make better decisions. Executives can ensure that local leaders have the time and space they need to experiment. Executives can appoint and support networkers or community managers. Then they can focus on setting the example, modelling and not shaping their enterprise.

“network leadership is about working together to make sure that people in the network are connected in a way that encourages flows of resources, information and support to every part of the network” —June Holley

This is a cooperative model, where executives set the example and exert influence through reputation and not positional power. This is a model that promotes diverse thinking and therefore drives innovation. (more…)

meetings, bloody meetings

My introduction to organizing meetings was in the military, where different types of meetings had standard structures. The Orders Format was something any officer could recite from memory. During officer training we were shown the 1976 John Cleese film, which was updated in 1993 — Meetings, Bloody Meetings. Cleese, a manager, is convicted in a dream of the following:

  1. Chairing without due thought & preparation.
  2. Failure to signal your intentions for the meeting.
  3. Negligent ordering of the agenda & criminal misallocation of time.
  4. Not being in full control of the discussion.

In conversations with friends and colleagues in many organizations over the years, it seems that not much has changed since the 1970’s. Now we can add in the standard conference call scenario of constant interruptions as people check in after the meeting has started and the chair starts all over again. (more…)

movements and rackets

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

“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” ―Eric Hoffer, The Temper of Our Time

@EskoKilpi — “When managers think about diversity they typically look for diversity of gender and race but the real goal should be diversity of thinking, diversity of mind.” (more…)

“the strategic and purposeful production of ignorance”

You will not achieve an informed public simply by making sure that high quality content is publicly available and presuming that credibility is enough while you wait for people to come find it. You have to understand the networked nature of the information war we’re in, actively be there when people are looking, and blanket the information ecosystem with the information people need to make informed decisions.” —danah boyd

So concludes danah boyd in an excellent piece on what lies beneath the current flood of fake news: agnotology — “the strategic and purposeful production of ignorance”. Anyone who is concerned about the erosion of democracy as a result of the fragmentation of society through fake news, propaganda, or conspiracy theories should read this article. The conclusion is that we cannot achieve this by merely spreading good information. (more…)

workers are already mature

“Growth is not linear and it doesn’t happen in discrete phases marked by convenient external characteristics” — which is why maturity models are wrong — according to Christiaan Verwijs, specifically looking at agile models.

“Of course, maturity models are meant to simplify the complexities of reality. But what is gained by squeezing such a messy, non-linear thing as the professional growth of individuals, teams, and organisations into an easily digestible model that allows us to feel like we’re making decisions based on something tangible? Oh, wait ….
Maturity models are the best friend of consultants. They are easy to understand and may seem very profound at first. It’s an easy way to make a good impression. This makes them excellent snack food for consultants, and for the organisations that are looking for easy answers to their complex problems.” —CV

Are maturity models useful? Is there a more useful model we could use?

“Remember that all models are wrong; the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful.”George Box (more…)

beyond the solutions at hand

“There is a need to deal with the problem independent of the solutions at hand. We have a tendency to define the problem in terms of the solutions we already have. We fail most often not because we fail to solve the problem we face, but because we fail to face the right problem. Rather than doing what we should, we do what we can. In the systems view, it is the solution that has to fit the problem, not vice versa.” — Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity: A Platform for Designing Business Architecture

Systems thinking seems to be missing in many parts of our society. For example, green energy proponents refuse to consider low carbon nuclear power as an option, including new nuclear technologies like molten salt. I am not sure what the optimal solution is but there is a significant cost to solar energy. Using only “the solutions at hand” can blind us to other options. Once we have taken up our positions, we seldom question them. This is one of our greatest mistakes, especially since more of our challenges will be complex in a connected world of seven billion people with degraded natural resources and facing climate change. (more…)