saving democracy

Why do younger people generally think it is less essential to live in a democracy? Perhaps it’s because the times are changing. The first democracies (USA, France, and gradually the UK) emerged about 300 years after the invention of the printing press. A free press was a cornerstone of American democracy. All of these are representative democracies, electing people to go to a central location and represent a constituency. Maybe they are no longer suitable for a network era society.

For instance, in 2015 I was involved in a project to inform Canada’s Department of Justice — Identifying & Responding to Issues in Canada. One issue we identified was that trust in democracy was decreasing.

“Respondents also note a growing democratic deficit which has contributed to recent cynicism and societal distrust. This further challenges fundamental social-trust contracts. For instance, with the 2008 financial crisis, people lost trust, the psychology of the masses changed, traditional authority figures and institutions were challenged and there was a demise of authority. This is linked to a lack of support and credibility for existing models for resolution and decision-making. This is seen as contestation / dissatisfaction with local, national and international notions of community, the lack of public support for conflict resolution mechanism that do not allow for public input or develop avenues for community engagement and bridging mechanisms for social divisions.”


wicked problems

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

@StuartMcMillan: “The only thing you need to feel extremely smart is a lack of curiosity. The perpetually curious will always think they’re dumb.

“Every totalitarian regime is frightened of the artist. It is the vocation of the artist to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing alternative futures to the one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.” —Walter Brueggemann, via @CurtisOgden

@SimonTerry: “A Twitter thread is a perfect vehicle for conspiracy theories: Bite-sized information; social validation; sources people rarely check; pace & format that allows skipping details, critique or connections; & degree of difficulty to read that makes reflection & criticism a challenge.”


staying afloat

How do we make sense in a world of fake news, social media, and fascist thinking, in what is often described as a post-truth society? We have to make sense collectively. No single person can do it alone. The objective of the personal knowledge mastery framework (PKM) is to help professionals become knowledge catalysts.

“A professional is anyone who does work that cannot be standardized easily and who continuously welcomes challenges at the cutting edge of his or her expertise.” —David Williamson Shaffer

PKM is staying afloat in a sea of information buoyed by knowledge networks and guided by communities of practice. In this emerging networked society we need to collectively buy time and make sure that everyone can swim.

Getting started takes a bit of effort but mostly some focus. Let’s say that you have three areas in which you would like to be better informed — regional politics, climate change, and artificial intelligence. The latter is of interest because you think your professional development may be affected by AI. (more…)

“the number one critical skill set”

“Imagine you’re trying to fix a problem, dealing with a crisis, or even just replying to someone, responding to a query, thinking about a possible solution. Most people deal with the issue at hand. That’s great already!

But if your KM meta reflex kicks in, all of a sudden you see another arc:

Hold on a minute! Is this a one-off? Or something likely to happen again? What can I do here and now that will not only help in the moment, but save time for me, and possibly others, in the future?

THAT is the meta reflex that gives you an edge. And it’s personal knowledge mastery at work. It is to knowledge management what meditation is to life. It’s the open secret that helps you avoid the hole in the road. Repeatedly.” —Ewen Le Borgne

Imagine spending less time looking for files and reference documents. How would a diverse international community of fellow professionals help you with your current work or to find new work? What would you do with a network you could call on to get trusted advice? What if everyone you worked with had a similar network? Innovation is not so much about having new ideas as it is about making connections. The more connections you have, the greater the chances for new ideas. More and more of our work is focused on generating ideas, rather than producing replicable results. Machines produce stuff, people produce ideas. (more…)

symptoms, causes, & idiots

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

@white_owly“Symptoms love dressing up as causes. And causes love hiding behind them.”

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” —Victor E. Frankl, via @euan

The Digital Maginot Line by @noUpside

“In a warm information war, the human mind is the territory. If you aren’t a combatant, you are the territory. And once a combatant wins over a sufficient number of minds, they have the power to influence culture and society, policy and politics … What made democracies strong in the past — a strong commitment to free speech and the free exchange of ideas — makes them profoundly vulnerable in the era of democratized propaganda and rampant misinformation … The solution to this problem requires collective responsibility among military, intelligence, law enforcement, researchers, educators, and platforms. Creating a new and functional defensive framework requires cooperation.”


curiosity, creativity, complexity, & chaos

In complexity, cooperation trumps collaboration. Collaboration happens around some kind of plan or structure, while cooperation presumes the freedom of individuals to join and participate. Cooperation is also a driver of creativity as it enables more and varied connections with people and with ideas. Cooperation is a fundamental behaviour for effectively working in networks, and it’s in networks where most of us will be working.

People in networks cannot be told what to do, only influenced through other nodes (people) due to their reputation. If people don’t like you, they won’t connect. In a hierarchy you only have to please your boss. In a network you have to be seen as having some value, though not the same value, by many others.

Coordination is the lowest level of working together. It ensures that the right person is doing the right work at the right time. It works in low levels of complexity. Cooperation is not the same as collaboration, though they are complementary. Teams, groups, and markets collaborate. Social networks and communities of practice usually cooperate. Working cooperatively requires a different mindset than merely collaborating on a defined project. It requires curiosity. (more…)

democracy 2.0

How print enabled democracy

“The mass societies had many more decisions to make, and no way of making them in the old, egalitarian way. Their huge numbers made any attempt at discussing the question as equals impossible, so the only ones that survived and flourished were the ones that became brutal hierarchies. Tyranny was the solution to what was essentially a communications problem.

Fast forward ten thousand years, and give these societies mass communications. You don’t have to wait for Facebook; 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. We didn’t invent the principle of equality among human beings; we just reclaimed it.” —Gwynne Dyer


curiosity and resolve

Jony Ive, Chief Design Officer at Apple, was the first recipient of the Stephen Hawking Fellowship at Cambridge Union. His lecture to a crowd of about 400 was covered by The IndependentApple designer Jony Ive explains how ‘teetering towards the absurd’ helped him make the iPhone

What struck me was how Ive clearly showed that to produce creative work one has to balance between getting lots of ideas and getting things done, especially creative new things. This constant dance between bigger groups of ideas and smaller groups of people working together requires both cooperation and collaboration. What makes it work is a desire to learn in order to get better.

Social networks can provide inspiration but sense-making requires the resolve to solve problems

“There is a fundamental conflict between two very different ways of thinking. It is the conflict between curiosity and the resolve and focus that is necessary to solve problems. Curiosity, while it fuels and motivates, despite being utterly fundamental to the generation of ideas, in isolation just culminates in lots of long lists, perhaps some ideas, but alone that’s sort of where it ends.” —Jony Ive


the origins of creativity

It is possible that early humans diverged from other primates when they began eating meat. This meat was likely burnt from frequent lightning strikes on the African savanna. They did not even have to know how start a fire, only how to keep one going. Eating cooked meat gave a much higher caloric intake and human brains grew significantly larger than their primate cousins. As humans developed a taste for meat and a source of constant fire at their campsites, they had to work together socially. Hunting or gathering during the day was very task-focused but in the evening groups of our ancestors sat around the fire for protection. This is where storytelling began. Modern day Ju/’hoansi of the Kalahari Desert reflect this in their daily routine — ‘daytime talk’ and ‘fireside talk’ are quite different. The vocabulary of the latter is much larger and evenings are much more engaged in storytelling.

This is one of the initial premises of Edward O. Wilson’s book, The Origins of Creativity. We all belong to, and still carry some of the attributes, of this early tribe. The creative arts, enabled by our ability to share language, are what makes us human. But the study of the humanities has lost its way, says Wilson. (more…)

cooperative leadership

Last week I hosted a video chat on the changing nature of leadership. Part of the discussion was on the changing needs of society as the dominant organizing forms shift — from Tribes to Institutions to Markets, and now to Networks. We are currently in a post-modern phase transition where the vestiges of the old form (Markets) still dominate as new forms of Networks are being experimented with. The ensuing uncertainty drives the current rise of populism, xenophobia, and demagoguery. People are scared. But the future can be positive.

The new network form is retrieving cooperation — sharing freely with no expectation of direct reciprocation — as the primary way of getting work done. We can only influence networks, not direct them. Collaboration — working together for a common objective — worked well in markets because companies could collaborate in order to compete. Collaboration also works well in relatively stable institutions where the rules don’t change too quickly. But collaboration is too limited to work in networks. (more…)