Dave Pollard's chronicle of civilization's collapse, creative works and essays on our culture.
A trail of crumbs, runes and exclamations along my path in search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.

November 30, 2005

The Page as Tableau, the Mind as Visitable Place, and Collective Knowledge as Landscape

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 18:37
Earlier this week I wrote about wikis as a potential tableau of the human mind, navigated by auto-generated mind-maps. I’ve been thinking more about this, and specifically more about the fundamental unit of wikis (and the Internet as a whole): the page.

It seems to me that, rather than the unfathomable Windows nested-folder ‘content management system’ of our hard drives, a wiki-and-mind-map tableau of the My Documents and My Messages and My Links folders on your hard drive as a surrogate for ‘everything you know that you can write down’ would need to unfold as a huge tableau of pages. The mind map navigator would become what its name suggests — a map of this huge tableau, this ‘virtual visitable place’.

This idea of the MyDocs + MyMessages + My Links part of your hard drive as ‘everything you know that you can write down’ (hereinafter referred to as EYK-TYCWD, pronounced eck-ti-quid) is important. As Dave Snowden is fond of saying, we know more than we can say, and we can say more than we can write down. So this codified, explicit stuff we keep on our hard drives is not EYK. But it’s an important subset, and the best that KM or at least PKM can hope to offer us.

Some of us write down a lot more than others, for a variety of reasons. Some people are inclined to write down only what’s useful in their ‘work’ identities, formalizing their personal/business life split. Some people don’t think much of their own thinking, so most of what they write down is links to the writings of, or syntheses of, or addresses of, the people whose thinking they like, the others who ‘speak for them’, at least in the written world. Some of us just don’t spend much time in or see a lot of value in the written world at all — those who prefer oral or non-verbal communications. So while a wiki tableau of one person’s EYK-TYCWD might be dense, a goldmine of useful and context-rich knowledge to discover and explore, another person’s might be very fragmentary, or even non-existent. But, we work with what we can get, and maybe EYK-TYCWD is good enough.

Our short and long-term memories have different kinds of ‘stuff’ in them, and this naturally translates to any tableau of our EYK-TYCWD. In the diagram above I’m postulating that the most useful parts of our EYK-TYCWD are of three main types:

  • Stuff on subjects of significant personal interest or expertise: This is the stuff we’ve thought about the most, usually over an extended period. We mentally organize this stuff, I think, by subject, though what each of us calls each of these subject depends on our mental frames, where our interest or expertise came from and how deep it is.
  • Stuff on projects and events and experiences relevant to us: This is stuff that is more transient in nature, which we tend to organize more on a calendar or time basis. Once the project is over or the event has passed, some of its memories may make their way into the more permanent ‘subject’-organized stuff, but a lot of it will be forgotten.
  • Stuff in messages, conversations, threads and stories we have originated or participated in. This stuff is the most transient of all, but, along with events and experiences, it is the stuff that is most likely to ‘change our minds’, to cause us to change what we think and believe or reorganize it according to a different point of view. If the story is memorable enough it can pass into our more permanent subject-organized stuff (arguably it then becomes myth).

Could we design an algorithm that could parse the EYK-TYCWD on our hard drives into these three types of knowledge and create a map showing the topography and taxonomy and landscape of our personal knowledge, values and beliefs, and the connections between this content? We might need a concept map rather than a mind map to do this, since concept maps are better at showing circular and n-to-n connections than the tree-structured mind maps. Might this algorithm even illuminate us, and help us organize our own thinking better by showing us a picture of the connections we haven’t already formed with our synapses?

The common denominator of all the end-nodes of the mind map pictured above is that they are flat pages. What is a page, anyway? It must resonate in some way with the layout of our brains, since it is ubiquitous in all human cultures. Studies suggest people are four times more likely to scroll down through a document (even a long one) embedded in a page of a message than to open the same content in an attachment. Books and notebooks, still the principal means by which we store our EYK-TYCWD, are made up of pages.

But perhaps pages are used more because of limitation of the technology of storing written information — the unfolded paper page and the unscrolled video screen. It is kind of annoying to have to ‘scroll down’ to read a whole article or see a whole graphic, or to have to keep turning pages instead of being able to simply scan the whole and jump ahead when our mind is racing faster than we can read linear material. It’s even more annoying when someone has to keep flipping back and forth through the page-like slides of a presentation deck. PowerPoint uses a ‘layout’ display to give you a larger picture, and Flickr and Google Picasa provide similar tableau displays. ‘Single frame’ business presentations that show a multitude of images and slides connected together in a single, wall-size tableau have proven very effective in conveying complicated and even complex ideas and proposals. With all these tools it is as if we are trying to escape the limitations of the page. Perhaps we need a Google Earth type scrolling, panning and zooming tool to navigate the entire tableau of a map, or of our EYK-TYCWD, though even this tool takes some getting used to — it is somehow not intuitive unless, perhaps, you’ve been raised on flight simulator video games.

With the Web, the page has come to mean more a set of related ideas or concepts than merely the capacity of words that will fit on a page linearly. But as a tableau it is still lacking — we still cannot ‘take in’ at a glance much more on a Web page than we can on a paper page (less, in fact, if the paper page is expansive). And it is still distressingly easy to get lost in a set of pages as we try to follow a thought from one to another, and then try to navigate our way back.

Is the idea of the uninterrupted page of text losing out in a world of on-screen reading, inexpensive graphics, scrollable screens, learning by doing (and by gaming) and right-brain thinking? Rather than a left ‘pane’ to navigate among pages, does it make more sense to have an entire ‘site’ or ‘document’ or ‘book’ on a single, huge, tableau ‘page’ that you would start by viewing at a high, mind-map Google Earth level, seeing the high-level structure of the entire site/ document/ book, and the connections between its constituent parts, and then zooming in wherever (the site or document or book becomes a place) and to whatever level of detail you wanted.

And perhaps you could even take this construct to a meta-level, where volunteers (like the ones who maintain wikipedia) could construct complete ‘landscapes’ of related ‘places’ — an entire slice of knowledge — everything (of quality, as determined by the ‘tourist guide’), regardless of author, written about a subject or a project or an event or a conversation or a message or a meme, from 30,000 feet, with the links between the (site) ‘pages’ visible from that height. So if you wanted to explore (the ‘place’ called) Personal Knowledge Management, for example, instead of having to wade through and trust Google’s highest-ranking links, you might select David Gurteen’s tourist guidemap of the subject, take it all in at a high level, and then zoom in on the parts that seemed most interesting, or useful, or in need of elaboration or clarification, to you personally, the stuff from others’ EYK-TYCWD that best complemented (or supplemented) your own EYK-TYCWD on the subject. And if you engaged that landscape, ‘stayed awhile’, you might find David Gurteen added your constructions to his landscape, to his travel guide, after you’d departed.

Where would you like to go today?

November 29, 2005

Ten Reasons to Halt All Trade With China

Filed under: How the World Really Works — Dave Pollard @ 06:14
DyingRoomsCaution: This is a rant. And sensitive readers might want to skip this article.

With every new revelation about what is happening in modern China I become more appalled. Our Canadian prime minister earlier this month stressed the importance of trade with China, but despite the disgraceful and illegal actions of Bush in his bullying trade dealings with Canada, I think trading with China is even worse than trading with the US, because it encourages the monstrously destructive and essentially unmanaged Chinese economy to continue with its devastating excesses.

Here are my 10 reasons not to trade with China:

  1. Misogynist Slaughter of Girls: The people of China are continuing their horrific program of aborting, abandoning and murdering girl babies, because of their ‘cultural preference’ for male children. The imbalance created by this despicable and government-sanctioned practice, which has resulted in the ‘disappearance’ of at least 50 million baby girls, is that over 110 million Chinese males will be unable to find mates. This is already producing an upsurge in violence and abductions, and as it continues it will get much worse.
  2. Water Atrocities: The environmental and social devastation of monster hydro projects like the Three Gorges Dam are well documented, but that’s just one of the ways water-starved China is going to any lengths to quench the thirst of its billion plus people and rapacious and negligently-managed industry. Over 700 million Chinese are already drinking tainted water, and new catastrophes like last week’s dreadful Harbin carcinogenic toxin spill are a regular occurrence, hushed up by the government unless, as with this latest spill, the poisons threaten to kill and poison neighbouring countries. The Northern Chinese ‘breadbasket’ is being turned to desert at a horrifying rate by sheer overuse and mismanagement, and WorldWatch reports that the Chinese water table is now dropping at a rate of eight feet per year. Three quarters of the water running through China’s cities is polluted to the point it is undrinkable and cannot support aquatic life. The country is essentially turning all its water into sewers and all its land into desert. 
  3. Human Rights Abuses: China has the worst human rights record of any country in the history of the planet, with 80 million starved or killed during the Maoist scourge of the last century, and this abominable record continues unabated. One of the reasons we can buy Chinese crap so cheaply is the use of prisoner slave labour to manufacture it. Detention and torture of any group opposed or even thought to be opposed to the corrupt government is systematic and uncontrolled. Workplace conditions in many factories are deplorable, and massive government corruption allows it to continue unabated.
  4. Global Warming: Chinese pollution is essentially unregulated. The principal form of energy is coal, a major contributor to global warming, and China now rivals the US as the world’s greatest contributor to global warming. China has not signed the Kyoto Accord. Seven of the ten most polluted cities in the world are in China. Acid rain is devastating large areas of the country. The toxins released by Chinese energy and manufacturing industries float across the Pacific and cause untold death and disease all around the world.
  5. Indifference to and Negligent Management of Epidemic Disease: The number of Chinese with HIV could be as high as 15 million by the end of the decade, but the government continues to ignore the problem, shrugging it off as a problem of drug abusers. Its denial of dangerous and controllable diseases like SARS and Poultry Flu is legendary, and that negligence threatens to expose the world to a pandemic.
  6. Mining Abominations: Working conditions in China’s mines are among the worst in the world, and the death toll is huge. Another 135 died just yesterday in a coal mine explosion.
  7. The Loss of Western Livelihoods: Offshoring of manufacturing jobs to China, exploiting that country’s cheap labour and artificially suppressed foreign exchange rate has destroyed many Western communities. Wal-Mart alone is responsible for 13% of the US imports of Chinese crap.
  8. Shoddy, Often Dangerous Products: Anyone who has bought Christmas decorations, or inexpensive appliances, toys, clothing or any of a host of other manufactured products in recent years knows that almost all such products are now made in China, and that their quality is abysmal. In many stores you simply have no choice — you cannot buy products made elsewhere, as shoddy Chinese merchandise has so undercut the price of domestic manufacturers that they have been driven out of business or forced to offshore to compete. Most of this crap ends up in landfills within a year or two. And Consumer Reports investigations reveal that a disproportionate amount of this crap is also hazardous — dangerous or poisonous. 
  9. Poor Fishing and Forestry Practices: Unregulated and corrupt logging and furniture manufacturing has devastated China’s forests, resulting in massive soil erosion and devastating annual flooding, and chronic sand and dust storms. And China is by far the largest contributor to the overfishing that has reached crisis proportions in most of the world’s oceans.
  10. Impoverishing Our Own Economies: In addition to the loss of our own families’ and communities’ livelihoods, many countries like Canada are complicit in this race to the bottom by willingly shipping our raw materials to China, and then buying back the products manufactured from these resources from them. This is just insane, a horrific waste of our natural resources and a squandered opportunity to create local jobs and save the fuel required to transport the raw materials out and the shoddy manufactured goods back in.

Continuing trade with such a country is simply unconscionable, and our elected leaders should be held to account for it. For our part, we need to stop buying anything from China, and insist retailers stop stocking Chinese crap and instead provide us with products from socially and environmentally responsible countries and companies — and especially, local suppliers.

The image, from the BBC’s award-winning The Dying Rooms, shows abandoned and starving baby girls in a Chinese orphanage tied to their high chairs.

November 28, 2005

Sharing Your Brain: Making Your Hard Drive into a Wiki

Filed under: Using Weblogs and Technology — Dave Pollard @ 07:49
mindmeldWhen technologies reach a tipping point, they can suddenly lead to dramatic changes in human behaviour, at least among those who are comfortable with technology. When bandwidth becomes almost unlimited, and hence essentially free, it means everyone can have her own phone number (which in turn means we can soon expect global 12-digit numbers to replace the current 10-digit ones), and cell phones can essentially replace land lines. It also means that the cost of calling becomes essentially free, as Skype users have discovered. This means you can essentially be in touch 24 hours per day with anyone anywhere in the world, for next to no cost — if you have the hardware and the (free) software to do it. With cost no longer being a constraint to voice communication, the onus shifts to the recipient of calls to filter those calls to a manageable number — and deal with disgruntled callers who don’t make it through the filter.

Google G-mail essentially reduced the cost of storage of e-mail messages to zero. That means you no longer need to keep messages on your hard drive, which in turn means that you can manage your e-mail from any computer. For some, that means smaller portable devices will become their major communication and information tool, replacing the PC. But in the future, if it becomes possible to keep your whole hard drive on a secure central server, it may also mean that stripped-down inexpensive PCs with almost no memory and all-free software may pop up everywhere, built into every desk and table wherever you go — so the idea of a ‘personal’ computer may become obsolete. Why lug around an appliance when the content and functionality you need can be accessed from every flat surface on the planet?

The simplicity and near-zero cost of blogging software has allowed millions of people to become instant publishers — producing everything from private newspapers to influential journals to travelogues of their vacations for the folks back home. Why write anything by hand, and why put your journal entries in a place where no one can see them, when it’s just as easy to blog them so you can get Google to index them for you, and so that you can share them with the world?

I think the next tipping point will be focused on wikis. We are close to the point where we will no longer have to pick an ‘application’ to create, open or change a document, any more than we have to pick a particular type of writing implement to do so in the physical world. What that will allow us to do is convert our entire hard drive — every document — and all the content we maintain on central servers — every message and blog post, into a single ‘virtual’ wiki, a kind of giant tableau of all our stuff, everything we have created or contributed to, and everything created by others we have filed away or bookmarked or otherwise ‘taken as our own’.

This would be useful, first of all, for personal navigation. Google Desktop is a big help, but it’s still a hunt-and-peck kind of personal content management. A wiki of our ‘universe of knowledge’ with a mind-map-type navigator would allow us to explore and amplify what we know and share with others in a more holistic, powerful way than anything we can do now. It would allow us to ‘get our head around’ everything we know, and care about, everything that has meaning for us. It could literally allow us to ‘expand our minds’.

But — and here’s the really exciting part — it could also allow us to ‘share our brain’ with someone else, to allow someone else to see how we think, and what we think about, and get an idea of the frame of mind that organizes, filters and colours our thoughts. And, if memory becomes cheap enough, we could even ‘subscribe to’ the wikis of those whose thoughts, for whatever personal or professional reason, we care about, and we could then annotate that other person’s ‘brain’, shared consciousness, with our own interpretations, understandings and amplifications, and, if we and that other person were so inclined, we could then share that ‘feedback’ with the person whose thoughts provoked it. A kind of digital, brain-to-brain, dialogue or conversation. What could come of all of this might be some shared spaces, some collective intelligence that two or more people agreed was a synthesis of information, agreement or shared understanding, that they owned in common. So your wiki would then have three ‘flavours’ of content:

  • stuff that you created (more or less) yourself
  • stuff that others created that you have taken for your own, your ‘accepted wisdom’
  • stuff that is ‘shared wisdom’ that you and others have inseparably created in common

We are presumably close to the point where transcriptions of conversations could also be indexed and added to this repository.

One of the challenges would be one that those of us who spend much of our lives online are already grappling with: How to integrate e-mails and conversations into our organization of more ‘formal’ documents. I’d be interested in readers’ thoughts on this subject. How do we integrate the results of conversations and e-mail ‘discussions’ into our own brains, our ‘frames of thinking’? My sense is that these context-rich exchanges and searches for common understanding are very important to us, and get distilled tacitly by our brains, in ways different from how we internalize either analytical writing or stories. How might we represent this in a wiki-brain tableau?

November 27, 2005

Imaginative Poverty

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 18:44
In my story of Myron the Pig, I had Myron explain our species’ imaginative poverty this way:

Because you live in such an artificial world, a world of your own making, where you are told so forcefully what is and what is right, you have lost your imagination. While I get great joy from imagining what it would be like to be a crow, soaring up in the clouds and spying my own dinner, earning it myself, or to be a firefly, you humans have lost that imagination, you have forgotten what it is to be in the real world. If you could only imagine, really imagine, what it is to be a crow, or a firefly, or a pig, you would not live the way you do. You could not.

In my recent e-mail dialogue with Dick Richards after my review of his book Is Your Geniius at Work?, I wrote:

Perhaps my Genius is Imagining Possibilities. That’s what my Innovation Consulting practice is about, on behalf of my clients. It’s what my ironically-named novel The Only World We Know is about, about a better, future world. It’s what my book on the potential of new-age entrepreneurship, Natural Enterprise, is about. It’s what my book on Innovation and Knowledge Management, The Cost of Not Knowing, is about. It’s what my newest book idea, The Generosity Economy, is about. It’s what my poetry and short stories, often set in dream-worlds, are about. It’s why I love learning. It’s what I was doing in my own fantasy world for most of my childhood. It fits with what I’m most often, and I think most unfairly, criticized for: Idealism. It explains my nightmares and my recurring depression, and why I’m so unhappy with my tendency to procrastinate. And it’s “on Purpose” of my purpose: Provoking Change.

The ironic moral of Myron’s story is “If you can’t imagine, you can do anything”. The corollary, which is not ironic, is that If you can imagine (the consequences of your action or inaction, a better way to live, etc.) you can’t not do anything — you have to act.

I have explained the difference between imagination and creativity in previous articles. I am relatively imaginative, conjuring up opportunities, ideas, worlds from a strange juxtaposition of ideas and learnings and readings and experiences, a mixing of neurons in my brain, especially in moments when I am able to let go, when I am under the influence of dreams, or music, or in the company of children or the rhapsody of nature. I am not that creative: I have no patience for the details of bringing something I’ve imagined into practical existence in the real world. My job is to pay attention to what is, and to imagine what is possible; the creative people can take it from there.

Bucky Fuller, among others, often made a point about how our education system grinds the imagination out of young people. Einstein said imagination was more important than intelligence. Who or what do we blame for the rapid loss of imagination as we ‘grow up’, and the resultant imaginative poverty of our society? After all, a good imagination has been selected for in our evolution: It is what allowed us to invent languages and mathematics and models of what did not already exist, which has been critical to our adaptive ability and hence our survival.

But in a modern, homogeneous society, do we still need imagination? I think it’s possible that in a hierarchical, overcrowded, enormously interdependent society imagination is an evolutionary disadvantage: It breeds dissatisfaction, nonconformity and discontent, and it suffers in an environment of homogeneity and monoculture. Even language, which has been shown to affect the way in which our brains are structured as we grow, drives us to think in linear, traditional, established ways. So I would argue that over the last 30,000 years imagination has been bred out of the human gene pool, and what survives is systematically squelched long before the school system has the chance to inflict further damage on it. Imagination can be frightening, and our society ridicules fearfulness (except of things prescribed by the government, the media and our peer groups as ‘reasonable’ to fear). I think we actually learn not to imagine.

Take a look at the cars we drive — all horrifically similar, even the special edition vehicles we pay a premium for. Take a look at the houses we live in, “little boxes made of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same”. Take a look at the way we dress, even those of us in the so-called ‘counter-culture': We’re learning that we can’t jam the culture, and the illusion of individuality is just a means to coopt us into conformity so we all buy what is convenient for the mass merchandisers to sell us. Take a look at the porn on the Internet and see how little imagination it exhibits. Those who imagine too much are disparaged as dreamers or idealists, and admonished to pay attention to authority and “not be rude”. And since most of us as customers have so little imagination, and are so prone to conform, there is little incentive for producers to seek out imaginative people and introduce imaginative products that might stimulate a little more imagination. As Kal Joffres says, “For a lot of companies, being ‘innovative’ means hiring better and more edgy designers for their products.” So I think we can share the blame for imaginative poverty pretty broadly.

What can we do about it? Like any other capacity, imagining needs to be practiced, or we lose it. In an earlier post I suggested these ten ways to practice it:

  1. Pay attention
  2. Spend time with children
  3. Remember your dreams
  4. Change your point of view
  5. Collaborate
  6. Transport yourself
  7. Improvise
  8. Break the rules
  9. Believe, and make believe
  10. Get away from the media

As for changing our culture to make it more appreciative of imagination, I wouldn’t hold your breath. Necessity is the mother of invention, and when our civilization starts to run into a series of walls later in this century, and realizes it needs more imaginative approaches, you, or at least your children and grandchildren, if you’ve encouraged imagination in them, will be ready to meet that challenge. And in the meantime, you’ll be making their lives richer. But you’ll also be making their lives more difficult: They’ll likely be more discontented, impatient, and non-conforming.

November 26, 2005

Saturday Links for Nov.26-05

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 13:05

Grassroots Organization and Connection

What Do You Call an Open Space Facilitator?: Wendy Farmer-O’Neil’s Open Space blog asks an important question. In keeping with its unique, complex-environment orientation, Open Space provides a framework instead of a methodology, and its practitioners employ practices rather than tools and develop capacities rather than expertise. A key element of Open Space ‘events’ is the Invitation, so what do you call the people who ‘lead’ them and attend them, when they are self-organized? Facilitators and attendees, as Wendy points out, is a bit awkward and seems to elevate the ‘facilitators’ hierarchically. Hosts and guests is a bit pretentious — the party metaphor is a bit over the top. Wendy suggests artists and participants, but to me that, too, creates an unwarranted gap between them. How about convenors and practitioners?

Magnifying the Imagination: Imaginify has created a model, shown above, that is also inspired by complexity theory, to help grassroots creative organizations (charities, artists, Open Source practitioners etc.) connect, share knowledge and ideas, and collaborate.

Directory of  Non-Partisan Grassroots Organizations: eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s Network Partners list consists of companies trying to bring about social change, and a better world, by non-partisan, non-political means. I’ve said before that if we’re going to save the world we won’t do it by political or economic means, or by inventing new technologies, but through grassroots social, entrepreneurial and educational means. These organizations get it.

Grassroots Democracy and the Culture of Groups:  A new article in First Monday by Beth Simone Noveck argues that social technologies can at last allow the devolution of politics to the community/group level, by enabling these groups to self-coordinate to do more macro level tasks, obviating the need for much of what larger, less responsive political units (states) now do. A long and intriguing look at the culture of groups. Thanks to reader Sven Cahling for the link.


What Will Google Do Next?: My prediction was that Google would stick to its search expertise and, having mastered find-what and find-where, would next tackle find-who, and create the global directory of everyone’s interests and expertise, the connector that would help us find our next employer, partner, friend or romantic interest. Internet News suggests that, instead, Google’s going to build on the success of Google Desktop and take over personal content management, one of the four pillars of PKM, starting with the so-called Office applications.


CIA Veterans Condemn Torture: A group of former CIA officials say Cheney’s argument for the necessity of torture in intelligence-gathering is nonsense. Thanks to Dale Asberry for this link and the one that follows.

The Fate of the State: A 10-year-old article by Martin Van Creveld (notably before 9/11) suggests that the nation-state is losing power and authority, and being succeeded by new forms of political organization better suited to the needs of our times.

Science & Health

Singing Unlocks the Alzheimer Brain: BBC news reports that singing can help Alzheimer sufferers regain some of their brain function and reconnection with the world. Thanks to Dale Asberry for this link and the two that follow.

And Mice Sing Too: Research by Timothy E. Holy and Zhongsheng Guo reveals that, when you pitch-shift (lower to human-audible range without slowing them down) the mating cries of mice, you discover that they bear an astonishing similarity in structure and sophistication to bird songs. Listen for yourself.

Arginine Better than Fluoride at Reducing Calories: Treehugger reports that scientists have discovered that arginine, an amino acid found in saliva and also occurring naturally in nuts and whole grains, neutralizes the cavity-producing acids produced by plaque bacteria.

…And for those looking for some provocative Christmas reading, I’ve put my Save the World Essential Reading List up on Amazon listmania. But consider buying them through your local independent bookseller.

November 25, 2005

Nobody Really Cares About the Creative Class

Filed under: How the World Really Works — Dave Pollard @ 17:26
Source: US Department of Labor

There’s a great debate going on in the business press about whether the ‘Creative Class’, a term coined by Richard Florida as the basis for his very successful business books, and which includes artists, scientists, teachers, designers, writers and related technicians, can create ‘competitive advantage’ to companies and communities that can attract them, and whether the US is increasingly losing the ‘Creative Class War‘.

Florida would have us believe that communities like San Francisco, Austin and Boston will be the winners of this war, largely because they attract diverse, creative people, but that thanks to lack of attractors compared to places like Ireland and New Zealand, and thanks to Bush’s xenophobia and hostility to liberal arts, universities and real science, America as a whole will be a big loser.

Nonsense, retort the right-wingers from the Wall Street Journal and the neocon think-tanks: this kind of irrational, unsupported infatuation with new-age accommodations to non-conformists is precisely what led to the dot com boom, and what really generates competitive advantage is productivity, low taxes, modest wages, hard work and deregulation.

My observations suggest that both sides are wrong. Nobody really cares about the creative class. They are underpaid, underemployed and underappreciated, and pretty well always have been, right back to the days when you if you were an artist or musician you needed a rich and titled sponsor underwriting your work if you didn’t want to starve.

You’re skeptical? Let’s look at the jobs that the US Department of Labor says will be the biggest growth area in the next decade, shown in the chart above. The words that appear in this list the most are ‘assistant’ and ‘aide’. These are grunt jobs, and only three of the 20 jobs in the list require any ‘creativity’ whatsoever. In fact, being creative would be a decided disadvantage in such jobs — you’d go crazy with boredom in a week. And these are the projected biggest growth areas percentage-wise. Other DoL stats that describe absolute numbers of expected new jobs surface even more grindingly boring and uncreative positions — notably food service workers, retail and service desk clerks and orderlies. These lists include only one job that is arguably very creative — university professors.

If you’re still not convinced, ask people who work in large organizations which jobs in the lists below have the cachet of success, and which are the organizational ghettos, where creative people go to die:

Mostly Left Brain
Operations Management
Cost Management
Risk Management
Mergers & Acquisitions
Accounting, Tax & Law
Mostly Right Brain
Knowledge Management

Look at the people picked for promotions, for leadership training, for the corner office jobs, the people who are highest-paid and most appreciated in almost every large organization, and you’ll find they come from the uncreative positions in the left column. Look at the consultants they’re bringing in, and you’ll find they, too, are in the left-column professions. Look at the people who are least fulfilled by their jobs, those who feel underpaid and under-appreciated and feel they have nowhere to go in their organizations, and you’ll find them mostly in the right-column positions. And look at the ranks of the unemployed and you’ll find them, too, disproportionately in the right-hand professions.

A lot of people in those organizational ghettos got fed up and left to become independent consultants. But guess what consulting disciplines are in the hottest demand today? Outsourcing and Sarbanes-Oxley compliance consultants, the least creative consulting jobs you could imagine.

Now let’s look at the exceptions to the rule — the creative companies we’re all so proud of. Apple describes its expertise as ‘second mover advantage’ — watch the creative types screw up, learn from their mistakes and dominate the market by doing it better. Their designs may be creative, but their strategy is the opposite. And guess who Google’s hiring? Mostly advertising salespeople and technicians.

It’s not the fault of big business that they aren’t creative. They are dinosaurs of the industrial era, when hierarchy was king and success was a matter of leverage — 100 low-paid drones doing what they’re told, working hard, grateful for their jobs, for every manager who every once in awhile might have to do something creative (usually when competitors’ disruptive innovation forces them to). The creative types don’t last long in this stultifying environment, so they quit, and the people who are left hire (and contract-in) people in their own image, so the dearth of creativity, and of interest in creativity, is self-perpetuating.

So as a result, most jobs in large organizations are jobs:

  • selling crap
  • making crap
  • fixing crap
  • blocking customers who complain about crap from getting their money back or getting through to management
  • finding people and outsourcers who will do the above crap jobs cheaper
  • lobbying politicians to prevent people who are creative from competing with them, and to prevent people from suing them for their crap

It’s a vicious cycle, and expecting large corporations to be enlightened and altruistic enough to get us out of it is sheer folly.

There is only one solution, and that is to encourage true entrepreneurship. It is doubtful that many politicians would be willing to bite the big corporate hand that feeds them and help out in this challenge, but a few could. Here’s what we need to do:

  1. Revamp early education so it encourages and provides practice in creativity, instead of driving it out of young people
  2. Starting in middle grades, start teaching and showing young people the core elements of successful entrepreneurship, so they have the capacities and self-confidence to start their own businesses.
  3. Starting in the middle grades, start teaching young people how to turn their creative talents to practical use — the process of innovation.
  4. Provide the same tax and other subsidies for new entrepreneurial ventures and apprenticeships that we provide for post-secondary education — because these activities are post-secondary education.
  5. Loosen intellectual property laws so they no longer strangle innovation.
  6. Eliminate current subsidies to large corporations that allow them to dominate and buy up creative and innovative entrepreneurs.
  7. Nurture the Gift Economy, whose donors of time and advice will be far more willing to support local entrepreneurs who respect and give life to local communities than the large oligopolies that destroy them.

In the meantime, if you’re underpaid, under-appreciated, subjugated, underemployed, working too hard and bored to death in your job, and if your creativity has no outlet, take heart — you are in excellent company, and you should be outraged, not bored, by your situation. An elite of the rich and powerful have stolen your dignity, your opportunity, your joy in exercising your genius, your self-esteem, your value in our society. This is a disservice to the vast majority as citizens, as useful workers, and as customers looking for products and services made well and with pride. It’s destroying the social fabric of our society, our environment, and the middle class. We need to create a new entrepreneurial economy, one driven by creativity and curiosity and by passion and respect. One that is in the service of people and not profits.

November 24, 2005

Three Mini-Reviews: Mind Mapping Software, Imperial Ambitions, and Buzzmarketing

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 11:36
Here are three short reviews of books that I have recently read:

Power Tips & Strategies for Mind Mapping Software, by Chuck Frey

Regular readers know I’m a fan of mind mapping software, especially for improving the effectiveness of meetings: The mind map can be projected live up on the screen where attendees can quibble in real time about what was said and what was agreed, and walk out of the meeting with a printed map in their hands of what was learned and what’s to be done. Powerful stuff, and it really works.

No one knows more about mind mapping applications than Chuck Frey, who has a whole resource centre on the subject on his excellent Innovation Tools site. His concise (42 page) new e-book is focused on how to use mind mapping software effectively, and when to use it. The first chapter describes 16 major applications for mind mapping, illustrated by the mind-map above. Chuck offers short point-form instructions for each of these applications, drawing from several established methodologies. He provides suggestions on how to organize the branches of the map for each application, and where to use notation, links and symbols on the maps, and links to white papers available on the Internet that contain more detail and cases on using mind maps for these applications.

Chapter two reviews the use of mind mapping’s features like symbols, links to documents, URLs and messages, presentation mode, colour, images, exporting, collapsing, and outlining. The third chapter suggests strategies for more useful and visually appealing mind maps, and unique ideas like creating a mind map as your active desktop to organize and navigate your whole hard drive. And the final chapter contains a list of mind mapping software with links to the tools’ web pages, Chuck’s reviews of them, and newsletters and forums discussing them.

At last week’s conference I spoke briefly with Ross Mayfield about the exciting possibility of using mind maps as dynamic organizing and navigating tools for wikis and blogs. I have used a mind map to illustrate my blog’s taxonomy, but there is as yet no simple way to post a mind map in ‘outline’ view in your sidebar in such a way that it can be used dynamically as a table of contents and navigator for your blog. This need is even greater for wikis, where pages can be added arbitrarily by multiple users and navigating the wiki can be bewildering, especially when ‘orphan’ pages are created. It could be a great match of tools.

So I think we’re just starting to see the applications of mind maps as a means of organizing and focusing our thoughts and our information resources. And when their functionality is increased to allow feedback loops (so they can be used to capture systems thinking and concept diagramming) they will become even more powerful, essential tools.

Imperial Ambitions, by Noam Chomsky interviewed by David Barsamian

Few people are neutral when it comes to Noam Chomsky, whose arrogance drives some critics at both ends of the political spectrum to distraction, but whose lifelong commitment to social justice has been more than mere words. Chomsky, in addition to sustaining his reputation as a global authority on linguistics, has also criss-crossed the globe to speak and demonstrate in support of the oppressed, sometimes at considerable personal risk. What galls many progressives in affluent nations is Chomsky’s unrepentant and across-the-board criticism of their countries’ regimes for racism, genocide, and other atrocities. He makes little distinction between regimes of right or left, nominally democratic or totalitarian, ‘well-intended’ or overtly belligerent, and as a result has been accused of being anti-American and even anti-democratic.

Imperial Ambitions is structured more like a FAQ than a treatise, and that is what makes it so enjoyable to read. You need not read even a whole chapter to gain some of Chomsky’s insights, provocative perceptions and history lessons. Look up a topic in the index, turn to that page, and read Barsamian’s question and Chomsky’s answer on the subject. Each question and answer stands on its own, so the book is a veritable Chomsky-pedia. I already knew Chomsky’s view on 9/11 and the Iraq War, on US covert actions in Latin America, and on the brutal imperialistic history of most Western nations. But here are Chomsky’s comments on four other issues that I hadn’t heard his views on:

Q: At talks with American audiences, you are often asked the question “What should I do?”
A: Only by American audiences. I’m never asked this in the third world. When you go to Turkey or Colombia or Brazil, they don’t ask you “What should I do?” They tell you what they’re doing… It’s only in highly privileged countries like ours that people ask this question. We have every option open to us, and have none of the problems that are faced by intellectuals in Turkey or the campasinos in Brazil. We can do anything. But people here are trained to believe that there are easy answers, and it doesn’t work that way. If you want to do something you have to be dedicated and committed to it day after day. Education programs, organizing, activism. That’s the way things change.

Q: Why do you put so much onus on the educated class?
A: Because responsibility correlates with privilege…The people sitting in places like MIT have choices. They have privilege, they have education, they have training. That carries responsibility. Somebody who is working fifty hours a week to put food on the table and comes back exhausted at night and turns on the tube has many fewer choices, and those choices are much harder to exercise, and therefore he has less responsibility.

Q: Why do you not favor an all-volunteer army?
A: If there’s going to be an army, I think it should be a citizens’ army, not a mercenary army. There are several kinds of mercenary armies. One model is the French Foreign Legion, where the imperial power just organizes a mercenary army. Another model is a volunteer army, which is in effect a mercenary army of the disadvantaged. People like us, except for the occasional maniacs, don’t volunteer for it. But people like Lynndie England do volunteer, because they come from a background where that may be their only opportunity. So you end up getting a mercenary army of the disadvantaged, and that’s much more dangerous than a citizens’ army.

Q: How do you respond to people who say “People in the US are too comfortable. Things will have to get much worse before there is protest?”
A: Serious movements sometimes come from people who are oppressed and other times it comes from sectors of privilege. It’s a mixture of privileged and oppressed coming to consciousness…On the part of the oppressed, it’s necessary to recognize that oppression is not just unpleasant but also wrong. And that’s not so simple. Established practices and conventions are usually taken for granted, not questioned. To recognize that there is nothing necessarily legitimate about power is a big step no matter which side of the equation you are on. A recognition that you are beating someone can be very enlightening. It’s a big step to say “There is something wrong with the fact we are holding the club.” That recognition is the beginning of civilization.

Buzzmarketing, by Mark Hughes

If you believe, as I do, that customer-driven, peer-to-peer, viral marketing will soon replace coercive, broadcast, top-down advertising as the means of persuading people what to buy, then you’re probably going to be interested in a book that promises to tell you how to create buzz, how to get customers’ attention so they’ll talk to each other about your product or service. This book does exactly that.

Hughes provides many stories of companies that have employed six ‘secrets’ to get and sustain buzz:

  1. Provoke conversations by providing something taboo, unusual, outrageous, hilarious, remarkable, or secret.
  2. Provide a story to the mainstream media that is David-and-Goliath, unusual, outrageous, controversial, celebrity-related or related to something that’s already hot. These are the stories these media like.
  3. Use a mix of media, unusual media your competition isn’t using, quirky, unglitzy approaches, and unusual, attention-getting media approaches (like product placement in movies).
  4. Be prepared to take big risks in approach and goals, and face ridicule from detractors who will say it can’t be done.
  5. Out-think competitors: Cause a stir, focus on a clear definition of the problem to gain clarity on direction, spend lots of face time with customers, try lots of experiments, encourage friendly rivalries, understand the importance of names, and provide useful content in your messages.
  6. Monitor marketing effectiveness: Be alert to early-warning signals, get management to hear what customers are saying, ask customers where they heard of you and whether they’d go out of their way to recommend you, and get your employees talking.

Some of the examples in the book left me flat (Britney Spears and American Idol — ugh!) but the techniques do make sense. You don’t have to compromise your principles and pander to your audience to create buzz. Viral marketing will often happen even without your encouragement, or not happen despite your encouragement. But most of the ideas in this book don’t cost a lot, and they do recognize facts about human nature we may tend to forget. Your customers may get your product to catch fire by simply rubbing two sticks together, but there’s no harm in helping out by blowing gently on the spark.

November 23, 2005

Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) — an Update

Filed under: Working Smarter — Dave Pollard @ 17:46
At last week’s conference, one of my presentations was on PKM. Since I haven’t written about this in awhile I thought I’d bring you up to date on what’s happening in this space, and some of the discussions I have had with others on the subject.

DruckerI first got interested in the idea of bottom-up knowledge management, focused on the unique needs of each front-line employee, in 2003, my last year as Global Director of Knowledge Innovation for a major professional services firm. I’d been asked to investigate a leveling-off of use of the firm’s award-winning centralized knowledge resources, and decided to do the research through personal interviews with non-users, rather than the usual user surveys. We did about 100 interviews, and tried to get at the root causes of the problems and concerns they cited. So for example while many interviewees said they ‘couldn’t find’ what they were looking for, we tried to discover why this was: Was the tool too complex? Was the training inadequate? Was there too much content to wade through? Did they just not know where to look? Was the content badly indexed? Was it in the wrong format for convenient (re-)use? Or perhaps what they sought didn’t exist at all. Or worse, they weren’t motivated to make the effort to look for it.

In describing this work I’ve used three of the interviews that were especially illuminating. One of these was a corporate finance practitioner who confessed he’d completely stopped reading newspapers because ‘general’ knowledge was unnecessary for his work, and used his PC only for e-mail and business valuation spreadsheets. A second was an audit manager who said she couldn’t ‘afford’ the intrafirm charge for research work and simply had no time to do such research herself, so she did without; she also confessed that she’d never been taught how to find stuff on her own PC and could never find what she needed on her own hard drive. A third was a tax partner who delegated all ‘knowledge work’ to subordinates or assistants, even printing out and routing his e-mails. When I asked him about Instant Messaging, he said he ‘handled it the same way’. Ouch!

My conclusion from the interviews was that most of the firm’s front-line people didn’t use the knowledge resources because they didn’t know how. I had been reading about a KM process that entailed one-on-one coaching of front-line people to use knowledge and technology effectively, and named this (for internal selling purposes, and with a tip of the hat to the late Peter Drucker) Personal Productivity Improvement (PPI), since its goal was to address the knowledge-worker productivity problem that Drucker called the greatest challenge of our century. When I proposed PPI as the solution to ineffective knowledge use, however, my boss said he was doubtful that, if they weren’t willing to take the time to attend the firm’s courses or computer-based training on the use of knowledge resources, they were just as unlikely to make time for PPI. He sent me back to find out why practitioners didn’t know how to use the resources effectively.

When I went to conduct the second round of interviews, it became clear that some of the interviewees had given me the answers they thought I wanted to hear because they didn’t know the real answers. They were also blunter and more forthcoming when I went back to suggest that perhaps their ignorance of use of the firm’s knowledge resources was partly their fault. This time, the corporate finance practitioner told me he was paid for his specific technical knowledge, not for his understanding of business issues. He described the powerful, integrated newsfeeds and personalizable news profiles, the paintakingly populated databases, and the collaborative spaces we provided as “nice to have, not need to have”. He was, he said, “unmotivated” to learn more about what we had made available.

The audit manager pulled out an independent consultant’s report that listed in the criteria clients used to select a professional services firm. In order they were (1) strong pre-existing relationship with someone on the team, (2) fit and likability of the pursuit team, (3) senior face time spent with client key decision makers during the pursuit process, (4) technical competency and experience of the pursuit team, (5) understanding of the client’s processes and organization, and (6) understanding of the client’s business and industry. There is just no time, she told me, for stuff that clients don’t think very important. If she had more time, she said, she would be spending it out at clients building relationships, not at her PC looking for knowledge.

And the tax partner grabbed me as I passed near his office, whisked me inside, and told me how delighted he was that, after I’d mentioned it, he’s got his assistant to show him how to use Instant Messaging. “If a client calls me on the phone with a question, sometimes I can IM a staff member and get confirmation of the answer while the client is still online, so I save research time and the client is very impressed”, he told me. “It’s stuff like this IM that really makes you guys valuable, not those giant repositories you build.” If that weren’t distressing enough, he confided that he was concerned that some of those ‘giant repositories’ were accessible to everyone in the firm, and could we pleased restrict access to these to tax practitioners only? He patted me on the back. I sighed.

So my conclusion this time around was that the centralized stuff we spent so much time and money maintaining was simply not very useful to most practitioners. The practitioners I talked to about PPI said they would love to participate in PPI coaching, provided it was focused on the content on their own desktops and hard drives, and not the stuff in the central repositories.

From these interviews and subsequent discussions with leading KM gurus, notably the UK’s David Gurteen, emerged the concept of Personal Knowledge Management (PKM). While we did not coin the term, what we use the term to mean has received considerable uptake in the KM community, and is starting to be used, at least in part and in pilots, in quite a few organization. And some of us have become evangelists for PKM, out of concern that the old model of KM has fallen out of favour, and the term KM has lost its sheen, and a new model is needed if KM is to realize its potential to make all of us more effective in the use of knowledge, technology and learning resources.


The drawing above shows the old KM model and the new PKM model. The old model, which we pursued from 1994-2004, is focused on content and collection — the acquisition, organization & aggregation, storage and dissemination of content under organization-wide taxonomies using customized tools and containers, just-in-case it might be reusable. The new PKM model, which we believe will replace it, is focused on context and connection — connecting to the right people just-in-time, canvassing them to gain their knowledge and advice in the context of a particular business problem or pursuit, synthesizing that knowledge and applying it to the issue at hand. This new model entails three significant shifts in approach:

  • From contributing know-what (‘best practices’ etc.) to harvesting know-how (stories, conversations and other context-rich knowledge)
  • From central content management (centrally administered Intranets and repositories) to personal content management (individuals administering their own knowledge and sharing peer-to-peer), and
  • From enterprise application training (classroom, CBT and newsletters distributed top-down) to personal productivity improvement (observation and one-on-one coaching on effective use of desktop resources)

PKM, therefore, has four components, which can be represented in this equation:

Know-Who Canvassing & Connection +
Know-How Harvesting +
Personal Content Management +
Personal Productivity Improvement =
Personal Knowledge Management

These four components enable the connect, canvass, synthesize, apply, model of PKM. They also reflect the way knowledge has always been shared by most people in most organizations: You walk down the hall or pick up the phone and call the people you think have the knowledge you need, you have a conversation with them to canvass what they know, you pull it all together with the knowledge you already have, and you apply it to the challenge, task or decision at hand. All PKM does is make these steps easier and more effective by facilitating them with some surprisingly simple, low-tech (but high-touch) programs.

Here’s how each of these four components is being implemented by some organizations today, and how they could be implemented in your organization.

Know-Who Canvassing & Connection:

  1. Use social network analysis (mapping or interviewing) to identify the de facto networks of expertise and trust in the organization.
  2. Use these to identify network coordinators, the ‘people to go to first’ on key subject matter areas for your organization.
  3. Have these coordinators create, maintain and publish Canvassing Lists (e-mail groups) with e-mail, IM, phone and other contact information for the people in these subject matter networks, so that anyone in the firm who wants to canvass people in a network can do so with one click. These lists should include experts outside as well as inside the organization.
  4. Create Canvassing Templates, forms that people can fill in quickly and simply to describe what expertise they’re looking for, and then send them to one or more Canvassing Lists.
  5. Devise a simple one-page instruction sheet/FAQ on how to effectively use the Canvassing Lists and Templates, which communication media to use in different circumstances to contact them, and how to deal with telephone tag, non-responses and other situations when canvassing response is inadequate. It should also deal with appropriate etiquette and protocols to ensure the canvassing process isn’t abused.
  6. If you also have a Know-How Harvesting program (see below), consider putting experts’ weblogs and other context-rich resources in the Canvassing List to use as a surrogate for people who are unable or unwilling to respond to canvassing requests personally.

Know-How Harvesting:

  1. Create separate Public and Private ‘My Documents’ and e-mail folders on each employee’s hard drive.
  2. Whenever users ‘save’ or store a document or message, prompt them to decide whether the document should be stored in the Public (shareable) or Private folder.
  3. Establish an automated mechanism like RSS to regularly ‘harvest’ the Public folder information, to a central mirror site that other users can browse, and/or in response to just-in-time canvassing searches (see above), peer-to-peer.
  4. Encourage people in the organization who maintain the most valuable context-rich content (e.g. subject matter experts, network coordinators and newsletter editors) to use a weblog-type tool to post and archive their content as part of their Public folder.

Personal Content Management:

  1. Work with each individual employee to help them organize and index their ‘My Documents’ and e-mail folders in a way that makes sense for them. A standard firm-wide taxonomy is rarely appropriate and with current technology it is no longer necessary. Each person’s files should be set up the way they would set up their personal filing cabinet if the documents were all hard-copy. Rather than by subject-matter, the most effective organization scheme is often by how or when it will be (re-)used.
  2. Deploy Google Desktop or some other fast, simple, powerful desktop search tool.
  3. Use RSS feeds to simplify ‘publishing’ and ‘subscribing’ to others’ content, and show employees how to use them and how to integrate this content into their personal taxonomy.
  4. If you have canvassing and/or harvesting programs (see above) show employees how to use them and how to integrate this content into their personal taxonomy.
  5. Develop and disseminate (with simple one-page instructions or FAQs) routines and practices for effectively capturing, filing and finding relevant knowledge in the context of what it is to be used for.

Personal Productivity Improvement:

  1. Pre-interview each employee in the organization to understand their job, what knowledge and technology they use and how they use it.
  2. Pre-assemble a file of possible ‘leave-behinds’ — ‘cheat sheets’, step-by-step instructions, FAQs, bookmark lists etc. that the employee is likely to find useful, based on your previous PPI sessions with others with similar jobs or learning styles.
  3. If you don’t already have a personal content management program (see above) get this set up for the employee first.
  4. Schedule about an hour face-to-face with the employee. The first half-hour should be spent observing and asking questions of the employee to identify significant productivity problems. The second half-hour should be spent showing the employee more effective ways of doing their work, stepping them through the leave-behinds, answering questions and getting feedback from the employee on the value they feel they have received from the session.
  5. Compile a list of observations and systemic problems that PPI cannot resolve, and present them to senior management for them to address.

While PPI in particular may seem too high-touch to be affordable, just remember that the breakeven point for an investment of two hours of personal coaching for each employee is a mere 0.1% improvement in that employee’s work effectiveness.

Many organizations that have designated network coordinators have instituted some form of simple, streamlined canvassing program, because it eliminates the need for the scourge of ‘blanket’ e-mails sent to everyone. Although they are largely ad hoc, new e-mail technology that accommodates dynamic, subscribable e-mail lists, and e-mail forms and templates, are enabling more robust canvassing programs to be developed. Lend Lease corporation, for example, is using a canvassing tool called ikonnect to do this.

The organization that I know of that is leading the way in knowledge harvesting is Hill & Knowlton. Perhaps surprisingly given their controversial business, they have a culture of openness that encourages all employees to share information about themselves and their projects far beyond what I have seen in most other organizations, and they are using some interesting tools to do so.

Personal content management has received a huge boost from Google Desktop and similar products that have been released in the last few months. But I am not yet aware of any ‘leading practices’ in helping employees of an organization to organize their desktop content and subscriptions in such a way that they don’t have to use broad-brush search tools to find documents and messages on their own PCs.

The professional services firms, such as Ernst & Young and KPMG, are piloting PPI programs. If you know of others, I’d like to hear about them.

PKM is not for every organization. Some companies coming late to KM, or overly enamoured of their legacy KM systems, may not be ready to think of KM as a means of improving productivity, capitalizing on the best available knowledge and experience, tapping the collective wisdom of employees and customers, facilitating more robust collaboration, improving the quality of decisions and enhancing agility and innovation. This takes a relatively enlightened management attitude on KM. Many companies still see KM as a means to reduce cost and headcount, ‘re-use’ intellectual capital and ‘accelerate employee learning’. But as awareness of these new value propositions for KM grows, I think you’re going to hear a lot more about PKM.

And although technology companies, by coopting the term Knowledge Management and making it synonymous with centralized content management, have played a role in tarnishing KM’s image, some technology companies are now developing simple, intuitive tools that will make each of the four components of PKM easier to implement. I’ll talk about some of these tools in a future post.

Top cartoon by the expert in making naive statements funny, Charles Barsotti.

November 22, 2005

Is Your Genius At Work?

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 15:28
WhatToDoDick Richards’ new book Is Your Genius at Work? is designed for people contemplating a career change. Its focus is on helping people find their genius — the one thing they are especially and uniquely good at, and then finding application for that genius in the work world. Its audience is anyone who believes they are currently doing less than they could or should, both for their own fulfillment and to make a contribution to the betterment of the world. It’s especially valuable for those who are in need of an ego-boost — those who don’t believe they have genius, and don’t believe they are especially good at anything.

There is no rocket science to Richards’ process. It is essentially a workbook, in the vein of Bolles’ What Colour Is Your Parachute? but less focused on researching jobs at the intersection of What you love, What you’re good at, and What’s needed, and more on identifying and naming What you’re good at, and Why you’re here.

Like Parachute, Genius is full of exercises, and I worked through them to see whether they provided insights different from Parachute‘s. Richards seems to take it on faith that What you’re good at is congruent with What you love. I think that’s debatable, but perhaps it doesn’t matter — since the exercises get you to identify both, and then find ‘common denominators’, the result is one genius, one talent, that lies at the intersection between them (spaces 2 & 3 in my diagram above).

I particularly liked the ‘sales pitch’ at the start of the book for working through it. Many people give up too easily on self-discovery exercises like this because they’re not sufficiently convinced that the outcome is worth the effort. The arguments Richards makes for discovering and applying your genius are: (a) stronger sense of identity, (b) clearer sense of direction, (c) increased self-confidence, (d) language to communicate the value you can add, and (e) greater satisfaction and productivity in your work.

The four stage process outlined in the book is (1) discover (recognize) your genius, (2) ask yourself whether your current job/career makes good use of it, (3) discover your purpose, and (4) ask yourself whether your genius is being (or can be) applied to fulfill your purpose. Your purpose is your self-acknowledged reason for living, what you feel you were born to do.

Richards posits several ‘restrictions’ or ‘conditions’ to force you to narrow your (many) talents and passions to your one true genius:

  1. You have a genius.
  2. You have only one genius.
  3. Your genius has been with you your whole life.
  4. Your genius is natural and spontaneous.
  5. Your genius is a positive, rather than destructive, energy.
  6. Your genius is what it is, not what you would wish it to be.
  7. Your genius’ name consists of one gerund (word ending in -ing) followed by one noun.
  8. Your genus is unique to you.

When you’ve recognized your genius, Richards says, you’ll know it. Alternatives won’t improve the name you’ve given it. It will be specific enough to be truly unique (already directing your mind towards how that uniqueness could distinguish and fulfill you if it were properly applied). It will be powerful. And, while it may take some time to reveal itself and may evolve over time, it will prove durable.

If identifying your genius proves elusive, Richards recommends looking at the following:

  • Your disrepute: Things you do passionately that others criticize you for
  • Your frustrations: Things you are discontented with
  • Your elation: Things that bring you great joy and sense of accomplishment
  • What you offer: Things you give to others openly and voluntarily
  • Your interests: Things that pique your imagination and attention
  • Your successes: Things that worked well, that were easy for you
  • Images that attract you: Art and models that resonate with your perception of reality

The process for recognizing your genius is less rational and more intuitive and emotional than Bolles’ Parachute discovery process, more a process of self-realization than research and self-analysis. This works for me, since I enjoy that kind of exercise and am reasonably good at it. But I’m not sure it can work for everyone. If you really don’t know yourself, I can imagine you would find this book frustrating.

Richards spends only two pages on the second stage of the process: Asking yourself whether your current job/career makes good use of it, or could be changed to make good use of it. He knows, I think, that the people who will be attracted to this book will probably answer this question in the negative, and trusts each reader to decide for herself what to do about that.

For the third stage, discovering your purpose, Richards again suggests a set of ‘restrictions’ or ‘conditions’ to narrow the candidates and help you hone in on your one true purpose:

  1. Your purpose must be discovered, not invented
  2. Your purpose is directed outward — it is the specific, tangible way in which your genius, your gift, is given to the world
  3. Knowing your purpose allows you to be more intentional and effective in fulfilling it
  4. Your purpose gives focus and meaning to your life and directs your decisions on what to do

And, again, if identifying your purpose proves elusive, Richards suggests looking at the following:

  • Your strong emotions: What stirs you
  • What other people ask of you: How they see your purpose
  • Unexpected occurrences and turning points: Life events that might at least suggest what is not your purpose after all
  • Your suffering: What you have had the courage to survive and overcome
  • Meditation or prayer: Revelations that come from quieting your mind
  • Your family history: What your family has seen as its purpose, and has suggested, with their special knowledge of you, might be yours
  • Recurring ideas: Ideals and intentions and unmet needs and possibilities that have intrigued you for much of your life

And finally, redirecting your genius so it is focused on achieving your purpose requires, in addition to a lot of thought and energy and passion, a sense of personal responsibility, a sense of knowing your own heart, a sense of deep self-awareness, and personal courage. These personal qualities and capacities both emerge and find expression through the realization of your purpose by applying your genius.

The book is well-written, concise, un-preachy, illuminating, and down-to-earth, and I would recommend it not only because it can help you with your next career move, but more profoundly because it can help you to realize yourself, be happier and more fulfilled in all aspects of your life, and, in the process, make the world a better place.

What is your genius? What is your purpose? And is the former helping you achieve the latter?

November 21, 2005

Re-becoming Indigenous: Capacities of Learning & Discovery

Filed under: Working Smarter — Dave Pollard @ 21:34
IndigenousCapacitiesThe word indigenous* means ‘born into and part of’, and by inference ‘inseparably connected to’. We are all, I think, indigenous at birth, born into the Earth-organism and connected in a profound and primal way to all life on the planet, even if we are born in the sterile confines of an ‘antiseptic’ hospital. But we are quickly indoctrinated into the civilized conceit of human separateness, and that conceptual separateness is reinforced by a physical separateness until, soon enough, we forget that we are a part of a constituency greater and deeper than family or state. Conception thus becomes our reality.

My most important moments of learning and discovery have occurred in those rare moments when I’ve been able to briefly shake that illusion of separateness, and re-become indigenous, liberated, part of the real world.

Many of the books I have read about creativity, collaboration and innovation seem to be striving for a similar re-becoming as a means of getting out of the inculcated strait-jacket of linear, abstract, conceptual thinking. This article is about what we need to do to re-gain the capacity to learn and discover.

I have written before about the ‘process’ of learning and discovery that I call AHA!, but I’m beginning to wonder whether it’s actually a process, a cycle, or rather a set of capacities that we apply iteratively, as needed, to learn and discover. Ross Mayfield’s thinking on The End of Process is prompting me to recast my innovation and creativity model as a capacity model rather than a process model. These capacities could also be called practices as long as they’re not confused with ‘best practices’ which (except in very simple and very risky situations, like water supply inspections) tend to be context- and situation-specific and hence of limited value. I had originally conceived of a list of  principles, but concluded that, since principles are guides to what to do, if you have the right capacities or practices you don’t need a lot of principles — and without the appropriate capacities or practices, principles aren’t very useful.

The diagram above right represents a first cut at a model of 20 indigenous capacities that might re-equip us to learn and discover, alone or in a group, with the kind of acumen we had when we were born. The application of these capacities, if encouraged and exercised in a coordinated way with others who have the same capacities could, I believe, transform business and social organizations in ways that top-down programs and processes never could.

This list of capacities has been scavenged from a number of sources: my own AHA! ‘process’ model, the Open Space model, the Presence model, Cyndy‘s seven steps, and several others. I’m showing them in the gerundive (ending in -ing) to stress that they are capacities of self-action. Had I written this model in French, I would have used verbs — In French this sense of self-action would be apparent because all these verbs are reflexive (a subtlety, alas, lacking in English).

Twenty is a large number. To make the model manageable, I need to group them into meaningful categories, and perhaps even devise a ‘curriculum’ of exercises that we can practice to re-acquire these capacities. For the time being, I’ve put them in a very rough order — red for the capacities you need to congregate and aggregate information, blue for the capacities you need to broaden your thinking and imagination, purple for the capacities you need to make meaning of all the ideas and information that comes out of the red and blue activities, and green for the capacities you need to act on the understanding that emerges from the purple activities. But I’m wary of such a sequential, ‘process’ grouping, because in fact we need (and we use) all these capacities in every aspect of learning and discovery, and as a consequence we use them in most areas of human endeavour.

The second challenge with this model is showing how the dynamic of their application changes when one moves from individual action to action as part of a group or a larger community. I initially tried to group the 20 capacities according to whether they are exercised most in individual, small-group or larger community activities. My sense, though, is that these capacities defy such easy categorization. Importantly, however, the process (oops — the way in which these capacities are exercised) varies depending on the number and nature of participants in the activity.

Perhaps what I need is a series of stories to illustrate how these capacities are applied in different circumstances — from a program of self-study to a large-group complex colloquium on how to end global poverty.

Well, that’s all I have so far. Please let me know if you think this could be a useful model (or ‘curriculum’), rather than just an idle exercise. Also, if you have any ideas on how to group the capacities in a meaningful and intuitive way, or to illustrate the model in a more compelling or graphically interesting way than the ‘dumb’ diagram above, I’d welcome your suggestions.

Finally, which do you think are the capacities that we most urgently need to (re-)develop, if we hope to successfully tackle ‘wicked’ problems and make the world a better place? Do they correspond to the ones that you, and the people you know and admire, are best at?

*The word indigent (poor, needy) has a completely different word origin. It is only a cruel irony that so many of the world’s displaced indigenous peoples are also indigent.

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