In the week that the US space shuttle programme came to an end, the BBC put a cut-down and edited version of the film “Round the world in 90 minutes.
You can watch the older version on YouTube in five fifteen minute cuts:
Let’s hope that the planetary consciousness that the outstanding programme has delivered will continue to see the world as a fragile ecosystem and not as a toxic dumping ground for consumer madness (per the previous post).
In a week where the Murdoch media empire appeared to lose its power, I came across this video “The Story of Stuff”- perhaps the most important “News of the World” that Murdoch’s empire was at the heart of ignoring.
Even if you have seen it, watch it again: it will make you think again about how the world works.
It is interesting how, with the launch of Apple’s Lion operating system we are still seeing “Design for Obsolescence” as one of the main design principles from what many say is the best design company in the world. It’s time for Apple (and the rest of us) to re-think design for the 21st century so that we can close the circle, not keep pushing the 99% waste down the pipe. Designing for Pull has to be a major factor in this redesign philosophy – and something I will come back to in future posts.
As the honeybee swarming season is ending, I have been reflecting on the four swarms we have caught this season and the phenomenon that some call “swarm consciousness”. In researching more about the subject, I came across this short set of PBS videos describing a new way of thinking described as “emergence”. It not only describes the magic forces of nature that science somehow struggles with, it also gives a great explanation on how we learn. It is encouraging to hear that current computer design has a long way to go – and that the human brain still wins on its “connectedness”. Encouraging to think that swarm intelligence in humans is FAR greater than any political leader or dictator. Worth watching both clips and reflecting on them:
We have all had it. That frustrating blankness that hits you when you want to write something. Those who know me, know that I have been trying to write a book on bees since 1986. I am not sure if this is worthy of an entry in the Guinness Book of Records – but this work of art has been a long time in the womb!
Coincidentally today, I had an extraordinarily energetic meeting brainstorming out a new marketing strategy for a company. We really got “in the flow”. At the end of the meeting I had to take 5 minutes out just to re-tune to normality. One of the people at the meeting started talking about left-brained and right-brained thinking – and pointed me to the work and theories of Gabriele Rico. Gabrielle has written a book that has sold over 500,000 copies called “Writing the Natural Way”.
On investigating the theories, I was struck by how similar they are to many of the methods I use in my work. I use Spider Diagrams or Mind Maps a lot to brainstorm-out ideas – and then clump or cluster them into patterns or blocks of ideas – before finally looking for a natural sequence or flow that works well for the problem set in question. I really liked Gabriele’s names for the two sides of the brain – “Sign Mind” and “Design Mind“. Sign mind (left hemisphere) thinks linearly, parts-specifically, logically, one step at a time, while the Design mind (right hemisphere) thinks in whole patterns, drawing on images, emotional webs, sensory patterns, as in a memory that suddenly flashes into consciousness as a complex whole. So similar to the attributes missing in the Organisational Caetextia article I wrote with Mark Richards last year.
So it got me thinking – why don’t I actually use this very effective technique to help me write the book? And it made me realise that my my work and other activities at home are so time-consuming that the real issue wasn’t so much writers block, but time deficiency! Although I have already created the chapters, the themes, the plot, I just need to sit down and write. But I am not a natural writer. I prefer telling stories aloud. I prefer drawing pictures. Anything but writing. Gabrielle’s theory says I should be using my right brain (or Design Mind) first – and then start writing…
Actually, this problem is really why I started to blog. Because I thought: if I write regularly in small chunks about things that interest me, then I hope to overcome this writer’s block that I have. I set up another blog – http:/beelore.com – a few years ago. And it really does seem to work – this blogging thing. Little and often is better than being blocked and producing nothing at all.
Which means that I don’t currently plan to finish the book – because by the time I have done everything else, I actually don’t want to find the time to write the book.
I would rather work, play and blog; and go with the flow. For the moment – anyway. Than write a massive book. On bees. That probably few will read. And certainly not over 500,000! The rough numbers that read Gabriele’s book!
In fact I called beelore a “blook” – sort of cross of a book and a blog. So maybe I havn’t got writer’s block…..I have simply replaced it with a new age, Web 2.0 writer’s blook!
Last night I went to see the Clint Eastwood directed movie – Hereafter. I thoroughly enjoyed it as I had a near-death experience in the 1980s – and it sang true to many of the things that happened to me at the time – but which I have not really been able to articulate since.
The ironic thing was that I had attended a parents evening the night before and found that my son was struggling with his History and English essay writing. I took my son out to dinner before the film and explained to him that when I sit down to write something of any length, I always do it back-to-front. “Begin with the end in mind”. That sort of thing. I also use this very powerful tool in the work that I do. Some call it envisioning. I call it “Back-to-Front” Thinking. I then thread the important threads through the storyline to create drama, interest and tensions that get resolved at the end (which I have already written). I am no great writer – but I find this technique is so powerful, it has allowed me to express my ideas much better than any technique I was taught at school. I suppose in tech-speak it is like reverse engineering….but on original work and not copied from someone else.
Now when we got out of the film, the two pieces fitted so neatly together! The writer of the Hereafter movie, Peter Morgan, must have written the script back-to-front. How else could he have done it?
Like reading a good book, the film has three threads – a man with psychic powers, a woman writer-journalist who lives a near-death experience and a young boy who….well I don’t want to give too much away! The three threads dance through the film until they resolve each other’s tensions and stories at the end. What good movie or book doesn’t?
So back to Homework. I wondered why I was never taught this technique at school? I think of all the painful experiences where I had to sit down and write – without being told how it important it is to design before doing? I wonder why we don’t talk about the “how” of the structure to produce fine art – and make it much easier for young folk to succeed in what is really quite a simple technique.
Thinking of the UK government and the UK economy, I wonder if it is time for a bit of back-to-front thinking there too?
At the end of the week where Julian Assange was locked up and everyone has been commenting on the value (or threat) of Wikileaks, I thought I would reflect on what I see is going on here.
Assange is a deep thinker – perhaps even an Autistic Savant.
In researching the subject I came across a quote which summarises what Assange is trying to do with Wikileaks (from piece of writing (via) (via):
“To radically shift regime behavior we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us, and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not. Firstly we must understand what aspect of government or neocorporatist behavior we wish to change or remove. Secondly we must develop a way of thinking about this behavior that is strong enough carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity. Finally must use these insights to inspire within us and others a course of ennobling, and effective action.”
Julian Assange, “State and Terrorist Conspiracies”
It struck me that Julian Assange’s reasoning above was very similar to some of the ideas of another great thinker of our time – Chris Argyris.
I often use Argyris’ ideas (particularly single loop and double loop learning) in the work that I do – and I know that they have helped many others in creating effective change over the past fifty or so years.
For those who are interested, there is a good summary of Argyris’ work HERE.
Basically, Argyris outlines two two models – Model I (Single Loop Learning Organisation) and Model II (Double Loop Learning Organisation) to highlight the potential for organisational learning:
The governing Values of Model I (Single Loop Learning) are:
Achieve the purpose as the actor (or boss) defines it
Win, do not lose
Suppress negative feelings
Primary Strategies are:
Control environment and task unilaterally
Protect self and others unilaterally
Usually operationalised by:
Unillustrated attributions and evaluations e.g.. “You seem unmotivated”
Advocating courses of action which discourage inquiry e.g.. “Lets not talk about the past, that’s over.”
Treating ones’ own views as obviously correct
Making covert attributions and evaluations
Face-saving moves such as leaving potentially embarrassing facts unstated
Low freedom of choice
Reduced production of valid information
Little public testing of ideas
Most of the larger organisations that I consult with exhibit many, if not most of these Model I characteristics and I am sure that most governments around the world are not that much different. It is not unsurprising, therefore, that the current concerns over the latest Wikileaks are clouded in language that is imprecise and have overtones of Julian Assange being a “traitor” as well as the actions of Wikileaks being seen to be threatening to existing command and control establishments.
Aristotle had a similar set of ideas in his ethics.
He differentiated between technical thinking and practical thinking and the similarities with Argyris and Schön are striking…
“The former (technical thinking) involves following routines and some sort of preset plan – and is both less risky for the individual and the organization, and affords greater control.
The latter (practical thinking) is more creative and reflexive, and involves consideration notions of the good. Reflection here is more fundamental: the basic assumptions behind ideas or policies are confronted… hypotheses are publicly tested… processes are disconfirmable not self-seeking….”
So, in one sense, the Wikileaks drama is acting-out an age-old problem: How can we rise above the inadequacies of what Aristotle called “technical thinking“ within an organisational system and encourage more “practical (or ethical) thinking”. This is what Argyris called the attributes of Model I organisations and what Assange calls “the aspect(s) of government or neocorporatist behavior we wish to change or remove”.
Aristotle’s view was that the development of “practical wisdom” cannot be acquired solely by learning general rules. We must also acquire, through practice, those deliberative, emotional, and social skills that enable us to put our general understanding of well-being into practice in ways that are suitable to each occasion.
Interesting. Try and explain those ideas to someone with autism…
So enough of the analysis. What makes an effective learning organisation?
Argyris cites the following attributes for a Model II organisation:
The governing values of Model II (Double Loop Learning) include:
Free and informed choice
Participation in design and implementation of action
Attribution and evaluation illustrated with relatively directly observable data
Surfacing conflicting view
Encouraging public testing of evaluations
Consequences should include:
Minimally defensive relationships
High freedom of choice
Increased likelihood of double-loop learning
Which brings us back to Julian Assange and Wikileaks. It is clear, for me, that Assange’s has developed a reasoned approach to changing the attributes of what might be called Big Government and Big Business. The main question for me, is, could he be more effective? Has he created his own Model I organisation to effect the changes he outlines he wants to achieve? Or is Wikileaks a new model II organisation for journalism that uses the internet to help change the belief system of the organisations that information is leaked about?
Argyris & Schön (Argyris, C., & Schön, D. (1978) Organizational learning: A theory of action perspective, Reading, Mass: Addison Wesley) say that change only comes through a collaboration between the change agent or interventionist and the Model 1 organisation. They suggests moving through six phases of work:
Mapping the problem as clients see it.This includes the factors and relationships that define the problem, and the relationship with the living systems of the organisation.
The internalization of the map by clients. Through inquiry and confrontation the interventionists work with clients to develop a map for which clients can accept responsibility. However, it also needs to be comprehensive.
Test the model. This involves looking at what ‘testable predictions’ can be derived from the map – and looking to practice and history to see if the predictions stand up. If they do not, the map has to be modified.
Invent solutions to the problem and simulate them to explore their possible impact.
Produce the intervention.
Study the impact.This allows for the correction of errors as well as generating knowledge for future designs. If things work well under the conditions specified by the model, then the map is not disconfirmed.
Given that most of the work that I do is, in one way or another, trying to deliver effective (and collaborative) change, I wonder whether the latest developments in the Wikileaks drama will become the most effective way to use modern internet technology to bring about the changes so vitally needed in this world to challenge the corruption, waste and continuation of so many Model I organisations…..
…….or whether there is another, better, more effective internet-based Type II model which creates a collaboration between the change agents and the Model I organisations to make the change happen more quickly and effectively….
I suppose only time (and more thinking and action) will tell……
Most of us can relate to examples of when customer service organisations have driven us completely bonkers: being passed off to another department that does not answer your call and drops you into a black hole; getting through to an Indian call centre that has not a clue how to address your problem; orders placed and fulfilled incorrectly……the list is endless.
With the so-called customer relationship being such a fundamental component to the success of any business, why do companies behave in such a maddening way? The answer may well lie in some interesting new research from psychology. It describes a model that helps to diagnose the roots of certain common mental health problems but can also be extended to help us understand some of the more general dysfunctions that we see within organisations.
The New Psychology of Caetextia (or Context Blindness)
Recent psychological research in the UK has come up with a new model for us to understand better what is going on with people suffering from a range of mental health conditions such as Asbergers’ syndrome, Autism and schizophrenia. In summary, these symptoms are best expressed by the inability of people to switch easily between several foci of attention – and to track them against the history and context that relates to them. This new line of research has been called ‘caetextia’ by the researchers: coming from the two Latin words caecus, (meaning ‘blind’) and contextus, (meaning ‘context’). Further details can be found at www.caetextia.com.
It would appear that organisations can also demonstrate the symptoms of caetextia (or context-blindness). Organisational Caetextia (or OC as we will call it from now on) can help us understand why some organisations exhibit a sort of madness when dealing with their customers and employees – yet give us a clue as to why they remain blind to the significant consequences of acting in such a crazy way.
In cases of caetextia in individuals, the new research has uncovered two types of context blindness – and OC can also be observed in two distinct types of dysfunctional behaviour. Before we look at these two types, though, it is worth looking in more detail at the part of the brain that allows us to process context.
Parallel Processing in the Human Brain
In order for us to have context, we need to be able to see events from different points of view. Recent research into how the brain works has revealed that all mammals have a part of the brain that can process masses of information at the same time – similar to the new ways that we configure parallel processing in computers. This part of the brain developed millions of years ago to guage the risks associated by processing multiple streams of information and unconsciously comparing them to previous experiences. This is something we take for granted today, but millons of years ago it was the key to any mammal’s survival and conserve energy by not reacting to every stimulus that came along.
The research has concluded that this parallel processing part of the brain can become impaired – and this is particularly prevalent in people who demonstrate symptoms on the autistic spectrum. In such cases the brain cannot do the parallel processing necessary to keep separate streams of attention, switching effortlessly between each of them to assess their relevance to what is actually happening in the here-and-now. This form of parallel processing requires the brain to dissociate: in other words to be able to to review what it knows about something that it has come across before, whilst also paying attention to that something in the present. It is no wonder that such people often suffer from learning difficulties!
Two types of Organisational Caetextia (OC)
The research has also uncovered two types of Caetextia: front-of-brain or straight-line thinking blindness and back-of-brain random association blindness. What is interesting is that these types of caetextia can also be applied to organisations and can help us understand why some organisations are so disconnected.
The first type can be called “Process OC”. This is where an organisation processes work in logical straight lines without taking into account the wider organisational implications of doing so. This type of OC is fixated in the front of the brain. Examples might be a call centre agent who does not know which person or department to hand-off someone to and simply puts them into a telephone black hole. Another example might be an agent who says “I am really sorry that this has happened to you, I will get someone to ring you back” – and they never do.
Organisational Caetextia of the process type tends to happen lower-down organisatons (for instance someone in the back-office saying: “that’s not my job, I only process this type of transaction”. Front line workers will often be encouraged to adopt to this type of thinking with phrases such as “You are not paid to think. Just do what I say”. This dysfunctionality is exacerbated by outsourcing arrangements where the supplier organisation fulfills its minimum service level obligations and is very much driven by the mantra “if it is not in the contract, then I can do it, but it will cost you more”.
The second type “Informational OC” tends to be found higher-up in organisations. This type of OC is based in the back of the brain. The symptoms of this type of organisational madness is driven by managers and “leaders” defining a whole world of information they need to run the business that is of very litle value other than to those managers holding their jobs down or playing the politics of the given day. Often the amount of information needed expands without any understanding on the cost associated with gathering it. The information is then dressed up as targets to “motivate” those lower down the organisation to stretch themselves to meet those targets and get a bonus. Vast parts of the organisation chase numbers that have no bearing on the reality of what is actually happening to customers on a day-to-day basis.
In times of stress, the information will often be used to create random associations between the data sets, coming to rapid conclusions to reinforce otherwise illogical assumptions and then finding it rather difficult to justify their decisions after the event. The whole saga of justifying Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq is a good example of this. Organisations also use such pools of information to get rid of people lower down in the organisation who are not “conforming”… even if the data bears no resemblence to reality and the people are doing valuable work with customers.
Successful organisations use back-brain (information = innovation) with front-brain (process = delivery) in a combination that drives continuous improvement. A well-known example of this is Google who allow each employee to spend 20% of their time on their own projects.
In less successful organisations, these two frameworks of OC might be useful in alerting organisations, managers and employees or service workers to the madness that is around them – and perhaps give them a perspective to stop some of the maddening things they are doing to their customers and suppliers at the moment!