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Ariane Kiss
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Sites to watch:
Action without borders
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Explorers Foundation
Forbidden Science
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Friendly Favors
Global Ideas Bank
Greater Democracy
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Manufacturing Dissent
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Wednesday, June 20, 2007day link 

picture Dave Pollard:
I'm intrigued at the idea of self-portraits as a means of learning to love and understand yourself better, and perhaps as a means to Let-Self-Change. UK photographer Victoria Sims, whose self-portrait is above, is a master at this.
Hm, yeah, didn't think about that. But kind of how writing your bio makes you examine who you really are. Visually too, of course. How do you want to present yourself? Who are you really? How can you show that better?
[ | 2007-06-20 21:53 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

 Are breakthroughs social?
picture Matt Mower talks , here too, about breakthroughs, based on Terry Frazier discussing a talk by Lisa Haneberg, who in a talk said this:
  • Breakthroughs happen in a social context, If you aren't out actively promoting your goal or idea, discussing it regularly with friends, colleagues, and strangers and sharing your challenges, achievements, and objectives, you aren't going to make any breakthroughs.

  • Introverts, no matter how smart, rarely make breakthroughs, Breakthroughs do not happen in front of your face. They happen in the connections and gaps and networks that emerge from constant forward action and focus.
  • So, is a breakthrough a social thing? I'm not sure I agree that it is, necessarily. Rather, it sounds like an extrovert speaking.

    A breakthrough is, I suppose, when there's something somebody wants, and something stopping it which is somewhat complex. So, it is a problem, or dilemma, or a confused situation, where an objective is known, but not being met. Something is stuck. And then, bing, something changes, and you're at another level, a better place, where things are simpler, and things are flowing. Might be just a reframe, you suddenly see things differently. Or you acquire a piece you didn't have before. An individual can do that, or a group.

    But is that inherently social? I agree that more evolved social networking could be more likely to generate breakthroughs for individuals, breakthroughs in thinking or living. The availability of more social flows might give you an opportunity for being more in the flow. They might, but they won't necessarily. And it is not like it couldn't happen without.

    Personally I often need people to talk things over with in order to break through something. I need input, and I need to see ideas reflect themselves in other people before I quite know what they mean, and then I make up my own mind. But it works differently for different people. Some people need other people before they can do certain things. Other people need to be alone to do the same thing. And it isn't as simple as extrovert/introvert. One might be extroverted as to some aspects of one's life, and introverted in regards to others.

    But the question of how social contexts can be more conducive to breakthrough is a very intesting one. How do you lay things out so that routine breakthroughs are the norm?
    [ | 2007-06-20 22:41 | 8 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

     Lessig takes on corruption
    Lawrence Lessig has for years been a leading voice in the fight against crazy, excessive copyright and intellectual property laws. Now he's announced that he's not exactly retiring, but he's moving on to the root of the issue: corruption.
    From a public policy perspective, the question of extending existing copyright terms is, as Milton Friedman put it, a "no brainer." As the Gowers Commission concluded in Britain, a government should never extend an existing copyright term. No public regarding justification could justify the extraordinary deadweight loss that such extensions impose.

    Yet governments continue to push ahead with this idiot idea -- both Britain and Japan for example are considering extending existing terms. Why?

    The answer is a kind of corruption of the political process. Or better, a "corruption" of the political process. I don't mean corruption in the simple sense of bribery. I mean "corruption" in the sense that the system is so queered by the influence of money that it can't even get an issue as simple and clear as term extension right. Politicians are starved for the resources concentrated interests can provide. In the US, listening to money is the only way to secure reelection. And so an economy of influence bends public policy away from sense, always to dollars.

    The point of course is not new. Indeed, the fear of factions is as old as the Republic. There are thousands who are doing amazing work to make clear just how corrupt this system has become. There have been scores of solutions proposed. This is not a field lacking in good work, or in people who can do this work well.
    Of course he says it diplomatically, that there's a kind of curruption of the system. Yes, most politicians who vote for those laws have been paid by the mega media companies to do just that. But it is the system that is the problem, a system where the interests of big money somehow win most of the time.
    [ | 2007-06-20 23:23 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

     Forwarding and spam
    The ISP that hosts one of my two dedicated servers sent me a message today. The abuse department. Essentially the message is that they have too many complaints about people receiving spam from my server and they're going to block it.

    They had written a couple of weeks ago too. After I asked them very nicely they sent back a sample of a message they had gotten a complaint about. Essentially it was just one of the mail users on my server that has his mail forwarded to his yahoo account. So, vicepresident@a-non-profit-organization.org is forwarded to somebody@yahoo.com. And the thing is that spam is forwarded too, and sometimes he hits the spam button.

    But Yahoo is apparently so incompetent in treating this that they don't notice that the spam didn't come from my server at all. That particular spam came from somebody in Brazil, and that was clearly visible in the headers of the message. As was the fact that the message was forwarded and from what account. But they still turn around and send an abuse message to my ISP, stating that they've received spam from my server. And when my ISP has gotten a certain number of those, they shut me down.

    What on earth am I supposed to do about that? Forbid that anybody forwards their mail?

    That server has quite a few mail accounts, mostly for non-profit groups that have a website on the server. And most of those mail addresses forward to where people really pick up their mail. There's also a lot of mailing lists on the server, but I suppose that's not the issue here.

    What I did today was that I set up Spamassassin to process the incoming mail. So, anything that's likely to be spam gets marked with "***SPAM***" in the subject line, plus a whole bunch of mail headers are added to the message, explaining why it looks like spam.

    I wonder if that will make a difference to Yahoo. Otherwise I'll have to figure out how to trash anything that looks like spam which otherwise would be forwarded to Yahoo, and that's a much harder configuration job.
    [ | 2007-06-20 23:59 | 5 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

    Tuesday, June 19, 2007day link 

     Waterfalls and Chaos
    Johnnie Moore used it as a couple of his slides at Reboot, and described it further in an old blog post, based on a paper on wicked problems. We're talking about how things are supposed to happen in somebody's neat mental model versus how it actually happens.
    The authors put up this diagram. It shows the traditional view of a problem solving process. This should be pretty familiar to any kind of consultant. It shows four stages of problem solving: gather data, analyze data, formulate solution, implement solution. Apparently, this is called the waterfall model of problem-solving, where we move graciously from the area of looking at the problem to that of working out the answer.

    A study at the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC) looked at whether this model is a good description of what happens in the real world. So they took a team of successful designers and set them to work on a real world problem (designing an elevator control system). They then looked at how one designer actually spent his time. That's then plotted over our waterfall here:

    That's interesting isn't it? He's clearly not following the script. Instead, he's jumping to a potential solution and then realising another aspect of the problem and so on. Here's someone who allegedly is a good designer and he's not doing "the right thing".
    And they go ahead and try it with more different people, who don't fit the neat waterfall model either, and who don't at all match each other's patterns either. And we were talking about skilled, successful designers there.

    The conclusion is of course along the lines of realizing that in the real world real people do something very different from what they're supposed to according to neat diagrams. They probably couldn't do it exactly like the diagram, or if they did, they would be very ineffective. Seen from the perspective of the people who like neat diagrams, the actual behavior seems chaotic. But it is productive chaos, and not really chaos. It is a different kind of order.

    It is often not wise to try to impose rigid one or two-dimensional patterns on problems and solutions and people and organizations that really have many more dimensions to them. You can simplify things that are complicated, but over-simplifying functioning complexity is unwise.
    [ | 2007-06-19 22:22 | 5 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

    Sunday, June 17, 2007day link 

    I've seen this movie before but this sequel is different & better because it's a blockbuster and everybody's doing it
    Roland Tanglao, paraphrasing Tim Bray. We're talking about Facebook.

    I didn't pay attention to Facebook before just recently. I'm a member of too many online social networks where I have a list of "friends", and nothing else is going on. And at first glance Facebook sounded like just another one, and one I'd be even less interested in than the others. Its positioning seemed to be about finding people you went to college with and that kind of thing, which sounded boring.

    I had indeed signed up quite a while ago, and I was getting friend confirmation requests. But the problem is that the options they give you all seemed irrelevant. Normally I've met people online, maybe through blogs, maybe we were in the same network or group or something, or maybe we met at a conference. But none of those are among the choices, so I had to settle for "Met Randomly", even though it wasn't very random. So that just confirmed that it wasn't for me, and I never logged in. Until it became apparent that a lot of people I know think it is a great thing, and I actually logged in and looked around.

    And, indeed, there are some things they do that lift it to a whole other level, and it isn't very much at all like Ryze, LinkedIn, Orkut, Xing or Viadeo. The first thing is that you get a feed of what changes about any of your friends. The second is that there's a whole lot of things to do, so there's a lot to see in that feed. And, thirdly, they have what they call applications. It means they've made an API that allows third parties to add modules to their hearts content, to add new functionality, which is nicely integrated with the rest of the site.

    Those extra modules make me do some things I otherwise wouldn't bother doing, like rating books I've read recently, because the fact that it is shared with my friends list makes it somewhat more meaningful. None of it is particularly important stuff, but it hooks into the same principles that makes twitter or jaiku interesting. It gives me a continuous ambient awareness of what's going on within one's sphere of friends. There's a swarm kind of thing going on, where I'll catch if a bunch of others suddenly get interesting in a particular subject or a particular application or a particular group. And it does that for me with fairly minimal investment of time, as all I do is to update a few profile type of settings here and there, and I watch one stream of small updates from others I know.

    So, this does point at something that's new and interesting, a new type of social interaction, and a trend for the future. But, like the other social networking sites, Facebook is an island. You don't really plug into it unless you're a member. And what if there are several places like that, and I'll had to choose. It is only going to be more permanently useful if there are open standards, and it doesn't matter which particular system I plug into. I'm interested in sharing information with my friends, but I could care less about keeping track of a list of separate websites one can network at. They would have to become more invisible.
    [ | 2007-06-17 20:09 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

    Friday, June 15, 2007day link 

     Life instructions
    An imaginary sign found in an imaginary subway. From Making Happy at A Particular Day.
    [ | 2007-06-15 16:26 | 5 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

    Thursday, June 14, 2007day link 

    picture Wow, indeed. This video from TED. Mindblowing technology. I don't get how it is possible, but I want it. Photosynth can apparently both navigate gigabytes of photos, of any resolution, extremely rapidly, and also piece together random photos of places or objects into 3D collages. For the first part, the guy shows an iPhoto kind of thing, where you can zip through thousands of pictures, but you can also zoom in to any level of detail, if available. So, you see what looks like a microfilm, and you can zoom in, and it is a whole book, you can read the pages, and all the way to a blowup of a single letter. And then he shows a collage of photos from Flickr tagged as being of "Notre Dame" in Paris. And their software can apparently figure out their relations, and piece them together in a 3D model, where you can zoom in on any part that anybody took a picture of. Only downside in sight is that Microsoft bought the company that invented this. I noticed there was a Firefox plugin, but it immediately let me know that it would only work on Windows. (Via Ben Hammersley)
    [ | 2007-06-14 01:00 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

     The Pmarca Guide to Personal Productivity
    picture Oh, this is just brilliant. This article. I had read it all the way through before I realized the author is Marc Andreessen, the guy who invented Mosaic, essentially the first web browser. This is, as he calls it, Productivity Porn. A lot of people, myself included, are addicted to new systems of staying organized and productive. Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen has been the most popular angle recently, and so far the best system I've run into. But then again, I haven't completely succeeded in making it work for me, even though I agree with it. And, now, this system is not incompatible with GTD, but it goes some steps further in simplifying things, and addressing that which makes people productive. At least people like me, who do the best work when I don't have to, and get stuck when I've got too many commitments and deadlines and meetings. So, a key new principle here is:

    don't keep a schedule

    Don't keep a schedule at all. Don't schedule meetings for next week. He's quite right, that often a meeting scheduled in the future is a way of avoiding the fact that it is not very important to you right now. Or, at best, when next Tuesday at 3 o'clock comes along, even if the subject maybe interests you, most likely there's something else you'd rather be doing at that exact time. So, don't give away your future time. Always work on what is most important to you. If somebody needs to see you, either see them right now, or tell them you can't commit to anything, and you don't keep a schedule.

    Andreessen didn't altogether invent this. He seems to be inspired in part by the book A Perfect Mess, which presents that idea, that it is more productive to not have a schedule, and which gives examples of well-known people, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who supposedly organize themselves like that.

    He gives other great suggestions. Like, every night write down, on a 3x5 card, a todo list of 3 to 5 things you for sure need to do the next day. Then, the next day, do your best to get those things done, and cross them off when you've done them. And, on the back of the same card, write down an anti-todo list, which are the things you get done during the day that weren't on your actual todo list. And, at the end of the day, enjoy the fact that there probably are many more items on the anti-todo list, and that actually you were more productive when you weren't supposed to.

    And then there's the related Structured Procrastination approach. I recognize that very well, because I do that often. Deliberately procrastinate some things you need to do, but which you don't feel like, and use that time to get some other things done that you feel more like.

    Which is indeed what I'm doing now. I have lots of work to do today, which I don't feel like doing, and I wouldn't be writing this post if I only followed my todo list.

    There are more suggestions, but you can read them yourself. But basically it adds up to organizing your life so that you can do the things that are most important to you, the things you love doing, the things that seem most valuable at the time. As opposed to a list of "shoulds" that don't do much for you.

    It is cool that we're beginning to have technological tools that make that more possible. You know, you can better do impromptu meetings when everybody have cellphones. Or you can do it online. It is easy to know when a small group of people are available at the same time, even if nothing was scheduled. It is actually often easier than scheduling anything.

    And in ad-hoc self-organization within networks there are potentials that don't exist in strictly organized, scheduled, hierarchical systems. It is entirely possible that you can do what you love most of the time, and that at the same time collective intelligence emerges in your network. It just can't be planned in advance.

    (Thanks to Loic for mentioning it)
    [ | 2007-06-14 13:28 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

     Denial of complexity

    "The essence of tyranny is the denial of complexity". -Jacob Burkhardt
    What a great quote! Burkhardt was a Swiss social historian from the 19th century. He is credited with discovering (identifying) the age of the Renaissance. And for that matter also with the basic idea of being able to study and describe different periods as a whole, including culture, institutions, daily life, etc.

    Life is complex, biologically, socially, culturally. The most awesome stuff that exists is complex. The universe, evolution, eco-systems, art, adventure, human culture in general, and the human mind.

    That same human mind is at a crucial point in its evolution. We can consciously think abstractly. But not very well. The part of our mind we're conscious of, and that we usually identify with as "me", typically has an extremely inflated idea of its own worth and its own independent existence. That despite that it can only solve extremely simple problems, and it doesn't even know how. It over-simplifies everything, and it tends to think it is in charge.

    That simple mind is also the wonderous faculty for paying attention and appreciating life, and for consciously discovering the mysteries of the universe and of human existence.

    But when the simple mind gets stuck in the idea that it is in charge, and one of those simple minds end up commanding armies of millions of men, and huge economies, guiding the lives of billions, we're quite a bit in trouble. When the simple mind doesn't accept the complexity that brought it about, and it actually believes that its simple ideas are facts, and it tries to act accordingly, then we're in a lot of trouble. Yes, tyranny is when powerful rulers decide that the complexity simply is unacceptable, and it tries to control it, deny it, wipe it out. When a small group of people agree on a small list of small ideas as being the correct ones, validated by nothing much more than the voices in their heads, life is in danger. Doesn't matter much if their ideas are religious or moral or economical or political. It is the denial of the fundamental complexity of things that turns it into tyranny.

    What saves us is often that those simple minds make many mistakes and miscalculations, so eventually their schemes fall apart. But it might take a while, and it is hard to predict what they take with them on the way down.

    It hopefully sorts itself out in time, before it is too late. As the world becomes more complex, it gets harder to control big chunks of it without some understanding of complexity. One can still win in the short term by strategies of denying complexity, by forcing life into simple monocultural molds. But complexity has a life of its own, and there will inevitably be a certain evolutionary natural selection that takes place. The stuff that works will outcompete the stuff that doesn't work, given enough time.

    And that in itself is reason for limitless optimism. Simple, rigid structures are subject to entropy. They fall apart over time, turn to dust. Wheras complexity, of the type that life is made of, regenerates, re-configures itself, it evolves, it transitions to higher orders of organization. I think I'm gonna place my bets on life.
    [ | 2007-06-14 13:47 | 7 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

    Wednesday, June 13, 2007day link 

     Story Fields
    picture An excellent article by Tom Atlee, Story Fields.
    A story field is

    a psycho-social field of influence
    generated by the resonance and interactions
    among a culture’s many stories, events, roles, practices,
    symbols, physical infrastructure, artifacts, cuisine, etc.

    A story field shapes the awareness and behaviors
    of the individuals and groups within its range.
    It is the real-life field of influence associated with
    a culture's Big Story, cultural Myth, or Metanarrative.

    Our story field
    frames what we think is real, acceptable, and possible,
    and directly shapes our lives and our world,
    often without our even being aware of it.
    It shapes everything we see, think and do.

    Change the story field of a culture
    and we change what is real, acceptable, and possible..
    I'm very interested in stories and metaphors right now. Stories are strangely powerful and almost invisible structures. One apparently simple story can guide the behavior of individuals and groups and countries. Yes, quite meaningful to call it a field. It is a self-contained, self-consistent package of meaning, which, if accepted, carries a whole set of beliefs and norms and behaviors with it.

    There are various ways of working with that. Like, there is metaphors and stories as a therapeutical tool. A strangely effective technique for a skilled therapist is to simply tell a story. Not just any story, but if you have managed to pick up a structure of the person's situation, problems, etc, and you present them with a carefully crafted story with the same structure, but different content, and a story that actually gets resolved, it might act as a powerful metaphor for the person, and might translate into reality.

    Likewise for any kind of communication to groups of people. A story or a metaphor can be worth a thousand pictures, each worth a thousand words, so to speak. If it is the right metaphor at the right time, it might change everything.

    But stories is also simply how we manage to live within a common field, adhering to similar meta-beliefs, despite doing very different things and living different lives. And stories aren't necessarily just what can be told as what we recognize as a story, but they still follow similar principles. OK, back to Tom's article:
    Consider an example. Many people around the world have a powerful (although not always articulated) sense of THE AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE. Probably the vast majority of Americans are actually motivated by that sense. We could describe it in terms of principles -- like freedom, individualism, patriotism, progress, mobility, property rights, the pursuit of happiness, and so on. But to fathom the compelling nature of The American Way of Life, we need to step into the stories that generate it. See what comes up for you when you consider the following evocative images: Pioneers. Cowboys. The Declaration of Independence. Manifest Destiny. Rags to Riches. Technological Progress. The World's Only Superpower. The Career. The Work Ethic. The Wise Investment. The Safety Net. Family Values. The Melting Pot. The American Dream. The War on Terror.

    Each of these images and metaphors echoes with a thousand stories, myths, scenarios, visions, heroes, incidents, and so on, that show up over and over again in books, newspapers, TV programs, movies, songs, speeches, advertisements, conversations in bars and within families, and embodied in the streets, homes, policies and lives of America. This ubiquitous field of socio-psychological-narrative magnetism pulls on all of us to act, think, believe and see in particular ways -- and not in other ways. It takes immense effort to resist it or change it. To the extent any person, group or activity does not live within this story-sea and move with its currents, they don't seem quite American. They are suspect and often feel quite marginalized.
    Notice that the story doesn't have to be true. That's not the point at all. The United States is not particularly more free than most other places, rather it is less free in many ways than most other Western countries. And most people really don't make it from rags to riches. But the story is very pervasive, and even large amounts of facts don't change it much.

    A story can change of course. And some stories really ought to change. Read Tom's whole article for hints on how.

    It isn't necessarily easy to change a big story, one that whole cultures live on. But it is easier if one has a certain awareness of the playing field. It isn't about arguing against the existing stories. It isn't about stacking up facts for or against. It is maybe about creating a better story. Stories can have many components, like imagery, sayings, archetypes, anecdotes, etc. A lot of that can be developed. But somebody has to plug into the whole thing, to tend the forest and not just the trees. There's a need for imagineers.

    Also see Jon Lebkowsky, and read Wikipedia on Narrative Paradigm.
    [ | 2007-06-13 22:18 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

    Sunday, June 10, 2007day link 

     Microblogging and Dialogue
    picture So, since last week I'm hooked on microblogging. I don't know if "microblogging" is the best word for the phonomenon, but it will do, I guess. It is sort of a mix between chat, instant messaging, blogging, and widgets for showing one's current status or location in one's sidebar. I'm in jaiku and twitter, accessing both through twitku.

    One posts maybe a couple or a handful of one-liners per day. Doesn't really take any time. Although it is a bit addictive to glance at the page often, to see what people are saying. But not that much different from glancing out the window once in a while to see what weather it is. It is sort of a peripheral thing. You notice that somebody's waiting for their luggage in an airport somewhere, somebody else is preparing a gourmet meal, a third is thinking about some important question, and a fourth got a sunburn from being outside. Nothing necessarily important, certainly mostly not anything that would warrant an e-mail or a phonecall or a blog post. But it keeps people on your radar screen. You don't have to respond, but you can, if something somehow rings a bell. It doesn't have to be your close friends either. It is surprisingly meaningful, even if it is people you've never met, but you have some kind of interest in what they're up to.

    It occurs to me that it is a bit like Dialogue according to David Bohm. Oh, it is more casual, but there are some interesting correlations.

    In this context "dialogue" is used about a particular type of group interaction. A group of people sit down in a circle. Initially they might be quiet. When somebody feels like speaking, they speak, and everybody listens. Nobody needs to answer it, and nobody would argue. But if you're inspired to say something else, you do so. It might have been inspired by what somebody else said, or it might not. Everybody's sort of speaking to the space in the middle of the circle. We might have different ideas about what the subject is, but we're speaking into the same space. And a dialogue develops. It will be about something, and it might not be clear in advance what exactly it will be about. It will not be about one thing, and different people go off in different directions, but there will also be a certain coherence and evolution in it.

    In a microblogging space, some of these things happen too. I watch a screen where a few dozen people say something once in a while, and I can say something too. Interestingly, they aren't all watching the same screen, as they have different groups of friends than I do, although they overlap. They aren't all there at the same time either, and they aren't all paying attention. But once in a while somebody feels like saying something. That will be something that relates to what's going on for them at the moment, and it will also be something they feel like saying into that fuzzy kind of space, usually without saying it to anybody in particular. They typically don't expect a response either. Other people do the same. Whether you directly comment on anything else or not, what you say will necessarily be colored a bit by what you see already on the screen.

    I have tried in the past to deliberately create dialogue spaces online, usually in the form of a chat room, where I carefully would try to explain the rules. You speak into the common space, you say your truth, you don't argue or defend your opinions. It isn't a discussion, not an argument to win, rather a shared inquiry. No rules, really, other than that you shouldn't screw it up. People can say whatever they feel like saying, as long as it is what they perceive and what they feel needs to be said, and not just an attempt of making somebody else wrong. And I've found that it was very difficult to do online. Easier to do in person, where one has non-verbal cues, etc, and one knows whether one is on the same page or not. But a chat room easily develops into something else.

    So, ironically, this kind of microblogging flow is a good deal more like a dialogue than what one would tend to get if one tried to create a good dialogue space online. Even though it isn't at all trying to be any space for deep inquiry or anything like that. It is not very profound that somebody is on their way to the market, or they're playing with some new website or something. But the atmosphere created is a shared space, where people say what they experience, in little soundbites, without fluff, without much need to be posturing or defending anything, and sometimes one perceives things together. And there's some kind of intangible thread that goes through that.

    Although it isn't clear where that might take us, it is entirely possible that this might be fertile ground for some kind of collective intelligence to emerge in.
    [ | 2007-06-10 13:10 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

    Thursday, June 7, 2007day link 

     A technique for producing ideas
    picture A technique for producing ideas is a little book by James Webb Young, originally written in 1939. It is considered quite a classic, particularly among advertising people. I didn't know about it, though, so thanks to Guy Dickinson for mentioning it.

    It presents a very simple and sensible strategy for producing ideas. Nothing really revolutionary, but he makes it very clear and reproducible.

    A basic concept is that new ideas come from combinations of old elements. So, you need a lot of raw material, you need to work on putting it together, and you need to give the ideas space to appear in. The technique consists of roughly these 5 steps:

    1. Gather material. If there's some particular area you need ideas for, you'd want to gather all the information you have, and organize it. Specific information. If you're dealing with a particular product, you'd need to know exactly what is unique about it, what it is made of, etc. You also need a repository of more general knowledge, about life. It is often best to gather that without any immediate thought as to where it will fit in later. But delve into different areas, learn how they work, and keep the knowledge. Put together a large storehouse of information that you later can draw from.

    2. Work on the particular area you have in mind. Try to combine the elements you have. Think about it all the time. Chew on everything you know. Look for connections, previously unseen relations between elements. Look for how other things you know might relate to elements of the task at hand. Work it all over, possibly to a point where you just can't stand it anymore and you aren't getting any further.

    3. Then drop it. Go do something else. Really what you're doing is that you're letting sub-conscious processes take over. So, the information is being digested under the surface. New ideas are incubating, while your conscious attention is elsewhere. So, go do something entirely different, but with some emotional involvement. Go for a walk, listen to a concert, paint the fence.

    4. Ideas get born. They pop into your mind when you don't expect it. Maybe when you're walking in the forest, maybe when you're snoozing in the morning. Moments of "I've got it!" are much more likely when you've done the previous steps, i.e. you've gathered material, you've mulled it over, you've let it digest, and, bing, ideas pop up.

    5. Develop the idea into something useful. Go and try it out, or tell it to other people. You might need to adjust some things, or, if it is a good idea, it takes on a life of its own and takes off.

    So, it is simple. No great surprise there. But if one leaves something out, it won't work so well. There's not much basis for new ideas unless you've gathered a lot of material to have ideas about or ideas with. It won't happen unless you really try to put these things together. And it probably won't happen just by working hard on it, but more likely the moment you let go. And afterwards you need to continue adjusting the idea to have it become reality.

    I found the text of the book also as a PDF. And here's another review.
    [ | 2007-06-07 12:32 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

     Creativity 100
    A list of 100 fine pieces of advice about creativity, by Henriette Weber Andersen. Here are some samples:
    3. What doesn’t work in one context - might work in another. Test your options

    7. Look at the past to predict the future. Patterns mostly form themselves and repeat themselves

    8. Being the first is more important to creativity than to be the best. when somebody becomes the best - the first are being first in something else

    10. Creative action speaks louder than creative words

    21. Don’t go where no man has gone before - go where YOU haven’t gone before - if you don’t like it, see it as an experience, if you do - use it to grow further

    28. Dress up everyday

    31. Make your marks in the sand, claim what is yours before somebody else does

    55: picture what will be written on your tombstone - picture you’re a hundred and look back at your life, what do you want to be remembered for?

    68: ask the questions you are scared about first

    76: become a designer, in your mind and in your ways of acting

    79: write “what if?” scenarios

    85: Imagine other contexts for things. Macguyver everything

    99: picture yourself doing things you never thought you’d do.
    It is an excellent exercise to come up a list of 100 anything, particularly when it is good stuff like creativity.
    [ | 2007-06-07 21:16 | 5 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

    Wednesday, June 6, 2007day link 

     Ten incredible things we get for free
    picture Life2.0:
    Here are 10 wonderful things that just seem to happen by themselves:

    • Diversity & Harmony
    • Connection & Friendship
    • Self-organisation & Synergy
    • Resonance & Synchronicity
    • Insight & The spread of great ideas
    • Emergence & Paradigm Shifts
    • Learning & Growth
    • Happiness & Flow
    • Healing & Forgiveness
    • Relaxation & Enlightenment

    Not a bad list is it?

    Don't you find it comforting to know that without our interference things have a way of working out just fine... that life is basically set up to help us succeed no matter what? And all of these phenomena seem to work whether we believe in them or not. Philip Dick defined reality as 'that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away'. All 10 appear to pass that test too.

    But notice one thing... none of these can ever be planned or organised. In fact, the more we try to do so, the more they slip through our figures. For sure, there's stuff we can do to induce the 'right conditions' but at the end of the day they come for free and seem to happen best we just get out of the way.
    My favorite stuff in life is that kind of stuff that comes for free, the stuff one can't control, but that is great when it happens.

    And my favorite passtime is to try to figure out how to make those kinds of things happen anyway.

    That's a bit of a paradox, of course. How do you make things happen that happen by themselves under complex conditions you don't really understand? We recognize it when it happens, and, yes, part of the key is to be open to to it, but how do we increase the frequency, how do we make it more likely, and more powerful?

    This kind of knowledge is surprisingly scarce, but not altogether non-existent. It tends to be fuzzy, particularly to people who're looking for something finite and linear and logical, something one can plan and execute and control. You can't fully control it. You can't force anybody to be happy. You can't order anybody to be in a state of flow. Rather, if there's anything you can do, it will be with a mixture of parts you control, and parts that are out of control. And it has to be the right parts that are controlled, and the right kind of parts that are moving by themselves.

    You can't organize emergence. But you can organize many other things. Some environments and some organizations are more conducive to emergence.

    You can't force synergy. Some things work together and others don't. It is not a lottery either. An eco-system in nature is complex and sometimes surprising, but there are principles and rules at work. System kinds of principles, not hierarchical org-chart kinds of principles. Enough diversity, but not too much either, and the right kind.

    Humans are still a little too dumb to really have it figured out. We often suffer from the hubris of thinking we can do better than nature and that we're smarter than the universe, and if we just submit it all to our will in a tightly planned and organized way, we've got it made. So our civilization has become very good at submitting parts of the physical universe to our wishes, and at ignoring the mess we create as by-products. And fairly bad at understanding things we don't control.

    But, luckily, these kinds of mysterious emerging phenomena happen anyway. No matter what we believe, they take place. And somehow we're all still smart enough that we actually do recognize it, to some degree. Even the most fundamentalist materialist scientist will recognize the joy and wonder of the mysteries of the universe revealing themselves. Even the most stuffy psychiatrist who thinks you're nothing but a brain and that consciousness is a delusion will recognize happiness when he sees it.

    You might still be considered a bit of a soft and gullible new age freak if you go around talking about harmony, resonance and synchronicity too loudly. But who cares. Ultimately, the reality of the universe wins out in any match against human intellect. If we are to survive, we'll have to come to terms with some of these things, and find ways of working with them, rather than against them. Great stuff will happen with or without us, and it is much more fun if it is with us and through us.
    [ | 2007-06-06 00:13 | 5 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

     Shift Happens

    A short video about accelerating global change. I'm pretty sure I've seen it before, but it must be relatively recent. From Glumbert.
    [ | 2007-06-06 00:50 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

     See no evil
    Cory Doctorow in Guardian about filtering and censorship versus freedom of expression on the net:
    People say bad things online. They write vile lies about blameless worthies. They pen disgusting racist jeremiads, post gut-churning photos of sex acts committed against children, and more sexist and homophobic tripe than you could read - or stomach - in a lifetime. They post fraudulent offers, alarmist conspiracy theories, and dangerous web pages containing malicious, computer-hijacking code.
    It's not hard to understand why companies, government, schools and parents would want to filter this kind of thing. Most of us don't want to see this stuff. Most of us don't want our kids to see this stuff - indeed, most of us don't want anyone to see this stuff.

    But every filtering enterprise to date is a failure and a disaster, and it's my belief that every filtering effort we will ever field will be no less a failure and a disaster. These systems are failures because they continue to allow the bad stuff through. They're disasters because they block mountains of good stuff. Their proponents acknowledge both these facts, but treat them as secondary to the importance of trying to do something, or being seen to be trying to do something. Secondary to the theatrical and PR value of pretending to be solving the problem.
    There's unfortunately a lot of milage one can get out of loudly pretending to be solving a problem, even know one knows full well one isn't, and one creates many more that are worse. "But we should at least try ..." is one of the wackiest arguments used to defend the most horrific and ineffective campaigns. To "protect the children" is a common thing to fill in there. Let's punish a lot of innocent people ... to try to protect the children.
    [ | 2007-06-06 21:18 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

     Natural organization
    picture Robert Paterson:
    I am on quest - a quest to find the reality of a way of organizing people so that we can become the most that we can be. My ingoing thesis is that humans must have a way of organizing that is natural. After all acorns, whales, stars and winds do.

    My bet is that we "forgot" how to do this. Instead we became captured by an idea, a dogma, that we are not human but we are machines.

    My method has been to follow the example of science and to observe and look for patterns.
    I'm with you on that. Me too.

    Robert gave one of my favorite presentations at Reboot. Slides here.

    One of the things he talked about was what could be learned from the organization of Roman legions. An organizational structure that worked very well for a great many years.
    This core organization is about 5,000 people. It has inside of it, all the capability to do any work.

    These core units were part of a larger organization of about 150,000. It had a junior but related organization making up another 150,000. The total network was about 300,000 people. There was a small secretariat that was responsible for the entire larger unit. This secretariat had one major focus, talent spotting and talent building. More on that a bit later.

    The design for the core organization took about 400 years to reach peak. It evolved like a fishing boat evolves in a region: as a result of trial and error until the optimal design settled. After reaching optimum, this design remained relatively stable for nearly 400 years. Key elements of the design are still found in organizations that require peak performance today 1,500 years later suggesting that these design principles are natural and not invented.

    Unlike our fantasy design today, this was not a CEO or head office dependent organization. It was designed to be brilliant with ordinary people who were put inside an extraordinary design for a society. It was the social design that made it so high performing.

    Senior leadership was designed to be transient. The CEO of this 5,000 person core organization changed every 3- 5 years. He had a head office administrative staff of 6. The Staff Executives usually only stayed for 6 months!. The CEO usually had held one of the staff jobs earlier in their career. The CEO relied on 2 senior middle managers at head office for all the important operational decisions that he had to make. They had at least 40 years experience each and would be the best of the best in the larger organization of 150,000. Their posting lasted for one year.

    So this was a 5,000 person organization with almost no head office! All the the head office jobs are temporary including the CEO's. No dependency on star CEO's here.
    The numbers are important.
    The base organizational work unit has 80 people in it. Depending on the task of the time, these were sometimes doubled up into a work group with 160 people. When a big job had to be done, 6 of the base groups would be assembled into a work group of about 480 people. This 480 person grouping was ideal for complex work of all types. Such a group could also be separated from the main body by thousands of miles and by years and still hold its cohesion.
    So, apprently the numbers end up forming something similar to a Fibonacci sequence, representing some numbers that just naturally work well, and that add up in a certain way.
    This organization is in reality a network of social building blocks of 1 - 2 - 8 - 80 - 160 - 480 - 5,000 - 150,000.

    The hubs of this network where all the nodes intersect is in the 80 unit molecule. Every unit of 80 has a Hub Connector. Yes a span of control of 80! This works smoothly and routinely because of the social structure inside the 80 of 1 - 2 - 8. The world of the 8 is the "Trusted Space" that is designed into the organization.

    At every level after that a Hub Connector is either in charge or has the major say operationally. The Hub Connector is the link at every point including the larger world of 150,000. The Hub Connector is not tied to the 5,000 person organization but serves inside the entire system.
    The point is that there are certain sizes of groups that work better than others. There are limits to how many people one can have a relation to at the same time. Like the 150 of Dunbar's Number. There are other key factors than the numbers, of course. Factors that make people very close, like living in the same tent with the same group for 20 years. And how the leaders are selected.

    I wouldn't have thought of Roman legions as being an example of natural organization. But it makes sense that when one evolves organizations that work very well, one is likely to have stumbled upon some principles of nature that just work.
    [ / | 2007-06-06 22:55 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

    Tuesday, June 5, 2007day link 

     Spencer Tunick
    Spencer Tunick is this photographer who does nothing but arrange happenings where he takes pictures of large numbers of nude people in surprising public settings around the world. That certainly is something different. Nothing lewd about it, this is art. This one was Saturday in Amsterdam.
    [ | 2007-06-05 00:12 | 5 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

     Action Learning
    picture In a presentations about Boosting Collective Intelligence, George Pór and Martin Ludwigsen had a short segment where one would divide up into small groups and ask each other questions, in order to deepen one's understanding of a given question. Which was an excellent exercise. My group picked the question "How can I silence my ego to experience collective intelligence more often?" out of the three choices. So, instead of trying to answer it, one asks more questions. Like, we questioned whether one really needs to silence one's ego, or anything at all, in order for collective intelligence to happen. Which was a useful thing to look at, I think. And quite a productive thing to do for 5 minutes, compared with many other types of inquiry one could do.

    They called it a simplified version of Action Learning, and since I couldn't remember what that is, I had to go and look it up. See Wikipedia, or look in Google, and you'll see that a lot has been said about Action Learning and Action Research. See here for a more clear introduction.

    Now, on one hand I think it is great that people have studied learning that is based on action, rather than on just theory, and on the other hand it seems a little bit ridiculous in a the-emperor-has-no-clothes kind of way that people have spent their life developing a model, and writing dozens and dozens of books about something that basically ads up to:

    - Go out and do something
    - Have a meeting and evaluate how well it went, and what you have learned, and what you can do better
    - Go out and do it some more, but hopefully better

    Don't get me wrong, that's a great approach. Particularly when one compares with traditional education which goes something like:

    - Listen for years to people who know better than you giving you a lot of theory
    - Spend the rest of your life doing what they told you to do, if you remember it

    The Action Learning idea is that there are alternating cycles of action and reflection. You do it, you reflect on it, and learn from it, and you go back to action. So, like this:

    action --> reflection --> action

    Or, you can make it sound more business-like and say it is:

    action --> review --> planning --> action

    One could say that this is very obvious, of course, but unless one makes something explicit, it might not happen. Companies and individuals and governments will happily keep doing the same thing forever, even if it isn't working, just because they never have a phase where they ask themselves whether it is working or not, and why and why not, and how one possibly could do it differently. A phase where one actually can reflect and inquire, and even question the basis of the whole thing. The feedback cycle is often missing, or real feedback is not allowed. Let alone real inquiry.

    It is kind of tragic that it is news that there is a type of learning that is directed towards being able to take action in the most effective way possible. I mean, that all learning isn't based on being able to do something. And kind of bizarre that people need to invent a whole new subject and write loads of books about it, in order to make the case for such an idea. But aside from that, I'm all for it.

    I'm sure there's much more to action learning, and any proper expert will be horrified by my casual treatment of the subject. I do believe in keeping simple things simple, and complex things too. And then again, maybe I'm jealous that it wasn't me who came up with a simple, obvious two-step process that I could write books about and lecture about for years.

    Oh, a few more meta observations... There's a lot of power in simply naming stuff, and in the way one frames it. So, simply saying that there are two phases of doing stuff, action and reflection - that automatically re-arranges the world, and sets up a quite different framework than if one hadn't mentioned it. Likewise, the simple hint that it is a series of cycles - that changes everything too.
    [ | 2007-06-05 00:13 | 6 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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