Monday, December 31, 2007

Time and learning

Learning, as I have previously written in posts tagged learning, is (I think) about coping. I argue it is a sort of coping with the dissonance we feel when confronted by things that don't fall into our sense making apparatus with ease. Sense making, or being able to tell ourselves a comforting story about some set of phenomena, is the glue of social interaction. Some call it "a theory of mind." But sense making as Karl Weick, for instance, uses the term, is closer to the right name in my opinion.

We cope in an evolutionary sense to respond to environmental changes. Learning is thus ultimately a branch of evolutionary behavioral biology/ecology. This coping enables us to plan for the unknown to some degree and to respond more flexibly when we encounter the unknown. The advantages are fairly obvious.

In order to facilitate learning, we need to place ourselves in dissonance--places where our world views don't work. Then we adjust. This is a painful paradox because it would seem that comfort is also a foundational objective for humans, and stability sooths like few other things.

Training is a much more basic process of learning how to do a specific task within our world views. It is a more primitive skill, I'd guess, in an evolutionary sense. Training little interests me. It is structural as I use the term and rarely associated with meaningful learning in any direct sense.

What some consultants/scholars, etc. call knowledge management is more akin to what I am calling learning. But KM also incorporates the training on how to replicate basic functions that transfer culture and economic structures from one party to another. It is sort of a bridge concept. Institutions, are, structurally interlinked generation to generation for knowledge management. I've written on all this before, for the most part.

The great variable in knowledge/training/learning (and their variations) is time...time to application of learning; time of relevance of learning; inscrutable time.

Humans organize rationally over time. We call this planning. The best planning integrates learning and expectations for further learning, but few humans or human institutions do very well at this highly complex task. Most plan in a rather static and mindless rather than mindful way. We are so bad at planning that it is now increasingly common to hear it argued we are better off not planning--a discouraging view. But so it may be in some instances.

The crux of time knowledge is a capacity to cope. The crux of leadership is enabling that learning. These together form the great challenges of this century. So far I am not optimistic about the likely outcomes. One would prefer to end the year optimistically, but false optimism is the worst sort of poison to learning.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

One Tool Fallacy

It interests me that people seem to keep searching for the one application where they can spend the bulk of their time. At the very same time I cannot help but notice that nearly everyone is using a proliferation of not only tools but platforms on which to run tools.

A great deal of time is no doubt spent with integration. But it is a sort of building on sand project I think. Just as firms of old used to chase the Holy Grail of unified systems (remember SAP?), now individuals hope to have self-info-hegemony.

Not bloody likely. Here's why:

You see everything IS miscellaneous (D. Weinberger). We have power to track and subdivide, so no one is likely to let any one supplier proliferate. There seems to be no competitive or innovative advantage to being big anyway. So, things fragment while capitalists fund nuanced differences from relatively well accepted standards. And, at the risk of value judgment, this is entirely a good thing. Better still, free software geeks cloistered in some info-grotto kill themselves to pump out free versions. Yay!

Dissonance, anger and learning

Anger often lurks near learning. Why? Frustration is the hallmark of dissonance, and I largely believe that dissonance of a sort is necessary to learn. But why?

Learning is an adaptive mechanism we gained to be able to cope with time and change. Evolution loves coping strategies...indeed, natural selection isn't so much about winning as it is about coping. Those who cope best survive and thrive.

Learning and coping are one and the same for me. I learn when I can face dissonance and not respond with anger alone. Anger is a trigger for memories, but coping is learning to get on and get through the dissonance (of, say, a tough algebra problem).

Twitter Twibes

There's lots of talk of tribes. I think of Maffesoli, but there are other writers. What is my Twitter Twibe... an Elmer Fuddism I like to think I made up?

My Twibe is those who say curious things to me. People who cause me dissonance yes, but also those who help me feel warmth. Warmth and learning. That's my Twibe.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Are social networks communities?

We can of course implement whatever sorts of intellectual property rules we want given the types of governance we operate under. Some will say the rules set are too tight, others too loose, and still others that they are about right. The distribution will not be a normal curve, and no one will care much--few will even understand the basics much less the nuances.

Times will change, but the rules will not change much. Imbalances will tend to occur, and the rules will twist people rather than protect them. Others will attempt "reforms." I don't think it overly cynical to expect that, over time, special interests and "expertise" tend to drive the ship...that is, if there remains a ship to drive.

Increasingly, there will be no ship, no rudder nor rudder-controller (the word origins of the word governor and gubernatorial). That's because the ship had captains with agendas not for the ship but for the captains, and the crew, well, they continued to opt for smaller boats they could sail themselves.

The trouble with the world post nation-state normative controls is that technology must be diffused to grow into world markets but local rules never will be equally diffused. For all the efforts of history, the export of culture has never succeeded very well absent the movement of live carriers to seed and spread it. Remarkably, the world didn't "Disneyphy" with increasing globalization. In fact, it did the opposite, it shattered. Some, like Apple, have been remarkably good at remaining iconic through these challenges, but that's the very rare (and perhaps temporary) exception, not the rule.

It will always be the Wild West out there beyond "one's own," and the low guy who's hungry will cut corners a little more on policing to get the advantage of cashflows from knock-offs, phonies, and counterfeits. Ironically, the people on the run are those who are trying to make brands and institutions endure unnaturally in the face of a shattered planet. They are the endangered species not the cheaters, copiers and scramblers. So more is "free," small, voluntary and close to the passions of the it was with old communities.

But in the face of all this interaction, what stood for the word community usually sells at a pretty low price. Community used to mean standing against an enemy together, hanging together or hanging separately ...with all that Franklin-esque warmth. After a time it meant sharing a place of work and schooling along with playfields and commons like the air we breathe and the waters we drink. Norman Rockwell comes to mind. And now? Are those old times returning? Is the vehicle ...Twitter?

Good actions are just that: good actions. We should hold them high, try to join them, repeat them, or at least praise them. But should we call them community? Well, why not? We all gave at the bar for a new wheelchair for Tommie--we're a community! We all have Lupus, we're a community! We drink the same brand of coffee with 1/3 of 1% of every purchase going to Ethiopian coffee coops--of course that's community. We care about similar things and spread good will! That's all for the good isn't it? It is for the good, and I for one applaud it all.

Community is just a word and I personally don't put much stock in words holding their value for long in these times. I've always loved words to read and write, but I am long since over feeling they can be inherently noble, rich or beautiful. Words are playthings and it is the players who make them noble, rich or beautiful.

The players control the intellectual property of words ultimately because they choose what is noble, beautiful, rich, significant and worthy. The wordsmiths codify the players wit into a role and the rest of us follow suit. At least that's how it was in the time of broadcast news and corporate messages. But that's not the way I think it will be with social networks.

Social networks are frail, momentary and fleeting. Ultimately they become purpose driven as they grow larger and depersonalize...and if they grow, they must depersonalize. That is, I no longer want to have an Andy-of-Mayberry talk with my pharmacist, I just want my damn pills.

As nets grow, they become unwieldy and awkward. Then they break down into sections and interests. What is new about our clever technologies (Twitter, Ning, Facebook, etc.) is that they allow for reforming in an instant, or at least extremely rapidly along lines as thin as playing the same game with thousands of others or sharing an interest in funny movies. We "connect" but in a way that is a weaker tie than Mark Granovetter could have ever imagined.

Social networks consequently morph almost totally when someone is in the presence of a great snow storm or available to help a friend in crisis. They rise with someone energized by the need to promote a book. Other times they drift languidly following personable folks who are easily recognized and gently benign. Those people become our elevator attendants, crossing guards and gas pumpers of old filling life with warmth and connectivity--often with a dram of much more learning and interest if not importance than the milk man I suppose had. That is, we enjoy being recognized by them. But is it community? And is there leadership? I suppose of sort. Virtual world influence seems a faint value on which to build a society. Or is it? Maybe we've built the new town hall meeting structure! But whose town and whose agenda?

The more important question for me is whether the community feeds the insides of people who use it in ways that are long-term supportive, inclusive and open to the constant ebb and flow of members. There's a reason why New York City wasn't Mayberry--even in 1961. Is Twitter an identity around which to gather and build a social organization worthy of being called community or is it something new? ...not community but something ephemeral and leaderless and occasionally able to do good (or bad).

I think it's the latter...a leaderless cloud of proto-organizations that can enable if they want the pleasures, learning and smiles of its barely attached patrons. They may even enable the rise of new forms from the murky froth. This is something new, even something wonderful, but I don't call it community...not even by dumping that academic favorite of an adjective in front..."new community."

Friday, December 28, 2007

What is Failure? | Garrick Van Buren .com

What is Failure? | Garrick Van Buren .com

Sounds like Garrick is a learner... not a fighter.

Wirearchy :: Geert Lovink on Blogging

Wirearchy :: Geert Lovink on Blogging

Jon Husband on collaboration, the arts, and social networks. Very "enabling."

Elitism, Democracy and Design

Elitism, Democracy and Design

Curious posting by Dale Carrico...thoughtful but somehow...not quite...something...

I'm going to have to think about this one. I agree at one level and disagree at others.

Vivian Salama at PostGlobal: PostGlobal on

Vivian Salama at PostGlobal: PostGlobal on

The phrase I like in this article by Salama... "moderating influences of globalization." The paradox of her phrase is implicit in her article.

Myth and narrative in leadership

People need stories. Roger Schank taught me that. Stories become mythic when they become structural--a part of our culture. They teach in such a way as to create the absence of thought... To tell a story can be a process of enabling a learner, in this avatar a listener, to reduce their own dissonance. But a story can also be used to avoid the dissonance necessary for real learning to grow with its own energy--the ultimate goal of leading as enabling.

We hope that the learner satisfies themselves rather than being satisfied by avoiding investigation while accepting mythical foundations. Our own philosophical investigations, where philosophy means the love of knowledge, form the basis of being able to cope and the basis of helping others to cope. Myth is always a part of that, but never a barrier. The mythic spawns creativity, allusion, language, hope and confusion...all essential to learning.

The mythic is a sort of story told that borders on helping the listener to cope while also potentially creating dissonance when the myth is exposed to further investigation. And investigate we must...particularly when our structures melt. Melting caused by globalizing interaction exposes myths because others we contact reject them, point out their silliness, or question mythic conflicts with their own traditions of structure which raise a sort of shared dissonance.

Old leadership uses myth and narrative to build and push agendas. Myth and its acceptance become the foundation of identity--often with much beauty. This is the beauty the anthropologist revels in, for instance. Sadly, it is an identity that can be a social distortion. It is this identity and its beauty that melts rapidly as we interact. In the present age of markets and rapid communications, a retreat to mythic identity is the politics of isolation. In the long run, mythic worlds savored in isolation are unsustainable--at least for those who hope to learn, innovate and explore.

The leader as enabler is open to myth as a learning instrument and as a means of aiding with learner coping, but such leaders won't tighten myths as a boundary around learners. I believe the enabler opens prospects and uses narrative to illustrate--that is leadership.

Stories become neither sacred nor sacrosanct; they are pictures like an artist draws in an ephemeral medium--here now then gone. We love them, even treasure them, but we do not live by them alone and we certainly do not live for our myths.

A life given over to the hardening of structure seems obsolete. But that is a very dissonance-causing statement for me--a great opportunity to learn.

Is accountability a real leadership objective?

Accountability is the notion that we report to someone who judges. This of course begs the question of who might be authorized to judge. In democracies this weight often falls to "representatives." Judging at least from U.S. opinion polls about Congress, few seem to hold that term in much esteem these days, and perhaps with some cause. Representatives and their ancillary hollow institutions classified as "the press" seem to be in general retreat. Both seem to suffer all to often from their own ethical crises to be much in the way of shepherds and tenders.

Then there is accountability to "the public." This notion of the a-word seems to verge on an ideal of transparency. But few would equate the two outright I fear. Transparency is more about method. Accountability seems to be more about power. No one speaks of transparent power. Moreover, no one (at all) speaks of method when addressing accountability.

You might gather that I don't much care for the idea of accountability and that bias may well shine through to any of my related writings. It's not that I dislike reporting or hold it in disdain. On the contrary, I have generally found that having well-delineated superiors tends to reduce the risk of a job considerably. Only a fool or an over-confident person would want to face fire when cover is readily available. In this age of sniping and fault-finding, it truly takes a naive sort to prefer riding alone. Though hierarchy's time seems to be quickly passing as well.

The reason I dislike accountability is because I think it obviates the moral imperative of leading. It pushes leadership toward agendas and identity politics...exactly where I think it is naturally moving away from at a furious clip. It takes leadership out of the hands of the leader's mind and conscience and puts it in the hands of an unlikely-to-act abstraction. Boards matter and transparency is crucial, but leadership is found in the mind of a stressed decision maker.

One is accountable only to personal scruples ultimately. Whatever eschatological beliefs one holds, those mores seem rarely powerful enough to dissuade the grossest perversions of any ideal. I don't mind that people fall back on faiths. That seems natural enough...just the sort of cover I mentioned above as making a lot of sense. We must find leaders amongst those who suffer over action. Indecisiveness is a well-overplayed red herring. Inaction...that's a threat. Indecisiveness, no.

What I do mind above all is the denuding of a sense of responsibility by invoking cover from above of whatever sort. "Executive privilege" is just such an abomination overplayed probably 99 times out of 100. Those who lay their decisions at the hands of a "higher power" lie to us and themselves. No god who would esteem free will would then advise an actor in some puny decision with only mortal stakes.

In the concept of leadership as enabling the emphasis returns again and again to making the unclear decision with a heavy heart. Leaders must choose what to enable. Even the most learner-centric teacher deploys a constant moral rudder. That rudder is never sure because moral compasses are notoriously faulty. That is, "true north" found with a so-called moral compass is about as reliable as depoliticized funding. I argue again and again that without pushing an agenda, leadership can only occur in areas of moral cloudiness. The leader must be near a tipping point to make an honest decision or else no decision is made at all beyond merely accepting responsibility. And that is where the whole fault of accountability, as I see it, begins again. Accepting responsibility is a phrase rarely backed by currency.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Relativity and Definition -- Careers

People with careers furthest into the 2.0 world will have the most difficult time explaining what it is they do for a living. Explanations will require a story--a narrative. In that narrative a great deal of sensemaking will occur. For example, "I 'do' Twitter so that I can keep up with rapidly evolving trends among Technorati types..."

In fact a person may have no idea why they may be a combination of fun, habit, interest, a need for validation by well-known people, etc. It may be something that is "part" of their work or not. Nothing is clearly in or out.

It will also be unlikely that a person will be able to quickly express a linkage to one institution--as in...I work for X. People will be confused when you ask them to explain their affiliations which will be blurred and overlapping. This is the melting of definitions.

The recent cell phone commercial where people explain that they need a network that works in...and then goes on to combine 4 or 5 well-known places into one an example.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A manifesto for the new PR

A manifesto for the new PR

This from Paul Gillin's blog impressed me... It is a form of leadership as enabling. Transparency is the most enabling action an institution or conventional organization can take in my view.


Institutions are networks with the past. We expect ties to transcend potential change. We hope earned reputation transcends future weak points or that it inspires the present to press on in the face of challenges.

As networks melt, it will be harder to maintain institutions. Identity politics is suffused with "we" in our schools, our nationalities, faiths, brands, races, etc. These alignments must melt with interaction, and the best people will be least likely to matter how "best" comes to be defined. More will be in the pool of the weakly aligned. Speed and interaction do that.

Globalization at first heightens tensions and causes a force something like magnets repelling. But greater familiarity dissolves. It must.

Alternative cases of coming together using technology (say a wiki or Twitter) are much more fluid and weakly bound groupings. One thinks of Mark Granovetter's work but also something continuously reforming in ways I have not seen Granovetter describe.

The "social," such as it is, sits at the precipice of a phase change--like water freezing or ice melting. It bounces back and forth in the presence of phase change with little or no discernible trend. For there to be a trend, phenomena would demonstrate a social that is wholly more unitary (what I call structural) and singularly progressive (rather than amoeba-like) than what likely will exist or what I see now in places where things are moving relatively fast.

For institutions to thrive, they must lead, but in high velocity frameworks, they are likely only to be sources of security and resource banking.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Ulrich Beck: A new cosmopolitanism is in the air - signandsight

Ulrich Beck: A new cosmopolitanism is in the air - signandsight

Ulrich Beck (I saw it first on 3 Quarks...) also gets it just right...excellent.

Once again where I can offer the highest praise...I wish I had written it.

WorldChanging: Tools, Models and Ideas for Building a Bright Green Future: From State-Based Sovereignty Towards Bright Green Governance

WorldChanging: Tools, Models and Ideas for Building a Bright Green Future: From State-Based Sovereignty Towards Bright Green Governance

One of the very best blog posts I have ever read. Dead on with what I am trying to say. Concur, concur, concur.


Towards the co-created society » P2P Foundation

Towards the co-created society » P2P Foundation

Very cool graphic in this excellent post about social evolution...awesome picture!

One could argue convincingly that morality is relative to where one sees the world from in terms of this chart...

Objective versus Reflective

We say, with appreciation, that good journalism is "objective." In this case biased is the contra. But in an objectivist sense of objective, its opposite isn't subjective or biased but reflective.

What do we mean when we say something is opposite?

Leading as enabling is reflective. Agenda-based leadership is more objective.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Peter Suber, Open Access News

Peter Suber, Open Access News

In this article the link between open software and the evolution of school organizations I have discussed in other venues and here is explored.

BBC NEWS | Programmes | From Our Own Correspondent | Bible bashing dying out in Kansas

BBC NEWS | Programmes | From Our Own Correspondent | Bible bashing dying out in Kansas

Structure...this time fundamentalism in Kansas...melting.

While this represents an extreme, even for America, the point is the same. In a world of complexity and interaction what dies is hard lines and borders.

Friday, December 21, 2007

End of passport control as east meets west in EU without borders | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited

End of passport control as east meets west in EU without borders | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited

Completely consistent with "melting."

Melting as disintegration

I never think of melting as disintegration...I think of it as, well, melting. But disintegration is definitely starting to occur in more structurally rigid organizations...churches, governments, other old and brittle institutions.

Complexity is the solvent. So we say we want to define complexity. It's hard. Complexity is interaction, but not of any one particular sort. It is the unexpected and unplanable (Bruce Goldstein). But it is also movement. Think airports. Complexity.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez » Blog Archive » What’s in a Name? - Knowledge Management 0.0 2008 Conference Event

E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez » Blog Archive » What’s in a Name? - Knowledge Management 0.0 2008 Conference Event

Luis Suarez's (oh sorry Luis...OUR) conference...of several KM interested persons he has roped together.

I particularly like this definition which is spot on for my blog:

Dave just put together the very exact purpose of the conference I would love to make happen in 2008 in Gran Canaria. And all of that because of this particular definition on Knowledge Management:

"KM is simply the art enabling trusted, context-rich conversations among the appropriate members of communities about things these communities are passionate about"

Whoooaaahhh! Never thought I would feel so identified with a KM definition like that one. And one that clearly represents the spirit of the conference event I would love to host, if everything works out all right.

Hueniverse: Reflections of the Open Web Community

Hueniverse: Reflections of the Open Web Community

Very well thought-out article that makes my point on melting quite well.

Half an Hour: Free Learning and Control Learning: On the So-Called Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Base

Half an Hour: Free Learning and Control Learning: On the So-Called Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching

Really superb little write-up. Bravo, Stephen.

Dark Roasted Blend: Exclusive: Interview with John C. Wright

Dark Roasted Blend: Exclusive: Interview with John C. Wright

I particularly like this paragraph/portion...

Q: Who influenced your work early on; influences in art, fiction, life experiences?

JCW: In order: A.E. van Vogt, H.P. Lovecraft, Lord Dunsany, Peter S. Beagle, Olaf Stabledon, Robert Heinlein, Keith Laumer, Jack Vance, Gene Wolfe.

A.E. van Vogt taught me that a hero is a man who is saner than his foes, not necessarily the stronger. H.P. Lovecraft and Lord Dunsany taught me of things in the twilight lands beyond the fields we know. Peter S. Beagle taught me magic walks among us, unrecognized, but fair and elusive as moonlight. Olaf Stabledon taught me that eternity is vast, man is strange, life is precious, and the universe is indifferent. Robert Heinlein taught me to sneer at others and mock deep wisdom, and call this attitude virtue (this is one lesson it took me many painful years of effort to unlearn). Keith Laumer taught me that heroes keep staggering clumsily on no matter how badly beaten they are. Jack Vance taught me that even exquisite self-justifications uttered by villains are, in the end nuncupatory. Gene Wolfe taught me that mysteries can be hidden in plain sight.

I also read and was influenced by Epictetus, Seneca, Cicero, and Marcus Aurelius.

Q: If given a choice, who of the great science fiction / fantasy writers you would have a pint / coffee with?

JCW: Gene Wolfe.

Life: What Is A Cognitive Snap? | Hackosis

Life: What Is A Cognitive Snap? | Hackosis

Science advancing

I read somewhere that Max Planck said science advances one funeral at a time. That's not very hard to put into my structural terms.

Is age itself the freezer, or is the experience of living through a time what makes it so difficult to let go of the past?

Cross sections and melting

What do we find out when we see those incredible cross-sections like Stephen Biesty draws?

How does this relate to melting? We see components, modules, elements as essential...atomic. They are in fact more like processes...even the terms of phenomenology seem too discrete.

Imagine a cross-section in motion.

Legitimacy and authority

Legitimacy and authority derive from identity.

Identity and structure are very nearly the same things, if not the same things.


Weakness is submission to someone else's being controlling.

To empower would be roughly to assist in removal of a controlling force. Ignorance, in an actor-network-theory sense is controlling.

What does it mean to be controlling?

If I am controlling I attempt to impose social distortion on someone else so that they apply my view of structure.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Excellent post -- How to argue!

From the Dumb Little Man blog...a good one in my opinion, here's a guide to arguing that so many people I know could use!

See it HERE.

Bloggers I particularly like/use

There are a number of great blogs...too many to follow all of them as I wish I could.

Here are some I find essential:

Peter Levine's blog.
Deric Bownds' MindBlog.
JOHO -- David Weinberger's blog.
Wirearchy -- Jon Husband's blog.

Each of these four blogs have influenced me as much as any writing I have read in any other, journal, etc. I'd like to think that in some ways my blog fits in with those, but that is shooting very high.

I should also add Chris Anderson's work from Wired...the long tail theory stuff: HERE.

I collect many other links on Tumblr HERE. You are always welcome to browse there.

The core of Web 2.0 is RSS/atom or other forms of simple syndication...I like the following chart to depict role: SEE IT HERE... or on page 1 or 2 of my Tumblr notes.

Q: Is enabling a negative concept? As in certain psychologies?

This from a private e-mail question... Do I mean the enabling that carries negative psychological connotations?

My answer:

Words do not generally connote something desirable or undesirable a priori in my view of open learning as leading. When I define something, I am not stamping my foot so as to say this is the lawful meaning of this word. I am attempting to illustrate a narrative that makes sense about how I see leadership evolving. Thus, enabling cannot have one connotation. But that is an easy semantic/postmodernist retreat I don't much care for as an answer.

More substantively, I argue that a moral weight is necessary in leading. What that means for me now is that people must struggle with challenges in order to lead. Specifically, it is a demand to lead as a servant (yes, Greenleaf's servant leadership...of a sort.)

Enabling (what?) is the full question I want a leader to ask. There is no pat answer and cannot be if leading occurs. Too much structure and one gets "right" answers--agenda-based conventional leadership. I don't buy that form as current in most instances. I would call that form of leadership the politics of "I know better...follow me."

Of course certain situations are comparatively easy to judge (don't kill [usually]) but only those involving real moral weight of service really entail leadership. Where leaderless orgs take us is to a much more open and flat environment--not one where there is mayhem and libertarian nonsense, but one where responsibility is cultivated through demands for mutual respect.

In that sense, the enabling I speak of isn't the enabling of a enabling the taking of a controlled substance abusively. It is the choice of enabling a positive capacity to cope (learning). This sort of leading is much more dialogic and collaborative...leading to "flat classrooms" and learner-centric environments of work and human development.

Hope this makes my point a bit clearer, but there will be more to come in the blog. I hope you choose to comment there...your thoughts always welcome regardless.

Social distortion

[ht Geoff Livingston]

Social distortion is the notion that one set of structure is privileged, advantaged, better, superior, etc.

facilitates one's capacity to see and understand structure--both one's own structure and external structures.

Leadership avoids the use of social distortions.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Leadership versus management -- Drucker

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

Peter F. Drucker

Borrowed from Grow your organisation blog on Wordpress found HERE.

Time decay melting

I learned about time decay of information while working for the Chicago Stock Exchange as Director of Special and Strategic Projects some years back. You see stock exchanges get paid for "tape prints" which is a report that a trade occurred...each one goes across the famous "ticker."

When a tape print occurs, a stock exchange gets a few dollars for publishing that information. In a market, knowing the price of a good is all-important, so recent stock prints on a stock are vital data.

This information decays rapidly. With stocks, 15 minute old prints are generally available for free to organizations like online stock information sources.

In a similar way, all networks decay. They are under constant time contraction but the rates vary depending on the type of relationship. The more structure, the less rapid the decay. On the other hand, the more interaction, the more problematic the structure. Time and interaction are key variables for structure.

Moral insight -- Richard Rorty

Moral insight "is a matter of imagining a better future, and observing the results of attempts to bring that future into existence". Richard Rorty

From HERE.

Melting like radioactivity

Melting is analogous to radioactivity. Large nucleus organizations shatter and decay rapidly. Thus, larger organizations must be under the control of a dominant few or risk self-annihilation.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Relationship of learning to innovation

Innovation is the construction of new structure. It reduces dissonance by extending structures to be at ease with inconsistencies. This may entail totally new structures--institutions, technologies, norms, styles, etc. or simple revisions and extensions that achieve the desired sense of improved adequacy.

Learning is different. Learning is more a growth of potential than it is a solution. Between learning and structure lies competence. Competence can be compiled learning directed at a given consistent source (or source set) of dissonance(s). One can extend the idea of a given competency (e.g. being a surgeon) through innovations.

Learning is a capacity. Its application is a move toward competence.

Competence and competency-based instruction

Competence is a capacity to cope with expectations of a given sort. It is achieved by learning. There are many types of competencies which can, in turn, be combined into other more complex competencies.

Competency-based instruction is the process of enabling people to build elemental competencies that are generally recognized as starting points or building blocks for other more complex competencies.

My graduate work

I am writing a PhD dissertation in the field of Planning, globalization and governance.

My advisor is Max O. Stephenson, Jr.

My committee includes the follow:

Bruno Sobral

James R. Martin
Bruce Goldstein

It's a really great set of advisors and I feel quite fortunate to have such a strong committee.

My topic is leaderless organizations and humanitarian relief. A lot of what is in this blog is related to my theory development in that work. I hope to finish sometime in 2008. Someday I hope it will be a book called Leading as Enabling.

It is always cheaper to try than to think about trying

Kottke gets one exactly right about the Internet...


Differences between generations in using technology?

I agree with the graphic concept in this EDS fellow's post: HERE.

But I disagree with generational segmentation. It isn't about age even if that's the averages. It's about the attitude toward structure. True, structure is on the outs with younger folk, but it just isn't about age.

Borders and boundaries

The formation of structure entails borders and boundaries. Structure is fueled by agreement and acceptance. When agreement and acceptance exist, there is a natural dichotomy between those who participate and those who do not.

Traits/issues like identity, sovereignty, race, gender, economic philosophy, etc. entail borders and boundaries in association with the structures they create.

Borders and boundaries melt through interaction. They harden through identity. Thus, in a very real sense, interaction destroys identity...structure, which are one and the same. Identity is a form of structure...perhaps the most important form of structure for humans.


Innovation is new structure designed to put a prior dissonance to rest.

In highly structured environments, innovation is difficult. Stability becomes the dominant norm and tends to suppress new structure.

Innovation is thus a creates new structure...and structure tends to minimize innovation.

Learning increases the prospect of innovation, but it decreases the prospect of rigid structure.

Learning and innovation tend to counteract agendas for hegemony thus giving rise to leaderless organizations. Leaderless organizations either gain structure and become organizations, or they exist and thrive where the advantages of structure are outweighed by the advantages of learning, free association and innovation.


I use the term melting frequently. I hold mental pictures of shaving foam sagging or snow dissolving in the sun. My favorite is chocolate shapes turning into gooey messes. When I was boy my mother would give me a hollow chocolate bunny at Easter and it would invariably melt. I see those bunnies.

Melt is the (often spontaneous) decay of structure. It is usually caused by dissonance in trying to apply structures to phenomena where outrageous conclusions must be drawn when that structure is applied. It thus can arise when two (or more) structures come into conflict (e.g. religion and science, or East and West).

Melt is part of life when order is under stress by learning. It is also a byproduct of innovation.

A leaderless organization is one where melting is minimized by dis-association with structure.


Hegemony is the imposition of structure on others. Attempts to achieve hegemony often result in structural melting of both the aggressor and the target.


What do I mean by structure?

Structure is the patterns of living developed to simplify complexity. It is rules of thumb...symbols, semiotics, institutions and norms.

The purpose of structure is stability--the reduction of cognitive dissonance (see learning). It enables us to be "efficient." But efficiency is I think a tautology meaning that we act in such a way that is structured and stable. That is, it becomes a goal only when we set it as a goal. It defines itself a priori.

We create language and culture to reinforce structure. When we act out those languages and cultures we claim to be efficient. But structure naturally melts in the presence of interaction between those within a structure and those who do not enclose themselves with that same structure. Thus, globalization melts structure.

In what fields does my view of leadership apply?

"Fields" is an interesting term...and one I would push back on. Fields are melting.

For example, EDTECH is the hot topic now in education research, teaching, and lots of related technology areas. Now, it's hot for me because it's about to become a lot of my life again. But I think it is fair to say it is still hot in the general buzzosphere.

Is EDTECH education? Technology? Org theory? Management? Human ecology? Training? As it becomes more diffuse and's all of these in my opinion...and more.

In technology "clouds" I think we are seeing a move toward a network of "servers" and a set of very light clients called "appliances" or the iPhone or the ASUStek Eee PC 4g or the new ultra portable PC by Everex called Cloudburst, etc.

On the software side, you see it in things like Twitter, which a lot of people don't understand even while others say it defines the future of net interaction--immediate, personal, ephemeral and ad hoc. Twitter is, in my view, a way for humans to "implant" light connections to each other...what sociologist Mark Granovetter called "the strength of weak ties." It's like building a network of thousands of people you ride the bus with every day. You don't really know them...but you do know them too...and then when a snowstorm are mates of a sort to solve ad hoc problems. These are leaderless organizations in a proto-state.

FedEx/UPS and Amazon/Ebay have a similar relationship with "sellers" who are melted retailers. We're not sure what relationship we have with them or their brands. It becomes buzzed at times...when some brand or need heats up or our needs become highly specialized because we want to brew our own beer or take a trip to conquer K2.

RSS is the circulatory system of the new economy. Leadership as enabling comes from Google, Firefox, people who build free (libre) software, and their supporters.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Leading, or leadership, is the process of using our own learning to enable the learning of others.

Leadership without learning is impossible as I view it going forward. Old ideas of leadership focused on expanding or advancing an agenda for people who held a certain identity. That isn't leading as I view it here. I call that identity-based agenda pushing form... "old leadership." Old leadership is used in bureaucracies, feudal systems, hierarchies and command and control sorts of systems.

But there is nothing very new about what I call "new leadership." It's always been around. What's new is the recognition of its power to deal with environments where the old leadership literally crumbles. I will elsewhere define something I call "melt" to describe this crumbling.

My research often concerns why this melting occurs and what it means.


If I had to name one word rapidly that I associate with learning it is coping. Coping is the capacity to deal with that which causes us cognitive dissonance...unrest with the seeming facts.

If we feel shaken by what we experience, learning is what puts us at ease until we again become shaken. We can still be shaken even with learning, but things seem more coherent and we can make sense of things.

Some people, myself included, seek out this unease in certain measures. Cognitive dissonance is a sort of excitement for us. People who have learned a lot are often able to cope with a lot of dissonance--particularly in areas where challenges relate to what we have previously learned.

But learning can also lead to short rules of thumb called heuristics, and these can lead to huge errors and really shocking dissonances if they are applied too casually. Heuristics are essential to human ways of living, but they are dangerous fire or weapons.

For me, learning isn't know-how. And learning sciences are not the technologies of training. Training is something much more rote and less interesting. Learning is about studying the possible strategies of a game rather than learning how to execute one play (which is more like training.)

One can never learn rules. Rules are always guides. Learning is something one does in the presence of rules.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


I've never been one much for painting words into a corner. They wiggle too much for that. And I think by and large they should wiggle...

Enabling is something like helping, but it is also different. Enabling is more pivotal. It fulfills an essential articulation between action and failed attempt. But enabling never seeks hegemony.

Teachers enable more than help. It's a sort technology really. Enabling with regard to learning is a means to open up capacities that would otherwise probably sit dormant.

Enabling is not accidental. It need not be planned but it isn't pure serendipity as I mean to use it. You cannot accidentally facilitate a meeting as an enabling leader...that said, you can enable some outcome accidentally. That's a quibble.

By enabling leadership I mean something someone does to move someone from a place they are to a place they want to be under the moral weight of making a decision to assist. It is that moral weight, the feeling of it, that embodies the leadership I'd like to describe. And that weight is, to my mind, almost always suspended in tension with other desires and prospects.


Who do I define as my audience? I suppose my primary audience is myself, which seems an odd thing to write. But it is true to the extent that I write more out of an need to extend my thinking than I do to impress someone or move something. That is, in this avatar, I am not an activist. I am of course not without ego, but the main part of my work is to say things politely to myself. I am...learning, sort of.

What I take to be polite and what others do will, at times, differ. When I am in doubt, I will refer to my own standards and keep an open ear (and hopefully an open mind) about what others think. Collaboration and dialog matter a great deal, but so does individual responsibility which must be in tension sometimes with collaboration. Some things also cannot await collaboration. Action is its own imperative; writing is a form of action. One hopes (that is, I hope) that things always come back to a dialog...but I don't count on it, particularly in any sort of timely fashion.

Beyond myself, I would be flattered if teachers, learning scientists, human ecologists, social theorists, and people with interests in these areas found their way to this blog. In my last blogging effort, I was overwhelmed by the response. But I took the easy way out of linking to lots of other folks' good work. I don't expect as many readers here, and that's OK. I hope more for thoughtful participation than I do for "marketshare." I've never much believed in eyeballs as a measure. Whose eyeballs has always mattered more to me. I'm not selling anything, not even myself.

Terms and definitions

I'm something of a pragmatist when it comes to terms and definitions. In fact, I follow people like Bruno Latour and Michel Callon who people call "actor-network-theorists." In straightforward terms that implies I like to play a little loose and fast with definitions and terms.

That said, it is a waste of time to not say something. And there are better ways to waste time than writing. Writing is work.

Under the label "terms and definitions" I am going to try to wrestle with some awkward words that stand between me and communicating my ideas. We'll see if I make any progress.

Managing my digital life

I generally blog when I have something to say that merits 15 minutes or more of concentrated thought. That goes here from now on.

Random ideas and utterances generally go to Twitter.

Facebook is where I maintain an online identity...movies, pictures, games and whatnot.

LinkedIn and, to a lesser extent, Ning and Xing, are places where I have some professional or old friend interaction.

Email and google reader keep me up to date. I prefer to receive these on a big screen but I'm thinking I'll be moving to something like an iPhone sooner rather than later for a lot of it.

I use iGoogle and Google docs but I tend to edit in MS Word still. I know it well.

I love Tumblr as my clipboard.

I use Skype for VoIP (long distance phone calls for free to family using wireless links...) I also use Google Talk for this.

When in doubt, email me, but any of these will do. I more and more rely on twitter as my life begins to accelerate again.

What this blog is about...

I want to explore what I think is my own take on how leadership is evolving. I call that evolution "Leadership as Enabling." I got into the idea based on my own background in learning sciences and social studies of various forms.

The core idea is relatively simple: "Old leadership" was about identity. Identity is a way of gathering people to a common goal. It's politics are the politics of agenda. It's manifestation is organizational structure or institutions.

Because the world is increasingly interactive, people need identity less and support more. They are transitioning from institutions like nations, states, firms, and families to ad hoc linkages that are spontaneous, continuous, emergent and usually without leaders or agendas. We tend to gain esteem in these new spontaneous elements by our ability to adapt and to learn rather than our ability to command identity.

Collaboration, flatness of order, transparent governance and free association are important elements of these new forms.

Because I am interested in emergent organization, I research ecology in various forms, sociology, philosophy and learning sciences / teaching. My main area of application is the formation of responses to disasters--disaster relief. I also have a professional and personal interest in training enablers in governments and civil societies.

This is the merest pastiche of what I am talking about, but I hope something here clicks and you take an interest. Welcome.

Contact Ryan

I am on several Web 2.0 social nets and related systems:

  1. You can find me on Facebook under Ryan Lanham. I will generally agree to be friends if you explain who you are and why you want to know me.
  2. Same for LinkedIn.
  3. You can also find me on Twitter as Ryan_Lanham. Feel free to follow me.
  4. I have a SkypeIn number and my SkypeID is Ryan.Lanham1
  5. My email address is on the Blogger Profile page. I check in every few hours at least.
  6. I bookmark at Google, Delicious, Facebook and Magnolia. It's a mess.
  7. My scrapbook is at Tumblr.
Those are the main "virtual" places I hang out at these days. Look me up!

New Blog

Well, I'm starting afresh.

My old blog was on Wordpress and was called Identity Unknown. It was more a mashup of other people's stuff than my own. This will be substantially my own writing.

I keep a clip posting blog at
Feel free to look it over.

Opinions here are my own and no one else's. I alone am responsible for content.