Monday, July 21, 2008

A Web Fave...the Edge

It's not news...but the Edge is the greatest little zine out there. I love it:

Friday, July 18, 2008

Being a scientist

What would be the minimum standards for one to legitimately claim one is a "scientist."

It once had to do with method. Now it seems to have more to do with epistemology.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


The US economy has been headed south for some time. I've tweeted about it and talked informally with friends on the topic for well over a year. I'm an armchair economist and I read the blogs--RGE Monitor and stuff. I used to run an investment firm but I was more about computers than money.

Regardless, everyone can have an opinion, and my opinion of the economy scares even me. I'm concerned that the US housing market is in the midst of perfect storm of demographics (baby boomers selling), loose credit, and idiotic government. That may coincide with peak oil and peak credit.

Only those places that missed out on the boom of the early 2000s are going fine--Texas notably. The rest of the US is very ill...Florida and California are deathly so.

My own view is that this "recession" will last at least a decade. It may last until the baby-boomers are no longer a meaningful economic force. I wish there was more discussion at the intersection of demographics and economics--few scholars bridge those domains. Those that do span these topics are pretty pessimistic about not only the US but Europe too. Tough times.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Some things I'd Like to Do with the Rest of My Life

Those who know me would say I tend to over-focus on the future. Perhaps it's true. I also tend to be overly transparent at a personal level--i.e. I tell people more than they want to know. Perhaps this note smacks of both ills.

I like my job as Director of the Civil Service College of the Cayman Islands, but I have already expressed my thoughts to the government that this position should be filled by a Caymanian. I would like to help train such a person and get them on the road to either a PhD in e-learning or one in leadership development. Both paths could be equally valuable. So, if my health is OK and the health of those closest to me is OK, I need to begin thinking about what comes after that training process. I figure that is 3 1/2 years away from today, perhaps a bit less. That coincides well with life planning for my children, and it gives my wife Kate time to think through what she's doing now.

So, the question is begged...what then?

Here's a cut at my own thoughts:

1. I'm thinking it is time to go west. I'd like to try California--perhaps somewhere around Sacramento or Fresno...perhaps a small town.
2. I'd like to be closer to students. I'm playing around with a post-PhD masters in Teaching History from the University of London. Maybe I'd teach at a high school level.
3. I'd like to have a Make Magazine type lab in a shed. That'd be fun.
4. I'd like to build/maintain a green (environmentally conscious) house and a xero-scaped yard.
5. I'd like to experiment with geography/KML/google-map type stuff and the teaching of history.
6. I'd like to write some fiction.
7. I'd like to see lots of natural places with my fact, I'd like to spend as much time as possible with my family. After spending six months apart and now being back together, I have to say I missed the laughs--a lot.
8. I want to sort out some ideas in Experimental Philosophy and Learning Science theory I've been playing with.
9. I'd like to build an open source project of some meaning and wide usage.
10. I'd like to help a small place thrive by building civil society somehow...perhaps by mentoring managers or volunteering in some meaningful nonprofit venture.

That's about it except for the personal bits. Just a thought.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Reading Rabindranath Tagore

I have been reading Gandhi's great contemporary, Rabindranath Tagore in English...Nehru called him the other great 20th century mind...allowing only Einstein into the trio but saying Tagore and Gandhi lived superior lives.

Tagore was the first to expose the flaws of nationalism in a coherent way. His ideas of learning are fascinating. He was well ahead of his time.

Shawn F. Murphy

This fellow is doing very interesting work...

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Personal Learning Networks

Everything is rapidly moving to learner, personal learning networks are the future. Business isn't there yet...lagging considerably behind.

I think the attached link is a good concept for approach...much more work needs to be done. We need new PhD programs in Web 2.0 and Learning Sciences...woefully under sourcing the demand right now.

Monday, March 24, 2008

New guidestar

I am much taken with Jeffrey Sachs' new book called Common Wealth. Clearly, it is one of the most important economic texts written since Hayek and Keynes.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Human Capital Management: Keys to Successfully Creating Competency-Based Training Curriculum

Human Capital Management: Keys to Successfully Creating Competency-Based Training Curriculum

Interesting Point of View...Competency-based Training

Click on the title above to go to a brief article on successful comptency-based training and development--at the core of my work over the last 70 days that has pulled me away from regularly blogging.

I'll be back soon. Reformulating my ideas... To preview, I'm think CBT is the link to proactive change management in highly structured organizations. Nothing new there, but what is new is the idea that "development" and its richer sister "training" are now the most important organizational elements in the modern firm. Ironic since they are all but ignored when one thinks skills are readily available in an open market. Trouble is...they are not.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Interactive Information Visualization: UN's release of millions of data records.

Robert Kosara, author of the Eager Eyes blog, recently posted information about the United Nation's release of data records for public download and use:

"Data is being set free: the United Nations have started a new website called UN Data to share the data collected by a number of UN agencies. 55 million data records are waiting to be explored and visualized. The search interface is very nice and usable, but still lacks power."

Why is the release of this data important?

Every day, people in leadership positions must make decisions based on the accurate interpretation of data. If the data is difficult to understand or presented in a way that might be confusing to some, the likelihood of negative consequences is high.

Those in leadership positions historically have had access to data, collected with public funds, but often inaccessible to the public. Publicly available data is often in a format that is not easy to organize, manipulate, or understand. As a result, many people do not have a means to fully scrutinize, or question, the decisions made by business, health, education, and government leaders.

The Gapminder website is one example of the movement to make data accessible and easier to understand. Hans Rosling, the director of Gapminder, provides an interesting overview about this in the video below, from his presentation at TED:

"This software unveils the beauty of statistical time series by converting boring numbers into enjoyable, animated and interactive graphics. The current beta version of Trendalyzer is available since March 2006 as
Gapminder World, a web-service displaying a few time series of development statistics for all countries."

"Gapminder is a non-profit venture for development and provision of free software that visualize human development. This is done in collaboration with universities, UN organizations, public agencies and non-governmental organizations."

High resolution Gapcasts and video lectures can be and found on the Gapminder website. Gapcasts are also available on YouTube.

Information and Data Visualization for the People:

"Many Eyesis a bet on the power of human visual intelligence to find patterns. Our goal is to "democratize" visualization and to enable a new social kind of data analysis."

"Swivel: Where Curious People Explore Data"

Breathrough Analysis: Make Your Data Tell a Story (Seth Grimes)

-Lynn Marentette

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Risk and success

One wonders about the following: The most successful people are those willing to risk failure.

Of course such statements focus all attention on the meaning of success and thus become almost tautological. Rather, one would like to say that to be interesting, a learner must engage in areas without clear answers. But there is an arrogance to this statement as well.

One person's clarity...

There is something about evidence and risk that we admire in learning/science. It is also present in moral conundrums. A life well-lived is evidential. Self evident. Obvious? Or is it.

Knowledge and Information

Other than the ubiquitous classification of knowledge as having tacit and explicit components, there is much talk about codified knowledge, embedded knowledge, and embodied knowledge. Codification essentially implies that knowledge can be documented, embedding holds that knowledge can be built into machines and embodiment means that knowledge can be contained in routines, rituals and the like. This implies that knowledge can exist independently even when there are no humans.

My view is different: knowledge only exists in the human brain. It is created when a person uses information to shape expectations. These expectations provide a tool to predict, influence and make sense of the world. When this knowledge is transferred to someone else by lecturing, documenting or showing, it is converted into information which the receiver must convert back into own knowledge. Without conversion on the receiver side, there is no understanding, no knowledge, but only information acquired in parrot fashion. Books are filled with information, not knowledge.

There is one caveat: perhaps animals or spacemen also have knowledge, but that is not the point.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Knowledge and Belief

Knowledge is an amorphous concept, difficult to pin down. Belief is an equally difficult concept. Yet, since Plato conceptualized knowledge as justified true belief, this particular definition has been the most widely accepted. To know something it must be true, the knower must believe it is true and have evidence (justification) that supports the claim to truthfulness. This was almost universally accepted until Gettier came along in 1963 and through counterexamples showed that this particular view of knowledge does not always hold.

But let us for argument's sake accept knowledge as true justified belief. What then is belief? Is knowledge belief with proof? Is belief knowledge without proof? Neither knowledge nor belief needs to be rational or bear any resemblance to rationality (if that exists). Is knowledge or belief (or both) the way we make sense of things? I'd like to venture that the latter is the crucial question! Knowledge and belief have a lot to do with sensemaking. We construct a plausible reality by generating both knowledge and beliefs.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


The idea of sovereignty may have been the most profound organizational innovation in history. It tied space to legitimacy creating very durable structure.


Learning is the process of acquiring knowledge. How does this happen? There are of course the generally accepted processes of appropriating existing knowledge through absorbing already codified knowledge by reading or being taught in some fashion.

The process that interests me is where something in the ordinary course of events strikes a false note. The normal flow of things is interrupted. Something happens that does not make sense. There is cognitive dissonance - events do not fit into one's mental model of the world. And then, suddenly, there is an insight, a new realisation that offers an explanation for that which made no sense - a wow moment. This is the creation of new knowledge, perhaps often only new to the individual, but sometimes an insight is uncovered that is new to humanity. This is the source of creativity.

Introducing ambiguity into a situation may lead to exactly the process described. This might be a valuable insight for those leading organizations - an enabler for creativity.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Structure and fear

Linking control and fear is no new insight. I don't promise that. What I would like to point out is that hierachies not only operate through fear, needing it for control, but they also seek out social orders wherein fear can be sustainable. That is, one must worry about boundary crossing and its risks continuously just to survive.

I live on an island now. In island cultures large and small, social order must be fairly rigid because anonymity is very hard to realize. That is, borders of a certain sort are essentially a given. But what then do we do with globalization especially through the Internet? We melt of course.

But how can a physical border as definitive as those of an island melt? Through internal segmentation first, and ultimately through loss of common identity and purpose as an island. One sees this to some degree in all islands--Britain for instance. Japan perhaps less so, but it is emerging as globalization rises. Do smaller islands melt slower? Unclear.

Learning forces us to engage across boundaries. Blur results and identities must become patchwork.

Jon Husband has been writing about Management 1.0 and Management 2.0 at his wonderful blog called Wirearchy. I highly recommend it. Not sure how it relates, but I think there is a tipping point rather than a constant tension between Management 1.0 and Management 2.0. That tension plays out in crises. Crisis and structure is an essential topic I hope to explore further soon.

Friday, January 11, 2008

What causes change?

Economists speak of "shocks." Ecologists speak of the unexpected. What is expected? Time is a boundary for our expectations. We expect to not be living on the planet when we are 100 years old. Many of us expect to be here when we would be 75.

Some of that is statistics. We use averages as expectations and yet we are constantly warned by stock brokers not to do so.

Planning is our brain's and culture's response to the unexpected. We predict and try to define path dependencies...that is, force a limited set of outcomes. Still, unexpected consequences are rife.

All this has been summarized as the convenient term "chaos." I'm not sure the term is helpful. It is a bit of a retreat. Where I suspect we need to go is to have a more real-time planning capacity that is informed so we can make decisions with models, past responses and SWOT type inputs rapidly--and without institutional guidelines. That is leading at its pinnacle. We go on, but we spend the bulk of our time enabling action when the stakes are high.

How would one teach a child to be "ready." An adult?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Change is the Norm

Complex adaptive systems are complex as they consist of many interacting and interconnected elements and adaptive as they change their behaviour to adapt to their environment in order to minimize dissonance.

Organizations are complex adaptive systems and consist of people who are themselves complex adaptive systems. Considering that organizations operate in an environment where they have to interact with other organizations and individuals, it is impossible to consider stability as the standard. Each organization adapts to its environment, but being part of the environment of those interacting with it, the act of adapting changes the environment for those around it. In turn, they will adapt and thereby change the environment of the original organization in a never-ending cycle of change and adaptation.

The effective leader should embrace the notion that change is the norm, refrain from attempting to impose stability and consider ways to capitalize on change.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Catalysts for change

Who can catalize change? Almost anyone, but there must be dissonance. Organizations simply don't change unless there is pressure. Incentive is a pressure of a sort, but not always the best one compared to passion, anger and dedication to service.

Dissonance softens structure through melting. As structure melts, the prospect of breakthroughs for agitators increases. This catalysis can take many forms, which I will discuss further in other postings.

The leader must look to catalyze positive change without introducing social distortions worse than those adjusted through change.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Learning versus thinking hard

Thinking hard is to be commended. I admire it. But it isn't part of learning.

Learning enables those who undertake it to be better at coping with the aspects of life that cause us to be shaken and confused. Its end is not intellect but mindfulness.

Now much of what shakes and confuses us is the circumstances of living in a global, fast-paced and confusing world. Retreating from these stimuluses is not learning even if it allows coping. Learning is a special capacity to go out in the world and still remain mindful.

Learning teaches us empathic listening, doubt about certainty, and an aethetic appreciation of our experiences. It doesn't teach us facts or methods. It reminds us about cultures but it does not impose any on us. Training does that.

Learning enables our actions to be balanced with risks, rewards, hopes and expectations. The leader uses learning to make moral decisions. These do not install policies--something that can be necessary in organizations--rather, moral decisions of a leader enable others to take moral actions. This can often be done through example but also by simply boosting those doing meaningful and mindful work.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

More math and science education?

One hears it all the time. We need more math and science education. Do we?

Well, we need to think about what we need. So I encourage the discussion where I can. The wealthy rarely choose these paths, and the poor but ambitious sometimes do. What might that tell us? Will India be rich? Perhaps. What is India? What is rich? Live in the Caribbean if you want to puzzle about wealth.

What I think we need is people willing to inquire. Scientists and mathematicians, in my experience, are capable of the same close-mindedness that others can display. Many others can inquire as well as any scientist. Scientists are often prone to disciplinary imprisonment. Moreover, math and science are not the language of God; are not the truth; are not the path to morality. They are enablers, perhaps, to these things such as they exist or not. For me, I don't know if they exist. I cannot know but I cannot accept that I cannot know.

Learning is seeking to cope. We hope to find out where we are and what we mean--just what we cannot know I fear. Call that science. Call it math. These are modes of thinking, not modes of learning.

For me, learning is deeper than science. It entails the anger of science and the hope of it. It entails the concentration of mathematics and its search for aesthetics. What we need ask what we need. What learning entails is going into dissonance and finding ease.

Dissonance is our obligation, not math and sciences. Why I love these modes of thinking is that they bring me to new opportunities for dissonance and coping. I learn why I cannot know and why I cannot answer with total confidence. That's why we need more math and science...and more theology and biology...and more sociology and art. Art mostly. Give me artists and I will...well, reflect on what they might produce...what I will try to do is to enable them just as I will enable scientists and mathematicians when they make moral and compelling cases for themselves. I will enable.

Alienation, righteous anger, learning and leadership

Righteous anger. Is it OK? That's always a personal decision, but here are some thoughts.

Enablers rarely can do their work well when they have overt enemies. Subtlety is everything. So the leader usually leads a quiet moral life. That is, the leader is discreet. But are they quiet? No.

The leader presses a point but listens to counter-views. A teacher helps the learner to find their own place. So what about agendas? No. Leadership and agenda are mutually exclusive...they must be. The loud who call themselves leaders are from an age past. Use them, avoid them, laugh at them...teach them.

Sometimes a position of disrespect that is violent, angry or outright wrong is encountered. What then? I believe the leader fights it, that is, encounters it. But the leader retires from the fight as soon as it it over. And when is it over? When the constituents can engage with transparency and respect...not when the outcome suits us. In short, do the right thing but judge minimally. Do not avoid judgment, but judge minimally.

We learn. Sometimes others have not learned as much though learning is not a single progression, nor is is a collaborative effort not a perspective. This is a great challenge. Where one has learned, learning is almost always esteemed. Where people are very structured and broken, learning will be spurned. Here the leader must be subversive, persistent and very focused on enabling the activists who expand moral actions. What is moral? That question embodies leadership. It usually entails reflection, caution, self-doubt, and humility. But there are no formulas. Where there are formulas, there is no leadership.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A new discretion

The British civil service is one of the finest institutions humans have devised. Why? Because the service stands for two things in my mind: (1) Quality intellect applied; and (2) Discretion.

Being discreet is difficult. My teacher John Rohr has influenced my thinking a great deal, but I have come to diverge a good bit from Professor Rohr in my own thinking, perhaps a dangerous thing.

Regardless, what has discretion meant, and what should it mean to a leader as enabler?

First, discretion has meant a low-key, low-identity input on policy matters with the open capacity to make decisions for the public good as part of an institutional stream of excellence. That sounds like John Rohr...

What influences me from classical administrative discretion is the downplay of identity, a hallmark of the British Civil Service. The idea is this: One graduates from a fine institution, say, Cambridge, and then one serves politicians...quietly. As parties change in office, the civil service politely and obediently stays behind guiding the stability and quality of the institutional government. This can work well, and the UK is the paragon in many respects. I am honored to be part of its extended family. The old British comedy, Yes, Minister! satirizes this way of institutional operation and some of its foibles.

Now, what should discretion mean? As institutions melt we cannot rely on networks with the past to provide sustenance. Instead, we must look to discretion as a turn toward its identity-reducing aspect as the emergent primary classical influence. That is, I am not the institution and the institution is not me. Where I have gone to school is less important than who I help. I am an enabler...not out for myself but rather in service to the good. The minister melts away (never entirely...gracious me!) not leaving a bureaucratic state, but a melted set of proto-organizations where leaders must continually explore the darkness for the prospect of doing the right government, in policy networks, in civil society, in business, in life. Divisions fade. Life becomes a holistic moral enterprise about learning and connecting anew--not leveraging old links for power or agenda pushing.

What passes for good is each leader's moral challenge. What the leader enables is always linked to the dilemma of whether one's aid is helping in some impossible and final holistic analysis. Where I fail is certainty and agenda. Each decision of the new leader is a network decision...contextual, painful, uncertain and focused on the good and sustainable. Such enabling is inextricably linked to learning.

The first moral question

I am increasingly of a mind that the first moral question (and we need to stop feeling twitchy about using the word moral) is as follows: What can be sustainable?

This of course begs the question of what is meant by sustainable. In my view, leading entails morality and morality entails ecological thinking. One must think of modes that can survive ebbs and flows but that also recognize wanton destruction of future options is inherently unacceptable.

In the past, morality was about the stability of structure. That is equally unacceptable. What passes for sustainability is not the preservation of human cultures just because. If we are to preserve anything it must be the natural.

Preserving is more action than leadership. But preserving is also enabling of a sort. That point requires more careful thought.

A challenging idea on tolerance

This from B. (government folks worry about discretion and rightly so...) He claimed to me that tolerance is a low standard for equality and not good enough. Equality requires acceptance, not mere tolerance.

So few tolerate that a high standard seems almost ridiculous, but I like the idea of it.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Paul Eloff

An old friend from South Africa, Paul Eloff, may join in these writings. His views are his own but his world overlaps mine a good bit. I'll let him explain his background and interests.

All his posts will have Eloff as a label, and I shall add Lanham as a label from here on in.