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  • feedwordpress 18:49:08 on 2016/04/11 Permalink
    Tags: , Feel, Reflections   

    Hacking Nicities 

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    Over on Quora, Deborah asked me to answer:

    What is the best substitute for "thank you," "sorry," and "welcome" to express gratitude or apologize to someone close who considers those words a mere formality?

    Which I answered briefly with:

    I am not convinced the problem is the words themselves as much as the lack of clarity of what is meant by them. I think it helps to add three details to any of the above statements: what it is, why it matters, and how it makes you feel.

    Thank you: I appreciate that you x because I value y, so now I feel z. “I appreciate that you did the dishes because I value cleanliness, so now I feel ready to start my day.”

    Sorry: I apologize (as for your forgiveness) for doing x. I know you value y and so do I. I feel terrible/out of integrity/uncomfortable… and can we discuss what I can do to make this right for us?

    Welcome: I am happy to help with x because y is important to me.

    Nicities are nice! They help make us feel nice. But very few of us learn how to do them well. We get the ‘Say please and thank you’ lecture. In about a decade of reflecting on why a thank you or apology lands or doesn’t land with me or with other people, I have refined a practice. No, I am by no means perfect at it either.

    Be specific. See, Touch, Hear it.

    I have learned though that it helps to include one or more of the parts: describe specifically what is appreciated or what the apology is for – the more the other person knows precisely what is being discussed, the better they can hear what is said. “Thank you for sharing the day with me” is not half as powerful as “thank you for buying me coffee while we discussed the current political climate and watched the clouds go by. I love sharing that kind of time with you.” Be specific and use your senses of sight, touch, and sound.

    Be nice

    Get Subjective

    The details of the objective reality – where you were, what was in the room, what would an observer say would happened, the details writers love to use, help us get into that moment.

    But they don’t tell us why it matters. There, we get into the subjective. So if you share how that relates to your values, what is important to you, or why it counts for you, that also helps to ground the expression. “I find conversations about politics with people of opposing views to be the roots of good democracy, so I value practicing that with you, even when we disagree.”

    Talk about Your Feelings

    Even more in the subjective angle of expression here is how it makes us feel. “Debating with you makes me feel wiser because I have a better handle on both sides of the argument.” Or “Discussing these issues with you helps me feel closer to you because I see why you hold that position.”

    When I have written letters of gratitude for something that happened in the past, I also include a list of things that I feel came about because of the other person. Results I attribute to their actions. So few of us know the second order effects of our interactions, yet all of us want to be a contribution. Good: “Thank you for connecting me with Sally.” Better: “Connecting me with Sally led to a new client engagement, a new idea, meeting my partner, etc.”

    Specifically, on Apologies

    Similarly, a great apology is grounded in specifics:

    “I am sorry I was late this evening. We both value not wasting time, and my being late held you up. I feel frustrated with myself for letting you down and being out of integrity myself. I feel compassion for you feeling delayed and disrespected. I am so sorry. How can I make this right for you?”

    Notice it also ends with an invitation to discuss how to make it better. Also notice that it is an invitation to make it better for the person you are apologizing to — improving their experience of you — and not for you to feel better about your actions — improving your experience of yourself. (That is your own work to do.)

    Being humans together is often messy. We have conflicting desires and make human mistakes. Niceties help remove friction in that experience.

    Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 11.43.36 AM

  • feedwordpress 17:33:17 on 2016/03/23 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , governance, organizational development, Reflections, , Teal,   

    The Thick of It 

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    These are not quite “wicked problems” so I think of it as messy or muddy. I spoke with a co-founder of my client organization today about the work we are doing. Being in the thick of it needs to be documented, so I present you with my reflections on being in the middle of the work of changing governance process in a social venture several years old.

    Zoom on art from Hava Gurevich

    Cool Factor — not so fast

    I could talk about them as a Teal organization — if we wanted to use spiral dynamics and the work of people like Laloux in Reinventing Organizations. I could talk about the organization being thrivable, as it lives into paradox, cultivates an ecosystem, and aims to generate more value than it consumes. I could talk about it in the framework of co-creation and participatory process. And so on — there is so much that is “cool” about what they are doing and how they are doing it. But actually being successful at that isn’t as cool as it may sound. It is actually thick and messy. Let’s talk about thick and messy. Let’s play in the mud a bit, shall we?

    The Challenge of Thick

    What makes this organization such a joy to be working on is how graceful they are in the muck of figuring out competing tensions as they seek to be transformative. Graceful. My second child’s middle name is Anne, which means grace. I wanted this child to have a sense of groundedness and a scope of perspective to be resilient amid the vagaries of life. This organization also demonstrates that quality of grace, to me.

    image from ChaoticRipple.com describing concept developed by Berkana Institute

    Building Bridges

    When you are building bridges you have to live in two worlds — the old paradigm and the new, all while building the path you are walking on. So what seems so cool — the new paradigm, has to still be successful in the old paradigm. And you are building it with people who personally each have one foot in the old way of doing things and one foot in the new. So it takes an intense level of mindfulness — of our own personal journey, of our organizational development, and of the larger systemic forces we operate within.

    While often the work is inspiring and visionary, it is also full of the muck of composting who we have been, what we have been doing, how we have been doing it, and the healing of systemic wounds as well.

    We act in the present moment of now-ness with open-eyed awareness of our past and the good company of our vision of the future.

    Me, Myself, and I

    I show up to the conversation as three selves: me, myself and I. As does everyone else, with their own version of the me, myself, and I combo.

    • There is me: in my own personal work, facing my insecurities and shadow, mindful of my motivations, presence, preferences, strengths, weaknesses, history, and dreams. Me, I am the one doing this work, and who I am being influences the work itself.
    • Myself, my role in this work as a midwife to the new forms. Myself, writing a book about cultivating social flow, working on the embodied practice of transforming governance, strategy, and culture for a more thrivable organization. The role I am playing and the skill or talent I bring to that role influences the work significantly.
    • And there is I. I am a multi-faceted being, operating in a system (or actually more like inter-operating systems) of this here and now time in history: during an economic, environmental, social crisis. I am a white woman with a gender and sexuality and class and 50+ other facets of identity. All that comes with being alive and aware of my facets, my identities, in systems of power and privilege. It means using what I have to bring about the more wonderful world we hope is possible, mindfully resistant to past collective patterns that are far bigger than me and myself. I am in my own state of healing, grief, and transformation as I relate to that system(s), also conscious that others often do not share my stage of grief. (And we all know the practice is way messier and recursive than the diagram below.)
    the stages of grief are loopy! | Turil

    Really doing this work well means being in the thick of all of this awareness of where me, myself, and I are positioned (as it is for everyone else involved), and with that presence of mind making meaningful change with others who are also on their own journey of awareness. This isn’t simple recipe stuff! It isn’t homogenized and pasteurized white milk of glorious social change where unicorns frolic and rainbows attain their rights.

    Two Roads Diverged…

    You make the trail as you walk it. It isn’t simply about taking the road less traveled by, it is often about making a path where there was not one before. It isn’t about a shining north star to light the idealized way either.

    It is about the dynamic tensions of being in the real mucky world with real messy humans trying to do real meaningful work.

    You probably don’t have a single factor to align with, rather instead you have several (and to varying degrees with others in the group). In our case, we have three core priorities that we need to be sorting for and aligning around, and those need to be held in dynamic tension with each other because they are often not magically aligned. The math of the complexity increases quickly, my three layers times three layers for each other person multiplied by the three organizational priorities, as well as our past experiences, present desires, and future vision. I do like the number three, I assure you. We are here to get things done. Together.

    Let’s be pragmatic here, after all. Often this means having individuals who value one of those priorities, more than the other two, experiencing actual respectful tension with the other two or more people (who hold the space for one of the other priorities). In our case, there is a vision of what the organization does, how it does it, and how it operates. What that looks like in practice, as we evolve and grow through our lifecycle, is not yet clear as we seek to honor our priorities. There are many good options for how to embody those priorities. Which way fits best? What constellation of people, time, and priorities running through which processes generate what bridge into the future we want?

    How do we balance our commitment to what we do while also transforming how we do it, as well as how we operate?

    This is the thick work of transformation, of building the bridge while you are walking on it.

    Lessons in Co-creation

    A couple years ago I went to Thailand to co-facilitate our LearnShareLab. By “our” here, I mean ci2iglobal (Co-creative Innovation and Impact Institute). We brought together co-creative social change projects from across the world to learn and share about co-creation. What we found is that very few were co-creative about who, how, and what simultaneously. Co-creative projects all have some emergent quality, but they differ in whether that emergent element was who, how, or what.


    This matrix has co-creative about who on the right and co-creative about what on the bottom. It does not include the co-creative about how element.

    • By co-creative on who, I mean it is an open question who is included and invited. Who participates is who responds to the open invitation.
    • By co-creative on how, I mean the process of working together is not clear but emerges through leaderfulness of all participants helping to shape the process.
    • By co-creative on what, I mean the output of a working group is not clear at the beginning but emerges in the process of being together.

    So, we often see some combination of dialing it up on one aspect of emergence and down in another, to help us reach our goals within the limits of the time and resources we have. Or we see a recursive pattern: being emergent with process rarely, people regularly, and output always, for example. There is no single perfect way of doing and being in this thick muddle of transformation. The alchemy isn’t worked out already.

    Right now, with this client, we are clear on who is present to co-create, we have a sense of what kinds of process we prefer, and we have some vision for the output. Being a bit fuzzy on the second two gives us an opportunity to co-create what the next phase governance and communication structure and process can be, within some reasonable limits or boundaries. And we need boundaries to manage the complexity!

    Hacking Processes

    We see, in our research for the book on social flows, the value of creating process hierarchy when we are trying to move away from structural — positional hierarchy. If the work is not about having a few core people with positional power making decisions; then maybe process, which we all agree on, can make decisions for us as a collective.

    What I am designing for the client is just this type of process — well, more like a process generation engine — that allows us to start with a few simple protocols and build and evolve process hierarchy over time (on top of — or in harmony with — the existing process architecture).

    Guiding Principles

    So far we have worked out our principles. I don’t mean a bunch of trendy phrased statements that get stuck on a report and flash across the website. I mean something with the passion of a manifesto and the clarity of operating instructions. We don’t want a set of rules that restrain us to an ever increasing bureaucracy of rule creation, maintenance, and mediation.

    We want a set of principles to operate on, so that all decisions and actions that honor those guiding statements have coherence with the organizational body, regardless of what position the person acting on them holds.

    We want to learn from the insights of swarm behavior, that a few clear and simple principles can guide and shape collective action without anyone dictating what that action ought to be.

    Running Small Experiments

    We don’t magically transform to look like the new way of doing things, we build the steps to get from here to there. Doing so means picking what ways we are not going to be like what has been in bite size chunks. What is the one thing we are going to do differently this quarter? What are the three things we are going to avoid doing? Tackling the ideal list of 12 things or 42 things isn’t kind to the humans who are trying to do the real work of becoming me, myself, and I in the emerging organization.

    Changing organizational habits is a fractal version of changing personal habits — very few succeed by going whole hog and sticking with it. This has less to do with persistence and more to do with not knowing what the consequences of a shift are. If we commit to not interrupting each other at meetings, what does that do? So, we run small experiments to test out a new habit for the organization.

    Next we will work on some simple processes to try, test, and iterate on, given our combination of priorities, while blending what we see working at Morningstar, Holacracy, Liquid, etc. We create something of a style guide for organizational culture. But you can’t force that on everyone! It has to be home grown from the very foundations of the organization. I use participatory process to involve the people who will be acting on the new process in the very development of that new process so they understand the drive for it, the way it works, and feel like they had a hand in creating it. (Liberating Structures, for example, has participatory processes to select from, based on the goals set.)

    Zoom into art from Hava Gurevich


    It is such an honor to be part of an organization with such a profound approach to a learning culture. I have recently completed reviewing the survey assessment from various participants in the organization. It is quite clear that the day to day processes, the way meetings are held, and conversations conducted are full of care and compassion as well as highly open to feedback. It is also inspiring to get some challenging feedback about what more participants want from us. For example, if someone rated the organization as 3/5 on something that matters to us, they also rated us 5/5 on learning and feedback, commenting that they have faith we will get there because of our commitment to evolving. It is so encouraging to read participant feedback that says we are doing a good job of practicing our values, have clarity about where we need to evolve, and have demonstrated a willingness to listen and reflect with our participants.

    When I left my job at a publicly traded company, I could not have imagined an organization that was doing what we are doing now, being in the thick of it as we are.

    Whatever process and governance alterations we come up with that help the organization grow, the core DNA of the culture of the organization amazes me and will inform the direction we take. This is messy work being done by messy humans with a great deal of self-awareness at multiple levels. We aren’t changing the world overnight, though sometimes we change ourselves overnight.

    We are here for the long journey of personal, collective, and systemic transformation, finding and co-creating our own messy path into the future.


    I am deeply honored to be working with this client, the individuals creating and recreating the organization inspire and amaze me. Their personal awareness and purity of intention make playing in the mucky mud a real pleasure. It is so mind-blowing to get into a conversation about transformation and be understood so quickly when pointing to various bodies of work that the transformation builds upon. So much gratitude to the giant shoulders we spring from. I am deeply thankful for the wisdom of practice with others in this field: my co-author Herman Wagter, my practitioner circle at ci2iglobal, and my friends in personal, collective, and systemic transformation that have shared with me.

    [simultaneously posted at https://medium.com/@nurturegirl/the-thick-of-it-44ee5a509a7d#.bkk2xohdq]

  • feedwordpress 19:30:07 on 2016/03/10 Permalink
    Tags: business, , dna, edu, , Future of, Meta, , MOOC, Reflections, , strategy, university   

    Mindwalk: Systems, Education, and Transformation 

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    screenshot from the movie, Mindwalk

    {originally drafted in 2013…there was never an opportunity to finish it…but core pieces are still important for how I think about the future, how business needs to think about strategy, and how to do so within a larger ecosystem in motion.}

    What is the future of education and why is everyone so excited about MOOCs and worried about the end of the university itself? What is unfolding, emerging here?

    Scott and I wandered through these questions as we ate brunch and walked through the Chicago Art Institute. It deeply reminded me of the movie, Mindwalk, as we adventured together while discussing the Future of Edu.

    Scott is on a university committee exploring MOOCs, aka Massive Open Online Courses. And we talked about the direction education is heading. While I have lots of connection to education, I won’t profit or suffer from what happens in education directly. This reduces some biases which seem pretty obviously to be operating with many of the advocates and critics on either side of the debate (with more or less self awareness).

    So what is the future of education and specifically institutional education? Let me build the frameworks to explain the possibility space, since I think the answer turns out to be complex. Or maybe it is simple from the perspective I take, but it will require some useful frameworks to get to that simplicity. The arguments I see around education seem pretty superficial, given the frameworks I see it through. So hopefully this will unbundle a bunch of the entanglement that clouds the simplicity of the unfolding adventure in edu. The following is an expanded weave of what Scott and I touched on, spun off into mini dialogues with a dozen friends from a wide range of fields, experiences, and interests.

    Part 1 The Question of Education

    Media likes a good polemic. And so you see people writing provocative pieces to stimulate readership. To see some of the current debate, look at Clay Shirky’s post on Awl. And another article claiming online courses are replacing physical colleges at a fast clip that uses a ton of self-citing. *[I checked with Scott, and he said, “Ferenstein cites himself and makes over-the-top claims. His cite about online ed being better than regular ed is a cite to himself on cnn. You google-search the phrase on CNN he touts, and that DOE paper he quotes (without attribution) shows that people learn more online in mostly nursing and oncology classes.”]

    For a more balanced view, scan Cathy Davidson, Co-founder, HASTAC; Co-PI, HASTAC, MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition. Davison makes a very important point that many of the people taking MOOCs aren’t taking them instead of going to college. They weren’t signing up as learners until MOOCs arrived. What is all the fuss about if MOOcs are taken (mostly) by people who were not planning to go to college or other non-traditional students? Implicitly she conveys that MOOCs are a Blue Ocean Strategy – like Cirque du Soleil was to the circus industry.

    KEY: Cathy Davidson argues: MOOCS are, in large part, opening new learning markets rather than siphoning off learners who planned to attend college full-time.

    The Technology Complex has a long history of believing that technology tools are the primary solution. If we just had the right technology everything would be flawless. Technologists fail to be discerning about which modes of education best fit the tools they build. So they try to smash at education with the technology hammer. Sometimes it hits a learning nail. Sometimes not. This week the New York Times posted a story about software that grades essays.

    Scott really believes in the value of small classroom dialogues in developing critical thinking and creative problem solving. He doesn’t see this as perfectly replicable processes. He believes critical thinking is a set of tools we each develop best through conversations with others. So a 30,000 person class is going to have a significant challenge getting that sort of interactivity that will evolve students critical ability. On the other hand, if you need to learn something by rote: say the capitals of all the countries in the world or the names of the bones and muscles in the body, education of those types of information might work really well in pretty scale-free environments like MOOCs. There is a lot of value in rote learning. It is not to be dismissed. Rote learning is a foundational part of education. We need it as base knowledge to think faster. Much of higher education depends on a significant base of rote learning that takes years to build up, layer by layer. There is significant value there; it just isn’t sufficient for completing most educational tracks.

    Even if we should develop technology that can teach critical thinking, do we want to have that experience? In a machine modeled world, such advances make sense in terms of efficiency. But in a social world, do they make sense for the social development of students? If, for example, you can change your essay answers as you get tested to improve your score, how will that rewire how those students communicate and what they expect to be able to change? I don’t have answers to these questions yet, and I am sure the polarizing answers are wrong. But I do sense that we aren’t asking if the tools we are building will have unintended consequences that are worse than the gains. (Not like we haven’t seen that happen before…)

    KEY: The MOOC is one method of education. Not all other methods of education will be able to translate well within MOOC tool and process limitations.

    So where is the future of education?  What is going on? Who will be impacted? What will improve? Who is going to lose out here? How do we prepare (depending on who “we” are)?

    To answer these questions about the future of education, I believe we need to understand the learning ecosystem, organizational patterns and how innovation works within cultural evolution, and the larger contexts in which the shifts are happening. Maybe this isn’t as simple as: everything will become a MOOC, and thus the death of universities, sky-is-falling, woe-is-me. And maybe the market for MOOCs is not exactly the same or even significantly the same as universities.

    Let me Explain…. No, let me Summarize

    As I came home and started mapping out the different parts of the conversation with Scott, I realized that many frameworks underlie what I am saying. And I had shared them with Scott, so let me share them with you and then go back to where education is headed with a clearer picture of why I see it unfolding this way. To really write this up is book length, so I hope to just summarize and try to point to some existing pieces of work that I am building this on.

    Part 2 Ecosystemslearning spiral


    We are expanding our complexity across the layers of individual, collective, and system. Often these conversations about the university are about the whole of the education system rather than about a particular subgroup of educational institutions. And I think this is rather problematic. At the level of the field of education, I am sure education – and learning –  will continue. At the level of specializations – branches of “species” within that field, there will be a sorting out. There is always a sorting out process. Let’s call this discernment. We will get more clear about which forms operate best for which desired purposes and desired outcomes.

    Do not conflate what the future of an individual’s learning will be like with what collective learning is becoming or how the learning system is changing. Yes, they are intermingled. However, the shiny new educational innovation may not be the solution for all learners nor all things that we want to learn. Which learners does it fit? What learning process works best within MOOCs? Which learners are still best served by existing educational channels? And what learning still works best in existing educational offerings?

    Clarification of Scope

    Here we will be focusing, primarily, on the infrastructure for learning systems rather than one individual’s journey through that system.

    In particular, I am only going to talk about institutional or organizational learning systems. The point of this work is to describe the subset of the learning ecosystem that has explicit organizational infrastructure. We can talk about it at three levels: the specific programs an organization offers, specific organizations, or types of organizations. I will focus primarily on “type of organization” level. Our inquiry is about exploring what the general trajectories of organizational types may be.

    I include the following types of organizational learning infrastructure as: ivy league institutions, universities more broadly, community colleges, technical schools, corporate learning programs, and domain-specific certification programs. I am thus excluding – as non-institutional – education that happens peer-to-peer or on youtube or hands on outside certifying organizations. I am also not going to go into apprenticeship programs, although I think they play an important role in the future of education. Apprenticeships are deeply hands-on learning-in-practice which clearly MOOCs are no threat to at this point.

    Cooperative Analysissloth

    So often we focus on competitor analysis rather than how a number of players fit within an ecosystem. This is based on an older model of evolution that is used to justify fierce behavior, because “fit” is taken to mean strength, power, influence. This model acts as if the ideal state is to be lion at the top of the food chain. Where does the three-toed sloth come in if we are judging fitness within an ecosystem? It isn’t the strongest, fastest, or most powerful, certainly. If evolutionary processes select for fitness, how did we get such a bizarre slow moving creature? We have the three-toed sloth because, like a puzzle piece, it fits into the ecosystem of which it is a part. So let’s look at the ecosystem of of education from a “puzzle pieces” perspective instead of a food chain hierarchy.

    Adam Smith wrote about the role of specialization within society. Initially, we may increase the value of what we provide as we specialize. And, to the degree that we do specialize, we develop dependency on others to provide for the needs we have outside that specialty. Thus we form ecosystems of interdependent actors who, through being part of the larger ecosystem provide and receive value. If I, as a farmer, start growing more potatoes and fewer tomatoes, I am going to have to rely on someone else specializing in tomatoes and other food, if I am to keep a diverse and healthy diet.

    Specializing isn’t about competing for who wins. It is about finding your fit – your specialty in the ecosystem and playing that role well. Within your “niche” of the ecosystem there may be others of your type (carnivores or herbivores for example). You can live defensively, protecting your stash of resources or you can connect with others to create a trust network for sharing resources to meet your needs. In biological systems, there is a lot of unconscious cooperation across species within an ecosystem. Nature is incredibly creative this way.

    Health and Natural Limits

    The health of the ecosystem is about the dynamic balance of the members of that ecosystem. When any one type over-consumes or over-populates, the system as a whole suffers. There are natural limits that will readjust ecosystems of biological creatures. We are less aware of the limits of the organizational ecosystems we have created. Are there natural limits for the education ecosystem? Sure, there is surely a limit to how many people are in the world of which a subset of some portion are interested in education progress in a given time span. Thus there is surely a limit to the number and size of organizations serving those educational needs. Let us not make naive estimates of limitless growth without accounting for a series of natural limits that will require innovation to transcend. But I get ahead of myself. We will delve deeper into this in Part 3 on Innovation cycles.

    Ecosystem Players

    So, specialization increases individual and collective productivity, surely. It also increases our interdependency. Our educational institutions are venues for increasing specialty. And to do this, they are also specialized. Trade or technical schools have very clear and explicit specialties. Both are dependent on students learning in K-12 to produce students that have the foundations to learn in their programs.

    Universities have “schools” that narrow the specialties. You don’t just get a bachelor’s degree, for example. You get a bachelor of arts in Painting from the School of Fine Art within the specific university. And each of those demarcations has a value and thus a reputation attached to it. (We will get into more deeply into reputation in Part 4 on Context.) Community Colleges also provide specialization.

    These specialties then play a role in the ecosystems of work. If everyone had an identical degree from an identical educational program, how would we be able to sort – in the job market –  for who is capable of doing specific kinds of work? We use these specialties as an acknowledgement of a domain of expertise which then serves to qualify learners for work. Not all education paths strive for work-appropriate specializations, yet it is a large driver in the education system as a whole. I would hazard a guess that 75% or more of people who pursue education after high school do so with the intention — indeed the expectation — of it helping them get a better job than they would otherwise. Thus the “will get job in specialty” is a large driver of the educational ecosystem. We can have growth of a particular specialty within education (or reductions) independent of the overall trends in the educational ecosystem. Be careful about taking one specialty or a set of them and marking a trajectory for the whole. We will explore more about predicting motion in the ecosystem in Part 5.

    As we explore the ecosystem dynamics, please keep in mind that these specialties each have a relation to the question of how MOOCs will impact educational institutions. They may not all have the same answer. Discernment by specialty matters.

    KEY: MOOCs may have a different dynamic with the various specialties within educational institutions. Making large and broad claims about the effect on such a diversity of organizations and the ecosystem as a whole is bound to elide important discernments critical to the direction each organizational learning body (university, school, department etc) takes.

    Systems and Emergenceaction sprectrum - three connentric circles: control, guide, nurture

    Scott asked why “Emergence” keeps popping up all over the place and what it means. I gave Scott a brief overview of the book I am working on Christelle Van Ham. The Action Spectrum is a handy way of developing an intuitive understanding of simple, complex, and complex adaptive systems and how to take action within them. Control. Guide. Nurture. In simple systems, the action we take controls the outcome we get. As we move out from simple into complex systems, the actions we take have less and less control over the outcomes.

    We can say our actions guide or influence outcomes. And in complex adaptive systems, we can say our actions plant seeds of possibility, but we have much less control over which possibilities bear fruit. The nurture realm is one of probability and correlation. Our usual intuitive causal mental processes struggle to grasp the probabilistic space of the nurture realm. I have found it best to link it to planting seeds, because you do need to provide right conditions – sunlight, nutrients, and water – but still some of the seeds flourish and others wither. This metaphor seems to help people develop an intuition about how the nurture realm functions: create conditions and don’t expect the predictable causality of simple machines.

    When we are working in the realm of actions that nurture, we talk about emergence. Something arises (or not). In strong emergence, the sum is more than the parts. A computer is not emergent (parts make up a whole), but the meme around lolcats was emergent. Anywhere you see self-organizing with some autonomy, you are likely to see emergence.

    We are so accustomed to man-made systems and the engineering model of control that this idea of emergence without a controlling and directing agent can seem strange. To talk about emergence can be challenging to those who believe in a deterministic mechanical world. However, emergence can be generated from simple rules. For an example, see this TED video on Syncing this gist of which is:  if we say the three rules are: find others like you, move with them keeping yourself an arm’s length from others, and if a threat approaches – flee. Simple rules like this generate swarm behavior that the old models would claim as centrally choreographed but instead are emergent.

    So let’s assume that the educational ecosystem is operating on some simple rules of swarm like behavior rather than being run by some omnipotent conspiracy or cabal. 😉 If it is, then understanding what those simple rules are will help us anticipate the trajectories of the swarms of educational institutions.


    Part 3 Innovation and DNA metaphorsupdward spiral

    Integration and Discernment

    I am inspired by this notion of the upward spiral caused by creativity and order building on each other while constraining each other. It comes from reading about Elinor Ostrom and the Bloomington School Social Philosophy. In the Bloomington School version, the tension is between creativity and rules or tyranny. In my version, I am simply saying feedback loops or measures. Imagine that there are at least two forces that, through their interaction, level us up on our complexity. (This also relates to metaphors we are pulling from thermodynamics about entropy and order. See also this article on Morphology, Entropy, and Stability in Networked Structures.)

    Creativity or generativity – the drive to make or try something, to explore, to adventure, to learn, to evolve, and this force is a basic impulse. Restraining that impulse and yet also enabling it, we have rules, constraints, laws, principles or other boundaries.

    I also think of this in economic terms – that we are driven to specialization and yet, too much specialization leads to disconnection, so there are counter forces for synthesis.  Thus the need for Integration.


    Let’s jump on the bandwagon of all things as genetic metaphors. It was one of my favorite subjects in biology, so it is fun for me to think this way. Let’s say that some organizational DNA in the ecosystem is optimized to produce different kinds of individual institutions. Yes, like some have blue eyes.  To Bret’s point about which things are reproducing, it is more useful to think about these strategy dna types replicating and less about a particular institution replicating.

    When I look at the field, I see species a phenotype (visible display of a genotype) for “college gets me a better job and thus more money” strategy which I will call the genotype producing that, $dna. And I see a phenotype we can call “Social Passport” strategy because going to one of those institutions (while not necessarily better at producing more learned scholars, does produce a network that reinforces the success and social standing of their students). We will call this one SPdna. We might also see phenotypes for Good Citizen strategy (GCdna) or Super Powered Learners strategy (SPLdna). We can continue looking at institutional culture and brand strategy to generate ore phenotypes.

    Each of these sub-species of learning organization strategies may have a different relationship to the perceived threat the MOOCs bring. For example, the Social Passport strategy (SPdna) probably won’t be threatened by the presence of MOOCs because MOOCs don’t offer anything that threatens the social privilege and social network that these institutions provide their students. However, institutions using the better-job-more-money strategy phenotype are very likely to be threatened. And not just by MOOCS but also by the shifts in the economy making it harder to get better-job-more-money with their degrees.

    For organizations facing threats in the shifting educational ecosystem, they can consider epigenetics – what genes get turned on in these conditions? Epigenetics shows us how in the process of transcription, environmental factors and age can activate some area of genes, de-activate others, or create alterations in the resulting rna and thus the amino acids and proteins that they generate. For example, I wonder how the relocalization movement might trigger some institutions to focus strategically on the value they provide locally – becoming deeper enmeshed in the locations they occupy.

    Again, let me emphasize, the specific strategy or strategy combination that organizations engage will have strong influence over their relationship with MOOCs and other threats. Glossing over that discernment gets us into trouble disables organizations from adapting appropriately when needed. Or wasting energy and resources in cases where adaptation isn’t needed in response to the perceived threat.


    Let me collapse three frameworks into one. First, let’s take Geoffrey West’s talk about the surprising math about cities. West takes a huge amount of information about biological life forms and shows some graphs, revealing that there is a function that is consistent across life forms, of any size. (In fact it is a network property and operates across many network data types.) It produces a sigmoidal curve (and s curve). You have an s curve in your own growth too – if you chart yo

    ur growth through your life it is an S curve because humans have a natural limit to height. (Cities don’t, but that is moving to a different LAYER of the system). We have gotten all high on power laws, but we act like many of them are infinitely operating, when they aren’t. Those lovely hockey-sticks have a start point and an end point. An end point people. Let’s say book sales are power laws… lots of books sell relatively few copies and a few books sell millions of copies. Still, no books are selling trillions of copies. None. There is a limit. I haven’t thought of one of these that in practice doesn’t have a limit, actually. Zoom out people.

    If we look at the growth of an innovation, we might say it looks like a power law close up – it grows slowly at first, with the early adopters, in small numbers, coming on board, and then the maven bring in a larger chunk, and then it becomes popular. Zoomed in, that looks power law like. But then finally, the curve levels off as even the late adopters get on board (and then we hit market saturation). Take that familiar adoption curve – and instead of tracking number of new “adopters” over time, track the total number of adopters. Hello S curve.

    innovation curves

    Now the trick with innovation is that whenever we hit a limit – where it seems we have reached capacity, we find a way to innovate over that limit. So over time, at a broader layer, we have a recurring S curve. Now West says the curves get tighter in time (and I think that is true), but we will leave that off for now.

    Booms and Busts are tied to this innovation S curve. A boom is the rush up the curve and the bust comes when we realize that rate of providing supply has exceeded the rate of consumption, and so we fall down. Okay, that is a total over-simplication (It is really about debt involved in that process and the overpromising on the boom). Scott will correct me here, I am sure. Whatever the cause of the boom bust cycle, it is tied to this S curve.


    So what breaks us out of a flatlining S curve?

    Well, we have boundaries in the ecosystem. Some of them might be real world boundaries – supply of the materials used to make things, for example. Access. Bandwidth. A part of this goes into “rival, non-rival, and partially rival goods” because scale is limited by rivalry. Another limit is reproducibility. Yes, I know, strange to say in a factory built universe, but there are lots of things that can’t go to scale because they hit limits to reproducibility  Another limit might be “interactiveness” by which I mean the feedback loops are so tight that they can’t tolerate distance in space or time. For example, a conversation requires interactiveness. And we transcended the limits of being in person by enabling shared voice time across space. I haven’t fleshed out all the limits to scale here. What others do you notice?

    Education. Right.

    The MOOCs are an innovation in reproducibility. Instead of just making it available to 150 students, we can now make a lecture available to 30,000. What you will hear critics say is that the cheerleaders of MOOCs are forgetting that it is not an innovation in interactiveness – we want facilitated small group dialogues. I agree with these critics – MOOCs are not replacing small group dialogue anytime soon.

    But if you had to get out of bed to go to a classroom where you sat on facebook during class or you could stay in bed and listen to a lecture for half the price, I think it is clear what students – the BUYERS here are going to do. They stay in bed. Wouldn’t you?

    Craft Factory Network

    Factories, as we all know, exceeded the productivity of craft building many times over. And just as a factory might take the best craft person to model their production on, so too MOOCs will take the most engaging professors and replicate their lectures. And we could stop there and say this is an innovation in turning education into even more of a modular factory than it ever was. However. Simultaneously, in the larger market, Network Production has begun to exceed factory production in efficiency and viability. Craft has the benefit of uniqueness. Factory has the benefit of scale. Network production is the weaving of the two – it can do uniqueness at scale. A network can make it faster, better, and more customized than a factory. Don’t believe me? See “Economic productivity and value creation under various organizational configurations of business processes – A toolkit for phase transitions”  by Ton G.M. van Asseldonk & Erik den Hartigh, September 2008.

    Is this shift instead about Network Production of Education?  What is that going to look like? Can I put together a custom education path that fits my needs? Will that get me what I want and need from it?

    Part 4 Context

    Ecosystem of Learning needs –


    • continuous learning for multiple careers


    {Acknowledge that a whole lot of important learning isn’t in “programs” but in experiences and arrives through serendipity – for this, we are just considering intentional programs and offerings.}


    Reputation will save us


    I think back to what Scott taught me about the blockages – recessions and depressions and trust care of Elizur Wright.  http://thrivable.wagn.org/Book+Cycles

    “It was during the crisis of 1857 that the previously ignored insights of a long-haired mathematician, abolitionist, and utopian socialist named Elizur Wright were finally recognized as critically valuable for economic stability…. He created a rule-of-thumb called “net present value” (NPV) to determine the value of a flow of resources in a single instant (present value) and then to subtract operating costs (net). … When the Panic of 1857 hit with the failure of a bank called Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company, Elizur was prepared. This blockage of trade and transport, Wright declared, was a result of distrust. Insurance companies needed reliable accounting practices that would allow Massachusetts to calculate net present value, and internal rate of return. When trust returns, Wright assured them, the blockage will be over.”

    Unconvinced but without options, Massachusetts adopted Wright’s blueprint, preventing any company from selling insurance in Massachusetts that did not provide complete financial information. NPV offers transparency of obligations.  The panic was short-lived, and Elizur Wright’s accounting principles became the basis of what we now call Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, adopted by millions of companies, states, and non-governmental organizations throughout the world. MBAs take credit for it, but a long-haired radical gave us cost accrual accounting.

    Wright took advantage of blockage to identify its root cause – a distrust of opacity. Increased financial transparency was the solution; trust collapses without it. Blockage can let us make institutions open up and make them thrivable.

    We are in the middle of a crisis of trust across multiple systems and luckily the means of greater transparency and trust building are at hand (and having them in some places is leading to more crisis of trust in others, but so goes the resonating frequencies of such things.)

    We need trust. How? Reputation systems. We need an evolution in our current reputation system in education.

    A word about currencies. I studied currencies with Art Brock. He defines a currency as a current – something catalyzing a flow. Incentives. When we look at universities, we have a collection of interconnected currencies. We have grades, credits, and degrees. All currencies. Grades are performance metrics. Credits are non-tradable measures, for example. We also have accreditation of the university itself.

    Outside the university, we have other methods for “certifying” that learning transpired.

    I am reminded of the bursts the development of the internet has gone through where many ways of trying to get something done are tried out, startups born, some survive, and eventually they develop standards. Some of the standards get enforced (many protocols are) and some standards are emergent (use of hashtags). Without standards, it becomes impossible for the many diverging startups to interoperate. We are seeing this right now in the identity space – convergence on standard protocols for managing identity across platforms. And Microformats efforts exist to standardize things like event data for portability beyond the bounds of various websites.

    What does it mean right now to have a BA from a state university, some certification on some software, and hang out in a hacker space? Where is value being acknowledged and made visible and where is it hidden? How can we move from one domain into another and still be able to communicate our value (via our certifications) to others? We need more discernment in the field of education about what value a BA has (one size is not fitting all anymore). And we need more interoperability between universities, maker spaces, and certification programs.

    See the Living Systems model that Art Brock and colleagues developed pictured here and within the prezi here.
    wealth diagram

    Part 5: Predictions

    Remember what we said about swarm behavior. Imagine adding the DNA phenotype to the swarming rules. Bring in the threat (let’s say they are “consuming” the same resource – students rather than one eating the other). Which students are devoured by whom? Who is left starving?

    Predictions on DNA Survival in the Market

    So when we talk about the “threat” of the disruptive innovation of MOOCs and how that impacts the ecosystem and market, we should see if it has the same effect on all the different phenotypes. My guess is that it doesn’t. The SPdna organizations will need to find a way to clarify their value as a social passport. Some type of standardization, qualification, or reputation system to maintain the value of their brand against the multitudes learning through MOOCs. It is a brand of scarcity, which is why it can be a space of privilege, after all. $dna – universities who produce “students” in order or those students to get a job and make money face the greatest threat from the disruptive innovation of MOOCs. They will not be able to deliver this offering at a competitive price. The value of such an education is going down in the marketplace because it is hardly scarce to have a college degree anymore. When it ceases to distinguish candidates for jobs in a tight job market, it will fail to be worth the immense debt load it takes to acquire, especially when you can get a course for so much cheaper through a MOOC.  (already failing, that is.)

    There are at least two fans of universities that are not attracted to these two phenotypes. One of them claims that education improves the country as a whole – the more we are all educated, the better for everyone. Most of us buy this argument to some degree, which is why we have so much factory-style education to begin with – to educate the masses and produce good citizens. It is part of a core belief that in the United States, no matter how humble your beginnings, you can make something of yourself.

    Those who believe the university is a place for providing this are doomed to be disappointed. There isn’t financial backing to make that GCdna phenotype viable in the market much longer. State funding is drying up rapidly and isn’t being sufficiently countered with alumni donations at all but the most prestigious schools. And charging the students directly is failing (what is a degree worth these days?).

    The other phenotype are my kinds of people – people who believe that education is about developing super powers. A good education creates a critical thinking, curious, life-long learners with a high sense of agency. We are less concerned with what those people then do with such a power – we just love that it is possible to get it. Yummy. Again, since the constraint in the system is a financial one, the SPLdna is not going to do so well in the current disruptive atmosphere. These people, as a whole, are less concerned with financial wealth and more concerned with the exploration of ideas and the development of interesting questions. They aren’t going to come rushing in, financially, to salvage a dying university.

    Motive is not a Method

    When I made up the story about the dna phenotypes, I was talking about the motive for education. This is quite different than the method, although the two can intertwine. MOOCs work for particular education methods. Their method can transfer static knowledge very well. However, I can’t picture the critiques for fine art or fashion design working all that well in a distance learning process. The first two years of college might be fine run by MOOC methods, but advanced explorations, development of independent critical thought, the tried and true seminar form of old, that method can’t port to MOOC. Yet. So let us keep in mind both the motive across these forms and the method they enable (or don’t).


    Keywords: ecosystem dynamics, education, MOOCs, layers of systems, polarity management, organizing purpose and dna, Bloomington School Social Philosophy (tension between creativity and order in leveling up complexity of a system), Layers of Wealth (per Metacurrency), paradigm shifts, 2nd solution to the second law of thermodynamics (See Upward Spiral), modes of production (single, factory, network/p2p), gamification, the Great Unfolding, booms and busts…

  • feedwordpress 15:44:17 on 2014/03/10 Permalink
    Tags: contribution, ego, , grace, , improv, Reflections   

    Worth and Graciousness 

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    In this work at the edge and in our relationships, we often cannot guess at our worth and the value we provide. I am just now feeling into a discernment that I want to share with you in case it is useful to you as well.

    Perhaps it is a challenge to know our value without knowing why someone else might find something about us or our work important and transformative. But who are we to say?

    I notice, in myself and others, two responses to someone acknowledging our value. The first is to dismiss, belittle, undermine, qualify, minimize, reject, deny – to be in contraction as a response in some way or another. The signal this sends is: “you are wrong to value me so highly because I am undeserving of it. I am not worthy.” The second response is graciousness: to thank, appreciate, celebrate, honor, acknowledge, receive, or revel in their acknowledgment. Often it is to reciprocate, when and where appropriate, by articulating the value you perceive that the other provides. The signal this sends is: “you are generous to value me so highly, and I am appreciative of that. I am worthy, as are you.”


    My dear friends Deanna and Hava are often letting me know the value I bring them. I am learning to respond graciously instead of resisting them.

    In improv, one of the primary principles is “yes, and-ing” each exchange. If the other person says, “there is a fluffy pink elephant plodding along behind you.” Then you don’t respond by telling them that they are insane to think so. You say something like, “yes, and we are starting a parade, would you like to join us?” Another principle of improv is “making the other person look good.” So you might even say, “yes, and how astute of you! She is a bit shy! You have to look closely at my shadow to see her.”

    I mention these two principles of improv because they are also generative for conversations and interactions. When we respond to another’s acknowledgement of value with a “no, but” instead of a “yes, and” we fail to make them look good (or feel good). We cut short the conversation and opportunity to generate together.

    “But my ego!” you say. Yes yes, but what is more egotistical? To tell someone that they are wrong, or to appreciate their point of view as they describe it? It is a false form of humility to deny someone their appreciation of your value by telling them they are wrong. A gracious humility allows them their perception without taking it on as who you are. A gracious humility responds with equal or greater appreciation of the other.

    Be gracious. Allow others to appreciate your worth in their eyes. Respond with gratitude.

    I have found it easy to be grateful for others for what they do. I find it more challenging to be grateful for how they see me and want to be generous with me for it. Yet, this is the very contribution people want to make, and it is my strange ego that seeks to deny them that pleasure of giving. I am going to challenge myself to be a more gracious receiver. Maybe you will too.

    Perhaps we need to keep asking, “What would a whole-hearted person do here?”


  • feedwordpress 19:18:03 on 2013/10/06 Permalink
    Tags: ecosystem, inquiry, Reflections,   

    Headline Snatchers or Sages 

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    Shooting for big headlines?

    Reflecting on over a decade of reading stuff online, I wonder if I am the last to figure this out.

    Headline Snatchers don’t know what they are talking about.

    Is that okay? At first, I thought a few glorious stars in my sphere were brilliant in their insightful comments about what was happening around us all.

    Screen shot 2013-10-06 at 2.20.54 PM

    Then I slowly, very slowly, realized that a whole group of their peers actually thought much the same thing. The more I explored, the more I discovered the idea was not so new after all. It was just packaged as a new and exciting idea for this week. And I bought it!

    I got angry.

    I explored more and more. And I started to realize they didn’t have a lot of depth behind them, those headline snatchers. Many of these highly visible, “well followed” people were mostly full of polemic headlines and collective wisdom synthesized and written under their byline. They had the conference circuit down. People new to the space quickly found them and devoured the well honed morsels of information. People already in the space usually appreciated having their beliefs fed back to them, so they shared broadly.

    Somehow I didn’t see it. And when I did, I got really annoyed.

    What is going on here?

    For awhile, in frustration, I stewed. Then, slowly, I got over the anger, as I began to see the ecosystem of emergent ideas. These polemic headline snatchers with a decent story to sell were like the first wave of evangelists, ever recruiting and reinforcing belief sets. We needed them. We all needed them to expand our belief tribe! Even when they don’t get it right. Yes, even when they don’t get it right. They are like New Idea 101 for ADHD learners. Everybody needs an entry point. They need to get hooked in. And these headline snatchers were the front line of the ecosystem body, strangely attracting new people and inviting them in, one way or another, into the tribe of believers.

    Between Theory and Practice

    Part of my awareness of the headline snatchers came from meeting a different group of people. The sages, who live between theory and practice. They are visible if you proactively look for them, but they tend not to be stellar self-promoters. When you find one, you can tap into deeper wisdom and experience. They have a less polemic view. One balanced by seeing different sides of a conversation and leaning into the nuance of arguments. Being in conversation with these people is far from 101 level, you can quickly get kicked up into a graduate school seminar if you dare to try to keep up.

    You can’t really tell these people apart by which school they went to, which important organization they worked for, or which book they wrote. You can look at how polemic their voice is. A few of the nuanced practitioners have mastered writing a compelling story or headline, but mostly they are neck deep in the work. All the sages I have met with share a certain persistent humility. They may like to play with ideas, but they come from curiosity and have learned better than to pick a side too quickly. When you get tired of the headline snatchers, find a few sages to wonder with.

    Screen shot 2013-10-06 at 3.17.24 PM

    Spotting Headliners

    I may appreciate the role the headline snatchers have to play in the ecosystem, but I am trying to filter out their noise and find the sages. So here are a few clues I am learning about how to spot headline snatchers:

    • Issues are presented as if there is a clear and obvious answer, a lofty tone of condescension to any who might disagree.
    • Someone is going to be deeply offended and feel forced to respond, thus increasing visibility (and maybe, potentially leading toward nuance and depth, but often not).
    • Some pull on identity is played – asking you to choose who you are or are not, are you with us or against us?
    • Big sweeping statements aren’t framed as inquiry, they get framed as absolute truth. There is the strange scent of intimidation.

    Screen shot 2013-10-06 at 2.21.33 PM

    Finding Sages

    And how to spot a sage:

    • Sages share things as if they are as curious as you are (or more so). They express surprise and delight (rather than irritation). They “wonder” a lot.
    • Sages come from a place of humility. They give more time to listening to those around them and observing than to talking.
    • When they do talk, they share other people’s ideas, often without disclosing their personal opinion about those ideas.

    Screen shot 2013-10-06 at 2.25.39 PM

    Screen shot 2013-10-06 at 2.31.31 PM

    Screen shot 2013-10-06 at 2.25.08 PM


    Looking in the mirror, I have to wonder which I am or am afraid of being or not being. And yet, I can see across the ecosystem the importance each plays in the health of the ecosystem as a whole. Being a part of an ecosystem I believe in is what matters, whatever role I am playing today.



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