Moved by motion pictures

Peter Presenter took the advice to avoid static pictures in his next few presentations. He tried lots of different transitions between slides. He built up a diagram in stages between five different slides. He even put a few animations of clipart onto a slide, using features of PowerPoint he had never tried out before.

Peter got mixed reviews from this attempt at moving pictures. His audience did not seem especially moved by the improvement in his visuals. He realized that many of his audience members look at videos on YouTube every day. They may be expecting Peter to use his camcorder to shoot some footage that illustrates the points he is making. At the next conference, his presentation included some short videos imbedded in a few slides. The quality was not great, but no worse than most of the amateurish efforts he's seen on YouTube.

Connie attended that latest presentation and met with Peter in the afternoon after his session. She mentioned that Peter appeared to be struggling with her advice to add movement to his visuals. Connie then asked him: "What's you're assessment of videos you've seen on YouTube?" Peter went on for five minutes about how boring most of them seem, how many of the productions are lacking artistry and how most indulge one simple idea that overwork the gag to death. Connie responds: "So you were not moved by those motion pictures?"

Peter realizes that she has asked a loaded question. She's implied that he taking the idea of motion literally and creating problems for himself. She's changed the subject to the audience being moved by what they see, not their seeing something moving. Peter replies: "I not only was not moved by the motion pictures, I got the impression that the creators were stuck in dreary situations, expressing their frustrations and crying for meaningful change in their lives".

Connie pulls out a copy of Made To Stick. "Chip and Dan Heath consider stories to be flight simulators. Stories take the audience where they are going to go on their own after the presentation and walk through the experience a step at a time. The presentation is sticky because it plays with the unexpected and some tantalizing unknowns. A sticky presentation breaks the audience's guessing machine that already: assumes it already knows this, expects this to be boring and has better things to think about".

Peter realizes the few videos on YouTube that are worth watching repeatedly -- have some suspense and surprise elements. They give the impression that the video's creator is far from stuck in his or her own life. They move the audience by the movement in the story, not the motion of the camera.

Connie poses a challenge: "Is a presentation with no moving visuals guaranteed to put an audience to sleep?" Peter replies: "Only if the story the slides tell goes nowhere and the static pictures say the presenter is stuck on his ideas or at a dead end in her life."

Connie asks: "how did you get so unstuck yourself, Peter?" He replies: "It's a long story".

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Where that ends up

Jordan gets told "no" a lot. Jordan says it's a numbers game: "you win some and you lose some. You cannot win every time". That's so true for Jordan because he intends for his experience to end up that way. He expects to be told "no" a significant percentage of the time in order to be told "yes" the remainder of the times. So be it.

Jordan pays no attention to where things end up. He's all about what happens to him. Jordan does not even realize where he's coming from -- when he sees what happens to him. Jordan's mind is preoccupied with reacting, like there's no choice to create a different experience right now.

Jordan can tell you if he's been told "no" or "yes". He pays close attention to what's being said when he's asked for the order, an appointment, a date or a deal. At least he does not "space out" so badly he misses the reply to his request, question or invitation.

Jordan gets gloomy when he's been told "no" several times in a row. His friend Jane doesn't say to him: "cheer up Jordan". Jane says "See where that ends up? You're saying "yes to no" and making yourself miserable". This bewilders Jordan when he's feeling defeated, rejected and downhearted.

Jordan attended a sales seminar that told him "don't take 'no' for an answer. If the buyer makes excuses, push back until you can close the deal. Overcome the buyer's resistance with persistence". This sounded really good to Jordan. He made up his mind to say "no" to no. He would stop saying "yes" to no and end up feeling defeated.

The next time Jane saw Jordan, he told her of this change in his outlook and approach to get a "yes". She asked him: "Where does that end up?" Jordan resented Jane's question, just like he resented getting told "no" by the customers who were too stupid to buy what he's selling. "Who's side are you on Jane?" he wondered silently to himself. Jordan tries to answer Jane's question without his resentment showing: "It ends up with me being confident, determined and competitive and that's a lot better than my feeling defeated, rejected and downhearted".

Jane said: "Yes that is better and there's something even better than feeling confident, determined and competitive. Have you ever heard the adage: don't take no for an answer, take no for a question?" Jordan was bewildered again. Jane explains: "when getting told 'no' gives us a question, we can wonder about our approach, our assumptions and the effect of those on the other person. We can realize where we are coming from and where that ends up. When we receive all those benefits from being told "no", we become grateful, open minded and receptive to change".

Jordan seeks clarification from Jane. "You mean I'm going to say 'thanks I needed that' when someone tells me 'no' to my face?" Jane sees the conclusion that Jordan jumped to -- that missed her point. "Gratitude rarely comes that quickly, Jordan. Appreciation occurs after the "no" ends up showing us how to change our approach, feel differently from the start and value the 'no' as a question".Jordan gets a glimmer of how to use Jane's advice. "Where do you recommend coming from -- to end up being grateful for getting told 'no'?" Jane's eyes twinkle as she realizes Jordan has changed viewpoints. "Come from a place where you're thinking 'this is going to show me something I don't know. This is mysterious story that is unfolding in a way that I don't already know where it will end up. This will be giving me better questions no matter how it turns out'".

Jordan cracks a big smile: "So when I take their 'no' as a question, that ends up where I'm taking their 'yes' as an answer.

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When one door closes

When one door closes, you're up against a wall. The saying that "another door opens" is not true. We're trapped in a corner. There's no where to turn when a door gets shut in your face. Or so Dorrie thought until everything changed in her life.

Dorrie got totally burned out at her job. She was thinking of quitting but did not have a better place to go. She put a lot of thought into her exit strategy in order to do the right thing. She knows she can get hot-headed and impulsive if she does not take the time to think things through clearly.

While Dorrie stuck it out at her old job, things went from bad to worse. She was getting shown more disrespect. She was out of the loop on information she needed to do her job. She was viewed with more suspicion instead of the previous trust, respect and understanding she had enjoyed. This deterioration in her working conditions gave her "all the more reason" to get out of there. In a way she was glad the door to continuing in her job was getting shut in her face. She wished another door would open soon.

As things got worse, so did Dorrie's attitude, outlook and stress level. She was in no mood to make a good impression, imagine better situations or recognize an opportunity if it came along. Her attention was devoted to her reasons for leaving, not her visions for achieving.

At first, Dorrie did not realize what she was doing to herself. What she resisted, persisted. What she was sure that she lacked -- she continued to lack for sure. What she had in mind -- showed up for her to mind very closely. She was creating her experience of being up against a wall.

Then it dawned on Dorrie: she was doing all this to herself. What showed up was a mirror of what she had in mind. Her attitude, outlook and stress level were the source of things going from bad to worse, as well as the result of the deterioration.

Dorrie started opening doors in her mind and walking through them. She tried walking through walls and that worked too. That changed her questions to wonder what she really wants, where she wants to be and how she wants to be valuable to others. Before she knew it, all that became clear in her mind. She saw herself in a great situation and felt how delightful it is to be there.

She realized she had acquired lots of mental practice with the adage: "when one door closes, another opens". She'd been through so many open doors she expected it as something that happens all the time, occurs naturally and shows up whenever anyone is ready. The perfect opportunity came along the next day. She went for it and smiles a lot nowadays.

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Time for a change

Ben was a big success. This was no time for a change. Ben had customers to serve, reputations to maintain and obligations to meet. Any misgivings he felt were getting dismissed by him. Any sense that "it didn't feel right to continue as is" -- were added to his "circular file".

Ben knows about "creative destruction" and the "innovator's dilemma". He's aware that successes fail by "trying harder" and "sticking to their guns" when circumstances change the rules. Ben knows that none of that applies to his current success because he's still succeeding.

Ben practices an "attitude of gratitude". He knows the power of positive thinking and has proven that things do increase when he appreciates them. Ben finds the "Law of Attraction" to work for him too. He thinks about succeeding until it feels real and attracts some evidence of what he's "believing in receiving". He takes responsibility for his success as if he created it.

Ben is wary of becoming over-idealistic. He has had "his bubble burst" in the past. He knows that his over-optimism will be met with cynicism and every sunny side of life has a shadow to integrate. Ben is confident that his approach is realistic. His success has its ups and downs, its good days and bad. He's dealing with "what is" when he deals with all those customers to serve, reputations to maintain and obligations to meet.

All hell broke loose one day. Two different customers morphed into monsters. A trusted ally stabbed him in the back. A long term commitment was broken by a reliable supplier. His own "attitude of gratitude" vanished. He wondered if the eruption of his fears, grudges and bitterness was attracting more misery. He knew if he did not turn his outlook around quickly, he would have more hell to pay: by his bad karma, the Law of Attraction, asking for trouble or "believing in receiving" negative experiences.

He realized he could only be grateful if it was time for a change. He could appreciate the setback if he had been turning his back on the gentler indicators of his next step. He began to see how his misgivings were telling him something he had ignored. When it did not feel right to persist without question, he had not questioned his persistence.

Ben got to a place where the "outbreak of hell" was a lesson to learn from. He did not need to resist it, fight it or oppose it like a warrior. He needed to get it, let it in and be changed by it -- like the trusting protege of a mentor. When he really got it, he changed his story -- and that's a whole new story.


No more Mr. Nice Guy

Once there was a Mr. Nice Guy who said "No more!". He'd had enough of his confidences being betrayed, his generosity being exploited and his life getting over-committed. He realized he needed to set some healthy boundaries. It was time to say "No" and be Mr. Tough Guy. He could no longer please other people without pleasing himself first. He needed to feel better about himself and what he was getting accomplished.

Being "Mr. Tough Guy" worked for awhile. With more structure in his life, he got more done. With fewer distractions, he stayed more focused. With greater determination, he moved faster toward his goals. With fewer entanglements that hurt his feelings, he spent less time processing painful setbacks and questioning his people-pleasing decisions.

It wasn't long before Mr. Tough Guy started getting hassled by people that loved him, cared for him deeply and enjoyed how well he related to them. They said he had turned into a cold machine. They claimed he was putting distance into their relationships. They were convinced he was turning into a "one track mind" that sacrificed everything to get a job done. They saw him trashing his creativity and playfulness in order to not get hurt, stepped on or betrayed again.

Mr. Tough Guy took all this feedback the wrong way. All he could hear was "go back to being Mr. Nice Guy". It appeared to him that his favorite people wanted a "people-pleaser" to take as their hostage. They only pressured him to sacrifice for them, not for the things he wanted to accomplish. He felt misunderstood and falsely accused by people that he thought had cared enough about him to get where he was coming from.

It made no sense why everyone was not thrilled with his new focus, progress and results. He could not figure out why all the drama in his life appeared so inescapable. He was bewildered by the persistent attempts of people to control his life instead of giving him the freedom, trust, respect and unconditional love he deserved.

He then saw a bumper sticker on a car as he drove home last week. It said: "Remember the 4 C's". Given how he was feeling, he figured the 4 C's were captivity, cruelty, corruption and crime. He called the phone number on the bumper sticker later that evening. He got a pre-recorded message that said:

"When you're on your own, the 4 C's are Creativity, Courage, Confidence and Compassion. When you're together, the 4 C's are Communication, Coordination, Cooperation, and Commitment. Forget heroics. Forget being a doormat. Be the best you can be while getting it done together".

He realized he had gone from doormat to heroics. He had a ways to go yet. He gave himself high marks for his creativity, courage and confidence. He realized he would be a better team player if he had stopped being "Mr. Nice Guy". He knew he was on the right track to become Mr. Tough Guy.

Today he realized his goals have changed. He's becoming a solid team player and collaborator. Everything he's doing to toughen up and tighten his self discipline is valuable. Everything he's going to do communicate, coordinate, cooperate and commit will seal the deal with anyone that plays his new game. People that want to take him hostage will fall by the wayside. People that get where he's coming from will be coming from the same place. His life suddenly got a lot easier.


Peter Presenter's pickle

Peter Presenter is in a real pickle. He recently gave a presentation at the GAG Conference 2007 (Griefers and Gankers). His Powerpoint presentation has lots of slides with great illustrations, photos and clip art. He knows his material well enough to speak extemporaneously. You won't catch him reading his slides or looking down at a script. He makes eye contact with his audience and usually gets high ratings at other conferences.

During his presentation at the GAG conference, one of the griefers in the audience yelled out "BORING!". A moment after Peter's favorite slide came up on the screen, another griefer called out: "You Suck!" A ganker stole everyone's attention for a second by saying "Don't tell us, SHOW us!" Another griefer said in a loud voice at the end of Peter's talk, "I thought Peter knew his material -- but he doesn't have a clue".

Peter was devastated. He'd never endured outspoken criticism like that before. He thought of the bloggers who wrote that "digital natives are becoming digital savages". Peter could not make sense of the feedback or learn from the experience. All Peter could do is pout.

On the flight back, Peter ordered two little bottles of vodka from the flight attendant to drown his sorrows. "What's a pity party without some booze" he thought to himself. Peter was so self-absorbed he failed to notice the other passenger in his row. While he waited for his drinks, Peter lowered his tray table and grabbed the in-flight magazine to take his mind off his troubles. He was startled when he heard someone say "Hello Mr. Presenter, I saw your talk at the GAG conference and liked it".

Peter looked up and saw a distinguished woman looking right at him from the aisle seat. She was no griefer or ganker. "My name is Connie. I heard the feedback you got during your presentation. You look like you were hurt by it, not helped". For the next ten minutes they talked about Peter's anxiety, Connie's conference expertise, learning from obnoxious feedback and her own experiences with griefers.

When his drinks arrived, Peter put the little bottles in his pocket and drank the mixer on ice. His anxiety was already lowered by Connie's outlook. He realized he had a lot to learn from her. He decided to ask her point blank: "What did that ganker mean by "don't tell us, show us"? I thought my slides were helping the audience picture, visualize and relate to my presentation!" Connie appeared delighted by his question. She immediately launched into her big explanation about slides.
Most slides show static pictures that say the idea is going nowhere. Some slides transition into the next slide or build up a diagram in stages. Those sequences of slides say the idea involves movement. Some slides put that movement into a context where the change will encounter pitfalls, obstacles and griefers. Some slides go as far as to tell a picture story where all I've described comes together beautifully.

When griefers say something is boring, they mean there's no suspense, movement or adversarial context. The audience has been given nothing to wonder about, care about or identify with. When griefers say a speaker is clueless, they mean there's no understanding of the talk for people who are going to use it with difficulty and deal with opponents to it.

If you think of knowledge as a network, all this may fall into place. Static slides are nodes with no connections. Sequenced slides provide links between nodes that show cause and effect, stages in a progression or advancements made possible by the new nodes. Context slides show the networked understanding interfacing with other networks beyond its boundary that may be supportive and collaborative, or incompatible and antagonistic. Story slides reveal the underlying rules of the network that generate the nodes and links. An example of a generative rule is "when the learner is ready, the teacher will come" or "when curiosity formulates a new question, the network assimilates new nodes and links".
Peter's mind suddenly spawned many new connections. "In my life story, the griefers gave me questions about my own approach, which made me ready to learn, which brought about your input, which gave me ways to change my approach". It then hit him: "Those griefers were speaking up in favor of authentic learning. Now I get it! They want pictures of movement, raw materials to form networks and stories of all these nodes, links and interfaces coming together".

Connie smiled. "All this comes down to one thing: next time tell a story".


Free flying song birds

Yesterday Kevin Roberts added a post to his blog: How to surf the Attraction Economy. (thanks for Mike Sansone for the link). Roberts is CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi. I've not read any of his books, so the ideas in his post are new to me. What he's saying about the future of marketing/advertising applies to eLearning as well. His propositions "shook my cognitive tree" about the digital natives, The Long Tail, pulling for the learner, free range chickens and the role of storytelling in the emerging economy. He even explained his forecast with a taxonomy! Yesterday was a big day for my "finding it in my blog reader"!Roberts implies that literacy is changing from print to sight, sound and motion (sisomo). The message is lost if it's not in a story. The message is forgotten if it's not something people want to watch over and over.

Roberts sees a progression from products to trademarks, trademarks to brands. brands to Lovemarks. Consumers are more creative and passionate about their purchases. When the provider combines love and respect for the consumer, the positive effects are staggering. Pulling off that combination requires a significant loss: no ego and no silos of expertise.

The Long Tail model emphasizes small affinity groups "finding" a match to their unique needs of the moment and preferences. Roberts sees that model misses out on how much "sharing of their finds" is occurring. The find is small but the sharing is big. This gives an added to dimension to the ways that learning can become viral and benefit from network effects.

Rather than picturing the learners feeding on a free range, Roberts has inspired a new picture. Imagine the learners are song birds. Rather than feeding on "content" to survive, they are singing as they thrive. They are soaring with the feeling of being loved and respected. Their passion is uncontainable. They are sharing their joy by singing exuberantly. They are a moving picture of sights, sounds and emotion. Let see if eLearning can play along with that invitation.


Changing our story

We mean something different about the idea of "stories" when we've changed our story. We didn't get told a story. We've been living inside a story we tell ourselves. People call this a "life changing experience". I find it's the most valuable kind of learning experience I can create for others and myself.

Therapists describe this as a "change at a cosmological level of meaning". This is deeper than a change of habit, attitude or explanation. This revises the meaning of life. The "facts of life" are transformed. The world seems different somehow. Feelings have changed about oneself, others and past histories.

I find it helpful to see us living inside stories -- that we can step out of anytime. Parents put us inside their story, which early on gives us an identity and meaning to our lives. Their story usually feels too confining during adolescence and a rebellion ensues. A new story is discovered that defies the imposed parental narrative. When adults continue to live inside their parents' story, these adult-children act out anger, stifle their feelings, suffer from bad decisions and fail to find satisfaction in accomplishments. The parental story suffocates the lives that are meant to be lived.

Many adults I know live inside victim stories. They thrive on self-pity and live in their past. Other acquaintances live inside conquest stories. They thrive on winning at other's expense and living in the future where their goals and ambitions reside. Both are stories that are meant to be left behind.

Inside a confining story, we tell ourselves a story about life. We say "it has to be this way", "all is not possible", "change is unrealistic" or "this is my fate, destiny and luck". We argue in favor of limitations. We box ourselves in with restrictive beliefs.

When we've gone through a life-changing experience, we tell ourselves a different story about life. We say "people change", "it doesn't have to be this way", "we create our destiny" and "we can accomplish what we set our mind on". We experience leaving an old story and entering a new one.

We then see how our lives were the product of the story we told ourselves. We didn't tell a story about what happened. What happened told the story about what we had limited ourselves to endure.


Positioning our blogs as valuable

Chris Cree created a wonderful post to wake us to our use of the words "blog", "blogging" and "blogger". He suggests that we are plagued by "that goofy word thing" among people who don't blog. That's too much fun for me to resist -- as I imagine talking with people I know who don't comprehend what blogging is:
"Tom, I didn't know you were into some kind of medieval torture? Do you take turns blogging each other or does one person get blogged by everyone? How long have you been folk dancing? I've never seen you in wooden shoes or hear you mention you're a blogger before now. Isn't a blogsphere that big round thing the plumber brings to the house every time somebody blogs the drain pipe? Did you read where foods high in transfats blog the arteries with little bloggers that increase the chances of a heart attack?"
When we want to be understood or positioned as valuable in other's eyes, we need to consider the customers' frames of reference. Chris suggests other ways to describe what we are doing without using those "B" words. Of course his recommendations tie into this ongoing taxonomy of blogs I'm developing.

Technorati rankings: Quantity is crucial when quality is superficial. When we have no close friends, we impress others (and ourselves) with how many so-called friends we have. Technorati counts the number of links to a blog and the number of bloggers who "Favorite" that blog.

Archive size and search stats: Quality products and services segment the market and serve a smaller niche. The quantity metrics mislead the buyer who is searching for expertise. Google analytics (and other) stats that measure archive searches reveal the value of a blog's expertise.

Comment and Trackback Stats: Our customers, subscribers and fan base don't care how much we know until they know how much we care. That show of concern comes through comments we give/get and trackbacks from links and quotes we give/get.

Google page ranking: When our impact extends beyond the blogosphere, our presence while show up in more places. Google searches will find where else we get mentioned and are making a difference. How high our links rank on a particular search page measures our contribution to changes in the world.

With these different metrics in mind, we can discern how we have positioned our own blogs to be valuable. We can change our approach to be more valuable by rethinking which ways we measure our success and count our blessings.

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Games and stories

At the Game Developer Conference this month, a study was released about the immersive quality of games. Researchers at the University of Helsinki found that "Role Engagement" had far more influence than seven other factors in game immersion. They define role engagement as:

captivated and enclosed into the role provided by the storyline or narrative

Role Engagement scored 19.65, compared to 6.69 for the next biggest factor: Attention. These findings say Brent Schlenker is right to advocate David Shaffer's approach to epistemic games. It also validates what I wrote about Shaffer's conceptual framework:

Rather than use the concept of "epistemic games", his message would come
across more clearly if he used concepts like: assuming a complete identity,
facing the interpersonal challenges of professional conduct, deploying a new
skillset within a politicized context or playing the part of a street smart

None of this comes as any surprise to Clark Quinn, Mark Oehlert, Karl Kapp or anyone adding to the thinking about Serious Games. It reinforces the use of the power of storytelling in informal learning that Ray Sims is exploring.

In A Theory of Fun, Raph Koster argues very insightfully that games are NOT stories (p.88):

  • Games tend to be experiential teaching. Stories teach vicariously
  • Games are good at objectification. Stories are good at empathy
  • Games tend to quantize, reduce and classify. Stories tend to blur, deepen and make subtle distinctions
  • Games are external - they are about people's actions. Stories (good ones anyway) are internal - they are about people's emotions and thoughts.
One way I've resolved this in my mind is to put the emphasis on role identification. Becoming the protagonist in a scenario, identifying with the avatar's role, playing the part -- finds the middle ground between story and game. Perhaps it even becomes a synthesis or convergence - the best of both vehicles.

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What story doctors do

Hollywood executives reject most stories that come across their desks. Screenwriters have the same problem as creators of business and instructional narratives. Their stories are boring. Screenwriters get sent away to do rewrites. Some call in story doctors to help them "fix their script". Here's a cursory look at what those story doctors do to access the power of storytelling.

No identification with the lead character(s): The viewers cannot take the journey through the eyes of the protagonists. The audience is left behind as bystanders until they can empathize with the hero/heroine/anti-hero, feel their pain, care about the desired outcome, fear the same dangers, and value the sporadic progress.

Empty promises: The ending fails to deliver on the expectations created from the start. The climax is a let-down or a betrayal. The audience does not feel rewarded until the plot includes a big enough twist or a sufficiently dramatic conclusion to bring closure to the issues raised.

Doors left wide open: The protagonist finds "easy outs" to avoid his/her destiny. The audience feels manipulated until the character's fate is sealed and the suspense is heightened -- by the character realizing there is "nowhere to turn but within".

See it coming: The plot is too predictable, unfolding according to plan or getting a straight shot at the goal. The audience feels over-confident until they are setup to expect one thing and faced with a surprise or they are presuming they know it all and then find there's a gap in their understanding.

The hook comes up empty: Fishing for the audience's commitment fails to catch their curiosity. The viewers stare in disbelief until they get hooked by a luring discrepancy or baited by an unsuspecting character asking for trouble.

Crap shoot of random consequences
: The world the characters live in -- has no rules to live by or ways to succeed. The audience will feel hopeless until there's evidence of causal relationships between events or games to "play for keeps" in this world.

Absurd coincidences: The story seems laughable and ridiculous. The audience will scoff at the story until there is foreshadowing and payoffs or revealing clues and satisfying conclusions.

Shallow characters: The characters have no credible reasons to react the way they do. The audience will find the story incredible until characters reveal their back stories through conflicts or personal dilemmas.

When a story gets scrutinized and transformed in these ways (and many others) the audience becomes fully engaged. The boring narrative becomes a spellbinding story that sinks in deeply and changes their outlooks.


Bring in the power of storytelling

Item 20 on Ray Sims's "What to do on behalf of informal learning?" is "Bring in the power of storytelling". Ray has begun to cover the many uses of storytelling. I'll add to that with some insights into the POWER of storytelling.

Archetypal: When we approach a life challenge like a hero/heroine, we invoke a rich tradition and archetypal dimensions to our fate. We tap into the vast realms of mythology, fairy tales and dream symbolism. We bring our unique inflection to the eternal pattern of heroism, We are leaving the familiar by crossing a threshold like others before us. Our encounters with antagonists heighten our role as a protagonist. The temptations to abandon our calling remind us of characters in other stories.

Symbolic: When we become immersed in stories, we suspend our rejection of fantasy. "Once upon a time" transcends the slow march of time and practicalities of living. We enter into a timeless realm where small incidents have great significance. We feel like we are being given lessons with pictures and symbolism. Things happen for profound reasons. The conflicts between characters are larger than life.

Emotional: When a story stays with us, the plot got to us. The character tensions evoked moods and stirred our emotions. We left the realm of rational reasoning and logical constructs. Vividly portrayed scenes prove to be unforgettable. We can picture that situation over and over again. The incident in the story comes to mind in other situations. We feel guided and comforted in our own trials and tribulations.

Fateful: When a story sees every character's life as an unfolding story, it speaks to the truth of our lives. The arc of each character reflects an underlying truth of how we grow up through adversity. The tale resonates with a deep sense of why we are here and what we are doing by being alive.

When stories invoke these kinds of power, insights and changes happen without getting taught. Informal learning replaces formal instruction. Realizations dawn on the minds of the listeners or viewers. The story invokes hidden potentials for growing, changing, learning and creating.

Blogs defy categorization

Both Roger von Oech and David Armano added postings to their blogs last week about my taxonomy of different blogs (Thanks!). As I've read the comments both received on their posts, a dominant theme has emerged: blogs defy categorization. Nearly everyone is seeing how they experience several different motivations and blend the different value propositions. Using the taxonomy to "put their blog in a box" is not working.

I mentioned how I prefer to use taxonomies as "learning curves" which value each kind as a stage of growth and passing phase. The feedback I'm learning from suggests this is also too confining to capture what's really occurring for us active bloggers. Here's some alternative ways to appreciate the process and benefits of blogging that transcend any taxonomies, categories or learning curves:

What if blogs are better understood with chaos theory? What if another blogger's posting and the blogger's own personal experiences function as strange attractors that organize the field of diverse blogs into temporary patterns. What if one posting has a "butterfly effect" that transforms the next several postings on any number of blogs? What if the blogger's mind goes "far from equilibrium" to self-organize a new posting or comment on another's blog?

What if blog postings are emergent outcomes? What if we don't make blogs happen, they simply happen to us and through us? What if our blogs are really out of our control? What if blogs are co-created with every other blogger interdependently? What if the boundaries between blogs are illusions? What if blog postings come about synergistically: by the countless interaction effects between all the blogs we subscribe to and read (and blogs that link to those). What if blogs are fallout (side effects, unintended consequences) from intentional processes of thinking and writing?

What if blogs come about naturally? What if our blogs have a robust, healthy life of their own? What if blogging is organically ingesting and digesting other blogs to create new cells, growth and movement? What if blogs grow from seeds and ultimately flower when cross pollinated sufficiently? What if blogs have an immune response to repel toxic content and fortify their defenses against destructive influences?

What if blogs prosper amidst innocence? What if our best blogging comes out of not-knowing what blogs are? What if blogging is about the questions we are playing with, rather than the knowledge we are sharing? What if it works to be unfamiliar with blogging because it defeats the purpose to become too familiar? What if blogging is extremely sensitive to analysis paralysis (writer's block, creative constipation) and requires an empty mind for inspirations to come to mind?

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Questions before blogging

What were you thinking when you added that to your blog? Where were you coming from when you wrote that post? What did you have in mind when you got the idea to compose that? -- These are questions about the questions we ask ourselves while blogging.

Different questions yield different outcomes. Yet another way to understand the differences between blogs (and between blog postings) is by the questions inherent in whatever approach we take. When we change our questions, our blog changes accordingly.

What can I say today? - When all we're thinking about is what to say, the value of our words will be insignificant. We are showing off to get attention or relief of some kind. We are implicitly self-absorbed and insensitive to others.

How can I help others today? - When we think about caring for others, we will write different words. We will wonder about how to offer a better perspective, lower other's anxiety, offer a different solution or save others the trouble of a long search for answers.

Where can I jump in today? - When we see blogs as intangible conversation threads, we wonder how to contribute. We realize what has not been said, what needs clarification, what others are not seeing yet and what direction the dialogue could be headed.

What can this blog do to help? - When we use our blogs to make changes in the world, we put the blog to constructive use outside the blogosphere. We wonder how the blog can help formulate a consensus, build a constituency, gain support for a change or facilitate a complex decision.

The first three questions are enamored with blogging tools. They have us under their spell online. The fourth question turns things around so we are tooling around. Instead of being beholden to the tool, we put the tool to our uses in the real world. The value of blogging is increased exponentially when its premise is reversed like that.

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Evolutionary blogging

There are several different ways to think about any taxonomy. When taxonomies are used with categorical reasoning, they are used to label people. This usually has the effect of starting wars, arguments and conflicts. Labeling puts people in boxes instead of framing them in growth processes. Describing a taxonomy has this effect until the labels are understood enough to see the growth processes between them.

My post yesterday -- that added three transitional forms to the taxonomy of blogs -- reveals my favored approach. I've found that each of my many taxonomies in this blog work best as "learning curves". They offer a map for the movement between initial and highly evolved stages of development. The taxonomy gets used to see the value in each stage and the challenges involved with growing into the next phase. Here's the way I see each kind of blog supporting a phase of personal growth:

Silenced -> voice: Controls freaks and conformity pressures have a silencing effect on us. We lose our outspoken voice, awareness of what we're feeling and permission to be our unique selves. While silenced, we presume that we have nothing to say or that we dare not speak up. We outgrow being silenced by finding our courage and self confidence. We get in touch with what we are feeling, what we really want and how we really see things. We transition from "saying nothing" to "saying anything". Distraction blogs, with their socially insignificant archives, are a perfect vehicle for this personal growth.

Illegitimate -> Legitimacy: The next phase of development cultivates "having something to say". We search for content that is valued by our world. We want to say things that are useful, significant and valid in other people's experience. We may venture into this legitimacy by sharing links and quoting news items. We move from purely subjective self-expressions to more objective solutions, methods and analyses. We morph from being loud-mouthed to gaining respect as an authority. We adopt the role of an author and knowledgeable expert. Archive blogs with their persistently useful archive provide a wonderful means to this end.

Aloof -> Interactive: Having a lot to say may come across as distant and controlling. The words "talk at" our audience rather than "talk with" them. Our expertise becomes over-bearing. We need to soften our voice and see other points of view. We transition from a "sage on stage" to a "guide on the side" that serves others' journeys and self realizations. We may tentatively explore this development by making "fan club" comments on other's blogs. When we become fully engaged in others' thinking, our minds go through remarkable changes. Conversations have transformational effects on our identity, perceptions of others and ways to make a difference in the world. We interact with other outlooks in ways that "burst our bubbles" and expose our shortcomings. We learn a staggering amount of insights and perspectives that differ from our own expertise and subjective awareness. Conversation blogs prove to be an ideal vehicle for joining this larger community.

Abstract -> Actionable: This final phase of personal growth gets down to the business of changing the world. We get our bearings in the panorama of conceptual possibilities before venturing out into the dysfunctional systems. We may cross this threshold by reporting on incidents in the world and alerting others to actual changes. By previously developing a deeper sense of the challenges in abstract, we now handle them competently when they get in our way. Rather than get stuck in the idea stage of idle speculations, we enter the entrepreneurial phase of strategy formulations. We launch ventures, experiments and prototypes to discover what works, endures and catches on. We engage others in projects and collaborations that get results and meet objectives. Democratic blogs contribute to the ways that things get done among us as we create a better future.

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Three transitional forms of blogs

Ray Sims is another "thought leader in my blog reader". As he pondered my Four value propositions post, he struggled with how to categorize blog postings full of links or news tidbits. They do not fit the Archive or the Distraction categories. Ray said:

A potential fifth category is the "link blog" that primarily passes along "quick links" (as some call them) without any deep analysis. Or, perhaps "news blog" would be a more generous category label. I tried to get myself to say these fit within Archive; however, the level of original thought (low for link blog) and long term value (again low) seems to separate them into something else yet.

As I developed this taxonomy, I briefly considered transitional forms between each of the four types of blogs. Ray has inspired me to spell those out in detail.

Links Summaries: Blog postings full of links and news items are more valuable to others than the "cathartic process of relief" offered by Distraction Blogs. They are usually not as valuable as the archives of an expert. The value proposition is less permanent than the tangible value of a product. It does take some expertise to assemble the link summaries or news items, like an editor or a maven. But the content is perishable like the predecessor forms of self indulgence.

Fan club comments: Archive blogs tend to share expertise without the professional growing from all the writing. It's easy to generate posts for the archive because the material has been expressed in other venues previously. An intermediate form of blogging often occurs where the expert's posts get incidental praise and validation or personal remarks: "Great post!", "This helps a lot!" "Welcome back from Mexico!" or "Say hi to your kids for me". These "fan club comments" put the "guru" on a pedestal and look up to him or her. They offer adulation rather than eye-to-eye conversations. They introduce a glimpse of relating, reciprocating and growing interactively without getting into the Conversation type of blog full bore.

On site Blogs: There are US soldiers blogging from inside Iraq. There are political activists blogging from the sites of demonstrations and interventions. There are citizen journalists reporting news first hand -- from the scene of crimes, politicians off camera or grass roots meetings. These bloggers also function as watchdogs, whistleblowers and fact checkers. All this reporting is proto-democratic. It harbors the last vestiges of elitism and privileged access. It's the free press that enables democratic processes of decision-making and change. It does not function as every citizen's right to speak, vote and organize movements. It comes before that and makes democratic action possible.

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Four value propositions of blogs

This taxonomy of different kinds of blogs has helped me understand how my own two blogs fit into the blogosphere, and why certain blogs appeal to me more than others. It partly explains why some blogs or particular postings get more comments than others. I've previously considered how blogging is always creating value in one way or another. In this post, I explore how the value of blogs varies by initial premise or offer.

Distraction blogs:
The vast majority of blogs are of very little value for those of us looking for useful information. These bloggers are denigrated by journalists as "a million people in pajamas" because the blogs offer no apparent value to society. Business executives who are feeling pressured to "listen to their market" find these blog postings to be "mindless drivel". The value of these blogs is widely misunderstood. The difference they make is highly perishable, lasting for only a few moments. The archive is almost useless and rarely searched by visitors. The value is in the process of expressing oneself, getting a reaction from a friend or working out an unresolved issue by writing. The product is incidental to this very personal process. These blogs are launched and abandoned frivilously, contributing to the massive number that have not been updated in the last 3 months.

Archive blogs: Other blogs build up a very useful archive for visitors. The blog is a product with tangible value for those needing advice, solutions, alternative strategies and action plans for their troublesome situation. The categories are valuable and the expertise shared is exceptional. The search engine is used often to find particular information. The blogrolls link to similar experts contributing to this shared database of useful information. Typepad features a blog every day of the year that usually fits this category. The subscribers and visitors to an Archive blog have very practical interests. They prefer bloggers who are clearly knowledgeable, well read, and experienced in their field. The readers are also significantly qualified to make use of the expert information. These blogs are contributing to a gift economy.

Conversation blogs: These blogs join into numerous discussion threads in the abstract.The value is intangible. The conversation cannot be reviewed like in a chat transcript or threads on listservs that aggregate the contributors. It's possible to map the conversations (as Ray Sims has considered doing) by following the links in each post to other blogs, but the emphasis is not on the product or archive. The process of blogging is transformational for those bloggers that jump in, think deeply about each other's posts, and quote or link to other blogs. These bloggers come together like a community of practice or an informal learning experience. The archive of a blog is mostly refered to by it author to tie new posts into previous ones. The blogroll represents those blogs where that blogger considers leaving comments or quoting in her/his own blog. The comments left on one blog spawn new posts, better understandings and more inclusive viewpoints on several other blogs. Bloggers in these conversations can pose questions that get answers or generate controversies that provoke great insights. Metaphors abound as serious topics become playful and creative exploration as the theme jumps around from one blog to another. Participation feels like an unfolding story or a fascinating journey.

Democratic blogs: Some blogs go beyond the transformative effects of conversation to impact decisions, budgets, policies, voting or legislation. The value is systemic and political. The bloggers are citizens excercising their rights. The conversations get down to the business of making changes. The bloggers belong to the same organization, district or professional association. Bad products, businesses, journalists, politicians or policies -- are exposed and routed out of their previous reputation. Citizen participation changes the culture of the school, workplace, profession or physical community that blogs together. These bloggers move out into the long tail of the delivery system and democratize the processes. Previous centralized, aristocratic, top down administrations get disenfrancised by the active participation of the governed. Voices of dissent and visionary leadership disrupt the previous stances, agendas and goals. The transition to decentralized and participatory goverance increases the buy-in, follow through and widespread initiatives that bring about changes quickly. These blogs are doing democracy.

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Different motivations for blogging

Roger von Oech recently added a comment on his blog that got me thinking:

Tom: Thanks for your comments. You do "taxonomy" well. It would be interesting to see your understanding of the various types of blogs, their communities, and their aims and uses.

"One taxonomy coming right up". Thanks for asking, Roger! Having been blogging since last August, and subscribing to 107 feeds currently, I've developed a taxonomy of four different kinds of blogs, postings, bloggers and subscribers. The next post will got into more detail. In this introduction, I'll explore our differing motivations for blogging.

Distraction blogging: Sometimes our motives are purely self indulgent. "It's all about me". We are inherently narcissistic and alarming to the observers of social media. We are driven to blog for selfish reasons by our troubled situation. Our "real life" is bringing us down or trapping us in oppressive obligations. I explored these motivations in my post about the popularity of Twitter.

Archive blogging: Sometimes we are motivated by our own expertise and continuing, passionate pursuit of those subject areas. We want to share what we know in ways that help other people. We have found our expertise functions as solutions and effective strategies in many contexts. We build up an archive of our wisdom and watch it get searched long after we wrote the postings. We offer our gifts generously and unilaterally for the good of anyone who can benefit from them.

Conversation blogging: Often our motives are reciprocal. We get by giving. Our sharing comes back around. We are growing, changing, learning and creating in the process of giving. Mutual benefits abound. Everyone involved is affected by our exchanges and collaborative explorations.

Democratic blogging: Our motives may be political and grounded in the realities of particular circumstances. By blogging, changes are occurring in the social dynamics, distribution of power and control of outcomes. We are motivated by our envisioned future and the signs of progress in that direction.

Different motives for blogging yield different impacts on the rest of us. Some blogs reflect a consistent motive while others change character often. There are some indications of bloggers evolving from base motivations to higher motives. These possible progressions lend to blogs making bigger and better differences in the world.

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A degenerate form of blogging?

Bloggers, who creates high quality postings week after week, take offense to Twitter. Stephen Downes, Roger von Oech and Kathy Sierra have all questioned the sanity of blogging every 5 minutes about what we are currently doing. To their ways of seeing, there's nothing to appreciate. Twitter looks degenerate. I'm currently incubating an inclusive taxonomy of blogs and blog subscribers. Within that framework, Twitter looks like a more perfect form of blogging for a one particular species of bloggers.

For many, perhaps most bloggers, blogging is a welcome distraction. They are blogging as an escape from a classroom, cubicle or confining relationship. Blogging alters their mood. It's an "action of distraction" that gets them out of their funk, pity party or powerless posture in the real life. Because it works like a drug, it's as addicting. The appetite for this distraction becomes insatiable. The persistence becomes desperate.

This blogger species also suffers from some kind of social isolation or alienation amidst a frenzy of demanding togetherness -- that Robert Putnam described in his book: "Bowling Alone". They have no one to confide in or call upon as a sounding board. They are starved for personal connection. The question on their lips appears to be: "is anybody out there?" When the answer comes back as fast as Twitter delivers, the feeling of isolation vanishes. Fast acting relief with no obvious side effects!

This genre of blogger also thrives on instant gratification. Patience or long attention spans are not included in this package. Email and comments on blogs are too slow - they're asynchronous! Finding out who's online for IM is tedious. When a quick fix is needed, Twitter satisfies.

This genre commits to the non-committal. They want it to be fast, superficial and stimulating. Heavy, sincere, deep or profound -- sucks royally according to their "intangible value schema". They need to stay on the move and change as fast as the technologies that define their lives. Twitter is the next new thing that glitters and catches their furtive eyes.

This kind of blogger resembles bargain shoppers who change brands constantly and abandon previous hangouts on a whim. Proprietors of night clubs, social media, and youth culture products -- learn to work with these youthful migrations of popularity or go out of business in a hurry. Of course this crowd would move beyond blogging into something more hyper, adrenal and stimulating. Their move to Twitter is the "tip of an iceberg" that reveals their shopping and recreational patterns.

These bloggers are from Mercury, not Mars, Venus or Earth. They are fleet footed. They move like quick silver. They slip in between the cracks of slower, more methodical blogging species. They are closer to the sun so the burn up or burn out faster. But they rise from the ashes quickly whenever they are toast. Game over for these bloggers means it's time to play again.

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Different kinds of ignorance

In all my experience with adult learners, there are very few occasions where formal instruction works. It's rare that an adult possesses honest ignorance that is satisfied by the transmission of content. Informal learning is more effective and appropriate because adult learners are more often unteachable, preoccupied and somewhat knowledgeable.

Adult ignorance is usually highly motivated. The desire to remain ignorant is far stronger than the desire to become knowledgeable, skillful, informed or aware. The desires differ and the motivations to remain ignorant can be categorized. When I've taught instructional design, I've used this schema to explain why the need for "training" is so often misdiagnosed and the outcomes amount to "snake oil cures" (90% zero or negative skill transfer rate). This model is also useful to see beyond the evidence of a "barrier to new concepts" and to discern the underlying motivations. With all this, it becomes possible to challenge the design premise that "delivering content will seem useful and valuable to the adult learners".

Retaliatory ignorance: Remaining ignorant is a "great way" to get even with adversaries. Not knowing something can "get their goat" or "pull their chain". Ignorance can function as payback for putdowns, stereotyping or cheap shots. Remaining in the dark can "trip up a bully and pull the rug out from a power tripper". How we've been mismanaged creates a barrier to new concepts.

Structural ignorance: Comfort zones and success routines depend on the denial of information that creates "cognitive dissonance". Any established paradigm dismisses contradictory evidence as a threat to it's consistency and validity. Pride in one's own superiority invalidates the viewpoints which see underlying insecurity and inferiority in the self righteous claims. Advisory panels succumb to groupthink to defend themselves against disruptive information or internal conflicts. These minds are closed to protect their false sense of security from "sticking to their own kind". What we already know creates a barrier to new concepts.

Ostentatious ignorance: Peer pressure often aligns with remaining ignorant. Becoming knowledgeable or competent gets framed as "selling out or kissing up". Then it pays to act clueless both for show and to avoid ostracization. Appearing stupid gains validation from the marginalized subculture of disenfranchised citizens. The incentives in the social system favor the peer validation because there are next-to-none coming from the educational delivery system. Who gives us a sense of membership creates a barrier to new concepts.

Hypnotic ignorance: Schooling, grading, parenting and classmates can give us the impression we cannot learn. We discover we are damaged. Our memory, concentration or ability to comprehend new information does not work like it should. We don't digest, internalize or assimilate what we try to learn. We have fallen under an evil spell or become captivated by an oppressive narrative. We believe what we have been told about being defective, deviant or deficient. We have internalized abuse in a way that disables our natural curiosity, creativity and connecting proclivities. How we've been framed creates a barrier to new concepts.

Honest ignorance: Sometimes we really don't know something and what to clear that up right away. We have the question and were wondering about that just now. If the information was previously available, we didn't notice it because we were not ready for it or did not need it yet. But now is the time. Our minds are like parachutes - working now that they are open. How we've been respected removes the barrier to new concepts.


Coaching new managers

The March Big Question on the Learning Circuits Blog is "What would I do to support new managers?" My own consulting practice focused on this issue 25 years ago, as well as the software I helped develop for Citicorp Italia -- to take a "coach approach to management development". The word for coach in Italian is "allentore". I was delighted to read Ray Sim's response this afternoon. His framework would be very effective in my experience: self-paced learning, coaching and community. I'll simply add some insights into the coaching phase.

This transition brings up a number of issues for the new manager:

  • Replacing the previous friendliness among coworkers with the position of authority and detachment (without becoming cold, distant or hostile).
  • Accepting the greater need to manage up, to consider the pressures on superiors and to speak their language of strategy, rival threats, long term concerns and corporate performance measures (without losing the trust, respect and open lines of communication with subordinates).
  • Letting go of "hands on" problem solving in order to work through others, delegate responsibilities and to simply organize the teamwork (without becoming an aloof recluse or an indifferent, hands-off manager).
  • Evaluating subordinate performance with objective criteria, conversations about their direct report's own self-criticisms and consideration of their differences, developmental strategies and coworker compatibility issues (not evaluating with comparisons to the manger's own performance, professional growth and personal standards).
  • Factoring in H/R concerns about policy enforcement and litigation when handling conflicts, complaints and employee demands (not escalating the conflicts or placating the employees out of anger, guilt or fear).
  • Accepting that this is a "rite of passage" that goes into limbo: where familiar situations seem strange, conversations seem difficult and one's own identity is transforming without direct control (not according to plan, 7 easy steps or fully anticipated from the start).
Understanding these (and many other) challenges raises personal issues with past history, work experiences and destructive feedback from other managers. Particular co-workers may pose problems that appear to have no solution. Attempts to appease the coach can compromise the relationship that is intended to challenge numerous preconceptions, assumptions and past practices.

The best way to work through these issues is to talk them out with the coach or kick them around with a community of practice comprised of other "managers in training".

Learning from self-betrayals

The blogosphere is an open range where we can learn from whomever we feel like. We can add or drop subscriptions on our whim and read through or delete an unread posting by our own choice. The blogosphere is also a free firing range where we can get shot down or get holes shot through our assertions. George Siemens recently mentioned (in a keynote he gave in Ohio) how Malcolm Gladwell has come under fire from bloggers who are challenging the "pop psychology" assertions he made in his most recent book: Blink.

When we are getting shot down, it's easy to feel victimized. It's not obvious what we did to deserve this or how to avoid a reoccurrence. This is a reoccurring issue with the entrepreneurs I mentor. There's a psychological explanation that offers some comfort and perspective. I call this my "perfect monster theory".

It's human nature to flip-flop from not knowing something to being a "know-it-all". We make a thing of being right even when it's not an effective strategy. We become over confident, which comes across to others as arrogant, conceited and inflated. We are asking for trouble at this stage of our understanding. The perfect monster comes along and bursts our bubble, shoots us down or humbles our self-righteousness.

When we are asking for this kind of trouble, our thinking is under-developed. We may be idealizing something or awfulizing, demonizing or catastrophizing something else. We are defending a positional stance against another -- instead of seeing how interests are shared and common ground exists. We are making ourselves right at other's expense and lacking empathy, insight and compassion for others.

If we process our monstrous experience and come to new realizations, we see our self-betrayal. We were being hypocritical and failing to walk our talk. We preached a good message without practicing what we preached. We fell for correcting others without providing the worthy example to imitate. We settled for getting the idea right without the follow through that takes action accordingly.

When we go one step further, we find gratitude for the monster: "thanks I needed that". We realize we cannot catch our own self-delusions. We need to be caught, challenged and contradicted -- to uncover errors in our assertions. The blogosphere looks like a wonderful place for working through our self-betrayals. It's crawling with perfect monsters!


Pulling for the creatives

Very creative people don't fit into push systems. Managers either learn to pull for them or lose them. If a creative person's manager thinks s/he is difficult to manage, the manager continues to be a pusher. The manager fails to learn from his/her mistaken approach to bring out the best in the creatives. Last week I ran across two examples of people in control choosing to pull for the creatives.

On the occasion of his 100th blog posting, Roger von Oech interviewed David Armano, the high profile blogger of Logic + Emotion. David told the story of realizing how to pull for the creatives in their advertising agency. By learning from his own mistakes, he creates a context where learning and growing thrives on mistakes, misunderstandings and missteps:
RvO: What are the two biggest mistakes you’ve made in your profession?

DA: Not giving my teams enough “space,” and not managing peer relationships effectively. An effective creative director should excel as a facilitator. I wasn’t very good at this early on in my career and I’ve had to work on it. The mistake I made was using my teams as a production crew to execute my own ideas vs. cultivating an environment where they could come up with the idea while I helped refine them. I’ve learned that though project success is important—it’s also just as important that your team grow during the project. I have a better track record of managing both down and up vs. sideways. However, if you want to have influence your organization, you need to manage at all three levels. I’ve learned this throughout my career, but still find it doesn’t come naturally for me. So it’s a work in progress.

I watched the DVD of 25th Hour last week with the Director Commentary turned on. Spike Lee (director) mentioned that Edward Norton (lead actor) has developed a reputation in Hollywood for being difficult to work with. Spike Lee sees Norton as intensely creative and easy to work with. During the two weeks of rehearsal prior to shooting, he gives Norton countless opportunities to add his input. They discuss the different ways to play the character, deliver the underlying message, be true to the story and play off the other cast members effectively. In short, Spike Lee has learned to pull for the creatives when making a film.

Whenever we are giving learners control or pulling for the learners, we see the learners as creative and we pull for them. We are finding the right balance between structure and freedom or making learning more game-like, we are pulling for the creatives.


Swamp thing morphs into a meadow!

Push systems cannot pull for the learners, customers, communities or the environment. Push systems need particular kinds of people to perpetuate their pushing. They need pawns who like to be pushed (asking to be kidnapped) and some other people to do the pushing (curmudgeons).

Those of us who favor pulling -- have tried to pull for the push systems. We have given the pushers the time and space to outgrow their insistence on doing harm. We've supported their coming to realizations about the effects they're having and the other choices they could consider. We've tried our best: to not push back and to not become part of their problem.

Push systems take advantage of anyone who favors pulling, permission, participation and process. Pushers exploit our show of compassion, generosity, trust and respect. Push system get bigger at our expense -- as if size is the prize. Push systems cannot protect and defend: quality, intrinsic value, conversation or community. Push systems are aristocratic and devastating to the middle classes and political moderates. They undermine the rights of "we the people". Pushing their content, products and formal structures of command & control -- breeds more massive appetites for mass consumption and mass hysteria. Pushing brings about big problems, big consequences, big damage and big breakdowns.

As we've been finding well marked exits from the obese push systems, a heart-warming change has begun to occur. The push systems appear to be self-destructing. The established order is composting itself. The push systems have found a way to poison themselves. They are getting a taste of their own medicine. There is justice in their violation of human and environmental rights. The push systems are becoming a plague unto themselves.

Push systems breakdown when everyone on the inside becomes a pusher. There are no more pawns to be pushed around. Every transaction becomes a pushing match, an argument or a contest of wills. Trust evaporates and litigation fills in every gap. Learners, customers, and communities have begun to push back for the sake of pushing and showing off. The denizens on the inside are deeply cynical and disenchanted. They have disengaged from buying in and selling out to the machine. A consensual nightmare is being manufactured by the push systems final phase of existence. Darkness is overtaking their wicked designs on human lives and planetary ecologies.

The former pawns in the push system have become narcissistic. The once-passive players are discovering how much they can cheat without getting caught. They are testing the limits and finding the loopholes in those pervasive systems of command and control. They have become as self-centered as the machines that raised them into digital savages. These former pawns appear "anti-social and manipulative" to the push systems which are inherently anti-social and manipulative. The narcissists are playing along in school and employment -- as if it's a stupid game stuck at the entry level with no incentives for growing, changing, learning or creating.

The push systems cannot go on like this. The swamp thing will naturally be replaced by a meadow. The long-established, command & control systems will fall by the wayside. The obsolete institutions will rot into a rich top soil that nurtures the growth of the next phase of planetary, political, economic and community developments. Vibrant villages of pull systems will fill in the vacancies and flourish in the uncertain times. Quality, value creation and conversations will emerge as "the way we do things from now on". Those antiquated, aristocratic regimes and corporate governances will lose their constituencies, market share and mandate. This is simply how change comes about perfectly.


Why so many narcissists?

The narcissists I have known in person thrive on being the center of attention. They fade rapidly when someone else steals the limelight. They are never satisfied with school or jobs because their standards are too high. They express themselves like they are showing off. They delight in "unsportsman-like conduct", exploitations and retaliations that hurt others' feelings. They are terrible listeners and extremely guarded in conversations. They have no concept of what others are seeing, wanting, needing or feeling. It's always "all about them and nobody else".

Journalists have been recently using the label "narcissist" to describe bloggers who appear exhibitionist, self-centered and excessive. Higher ed blogs have linked to a new study identifying an increasing number of college students with narcissistic traits. There's even been concerns expressed by advocates of gaming and social networking that many "digital natives" are becoming "digital savages" who's self centeredness is antisocial and cruel.

This trend toward increasing numbers of narcissists runs counter to the trend I've been watching of increasing conversations, collaborations and communities forming with the bounty of new social networking tools. The growing number of narcissists raises questions about why it's occurring and how it will effect the future?

A decade ago, an entrepreneur I was coaching became immersed in the problems created by two narcissists. His girl friend, and then his oldest daughter, both became manipulative and extremely inconsiderate. I was astonished and bewildered until I researched the psychology of narcissism. Then their behavior related to their absent self-concept which resulted from how they were parented. Narcissism makes sense.

The traits and effects of narcissism are portrayed by vampire lore. Second Life has several vampire communities roaming around. I've explored that blood thirsty imagery in a post: College Vampires on my Clues to College Blues blog. Where I previously considered how faculty members can drain the lifeblood out of students, in this post I'm considering how students and employees can de-energize the machine. I'm also wondering what breeding grounds naturally increase their numbers.

Narcissism is the result of perfectionistic parenting. I could not fathom how the boomer parents of teens and twenty-somethings had become perfectionistic in vast numbers. It then dawned on me that it's not the human parents doing this damage, its the technology that has raised the younger generations.

Computers, software, game consoles, cell phones, PDA's - are all unforgiving. They demand compliance as if the tools have no tolerance, warmth or empathy. Technology acts like we don't exist beyond superficial acknowledgement and compliance with their rules. Our tools tell us how act as if there is no exceptions, deviations or self expression allowed. If you doubt that -- try pushing the wrong button, pulling down the wrong menu choice or clicking on the wrong link -- and see how understanding, attentive and supportive the technology becomes. Like so many science fiction scenarios, the machine has bred hordes of subhumans.

On the surface this looks perfectly horrible. It appears like a setup for some nightmare unleashed on the planet. In the next post I'll explore how it is perfectly useful and developmentally essential for a large scale transition toward more personal freedom, dignity and creativity.

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Playing with the problem

In his comment on Home Free at Last, Roger von Oech said:

Typically, when we play with an idea we allow ourselves to try a lot of different approaches. Often, that means eliminating constraints. However, I think that a very liberating form of play is to add a constraint or two to the situation. As Frank Lloyd Wright repeatedly told his students: "Limits are an artist's best friend."

I think it can be argued that the product of almost every activity can be made more creative by adding constraints. If you're a photographer, you're only allowed to take photos between 3:15 and 3:30 PM for the next week. What does that do to your eye? If you're a cook, you can't use more than 20 grams of any ingredient, etc.

Roger reveals how constraints are valuable in the creative process. In this context, there's a breakdown when there is too much freedom, eliminated constraints or unbounded possibilities. The freedom overwhelms the creativity. Unconstrained freedom is the opposite of overwhelming constraints that I implied in the phrase "massive machine for the manufacture of controlled content" and I explained in Getting Creative.

When we are too constrained, we want too much freedom. That's the problematic nature of finding an exit and getting out of the box that Roger is wisely alerting us to consider. It's seeking freedom from constraints, rather than freedom within constraints. Yet, going to the opposite extreme is one of the ways that changes come about.

When we are too free, we want constraints. By going to an extreme, we are provoked to seek the middle ground where we experience the best of both: freedom and constraints. In this center, it feels like we are playing with the problem. The seriousness of overwhelming constraints is gone as well as the lunacy of an unfettered imagination. As Roger notes, constraints have a wonderful effect on creativity. It brings out the best of possibilities, quickens the mind, hastens the inspiration and heightens the synthesis of the opposing interests.

The early development (1966-75) of artificial intelligence (AI) dealt with too many possibilities to consider. Programming a computer to play chess involved too many options for "the bishop's third move". Ways were developed to "organize a tour of the solution space". Heuristics are reliable shortcuts that reliably consider a limited range of alternatives, rather than every possible option. This idea of "touring the solution space" spawned the playful metaphors in "The Universal Traveler -- a soft systems guide to creative problem solving and the process of reaching goals" (Koberg & Bagnall, 1973, 2003).

Christopher Alexander's pattern languages also organize the field of infinite possibilities. Unlike constraints that force the designer/problem solver to get creative, patterns constrain the functional use made designed solutions. Patterns focus on the users -- as Kathy Sierra champions us to do.

I find the essential role of "incubation" to be missing in all I've just said about constraints. There is a time to cook the problem and a time to give it a rest. There's a time to use techniques and added constraints, and a time to give it over to the subconscious to resolve. As with anything, there can be too much "waiting for an inspiration" that fails to "stoke the intuition with the problem "and "work the mind into a focused frenzy" first.

So there is a middle ground between overwhelming constraints and excessive freedom. There is another middle ground between an effective use of constraints and getting inspirations out of the blue (via emptiness, innocence, letting go or not knowing). Combining two balancing acts creates a mandala, medicine wheel or whole understanding.