What this wants to be?

The late architect, Louis I. Kahn, developed inspiring designs by asking himself the question: "What does this want to be?". I learned this question when studying to become an architect 35 years ago. I've been asking myself this question every since.

Questioning what something wants to be has been compared to the creative work of stone carvers. Rather than make something out of marble, they envision what is trapped inside the marble, waiting to be released. Sculptors understand their process as cutting away the excess material to reveal the beauty within the block of stone. They serve the material they work with, rather than impose their creativity upon it. This humility and emptiness gives them access to transcendent possibilities.

When we wonder what something wants to be, we're expecting processes to unfold. We're applying metaphors of growth, organisms and ecologies. We are tuning into changes that are in the offing. We're intending to work with what is emerging and transforming naturally. Our head is in a very good place to support what is changing.

"What this wants to be?" cannot be answered logically. Our rational thought processes answer "What is this?" with our analytical objectivity. "What this wants to be?" calls for intuitive subjectivity. We need to switch from left to right brain processes and from linear to discursive thinking. We will then wonder without knowing. We can observe without categorizing. We will open to receive inspirations without overruling unforeseen possibilities.

While I've been blogging for the past year, I've been applying this question to many aspects of our online world:
  • What do RSS, subscriptions, blogging, wiki and Google docs want to be?
  • What do Second Life and online games want to be?
  • What do social networking, folksonomy tagging and shared content want to be?
  • What do F2F encounters want to be now that we have networks of conversations online?
One strategy I've been deploying, to answer these questions, is to read far outside the field of relevant expertise. Recently I've read a history of freight trains and the rail networks that expanded with their success. Last week I read a 1000 page novel set in the 12th century (A Pillar of Earth- Ken Follett.) I was immersed in the dynamics of a "long tail" of monasteries, villages with distant monarchs. I'm currently reading an overview of Anasazi culture in the desert southwestern US that disappeared after six centuries of elaborate lifestyles.

This divergent reading renders our familiar technologies as unfamiliar, and unrelated phases of history as amazingly similar. The parallels and contrasts with our circumstances induce new realizations. The sense of "what this wants to be" comes about by seeing the question in a new light.


Empowering conversations

Yesterday, both Steve Roesler and Pete Reilly proposed change processes that involve what I call "empowering conversations". Changes become more likely to endure when the individuals involved have been reminded of their power. It appears to be human nature to become dis-empowered, especially in the contexts of coercion, compliance or conformity. This creates endless opportunities for us to empower people. When we respond this way, we are not giving people power they do not already have. We simply put them in touch with power they are overlooking.

I attended a Thanksgiving dinner this year with 30 people, where only 3 were relatives of mine. I had several opportunities to conduct empowering conversations with people around the two tables. Most of the people attended a concert last night, where I saw the lingering effects of how I talked with them last week. It was a wonderful reminder for me of how much difference it makes to empower others.

There are many ways to empower people that you can fine tune as you try them out:
  • Giving people permission to deviate from the norm. Most get boxed in by the standards of conformity and lose sight of their freedom to be different.
  • Reminding people of their greatness. Most people focus on how they have been criticized, negatively compared to others and labeled as inadequate.
  • Showing people their hidden choices. Most see the obvious alternatives and fall short of exploring their options that are easily overlooked.
  • Complicating overwhelming constraints. Most take limitations literally and miss out on: how there's two ways to seem them, when they don't apply and times when the reverse is true.
  • Exposing unforeseen possibilities. Most people only consider incremental changes and make progress a step at a time, rather than explore transformational changes of their underlying premises, assumptions and strategies.
  • Reversing the endless struggle. People get stuck on uphill battles where letting go will only cause them to backslide, instead of seeing how everything will fall into place on a different path.
  • Putting their imagination to work. Most people conflate their current evidence with a harsh reality to be faced realistically, rather than imagine what they want to create, how they want to grow and ways they want to learn.

With these reminders to reflect upon, most people feel more powerful for a long while after the conversation.


Changing by shadow boxing

When we're being idealistic, we have a shadow that is cynical. When we are full of pride, our shadow is disgraceful. When we think we've got the right answer, our shadow is loaded with how wrong we actually are. When we confident in the status quo, our shadow will shatter our confidence with unwelcome changes.

In response to my comment yesterday on Steve Roesler's post:Change and "Hurry Sickness at Work, Steve asked me:
While reading your piece, it occurred to me how much time is often needed to allow people to bargain--or "shadow box"--until their emotional arms get tired. It's at that point that they become ready to move on and re-think their position. Do you find a similar dynamic during your work?
I rarely find my clients getting talked out. Their need to get validation seems insatiable. However, the process does look like shadow boxing to me. When their shadow wins the fight, both sides can be right. There's a resolution by losing any positional stance and embracing the missing half.

When the end of the fight is near, we discover how to let go of our opposition to our opponents. We realize we are looking in a mirror at a reflection of our antagonistic outlook. We comprehend how we're seeing what we're being. We are really looking at a picture of where we're coming from and how we're relating to unacceptable differences. We uncover new choices to change our perceptions, filter reality differently and put a different spin on the evidence.

I help unhappy campers get to the end of the fight sooner by complicating their positional stance against their shadow. Rather than make them wrong, resist their resistance or oppose their opposition, it works for me to interject comments like:
  • I see you're side of the story now that you've made that perfectly clear. I wonder how this looks on the back side?
  • You've got the evidence well defined. I wonder what's hidden from view here?
  • You're right that this issue is at stake. Have you noticed how this issue is not always the same every time?
  • You've got to see things your way until you're faced with an alternative that does not make you wrong. I wonder when that might come along?
These comments "get out of their face and into their corner". They open closed minds with my open mind rather than bringing my closed mind to the mirror. These comments also make their shadow palatable and accessible to them. Shadows show up as unacceptable, intolerable and threatening. They are argued against on the basis of the fortified, self-righteous stance. There's no way to see good in them because they are obviously bad.

When our shadow wins any fight, it's a humbling experience. In hindsight, we we're being conceited, arrogant, obnoxious or omnipotent. When we bite the dust or get off our high horse, our hot button has been pushed. We lose our confidence, composure and comprehension of the situation. We're feeling shattered, betrayed and disoriented.

This is no time to kick start another change, insist on their rethinking or impose more pressure. We already have ignition and liftoff. The self-organizing process will do the rest. Change and stability then go hand and hand. The opponents comprise valuable diversity and essential components. The two right answers are two sides of one coin. The dilemma is really a paradox.


Revising unstoried possibilities

Another change model worth sharing comes from the field of "narrative therapy". In this model, we are trapped inside dominant narratives congruent with our upbringing and successful rebellions from family systems. We live out the same old story -- day after day. We cannot change because the level to be changed is deeper than our conscious choices and decisions. We act within prescribed limitations and assume "this is as good as it gets".

Any dominant narrative is "problem-saturated". It captivates us because it is loaded with stories of what does not work, what cannot happen and what always goes wrong. We argue for those limitations that we learned from "the school of hard knocks". We know from experience not to think differently, assume otherwise or expect a change. We're convinced we've discovered the facts of life that cannot be revised without becoming foolish, naive or overly-optimistic. We know how to be realistic and play by those rules.

There are other possibilities to be lived that exist outside our dominant narrative. They remain inconceivable or hypothetical while they are kept "unstoried". There are held as an idea in isolation from our personal history. They do not make "narrative sense" of our lives. There's no way to be a character in the prescribed scenario, explain our motives with a congruent back story, or act out a different possibility. The one or two times we experienced that exceptional possibility, we think we were "out of character", "out of control" or "out of our minds".

We successfully adopt and live out these exceptional possibilities when they become storied. We complicate our character identity to include this. We see incidents in our past history that lead up to this. We imagine how people in our network are delighted and appreciative of this change in us. We foresee desirable outcomes from acting this way in our world. We respond to opposition, challenges and confrontations from our confidence in this alternative story. We convey that we're living from a different set of premises, or to the beat of a different drummer.

When we see our lives as stories, we welcome the drama of life into it. We value the antagonists that provoke us to solidify our new outlook. We enjoy the setbacks that occur when we regress to our old story. They serve as reminders to catch ourselves falling for temptations, old habits and patterned reactions. We get the sense we are really the author of our lives and free of those captivating dominant narratives.


Stability and stagnation

There are two ways for things to NOT change: stability and stagnation.

Stability is a feature of a system in equilibrium. Balance is maintained in a way where things stay the same. We value stability for consistency, reliability and familiarity. We count on stability to be there when we need it, to deliver what we're expecting and to maintain the same level of quality.

Stagnation is the feature of a broken system. Balance is betrayed by a devotion to "no way, no idea, no change". There is no dynamic equilibrium or adjusting to environmental inputs. Arrested development overrides evolutionary pressures. Growing and changing are postponed until further notice. We value stagnation for it's manageability, passivity, and docility when we are in control and positions of power over others. We count on stagnation to submit to routine bullying, abuse and domination.

Stagnation is highly provocative. We get incensed by arrested development and spurred to make change happen. We become identified with change and make a thing of it. We oppose stagnation with battles, arguments and tighter controls. We are in no position to let change happen or trust a process, change model or system to yield a natural change.

Stagnation does not lead to stability. When we're getting out of stagnation, the next phase is chaos, instability and unpredictability. All hell has to break loose before stability emerges. We need to move from stagnation to a position "far from equilibrium". It's time to invoke the self-organizing dynamics to emerge at the border between continuity and discontinuity.

What emerges from chaos is usually a transformation, not an incremental change. The change changes everything instead of making a slight adjustment. There's a whole new game to play. There's an unforeseen landscape of opportunities to explore. There's a different story to tell about the ways the new experiences make sense. In hindsight, we did not make transformation happen. It happened because stagnation provoked instability.


Effects of excessive convergence

When we're being creative, inventive or expressive, there are two ways to go. We can be convergent and "get it right". We can be divergent and "do our thing". The world is mostly convergent. We are usually pressured to conform to a consensus. We get judged, criticized and set-up to "get it right" by authorities. We find out when we are in trouble, deviating from best practices and getting too weird.

Too much convergence takes it toll on our creativity. We don't lose it, as Sir Ken Robinson repeatedly observes. Our creativity simply becomes stifled, inhibited, and repressed. We censor our inspirations and shoot down possibilities that come to mind. We get writer's block, mental constipation or hung-up on what's expected. Our minds go into vicious cycles, closed circuits and perpetual reactions to the problem we're having. We cannot get creative no matter how hard we try inside the problem of "no creativity coming to mind".

When we've become overly convergent, we have nothing more to say, write or contribute. We drop out of community participation or we stop blogging -- problems that Michele Martin has been pondering this week. We may fall behind schedule on a creative project as Dan Roddy shared with us yesterday.

There are several viable strategies for getting creative again:
  • Write the worst thing possible to get your juices flowing again. Express what is certainly disgraceful, unacceptable and sure to ruin everything. Then trash that and start over with a clear mind and lots of fresh energy.
  • Disrupt further thinking about it by disengaging the mind. Go for a walk, swim, movie, music break or nap. Call a time out to get the issue to simmer on a back burner. Make no further progress until you receive a "dawning inspiration" in a twilight state of mind between waking and dreaming.
  • Switch to innocence and a sense of wonder. Stop knowing what to do and start not-knowing how to proceed as Dan did. Be amazed that no solution has occurred to you. Become fascinated about what you're overlooking, preventing from appearing or filtering out of your awareness.
  • Apply a metaphor to the problem. Turn it into something related: broken machines, muddy pigs, endless wars, useless junk food, natural disaster areas, etc. See the similarities, get a different perspective, change the definition of the problem. Then modify the metaphor and see what that says about the problem: fixed machine, clean pig, end of war, gourmet food, disaster relief, etc.
Once we've restored our creativity, we're open to needing both convergence and divergence. We need to get inspired and evaluate the worth of those inspirations. We have uses for going wild and for getting good at what we do. We see the benefits in careful improvements and careless explorations. We keep the two in balance and naturally avoid getting overly convergent.


Inevitable changes

When changes are inevitable, we are in a position to let them happen and support their emergence. It's unusual for human nature to take this approach however. As Steve Roesler said insightfully in a comment on Fallout from a system:
Attaching undue importance to something that is inherently natural creates angst when angst is least desired. Indeed, the human condition will respond by acting and reacting in ways that are counterproductive to the task at hand.
Inevitable changes prove to be disastrous when we cling to the status quo. Emergent changes involve creative destruction as well as the replacement of current structures with better systems. They offer the choice between jumping ship or going down with the ship. They define past success as imminent failure and obvious losers as the way to win. The "first become last and the last become first" when inevitable changes are taking effect.

Going with the flow of inevitable changes calls for letting go of our established sources of security, stability and reputation. These changes transform our clinging into suffering, insistence into stupidity and determination into self-defeat.

I've wondered about the nature of our ability to let go for many years. It seems to require being clear of fear. It appears to be more prevalent when we have a deep reflective practice. It helps to have done some "pre-sensing" to get a sense of what the future holds.

Inevitable changes are usually drastic. They "change everything" rather than making slight adjustments. They are unforeseeable down in the trenches because they change the entire landscape above the day-to-day struggles. Inevitable changes prove to be "life-changing" openings to entirely new ranges of possibilities. They are very threatening when we are "on the take" of a system of exploitation, profiteering and dependency on the status quo.

Inevitable changes translate into manageable steps when seen as an evolving process. Every taxonomy I've proposed on this blog shows ways to take things a step a step at a time and trust the process all along. When we can see the phases we're going through, we can stop clinging to the past and trusting our fears to keep us out of danger.


Fallout from a system

When we think of change as something to do, we cause problems. We think we can fix what's broken, correct what's mistaken and change what is stuck. We are unconsciously resisting what's persisting and opposing the opposition. We play into the perpetuation of what "needs changing"

When we think of change as something that happens, we cause solutions. We imagine change as the fallout of our approach, a side effect of handling the current issues and the repercussion of our involvement. We play into the emergence of effective changes.

It's very tempting to cause stagnation when we want to make change happen. We idealize the necessary change and invalidate the current stability. We make a thing of recognizing dangers and endanger the ecology that maintains the current balance.

It's very possible to set up the eventual sabotage of change when we show people how important the change has become. We see those who change as allies and those who don't as enemies. We make it clear we don't understand others, have not changed our minds or cannot learn from resistance. We demonstrate how we are "part of the problem" with our ill-conceived leadership. Our actions say "buyer beware of this hype" while our words say "change before its too late".

We can realize change as the fallout of a dynamically stable system. We expect the change to occur as part of our systems rebounding from setbacks and adapting to new variety resourcefully. We encourage the reflecting, realizing and responding that naturally occurs in the presence of these new inputs. We allow these processes to unfold and yield beneficial side effects.

We can even create conditions where transformation occurs. We realize there are both: ongoing processes of resilience that yield incremental changes and occasional processes that yield changes in how changing occurs. When we include the deep change with the immediate adjustments, both occur as they are called for. We validate the playing by the rules and playing around with the rules. We welcome winning the game and changing the game to benefit more constituencies. Then we are the system that yields incremental and transformational changes in a context of dynamic equilibrium.


Changing contexts instead

When we're creating problems for ourselves by imposing changes with our coercive tactics, we're in a context of controlling and opposing others. When we change to a context of understanding and relating to others, changes fall into place.

When we find that people are not learning from our instructional designs, we're in a context of "teaching by the book". When we change to a context of "learning from the learners", we utilize any misunderstanding to create "teachable moments" and "immediate object lessons".

When we're tormenting ourselves about not making sense to others, we're in a context of isolation and alienation. When we change to a context of connection and empathy, we first make sense of others and then relate to their sense of themselves.

When we're caught up the in the curse of knowledge that tempts us to be too informative, we're in a context of superior authority over others. When we change to a context of equality and collaborative creativity, we bring out new possibilities in others.

When we're escalating conflicts, arguments and differences, we're in a context of judgmental distance. When we change to a context of appreciative inquiry, our fascination with their contribution reveals common ground and inventive uses for the diversity of outlooks.

When we're imagining that changes occur by making progress in a straight line, we're in a context of mechanisms, factories and heroics. When we change to a context of organic cycles, we realize changes as they naturally grow, evolve and adapt to our presence.

When we think we're observing factual evidence, we're in a context of self-delusion and conceit. When we change to a context of seeing ourselves in a mirror, we take responsibility for what shows up and change ourselves to change the reflection in the mirror.


Distributed change models

Wendy Wickham added some very useful comments to yesterday's post on change: Questioning the feasibility of change.
In an ideal world - organizational change would occur somewhat organically. There is a known problem that is clear to all. The change process is triggered only when a solution presents itself.
The idea of changes triggered by solutions ties into a favorite approach of mine called "appreciative inquiry". When changes are triggered by perceived problems, we get more problems. We commiserate some more on how bad things are and speculate on things getting worse. We dwell on the pothole instead of the paved road. We see our way to further suffering, misery and self pity.

When changes are triggered by solutions, we get more solutions. We collaborate on the basis of how resourceful we are. We build on what's working to resolve more issues. We see our way to further satisfaction and creativity.
It shouldn't simply be a matter of explaining "why" it would be better. You (and the affected parties) will figure it out from discussing "if" it will be better. It's getting people involved in the DECISION for change rather than the buy-in.
Buy-in implies a done deal from on high; a "plan from the man". Bottom up innovations, distributed intelligence models, flat organizations and social networking content generation -- all dismiss "buy-in". It's time to "stick it to the man" and rebel against imposed changes. As Wendy suggests, the time to discuss the change is before the decision gets handed down.

The people close to the action (users, problems, issues, patterns of response) can call the shots better than those with the reins in their hands. Top-down decisions are usually overly-simplistic and unresponsive to systemic complexities. The decisions "throw money" at problems and alienate the constituencies. Bottom-up decisions factor in more variety, complexity and existing resources. They unify and validate the contributors to successful change efforts.
The action of change is so much more glamorous than meandering around the office gathering opinions from the underlings. Opinion-gathering can be demoralizing and grueling if you have your heart set on a particular decision.
Consumer polling occurs when products are designed and getting tested. Product design teams go watch users in the field deal with their problems before creating new products. When we learn from the implementors before change is conceived, the final solutions will work far better. The networked market for the change gets into the act. The change evolves organically, as Wendy said. The revise practices come about through authentic conversations, relationships and collaborations.


Questioning the feasibility of change

When changes are not feasible, the rank and file fold their arms, roll their eyes and say "here we go again". The implementors hold the cards and resist the revolution. They know the plan will appear to fail in execution because the plan is ill conceived without their input, insights and perspectives. No amount of convincing them will revise how the change is not yet feasible in their minds.

Yesterday, a bounty of wonderful comments were added to Steve Roesler's blog post: Change: Success Starts Before the Change Begins. They all revealed ways for the feasibility of a change to be increased by investing in relationships before beginning a change effort. The transformation of the mutual context makes the change appear less threatening, imposing and manipulative. People become more trusting, accepting, responsible and strategic when engaged in authentic relationships. They return the favor of getting trusted and accepted by leaders who take that as their responsibility.

As Steve said:
I wonder what would happen if we were all required--before asking for some kind of change--to clearly explain "why" it will be better and "relationships" required to make it succeed and endure? The rule would be: no action can be started until everyone says "OK, I get it". They don't have to think it's wonderful--just that it is well thought-out, has a business benefit, and there is additional clarity about the human factors.
I've found in my consulting that changes become more feasible when the feasibility is formally questioned. Rather than assume the change will happen, I assume it won't until proven otherwise. I question whether it makes sense to buy-into the big idea. I wonder whether the right people will own it and follow through on the implementation details. I suspect there is a legacy of failed implementation from previous change efforts that dismisses the new change out of hand. I look for signs of the proposed change "killing the goose that lays the golden eggs", doing more harm than good and disrupting the under-valued heroics.

When an organization is allowed to question the sanity, validity and feasibility of the change, the members buy-into the process of finding a feasible change to create. They realize they have some say-so, control and power to use wisely. Their viewpoints become more comprehensive and long range. They consider more tradeoffs and see both sides of more issues. They stop opposing the change as a knee-jerk reaction and consider more alternative scenarios, criteria and combinations of intentions. They agree to disagree, see validity in opposing ideas and welcome diverse outlooks.

That's quite a change from "making change happen". I wonder if it feasible to stop imposing changes?


Sensing and pre-sensing

In the 2005 book: Presence, Peter Senge and his co-authors recommend an unusual change model. Ray Sims briefed us on this "U Theory" a couple months ago. The authors suggest we can get into a state of mind where we can foresee emergent changes. Rather than make changes happen, we can discover what changes are coming about and help them along. They suggest that countless successful entrepreneurs have tuned into these emergent changes and capitalized on serving them.

The authors call the frame of mind for foreseeing emergent changes "sensing". The book gives examples from meditation practice and nature retreats. I have my own ways to describe that state of mind:
  • Looking through the eyes of the other, seeing through their point of view
  • Identifying with the other, becoming one with their experience
  • Getting out of the other's face and into their corner, working a deal in their best interests
  • Relating to the other's context, serving their agendas with compassion
  • Caring for the connection between us all, linking the common concerns
  • Giving to the whole what we intend to receive, sharing without limitation
  • Sensing the pattern that ties everything together, embracing the web of interdependencies
When we "get our head into this place", different visions come to mind. We sense what changes are in process. We see how desirable outcomes are falling into place. We can picture how the change requires the current crisis, setback or breakdown. We envision how to go with the flow of what is coming about. The authors call this "pre-sensing" that follows "sensing" the connection with everything involved. We are being the combination while separation is evident, leading the imagined change.

With the emergent change in mind, we naturally prototype ways to serve it. We discover what works for others, provides the intended value and facilitates the necessary changes. We explore how to get the bugs out and accomplish the ends more efficiently. We learn from practicing the prototype how to refine it. We function as quintessential entrepreneurs.


A forest of bloggers

You may not have a seen the memo on this. There's a forest out there. I know there's no redundancy, inter-dependency and self-regeneration inside the silo, factory, firewall or policy guidelines. That does not mean the forest does not exist outside. Every blogger is an outsider like a tree in a forest.

A silo cannot afford to maintain a forest on the inside. Forests cost too much and overextend the limited resources of the silo. There are too many trees, too many roots, too many branches and too many leaves or pine needles. All that redundancy costs a huge fortune. Activities inside the silo cannot support such extravagance.

If forests were efficient, they'd be affordable to a silo. Instead of a ridiculous number of leaves, there could be one or two solar collectors. Instead of every tree creating an absurd number of seeds, there could be one tree reproduction facility per forest. Rather than each tree responding to the conditions of the forest, a change response team could intervene when tress got in trouble. A few branches could handle the territory. When the solar collector went down, the forest could tell non-essential trees to stay in furlough. When the changes over-taxed the response team, the trees could go on hold until a solution was delivered by the specialists.

The staggering redundancy of tree components is supported by the trees and forest because these components are contributors. They give what is needed in greater quantity than they take to sustain themselves. They bring simplicity of operations into the equation with the redundancy. Their demands are small and few. Their contributions are essential, timely and balanced. Problems are resolved inter-dependently. The network does it's thing.

Unlike forests, silos harbor dependent parasites. Silo components take more than they give. Silos are always on the brink of collapse because their components defy self-sustaining designs. The replication of silo components breed more consuming without more supplying. What it takes to keep the silo going is very costly within the confines of the disconnected system. Redundancy has to be eliminated to sustain the parasitic components. Isolation from networks is essential to control the near-collapse. The networking of parasites keeps the growth of the silo in check. Functioning in opposition, a tenuous equilibrium is realized with vicious cycles.

Fourteen million active blogs. Seventy nine million total blogs. Blogging looks like a forest to me. There's a staggering redundancy and simplicity of contributors. Watch us provide nutrients for growth, convert one form of understanding into another, replicate our functionality naturally and distribute seeds of change across vast landscapes. Please continue as you were.


Are your ready for a networked future?

When you were in school, did you do homework or network? Homework is assigned with a deadline in order to get a grade. Network is generating what needs to be said, done or collaborated upon -- whenever your contacts give you an indication that something is missing.

Can you do your job in isolation or are you being a node? Jobs have job descriptions, accountability metrics and conformity with policy manuals. We can hide behind all that and say "it's not in my job description". Being a node is connected to everyone else. We function as nodes when we get inundated with inputs and give back what makes the most sense upon reflection.

Do you think of "networks" as rumor mills that stab you in the back or as web searches that return what you're looking for? When networks seems as threatening as "a meteor is to a dinosaur" (thanks Harold!) we want to avoid them and deny they exist. When we're benefiting from informal collaborations, colonies, cults and underground exchanges, we welcome them and join in (thanks Aloof!)

When you're feeling pressured, overloaded and under the gun, do you seethe with resentment or give your network a readout of your "system state"? When we think we're individually responsible for outcomes, we over-commit and then over-react to the excessive burden. When the network is responsible for outcomes, we contribute in harmony with all our obligations.

When you're seeking assistance with your situation, do you corner an individual in hopes of intimidating him/her or do you let "everyone" know of your plight? When we fail to see the connectedness of all of us, we may go on a power trip, dish out guilt trips, beg for mercy or bribe others to give into our demands. When we rely on the network to recognize, redistribute and resolve our challenges system wide, we call upon the network first thing.

When you're helping others prepare for our networked future, do you emphasize their dependency on the network or their contributions that helps the network thrive. When we use the network to search, research and shop around, we depend on the network to deliver tangibles to us. When we generate content for the network, we give in a way that gives us back power, confidence, voice, identity and other intangibles.

Ready or not, here it comes :-)


Sorry this is a business

In When change changes your change, Steve Roesler laments being told "this is a business". The comment implies "we're not here to serve you". It frames what happens in people's lives as "unmanageable problems", "excessive cost overruns", "budget problems" or "reduced profits". When people say "this is a business" I hear "this is not a viable network". They're saying "We're still in the 20th century making money, we're not in the 21st century making and feeding connections".

Making a schedule change into a problem is a function of being disconnected from robust interdependencies. Any vast network of resources routinely adapts and assimilates every disturbance to it's equilibrium. When our calendars are online, its network of subscribers knows of changes in our schedules 24/7. When we deliver value both onsite and online, we offer value when we're not around. When we get things done both in meetings and in our minds, we're at work when we're not there. Who can say whether a schedule change is a problem in the context of a functioning network?

Businesses offer lots of excuses to wall themselves off from networks. Corporate propaganda says joining a network:
  • loses control of operations, costs and brand name/story
  • sends a message that we can be overrun or intimidated by external demands
  • leaves a door open to competitive espionage and theft of intellectual property
  • makes us more beholden to networked customers and journalists who can change our reputation at a whim
  • provides a loudspeaker for internal whistle blowers to broadcast every complaint they've got against us
  • hurts the chances of recruiting executive and professional talent with our internal dissensions on display
  • erodes our value proposition, unique attributes and market positioning into commoditized similarities

For these reasons and many more, "this is a business" means keeping things linear and confined. There are firewalls and silos to stay inside of. There are lines of authority to conform to and procedures to execute. There are consequences for stepping out of line, going around someone or finding loopholes in the policies. There are scripts for handling phone calls, policies for handling exceptions and rules for procedural compliance.

Networks are the opposite: non-linear and not confined. Networks may function with routers to redirect linear transmissions through a past of least resistance. Networks support search and find processes that come up with unforeseen options. Networks reconfigure themselves to accommodate changes. They do not go on hold because local resources are tied up. They do not overtax a reliable node and fail to spread the challenge system wide. They get things done by letting the network do its thing.

That's very different from the previous century of asking one person (supervisor, client, HR contact) for accommodation which sets up a sequence of problematic consequences. Corporations are limited in their response capability because they seek to curtail chain reactions, domino effects and the viral spread of memes. If businesses functioned like networks of free lance professionals, redundant capabilities or vastly interdependent resources, a change of schedule would be "no problem". So the problem is not with the an individual's personal schedule changes, but with the way we did business before now.


Changing validity

We get as much validation as we give out. It's a karma thing. We reap what we sow in the "giving validity" department.

We all have experiences of being invalidated by others. We get shot down by cheap shots. We get bullied by power-trippers and put down by guilt-trippers. We get labeled as deviant, defective or deficient by control freaks. We're not "normal", acceptable or included. We get pictured as "one of them" to point fingers at, to blame for what happened or to accuse of feeling the wrong way.

With a boat load of invalidation in our history, we believe what we're experiencing. We internalize the abuse and invalidate ourselves. We're said to have low self esteem, chronic insecurities or an inferiority complex. Unconsciously, we ask for trouble, create re-enactments of painful episodes and believe in the worst that could happen. We harbor deep psychological wounds that won't heal.

When we're inundated by all this invalidation, we wallow in self pity. We take hostages with our neediness and seek commiseration. We're convinced we cannot give validity to those who invalidate us. We invalidate them with our convictions about getting wronged, hurt or betrayed by them. There's no way to find validity in what happened to us. We opt for bad karma and get what we dish out. Nothing is forgotten or forgiven. Nothing changes.

In truth, what happened to us is valid. That truth will set us free. That validity will come to mind when we change points of view. We stop knowing what to think and change our questions. We wonder about other points of view, ways of seeing and frames of reference that might apply. We embark on an adventure of mysteries, discoveries and reversals.

One other point of view we will discover sees matching luggage with people who invalidate us. They are hurting as much and in similar ways as we are. It's no coincidence they are in our face. They act out differently but start from the same place. Seeing how much we have in common gives validity to the relationship.

Another point of view sees the creativity involved in changing points of view. We'll realize how to give ourselves validity when no one else does. We can take the invalidation as lessons to learn about self respect. We create a change in our typical reactions from resisting what happens to realizing the pattern of occurrences. We can add a slight twist to the usual drama by validating how we always manage to survive these encounters and feel our feelings when this happens. From within, we grow a sense of resilient composure, inspiring confidence and resourceful courage.

A final point of view brings closure to all this. We'll see how we've grown from the adversity, and got unstuck under pressure. We learned to go within by going without validation outside. We gained the ability to see others' pain by getting hurt by them. We get how we can give validity to everyone and everything that happened. We are free of our past history and patterns of pain. We let go of what we thought and felt for so long. We sow seeds of validation and get what we deserve.

When we go from getting invalidated to giving validity, we've been through a life-changing experience. The change is drastic, deep and transformational. We come out of the change with a new outlook on life, others and ourselves. We're coming from a very different place where it pays to give validity to everything.


Sharing expertise effectively

All of us with expertise want to share it one way or another. How we do that is in flux with all the tools and freedom to access provided online. Sharing expertise calls into question the implicit business model we're using. It's easy to fall into flawed models because we've been customers of them for most of our lives. We assume without question how to deliver value to others with our expertise. We'll adopt one of these generic approaches:
  1. Numbers game: If all we care about is the number of hits, subscribers, or other metrics of success, we'll have the sense to do the wrong thing. Our value proposition is designed for hit-n-run customers and bargain shoppers who cannot appreciate or utilize our expertise. We've unconsciously adopted a mass distribution model of putting out caseloads of the same stuff for anonymous consumers. We'll feel drained by offering our expertise and not understand how we're making ourselves miserable with our value proposition.
  2. Delivery systems: If we care about the quality of what we offer, we'll put more work into sharing our expertise. We'll find ways to make it more respectable, attractive or qualified. We'll think of improving the look, packaging or take away value. We'll figure out how to provide a more sophisticated product with our expertise that will only appeal to equally refined customers. We'll assume we've got the market figured out and continue to 'try harder" to deliver what is tried and true. We'll feel proud of our successes and committed to heroic efforts.
  3. Discovery systems: If we care about our customers, we will constantly be discovering how to serve them. We'll question what we've already delivered, how it's being used and whether this calls for a change. We'll learn from the feedback we get through every channel we're monitoring. We'll assume the customers can teach us how to reach them, to position our expertise to get on their wavelength and to relate to their situations. We'll feel mutually respectful and fascinated by what comes about.
Delivery systems backfire. They breed resentment, powerlessness and dependency on both sides of the transaction. They cannot empower customers because they tell them what to think. Delivery systems over-confidently push product through distribution pipelines and learn nothing beyond "try harder" from the feedback. They appear insensitive, unresponsive and domineering to customers who want changes.

Until systems of expertise switch from delivering to discovering, learners will become disempowered by buying what's for sale.


Assimilation by conversation

Yesterday, Aloof Schipperke expanded the relevant contexts for democratizing knowledge creation in Democratizing Architecture Creation. The transmission of Enterprise Design to clients expertise is as problematic as it is inside hallowed halls of academia. This problematic context also occurs in Instructional Design quarters where the SME's would prefer hands-on rapid development tools than struggling to convey their message to designers. Likewise patient education usually breaks down when the physician's expertise comes across as overwhelming or overly critical of the patient. My own consulting roles have discovered standoffs with prima donna architects, engineers, and even front line supervisors. In a later post, I'll propose that all delivery systems fail to deliver their expertise effectively - their business model is flawed.

Aloof made two excellent recommendations to realize solutions in these contexts:
The true value of expertise comes when it is available for conversation. We refine our own understanding when we expose our knowledge to others around us, so long as we allow the interaction to occur in both directions. As Tom mentions, we reflect on the differences as we engage with our surroundings.
I've noticed an interesting phenomena in the architectural conversations of my day-to-day work. As the conversations evolve, key architectural principles and constraints (stock in trade) tend to be co-opted by others around me. I hear the principles and constraints echoed in conversations around me. The organization internalizes the knowledge and is more likely to provide productive feedback when issues arise.

Said another way, we naturally assimilate expertise "when the network is working". If there is a conversation as Aloof suggests (and is demonstrating), we internalize the expert's concepts to join in the give and take. If there is a connection between us, we pick up the other's expertise to maintain the rapport. If there is a shared context of solution seeking, we see the other's expertise as a resource or a source of exactly what we're looking for. If there is a common container for our disparate activities, we allow that mission and purpose to frame what we're doing. If there is a commitment getting fulfilled, we co-opt the concepts in use by the others making the same commitment. If there is an authentic community breaking down walls of silence, turf or controlled involvement, we pick up on how to contribute to the egalitarian dynamics.
What these solutions imply is a change in the premise of expertise. The expert participates in a democracy rather than imposing an aristocracy. Rights are distributed into the long tail instead of getting withheld by hierarchies. Diversity is nurtured instead of getting vilified by group norms. The network works to make expertise scalable and sharable instead of controlled and centralized.


Democratizing knowledge creation

In his book The Long Tail, Chris Anderson introduced us to the idea of democratizing tools of production and distribution. Music that had to be produced and distributed by record labels can now be done using PC software and Web 2.0 tools for sharing, tagging, commenting and favoriting. Filmmakers that fought over getting into the distribution pipeline via screening their flicks at festivals -- now upload them online and get them seen by thousands more fans and reviewers. Book, software and game publishers who clamored for shelf space in retailer locations now offer their goods online 24/7.

David Weinberger took this thinking even further with his book: Everything Is Miscellaneous. He suggests that authority, expertise and credentials are shifting into the long tail also. Knowledge creation had previously between the province of Ph.D's who are credentialed by academic institutions to verify new concepts and eliminate false ideas. As the web has evolved, we found "the wisdom of crowds" taking effect. Open source software development, and the stellar contributions to Wikipedia -- are showing us another way to create knowledge.

As I've become excited by these developments, it's seemed to me that "self directed learners" could become the norm rather than the exception. Personal learning environments could supplant the hallowed halls of academia. Learning from "ink on paper" could be replaced by digital text that can be linked to, edited collaboratively and searched with any chosen parameters. Learning with self motivation, personal curiosity and contexts of immediate use could become the norm.

As knowledge creation evolves away from credentialed experts, legitimacy will become fluid and intangible. The value of knowledge will depend on it's context provided the person using the knowledge. The expertise will be valued for serving an intrinsic purpose, as a means to an end. The best knowledge will "sell itself" by providing solutions to personal problems, freedom from conflicts, changes without struggles and growth without coercion.

We previously relied on experts to fix our ignorance, superstitious beliefs and flawed models. Now it appears that the experts have the wrong idea. Expertise cannot fix our misconceptions because it operates with a flawed premise. We cannot be fixed without getting that wrong idea ourselves. We become dependent on expertise if we fall for the common misconception of learning. We create systems where learning is a noun, experts exercise their authority over us and knowledge creation is aristocratic.

We have the right to learn what we need when the situation occurs that spawns our curiosity and motivation. We deserve access to the content, processes and support systems to integrate additional complexity. We create the knowledge in a useful format by reflecting upon the differences it makes to our previous comprehension. When these rights are distributed to each citizen within a collective enterprise, knowledge creation is democratized.


Keeping awareness to a minimum

Those of us who serve processes of changing are "in the awareness business". We may be consultants of enterprises, designers of systems, leaders of communities, counselors of target populations or mentors of individuals. We know that successful change requires expanded awareness. Our own awareness has come at a price and sacrificed some short-term gains. We expect to be valued for increasing the awareness of others with less struggle than we endured.

When a change is long overdue, limited awareness is an impediment to the process of changing. People don't see the effects of their actions and outlooks. They don't admit to feeding the escalating problems or doing more harm than good. They deny how the repercussions of their actions could be really toxic.  Their limited awareness is easily provoked to "shoot the messengers" who deliver a message of expanded awareness. Our constituencies want to keep their awareness to a minimum and defend their blind spot with a vengeance.

When we show up offering expanded awareness, we look like trouble. We say things that threaten and disrupt their complacency. We expect to be appreciated for giving gifts that Steve Roesler characterized yesterday in: Change: Reflection, Discernment, and Wisdom. We're planning to meet on the common ground of doing what it takes to support the process of changing. We're surprised and dismayed when clients and colleagues oppose us being "in the awareness business". We get caught up in stalemates where opposing sides cannot both be right.

Here is the kind of stalemates (me vs them) I get into the most often when peddling expanded awareness:

  • This looks good on paper but is actually toxic for the environment, community, future generations or the global economy vs. This is a business success that our performance metrics capture accurately
  • This is doing more harm than good to your customers (reputations, marketing efforts, etc) vs. This is an established practice that delivers our value proposition reliably
  • This is a show of hubris that leaves the enterprise vulnerable to getting blind sided by unforeseen rivals vs. This is beating our competitive rivals by  showing who's in the dominant position
  • This occurred by luck/happenstance/chemistry and cannot be consistently repeated with different people, customers or situations vs. This is a reliable procedure that works every time we execute it properly
  • This is a cognitive distortion which feeds into chronic problems vs. This is objective realism of the actual situation

When faced with stalemates like this, we face three obvious choices that I added to the comments on Steve's post:

  1. Do we play along with the delusional confidence to maintain credibility with our constituencies?
  2. Do we change our tune and become a whistle blower?
  3. Do we leave the employer/client with our conscience intact?

All three choices offer costly, negative consequences. As I've pondered these choices since yesterday, I've realized they all provide incentives to find a fourth option. I suspect these three negatives point at a positive alternative we've been exploring as: