Non-consumers of news reporting

Truly disruptive innovations result from the initial discovery of non-consumers of the incumbent offering. The innovators then come up with ways to help those non-consumers solve their problems, get their jobs done and realize added value in their own contexts. These non-consumers may regard the incumbent's offering to be too much of a good thing, missing the mark, neglecting the important parts, creating more problems for the end user. The opt out of "mass consumption" to avoid getting over-served, under-served or otherwise dis-served. They appear as several different niches of untapped demand to observant innovators

Here are four segments of non-consumers of news reporting that I'm expecting to partake in disrupting incumbent journalism models:
  • Too post-literate to grok journalistic writing - Reading comprehension, long attention spans, and the ability to focus -- are in decline among media savvy youth. News reporting seems to be long winded, excessively detailed, boring and time consuming to these cultural forerunners. They assume that if the information was meant to be consumed it would be presented as text messages, videos, animations, manga cartoons or podcasts. The content would be downloadable onto mobile devices after subscribing to its RSS/Atom feed that announced updates. The presentation would allow for adding comments, linking to it, bookmarking it and quoting or embedding it in one's own uploads. Falling short of these expectations simply indicates that the journalism is irrelevant, obsolete, clueless and useless.
  • Too passionate to accept objective reporting - Some of the non-consumers care too much about an unfolding story to accept the professional version. They feel for the people involved and relate to many subjective interpretations of what happened. The facts of the situation fail to capture the significance, larger context, and system dynamics involved. The objective reporting appears biased, making the problem worse, dwelling on the superficial evidence and neglectful of its unintended consequences.
  • Too busy getting results - Other non-consumers don't have time to distract themselves with non-essentials. News reporting is not helping them change lives, further progress, solve problems or make things happen. They are low profile newsmakers who don't make the news reports. They are social activists who get their news from the people they are serving and the situations they are immersed in day to day. News reporting appears to be all talk and no action by pundits with too much to say from too far away.
  • Too alienated to show interest - This fourth segment of non-consumers regards news gathering and publishing as industrial production for mass consumption. It appears to push content onto passive consumers in excessive bundles via profiteering intermediaries who are only serving their own interests. News reporting shows too few signs of learning from the disintermediation of record albums, encyclopedias or courseware. Industrialized journalism appears to fall in step with Wall Street pay scales, Detroit auto makers and private military contractors who all spin off huge, negative externalities onto vulnerable publics.
Non consumers like these do not show up on incumbent radar. These new "value constructs" get dismissed by incumbents as impossible to please, incompatible with what's for sale and too costly to serve adequately. The opportunities for disruptive innovation appear marked with warning signs: Danger Keep Out. The current paying customers are too captivating to betray them with changing the value constructs. Non-consumers remain dis-served until upstarts come along and "move the goal posts".


Failing to learn from mistakes

In Newspapers don't learn from their mistakes, Umair Haque wrote:
It's the single biggest error firms make in times of crisis: repeating the past. When the world around you is undergoing discontinuous change, repeating yesterday's mistakes is the quickest path to decay and dissolution.
I doubt it's anyone's intention to "repeat yesterday's mistakes". I got to wondering what we are seeing, thinking and responding to whenever it appears to others we are failing to learn from prior mistakes. Here's what I came up with as I reflected on that question:
  • We are seeing ongoing successes and that's no mistake. We tell ourselves we cannot argue with results. We're thinking "it's not over until it's over". We're grateful that customers still show up and money is still coming in. The rivals have not put us out of business yet. We take pride in continuing to deliver a quality product as well as attract and retain our quality staff. As far as we can tell, we're still on a roll that has not come to a stop yet.
  • We thinking about getting the work out the door. There are meetings to attend, schedules to meet and tasks to get accomplished. The performance pressures we're facing are best met with our trusted binary thinking: "The work is done or it isn't; the approach worked or failed; the answer is right or wrong; the completion was on schedule or late". So long as we're getting the work done on time, we're convinced that we're right about what we're doing. Those that say we're wrong, mistaken or misguided don't share our inside perspective.
  • We're confident that we're doing what others expect of us. We're conforming with what we've always done. We're not letting those down who have relied on us before. We sticking with what has always given us our reputation, earned us respect and gotten us admired for our commitment. We're thinking "so long as we don't let people down, they won't let us down by abandoning us in any way".
  • We're convinced that it has to be this way. We know not to question which direction we're headed in because that would undermine the entire operation and others' morale. We steer clear of thinking we've been deluded, over-confident or reckless because that would stir up uncontrollable feelings of regret, guilt and depression. We stick with our defensive rationalizations and worn-out justifications that reliably convince us we're headed in the right direction.
Nowhere in our thinking are we asking questions or using another point of view. Our thought processes are self congratulatory like a positive feedback loop. More of the same calls for more of the same. We have no concept of how it could be a mistake to repeat the past. It's a success. It gets the work done. It avoids letting others down and it keeps morale up too. No wonder repeating the past is a runaway pattern without self restraint.


Why newspaper subscribers cannot change

I spent yesterday pondering Umair Haque's new The Nichepaper Manifesto. I'm seeing the decline of print and broadcast news models as a forerunner of the transition that higher ed will face soon. In this blog, I'll explore the search for a new end game in journalism next, as preparation for furthering our understanding of how higher ed will get disrupted soon.

Umair Haque has shown us eight ways out of the declining revenues and value propositions of established newspapers. He foresees a new institution and endgame for Journalism 2.0:
  1. Give people the news --> impart meaningful, lasting knowledge
  2. Dictate to their readers what news and opinion are --> co-create knowledge by curating comments to have a dialogue with the audience
  3. Tell quickly-forgotten stories for information --> let the story develop, surface, thicken, and climax for knowledge
  4. Strive for circulation, by telling the same stories in the same ways --> strive to develop capabilities that are inimitable by rivals
  5. Publish weekly columns and daily articles --> develop topics of conversation and let them co-evolve with readers.
  6. Seek perfect grammar, perfect ledes, perfect headlines --> provoke readers to think
  7. Sellout to advertisers, PR flaks, powerful "sources," and lobbyists --> pitch topics and stories to the community and let the best ones snowball
  8. Make a big deal about the use of new technologies --> use whatever works best for a given task
These are easy transitions to pull off with news watchers who do not read newspapers or news magazines. Those customers are as much a part of the innovation as the innovators of new models for journalism. Their revised expectations, value constructs, patterns of use and sense of curiosity -- are profoundly different from those who read newspapers religiously. Established newspapers are no more stuck in their ways than their paid subscribers. Together they perpetuate the incumbent paradigm and balk at the changes underway.

Here's how I see avid newspaper readers who maintain their paid subscriptions willingly:
  • Passivity: Subscribers are passive consumers of products and services who scour the print ads for bargains. They are passive investors in real estate, retirement funds and speculative investments who rely on brokers and raters to guide their decisions. They are passive voters who trust their elected representatives to provide good government so long as the newspapers watchdog them. They are passive audiences of media personalities who get put on pedestals and followed as leaders of taste, fads and mass consumption.
  • Helplessness: Subscribers do not have a problem getting very informed about situations they can do nothing about. They do not expect to act responsibly, make a difference or impact their communities. It's enough to be informed to live with feeling powerless and ineffective. Keeping current with the news gives them much to worry about, form opinions about and find fault with -- while doing nothing to alleviate their concerns.
  • Thrill seeking: Subscribers live mundane lives in need of excitement. The news provides voyeuristic looks at thrilling situations with high drama, escalating tensions and unpredictable outcomes. A journalistic focus on violent crimes, scandals and disasters meets this expectation superbly. The news provides fodder for conversations that traffic in astonishment, disgust or catastrophizing.
  • Dependency on authority figures: Subscribers do not want to think for themselves, rock the boat or create hard feelings. Their approach to getting along with family members, colleagues and neighbors is passive aggressive. They need to be told what to think in order to think alike and not get into trouble by what they're thinking. They have sold out to the groups they fear getting rejected by and naturally trust journalists who have sold out also.
If established newspapers decided to change before their subscribers changed, they would implicitly send messages to their market like:
  • we don't want your money anymore
  • we don't respect your expectations of us or loyalty to us
  • we want to lose your trust and confidence in us
  • we want to mess with your minds and sense of what's appropriate
  • we have no use for your continued support
  • we now think you've been wrong about us all these years

It's no wonder incumbent players in established industries go down with their sinking ships. They are not only blinded by their successes. They are entangled with their paying customers.


Escaping the tyranny of either/or

A decade ago, there was a growing trend of strategic alliances with competitors as well as virtual teams getting assembled across division lines. This inspired several writers to envision an end to business competition and the emergence of cooperation as a the new norm. Likewise, there was considerable idealism floating around about learning organizations, bottom up innovations and six sigma quality standards achieved by teamwork rather than quality controls.

At the time, Collins and Poras advised us to escape the tyranny of either/or in their book: Built to Last. Long term success eludes those enterprises that regard opposites as mutually exclusive. That premise came back to mind as just I finished reading Chris Anderson's new book: Free - The Future of a Radical Price. He explores how enterprises can make lots of money by charging nothing for a significant portion of their business. The book shows us the way to realize a paradoxical comprehension of pricing strategies. It's a wonderful sequel to his previous book: The Long Tail which dismantled our either/or thinking about blockbuster hits, best sellers and big moneymakers.

There are several more paradoxes that I expect will contribute to the resilience and sustainability of enterprises in the next economy:
  • Cooperating at a global scale in mutually beneficial arrangements while competing internally and against one's own metrics to excel at individual contributions to the global economy
  • Disrupting incumbents with innovative value propositions for over/under-served customers while sustaining the disruptive entrant by serving its staff as internal customers
  • Delivering goods and services reliably and consistently while discovering how the customers are actually using the stuff or finding it too difficult to use in their contexts
  • Paying employees as replaceable functionaries hired to protect the brand while engaging employees as talented individual brands worthy of respect, admiration and unique utilization

As I've explored in the posts tagged as Use your brain, our minds cannot handle paradoxes when we're afraid, being logical or reacting to evidence. In those instances, we're certain "it cannot be both" and "there are no two ways about it". We are compelled to devote ourselves to one side at the expense of the other. We idealize half and demonize the opposite. We unconsciously flip/flop from one extreme to the other.

To embrace any paradoxical comprehension, we need to be feeling safe and clear of fear. We need to challenge our logical conclusions by posing what-if questions and applying metaphors to the obvious labels. We need to disrupt out automatic reacting to evidence by first choosing: what things mean, which way to frame them and what they are showing us. When we prepare ourselves in these ways, then "it can be both" and "there are two ways about it".


Hacking a production system

Systems for producing comprehension are too often taken for granted. It's assumed the authority figures know what they're doing. It's accepted that deeper levels of comprehension are unavailable for some good reason. The learners figure they are at fault when they lose motivation, interest and commitment to the pursuit of deeper comprehension.

Let's take the example of comprehending ink cartridges. An academic comprehension could thoroughly grasp WHAT an ink cartridge is. That may include:
  • what cartridges are not ink cartridges (toner, ribbon, etc)
  • what cartridge is the right one to insert in a particular printer
  • what to look for on a the box/catalog listing to verify the correct cartridge before buying
  • what cartridges do when we're printing out a document
  • what steps to take when replacing a cartridge

If the system for producing comprehension goes no further than an academic comprehension, there will be no comprehension of:
  • how to connect the cables, install the software drivers and operate the printer
  • how to be sure not to break the printer when removing and inserting cartridges
  • how to interpret the signs that the cartridge needs to be primed again or replaced

This commercial level comprehension can get responsibilities handled, get jobs done, and get results. It pays to know this level. When a system for producing comprehension does not yield this level, it can be hacked. The peers can interfere with the imposed limitation. They can get printers to practice on, and give each other feedback on attempts to use the printers. Together they can get good at changing ink cartridges at the right time with the right model.

This level of comprehension falls short of the pragmatic level. The system can be hacked again to enable "qualified printer operators" to troubleshoot problems with printing out documents. By immersion in actual or simulated malfunctions, it will become understood how to diagnose problems, question possible causes, explore different subsystems, challenge convenient assumptions and rule out "false positives". Once again the peer production can liberate the commercial level of comprehension with hacks to mess around with breakdowns.

It's even possible to take comprehension to the deepest level of paradox. Then it will become possible to sense the best time to change a cartridge, when printing out is becoming excessive, and what to bring into balance beyond the fixated use of printers.


Letting go of legacy practices

The first few times we succeed at anything we've tried to do for the first time, we regard it as an accomplishment. We've gained confidence in our new ability. We update our self concept of what we're good for and who we think we are. We realize we can face some different challenges with this new resource.

Once the thrill is gone, we begin to take this success for granted. We rely on it to be there when we need it and are not disappointed when it proves to be reliable. We assume it's good to go without a bunch of preparation or caution to pick a good time for it. We have formed a new habit. We've gone from "thinking about it to do it" to "doing it without thinking".

Without realizing it, we've opted to cling to this success routine as the right thing to do without question. We've become ingrained with a legacy practice. We have no choice in the matter. This is who we think we are. Our identity is contaminated with this success. We cannot stop being ourselves. We cannot back off, back down or admit we're wrong.

We've trapped in that pattern of "nothing fails like a proven success". The feedback that it's not working does not show up on our radar. The indications get quickly dismissed that we've been wrong all this time or our habit is too much of a good thing. We cannot conceive of doing it less or not at all.

Everyone of us who has been socialized by classroom educations carries a big inventory of legacy practices. Most of these habits sabotage any peer production of advanced levels of comprehension. These legacy practices work just fine with the superficial production of academic comprehension ("one right answer" and "doing what the textbook says is correct"). We feel justified by academic successes to "keep up the good work" and continue thinking we've got it right. We're trapped in single loop learning that cannot question our underlying assumptions or our epistemology for knowing how we know what we know. We're fixated on right answers, good grades, approval from authority figures, dependency on expert advice and pride in passive learning.

Making the switch to the peer production of advanced levels of comprehension involves letting go oft these legacy practices. The first step is to look for this pattern I've just explained. The following phase occurs most easily in a space that's safe from mockery, shame and rejection. It involves humbling realizations, confessions of fixations and admissions of error. That is nearly impossible when we're afraid, getting pressured or taking the heat for our habitual successes. However, when we can "see the error of our ways", we can let go of our trusted legacy practices and find new ways to handle current situations.


Co-producing comprehension

Each of us has too much experience producing comprehension in isolation. We reach our own conclusions among others doing the same. The co-production of comprehension will seem inconceivable, infeasible and far-fetched to many experienced learners. Here's a few of the attributes of successful co-productions:
  • Shared interests in deepening a particular comprehension: Learners all have experiences sharing interests with others in getting good grades, getting through an ordeal, getting out of requirements and getting to advance to the next phase. When deeper comprehension is successfully co-produced, there are shared interests in the subject matter, it's uses, varied viewpoints about it and much more. Where this is impossible in physical gatherings, online connectivity makes it possible to find others with these particular shared interests.
  • Transparent disclosures: Formal instruction breeds learners who are acculturated to covering up ignorance, denying mistakes and making pretenses of competence. It appears self-defeating to be transparent when pressured to conform. When deeper comprehension is successfully co-produced, it makes sense to reveal one's own actual condition. Admitting what is understood, what remains confusing, what appears useless, and what personal experiences relates to this -- all cultivate trust, respect and bonding.
  • Making requests of others: When we're getting instructed without being in control of the timing, topic, approach or relevance, we feel powerless. We try to make things happen by eliciting sympathy from others. We create problems with our motivation, attention, retention and comprehension to get others to stop forcing us to learn. When deeper comprehension is successfully co-produced, we stop seeking sympathy. We switch into problem solving mode and ask for help in finding solutions to obstacles as we deepen our comprehension. We see others as problems solvers who will easily understand where we're coming from when we request their help.
  • Responding promptly to others' requests: When we're getting mismanaged, overworked, underutilized and exposed to lots of toxicity, we become unresponsive. We're wary of getting taken advantage and experienced with people who "take a mile when we give an inch". When deeper comprehension is successfully co-produced, we want to respond quickly to others' requests of us. We see how it pays intangibly to give to others when their request in specific and. Their transparency has built up social capital that facilitates our responsiveness.
  • Utilizing the available diversity: When getting railroaded into the same understanding, diversity among the learners is a problem, distraction, setback or disruption in the uniform progress. The situation pressures the participants to think alike, suppress their differences and conform to expectations. When deeper comprehension is successfully co-produced, the diversity among learners is essential, inherently valuable and cultivated by every participant. The deeper comprehension depends on differing outlooks, connections and uses for it. Each gets treasured for bring a treasure of uniqueness to the co-production.
  • Phased development of deeper comprehension: When content is being delivered, it's too common that the instruction takes off without everyone on board, gets ahead of many and lets most fall behind. The pacing and depth cannot accommodate the variety of participants. When deeper comprehension is successfully co-produced, each has a map or game board that lays out the terrain to be explored and integrated. It becomes obvious when an exploration is taking on too much, getting ahead of oneself or avoiding the next challenge. Each can support the others in moving forward in stages without imposing uniform progress on everyone.
  • Contributing useful labor: When an instructor appears to be "going through the motions", offering useless information, or defying what makes content actionable, we learn by example to do the same. Our labor in groups is equally unproductive, heartless and useless. When deeper comprehension is successfully co-produced, each participant contributes highly useful work. Their efforts get appreciated in ways where they see how to be even more valuable and responsive. A virtuous cycle gets created with the transparency, requests, responsiveness and gratitude. This continues to energize and focus each contributors efforts.
The successful co-production of deeper comprehension is a radical change from conventional instruction. It involves these highly evolved ways to inter-relate and depend on each other. It comes from a place of significant compassion and creativity that indicates the absence of fear. It calls for us to evolve our consciousness to join in so much harmony and mutual benefit.


Democratizing diagnostic protocols

The peer 2 peer (P2P) production of advanced levels of comprehension eliminates a vast variety of breakdowns in learning processes. Problems generated by the classroom delivery of expert content, anonymity in large gatherings, boring textbooks, flawed instructional designs, objective grading pressures, and mass produced comprehension -- don't happen when peers collaborate effectively. Diagnosing what's gone wrong in when working together is potentially much simpler than figuring out why learning is not happening in conventional settings. It's relatively easy to democratize diagnostic protocols so the peers are equipped to solve their own comprehension problems.

Here are some of the patterns for every peer to red flag when they get identified:
  • Inadvertent consolidation of power: Collaborations thrive on the distribution of power, the disaggregation of control and the dissemination of personal discretion. Peer production of comprehension can breakdown when power, control and discretion become concentrated in a few individuals. Power naturally gravitates to those in a gathering who get perceived as exceptionally competent, articulate, outgoing, resourceful or popular. Power can also be grabbed by those who are exceptionally ambitious, controlling, domineering or intolerant of others. Resilience and sustainability can be restored by expecting the few "power-trippers" to empower their peers and delegate their confiscated control with commensurate authority to then make changes on their own.
  • Depletion of intrinsic rewards: Contributing to collaborative outcomes can be deeply significant, satisfying and self sustaining. The more we give in a personally meaningful way, the more we want to give. Our altruism repays itself with enhanced self concepts for relating effectively to others, self respect for trusting one's own judgment and self confidence for expressing oneself amidst potential critics. This vast payback from contributing to peer production can be eroded by time pressures, personal anxieties, guilt trips, blaming, and other forms of toxic interactions. The efforts then feel heartless, like merely going through the motions or keeping an empty commitment. Intrinsic rewards get restored by cleaning up the toxicity.
  • Covert rewards for disengagement: Shared expectations can emerge to hold back, to "wait and see" or to keep involvement to a minimum. Those that meet these expectations then get rewarded with inclusion, validation and tribal identity. This occurs when a subset of the gathering takes off with early successes while the others feel left behind or labeled as losers. It also occurs when the initial challenges are too difficult for everyone to realize an early success which spawns personal misgivings and collective cynicism. It sometimes occurs when the challenge is too easy or too irrelevant to count as a significant accomplishment. Engagement can be restored by starting over and creating early successes for everyone involved.
  • Activation of emotional baggage: Particular interactions during P2P collaborations can push individual hot buttons. It suddenly seems like old times, previous losses, or familiar dangers. People overreact, lash out, flip their lid and misdirect their anger. When others take the outbursts too personally, a meltdown can occur. Damage control gets introduced with a play-by-play commentary that covers what happened, what reactions got provoked, and what that reveals about the baggage that got activated. As everyone gains competence at making play-by-play observations, individual outbursts more often remain contained and observed with detachment.
  • Shortchanging fair exchanges: Most of us have experiences with "class participation","team projects" and exercises completed in groups. These practices usually create no expectations of justice among peers. Giving to the group, team or class is expected without any concept of mutual fairness. P2P production of comprehension balances requesting with contributing to others requests and self valuation with valuing others. The production of comprehension can break down when participants feel exploited, abused or depleted by others who fall short of reciprocating. This is an emotional consideration, not a question of formal accounting. When people feel that justice has been restored and they're getting treated fairly, the problem has been alleviated.
When any peer has red flagged one of these patterns, a timeout needs to be called as soon as possible. A different process gets launched from the process of producing comprehension. Each member has this power to "stop the production line" and switch the gathering into problem solving mode. It has become each individual's right and duty to call the shared effort on these malfunctions. The democratic dynamics of the peer production processes get strengthened when any diagnostic protocols get invoked and explored.


Prereqs to peer production of comprehension

The peer production of advanced levels of comprehension is a significant change from going to school. For peer production to become resilient and sustainable, the production designs need to accommodate these significant changes. Here are the particular changes I'm currently considering:

Democratizing diagnostic protocols: When learning is not happening, peers need to respond to the situation. With pragmatic comprehension to troubleshoot the malfunction, remedial or re-conceptualized efforts can follow. Apparent successes with restoring learning will elicit more personal confessions about breakdowns in learning and generate more requests for a diagnostic appraisal of individual problems. A shift will occur from feeling inadequate to feeding confident about changing approaches when learning is not happening.

Explicit framework for producing comprehension: When we take comprehension for granted, we lose the ability to admire progress, celebrate accomplishments and encourage particular production efforts. Achieving comprehension takes a back seat to the measurement system of scores and grades. An explicit framework for the identifying levels and changes in comprehension will upgrade peer-2-peer interactions to become supportive of each individual and encouraging of personal progress.

Letting go of legacy practices: Relying on past experiences with "getting educated" could tragically disrupt the peer production of advanced levels of comprehension. Members of production cohorts will need to regard this approach as an new adventure. Peer production is a game changer with different rules to play by. This transition involves peers leaving their comfort zones, abandoning familiar success routines and changing long-standing habits.

Production system redesigns: The "peer production of advanced levels of comprehension" applies a different metaphor from familiar stories about cramming, regurgitating and getting grades. Participants in peer collaborations need to perceive the production system and make changes to that system when it's not working. Peer sourced upgrades to the production system will not only make it more resilient, but will spawn deeper commitment, motivations and initiatives to keep the peer production alive and well.

I'll explore each of these further during this week.


Four kinds of comprehension

This morning I've been pondering the possibility of comprehension getting produced by peer-2-peer dynamics. I'm foreseeing wonderful possibilities in collaborative approaches that reduce the expert content to being a mere catalyst. I'll write more about all that in the near term. When I'm exploring different ways to cultivate comprehension, I rely on a framework of four kinds which call for four different production strategies. Here's a brief look at that framework:
  • Academic comprehension can be machine graded. The complexity of any deeper or more useful comprehension gets reduced to one right answer on multiple choice questions. Academic comprehension grasps definitions, categories and conceptual abstractions. It avoids those messy gray areas where categorical precision breaks down. Materials designed to cultivate academic comprehension include textbooks, visual aids. study guides and lectures.
  • Commercial comprehension can be demonstrated by personal conduct. The skill, method, technique or routine gets comprehended by doing it repeatedly. Comprehension yields reliability, self-correction and consistency. It pays to know how to do these things the right way to comply with an employer's policies, job descriptions, work flows and best practices. Experiences designed to cultivate commercial comprehension include imitation of an exemplar, practice drills and games to be played by the rules.
  • Pragmatic comprehension can be demonstrated by successfully troubleshooting a malfunction. The diagnostic protocols, analytical frameworks and predictive models get comprehended by applying them to many varied situations with feedback about the outcomes. Pragmatic comprehension is intended to effect the situation getting understood. The comprehension may resolve, alleviate, de-escalate, redirect, liberate, transform or eliminate the situation. Experiences designed to cultivate pragmatic comprehension include scenarios, immersive role plays and internships.
  • Paradoxical comprehension can be demonstrated by knowing when to forego this comprehension. The understanding of the comprehension in context realizes how to keep it in balance with other concerns, time it's application, disrupt excessive pursuits and apply it judiciously. Paradoxical comprehension grasps a whole understanding of it's categorical opposite, reversed application and larger set for which it is a subset. A paradoxical comprehension may show how to get the result by doing nothing and how to solve the problem by making it worse. Experiences designed to cultivate paradoxical comprehension include contradictory valid arguments to resolve and recursive phenomena to explain.


All mistakes are not the same

To err is human. We all make mistakes. We cannot get it right all the time. The way we learn and innovate successfully is by making mistakes. Life would be boring if we did not make mistakes. However, all mistakes are not the same.
  1. Final mistakes: A mistake is final in a "sudden death" playoff or elimination round of any tournament. We can make fatal mistakes once if it takes out our own life. It's a final mistake if we kill the patient, passengers or victim we murder while living to tell the tale. Final mistakes make for high stakes risk taking that rivets audiences to their TV screens and news updates of their favorite sports teams.
  2. Costly mistakes: A mistake is costly when there's continuity with misfortune. We can keep playing, working, participating or contributing. The mistake may have provided a setback could let a rival advance in the competition. It's easy to keep score and know where things stand. Everyone hopes the mistake won't happen again. Mistakes are bad and discouraged under this pressure to perform superbly. The people who make the same mistake repeatedly are believed to be a mistake and are expected to be ashamed of themselves. Correcting mistakes takes time away from making progress, improving processes, reducing costs, or getting results. Costly mistakes call for embarrassing damage control, apologies or recompense.
  3. Useful mistakes: A mistake is useful when it identifies a problem. It's helpful to make a mistake when debugging, refining, troubleshooting and error trapping. We don't know what's wrong, being incorrectly assumed, getting overlooked or taken for granted until a useful mistake gets made. Processes of innovation, design, experimentation and improvisation all require useful mistakes to be made routinely. It's nearly impossible to keep score or know where the project stands. The problems are ill-defined and getting revised in the process of solving them.
  4. Perfect mistakes: A mistake is perfect when we end up in a better place. We make a wrong turn and discover something new. We add the wrong ingredient and get a better result. We forget what we we're supposed to bring and improvise a superior outcome. Something appears to suppress our conscious reasoning and guide us to an alternative we could not have planned on, done deliberately or favored when given the choice.

While these four categories appear as objective criteria, their impact is much more subjective and psychological.

When we are afraid of making a mistake, no mistake is ever considered to be useful or perfect. Performance anxiety dominates our experience. Our minds are closed and prone to fixate on past practices. We are too apprehensive to experiment, wing it or let go of the last mistake. We relate to mistakes this way when we are in positions with high visibility, lots of power, rivals poised to tarnish our reputation and enormous responsibilities for others. We also put this spin on mistakes when we're feeling victimized, powerless and haunted by bad luck.

When we value the benefits of making mistakes, we downplay the costly ones. We believe "you win some and you lose some" and it pays to chill out. Our minds are freewheeling and open to unforeseen alternatives. We don't want to rely on past practices when a better way could be discovered by messing around. We relate to mistakes this way when we are free agents, creative professionals, part-timers and inventors. We also put this spin on mistakes when we're avoiding responsibility, dismissing guilt trips and scoffing at control freaks.

Thus it's not very effective to adopt a particular approach to mistakes. Every kind of mistake is realistic and worthy of consideration. Some are to be avoided and others to be sought after. In fact it's even possible to make a mistake about making mistakes by avoiding the ones to seek out and pursuing the ones to be avoided. Then it's a question of learning from that mistake or continuing to make it.


Four questions in constant use

I've begin pondering what prerequisites may need to be fulfilled for the reversals I'm anticipating will occur as part of the Tetrad of transitions I explored last week. One of the first prerequisites that occurred to me is an advance to the latter pair of these four questions we utilize constantly.

We always have a question in mind in order to evaluate what we're facing. If we had no question in mind, we could not make a choice, decision or move in any direction. The question we use influences how we filter and bias our perceptions. It gives us a slant to what it means, makes sense as and signifies to us.

Question One: Is it good? Yes or no? It cannot be both. There are no two ways about it. Either it's good or it's not.
This question works great for survival. There's no messing around with value judgments and tradeoffs in the midst of imminent danger. Every potential quandary presents a clear cut choice. Question One functions for "fight or flight" responses. It's valuable when making snap judgments, jumping to conclusions or reacting to the slightest sign of danger. It gets us out of trouble quickly. Question One keeps us alive in the absence of safety, abundance, compassion and unity.

Question Two: How good is it? Rate it on a scale that compares it to others. Score it according to standard measurements that single out the best and identify the worst.
This question works great for competition, contests and spending. It compares, sizes up and sorts out options. It shows they way to improve, do better than others and win at their expense. Every messy situation gets framed in win/lose terms with the possibility of coming out ahead or falling behind, getting upstaged or beat. Question Two functions for being a machine, performing reliably, playing by the rules and conforming to norms. It's valuable when scheming a tactical assault, opposing the opposition or struggling against toxicity. It gets us on top of the challenging situation if we apply ourselves with dedication, discipline and determination. Question Two keeps us from falling in with a bunch of losers, drifters, incompetents or slackers.

Question Three: How is it good? What's there to appreciate about it? How does function, make a difference and provide results in this context?
This question works great for relating, learning and changing our approaches. It gets past appearances to the underlying issues. It shows us ways to express gratitude, show respect and understand value being offered. Every potential quandary offers more to explore, discover and connect the dots. Question Three functions for getting creative, finding more avenues to explore and changing strategies. It's valuable when wanting others to feel understood, respected and included in teamwork. It gets us to be open minded, receptive to contradictory inputs and considerate of complex issues. Question Three keeps us from feeding conflicts, needing to be right and escalating misunderstandings.

Question Four: How is this perfect? What is better for the system that connects us all. How is this a win/win/win for everybody's diverse interests?
This question works great for getting in the flow of one good thing after another. It attracts synchronicities where requests seemed to be answered without any struggle. Every messy situation gets allowed without resistance, fear or intolerance. Question Four functions for forgiving others, letting go of the past and enjoying the present moment. It's valuable when wanting to be free of anxiety, guilt and grudges. It gets us to sense what to do next, to keep our lives in balance and back off from any extreme endeavors. Question Four keeps us feeling connected to everyone of us, eternal in a mortal body and fascinated by what happens to occur.

Obviously Question Four is my favorite, though it's the one I most often forget to ask. Yet it seems essential for the collaborations and transformations I foresee in the coming decade.


Making instruction more inclusive

Neil LaChapelle recently mentioned on LinkedIn that he is "trying to design a new, more inclusive online class structure". With my recent reading of books addressing issues like employee engagement, tribal mindsets, social capital, and crowdsourced contributions, my head is full of ideas for inclusive structure.

I know from experience that an instructional design will appear exclusive and disinterested in the learners when it's "covering the material". The premise of working at content to deliver or expertise to transfer sets up a closed system. Opening it up for any kind of involvement will slow down the pace, drop out some of the material or give the wrong impression by drifting "off message". Formal content and recognized expertise are presumed to already be right, finalized and authoritative. It appears senseless to make the content wrong, incomplete or questionable when considering "how to cover the material".

Inclusion makes all the sense in the world when we start from a different premise. Here's an array of different premises and how each leads to more inclusive structures:
  • What if the content is a "beta release / work in progress" getting refined or finalized by incorporating varied user experiences. The design needs to be open to learners inputs that can further the progress, refine the upgrades or redirect an unresponsive approach.
  • What if comprehending the material cannot be done heroically, in isolation or by independent study. The design needs to allow for the comprehension to emerge from the complexity of varied voices, viewpoints and frames of reference among the social network included in the design.
  • What if the structure is an experiment that uses the learners subjects to study the effects of the content on their mood, motivation, initiative, creativity or other responses. The structure then needs to include the subjects as the real subject matter in order to experiment with different versions of the content to realize the best effects.
  • What if the tutoring of individual learners outside of the scheduled times is too time consuming to be feasible. The design needs to scale the tutoring by arranging for peers to help each other with requests for additional examples, restatements of the original idea, clarifications, feedback on trial formulations, working through sample test questions, etc.
  • What if the content is known to produce confusion in the minds of most learners. The design needs their input to explain their confusion, tryout alternative clarifications and get feedback on the degree of success with each attempt at alleviating the confusion.
  • What if the content is inherently useless until learners take the initiative to apply it in a personal context. The structure needs to be open to contexts provided by the learners where uses can be made of the content, questions about adapting the abstract principles/skills in pragmatic ways and practice thinking through the content in realistic scenarios.
  • What if the content is a solution to the learners' particular problem that will get perceived by them as valuable, easy to remember and worth doing well. The structure needs to include the learners as the customers who will takeaway the value, put the ideas to work and test their viability as solutions to problems they face right now.
  • What if the content can be learned, but it cannot be taught. The design needs to tell stories, play games and and solve mysteries to see if the learners "get it" without being told something abstract that "isn't really it".

Of course this is only a partial list in beta release that's known to generate lots of confusion when crammed with heroic efforts. :-)


Hacking a third nature

Over the weekend, I've been getting my head around McKenzie Wark's A Hacker's Manifesto. Here are a few of my ruminations from passages that have resonated with me deeply.

There is a realm of pure potentiality, unfettered by limitations or necessities. In this realm, all is possible. Thus any contact with this realm is an experience of abundance and freedom from scarcity. This realm is virtual, not yet actual. It is natural, not contrived by human nature or modified into a second nature. It is living, not dead, inert or rigid.

We enter this realm by going within, by being empty of preconceptions and by waiting for inspirations to come to mind in their own good time. We may label this realm cosmic consciousness, the Universal Mind or some other representation of it's infinite potential. This is where we go when we get creative, inspired, innovative or in the flow of coincidental occurrences.

Those among us who access this realm with elegance and technical sophistication are hackers. We bring what is virtual into the actual. We disrupt the status quo with more of what's infinitely possible and abundant. It costs us nothing to take ideas, answers and solutions from this realm into our understandings, designs and expressions.

Costs, limitations and necessities only come into play when the hacks get communicated and replicated. A material component involves commercial transactions. The world of scarcity enters into the picture. The freedom from limitation and experience of abundance get lost in translation. What felt very much live when accessing it become dead communicable forms to be shared with others.

There's no going back to the original nature of the virtually infinite possibilities. The second nature of limitation, necessity and scarcity offers yet another opportunity to elegantly hack the status quo. The second nature can get abstracted by redefining the problems, reframing the evidence, re-conceptualizing the limitations and reinventing the obvious. A third nature will emerge that better reflects the unfettered and abundant source of the original inspirations.


Choose your struggle urgently

Rather than turn the tables on each kind of toxicity I explored yesterday, most of us get an urge to help others struggle against it. Without knowing the minds of those we oppose, we try to fix them for good in spite of their doing no good. We think we have chosen the good fight. if we are among those who are intoxicated by the toxicity, we are almost no help to our cause. We need others assistance, advocacy and guidance. Our needs can justify the struggle they feel the urge to pursue. When we are:
  • excluded by toxic exclusivity, we bait others to join our struggle for legitimacy
  • exploited by toxic exploitation, we lure others to fight in our struggle for justice
  • manipulated by toxic manipulations, we provoke others to struggle for our control
  • deceived by toxic deceptions, we spur others to struggle for the undisclosed truth

Struggling for legitimacy - Whenever we lose our legitimacy, we feel silenced, dismissed and ignored. We struggle to express ourselves against inner critics and outer cynics. We cannot handle rejection because we've already experienced an overdose of contempt. We use artistic, athletic or ostentatious endeavors in pursuit of our elusive legitimacy. We show off and sound off to get attention, recognition and respect. We seek out stages, platforms, walls and halls where it will be difficult to ignore us. Anyone who helps us be on display and build an audience of fans has joined our struggle against toxic exclusion.

Struggling for justice - Whenever we've been exploited by injustice, we feel powerless, persecuted and anxiety ridden. We think we've been singled out, much to our embarrassment. We're convinced there's nothing we can do about it considering how intimidating, huge and overwhelming the opposition appears to us. We're paranoid about how things are going to get worse, set another trap for us or ambush us when we're least expecting another violation of our rights. We use excuses, defensive rationalizations and self pity to accept our fate and avoid a fight. Anyone who frames this challenge as a "class struggle" helps us live with chronic exploitation. We admire litigators, legislators and liberators who fight on our behalf.

Struggling for control - Whenever we've been manipulated by false promises, hype or bribes, we feel cheated, vulnerable and trapped. We think to build a large consensus and introduce contrary spin. We figure two can play this game and use the tactics of the manipulators against them. We politicize the struggle, adopt positional stances and exaggerate our selling points. We explore which arguments get traction, which stories evoke sympathy and which scenarios capture others' imaginations. Anyone who helps us manage our impressions, improve our image and position us more effectively has helped us gain control over toxic manipulators.

Struggling for undisclosed truth - Whenever we've been deceived by hypocrites, we feel alerted to watch for mixed messages, hidden meanings and revelations of hidden agendas. We no longer take people at their word or trust their intentions. We read too much into what they say as they lose credibility by saying too much. We let their actions speak louder than their words while assuming they cannot walk their talk, honor their commitments or earn anyone else's respect. We approach them with questions that reveal our suspicions, crap detectors and hostility. Anyone who helps us pry the truth out of these weasels has helped us put an end to the latest round of deceptions.

All four of these struggles fall short of transformation. They fail to cleanup the toxicity. They feed the states of mind which yield more toxic behaviors. Struggling against toxicity maintains a breeding ground for more toxicity. They merely provide all the more reason to throw the toxicity for a loop.


Turning the tables on toxicity

What if this Tetrad of extending, reversing, retrieving and retiring transitions from our pervasive connectivity can put an end to toxic enterprises and governance? What if we can turn the tables on the toxicity without massive resources, well equipped armies or political power over the opponents? What if we can leverage our interdependent freedom to move the goal posts and disrupt the incumbents with new value propositions. What if we can simply:
  • exclude the exclusivity from our new inclusive arrangement
  • exploit the weaknesses of the exploitative elite with our hidden prowess
  • manipulate the ambitions of mercenary manipulators without ambitions of our own
  • deceive the predictions of deceptive hypocrites with disarming appearances
How is it possible to turn the tables on toxicity?

Exclusivity is a defense against getting rejected, abandoned or ostracized. Exclusivity puts up walls, maintains barriers and creates distance to maintain a story of superiority, advantage and privilege. Those who act exclusive have no problems with outsiders getting excluded. In their minds exclusion is inevitable, justified and merely the facts of life. Getting excluded by those who are excluded by necessity does not even put a blip on their radar screen. Those who object to getting excluded will face the facts of life sooner or later. However, being the ones to get excluded is the worst nightmare of those who practice exclusivity. It would seem their fortresses had failed and left them literally defenseless. It's inconceivable that those they exclude could give them a taste of their own medicine. Such an occurrence would change their facts of life, objective necessities and reliable forecasts for staying out of trouble.

Exploitation is a sign of hidden weakness (insecurities, vulnerabilities, inadequacies, inferiorities). Bullies can dish out abuse, but not take it from their victims, because fair fights push their hot buttons. Exploitation is designed to keep their prey on the defensive, intimidated by evidence and apprehensive about future encounters. In their minds, exploitation is justified by their victims' lack of power, control, discipline, rivalry or revenge. They depend on their prey to keep up the entanglement. Getting shown up to be their own worst enemy by those who can exploit their hidden weaknesses can only be devastating. There's no comeback possible when the rug has been pulled out from under their feet.

Manipulation reveals the designs of those overly-ambitious and under-qualified tacticians to be in control, proven right and safe from criticism. They shoot messengers who discredit their propaganda or expose their incompetence. They convince others they really are deviant, defective, or deficient so as to keep them susceptible to manipulations. In their minds, they are really relating, showing consideration, and providing value. They have no concept of being manipulative, trashing relationships, being inconsiderate or destroying value. People who see them as manipulative are clearly ungrateful, clueless or self absorbed. Getting ambushed by their own ambitions leading them astray would burst their bubble.

Deception is a necessity for two-faced hypocrites. In the midst of deceiving themselves about their dark side, they automatically dish out lies, scams and other deceptions as a coverup. They worship false idols, idealize perfection and exalt themselves for their noble aspirations. They assume humility is for those who have fallen from grace, lost their way and abandoned their aspirations. They collude with those who feed their egos and take pride in the same illusions. In their minds they are right without question, providing leadership and raising the standard for those making less of a pretense of pursuing idealism. To be exposed as a hypocrite would come as such a disgrace as to shatter their faith in their ideals and themselves.

Each of these forms of toxicity are delusional states of mind. They are self-justifying without the ability to detect their errors or to utilize discrepant feedback. They cannot stop themselves from doing more harm to others' lives or doing what they always do. They are predictable predators who are easily out-maneuvered by those not spellbound by their toxic illusions. When we can see how exclusivity, exploitation, manipulation and deception function out of necessity, we can take out the shaky ground they stand on. The potential for transformation gets realized by being more complex than these simple-minded delusions. We let this newly formed robust and resilient network to take effect on deliberate disconnects, determinations of necessity and devotions to isolation.


Retrieving that tribal feeling

When we wandered around in hunter/gather mode, we had a tribal feeling. When we settled down into small villages with surrounding farms, we kept that tribal feeling. When we helped out with the mechanized production of goods and scientific methods applied to mysterious conditions, we lost that tribal feeling. We got labeled as irrational, superstitious, unrealistic, and uncivilized if we tried to hang on to that tribal feeling. We were late to work, undisciplined and impractical if we kept feeling tribal. So we got rid of that feeling and took to thinking about everything instead. We kept a lid on our feelings which maintained conditions like chronic anxiety, outbursts of misdirected hostility and lingering emotional baggage.

We're getting that feeling back thanks to the effects of pervasive connectivity. It's different this time around. This new version is compatible with our rationality, objectivity and advanced civilizations. Advances in cognitive neuroscience are showing us how to achieve the best of both: tribal feelings along with disciplined advances in governance, production, societal support systems, cultures and lifestyles. We can realize the integration of rationality and irrationality, thinking and feeling, as well as passions and higher purposes. We can achieve solidarity and cohesion when we bond through online connections. We can feel like we've joined something significant while contributing to and benefiting from the connection.

Our tribal feelings come from a place in our brains that does not keep track of time. It can hold a grudge through generations as if the dishonor happened yesterday. It can vividly recall moments of seemingly magical perfection as if no time has passed. This place also opts for participatory consciousness, losing track of oneself and becoming one with out object of fascination. This pattern makes for intense experiences of motherhood, fatherhood, or brother and sister hood. It makes it natural to stick together, protect each other and sacrifice our lives for the greater good of the tribe. This place responds emotionally to everything that happens and everything under consideration. We speak of this as "listening to our heart's desire" or "going with our gut".

Game designers, movie makers, concert producers and festival organizers already know this. If you're like me, you've had those tribal feelings in many of those experiences. It's also what comes over us when we fall in love with someone or become obsessed with some pursuit. We are "out of our mind" and into our feelings that defy our ability to justify our actions. However, our neocortex can kick in. We can get a grip, come back to our senses and restore our rationality. When we realize the integration, we can enjoy that wonderful feeling while doing something intellectual, analytical or pragmatic. Writing for this blog feels like that on most days. The pervasive connectivity is making it more likely, accessible and common for all of us to get into feeling tribal every day.


Anticipating inconceivable reversals

Reversals are inconceivable when we're caught up in moving forward with conviction, determination and familiarity. Reversals come as a big surprise whether they occur at a personal level in a process of integration, or at a global scale in a process of emergent complexity. As I explored in Offline Online Inline, Marshall McLuhan was fascinated by our collective blindness to the changes coming over us. He perceived that people caught up in the mainstream paradigm could not see the signs, notice the effects or predict the transformation underway. He valued artists, prophets, the next generation for living on the edge of society and being able to foretell and forewarn the oblivious masses. When McLuhan included the pattern of reversal in his Tetrad of media effects, he had in mind reverting to a tribal village mode of interrelating and a pointless mode of perception. He expected us to lose our point of view, our individual perspective about all of us and our detachment as we became immersed in what we know call digital media and platforms. He would not be surprised by Gen Y's multitasking, messaging and playing online games all night.

One of the sets of reversals I'm anticipating relates to the post-scarcity economy that Michel Bauwens continually explores and the 21st capitalism that Umair Haque writes about often. Economic analysis can explore distinctions like value creation vs. value destruction, exchange-value vs. use-value, authentic vs. artificial scarcities and premises of abundance vs scarcity. These reversals I'm foreseeing introduce some other variables such as job design, social capital, psychic income and sufficiency.

The industrial (a.k.a. scarcity, zombie, 20th century capitalist) economy designed jobs for production results and fit people into those slots. When individuals demonstrated skill gaps, weaknesses or a lack of talent, training and accountability measures were applied to eliminate the person's problem. The premise of fitting the person into the job remained unquestioned. The typical lack of results from such "improvement efforts" merely brought on the same accountability measures applied to training departments and human resource functions. Shared expectations about fitting people to jobs validated this approach and justified it's abuses. Personnel problems (turnover, low morale, loss of motivation, burnout, lack of initiative, office politics, apathy, etc) merely proved that people had deficiencies yet to be corrected or accountabilities that needed to be tightened. There was an underlying story advising managers to automatically "turn up the heat to get results while getting those who cannot stand the heat out of the kitchen". The reversal here will turn down the heat and fit the job to the unique person in it who reliably functions as a charismatic leader with a vision, values, particular passions and a significant purpose in being there.

The industrial economy expected people to enjoy themselves away from work and then buckle down at work. Managers could practice deceit, deceptions and manipulations so long as the workforce encountered honesty, integrity and transparency off the job. Workload could be oppressive, unfair and abusive while the workforce could let off steam by taking a break, abusing their bodies or going on a yearly vacation. The products and customer service could do a disservice to buyers, require hard selling to push prospects into submission and get steadily cheapened by cost savings measures so long as the workforce could really care for others, serve their communities and feel good about their efforts away from the job. All this spurred the deep investments in social capital and child rearing in each community's after school activities, fraternal organizations, volunteer projects, religious fellowships and civic involvements. The reversal here will yield social capital from investments in contributing to and benefiting from peer production, peer property and peer governance.

The industrial economy generates a huge cognitive surplus, as Clay Shirky calls it, that has enabled the phenomenal quantity and quality of Web 2.0 contributions. Employees are not sufficiently challenged, understood, utilized or respected at work to capture that dynamo of resourcefulness on the job. Employees expect to "do time serving their sentence", be disengaged, get mismanaged and endure the hardships by becoming tough. The only options are to game the system or get gamed by the system that looks to take advantage of every sign of softness, cooperation or vulnerability. The reversal here will get work done by transforming it into non-zero-sum games worth playing around on the job, where everyone wins and looks out for each other.

The industrial economy thrived on fueling insatiable needs for mass consumption and ostentatious materialism. By keeping people feeling insufficient, inadequate and defective, they would continue to alleviate those awful feelings by compulsive shopping and showing off their acquisitions, escapades and expanding stockpile. By extending massive credit to unworthy borrowers, business operations and investors, this house of cards was taken up to new heights of human folly. This shared psychology of "never enough" inevitably yields the burst bubbles, credit shortages, loss of consumer confidence, and under employment of the current global recession. The reversal here will provide everyone with a feeling of profound sufficiency that results by earning a massive psychic income from making a difference in other's lives with one's own self expression, continual learning, personal reflections and deepening understanding of other individuals.


Internalizing entrepreneurial successes

When we're acting like passive consumers, we take what we're given. We do what we're told to do in school and then at work. We buy what's on the shelf at the store. We pay the ticket price the travel agent gives us. We watch the TV show when it's broadcast. We read what appears on the printed pages of our newspaper or magazine subscriptions. We listen to all the music tracks on a vinyl record or prerecorded tape.

When we're acting like active consumers, we shop around and make up our own minds. We get the results we're told to accomplish in the ways we choose. We compare brands, specs, reviews and prices as we shop for the best choice. We time shift broadcasts to watch at our convenience with interruptions at our own discretion. We cancel subscriptions and read selectively. We listen to CD's or MP3 players where we can shuffle play the music tracks and push a "next" button.

When we're acting like prosumers, we identify with successful consumer brands. We discover our strengths and recognize our own talents. We sell ourselves as hired guns who can solve problems, put out fires and deliver results. We expect people to buy what we're selling once we establish our credibility, prove our reliability and display our popularity. We generate content, connect with colleagues, follow news from others and share our latest incidents transparently. We brand ourselves and then invest in the brand, stay true to it and protect it from damage.

When we're acting like collaborators with and contributors to productive communities, we internalize the models that make entrepreneurs successful. We question what we're bringing to the table. We realize our offer is getting compared to rivals with different mixes and specialties. We enter the world of those we expect to buy what we're selling. We see ourselves through their eyes and value our offer on their terms. We look for ways to solve their problems, ease their pain, facilitate their progress, and support their endeavors. We figure out how to be of service, make a real difference and turn our caring for them into results they appreciate. We become a business model as we monetize these impacts, outcomes and solutions. Our value proposition gets bought and buzzed by others without hype, spin or showing off from us. Our brand gets hijacked, crowdsourced and owned by the buyers.

When we realize this fourth stage of personal development, we're ready for the next economy. We're well placed to change in every which way that's getting brought on by pervasive connectivity. We're in a good place to connect at an emotional level with actively engaged tribes.


Changing every which way

While I've been writing here about emergent complexity for the past month, I've had a question in the back of my mind. "How will all these transitions fit into Marshall McLuhan's Tetrad of media effects?" Back in 1988, McLuhan wrote about the patterns of effects that new media have on current and previous media. Time and again he perceived how new media provided extensions to our current capabilities, over-extended something else until is reversed, retired something that had been rendered obsolete, and revived something that had been previously retired.

When new media take effect, we lose the form and alter the function for the next round. When horseless carriages came along, we continued to benefit from what horse-pulled carriages did for us without the horses, feed, grooming, mucking stables, and blacksmiths. We'd go for rides when no horses were available. When phonographs entered our world, we continued to listen to music performed by others without getting dressed up, going into town, buying tickets, sitting in concert halls and applauding after the performance. We could listen to music on the Victrola anytime of day or night.

I've previously explored this Tetrad of media effects in 2007: Sense of timing from pervasive connectivity and in 2008: Emergent global implosion and Imploding into homeostasis. With my most recent exploration of complexity, I'm seeing a new pattern of these four effects that I will explain in detail this week:
  1. Entrepreneurs currently talk fluently about their value propositions as solutions to customer problems and business models for fitting into market spaces or bridging intersections between paths. As our pervasive connectivity takes further effect, I foresee this entrepreneurial technology being EXTENDED to a personal level. We will be thinking "I am a business model" and "I offer a value proposition" when we contribute to online collaborations, crowdsourced projects and productive commons.
  2. We are currently in a phase of being very generous, caring and free with our time, creativity, knowledge and talents. It's evident in the phenomenal amount of "user generated content" that gets uploaded every minute. This is a reversal from being selfish, greedy, mercenary and controlling. However, this mode of contribution is headed toward becoming over-extended and REVERSED. It's gone too far and seeks a winning combination of win/win, mutually balanced and fair deals among us.
  3. We are seeing a resurgence of tribal activities in international conflicts, online games, urban crime and political activism. These transitional forms are hostile, adversarial and disruptive, yet they foretell a REVIVAL of tribal feelings, emotional engagement and solidarity.
  4. As communities become more resourceful, helpful to each other and resilient, there will be less need for the old economic and governance structures. Institutions and market mechanisms designed for dependent citizenry and passive consumers are becoming obsolete. Societies will RETIRE these bulwarks of the old economy that now seem toxic, abusive, unresponsive and counter-productive.


Furthering complex evolution

Living systems naturally become more complex through encounters with external complexity. The system's current inability to be receptive and/or responsive to inputs from outside triggers adaptation or assimilation processes. Feedback from the 'failed encounter" provokes added considerations, alternatives and routines. External complexity begets internal complexity.

Mechanisms cannot become more complex. Automated systems cannot change their own rules, learn from feedback or adapt to unfamiliar inputs. Mechanisms can only play by their rules and reliably do what they always do. They succeed in the ways they previously succeeded. Like the boy with a hammer in his hand, everything looks like the head of nail. Mechanisms do their thing when it's called for according to it's own rules which overrules any indicators of variety, change or added complexity.

Humans and human systems are hybrids between living systems and mechanisms. When these hybrids function like living systems, we label them open, permeable, responsive, adaptive, learning and complex systems. When they function as mechanisms, we label them as closed, defensive, unresponsive, dysfunctional, stuck and overly simplistic systems. In order to function as a living system, these hybrids need to be curious in a place where it's safe to make mistakes. This contrasts with situations where mistakes are fatal or extremely costly because survival or a zero-sum success is at stake.

We can further the evolution of the human hybrids by any of the following strategies, among others:
  • Giving permission to make mistakes, learn from errors without test anxiety and debug the current understanding by seeing where it messes up.
  • Giving protection from devastating failures through social safety nets, "retests for full credit", and "game over play again?" frames
  • Giving acknowledgment of current intentions, constraints, and obligations which open closed minds and lower defenses
  • Giving expectations to become more responsive, better adapted and more complex in response to the external complexity
When we give like this, we get back in return. We launch a cycle which nurtures further complexity. We reverse the cycle that withholds these gifts until the system performs correctly. We undo the relentless production of anxiety, defensive rationalizations and fear of making mistakes. We give the treatment we'd like to receive when aspiring to become more complex.


Reversals on the way to integration

In my introduction to the process of psychological integration, I used the example of "it's all about me" becoming "it's all about you" to explain the phase called reversal. There are several other examples to be explored for this integration thing so seem widely applicable.
  1. When we're chasing after a pet house cat with no success, we may suddenly reverse our approach and get the cat to come to us. We stop intimidating the cat with our huge size and speed by getting seated down on the floor or in a chair. Rather than trying to catch the cat, we become alluring and patient so the cat comes around to check us out. We drop out of appearing so predictable with our one goal in mind to being mysterious and hard to predict our next move.
  2. When we are convinced we have to push to get our way, get our product sold, or get others convinced, it's quite a turnaround to switch to pulling. Rather than sell, we set up others to sell themselves. Rather than tell, we ask and listen. Rather than pitch the features and benefits, we get them thinking about potential uses in their own context. We switch from creating product to creating demand for the product.
  3. When we're thinking as if the sun revolves around the earth, we're convinced we are center of attention, irreplaceable and the most important person in the room. When we go through a personal experience of the Copernican revolution, it's as if we are one more planet in the solar system. Now we are paying attention to all the other centers and are no more important than everyone else. It's as if we've been dancing on a tabletop looking down on others and are suddenly seated at the table among equals, looking eye to eye at each other.
  4. When our past history is in the foreground, we're consumed with telling everyone what happened to us, how to sympathize with our plight and why we cannot change because of our damage. The background contains what is happening now that we assume is of no significance. After a figure/ground reversal, our past history is suddenly in the background. In the foreground we can smell the coffee, enjoy the day and show interest in the little things we've been ignoring.
  5. When we're trying to make change happen, we're opposed to stability because it looks like stagnation, resistance to change and no progress at all. When we flip/flop into an effective change strategy, we deepen everyone's experience of stability by exploring what's too good to lose, what won't change amidst the transition and why there's so much worth keeping as is. This gives people solid ground to stand on, familiarity amidst the strangeness and enough safety to cope with the dangers.
  6. When people are not learning what we're teaching, preaching or presenting, we assume they are too stupid, unmotivated or preoccupied to get the great material we're sharing. There's no way the problem could be in our "sage on stage", "big mouth" approach. When we get turned around, we become the "guide on the side" with a smaller mouth. We speak of how the message has effected other audiences, how to avoid mistaking the message for something else, or how to take the ideas and run with them to get a better result.
  7. When we're totally opposed to something, it's clear in our minds that it is totally wrong, bad, dysfunctional, toxic, harmful or evil. No good can come of it and there's no two ways about it. If we get thrown for a loop, our comprehension gets complicated. We see the good that comes with the bad, the bigger picture that plays off our opposition and the unintended side effects of being totally opposed to something. We figure out how to allow, appreciate and respect what was previously unacceptable.
In each of these examples, the initial position is a contamination. There's no way to be any different at the start. No amount of convincing the person to change will have it's intended effect. Until a complete turnaround occurs, there's only the kind of changes that amount to no change at all.


Integration of tribes into civil society

Tribes have a disintegrating effect on law and order when they are not integrated into their civil societies. This pattern is obvious at the scale of nation-states with warring tribes, military juntas, smuggling rings, urban gangs and drug cartels. Their honor code refutes the imposed legal code that frames them as "outlaws" to be hunted down and killed. The same pattern emerges less violently within stable institutions as the shared identities of political action groups, sports teams, fraternities, "the old guard", splinter groups, rival factions, and privileged elites. Tribes within institutions undermine change efforts, polarize issues in need of consensus and disrupt more inclusive communities.

When we're outsiders to a tribe, we can see them "doing the tribe thing" in an unstoppable way that does not listen to reason. It looks to our uppity outlook like they are over-identified with their shared identity, solidarity and safety in numbers. Their devotion to their own kind, while demonizing outsiders, appears dysfunctional and counter productive from our separate perspective. We can perceive how the tribes don't get how they've become contaminated, captivated and compromised by "being a tribe" This outlook falls far short of integrating tribes into our civil society. We look down on tribal behavior as if we're superior and levels above all that. Devaluing tribes merely returns the favor of being devoted to our own non-tribal kind while demonizing "those nasty tribes". Our counter dependence on tribes is getting us nowhere quickly. We are feeding the tribe problem by doing unto tribes as they do unto us.

When its no longer about us, we can respect tribes with what we now discover. We reverse our outlook so it's all about them that we now care about, respect and seek to include. We then see what results tribes are able to get successfully. We see how appealing tribes are to our human emotions, urges and instincts. We see how similar "doing the tribal thing" is to getting followers, building a fan base, generating buzz and spawning loyalty. We realize that tribes aren't all bad and don't have it all wrong. We learn a lesson as if tribes are our teachers. We get the point of tribes doing their thing to fire up emotions, engender enthusiasm and inspire dedication. We discover common ground with tribes when we outgrow using policies, "law and order" enforcement and institutional doctrines to get buy-in. Totems, tokens and rituals take on new meanings. We realize the benefits of tribal conduct in market niche creation, advertising campaigns, product launches and crowdsourced innovations.

When it's no longer about them, we can integrate tribes into civil society. It's about all of us with no one excluded. The feeling of belonging, connection and interdependency becomes palpable. We "come from a tribal place" where it makes sense we're all in the same tribe beyond the level of obvious differences. Mutual respect becomes the new norm. Stories change as members of tribes, institutions and markets get the societal transformation that's emerging. Misunderstandings get cleared up as we depend more on each other with added trust, respect, and fascination. It appears we've done the integration thing at a personal level and it has shown up on the outside as our experience of living in the world.


Personal integration - relational interdependence

David Ronfeldt's latest post has given us tons of food for thought on ways to characterize the evolution of society beyond tribes, institutions and markets. Today I'll explore my uses of the concept of "integration" and tie it into the relational grammars I previously aligned with his TIMN framework. Ronfeldt wrote:
Consider how Adler and Heckscher associate hierarchies with dependence, markets with independence, and collaborative community with interdependence. Okay, I see their point. But it may also be true that hierarchies and markets are rife with their own interdependencies. Furthermore, the interdependencies may become so deep and intricate that a term (and a spectrum) with the root “depend” isn’t accurate enough anymore — terms like interconnection and internetted and integration may make more sense.
Rather than replace "interdependency" with "integration", I see the two as very complimentary. Likewise contamination and co-dependency together explain why people join tribes, why tribes endure and why tribal conflicts are so common. Separation and counter-dependence together explain why people seek employment in institutions, why institutions outlive their usefulness and why institutions are rife with political infighting, turf battles and memo wars. Reversals and independence together explain why entrepreneurs innovate, relate well to their customers and serve markets better than institutional providers. Finally integration and interdependence together explain how civil society can be transformed by unheard levels of contributions, cooperation, collaboration and communication among all of us. Here's a more detailed look at those combinations:
  • Contamination: When I'm thinking "I'm just being myself" there's no way I can stop that or start being someone else. My concept precludes any choices or changes. I have to be this. I expect others to accept me as I am, get off my case and get where I'm coming from. I'm unconsciously identified with being myself and preclude identification with anything else. Being myself is serious devotion not to be laughed at, satirized or criticized. Any contrary view will be taken as a insult that will inspire retaliation. Nobody can tell me an differently and expect me to understand, relate or learn from their input. This psychological condition is called a contamination because there is no separation in my psyche from my all-consuming identity. I am preoccupied by it, enchanted with it, and possessed by it -- without being able to admit that, see it or detach myself from it. If something has gotten into me, gotten ahold of me or gotten the best of me, I don't know it. There's no limit to what we can get contaminated by. For tribes it's being identified with their tribe, its history and its shared identity.
  • Co-dependence: When you're feeling upset, I'm feeling upset too. There's no way I can feel differently from each other. We share an identity that precludes any separate feelings. When someone insults you, I'm insulted too. We're in this together totally and nobody can pulls us apart. I cannot: handle your feelings getting hurt, help you cope with it or let the insult go myself. All I can do is cling to it like it just happened, join you in holding grudges, commiserate with you over this misfortune and remain entangled with your reactions. It's called "co-dependence" because we're both depending on each other to prop up our faltering confidence, to hide our insecurities and to shift the blame onto others besides ourselves. We're using each other as crutches so we don't have to stand on our own two feet, look ourselves in the mirror or take responsibility for our effects on others. There's no stopping a co-dependent relationship, For tribes, it's perpetuated as traditions, rituals, and resentments that keeps all the members feeling the same about themselves and outsiders.
  • Separation: When I'm thinking "I'm doing that thing I usually do", I'm no longer identified with it. I've separated myself from being it to doing it with detachment. Now I can stop it when I want to and do or be something else. I have choices and can change. I can leave work at work and have a life at home. I can enjoy weekends and vacations from doing that thing I do. I can get better that that thing and break with traditions too. I'm in the right frame of mind to leave a tribe and join the rank and file of an institution. I can join an army and fight for a cause. I can join a workforce and do time in a paycheck prison. I can commit crimes and do time in a guarded prison.
  • Counter-dependence: When you're telling me what to do, I'll find ways to give it lip service and do something else. When you're saying "from now on we're going to change", I'll be thinking "here we go again and won't these big announcements ever change". I'm having a problem with authority figures to break out of my previous mindless dependency, compliance and conformity. Being employed by an institution provides lots of authority figures, policies, directives and chains of command to take issue with. My walking the fine line between insubordination and acceptable defiance keeps life interesting for me while inducing bureaucratic stagnation in the institution.
  • Reversal: When I'm thinking "what can I do to better serve you?", it's no longer about me. I've reversed my outlook from winning at your expense to looking after how you can win with my help. I'm thinking about what you're trying to do, what position you're in and what's keeping you from being more successful. I'm setting myself up to be caring, understanding, responsive and innovative. I've got what it takes to become entrepreneurial, take a market by storm and better serve the customers than my rivals. If I take a hit, it's a lesson about what I've been missing, what I can change for the better and what revised strategy will better serve the market.
  • Independence: When you're telling me how you respect me, I can stand on my own two feet. When we're relating as equals, I can own my mistakes and take responsibility for how I come across. When you're giving me challenges in line with the ways I'm growing, I'm going to value who you are, where you're coming from and what we've got going between us. My outlook on relating comes across to customers as exceptional service, reliability and partnering that generates more value, useful purchases and loyalty to my market-driven enterprise.
  • Integration: When I'm thinking "it takes both your winning and my winning too", it's no longer about you, it's about us. If we don't both win, we both lose out on the combinations that generate so much synergy and beneficial spinoffs for us. The more responsive I get to you, the more receptive you get to me, and vice versa. The more we collaborate, the more we will see ways to be more efficient and effective by relying on each other. We bring out the best in each other by being there for each other. Our shared outlook sets up outcomes easily falling into place that previously involved lengthy struggles, huge investments and excessive controls.
  • Interdependence: When you're telling me what you're relying on me for and how I'm free to get it done as I see best, I can do the same to you in return. When you are getting me hooked up with others you depend on, they then find ways to depend on me. Before long there are so many of us depending on each other, together amazing things get accomplished. The way we work makes short work of what could not even be achieved by heroics, throwing money at problems or experts strutting their stuff.
Contamination, separation, reversal and integration captures a psychological evolution from weak ego states to full maturity. The stages define how we change with experience how we think, conceptualize, identify and comprehend our world. Co-dependence, counter-dependence, independence and interdependence are a relational grammar. They characterize how we're getting along, dealing with differences in our power and relating to each other's potentials. Together, these two frameworks say something useful about patterns of societal evolution also.