P2P learning ties in with everything

This morning my internal cognitive network has a "small world" feel to it. There are very few degrees of separation between the nodes in my cognitive network. It's clear to me I have tons to share with you in the coming months but I don't know where to begin. That may be due to the fact that robust networks don't have a beginning.

Over the extended holiday weekend, I captured a lot of inspirations for how peer-to-peer (P2P) learning could occur. After taking time out to prepare "baked yams and apples in a sherry butter sauce" for 20 friends and relations, I got to explore how P2P learning ties into so many other possibilities I'm exploring. Each of these explorations seem like hubs enjoying power law scalability. The well connected nodes are becoming increasingly connected to each other and vast arrays of other ideas, books and bloggers.

P2P learning functions superbly within one of the disruptive innovations I've proposed will impact higher education in the near future. It appears to alleviate many of the adversities playing into the chronic 50% college dropout rate. P2P learning provides wonderful preparation for contributing to P2P production, property and governance practices that Michel Bauwens and many others are advancing. P2P learning also prepares people to function in a "world without Wall Street" that David Korten defines in his latest book, which I read last week, Agenda for a New Economy. P2P learning appears to be compliant with John Medina's Brain Rules which exposed the counter productive cognitive impacts of classroom and curriculum based learning. P2P learning is highly congruent with all I've written about as PLE 2.0 that combines DIY with DIT (do it together) serendipitous learning.

P2P learning links to another major cognitive hub I have not yet written about here: conflicts with and within collaborative networks. P2P learning functions as a collaboration that is vulnerable to external turbulence and internal dissensions. Formulating response capabilities to "buffer the core technologies of collaboration" serves many other purposes. It shows promise for resolving emotional baggage that individual collaborators bring to the interactions. It makes the collaborative networks more resilient, sustainable and supportive of disruptive diversity. It transforms a single-minded endeavor into a total solution which is much more likely to scale into widespread adoption.

P2P learning also solves some technical issues I've been wrestling with while preparing a business plan entry for the contest at the University of Pennsylvania. It reframes the business model as a support system for curiosity and creativity. It defines the value proposition as something that gets crowd sourced, rather than delivered with a factory model of production. It sets up the startup to launch "off radar" of rival incumbents by not serving the consumers of what could be called "anti-P2P learning". It defines the challenge of making P2P learning seem very appealing, accessible and easy to adopt by refining the "customer experience design".


Freedom from too much information

The abundance of free content gave me another idea for a possible scarcity to spawn a freemium business model. What if the abundance of free content gets old? What if we begin to experience the negative side of all that abundance? What if we begin to throw up red flags when we're feeling overwhelmed by the abundance like:
  • I didn't ask for this information!
  • This is too much information!
  • I'm not ready for all this content!
  • This comes at a bad time for me!

To throw up red flags like this is a healthy sign. We are exhibiting a sense of an independent self with healthy boundaries from recurring abuse. We've disentangled ourselves from entrapments that fail to honor, respect and value us. We are standing up for what represents who we intend to be and how we want to relate to the world. We are acting on choices found within rather than reacting with fear, guilt or obligatory limitations to what gets imposed on us.

Within this possibility, freedom from "too much information" is a new scarcity created by the abundance of content. The abundance is easy to come by, the freedom from it is not. It's no problem to drink from the fire hose. It's a big problem to shut it off or distance ourselves from getting blasted.

Within this possibility, the abundance of content is free. It then will be worth some added expense to:
  • get information only when we request it
  • get the right amount of information for our immediate purposes
  • get the content when we're ready for it
  • get to postpone receiving or inventory content for later use when the timing is right

This business model would then function as a disruptive innovation for enterprises that:
deliver content on it's own broadcasting schedule in formats that cannot be time-shifted
publish content in bound volumes that cannot be searched, tagged or bookmarked
aggregate large quantities of digital resources that do not support searches for personal uses
push too much content onto audiences that wanted "just a little for now"

The goal posts would then be moved. The game would be changed to providing answers to questions, responses to requests and possibilities to generate further questions. Free content would remain free, but freedom from it's timing, excesses and lack of selection options would be costly.


Free answers - costly questions

When we're formulating a "freemium" business model, we need to become well travelled along the boundary between abundance and scarcity. Any new abundance creates new scarcities while rendering previous scarcities as obsolete, contrived or controlling. The new abundance also heightens our appreciation of the potential value, benefits and uses of a new scarcity. We recognize how some of the new scarcity is cheap, over-priced or useless.

This morning I've been exploring how "quality questions" might become the new scarcity amidst the abundance of free content, answers, finds, resources and solutions. It initially occurred to me that there are plenty of cheap questions, throwaway questions and unrewarding questions. We don't need "consumer education" to recognize questions that create value while satisfying our love our mysteries, adventures and ongoing explorations.

I then realized that most of my best questions have dawned on me in the midst of intense thought processes. Questions seem to arise like emergent outcomes of complex adaptive systems. When I'm describing this process I say things like:
Reflecting on all those recent developments that I'm seeing suddenly gave me a new question to explore.
Changing my point of view revealed a new question I was not previously considering.
Making use of that new concept raised a whole new set of questions for me to get answered.
Comparing these alternatives uncovered many deeper questions to ponder.
When I'm saying things like this, I'm expressing a profound appreciation for quality questions. I regard them as relatively scarce compared to the abundance of further explorations. I value them as gifts, treasures and gems. The value of these questions seems genuine to me, not artificial, contrived or hyped. I'm using the questions to support processes that I trust while get me where I want to go.

I then entertained a new question: could the right kind of question change our minds? I thought of several different ways to ask the question:
  • How can challenging questions open closed minds that have adopted a stance of "no further questions your Honor"?
  • How could an insightful question shatter long-held assumptions which have denied the reality of the situation?
  • How can penetrating questions revise reasoning that has relied on "either/or" binary explanations?
  • How could several disturbing questions transform a draining vicious cycle into an energizing virtuous cycle?
I then noticed how I was framing valuable questions as challenging, insightful, penetrating and disturbing. I was setting myself up to appreciate scarce questions, discriminate between different qualities of questions, and regard the right questions for the job as inherently useful. By seeking valued outcomes from my use of questions, I was both open to benefiting from the abundance of answers and guarded against cheap, throwaway and unrewarding questions.

This seems to me like the start of a freemium business model that works with "content wanting to be free".


Forecasting the flip

Another way to assess the likelihood of scaling an innovation eluded my searching yesterday. This morning I found it in Chapter Four of the book: Disrupting Class - How disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns by Clayton Christensen, Michael  B. Horn and Curtis W. Johnson. In the words of the authors:
It turns out there is a way to forecast the flip. ... one must plot on the vertical axis the ratio of market shares held by the new, divided by the old (if each has 50 percent, this ratio will be 1.0). Second, the vertical axis needs to be arrayed on a logarithmic scale—so that .0001, .001, .01, .1, 1.0, and 10.0 are all equidistant. When plotted in this way, the data always fall on a straight line. If the first four or five points do not lie in a line, it is a signal that there is no compelling driver for substitution. But the line is always straight if a disruption is occurring. Sometimes the line slopes upward steeply, and sometimes it is more gradual. The reason the line is straight is that the mathematics "linearizes" the S‑curve. When the substitution pace is plotted in this way, one can tell what the slope of the line is even when the new approach accounts for only 2 to 3 percent of the total. That makes it easy to extend the line into the future to get a sense of when the innovation will account for 25 percent,50 percent, and 90 percent of the total. We call this line a "substitution curve." (pages 97-98)
The compelling driver for "the innovation replacing the incumbent" is evident in the early market share data. Scaling of the innovation is simply the accumulation of the ongoing logarithmic increases. The S curve flips from "curving up" to "bending over". That turning point has been compared to "taking swings at beach balls where you can't miss", "getting caught up in a tornado" and "hitting the first bowling pin that knocks over all the others".


Will your innovation scale?

Yesterday I was thrilled to discover, via LinkedIn, the announcement of a competition for business plans in the education space. So much of what I've explored in this blog could be restated as a business plan. I spent most of yesterday contemplating how I could reformulate my writings about disrupting higher ed into a scalable solution to the college dropout problem. The First Annual Milken-PennGSE Education Business Plan Competition defines it's parameters as:
Educational entrepreneurship business plans should outline the problem they address, offer a solution, and discuss scaling possibilities for bringing the proposed innovation to additional settings ...... In evaluating business plan submissions, our judges will consider the importance of the educational problem, the creativity and feasibility of the proposed solution, and the potential for widespread impact.
This morning I did a Google search of "scaling innovations" to refine my thinking about the third parameter in the competition. While I found an abundance of content that addresses the scaling of innovations in education, none of it aligned with the model in my mind about scaling. Most of it sought to get incumbents to disrupt themselves, as if educators are being asked to pull the rug out from under their own feet Thus I'm feeling compelled to spell out how I answer the question: "Will my innovation scale up into widespread use?"
  1. Innovations have a chance of scaling if they are "off the radar of the incumbents". This may occur by serving non-consumers of the market leaders, offering lower cost alternatives down market or appearing too weird to pose any obvious threat to those incumbents. Innovations are imperiled by competing directly with, stealing customers from or generating negative press for the incumbents with the resources to annihilate the innovation.
  2. Innovations may scale if they evolve into a total solution. They they offer a "package deal" that handles lots more issues besides the innovation itself. Innovations will not take off if they cannot answer the misgivings and exploratory questions of potential customers.
  3. Innovations are likely to scale if the inventors have "let go of their baby". The process of developing a viable innovation is deeply immersive and intensely engaging. The design issues demand so much attention, the inventors assume "everyone will want this". The innovation only gains widespread adoption when it serves other perspectives, functions in other contexts and solve other problems besides the inventor's original conception.
  4. Innovations improve their chances of scaling when they rebound from the dip (Godin), chasm (Moore) or hype cycle (Gartner). The second launch then appeals to pragmatists who want to use the innovation as a tool, shortcut or solution to their particular situation. They are relying on it's reputation and will spread the word if it works for them. Otherwise, innovations lose out when once the thrill is gone, the early adopters have gotten bored with it and the high churn press coverage has moved on to the next new thing.
When all four of these issues get handled by the ways of bringing the innovation to market, the odds are in its favor to scale to widespread adoption. Each neglected issue weakens the chances significantly. Failing all four concerns reduces the possibility of scaling to nil.


Formulating a total solution

When we've developed an innovative product or service, the marketplace may not want it yet, understand it on their own terms or see any use for it in their personal contexts. They may be asking:
  • What good is this to me?
  • Why should I want to acquire this?
  • How can I be the judge of the quality of this?
  • Why should I trust what the sales pitch says about this?

Those adventurous types that buy something before the herd has a clue that it exists, may be disappointed with their purchase of the innovative product or service. It may not work as promised, not function in the way they had hoped, or took more effort than they expected. Those early adopters may be asking:
  • Why wasn't I told about these disadvantages and difficulties before I bought this?
  • How could I be so gullible, unsuspecting and naive to fall for this?
  • What was I thinking when I found this offer to be appealing?
  • Why was I so impulsive as to leap before I looked?

Once the innovation gets debugged and refined, some of that buyer's remorse will vanish. Once the disconnects between marketing and actual functionality get cleaned up, more customers will be satisfied with their purchases. Then there will be a new crowd of customers who want to do more with the innovation, who wonder how to get the most out of it and who are considering ways to apply the innovation in other situations. These pragmatists may be asking:
  • Where else can this be applied?
  • How else can this be made to function for me?
  • What can this do when applied to some of my other problems?
  • Why does the innovation limit itself to those prescribed applications?

All three sets of questions are opportunities to formulate a total solution for the customers. The original innovation gets contained in a larger package. The potential buyers with problems encounter the total solution that says to them: "bring it on, we get this all the time". The potential buyers experience "customer service before the sale". They're then sold on how they were treated, served and respected by the total solution. Their trust in the innovation is deepened by how they got their questions answered, misgivings resolved and remorse prevented. The established customers get service after the sale. They become "brand hijackers" who spread the word of the "great innovation they've been using". They get into the spirit of how they we're treated as they serve their strong and weak social network links with answers to their questions. The total solution takes on a life of its own.


Inducing realizations

When we're presenting, authoring, teaching or designing instruction, we're relying on a field-tested theory about learning. We may assume that the only things coming to the minds of the learner are from us. We may otherwise assume we're competing with many other things that come to their minds besides what we're presenting.

When we assume we're in control of what comes to learners' minds, we're inclined to think that we can make learning happen. We've simplified our world view to include so few variables that we're overconfident about our role in the complex interdependencies. We presume to educate by delivering to, imposing on, coercing the internal processes and manipulating the outcomes from the minds of the learners.

When we assume the learners' minds are out of our control, we're open to the possibility that learning happens emergently. We've complicated our world view to include complex adaptive systems, ecological models and adaptive outcomes. We've gained a different perspective on our role in the system. We're one more pea in the pod, bozo on the bus or drop in the bucket. We presume to educate when we do what it takes for learning to happen on it's own and to come about naturally. We stop trying to make learning happen and then let it happen by trusting the complex processes involved in the minds of the learners. For the past two decades, I've been calling this approach "inducing realizations".

One way to induce realizations in the minds of the learners is to contrast two approaches. For instance, I've just compared "making learning happen" with "letting learning happen". This breaks up the assumption that there is only one way to function, react or decide about how to proceed. It "voices a choice" that may not been previously considered. It may induce added complexity to educators' cognitive networks which routinely respond to situations which call for presentations or instructional designs. It implies that more will come to their minds than what I've just put into it by reading this. I'm assuming readers will come to your own realizations about the significance, uses and value of this choice within their personal contexts. They'll  make up their mind as they're so inclined. Perhaps some learning will happen.


Leveraging your empathy for the learners

When we already know the material we're going to present, our minds become free to know the learners. We can spend time understanding them in ways they understand themselves. We can prepare to speak their minds and picture them in ways that induce more learning. This cultivated ability to empathize with the learners can be leveraged into more effective instructional designs, learner experiences and disruptive value propositions.

When I've spent time "learning the learners", here's some of what I've discovered:
  • There's a range of different expectations about what I will do for them, with them and in spite of them. Some are cynical and expecting the worst. Others are optimistic and trusting me to provide exceptional value.
  • There are lurking fears about who this may get off to a great start but end up disappointing them. Some are afraid this will be over the heads, moving too fast to keep up or too basic to be of any use.
  • There are those who want to be told the facts, methods and guiding principles. Others want to understand why this approach makes sense, how it compares to others and when it's not applicable.
  • Some learners assume classroom experiences are done to get the grade and nothing else. Others expect to apply what they learn in other classes and then later in life. Some organize their efforts to prepare for the test while the others prepare to enrich their understanding.
When we understand these kinds of variables, there are two ways to mention them to the learners. One way belittles them by saying "I know what you're thinking" and implying "How could you be so stupid?". The other opens their closed minds by saying "Some of you share these concerns" and implying "You want to get the most out of this investment you're making". The first approach is manipulative and attempts to control the learners. The second approach is empathetic and relates respectfully with the learners.

This same contrast occurs in the formulation of disruptive value propositions, innovative educations products and new business models. The first lacks empathy for the learners and pushes the product in their faces. The attempts to deliver the product backfire. The other leverages the empathy for the learners and creates demand for them to inquire into, explore further and realize for themselves the value in this offering. The effects on the learners are enduring, mutually beneficial and significant.


Disrupting the value proposition

Whenever a significant new technology comes along, it's human nature to overreact. Andy Kessler tells some wonderful anecdotes about the furor over steam, electric, gasoline and nuclear power  sources in his book How We Got Here. We act like the technology will be disruptive of the previous mode of existence. There's lots of evidence that we're currently immersed in that overreaction to the technologies of online learning. It's not wrong to think there will be sweeping changes associated with online access, searchable archived content, immersive digital environments and free tools for self expression. It's wrong to think the technologies will drive the change.

The two disruptive business models for higher education I've proposed are not defined by online learning. Both the service based and peer based learning could be enhanced by online experiences. Yet both were generated by the kinds of subsequent employment the graduates will find and the kinds of learning best suited toward those objectives. They revise the "strategy canvas" in search of "blue ocean market space" as Kim and Mauborgne advised us to pursue in Blue Ocean Strategy. These models also seek out "bowling alley" niches for Crossing the Chasm (Geoffrey Moore). They also demonstrate Mastering the Hype Cycle (Fenn & Raskino) by rebounding after the overreaction fizzles out.

I've become convinced that Clayton Christensen's model of disruptive innovation gets it right. The technology is not itself disruptive. The new value proposition made easier with the technology moves the goal posts. There are non-consumers of existing business models who can be served by something new that is good enough for starters. There are jobs they are getting done with difficulty or not getting done at all with the current offerings. The disruptive value proposition helps them get their jobs done at last or done faster, better and/or cheaper. The value is experienced "in the eyes of the beholder", not the eyes of the technologists, inventors or promoters.  The new business model delivers that intangible value. It uses tangible products, services and technologies as a means toward the end of delivering that intangible value.

To come up with disruptive value propositions, we need to think of the end user in their own contexts. We need to empathize with their plight, feel their pain and walk in their moccasins. When we see the jobs they are trying to get done, the tools become useful in their context. We see how to best apply them without overreacting to the obvious benefits of the new technology. We change our orientation so that we're "selling holes, not electric drills".


Making college affordable

As Karl Kapp recently explored in The Higher Education Bubble Continues to Grow, most colleges are mimicking Wall Street's flawed strategy of self-serving financial schemes. Colleges cannot slow the runaway inflation which results in soaring costs, declining value and under-served students. These colleges are conforming to a single contaminated business model, much like the health care providers that Clayton Christensen has analyzed. The "significant" differences between colleges amount to mere superficial variations in course offerings, campus activities and financial aid resources. The financial crisis is shared by nearly all institutions of higher education. As I recently explored on my other blog, the reasons the costs are soaring out of sight are not even on their radars.

I expect four different business models will emerge from the widespread collapse of over-priced academic institutions. Each constitutes an exit strategy from the stampede headed for the precipice. Two exits develop sustaining innovations which maintain the use of college campuses and classroom contacts with students. The other two introduce disruptive innovations which change the game of "getting a college education". All four innovations make college more affordable while redefining and differentiating their value propositions. Each new business model will need to "circle its wagons" to defend itself against contamination by the other three innovations.

Academic credentials providers
Only one of the four new business models will continue to offer degrees and transcripts from accredited institutions. This exit strategy is the least affordable alternative, though cost reductions can be achieved. This sustaining innovation only serves the sciences, engineering programs and technical disciplines. This model views undergraduate education as a certification process for grad school. The credentials earned remain within academia. Every student is required to progress through the same obstacle courses, get over the same hurdles and exhibit the same competencies. The factory model for the production of uniform outputs can be better utilized to make the educational and matriculation processes more efficient and cost effective. Presentations by pricey faculty members can be archived for download as the open courseware movement has already initiated. Personal contact with undergrad students can be handled by low cost grad students who are "learning by teaching". The faculty will continue to be devoted to academic research, publishing and grant seeking. Much of the students' testing and lab work will migrate into game environments where learners proceed at their own pace, self-remediating flaws in their perception, understanding or execution.  Cost savings will also be realized by the elimination of the "cruise ship" amenities and their accompanying layers of bureaucracy.

College experience providers
One other business model will sustain the use of college classrooms and campuses. It does not credential the advancement to grad school or support academic research. It values the quality of teaching and relating to students over subject matter expertise. It provides the enrollment with high quality college experiences and utilizes liberal arts and humanities curricula toward that end. It serves those college students looking to mature, separate from their family systems,  find themselves, and/or get experience with mating -- while living on campus. It expects there will be no connection between what students study in college and their subsequent employment. There is no need for grades or other academic credentials. The subject matter gets used to cultivate their ability to critique, problem solve, change frames of reference, perceive subtleties and express themselves. The instructors function as mentors, coaches, guides and sounding boards for the students' personal development. There remains a parallel staff of RA's, counselors, activity sponsors etc. for the rich variety of "student life" offerings. Cost savings are realized by the elimination of academic tenure, committees, research, libraries and administration. This labor model can be delivered entirely by part time "adjuncts" who exude a passion for teaching and cultivating individual students. These faculty members will write recommendation letters for the students they know very well upon graduation and job seeking. These students will have also assembled portfolios, verified by faculty members -- that reveal abilities that could contribute to an employer's objectives.

Service learning providers
The first of the two disruptive innovations utilizes a service learning paradigm. This business model serves those going into service careers. The process of apprenticeship, on-the-job training and action learning cultivates the needed skills and awareness. This "game-changer" will evacuate most community college and 4-year classrooms that pretend to prepare students to serve others by listening to lectures and taking tests on textbooks.  It delivers hands-on practice for subsequent work that will involves hands-on practices. While academia discredits this innovation as inferior  "vocational training" or "trade school", it redefines quality in "unacademic ways". Much like business recruiting and promotion efforts, this model relies on role play, in-basket and other "immersion in simulated situations" to qualify individuals. It's not what they say they know, but rather how effectively they "walk the talk" that counts. This model will deliver students who can get the job done, handle the responsibility effectively and respond to unfamiliar situations impressively. This innovation will frame academia as merely preparing students to be hypocrites who only "talk the talk" and look good on paper. Cost savings will be realized by the elimination of classrooms, campuses, textbooks and the academic administration.

Peer learning providers
The other of the two disruptive innovations utilizes a peer learning paradigm. This business model serves those going into professions that initiate projects, work with clients, collaborate with colleagues and create new solutions together. Learning from interactions with peers cultivates the core skill sets for collaborating. Getting an education from peers provides of sense of getting along with others more easily, gaining trust in others, getting others to feel understood and getting common ground established at the beginning. Learners get accustomed to making a difference by listening, appreciating differences and relying on others. They will become clear about the value they offer others and many other dimensions of "entrepreneurial literacy". They will get a sense of "how and why it pays to know this" which will set them up to prosper in the world of free lancing on call and working with virtual teams. These educations can emerge from mutual investments in sweat equity. Very little, if any, money will change hands -- much like the transition from the Wall Street to Main Street playbook of the next generation global economy. The cost savings, compared to other three business models is staggering, like the growing abundance of free online content and freemium offerings that are disrupting newspapers, radio/ television broadcasters and conventional advertisers.

Disrupted college advising
At the center of these four exit strategies will be a new space. Instead of admissions advisers and college recruiters, we will find the likes of optometrists or travel agents for each seeker of a higher education. Students will come to get the equivalent of a new eyeglass prescription or a travel itinerary. They'll get help sorting out all these options to arrive that the best personal fit. Those that show signs of continuing dependency on authority figures, expert content and formal instruction -- will favor the sustaining innovations. Those revealing confidence, independence and self-direction will favor the disruptive alternatives. Those with no idea what they want to study will find the "college experience" emphasis will serve them best. Those with their sights set on grad school will favor the academic model that continues to issue diplomas and grade transcripts. Those who are inclined to make the same difference in different people's lives everyday will be advised to explore the service learning model. Those who expect to co-create new solutions with varieties of projects, collaborators and clientele will favor the peer learning model.


Entering possibility space

Most people on the planet are outside of possibility space. They have yet to awaken from dreaming up what they are convinced is realistic. They are missing out on all the freedom that is to be found in possibility space. I'll call where they are at "captivity space" to contrast their experiences with possibility space.

In captivity space, we act as if it's been said "Behold, I make all things old". We already know how familiar most things are and what they mean to us. The majority of our experiences are the "same old same old". We live inside our habits, routines and predictable occurrences with no way out. We pretend to value this much repetition while feeling trapped, bored and starved for stimulation. In possibility space, "all things are new". We know to not already know, to wonder instead and to be fascinated with the mystery we're beholding. Nothing has happened before in exactly this way, sequence or detail. There is so much to be in awe of like a newborn with sparkling eyes of wonder. By liberating ourselves from too much familiarity, we are free to explore and enjoy the freshness of this day.

In captivity space, we also act as if it's been said "All things are not even slightly possible". We argue for our limitations and favor chronic problems. We get stuck, stagnant or stalemated because the needed changes are not possible according to what we already know too well. We assume there's nothing new that could come along. In possibility space, "All things are possible". If it's conceivable, it's doable or possibly emergent from self organizing complexity. It's not a question of "can I?" but rather numerous questions of "how can I?". Because it's assumed to be possible, it becomes fascinating to explore how it can be done.

In captivity space, we want to do something that's never been done before. We expect to be completely original to escape the oppressive repetition. We're disappointed when we discover our thing appears to be derivative, it's actually been done before, or it looks like an unintentional copy. Mortality and time seem very real. We have one life to live and thus want to make spectacular progress with these elusive,  breakthrough productions. In possibility space, everything has been done before. We can get messages from the so-called future to stay on the path of recreating our latest copycat production. Neither time or mortality is real, but experiencing them is very real. We're free to live as if we're really experiencing convincing illusions.

In captivity space, we take things literally. The familiar is familiar and the unfamiliar is unfamiliar. There's no two ways about what is simply the facts. It's comforting to be objective, analytical and precise. In possibility space, we take things paradoxically. Everything offers a both/and combination of perceptions. What seems objectively real is also illusory, purely subjective and dreamlike. The familiar is delightfully unfamiliar as well as predictably familiar. The unfamiliar exhibits patterns that can make it seem familiar while remaining mysterious. The amount of fascination, appreciation and creativity soars in possibility space.

To enter possibility space, it helps to say to ourselves "I don't know what this is or what this means". It's helpful to play around with "what-if questions" instead of thinking about what is, what has to be and what always happens. It helps to ask ourselves "where's the freedom in this? and allow for experiencing a dramatic change of perspective. It may even help to be still and innocently observe the immediate surroundings as if there is no time like the present to bask in the wonder of now.


Why it's so difficult to awaken

As you're reading this, it probably seems like it is really happening that you're reading this. Now that you're to the next sentence, there is some continuity with reading the first sentence that gives you some historical perspective. With that ongoing stream of experiences and more of the same by the time you're reading this third sentence, your mind will predict that there will be more reading here much like what has already occurred. All this seems very realistic. You are really doing this reading of these words that are really here to be read. There's no indication that you are dreaming and thus, there's nothing to awaken from. With such powerful experiences of what is happening, what has already happened and what's going to happen, there's little room for doubt or suspicions regarding the reality of this.

As if that was not enough to keep things seeming real, there's the meaning this has for you. At some level this proves that you were right. It confirms what you've been expecting and intending previously. You feel justified in regarding this as real. It vindicates your convictions that it has to be this way, to take this time and to occur where you are. It substantiates your familiarity with how difficult/easy this is, what does not/does happen after doing this, and what remains the same/changes as a result.

With this preponderance of evidence of real occurrences and experiences, we assume it's not a dream to awaken from. We're convinced:
  • We are not muggles dismissing the possibility of magical transformations this instant.
  • We are not hobbits hanging out in the Shire where the usual things continue to happen
  • We are not inside the Matrix taking those artificial constructs to be real.
  • We are not Alice staying on the familiar side of the looking glass.
  • We are not trapped in a London nursery only pretending Never Never Land is real.
  • We are not confused about what is real and what is an illusion

If the truth be known, you are dreaming. This is not really happening. The time that has passed along with the seeming continuity between prior incidents is all an illusion. The particular place you're at only appears real. The meaning this has for you provides a wonderful story, with you as the main character, without sticking to the facts about how it got dreamed up by you and us together.


Rethinking nodes in networks

When we're making a study of a network or formulating an explanation for outcomes produced by a network, we need things to examine. We are prone to make a "thingy" of nothing or of an ongoing processing. Alfred North Whitehead coined the term "misplaced concreteness" to separate his "process philosophy" from all the scientific studies that had made things of processes in order to study them objectively.

In the Prince of Networks, Graham Harman characterized Whitehead as the grandfather of Bruno Latour's Actor Network Theory. Latour takes exception to scientific explanations that add a false dimension to their descriptions of networks. He expects explanations to emerge from sufficient complexity of descriptions, rather than conforming the data to established explanations. He treasures Whitehead's investigative principle of "beginning and ending with wonder".

As I've pondered how all this might support our rethinking the concreteness of nodes in a network, I've made a lot of associations to the possibility of nodeless networks. If there's nothing there where connections come together, we have to wonder what the intersection is about. The connections would meet with wonder and explore what it's about. There could be no "misplaced concreteness" in a absence of nodes.

What could occur at "connections over nothing" is significant learning. The unknowns could come to the forefront of the experience. The exploration of combined questions, possibilities, hypotheses, and contrasting descriptions could replace the so-called "learning" of information through network connections. The takeaways from the encounters could enrich each exploration and better articulate the intersection.

This is a reversal of preexisting nodes forming new connections. This proposes preexisting connections resulting in emergent nodes. The coming together is the constant process. The resulting nodes come and go. The process begins and ends with wonder.


Missing interfaces users and edges

Our eyeballs can see nodes, but not connections unless they're hard wired. Most connections are subtle, hidden or implied without taking form. As result, there is excessive attention on nodes, as Ailsa recently explored on her blog: Exploring the dark wood. In the comments I added there over the last few days, I explored some connections to Bruno Latour's Actor Network Theory. Since then I've been reflecting on what else is missing in all this exploration of connections. Interfaces, users and edges came to mind.

When systems are closed they lack interfaces. They seem to be for internal use only. They don't share information, make access easy or attempt to connect outside it's own boundaries. yet these closed systems are very well connected internally. Their lack of external connections is usually an indication of internal availability to every kind of resource, support and information they need.

When networks are self serving, there are no users to be served. It's all self-service and DIY functionality. There's no need to understand users or uses made of the functionality. Everybody is free to do what they want as if that will be useful to them. Providing structure to guide uses or advance the users abilities seems excessively imposing, authoritarian and industrialized.

When networks are ubiquitous, they lack edges. They seem to be everywhere in a way where there's no way to cross a line, reach a limit or hit a wall. Thus there is no supporting those who may have come to an edge, gotten stuck or maxed out. Everyone is getting connected as if that's an end in itself.

If a network had interfaces, user support and edges, many would say it's no longer a network. They make a purist argument about connections between nodes that handle anything that comes up. They might also argue that a system with interfaces, user support and edges needs to be more networked, interconnected and complex. Interfaces, user support and edges are missing from the focus on connections because connections and edges are mutually exclusive in the minds of these advocates.

What if connections and edges are two sides of one coin when we give less emphasis to nodes? What if there is a both/and alternative to replace the either/or conceptualization? What if nodeless networks are comprised of connections that require interfaces to compensate for the absence of nodes? What if a network that embodies wonder, questions, unknowns and ongoing explorations would easily imagine it serving users encountering edges in spite of all the connectivity? What if I explore this further tomorrow?