Category Archives: Natural Systems

My favourite Quote – Moby Dick

Off into the storm again soon!

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Several years ago, a friend of mine came close to breaking free from the institutional life. He had a foot in each place. But frightened by the unknown, he pulled back into the world he knew – confident that he was safer there where his mastery lay. Last week he was fired.

In my own life and family too we have a recurring story, a Greek tragedy, where the pull of duty and obligation to the familiar overwhelms the preservation of self. The outcome – an early death for both my father and grandfather. It seemed to be their only exit. I thought that I was exempt from this story but find that I am well into it.

I too like my friend have a choice. The  paradox is that in a turbulent time, the greatest risk is in hanging onto what seems safe. The greatest safety – to reach into the unknown. This is surely not only true for each of us as individuals but also for organizations.

Here is how Herman Melville describes this in Moby Dick

“The port would fain give succor; the port is pitiful; in the port is safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm blankets, friends, all that’s kind to our mortalities. But in that gale, the port, the land, is that ship’s direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality; one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through. With all her might she crowds all sail off shore; in so doing, fights ‘gainst the very winds that fain would blow her homeward; seeks all the lashed sea’s landlessness again; for refuge’s sake forlornly rushing into peril; her only friend her bitterest foe! ” Moby Dick – The Lee Shore Chapter.

Blogging and Friendship

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Dina often provokes me to think more deeply. In her recent series on corporate blogging I started to think about the friendships that arise from Blogging.

I wonder – are we seeing a new basis for friendship? In the past, we have made our friends through a combination of place, interest and values.

EG – Until maybe 30 years ago on PEI, you married a girl who was no more than a day’s buggy ride. Your friends came from the small community you lived in and were cultivated in the pressure cooker of the local school. If you were Catholic, you could only associate with other Catholics. Good Catholic girls until 30 years ago did not even ride in cars with Prots. Then religion was the dividing line for one key set of values. Everyone farmed or earned their living connected to agriculture so all shared an interest in farming and all shared the same set of pioneer values that come with being yeoman farmers.

You can laugh at this narrow world but stop for a minute – where did your friends come from? Place interest and values. I bet place wa important.

My close friends still come from my time at university. I have given up all my school friends but for 2. I see now that they were a product of place. At school we all had such a narrow choice. So we all made do with the small pool of possible friends that a house of 65 and a school of  700 could provide. Once I entered a large enough world, Oxford, where there were many more choices, I focused on those where I had a closer match in interests & values. At the time we all shared a common set of values about ourselves and the world – we were all enamoured by the corporate world and all joined it willingly and did well financially from it. These friendships have endured. One reason is that we have all given the corporate world up. It is weird coincidence that this group are all now self employed and could never work back in the system again. We must have sensed intuitively all those years ago that we would make the shift in values from group to self. In addition we had another link. An interest that we all shared was our children. I am godfather to 7 and this precious human link to the future of my friends has kept our friendship alive.

This tells me that, today that for me shared values and a shared interest seem more important and enduring than a shared space in connecting friends.

But for many people place is I think still the main driver for friendship. Especially if you do not move around much and where your old friends who were cultivated in early life live close to you. I have moved more times than I can recall. All these moves have I seen in retrospect broken any place-related links except the ones where the interests and values are in still in synch. All my corporate friends who are still very corporate have largely fallen off. The exception are those that I feel are trembling themselves at the edge of the line.

What is true for friendship is true for love. The troubadours tell us that love enters through the eye. But even in love the requirement for place is eroding. I think that the key is that in cyberspace you can be heard. To hear someone is a gift, To hear them is to know them. Paradoxically being heard is a challenge in the early days of a face to face relationship when each person’s need to speak can stop their ability to listen. Being yourself  can be hard in face to face where “projection” plays such a large role and where we seek to please. We so often “see” who we want to see rather than the real person who is there. With blogging, it seems to be hard to hide the real you. The real you may take time to emerge but emerge it does. The irony is that in not seeking to please, we are more attractive to others.

The issue seems voice. After a while of blogging our real voice comes to us. For the first time maybe, we say to the world –  “here I am warts and all” Where Robert Scoble has to admit that it is hard to reconcile how work and his marriage. My reaction – Scoble is a real person and not just a techno scribe. Where Dave Winer cannot help but feel like a parent to RSS and sounds off he becomes a man and not just a commentator and developer. Paradoxically, the more real we are- the more frail – the more attractive we are. Conversely, corporate voices do not lose their temper or have doubts. Corporate voices are like Dolores Umbridge’s from the Ministry for Magic: they use soft language for terrible things such as final solution or “right sizing”. As Cluetrain tells us – the corporate voice is becoming the great lie that we cannot hear anymore. But I get ahead of myself. Back to friendship.

My question. Is blogging changing the rules for friendship and maybe for love? With blogging, you can get to “know” someone in a deeper way than after many candlelight dinners, many years at school and many barbeque’s with neighbours. We hear how the other person thinks. We hear what really interests them. We experience their values. In return, we can gently link up so that over time they too can know us too. Projection is more confined as we do not rely on the visual cues for our norms of what is attractive on the surface before we know what is attractive below the skin. Everyone is at choice – you can make the connection or not. I don’t know the sound of your voice and in many cases don’t know what you look like. In most cases we are separated not only by distance but by culture and by different Gods but if we speak the same values and we are interested in the same things, then the link is made.

The values that I am talking about are the great divide between those that are externally motivated and those that are on the path to a self motivated world.

There is a huge gulf between these two sets of values. Those that have crossed this line know that there is no going back and that it is dangerous to speak out too clearly to those that remain in the “group” mind. They too have acute sensitivity to heresy and there is no heresy quite like not having to belong to the group anymore. This shift in values is what is really going on today. In the centre is the progress/corporate hegemony. In revolt on the right are the fundamentalists who long for a mythic past where women know their place and God speaks for us. This group is firmly in the group set of values and are outstanding in forming groups – hence their power. On the left is a new group that is not really a group. We are the Cultural Creatives, the Free Agents. We don’t like groups and have not until now found a mechanism for getting together that fits our self driven mindset. Until now. Until blogging. We have no power as isolated individuals. Until now. Until blogging.

For the irony is that for those of us that have crossed the line, it is lonely. While our motivation is based on self, we are still primates and human and we crave brotherhood and sisterhood. Blogging appears to be a tool that enables non joiners to find a mechanism to join safely with others like them. A club for non clubbers!

For me the potential in blogging is less corporate than social. It will create a new business model rather than support the old. What do I mean by this?

I have hopes for corporate blogging but they are dim. Why am I so depressed about this? Because of the values clash. The essence of the corporate state is that it is a collective where the group identity is paramount. Such a values set is like anti matter for those who are self motivated. Corporations claim that they want initiative and creativity but they need obedience more. Obedience is the core piece of DNA in the Ford model.

Where blogging will help most is in creating social and economic networks of individuals who share common goals and values – look at Matt and Paolo. Or look at how the community of bloggers is coalescing on PEI around Peter Rukavina. Look at how a whole group of doctors is forming around Marc Pierson Look at the influence that Ross Mayfield is having on all of us that think about social software or that Critt Jarvis is having on the election. This is the world I think that I, Dave Pollard and Dina are looking for.

Look at what happens when those who have developed relationships via blogging meet in person!

This is surely a revolution? Place and Face are no longer the initiating drivers for human relationships. The blogosphere is becoming the safe place for creative people to connect in. Just as eBay made it possible to trade safely outside your local area, so blogging makes it possible to access a global network of friends and lovers safely.

Monty Python and the Tipping Point

Monday, June 09, 2003

Monday, June 09, 2003

I was wondering how best to explain tipping points visually to my students – then I remembered John Cleese forcing the last mint – only “wafer thin” onto Mr Cresote

The Initial conditions – Mr Creosote’s gluttony and vomit

The Tipping Point – “Wafer thin!”

Post Bifurcation – The New System – No Way Back


The Foundation of the New Renaissance Ideas

A friend asked me this morning how I found the ideas that I am attached to. Did I intuit them or do they come directly from my reading and hence have some attributable source? I had never given much conscious thought to how I think and so Jean got me going – here is my reply plus a bit more
What a good question! I start with an intuition but thankfully I am finding more and more science to back me up. I ground all my work in a hypothesis..Which is –

I think that we have been blinded from a proper understanding of nature by our manufactured modern dogma just as the medieval mind was in its own turn blinded by the dogma of its time. I believe that if we could see our nature and nature more clearly that most of our problems could be made better.
Much of what I read is either intuitive – Robert Ardrey speculating on the unit size of a hunting band in 1970 which is then supported later in science by Robin Dunbar who today has found the neocortex formula for human groups and Magic Numbers.

Often I take an idea from over there and apply it over here. I read about chaos theory and apply it to culture shifts. I read about Information Theory developed for rangefinding and telephone networks and apply it to human communication.

I rarely speculate entirely. Most importantly I filter everything I read through a point of view. I read incessantly about physics, nature, evolution and networks. I am an Historian by education and have discovered that the higher, or the longer the time frame,  the more clearly the patterns of history are revealed. So I also look for bifurcation in history. My timetable has extended back to the beginning of the solar system. I look at the evolution of life and of living systems My main interest today is the study of early man and our development as primates and hunter gatherers.

I am hopeful as we stand at the edge of either a catastrophe or a renewal. I think that have the potential to experience a new renaissance and that if we look at the last one, we can see the pattern for this type of event.

The medieval world worked well until the 14th century when the complexity of life overwhelmed its ability as system to solve the problems of the day.The Black Death had killed 30% of the population ending the feudal relationships. There was a mini ice age. Civil War in Europe had become pandemic and Christendom as a group was engaged in a 300 year war with Islam  Navigation had extended the world beyond Ptolemaic math for navigation. Weapons had become democratic – a Welsh Bowman could kill many expensive Knights – and the reality of military power had been upended asymmetrically. The advent of the printing press had revolutionized the cost and reach of communication putting huge stress on the existing power structures such as the Church and the Monarchy.

Many of these conditions are evident again in some form today. The stress of the medieval world ended when a few men “saw” the ancient world with clear eyes and also the natural world with the dogma stripped off. So for a while, the meaning of the ancient texts was revealed to intellectuals like Petrarch and the meaning of the solar system was revealed to men like Galileo.Observation and intuition became important. Power  and relationships shifted and new institutions arose

I feel that we have become blinded by our own set of dogma today as well. Our dogma has shut down as unacceptable our powers of observation and our use of our intuition as to how things are. The good news is that those today who are using their intuition are finding that science is rapidly catching up. As in physics, the breakthrough comes intuitively and then is grounded in observation.

So what is our modern dogma that puts up barriers to intuition and observation? There are four strands that I can see.

The first begins with the Judeo Christian myth than man is put by God in dominion over the world. In other words, that we are not an animal and part of the world but are in fact a unique godlike being who has the right to do anything he wants to the planet and to all others that inhabit it. This idea survived the Renaissance and has become, I think, our biggest block to renewal. It holds in it 3 subset ideas that drive further problems as well. Dualism which prevents us from seeing systems – paradox and complexity. Like the medieval time, our modern world view has worked well but now there is too much complexity for it to cope. Our life has shifted up several gears in complexity and rational thought, the child of dualism, cannot cope with complexity and the unknown. Rational thinking alone is a weak tool as it can only cope with the known. Every breakthrough in science, every great piece of art,  has come from the intuitive yet we shun the intuitive as unscientific and un-business like. Rational thinking alone causes us to develop much of our operational dogma of today. These ideas about who we should be are  “artefact’s” of our mind and are disconnected from observed reality. I suspect that these are ideas based in the longing for humans to escape their heritage as primates. They include ideas such as: men and women are the same. All  humans are created equal. We should find strangers appealing. We are really peace loving beings. If only we were only richer we would be happier and so on. You can feel immediately how heretical it would be to challenge these ideas today. Finally this meme also drives the idea of Redemption after life which allows us to avoid seeing how precious life is while we live it. When we believe in redemption, we can live the live of a slave in hope for a better afterlife. We can work as a drone in the hope of a retirement and so on. We lose the joy of the day.

We have become a planetary species but we think that we are still a village species. I think that these ideas allow us to treat the planet with disrespect and all animals as if they were our objects. This is village thinking where there are no consequences outside the visible and the local. Consequently, we destroy the very systems that support us without “seeing” what we do.We set up aspirations about behaviour and our nature as humans that we can never reach so we feel guilty all the time.

The second set of dogma comes from our Judeo Christian background as well. This time from the Reformation. The kingpin idea is the idea of “success = the chosen”. In the medieval times the aspiration was grace. Not often achieved but the medieval worldview was not driven by the idea of commercial everything. The reformation brought into play the meme of the “elect on earth” who could be observed by how well they did. As a result, doing, activity and success became the measures by which we were measured. This I think has driven the Secular age that we live in now where nearly every act and thing has a commercial value and our principal aspiration is to have more things. This is the now secular consumer meme that Islam seems to have such a problem with and the meme that is at the heart of our current religion the consumer economy.
As a consequence, we live a life now of frenetic activity with a goal that cannot give us satisfaction.
The 3rd dogma is how we make things. Our basic transformative process for materials has been the use of heat and pressure. I think that this came from our experiments with fire and later pottery. The problem with this meme is that it makes all our processes environmentally destructive. Nature makes much better materials than we do and uses chemistry, proteins, water and room temperature.
The result is that we are doing a good job of reversing a key work of evolution which has been to bury heavy metals deep below the surface so that life could live.
The last dogma that I see is the dogma of our view of organization which is driven by the metaphor of the machine. Tools and hence machinery have taken us from the plains of Africa to the modern world. We are tool makers. I think that we have fallen in love with the machine and we use it as a metaphor for most things. A machine is a dualistic concept. They only connect directly to  inputs and outputs. They have a cause and an effect which is predictable. They have to have parts in them that “fit”. They are based on the idea of engineering efficiency. They need an outside force to power them. The machine world is a zero sum game

BUT nature does not organize that way. It organizes in nested networks that all interact. We have in the west nearly institutionalized, or put into a machine context, all social aspects of life. We put our children into daycare and then into a school system that teaches dualism and obedience. We work in institutions and when we can work no more we end up in an old people’s home. We have lost adventure, each other and ourselves in the process. Most western families are one parent families now – can’t get any smaller. So we have become parts of a machine like in the film the Matrix. The irony, like in the film, is that we don’t even know it.

The result is that we are stuck as was the 14th century western world.

So where is the new Renaissance? It is surely to be found by looking back at our lives as Hunter Gatherers and “seeing” the wisdom of our heritage and then applying this to our lives today. I don’t mean living in a cave. Petrarch did not try and recreate Athens either. He took the meaning from the ancients and made it real again for his own time. It is is having the humility to observe nature afresh. Just as Galileo looked through his telescope and saw that the Sun and not the earth was the centre of the local system It is to give up intellectual artifact, or the equivalent of religious dogma of the medieval world, wherever possible and to look to nature herself for design for materials and for organization. It is to see that we too are animals and are partners in the biosphere with all other life and so to treat it with the same respect that we want for ourselves.

The huge collective outpouring of ideas around networks, emergent democracy, natural organization etc I find very encouraging. So much is happening in this regard in blogging itself. How do I feel? Frightened. The Renaissance had no guarantees and as two world views clashed at its birth life was especially hard

First Contact with Dina Mehta

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

I find this syuch a helpful concept – any more thinking like this out there?

Conversations with Dina. Great new weblog from India-based qualitative researcher Dina Mehta. It’s filled with interesting insights and links to unusual sources for understanding cultural and social patterns. Dina has an ability to bridge cultural gaps and put complex patterns into understandable terms. Good stuff. Go grab her RSS feed. You’ll be glad you did.

‘Karass’ or’ Granfalloon’ … you choose.Neat piece by Steven Johnson in the April 2003 issue of Discover.  Talks about two types of networks – the self-organising and social ‘karass’ and the more bureaucratic ‘granfalloons’, drawing examples from personal and corporate life. He goes on to describe the role of emerging social mapping software in detecting and mapping social networks – at the workplace in large organisations and in book-buying patterns at Amazon.    Some excerpts :

“Karass is that group of friends from college who have helped one another’s careers in a hundred subtle ways over the years; the granfalloon is the marketing department at your firm, where everyone has a meticulously defined place on the org chart but nothing ever gets done. When you find yourself in a karass, it’s an intuitive, unplanned experience. Getting into a granfalloon, on the other hand, usually involves showing two forms of ID.” […] [“Conversations” with Dina]

My First Post on Family and Tribe

Friday, March 28, 2003
I have been working on a research proposal to study the family and had this aha at least an aha for me today. Does the family exist anymore? So here are my musings
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If we really look at the data for North America (WASPS) the family as we think of it is already dead! What I mean by the “family” is a two parent unit with at least one grandparent so that there are three generations involved all providing value to each other as a social unit in a rough world. We think that this is the family and I suspect that we think that we should hold this up as a model. Little knowing of course that for more than 4 million years we raised our children and did our work in a small 30-5 person unit that combined work and society called a tribe. Little knowing that all primates except us still use this arrangement. My aha was maybe that .our search for June Cleaver is getting in the way of the fact that June is dead and was never a good model anyway I wonder if looking for June obscures a possible return to the tribe and the deinstitutionalization at last of our western society?

What are the remnants of June today? What is the reality today? Most WASP families ( Most immigrant families still adhere to the larger extended model – by the way look at how much better their kids are doing at school) have only one parent – female (why are boys in trouble?) Very few have a grandparent in the mix and most grandparents are often not even in the same city. Elderly parents are also increasingly institutionalized.I fear that our society is becoming a society of one who interacts only with institutions and not with real people.

Children our greatest asset have become for most of us a huge economic drain. In their younger years they go to expensive daycare, they demand fashion and toys and have a closer connection to TV than to any other influence. As teens they need even more economic support: on PEI every teen has to have a car. If they go onto university the drain is even greater. Then after a few years on their own they often return home – sometime as single parents – and seek to be looked after all over again!!!! When do our children grow into adults? No wonder our wasp birthrate is below replacement. That itself is a sign of a powerful set of forces.

Tell that I am exaggerating. What do the stats tell us?

So long as we assume that the June Cleaver Family is alive, we think that we can and should go back to it. We feel guilt but we know that we cannot go back.  So long as I feel that I should be somehow living my grandparent’s life, I am stuck. Here is the aspiration aspect – We want to strive for a better social unit. We can see a new model in business – the Wal- Mart response model. Can we see the new family emerging????? It must be but so long as we think that the old family is it, we won’t be able to see the new one.

Be assured that a new unit is emerging and will emerge. If we can describe it, it will become real for many people very quickly – they will aspirationally jump to a model that works. The prize is a big one for us as people, for business and for our nation.

This may then end the idea that we are only a disconnected individual whose only relationships are at work, whose children are in daycare and whose parents are in a home and whose protector is the state. For I sense that it is our growing dependence on institutions that has played a major role in why the 1950’s family has collapsed – it may also be worth studying these trends as well. It is surely important to know why we have come to this.
Putnam blames work and TV. He sees TV as a relationship blocker and as a community influence that drives a world of things over relationships and a world of passivity over exploration. I include for blame our school system where we teach the institutional Cartesian model as the main curriculum and where we deny all that we know about primate learning process. Kids who don’t fit are drugged. (30%?) I blame Daycare where we rely on a few strangers to park our small children at the most important learning period of their lives. Most of all we need to ask ourselves about the pull of the workplace out of the home where work has replaced most other relationships and has broken the bond of parent child and in many cases between spouses. Why have we put away all other relationships for those at work?

I bet that we are going to find that the tribe (a combined social and economic unit) is emerging again. You see this is the idea of Free Agent Nation where up to 50 million North Americans have left the traditional workplace and work for themselves mainly at home and who have set up networks of support for both work and social issues such as their kids and parents. I feel this among many of blogging out there who have built working relationships out of personal relationships. I have been touched at the help that I have received from many of you and I feel good that I can reach out in a way that is not possible in the traditional work place. I sense that blogging will itself create little tribes of co workers who also really care for each other. The more we work at home, the more we interact in a tribal way with our kids. I work with my son – it is my greatest joy. mainly he teaches me.
Daniel Pink I think provides us with a model for finding the new family. Pink himself went around America and discovered this group, saw its common elements and gave it a label. All of us who live like this suddenly understood what we were  doing and how to do this better. We have a model and with a model we have power.

His book is having a profound impact as it enables individuals who thought that they were alone to see that theory make up a pattern. I suspect that the new family is located in this group who have healed the breach between work and life and who aspire to a living and not a paycheck. These people reject all institutions as do most of our kids. I wonder if we looked with fresh eyes that we might see that for many of us  – a new family based on the tribe is emerging and that it is something that if we talk about more, will become more clear and more helpful

My First Re-Post of Ross Mayfield on Magic Numbers

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Ecosystem of Networks.

My post on Distribution of Choice was a little long winded, so let me sum up:

  1. Not all links are created equal
  2. Conversational relationships are not scale-free
  3. Applying these principles reveals a Network Ecosystem Model that helps us understand the political economy of weblogs

Network Size Description Distribution
Political Network ~1000s Blogs as mass media Power-law (scale-free)
Social Network ~150 Blogging Classic Bell-curve (random)
Creative Network ~12 Blogs as dinner conversation Dense (equal)

A link to a site you read isnt the same as a link to someone you know through their blog or someone you actively collaborate with.

After reviewing data of work relationships, information flows and knowledge exchanges from hundreds of consulting assignments inside Fortune 2000 organizations Valdis Krebs did not see much evidence of power laws in this data. His data is of confirmed ties [both persons agreed/recognized their mutual interactions/flows/relationships] from a worldwide pool of clients dating back to 1988. Of course he found some people were better connected than others, but the extreme hubs found in power law networks just were not evident.

Adapting a famous line from the movie “Blazing Saddles” Valdis concluded: “Power Law? There ain’t no stinkin’ power law in this data!”

This conclusion fits well with Duncan Watts observation that the more you ratchet up the requirements for a link, recognized connections diminish, and the less you see power laws.

Which makes all the noise about Power-laws off target.  I had the pleasure of having a dinner conversation with Clay last night.  Yes, he should start a weblog, but he has his own reasons for not doing so yet, which I’ll let him explain for himself.  But studying the structure of the weblog ecosystem does not have to be an anthropological exercise.  Its a wonderful testament to the energy of blogspace that Dave Sifry created a new index to reveal the neglected tail of the Power-law distribution of a Political Network.  But we don’t have to screw the Power-law or use statistical techniques to reveal a different distribution.  This approach has tremendous value in allowing new cream to arise to the top.  Both innovations are still attempting to filter the wrong set of data and to generalize all of blogspace.  What matters isnt breaking these laws, but the perspective that weblogs, aside from the Political Network publishing dynamics, are communication tools for group forming in Social Networks and Creative Networks.  Meg asks the right question: what if these tools can expand our capacities? What if 12 and 150 become averages instead of limits?

Other people are thinking in similar terms from an anthropological perspective as participants.  The Social and Creative Networks are where the new and valuable interpersonal connections are being made.

In the coming days I will build upon the Network Ecosystem Model to explain the Distribution of Influence and Distribution of Social Capital.  My head hurts, but this is getting interesting.