Technology for Conquering Chaos: Keynote at the Design Management Institute

In a world where complexity is rising, innovations cycles are shrinking, and the rate of change is accelerating, what new technologies must we develop to help us adapt? "Technology for Conquering Complexity" is the keynote I delivered at the Design Management Institute last week. It discusses an emerging technology frontier known as community computation. It discusses how this new field can enhance our innovation ability, help us make sense of complexity, and help us solve some of the most complex challenges of our time. It was a fun talk and I'm very appreciative of the DMI folks for inviting me to participate.

To read my voiceover notes, play the presentation at full screen. Hope you enjoy it. 

Metaphors as Incompleteness

Writer Jorge Luis Borges described ... incompleteness in a lecture at Harvard titled simply, “The Metaphor.” In it, Borges shows how metaphors arise before language, before we find words to describe something. Then, as we share these concepts with one another, metaphors evolve into words. Borges jokes that “a word is a dead metaphor, which is a metaphor,” but then he returns to what metaphors can do and introduces the concept of openness, which is related to incompleteness — metaphors are open because they are incomplete. They make a suggestion we must complete in our own minds. Here’s Borges:

Remember what Emerson said:arguments convince nobody. They convince nobody because they are presented as arguments. Then we look at them, we weigh them, we turn them over, and we decide against them. But when something is merely said — or, better still, hinted at — there is a kind of hospitality in our imagination. We are ready to accept it.


Agile Leadership

In our messy and agile marketing world, a new style of leadership is increasingly necessary. It's one that some may find uncomfortable and counter-intuitive. This is especially true for those who equate leadership with control. There is no question that when we know exactly what we are doing, and where we want to go (as is presumably the case, for example, in a manufacturing process), tight controls are essential. In fact, control is the very heart of good management. We get into trouble, however, when we understand leadership simply as advanced management, and therefore, if the manager controls, the leader must control absolutely. Sensitive leaders today, in a world marked by progressively expanding agile marketing, know all too well that most of what they have to deal with is beyond their control, and maybe out of control.

Leadership defined as control can only fail. But that is not the only definition. Gandhi described the leader as one who intuits which way the parade is moving, and then races to reach the head of it. The function of leadership is to provide a focal point for direction, and not to mandate and control a minute-by-minute plan of action. The details must be left to the troops, which means amongst other things, the troops must be trusted. In no case can any leader possibly solve all problems or direct all actions. Leadership in agile marketing requires that one set the direction, define and honor the space, and let go.

16 Patterns to Build Adaptive Learning Organizations

A few years ago, I was struck by the concept of emergence and it's relation to design (or at least the ambition of designers). I spent quite a good deal of time learning about it a finding bridges to apply its ideas to my own practice. During that time, I tried to register Of course, like always, there was already a blog by that name. Damn it. Someone beat me. But I'm happy to say, I'm glad they did—or specifically she did. Vanessa has done a far superior job creating content for such a site than I would have. Her perspective and topics are worth your time.

One post that deserves specific attention is How to Design Culture: 16 Patterns to Build Adaptive Learning Organizations. What I love about the points she lists is that they parallel many of the things I've been experimenting with in my own work. So it was awesome to have that sense of confirmation. Bit I also like them because they give me a lot of new ideas. All are critical, actionable, and must remembers. I like them so much, I want to re-list them here.

1. Be Purposeful 
“It is easy to maintain your focus when you have a clear purpose.”

2. Facilitate Your Meetings 
“Facilitated meetings tend to have a clear goal, a clear set of rules, and a clear way to track progress. They provide space for the convener to observe and reflect.”

3. Examine Your Norms 
“Normal is what you willingly tolerate. Examine your norms, because what you tolerate is a minimal level of what you insist on. Insist on norms that encourage tribal greatness.”

4. Be Punctual 
“Punctuality associates with focus, commitment and respect; these in turn associate with individual and group greatness.”

5. Structure Your Interactions 
“Use protocols to clarify essential interactions. Employ structured speech as a tool to clarify the meaning of what you say.”

6. Announce Your Intent 
“Be easy to follow by announcing what you intend to do. Announcing your intent is making a request for help. State what you are doing with purpose.”

7. Game Your Meetings 
“Meetings suck when attendance is not optional, when the goal and rules are fuzzy, and when there is no way to track progress.”

8. Conduct Frequent Experiments 
“Frequent experimentation means frequent learning.”

9. Manage Visually 
“Radiate information and use visual artifacts to define physical space that in turn will influence thoughts and perception.”

10. Inspect Frequently 
“Change is the new normal. Extensive change means high complexity. Use iteration and frequent inspection to make a game of change.”

11. Get Coached 
“Coaching helps the learning process and is a best practice. A coach will see what you do not and cannot.”

12. Manage Your Boundaries 
“Be mindful of boundaries for authority, role, and tasks. Loosen boundaries for inquiry and dialogue, tighten boundaries when deciding and executing. Manage boundaries to create the kind of space your tribe needs to accomplish every kind of work.”

13. Socialize Books 
“Books contain ideas and concepts that you can leverage in pursuit of tribal greatness. Select the right books to reiterate the beliefs, values, and principles you want.”

14. Pay Explicit Attention 
 “Pay attention to what is working and what is not. Zoom in on details and focus on interactions and results.”

15. Open the Space 
“Open Space meetings are fantastic for managing the integration of transitions, evolution and learning in groups. These meetings generate opportunities for expression, inquiry, dialogue, and learning.”

16. Be Playful 
“Play games to get work done. Use games for simulation, work, and learning.”

Salon Interview Surrealist Dorothea Tanning

Wonderful Interview in Salon with the Surrealist painter Dorothea Tanning. Some great bits: 

"Q: You’ve lived through the Depression and several wars. What is the role of art in such times? 
"A: Art has always been the raft onto which we climb to save our sanity. I don’t see a different purpose for it now."  
"Q: As you mentioned, there was a lot of shock value in the work of the dadaists and the surrealists that you fell in with. Was that somehow different? 
"A: In its beginning, surrealism was an electric time with all the arts liberating themselves from their Snow White spell. There is a value in shaking people up, meaning those who have forgotten to think for themselves. Shock can be valuable as a protest. Like the dada fomenters, sitting there in the Cafe Voltaire in 1917 — their disgust with the world they lived in, its lethal war, its politics, its so-called rationales. Shock had value at that time. But ideas and innovation will always prevail without any deliberate effort to shock."  
"Q: We live in an age when so many people seem to want to be artists of some kind. Why do you think that is? And what does it say about our culture? 
"A: All these young hopefuls swarming the big city and getting nowhere fast; that’s such a sad thought. But if there has been a big surge in the number of people making art, it’s because our prosperity has released so many of us from need. It has allowed our creative impulses to test themselves without starving the body. Many people find joy in actually doing something the pragmatist would call useless."

The Life Force in the Wound

"[Like me,] I do believe you have a wound too. I do believe it is both specific to you and common to everyone. I do believe it is the thing about you that must be hidden and protected, it is the thing that must be tap danced over five shows a day, it is the thing that won’t be interesting to other people if revealed. It is the thing that makes you weak and pathetic. It is the thing that truly, truly, truly makes loving you impossible. It is your secret, even from yourself. But it is the thing that wants to live. It is the thing from which your art, your painting, your dance, your composition, your philosophical treatise, your screenplay is born."

Charlie Kauffman

Fight The Great Fight

"To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best night and day to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting."
E.E. Cummings

Surprised Recognition

"It is the function of the artist to evoke the experience of surprised recognition: to show the viewer what he knows but does not know that he knows."

 William Burroughs, on Gottfried Helnwein

PIxar's Rules of Storytelling

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about til you're at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you've got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let go and move on - it'll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d'you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can't just write ‘cool'. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What's the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.


Interesting Data on Small Businesses and America

I came across some small data from Dr. Bruce Manfield—whom I had the pleasure of meeting not too long ago. Bruce is Ivy League Organic Chemist, a former Undersecretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs, Professor Emeritus of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and a member of the Visiting Committee for Physical Sciences at the University of Chicago. Serious chops.

The data he shared with me is Census Small-Business data, and Kauffman Foundation data. It shows:

  1. That 98% of our currently incorporated 30 million U.S. businesses are (largely invisible) small businesses with less than 500 employees (80% have less than 20 employees!). These small businesses account for a rising 50% of the GDP…Only about 5% of these grow to be big businesses. Most people think that we are a nation of big companies.
  2. JOBS: Since 1981, these small businesses have generated 90 million new jobs (3 million a year on average). Over the same period, big businesses have lost 30 million jobs in downsizing and restructuring (a million a year on average)...big businesses don’t innovate.
  3. 87% of the Fortune 500 companies listed in 1981 have since disappeared…replaced by new small companies that grew big… Europeans call this the American Miracle. It was the capital gains tax reduction that inadvertently, accidentally and unexpectedly initiated this small business explosion…it’s currently repressed…but can be re-started by reducing the capital gains tax to zero for new start-ups. (No tax revenues are lost from non-existent businesses, but new start-ups hire tax-paying people with a surge in new tax revenues…

On Culture Technology

The general narrative is that we‘re facing increasing complexity and uncertainty in the world, information overload, distraction, shallowness of critical thought, and a lack of foresight. On the silver lining side, we have an overstock of creativity and imagination, sufficient to level up humanity and change the world and our crumbling systems, if we could only figure out how to unlock and unleash it from our billions of minds.

While some will posit that the ‘solution’ is technological (better algorithms! quantifying trust and reputation! big data! innovation!), I lean to the side that our breakthroughs will occur when we acknowledge and confront our most raw and human issues.

I’m finding that the barriers to our ingenuity are not stemming from a lack of desire, but from a range of cognitive and emotional barriers that have been set in place by most of the systems that surround us and condition us – the media, family and societal expectations, cultural standards, fear in trusting our own intuition, and the ingrained beliefs that any other way of thinking or being could be possible. (to name a few)

These barriers create a rigidity and calcification to how we perceive reality and ourselves, vastly limiting the potential for our inherent genius and heroism to manifest itself.

“Culture” is based upon a term used by Cicero, “cultura animi,” referring to the cultivation of the mind or soul.

In reviewing other origins and definitions, I resonated strongly with the ideas of culture as a pursuit for the highest ideal of human development, the liberation of the mind, and the attainment of freedom through the fullest expression of the unique and authentic self.

The other side of culture, beyond its internal cultivation, is the degree to which it can be communicated and propagated to others.

The American anthropological definition of culture “most commonly refers to the universal human capacity to classify and encode experiences symbolically, and communicate symbolically encoded experiences socially.”

It might then follow that a conscious effort towards cultivating the self, towards independent and critical thinking, towards direct experience, and hence towards wisdom, would then contribute towards the cultivation of human capacity at larger and larger scales.

I’ve found several people who are building these processes at the team level into a kind of art, which they refer to as “culture hacking.”

The premise is that culture can be treated like software — having a viewpoint, an architecture, an internal structure, and some familiar characteristics:

- ease of use
- reliability
- interoperability
- extensibility
- compatibility
- portability
- adaptability
- scalability


The Future of Innovation (sans money)

I think we're about to see the emergence of a new way of conducting innovation that operates quasi-independently of the current money system.

In other words, where conventional thinking tells us that investing money in research and development is the way to get innovation, we're putting together a means of innovating whose chief requirements are things like time, imagination, knowledge, initiative and trust, with money moving from primary to secondary concern.


The Ecology of P2P Business

Excellent overview of the various categories, formats, and models of P2P business. Download a poster-size version so you can see all the tiny type.