November 22, 2011 § Leave a Comment
There’s something wrong with the game we’ve chosen to play, the economic engine we’ve built that now drives us. It doesn’t give us satisfaction, a sense of community, or hope. A few profit exorbitantly but I suspect even their lives are lacking in the same fundamental ways as those of us with less. And the vast majority are struggling to find food, water, shelter and warmth. There’s something wrong with such inequality.
There’s something wrong with the values we’ve adopted. Maybe it was an inevitable evolutionary outcome. I certainly don’t want to impose another moral imperative on our overburdened conscience, another thing we should or shouldn’t do for the greater good. Maybe it was unavoidable. We’re here because we had to be here but maybe we’re outgrowing our immaturity. Maybe a new order of complexity is emerging that will embrace and transcend our history. Maybe we will become something something new, something different, something better.
Denying the possibility of transcendence denies the possibility of change. Far to much is changing these days to deny. Our core values are changing, what we hold close to our hearts. Even acknowledgement of the need for heart and humanity in the workplace is changing, that place were the metaphor of the machine is still venerated.
It’s time we surrendered the machine as the image of God. It doesn’t work for humanity any more than it works for the universe. Our lives aren’t toothed gears turning in a clockwork mechanism. The places we work shouldn’t grind our spirit between metal teeth.
Work should express our common humanity, our community, our selves. It isn’t ultimately about profit. That’s just the way we keep score. There are better ways.
There’s something deeply important about work that we’ve perverted. I feel it even if I don’t have the words to explain. It feels powerful.
Work is far more than just making a living. It’s meaning, community, purpose but the purpose most of us serve is pitiful. It isn’t worth our loyalty or our lives. We only have this one life and to squander it seems shameful.
Can we rebuild our economy upon shared values that reflect our common humanity and the diversity of life on the planet? It seems possible to me, not through an effort of will but through the emergence of a new paradigm, a new democracy, new values that benefit the whole rather the the few. Impossibly idealistic? Perhaps if you believe the future can only duplicate the past but who would have thought the Arab Spring possible?
November 20, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The environment of a sailor far from shore is simple if sometimes deadly. The rules are well known and the risks understood. As long as there is sufficient sea room to run before the strength of a storm, a well found boat with a capable crew can usually survive, until they can’t. (There are storms at sea that no boat can survive and waves than can kill any ship.)
When a boat closes with the coast, things get complicated. As the sea bottom rises to meet the continental shelf, waves become steeper, herded closer together, more likely to break, sending tons of white water glissading. (A breaking wave can exert as much as one ton of pressure per square foot.) Currents can set a boat towards an unforgiving shore, poor visibility can hinder navigation, and the increased traffic increases the risk of collision. Precise positioning becomes more important—accurate charts, aids to navigations, GPS and radar help inform the situation but require expert interpretation. (The Coast Guard once used a phrase that captures the risk, radar-assisted collision.) Discrepancies between one source and another further complicate decision-making.
The once uncharted coasts of our world are littered with the bones of such self-confidence.
Imagine if you were approaching an unknown coast without accurate charts or electronic positioning, navigating by sun or stars when visible, with only hearsay about the offshore hazards or longshore currents or depth of water. The uncertainty increases exponentially. From the sailor’s perspective, the reality of the coast emerges with experience. The situation is more than just complicated, it’s complex.
There is another scenario, however. Chaos. If a storm is driving you toward a lee shore with no possibility of refuge, it doesn’t matter whether you know the soundings nearshore or your exact position. The only thing that matters is clawing your way to weather. The only thing that matters is to avoid being shattered on unyielding rocks or pounded into splintered wreckage. The only thing that matters is gaining sea room. That’s my definition of chaos.
These four domains—simple, complicated, complex and chaotic—are captured in the Cynefin framework developed by David Snowden, former Director of the IBM Institute for Knowledge Management and now Chief Scientific Officer at Cognitive Edge. It’s a model to help understand the context of a situation or problem, the characteristics of that context, and the approach appropriate to that context.
Using the tools and methodology appropriate to a simple context in a complex domain is rather like sailing up to an unknown shore with naive self-confidence that intuition and past experience will be sufficient to survive. The once uncharted coasts of our world are littered with the bones of such self-confidence.
Disorder lies at the intersection of the four domains of the Cynefin framework. It’s the state of not knowing the appropriate context. I think it fair to say that is the place where we mostly live.
Despite its seeming familiarity, the world has become a different place, more complex. We have never been here before. We are all sailing toward an unknown shore, an uncharted future.
November 12, 2011 § Leave a Comment
It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the startup world, making its world premiere at the Napa Valley Film Festival on Friday.
It’s a very good movie. In content and pacing, it actually felt to me more like a high-quality television documentary, telling the stories of five startups over the course an hour.
But most of all, Ctrl+Alt+Compete deserves credit for pulling no punches in its portrayal of the technology industry — even when it comes to Microsoft.
November 11, 2011 § 1 Comment
“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” Albert Einstein
Polly LaBarre has a wonderful piece published on the Harvard Business Review Network about asking powerful questions. She identifies questions as a potent antidote to hubris “which inevitably arises in a culture that celebrates mastery, values decisiveness, and reveres the top guy (or gal).” That resonates like a Tibetan temple bell struck on a Winter morning. I live in such a culture where answers are valued more than questions.
- Questions are a powerful antidote to hubris.
- The best questions are the bedrock of all change and creativity.
- Asking good questions trades control for contribution.
The timing of her piece coincides impeccably with my growing interest in Appreciate Inquiry as a methodology for change with Microsoft and an antidote for a culture that celebrates mastery more than inquiry.