27 February 2011

Well? Is He or Isn't He Bald?

What most people think is true of baldness they cannot really explain or defend. I think it is the same with abortion.

Unless you take extreme positions on baldness, yours is an inexplicable one. Or, at least, it defies easy explanation.

If a man loses one hair, he's not yet bald. Yet if he has only one hair left, most people would agree that he is bald. Where in the process from one hair gone to one hair left does a man become bald? Most of us have some sense of it, but our definitions would likely vary and never be precise or easy to explain.

If a sperm and egg come together, do they instantly deserve all the rights of a human life? Or in the minute before birth, can that baby be treated like a sperm and egg and be easily discarded? Most people would say no and no. But of course, that leaves the majority of Americans with inexplicable positions on abortion left to make a seemingly arbitrary decision about when the line between disposable zygote and precious baby should be drawn.

And yet this is one of those instances in which what is hard to explain seems to make more sense.

21 February 2011

And the Nation-State Gradually Grows More Obsolete

Political crises in the Middle East are spilling across borders in the same way that the financial crises did in the West in '08.

This latest burst of panic and protests seems to support the notion that whether it is pandemics, ecological issues, economic issues, or, yes, political and financial issues, national borders seem less and less relevant.

In places like the Middle East and Africa where colonial powers imposed national borders where no clear nations existed, borders have long seemed confusing and of little use in protecting one country from issues in the next. But now, even in the West where national identities date back centuries, national borders are becoming less meaningful.

The big question in '08 was whether the financial crisis could be averted before we had another Great Depression. The big question in 2011 is whether the political crises will create democracies, theocracies, or even more severe autocracies in the Middle East.

To me, the even bigger question is how the idea and even very fact of the nation-state is going to survive in this new stage of globalization.

Finally - an Ophiuchus Horoscope

Recently, a new astrological sign was announced. Sadly, no one seems to have updated the daily horoscopes with the inclusion of this 13th group. So, I've taken it upon myself to address this lack. Here it is - your Ophiuchus (Nov 30 - Dec 17) horoscope.

21 Feb - Monday
Today you find yourself celebrating president’s day – or protesting to get a president. In either case, you may want to try out that great little gelato shop close to all the activity. And you can’t help but notice that for all the apparent chaos, riots have a clear purpose whereas parades, for all their supposed order, have none.   

22 Feb - Tuesday
You’ll suddenly realize that life is like watching a foreign film so thick with subtitles you can’t both make sense of the film and watch it. Overwhelmed you, Ophiuchus, just choose to ignore life and surf the web instead.

23 Feb - Wednesday
You’re pretty much on your own here. Unlike other astrological signs, Ophiuchuses don’t tend to move in lock step. That said, you may still want to pack a lunch. I really can’t say more or it would ruin the surprise.

24 Feb – Thursday
At 11:53, your phone rings. It’ll be a friend who needs affirmation. Be generous and gush a little. If your phone doesn’t ring by 11:58, admit that you’re that friend. Just make the call.

25 Feb – Friday
Ride public transportation to work today. Read the newspaper aloud to those around you. As you depart, turn to the folks you’re leaving and say, “Please fill out your personal news commentary survey sheets that you’ll find in the seat pocket in front of you. Your feedback is important.”

26 Feb – Saturday
Ah, it’s the weekend. Or used to be. Before they broke all the unions and decided that until everyone – even the Chinese – get a two day weekend, no one gets a two day weekend.

27 Feb – Sunday
You suddenly realize you don’t know how many days are left in the month or even if this is a leap year. You had a great deal planned but this uncertainty sort of puts a damper on all your intentions. Frightened by the thought that the month may already be over and you still haven’t accomplished anything significant, you find yourself ironically disengaged.

28 Feb – Monday
Realizing that this is the last day of the month, you get a burst of productivity so great that these efforts will become the basis for your weekly activity report. Two hours later, you stop for coffee and never quite get back into that same zone. Pity, really, because you were on a roll.

1 Mar – Tuesday
It suddenly occurs to you that you can't even say the name of your new astrological sign. Baffled, you begin to question the validity of any of this before realizing that this very prediction of skepticism is proof that you've nothing to be skeptical about.

11 February 2011

Might be Metaphysical

As I get older, I'm more convinced that our emotional energy creates our circumstances. I've seen it too many times for it to seem like a coincidence anymore. If you are filled with fear, you end with fearful things in your life. Filled with love and you get loving things. Hate begets hate, etc.

This could be metaphysical. I don't pretend to know. It is - for me - conceivable that there is some kind of spiritual or emotional energy that creates things in the plane of reality. It seems far-fetched but it is, nontheless, fetched.

Or it might not be metaphysical. It might just be that attention is scarce and if we pay attention to one thing, we don't pay attention to another. And our attention seems to follow our emotions. I would go so far as to say that the motion in emotion is the direction that our feelings send our thoughts.

Once our attention goes into a particular direction, so do our actions, our talk, and the people and circumstances we pull into our life.

So if you are full of fear, you will - at best - solve the problem of what scares you. But the focus is on that, not other things.

Better to focus on possibilities and positive emotions instead. This isn't easy. Especially if you've found yourself steeped in things deserving of fear and dread. But I do think that this is where the work starts - with positive emotions like love, hope, and compassion. And as you continue to meditate on those things, you'll eventually create more positive things.

Life will always have a mix of wonderful and dreadful and the day to day mundane. But there probably is no one thing that more tips the balance in your favor than the emotions you feed and let drive your meditation.

I could be wrong, but just dancing with this delusion makes me feel a little more positive emotion. And even if I'm wrong and that doesn't create anything else in my life, that positive feeling is enough.

09 February 2011

Changing What it Means to be Employed

Bad: increasingly employees face the same risk to future income as entrepreneurs. Worse: they don't share the same potential for returns.

Entrepreneurs face huge risk. More than half of businesses (about 90% by some estimates) fail. But entrepreneurs face this risk for at least two reasons: if they are successful they have the chance to be very successful AND various kinds of success can mean more autonomy and choice about how to live their lives.

Employees today in any arena face huge risk. Government employees and academia have joined the ranks of employees in the private sector, in small or large companies. Employees are probably as insecure as they've ever been, unsure what combination of demotion, reduction in benefits, or job loss they're likely to face. Or, more accurately, they simply aren't sure when they'll face these changes. But unlike entrepreneurs, employees don't face much of an upside. If the business or organization they're in is successful, they are more likely to be employed. (Even that is dicey, given the penchant for outsourcing.) But organizational success for the employee is as likely to mean more stress from additional work as it is to mean promotions and profit sharing.

I don't think that entrepreneurs and organizations can protect employees from market forces. Employment is simply going to be less secure. That, it seems to me, is a fact of life.

Entrepreneurs and organizations can do more to share success with employees. On the downside, the economy has already made employment more like entrepreneurship in terms of risk. This negative can be more than offset by doing more to include employees in the upside of organizational success, giving them more autonomy and more potential for shared equity and profits as organizations succeed.

Hope for reward can offset some of the stress of dread of risk. Also, employees who can make more than just their salaries can also save a little more in anticipation of the inevitable job dislocations that it seems simply come with a dynamic, global economy.

Finally, as employees are treated more like entrepreneurs they're likely to act more like entrepreneurs, helping organizations to become more responsive to changing markets, adding to organization's ability to provide profits and salaries.

Today's situation could be very different. Good: employees are increasingly treated like entrepreneurs, sharing risks, rewards, and responsibilities. Better: organizations and employees are healthier and feel more in control of their own destinies and economic health.

06 February 2011

Making a Game of Education

Games provide flow but rarely provide meaning. Education provides meaning but rarely provides flow. Time to bring gamers into the classroom?

Csikszentmihalyi has spent decades studying flow, the psychology of what engages and absorbs people. It seems to me that successful game designers are experts at creating flow. However, even though games offer an abundance of flow they don't offer much meaning; success at games rarely changes society or provides a living to the game player.

By contrast, education is meaningful. A degree can lead to a job and the work started in pursuit of an education can lead people to rethink society at its most basic level. (The founding fathers, for instance, were all students of the Enlightenment.)

It seems as though there is enormous potential that could come from creating a dialogue between educators and game designers. Perhaps the simplest thing would be to have gamers either enter the classroom or study curriculum to look for opportunities for creating flow. These gamers could work with educators on one simple, but impactful, goal: increase the amount of time each day that students spend in flow. Once they reach a critical point in this - say, once students are in flow for 20% of the day - they could begin to share educational practices.

I suspect that this seemingly simple goal would have profound implications for education. One condition for flow is feedback on how one is doing. Another is a balance between skill and challenge. Yet another is a clear goal. Creating flow experiences for students would mean - among other things - changing how and how rapidly students receive feedback. It would mean accepting where students are and starting there before pulling them to the next level (maintaining a balance between challenge and skill). And it would mean thinking about which goals would be meaningful to 8 or 10 or 14 year olds. This would mean redesigning education.

For now, education still seems heavily influenced by the goals and setting of religious instruction from the early days of formal education. We generally don't trust pleasure or the child's impulses as guides to learning. Beliefs from this orientation form a pattern. Children's attention needs to be directed with rebukes and reminders. Students may find education distasteful, but with enough self discipline, students can succeed. We cannot trust the self but instead have to repress it. And feedback comes instead in the form of judgment, often long after the task is done.

But what if we thought instead that what humans find naturally fascinating is, itself, a basis for an education? What if educational success was less a matter of self discipline than passion? And what if the joy a baby finds in learning to walk or talk is something that could continue to animate learning into one's 30s or 60s?

One last thing that I'll mention about the benefits that would follow from this approach to designing education is simply this: many of the same issues of flow and meaning that need to be addressed in education need to be addressed in knowledge work. Advances in education could hardly be contained to learning but would impact productivity as well.

Instead of telling kids to leave their games outside the classroom, maybe we should ask them to bring them in.

03 February 2011

Living Somebody Else's Life - Beyond Inherited Goals to Corporate Transformation

We inherit goals. Personally, we find ourselves living within systems that have been designed by previous generations for their goals. Not just people but even institutions inherit goals.

The new nation-state first saw itself in a role like that of the Medieval Church. The church made itself responsible for the souls of its congregants and the early kings' gave themselves a similar role. The resultant chaos and bloodshed that came from centuries of religious wars was atrocious. It literally took centuries for the nation-state to ignore the goal of the church and instead focus on goals like the safety and prosperity of its citizens.

The corporation, too, seems to have first accepted the goal of the previously dominant institution. In this case, the corporation tries to imitate the goal of the bank, to make money, or, more specifically, to provide a return on capital. This misses the point. I've heard Russell Ackoff and Peter Drucker each make the point that profit is to a corporation what oxygen is to a person: vital but by no means its goal.

Corporations today, like the nation-state after the Reformation, is the most dominant institution. One of the keys to it realizing its potential to make life better for communities is that it treat profit not as the goal but as just one of its necessary conditions. Even if this were all that were involved in transforming the corporation, it would mean a large shift in how we think about our world. The good news is that once people begin thinking about the goal of the corporation beyond making money they will begin the process of reinvention. Then we will more often see the many and way cool things it can be.

01 February 2011

Tweets from Jan 2011

Egyptian government shuts down Internet - citizens forced to use hieroglyphics. On possibly related note, protestors build human pyramid.

Wonder how different you'd be if you were someone else. If your folks named you Alexander the Great instead of Reginald, for instance.

Another year and again snubbed by the organizers of Davos. Don't these people know that I have a blog?

3 happiest sounds in the English language: haha, ah, and aha. Apparently, exhaling makes us happy.

I swear they said Asian cuisine but was surprised to find mashed potatoes and digestive cookies. It was, sadly, an Agin' cuisine buffet.

Citizen - Journalists risk lives to cover national policies. Where are the employee - journalists to risk jobs to cover corporate policy?

Don't criticize anyone til you've walked a mile in their shoes. By then, what w/ the pain and blisters, you should be able to really cut loose.

Walmart has 'anti-aging' makeup for 8-year-olds? Wouldn't it be enough for them to resist aging by simply not wearing makeup?

Everything you ever do has to be, by definition, doable. I don't know why I keep having to relearn the need to change tasks until they are.

I'm thinking about getting a tattoo. Sort of. Just the words, "This is not a tattoo" written on my bicep.

"That's ridiculous!" "Well yes dear, but sometimes ridiculous is the best we can do."

I wish, rather than telling us to be more like China, Obama had told us to be more like Norway. Seems obvious who has better quality of life.

Taking my cue from Congress, I'm no longer going to just nod when I agree – however tepidly. I’m going to stand and applaud.

Cuba, that last holdout of communism, has the 2nd highest govt. spending as % of GDP. Only Iraq, our example of democracy, has higher.

Obama won't accept 2nd place, yet we're 10th in happiness, 11th in per capita GDP, and 33rd in education. Maybe he'll accept 3rd?

The universe is infinite AND expanding AND right here! If not mind boggling that seems at the very least mind jostling.

So, it turns out that it was Rahm Emanuel who was born in Kenya?

The biggest delusion of middle age is thinking that you won't have to change your life in the next decade just as much as you did at 20.

Today's biz idea: surf video web site, YouTubular.

Parents today worry about their children being bored in the same way that parents 100 years ago worried about their children being hungry.

"As complexity rises, precise statements lose meaning and meaningful statements lose precision." - Lofti Zadeh

I wonder whether they consider it a good or bad thing when employees at Jack in the Box think outside the box. 

Obama quickly tired of the Chinese president shrugging off all his challenges and queries with the quip, "The Hu Man is only Human."

34 of the 100 largest economies in the world are companies. A quarter of countries would not make Fortune 500 list (assuming sales ~ GDP)

I wonder if the Chinese will also add a 13th astrological sign. Already have a dragon and tiger. I vote for year of the panda.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." – MLK

I would like to find a really good personal trainer. And by really good, I mean someone who actually exercises for me.

Schwarzenegger says governorship cost him $200 million. Curiously, that's just a fraction of what it cost the state.

Her new year's resolutions became less demanding every year. This year it was simply to take down the Christmas lights. Eventually.

So, the earth is wobbling on its orbit and the 1st thing that concerns people is whether their horoscope has changed?

It's not so much 1 brain as many brain modules w/ different goals. Conflict is just a reminder that it's a small, primitive tribe up there.

About the same temp in Canada and San Diego this week. Only here it is 22 Celsius and there it was 22 Fahrenheit.

Presumably, awe is best in small doses. Awe-some is better than aw-ful.

Back from Coronado cooking up ideas on how to pull off a LBO of beach property by issuing junk bonds against my suburban home.

Will next generation pay security deposit, and then turn on utilities AND aesthetics? "Well yeah, I have electricity but no art or music.

Happy 1/11/11 day! There are 1's enough for everyone 1!

Honest to goodness graffiti seen here in Canada: "A Quiet, Peaceful Place." Canada, where even the vandals are polite.

In the 2,000 miles between San Diego and Corpus Cristi, there are 6,700 gun dealers. Along that stretch, Arizona is the easiest place to buy.

Saw a palm reader in downtown Vancouver. For an extra $20, he'll let you keep your gloves on so your hands stay warm while he does it.

If the Queen visited Canada, she'd only need one Canadian bill ... which she could then use as ID for cashing checks.

My nephew casually said, "It's hit and mystery." I would have corrected him but the way he said it actually makes more sense.

I think for my next career, it'd be fun to get into improvisational academia - just expounding theories w/o constraints of data or reason.

I think that flying could be really exciting. Especially if nobody had ever bothered to explain to you before how seat belts work.

Facebook values 500 million users at $50 billion, meaning 1 user = $100. I wonder if this will create a black market for false identities.

Initially baffled by the high prices, it took Ralph some time to realize that he'd stumbled into Cost'Mo instead.

I stepped outside and looked around. I couldn't see a flaw anywhere. It is a perfect day.

Oh boy. Here we go into the awkward 'tween stage of the century.