Saturday, December 11, 2004

Collaborative E-learning & Generative Conversation

In recent posts Paul observed that "conversation, as a generative process, is the prerequisite for all creativity" and "to create new realities, we must create new contexts, new domains of consensus." These ideas resonate with the work I am doing in the area of collaborative e-learning. I am looking at ways online courses and/or learning activities can be designed and facilitated to promote generative conversation in the virtual domain. I am interested in ways the online class itself can serve as a new context for learning by doing-- learning to converse, communicate, solve problems and generate new ideas and solutions.

If others in the Innovation Commons are interested in this approach, I hope you will join me for a real-time dialogue on the ICT Literacy Community (

December 14, at 10-11 AM Pacific Time OR

December 16, at 5-6 PM Pacific Time.

We'll use the Taxonomy for Collaborative E-Learning as a conceptual framework for our discussion.

See for more info.

Friday, December 10, 2004

The Internet as an Innovation Commons

The Internet is often referred to as an innovation commons. Does it function as an innovation commons? Why or why not?

Internet and Artistic Creativity

From Renee Hopkins at IdeaFlow:

"This past Monday the Pew Center for the Internet and American Life released the study Artists, Musicians and the Internet. Media coverage of the study was focused primarily on one finding: Most artists don't view unauthorized swapping of music and movies as a threat to their livelihood, even if many think it should be illegal."

"...artists and musicians have embraced the Internet as a tool that helps them create, as well as helps them promote and sell what they’ve created."

"And, 'artists and musicians are more likely to say that the Internet has made it possible for them to make more money from their art than they are to say it has made it harder to protect their work from piracy or unlawful use.'

Half of the artists and musicians said that copyright regulations benefit purveyors of creative work more than they benefit the original creators."

Read Her Comments

Download the Report

Thursday, December 9, 2004


A consortium is a speacial kind of innovation commons. It has limited memebership and there are strict agreements about how the intellectual property can be used and who owns it. Some like Sematech have been very sucessful. What are the principles that result in a sucessful consortium?

Monday, December 6, 2004

Individual Characteristics

What role does the type of brain functioning, personality or temperament play in an innovation commons?

Open Source

I'm looking for comment here about how Open Source works and why.


Communication between and among people is very complex. There are many channels and nuances. However, for the purpose of innovation, I have found the following simple model useful. It is based on knowledge and values.
If people seeking to communicate have the same knowledge and the same values, communication is very easy. This is what happens between friends. It's comfortable. However, if you really have exactly the same knowledge and values, the transactions carry no real meaning. Nothing new can be created.
If the people have the same knowledge but different values, when communication is attempted, an argument usually results. Operating on the same knowledge with different values results in different interpretation and prioritization of the knowledge. This quite often happens in politics and religion. (And, it may be going on in America right now.)
If people have different knowledge and values, not much communication can take place. If an attempt at communication is made, a lack of understanding results, or at best a misunderstanding occurs.
If people have different knowledge but the same values, a conversation can result. In a conversation, innovation can occur.

The key strategy in any communication endeavor is to try to move toward a conversation. In the real world, the situation is not as black and white as I have depicted it. People almost always have some shared values or knowledge. The key to creating a conversation is to find some shared values and use these to build a conversation based on the different knowledge.
The more different the knowledge and values are, the higher the potential is for breakthrough innovations. The less different the knowledge and values are, the more likely incremental innovation will result.
For a copy of a presentation on these principles as well as MBTI in communication, click here.


A market is a type of commons as well, and in some cases may even be considered an "innovation commons".

I have read about mythology, anthropology and history, but I am by no means expert. Over the years I've developed a sense of the development of markets that I want to share. Much of this has been developed through conversations with people, especially my partner, Donna Prestwood. It is not rigorous research, but I do want to share the story I've developed. I've put this Italics, because it is a story, not a history.

During times when our ancient ancestors were hunter/gatherers and lived in tribes, the concept of territory was developed (See I told you it was a story. I started with "once upon a time".) Knowledge of what existed outside the territory was limited. The "other" who lived outside your territory was either enemies or strangers. Both were feared. An incursion into your territory was almost surely to provoke an attack, even if the incursion was not an attack itself.

As the boundaries of the territory became established and known or even marked, the "other" avoided incursion unless intent upon an attack. Paths of travel began to be developed along the boundaries of the territories. The first paths bypassed the territories of the tribes.

Sometime during this development people got the idea of bringing gifts to the boundary of their own territory, to the edge of the known. The gifts were left a s a peace offering. Among some tribes this led to the development of concept of potlatch. The tribes brought gifts to the boundary in a type of asynchronous exchange. Potlatch cultures developed when winning meant giving the better gift. Either as peace offerings or potlatch, the practice did reduce the amount of physical conflicts.

Since strangers passed along these boundaries in transit around the territories, it was only natural that somehow they began to enter into the mix. The resulting development led to the creation of markets along these boundary/paths. And, eventually this led to the concentration of villages around the markets, especially at crossroads.

Early in our development, humans developed the sense of having to bring gifts to the edge of the known. In some cultures this ended up as sacrifices. In others, it was food or precious goods. We carry that tradition on now in the form of gifts brought to the altar of our religion. The altar representing symbolically the boundary between what is known and the unknowable.

As a result, the original concept of a market was that it was held on "sacred" ground; it was safe. The boundary was not a place for war. It was a place of peace. Markets today should be "sacred" in that sense. This may be why we are so incensed when someone violates the trust of the market and cheats, lies, or steals.

In some cultures the concept of exchanging gifts at the borders, (Still celebrated by the way every Friday evening in the fall at Texas high school football games with the students of the two schools exchanging gifts at the 50 yard line before the start of the game. Apparently the gifts don't work to bring peace and hostilities have to be undertaken however ritual the hostilities are.) led to the development of a bartering system. From that came the concept of the development of value for different types of goods. Note that adding strangers into the mix brought different types of goods into the market not indigenous to the tribes.

In what sense is a market an innovation commons? Goods produced or manufactured are the embodiment of knowledge. In the ancient market, an individual skilled in making axes could teach the "other" how to make the ax. But, it's more efficient and rewarding to exchange the ax for other things needed or money. Even if the goods are grown, harvested, hunted or extracted, their presence at the market embodies the application of knowledge. Information was also exchanged at a market as well, in a loose bartering sense.

One of the things that makes a market work is the mechanism of valuing goods and services. Another is the trust and safety. Others? I welcome comments.

Are we now at a point in the development of civilization where an innovation commons would work? If so, what are conditions or principles that would assure its success? What can we learn from successful markets?

What can we learn from e-Bay? I don't know enough about it to comment, so I would welcome other comments. One element of e-Bay I do know about is the rating system. Buyers and sellers rate each other after the transaction. A bad reputation prevents you from further participation in the market.


"You never feel safe when you have to navigate in waters which are completely blank." Lieutenant Maxwell Member, Bering's Second Polar Expedition

"Rae obtained from the Eskimo spoons and other articles that were found to have belonged to Franklin's expedition." This cryptic note in Encyclopedia Americana regarding the fate of the infamous Franklin Arctic expedition demands explanation. Several years after the Rae search, McClintock, leading the last search party, found that they had carried more than spoons. They had a great deal of silverware-place settings. If I were in the Arctic trying to survive by walking out from a shipwreck, what would I want with spoons? What would possess men - hungry, ship crushed by ice, senses numbed by the cold, 1,000 miles from nearest help, and sick - to drag ornate silverware over the jagged ice on their futile attempt to walk out? The answer, although taken from the history of the 1800's, is relevant to you, and to us collectively, today.

Sir John Franklin, born in England in 1786, was a naval officer, an explorer, and a hero, of sorts. He entered the Navy at 14 as a midshipman and fought in the battles of Trafalgar and New Orleans. He was promoted to Captain after three explorations. A member of a class of British naval officers - rich, war-tested, sporting, restless, seeking excitement - he was thoroughly imbedded in the British cultural tradition of duty, honor, and dogged persistence.

Sir John became a public figure after his Arctic expeditions, publishing a book each time describing his adventures. He was knighted in 1829 and became Lieutenant Governor of the penal colony in Van Dieman's Land, now known as Tasmania. After seven year; he returned to England to find that the British Navy was preparing what was hoped to be the last exploration of the Arctic for a Northwest Passage.

The search for the Northwest Passage began in the 1500's. Searches were made numerous times for a sea route north of continental Canada and Alaska which was to link the Atlantic and the Pacific. By the 19th century, the search had largely become a project of the Royal Navy. Various expeditions had charted all but a few hundred miles of what was believed would prove to be the passage. The search had become academic. There was no commercial value. Britain had the resources and wanted to be credited with the discovery to provide glory to the nation and display the power and expertise of the Navy. One final massive effort was planned to provide the last pieces of the puzzle.

Sir Franklin had become a hero, not because of his brilliance but because of his courage and endurance of incredible hardships. In his previous exploits he had been wounded in battle, shipwrecked on Australia's Barrier Reef, and, on his Arctic expedition, abandoned on the frozen waters without supplies. All but three died on that journey. He was only a few days from death when rescued.

In those days it was common practice for an exploration of the Arctic to last for three years. Two winters were spent locked in by the ice. Sailing could only be done during the few weeks that the water was navigable. During the winter, land explorations were made.

The last Franklin expedition began in May 1845. Two 300-ton plus bark-rigged sailing ships, with the formidable names of Erebus and Terror, were outfitted for the journey. With the sporting interests of the British Navy, staffing the ships with 129 volunteer officers and men was easy. The ships were even outfitted with an innovation to help with the ice. Coal fueled locomotive steam engines delivering 20 hp were provided. The ships also had an unheard of luxury - heated cabins. They sailed and were last seen on July 26 by a Scottish whaler. All men and equipment were lost - the greatest single disaster in the annals of Arctic exploration.

What happened? John Rae, Hudson's Bay Company, discovered some clues 12 years later. While very little is known of the actual events, McClintock later found some of the bodies and notes. The ships were never located. They survived the first winter but the end of the second winter found them permanently beset by ice. Many died on the ship. The survivors left the ship after the third winter and tried to reach safety overland, a trip of over 1,000 miles. None made it.

The key to the disaster lies in the preparation for the expedition. Although the ships had two auxiliary steam engines, they only had a 12-day supply of coal. Instead, each ship had a 1,200 volume library, a hand organ playing 50 tunes, china place settings for officers and men, cut glass wine goblets, and sterling silver flatware.

The flatware deserves more attention because it was found with the bodies of the men who tried to walk out over 1,000 miles of wilderness. The silverware was of an ornate Victorian design, with richly patterned heavy handles, each bearing the officer's initials and family crest.

They had no special clothing, only the standard uniforms of the Navy. A skeleton of one of the officers later found was described wearing a uniform, trousers and jacket, of fine blue cloth edged with silk braid. The sleeves of the jacket were slashed and decorated with five covered buttons each. Over the uniforms he wore a blue great coat and a black silk neckerchief.

This is a tragic example of a paradigm. A paradigm is a pattern of rules, values, experiences, and beliefs that govern behavior. Franklin was deeply embedded in the "good old boy" British Navy paradigm that made exploration a sporting event, but one in which he didn't want to miss the amenities of his life. It cost all their lives.

Kuhn, in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, first introduced the concept of paradigms in relation to creative breakthroughs in science. Since then, the concept has been usefully applied to engineering, the arts, and normal problem solving. Breaking with the old paradigm and establishing a new one is a creative act. It allows new problems to be solved. Solving problems within the old paradigm is puzzle solving-using the rules in established ways. When problems cannot be solved using the rules of the old paradigm, they are set aside. When enough have collected or a destructive anomaly has surfaced, someone's attention is attracted. A new paradigm is developed which solves the open problems and provides future problem solving capability.

The study of the currently accepted paradigm is what prepares someone for acceptance into the community being joined. Since members of the community learn the same values, they will seldom disagree on fundamentals. This acculturation process applies to many areas of life. But what happens when the world around you changes? If you cannot change your paradigm, you may not survive.

We are in a period of rapid social and technological change. Are we, like Franklin, driven by improper forces? Have repeated excursions into danger inured us, as they did Franklin, from those dangers because we were lucky? Do we have the equivalent of the Franklin paradigm in the business world? Are we ready to survive the rigors of the Arctic winter equivalent? Will we take new technology and innovations along with us but not utilize their full potential? Or will we carry our initialed, crested silver spoons to our demise in an environment for which there is no need for spoons?


Encyclopedia Americana, Vol. 2, 1971

Encyclopedia Britannica Micropedia. Vol. IV, 1974

"A Frozen Sailor Summons Up a Tale of Heroism" by Bit

Gilbert, Smithsonian, 6/85, p.116

Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard, Harper Colophon

Books, 1983

The Structure of Revolutions, Thomas S. Kuhn,

University of Chicago Press, 1970

The Poles, Willy Ley Time-Life Books, 1971