Friday, December 16, 2005

Urban Shaman

Serge Kahili King's view on openness in Urban Shaman is refreshing. "Widely spread knowledge actually has more potency than secrets locked up and unused. Knowledge held secret is about a useful as money under a miser's mattress. And the sacredness of knowledge lies not in its reservation for a few, but it's available to many. He goes on to say, "...shamans recognize no hierarchy or authority in matters of the mind; if ever a group of people could be said to follow a system of spiritual democracy, it would be the shamans of the world."

To read the book review, go to The Illuminated Innovant.

Urban Shaman

Serge Kahili King, the author of Urban Shaman, defines a shaman in the following way, "For the purposes of this book and my teachings, I define a shaman as a healer of relationships between mind and body, between people, between people and circumstances, between Humans and nature, and between matter and spirit. In practicing his or her healing, the shaman has a view of reality very different from the one most of the world uses..."

That last sentence is key. Shamanism is a very different paradigm than the commonly accepted paradigm in the west. I was constantly amazed and intrigued by the differences throughout this book. King writes about the shaman in straightforward, practical way, making the ideas accessible to the uninitiated.

I enjoyed the book immensely and I think I "learned" a lot. I put learned in quotes because the paradigm is so different, I'm not sure I can really learn through just reading a book. At the very least, I think I would have to practice the principles often, and perhaps I would need to apprentice, to really learn Hawaiian shamanism.

He clarifies one of the differences of the Hawaiian tradition, "...while all shaman are healers, the majority follow the 'way of the warrior'; some, a minority which includes the Hawaiian shaman tradition, follow what we might call 'the way of the adventurer'."

"A 'warrior' shaman tends to personify fear, illness, or disharmony and to focus on the development of power, control, and combat skills in order to deal with them. An 'adventurer" shaman, by contrast, tend to depersonify these conditions (i.e., treat them as effects, not things) and deal with them by developing skills of love, cooperation, and harmony."

It is apparent to me that we need healing in the world - as individuals, groups, corporations and nations. Albert Einstein is quoted as writing; "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." Well, I'm ready to at least look at something different. What we've tried isn't working too well. And, my guess is that if you've read this far, you're open to new ideas as well.

"But," you may ask, "what does this have to do with innovation?" I am dedicated to innovation that improves wealth and health (the common weal). I would like to not only make the workspace more innovative, but a healthier, gentler place of open collaboration. The Urban Shaman provides a different way to help make this happen. In addition, the Urban Shaman speaks effectively to our creativity.

Hawaiian shamanism is well adapted to modern times for four reasons:

  1. "It is completely nonsectarian and pragmatic. Shamanism is a craft, not a religion, and you can practice it alone or with a group.
  2. It is very easy to learn and apply, although, as with any craft, the full development of certain skills may take awhile.
  3. The Hawaiian version in particular may be practiced anywhere at any time, including at home, at work, at school, at play, or while traveling. This mainly because the Hawaiian shamans primarily worked with the mind and body alone. They did not use drums to induce altered states and they did not use masks to assume other forms or qualities.
  4. The nature of shamanism is such that while you are healing others you are healing yourself, and while you are transforming the planet you are transforming yourself."

The author's view on openness is refreshing. "Widely spread knowledge actually has more potency than secrets locked up and unused. Knowledge held secret is about a useful as money under a miser's mattress. And the sacredness of knowledge lies not in its reservation for a few, but it's available to many. He goes on to say, "...shamans recognize no hierarchy or authority in matters of the mind; if ever a group of people could be said to follow a system of spiritual democracy, it would be the shamans of the world."

The three aspects of consciousness according to Hawaiian shamanism are the ku (the heart, the body or subconscious), the lono (the mind, or conscious mind) and the kane (the spirit or super conscious).

Ku is a close equivalent of the western concept of the subconscious, but it is not identical. In this paradigm, memory is stored as a movement pattern or vibration. Genetic memory is stored at the cellular level and experiential memory is stored at one or more muscular levels. "The area of storage seems to be related to which part of the body was active or energized during the learning. When the part of the body in which memory was stored is under sufficient tension, then that memory is inhibited or even inaccessible."

"When muscle tension is released, any memory stored in that area and inhibited by the tension is also released." In this paradigm, this is why massage works.

The implications of the concept of ku are many. "This means that whatever memories you dwell on will be affecting your body in the present moment, producing more or less the same chemical and muscular reactions that occurred when the event first happened. A good memory can produce endorphins and a bad memory can produce toxins, all in the present moment."

It also implies that the ku does not distinguish between whether the experience came from an actual situation or a book, dream, intuition or imagination. "All the ku cares about is the intensity of the experience; that is, how much physiological (emotional, chemical, muscular) reaction occurred during the experience. That is the ku's only basis for how 'real' the experience was. The practical side of this is that an intensely imagined experience is just as good as the real thing, as least as far as memory-based behavior is concerned." Athletes use this fact when they imagine the body motions that have to go through to perform. King assets, "The same process can be used to train yourself in any skill, state, or condition whatsoever."

"The primary function of the ku is memory," writes King, "and its primary motivation is pleasure. To put it more accurately, the ku's motivation is towards pleasure and away from pain." This is the reason why we like to do some things and not others, and why certain things are very difficult. "The ku automatically moves towards what is pleasurable and does its best to avoid what is painful."

Remembering that the ku does not distinguish between actual and imagined experience, it becomes clear that imagination has extreme power. "If you create a future memory - in other words, if imagine what will happen if you do a certain thing - your ku's behavior will be strongly influenced by whether the memory carries the expectation of pain or pleasure. If you have created the expectation/memory that human encounters may result in painful rejection, you will find it hard to meet or be with people, to make phone calls (especially sales calls), and possibly even to write letters."

In this paradigm, the ku will provide the least painful solution if no pleasurable alternatives exist in memory. For example, if you have a stressful job, that is your job is creating pain, your ku will make you sick to get out of the job because it is less painful to be sick.

"In order to operate its memory function and engage motivation, the ku uses its primary tool of sensation. According to this concept, all memory is kinesthetic, or body related; all pleasure and pain as well; and all experience, even of emotions and ideas, produces physical sensation."

The second aspect of consciousness is lono. "The lono is that part of yourself which is consciously aware of internal and external input; of memories, thoughts, ideas, imaginings, intuitions, hunches, and inspirations, as well as sensory impressions of sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, depth, movement, pressure, time, and others. It hangs out on the border, so to speak, between the inner and outer worlds. The primary function of the lono is decision making." And, decision making requires attention, intent, choosing and interpretation: "...lono decides what's important and what is not and attention follows the decision."

"Intent is a kind of decision making that directs awareness as well as activity. It is a powerful way to manage your ku, with tremendous effects on health, happiness, and success when used properly." There are three ways to manage your ku - authoritarian, democratic, and laissez-faire.

"When you intend to walk across the room, the intention is followed by awareness, which is followed by action." If a controlling, authoritative style is used, the resulting movements are awkward and halting. If a cooperative style is used, a smooth, fluid movement results. An uncontrolled style results in too many distractions, too many pleasurable paths to follow.

In speaking, "A controlling lono interferes with the process by trying to make sure that the right words are said in the right way and usually creates havoc in the form of halting speech with a lot of 'uh's or 'ya know's or even stuttering. The cooperative lono holds the intent and lets the ku do its thing, which often produces spontaneous humor and unexpectedly good insights or phrases. The uncontrolling lono lets the ku wander off the subject or even speak gibberish."

"Choosing is what most people think of as decision making. Choosing is making a decision to turn your attention to one direction rather than another."

"Interpretation is a decision about the meaning or validity of an experience."

"I spoke of the primary motivation of the ku being pleasure which explains a lot of human behavior. Even more behavior can be explained by the primary motivation of the lono, which is order. Order doesn't necessarily mean neatness although some lonos may interpret it that way. It has more to do with rules, categories, and understanding."

"The primary tool of the lono is imagination. Since the lono is the only part of you under your direct control, the development of this tool is of supreme importance..."

The third aspect of consciousness is kane. "Kane is conceived of as a 'source' aspect; a purely spiritual essence which manifests or projects into realty our physically oriented being. It might also be called the soul or oversoul as long as you don't get the idea that that it is something that can be lost or separated form you."

"The primary function of the kane is creativity in the form of mental and physical experience. Simplified, the lono generates a pattern by deciding that something is true, ku memorizes the pattern, and kane uses the pattern to manifest experience. At the same time, kane is constantly giving inspiration to improve the pattern because its primary motivation is harmony." Kane's "motivation is to help the whole self integrate patterns more harmoniously with others in the community and environment."

"The primary tool of the kane is energy. The universe is made of energy and it is energy that that maintains and changes the dreams of life. The imagination of the lono directs the energy and the sensation of the ku lets us experience its effects."

King describes seven principles and fourteen corollaries of urban shamanism (Hawaiian word shown first in caps):

IKE - The World is What You Think It Is
Corollary: Everything is a dream

"...shamans also hold the exceptionally subtle idea that life is a dream; that in fact, we dream our lives into being. This does not mean that dreams are real and reality is a dream. It means that the reality you are experiencing right now is only one of many dreams," writes the author. He goes on to explain that the only way we "know" anything reality is through the detection of energy through our senses. Reality is our mind's interpretation of what our senses are reporting. The reality we experience in that sense is no different than a dream. And, sometimes we can't tell the difference. It also stands to reason that no two people will experience reality, even the same reality, in the same way. It's put together differently in different minds. We therefore tend to test for reality by whether other people share the same dream of reality. "Hallucination," writes the author means 'your dream doesn't match my dream'."

"For the shamans, the experience we call ordinary everyday reality is a mass hallucination, or to put it more politely, a shared dream. It's like we are all having our own individual dreams about life and the sharing occurs at points of agreement or consensus."

"If this life is a dream," he writes, "and if we can wake up fully within it, then we can change the dream by changing our dreaming."

Corollary: All systems are arbitrary
King comments, "The meaning of experience depends upon your interpretation of it or your decision to accept someone else's interpretation, and the decision to accept a basic assumption is also arbitrary."

KALA - There Are No Limits
Corollary: Everything is connected
Corollary: Anything is possible
Corollary: Separation is a useful illusion

The universe has no limits and therefore our experiences are limitless. However, in everyday life, we experience limits. There are two kinds of limits - filtered and creative. Filtered limitation is "imposed by ideas and beliefs that inhibit creativity rather than enhance it..." "Filtered limitations generate focus without the potential for positive action."

"...creative limitation assumes the purposeful establishment of limits within an infinite universe in order to create particular experiences." When we play a game, we follow the rules of the game; otherwise it has no meaning. "The rules of the game are limitations created so you can play the game." Later he writes, "Creative limitation allows us to improve our creative abilities by enforcing a focus on a certain range of interpretation of experience." "Even in the limited game of chess, human minds have not figured out all the possibilities," he points out.

MAKIA - Energy Flows Where Attention Goes
Corollary: Attention goes where energy flows
Corollary: Everything is energy

In discussing the third principle, King considers mediation and hypnosis. He explains that both are two aspects of the same thing - conditions of sustained focused attention. He writes, "You are meditating whenever you are engaged in sustained focused attention on anything, and according to this philosophy such attention channels the energy of the universe into manifesting the physical equivalent of the focus. However, the manifestation is not just the equivalent of what you are looking at, saying, listening to, or doing. It is the equivalent of the sum total of your entire attention, including habitual expectation, during the meditation. To put it another way, whenever lono is meditating, ku is meditating, ku is meditating too. Part of one's development as a shaman involves learning how to get lono and ku to meditate on the same thing at the same time. Then the magic happens."

In discussing the first corollary, the author writes, "Attention is quite naturally attracted to bright lights, shiny objects, and loud noises, but we may not realize that the common factor of all three is their energy intensity. Attention is attracted to any strong source of energy that stimulates any of our senses, even those subtle senses of which most people are unaware." He goes on to explain that we are likewise attracted to certain people or geographic regions because of their energy. In his view, the sacred geographic spots are actually spots of low energy where people can de-stress.

King stops short of calling on physics to explain that everything is energy, but I think that physics is the best way to explain his second corollary. Einstein proved that energy and mass were transformable one into the other. The conversion factor was the speed of light squared, E=MC². Mass or matter is just highly condensed energy. Therefore our bodies and our thoughts are energy as well.

MANAWA - Now is the Moment of Power
Corollary: Everything is relative.
Corollary: Power increases with sensory attention.

Some Eastern and Western traditions focus on the past or future. With the concept of karma we are trapped into either good or bad karma depending upon our actions in the past, and we create good or bad karma for our future depending upon actions now. "In these traditions karma isn't usually something you can change; all you can do is reap the rewards or work off the debts of the past."

Many Western traditions hold that you are rewarded in life or after life for obeying specific social or religious rules, and punished if you don't.

"The shamanic tradition, both warrior and adventurer versions, is in stark contrast to the above views. It says that the past did not give you what you have today, nor make you what you are. It is your beliefs, decisions, and actions today about yourself and the world around you that give you what you have and make you what you are."

"Now is the moment of power. But, how do we define what now is? The easiest and most practical definition is: the area or range of present attention." In other words, if your attention span is a second, or less, so is now. But, if you can focus longer, now becomes longer.

"Unfortunately, some people are obsessively locked onto the past, future, or elsewhere because of great fear and anger...Much of the fear and anger can be dissipated by shifting focus to the sensory present..."

ALOHA - To Love Is to Be Happy With
Corollary: Love increases as judgement decreases.
Corollary: Everything is alive, aware, and responsive.

In English, the use of the word love has become sloppy. "In Hawaiian the meaning of love is very clear and it provides a useful guideline for loving and being loved. Aloha is the word for love. The root alo means to be with, to share an experience, here and now. The root oha means affection, joy."

MANA - All Power Comes From Within
Corollary: Everything has power.
Corollary: Power comes from authority.

Many other traditions teach that power exists outside of us and that we are relatively powerless. "In complete and, for some, shocking contrast, Huna philosophy teaches that all the power that creates your experience comes from your own body, mind, and spirit. Logically speaking, if there are no limits, then the Universe or Source of Life is infinite, and if it is infinite, then all of its power is at every point of it, including the point which you define as you. Keeping the discussion at a practical level, nothing ever happens to you without your participation. For every event that you experience you creatively attract it through your beliefs, desires, fears and expectations, and then react to it habitually or respond to it consciously."

"Power comes from authority" is the second corollary to this sixth principle. But the authority is inside you, not external. "Speaking with authority means speaking with confidence that your words will produce results," he writes.

PONO - Effectiveness Is the Measure of Truth
Corollary: There is always another way to do anything.

"Many people have trouble with this one at first because they think that it says that the end justify the means. Actually it says just the opposite, that the means determine the end. Violent means will produce violent results, and peaceful means will produce peaceful results."

Other topics covered in the book are, the seven shaman talents, creating harmony in the body, initiating change through intuition, changing the world with shaman dreaming, shape changing and community service, increasing your creative energy, from inner peace to outer peace, the healing power of symbols, the healing art of ceremony and ritual, and the pooling of minds.

The book has many short exercises throughout. They are easily doable by an apprentice shaman, or just someone curious. King uses them to reinforce points he has made.

The book is about radical new paradigm for the western mind, but it is written very clearly and simply. It contains more wisdom than can be obtained from a simple reading so I suggest that if you are serious about learning from the author that you create a study group. That way you can learn and practice together at a pace slow enough to absorb more of what he has to offer.

Urban Shaman: A Handbook for Personal and Planetary Transformation Based on the Hawaiian Way of the Adventurer
Serge Kahili King
Simon & Shuster, 1990

To read a poem by King from this book, Ode to a Toad, go to the Innovation Road Map Travelogue.

Ode to a Toad

Serge Kahili King
Urban Shaman

Grunt and gurgle, little toad
Down there in your mud abode.
Do you ever think of us?
Do we make you fret and fuss
With our wars and waste and greed,
Our rush toward death with reckless speed?
Do you wonder at our fate,
Who preach of love and practice hate;
Who distrust and fear those not like we,
Though they live next door or across the sea?
Do you laugh and laugh at how we talk
Of peace, while one hand holds a rock
Ready to bash our neighbor's head,
Because he's yellow, black, or red?
And at those who cry,
"We must disarm!
Our enemies will ne'er do us harm.
When they see we've no weapons or means of defense,
They'll be happy to stay on their side of the fence."
Or at those who say, "Attack and fight!
We'll show them all that might is right.
Who cares about nuclear radiation?
It's important we prove we're the strongest nation!"

Ah, men say this and men say that,
And some change sides and some stand pat.
And some merely glory in tromping on toes,
But few see beyond the thick end of their nose.
They rant and rave with fiery speech,
And preach, and preach, and preach, and preach.
So what is achieved by a thousand words?
And where are the footprints of flying birds?
For words can't grow crops or clothe the poor,
Or find a disease's elusive cure.
They can't feed children or heal the sick,
Or build a dam or wield a pick.
Oh, they have their place, that I concede.
But a word can never replace a deed.

Yes, it's action that counts, not what we say.
We must act and do and lead the way
By DEEDS! if we hope to live at all
In a world without hate, or revenge, or a Wall.
Do we truly believe in the Rights of Man,
Be he black or white, yellow or tan?
Do we honestly think we can live without war,
In trust and peace forevermore?
That there needn't be hunger or sickness or fear;
That death for so many need not be so near?
If we do then let's ACT! and make this old Earth
A place where real joy will attend every birth.

And what if we don't?
If we just sit and wait
Till the bombs start to fall and we know it's too late?
These are questions I ask myself, too, little toad,
As I sit at my desk or drive down the road.
If we drop our terrible, monster bomb,
Will you sit there serene, patient, and calm?
Or will you just chuckle, thinking of when
The Earth will no more be troubled by men?
If instead we recognize Earth as our Mother,
And all of her creatures as sister and brother,
The land and the sea and the sky as a friend,
Ourselves as gardeners whose role is to tend,
Then maybe, with love, in an ACTION mode,
We might make it work after all, little toad.

To read a review of King's book Urban Shaman go to The Illuminated Innovant.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Creativity and Boxes

I'm not sure when or where the phrase "think outside the box" originated. As I remember, my first exposure came with the introduction of the nine-dot puzzle. The idea was to draw no more than four lines without lifting your pencil that crossed through all nine dots. Most people stopped the lines on a dot, With that restriction, the problem is impossible to solve. But, if you extend the lines beyond the dots, the problem can be solved. Thus, in order to solve the problem you had to think outside the box. (By the way, there are many other creative solutions to the puzzle without thinking outside the box.)

I must admit that I used this example in the 1980s in training. However, I quickly realized that thinking outside the box wasn't the challenge. The real challenge, especially to business, is thinking creatively inside the box. That's where most of the real work gets done, and the most productive innovation.

There is something about the tension of a closed system and creativity. An artist painting a picture has the two-dimensional surface that is framed. Writers start with a blank slate and the limitations of the language. Sculptors start with a piece of stone or clay.

The Roman's use of the square in battle was innovative and almost impenetrable for many years. Fortresses are almost always rectangular. Forming a circle for defense, as in "Circle the wagons". What happened inside the circle or rectangle was essential to survival.

I wonder why the phrase was not "Think outside the circle". Circles have been around for a very long time. And, we're finding that a circle of people still has enormous power.

What I'm discovering is that it's not the network of people or the links between people that is key. I'm finding that it is the space between that's important. But, more about that later.

The seminar on Systematic Idea Generation by Mark Fox puts a different twist on things; what he calls thinking in another box. You can think outside the box, inside the box or in another box. Thinking in another box is a very appropriate metaphor for business. It will probably result in distinctive innovation, a source of great wealth.

I've attended Mark's seminar twice and found that I learned things both times. He has a unique way of looking at creativity with a fresh new set of techniques.

Monday, December 5, 2005

What is the question?

There is a story I can't get out of my head. It is the one that is told in the movie What the Bleep. Whether or not the story is 'true' seems less relevant to me as the more I learn about story I see that the power IS the story. Like the power IS the circle.

The story:
""When Columbus’s armada landed in the Caribbean, none of the natives were able to see the ships, even though they existed on the horizon. The reason that they never saw the ships was because they had no knowledge in their brains, or no experience, that clipper ships existed. So the Shaman starts to notice that there are ripples out in the ocean, but he sees no ships. And he starts to wonder what’s causing the effect. So every day he goes out and looks and looks and looks. And after a period of time, he’s able to see the ships. And once he sees the ships, he tells everybody else that ships exist out there. Because everybody trusted and believed in him, they saw them also." -- Joseph Dispenza

For me, this story is a metaphor for what is going on now. If we can't see it, it [is as if it] doesn't exist. The big picture/whole/ship is not clear yet, but we (some of us, increasingly more) can see/feel its effects, the ripple. That said, we can keep focusing our attention in it and expect to see a 'vision' as we piece together various puzzle pieces, which we can then communicate to others. In providing words in our language we automatically enable people to see it. [logos meaning both language and reason, and many linguists and sociolists speak of naming things as making a construct real/exist].

As I do more and more work - reading, learning, dialogue, conversing...I sense the ship we are looking for is the question(s), not the answer(s).

In this light, here are some questions that I am finding. It may help to note that my current focus is on space and physical movement, as the time we live in does not seem to fit with the construct I know.

Some questions:
- what languages are there that have many words for space?
- how can we represent space on something other than a cartesian plane? (beyond axis models…artists and children seem to hold some keys)
- what are other ways to work with space?
- how do we create ‘dialogic’ spaces when we are not all ‘physcially’ there together but want to bring ourselves there so that we can feel the sphere of the between, the space between the space/sphere we hold (without being bogged down by media …which is merely a channel)
- what type of environment ensures good and honourable and real conversation and interconnectedness will emerge? ie what is a healthy conversation space?

Saturday, December 3, 2005

Context Management System

I'm not even sure that this post has the same perspective that I do on what a Context Management System should. I agree with the comments about intent. We need to surface intent of both conscious and unconscious varieties. The trick to this is realizing that intent isn't a simple scalar value, but rather a multifaceted matrix of factors, with varying degrees of consciousness.

Isn't this the crux of context. My use of the term phrase Context Management System (CxMS) is as an actualy user application that serves to offset the idea of a Content Management System (CMS). Having worked at Vignette back in the day when CMS systems where in a larval stage (and syndication make eyeballs transferrable), I have some sense of the value and the mind-shift that occurs when one separates implementation from content. A similar mind-shift is occurring now as we learn to separate content from context.

It may seem at first that this is just a linear extrapolation of the CMS with a few extra features and a bit more abstraction. I believe that the impact of shifting to a world-view where contribution is a matter of establishing context has far-reaching ramifications that we can't even begin to fully appreciate.

You may ask, "Why the melodrama, David? Just trying to up your pageviews?" Well, yes, who isn't. But that isn't the sole reason for the urgency

Friday, December 2, 2005

The Tribe of the Ambiguous and Living in the Question

I've been having a lot of conversations around "Where are we?" and "Where are we going?" lately.

After two conversations in one day, I finished reading a book by Christian Baldwin, Storycatcher. Within the last chapter there was this:

"The renewed life we long for is already residing in the hearts and minds of people all over the world; it's just waiting for us to believe in our capacity to live it.

Yet hope is tricky; like joy, it must include and befriend ambiguity. To live in denial, to proceed with false cheerfulness, avoiding the seriousness of our situation, will quickly dash any hope built on such a flimsy foundation.

As I travel around speaking and listening to the Tribe of the Ambiguous, a story-based role is becoming clear: storycatchers can serve not only as carriers of hopeful thought-provoking tales, but also receivers of confused and heartrending accounts of personal awakening. The movement aspect of storycatching is about creating interpersonal space in which we can hold story with each other. Like the circle of listening that frames Chapter 2, we need to practice being in the now; we need a readiness to notice, to volunteer to listen and respond to each other while we speak our way into holding the complexity of the world."

Christina Baldwin, Storycatcher, New World Library, 2005

(I will write a full review of the book in a few weeks. Look for it in

In an article Donna Prestwood and I wrote for The Futurist in 1997, we outlined the results of over a year's worth of research, interviews and countless conversations about the nature of the future and how to lead in that future in seven principles:

  • Know who you are
  • Let go of what you've got hold of
  • Understand your purpose
  • Live in the question
  • Learn the art of barn raising
  • Give it away
  • Let the magic happen

As I look at these now eight years later, I still see a lot of wisdom in them.

I love Baldwin's term - The Tribe of Ambiguity. But I also like our admonishment - Live in the Question. Whatever the term, we are awakening to the fact that we are living in a question and struggling trying to find out what the question is.

I keep coming back in my mind to Flip Wilson, one of the comics of the 70's ( He was one of the funniest people ever on TV with his outrageous characters like Geraldine and Reverend LeRoy. Reverend LeRoy founded a church - The Church of What's Happenin' Now. I feel we are all members of the "church". Except maybe, we should change the name to "What's Happenin' Now?"

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Video Newsletters

I have been on a quest to learn how to develop video and send it via the internet for my Creative Thinking Business. I plan to send out monthly “Video Newsletters” that are short 3-5 minutes pieces that talk about creativity and innovation. I am also in the process of making a “Video Press Kit” for my business as well as some e-learning/distance learning programs.

You can view my 1st one here;

Solar Sailor - Combination Creativity

I have learned more about Flash, QuickTime, .flv, .fla., .swf. HTML wrappers, skins, Sorenson Squeeze, video converters, Cameras, Lighting, Audio, RSS, Ipod casting and a host of other stuff no sane businessman should ever have to learn. My wife said it is official;….you have become a computer nerd. Ouch! I vouched never to do that :)

Obviously I am still learning; I have been playing with pop up windows, html delivery, compression, various players, browsers, etc. trying to find what works best for the actual delivery of the video. That is the hardest part. Trust me I have done a lot or research on this and there are no “agreed on” best practices, that I can find.

As of today, I think (hope) I have figured out most of the web delivery issues. This has taken me several hundred hours :(

I will pass on all of my findings in a future post for those who are interested in how to do it themselves.

If you would like to receive future Video Newsletters from me, simply download my free e-book at and that will put you on the list. You can opt- out anytime.



Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The World is Flat

This book is a must read for anyone interested in an innovation commons. Much of the book revolves around and depends upon the successful creation of innovation commons in many different forms. The following are some excerpts from the book that seem to me to be most directly related to the subject of the innovation commons.

"…Satyam Cherukuri, of Sarnoff, an American research and development firm, has called ‘the globalization of innovation" and an end to the old model…" p29-30

His premise is that the "world is now flat", i.e. the global competitive playing field is being leveled. The world is being flattened. He identifies ten driving forces for leveling of the competitive playing field. The first three are events that marked the change:
  1. When the walls came down and the windows went up
  2. When Netscape went public
  3. Work flow software

The next six represent the new forms of collaboration, which the new platform created by the first three forces made possible:

  1. Self organizing collaborative communities
  2. Outsourcing Y2K
  3. Offshoring
  4. Supply chaining
  5. Insourcing
  6. In-forming

The last force is an enabler:

  1. The steroids: Digital, mobile, personal and virtual

Quoting Irving Wladawsky-Berger of IBM, "This emerging era is characterized by the collaborative innovation of many people working together in gifted communities, just as innovation in the industrial era was characterized by individual genius." p93

In discussing some of the problems of an innovation commons, he raises the following question:
"If everyone contributes his or her intellectual capital for free, where will the resources for innovation come from? And won’t we end up with in endless legal wrangles over which part of any innovation was made by the community for free, and meant to stay that way, and which part was added on by some company for profit and has to be paid for so that the company can make money to drive further innovation." p96

"How do you push innovation forward if everyone is working for free and giving away their work?…if innovators are not going to be rewarded for their innovations, the incentive for path-breaking innovation will dry up and so will the money for the really deep R&D that is required to drive progress in this increasingly complex field." (Paraphrasing Microsoft) p100

"Open source is an important flattener because it makes available for free many tools, from software to encyclopedias, that millions of people around the world would have had to buy in order to use, and because open source network associations – with their open borders and come-one-come-all approach – can challenge hierarchical structures with a horizontal model of innovation that is clearly working in a growing number of areas." p102

Writing about the power of search engines for collaboration: "How does searching fit into the concept of collaboration? I call it ‘in-forming’. In-forming is the individual’s’ personal analog to open sourcing, outsourcing, insourcing, supply chaining and offshoring. In-forming is the ability to build and deploy your own personal supply chain – a supply chain of information, knowledge and entertainment. In-forming is about self collaboration…" p153

"…this tenth flattener - the steroids – is going to amplify and further empower all the other forms of collaboration. These steroids should make open-source innovation that much more open, because they will enable more individuals to collaborate with one another in more ways and from more places than ever before." p 170-171

He then introduces the concept of the triple convergence: "First, right around the year 2000, all ten flatteners…started to converge and work together in ways that created a new, flatter, global playing field. As this new playing field became established, both businesses and individuals began to adopt new habits, skills and processes to get the most out of it. They moved from largely vertical means of creating value to more horizontal one. The merger of this new playing field for doing business with the new ways of doing business was the second convergence, and it actually helped to flatten the world even further. Finally, just when all this flattening was happening, a whole new group of people, several billion in fact, walked on the playing field from China, India and the former Soviet Union. Thanks to the new flat world, and its new tools, some of them were able to collaborate and compete directly with everyone else. This was the third convergence." p175

Writing about the parallel between the work of economists of the impact of major technologies on productivity, he stated: "The same thing is happening today with the flattening of the world. Many of the ten flatteners have been around for years. But for the full flattening effects to be felt, we needed not only the ten flatteners to converge, but also something else. We needed the emergence of a large cadre of managers, innovators, business consultant, business schools, designers, IT specialists, CEOs and workers to get comfortable with, and develop, the sorts of horizontal collaboration and value creation processes and habits that could take advantage of this new, flatter playing field. In short, the convergence of the ten flatteners begat the convergence of a set of business practices and skills that would get the most out of the flat world. And then the tow began to mutually reinforce each other." p178

"In the future globalization is going to be increasingly driven by individuals who understand the flat world, adapt themselves quickly to its processes and technologies, and then start to march forward…They will be of every color of the rainbow and from every corner of the world." p183
"The flatter the world gets, the more we are going to need a system of global governance that keeps up with all the new legal and illegal forms of collaboration." p217

"In the flat world, the division of labor is steadily becoming more and more complex, with a lot more people interacting with a lot of other people they don’t know and may never meet. If you want to have a modern complex division of labor, you have to put more trust in strangers." p326

The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century

Thomas Friedman

Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2005

A Simpler Way

This is a beautiful book with beautiful pictures and mental images. It is a hopeful book, and it is a profound book. Its mission is no less than to change our paradigm from competition to collaboration in how we perceive, think and act in all that we do. The authors opening line is "We want life to be less arduous and more delightful. We want to be able to think differently about how to organize human activities."

They question the "survival of the fittest" paradigm for evolution and our mechanistic view of the world. "The mechanistic image of the world is a very deep image, planted at subterranean depths in most of us. But it doesn't help us any longer."

The authors pose the question, "How could we organizes human endeavor if we developed different understandings of how life organizes itself?" They have six beliefs about human organizations and the world in which they come into form:
  1. "The universe is a living, creative, experimenting expereince of discovering what's possible at all levels of scale from microbe to cosmos.
  2. Life's natural tendency is to organize. Life organizes into greater levels of complexity to support more diversity and greater sustainability.
  3. Life organizes around a self. Organizing is always an act of creating an identity.
  4. Life self-organizes. Networks, patterns, and structures emerge without external imposition or direction. Organization wants to happen.
  5. People are intelligent, creative, adaptive, self-organizing, and meaning seeking.
  6. Organizations are living systems. They too are intelligent, creative, adaptive, self-organizing, meaning-seeking."

They argue that life has a natural and spontaneous tendency towards organization. "Whatever chaos is present at the start, when elements combine, systems of organization appear. Life is attracted to order - order gained through wandering explorations into new relationships and new possibilities."

The central part of the book is organized around a poem by A. R. Ammons:

"I look for the way
things will turn
out spiraling from a center,
the shape
things will take to come forth in
so that the birch tree white
touched black at branches
will stand out
totally its apparent self:
I look for the forms
things want to come as
from what black wells of possibility
how a thing will
not the shape on paper - though
that, too - but the
uninterfering means on paper:
not so much looking for the shape
as being available
to any shape that may be
summoning itself
through me
from the self not mine but ours."

The authors write, "Life is creative. It plays itself into existence, seeking new relationships, new capacities, new traits. Life is an experiment to discover what's possible."

They believe Darwinism has led us to believe that life wasn't supposed to happen, that it was an accident, and that life has to fight to continue to exist. In their view, "Life is about invention, not survival. We are here to create, not defend."

They point out that all of us are trying to describe our reality to others. But reality outside of us, in an absolute sense, evades us. "We peer out through our senses, describing our experiences of what we think reality to be. We choose images to convey our expereince. We create metaphors to connect what we see. We explore new ways of understanding what seems to be happening and what we think it means."

Peering out at the world, they describe seven principles of life's process of creating:

  1. "Everything is in a constant process of discovery and creating. Everything is changing all the time: individuals, systems, environments, the rules, the processes of evolutions. Even change changes. Every organism reinterprets the rules, creates exceptions for itself, creates new rules.
  2. Life uses messes to get well-ordered solutions. Life doesn't seem to share our desires for efficiency or neatness. It uses redundancy, fuzziness, dense webs of relationships, unending trials and errors to find what works.
  3. Life is intent on finding what works, not what's 'right'. It is the ability to keep finding solutions that is important; any one solution is temporary. There are no permanently right answers. The capacity to keep changing, to find what works now, is what keeps any organism alive.
  4. Life creates more possibilities as it engages with opportunities. There are no 'windows of opportunity', narrow openings in the fabric of space-time that soon disappear forever.
  5. Possibilities beget more possibilities; they are infinite.
  6. Life is attracted to order. It experiments until it discovers how to form a system that can support diverse members. Individuals search out a wide range of possible relationships to discover whether they can organize into life-sustaining system. These explorations continue until a system is discovered. The system then provides stability for its members, so that individuals are less buffeted by change.
  7. Life organizes around identity. Every living thing acts to develop and preserve itself. Identity is the filter that every organism or system uses to make sense of the world. New information, new relationships, changing environments - all are interpreted through a sense of self. This tendency toward self-creation is so strong that it creates a seeming paradox. An organism will change to maintain its identity.

Everything participates in the creation and evolution of its neighbors. There are no unaffected outsiders. No one system dictates conditions to another. All participate together in creating the conditions of their interdependence."

"There is no ideal design for anything, just interesting combinations that arise as a living thing explores it space of possibilities", Wheatley and Kellner-Rogers write, a combination of words that could be used to describe how an organization innovates.

Their assertion is that "life tinkers itself into existence". "It tinkers toward order - toward systems that are more complex and effective...Almost always what begins in randomness ends in stability...generates systems that sustain diverse individuals." But they conclude, "Life seeks order in a disorderly way."

"All this messy playfulness creates relationships that make more available...," they write. "Who we become together will always be different that who we were alone. Our range of creative expression increases as we join with others. New relationships create new capacities."

"Life invites us to create not only the forms but even the process of discovery," they conclude.

"The environment is invented by our presence in it. We do not parachute into a sea of turbulence, to sink or swim. We and our environments become one system, each influencing the other, each co-determining the other." Living systems they believe create more possibilities and more freedom for individuals.

In this systems behaviors emerge. "Science writer Kevin Kelly describes these systems as a 'messy cascade of interdependent events ...What emerges from the collective is not a series of critical individual actions but a multitude of simultaneous actions whose collective pattern is far more important'."

One of the important features of viable living systems is simultaneity. "Simultaneity reduces the impact of any one error. More errors matter less if the actors are not linked together sequentially. The space for experimentation increases as we involve more minds in the experiment, as long as they can operate independently. What links people together is their focus on a needed solution. But in discovering what works, they are not waiting for one another to act."

They very carefully describe the discipline of play required for success. "Playful tinkering requires consciousness. If we are not mindful, if our attention slips, then we can't notice what's available or discover what's possible. Staying present is the discipline of play. Great concentration and focus are required." As a result, "Playful enterprises are alert. They are open to information, always seeking more, yearning for surprises."

Over and over again they stress the role that diversity plays in creation. "Parallel process requires both diversity and freedom. There is more than one workable solution, and these solutions arise from many different forms of self-expression...Life is not driving us toward one solution. The world is interested in pluralism. Only in this way can it discover more about itself...The world's desire for diversity compels us to change."

Systems offer the possibility for more stability. But in a curious paradox, that stability for the system depends upon its member's ability to change. "When individuals fail to experiment or when a system refuses their offers of new ideas, then the system becomes moribund. Without constant, interior change, it sinks into the death grip of equilibrium. It no longer participates in coevolution. The system becomes vulnerable; its destruction is self-imposed...This broad paradox of stability and freedom is the stage on which coevolution dances. Life leaps forward when it can share its learnings. The dense web of systems allow information to travel in all directions, speeding recovery and adaptation."

If systems of life are self-organizing then we don't have to design how they will organize. We live in a universe where we get order for free. "If order is for free, we don't have to be the organizers. We don't have to design the world. We don't have to structure its existence."
And, in a prescription for systems that has a lot to do with an innovation commons, "As we organize, we need to keep inquiring into the quality of our relationships. How much access do we have to one another? How much trust exists among us? Who else needs to be in the room?"

"Stability is found in freedom - not in conformity and compliance. We may have thought that our organization's survival was guaranteed by finding the right form and insisting that everyone fit into it. But sameness is not stability. It is individual freedom that creates stable systems. It is diffferentness that enables us to thrive," they propose.

In writing about self, they suggest, "Life wants to happen. It calls itself into existence. Out of all information and all possibilities, an entity comes into form. An identity emerges. A self has created itself...No externally imposed plans or designs are required. The process of invention always takes place around an identity. There is a self that seeks to organize and make its presence known. The desires of self set a self-organizing world into motion."

Research suggests that we perceive the world based on who we have decided to be, " any moment, what we see is most influenced by who we have decided to be...At least 80 percent of the information that the brain works with is information already in the brain." The corollary to this is that "We will change our self if we believe that the change will preserve the self."

In answering the question about what conditions will allow self-organization to flourish, they state "We need to trust that we are self organizing...We live in a world where attraction is ubiquitous. Organization wants to happen. People want their lives to mean something. We seek one another to develop new capacities. With all these wonderful and innate desires calling us to organize, we can stop worrying about designing perfect structures or rules. We need to become intrigued by how we create a clear and coherent identity, a self that we can organize around...Identity includes such dimensions as history, values, actions, core beliefs, competencies, principles, purpose, mission...Identity is the source of organizations. Every organization is an identity in motion, moving through the world, trying to make a difference."

In search of that illusive concept of emergence, they write, "Emergence is the surprising capacity we discover only when we join together. New systems have properties that appear suddenly and mysteriously. These properties cannot be predicted. They do not exist in the individuals who compose the system. What we know about the individuals, no matter how rich the details, will never give us the ability to predict how they will behave as a system. Once individuals link together they become something different.

One of the current quandaries facing free, open collaboratives is compensation. It is very clear that participants benefit in many other tangible and intangible ways from the collaboration. However, in our present form of capitalism, no standard form of monetary compensation has emerged. The authors don't provide much hope of one being developed, "Once systems are called into the world by our individual explorations, it becomes impossible to work backwards. Systems cannot be deconstructed. We can't figure out cause and effect or who contributed what. There are no heroes or permanent leaders in an emergent, systems creating world. There are too many simultaneous connection; individual contributions evolve too rapidly into group efforts."

We often talk about synergy in a group, where 1 + 1 > 2. Their paradigm revolutionizes the way to think about a system, "A system is an inseparable whole. It is not the sum of its parts. It is not greater than the sum of its parts. There is nothing to sum. There are no parts. The system is a new and different and unique contribution to its members and the world. To search backwards in time for its parts is to deny the self transforming nature of systems. A system is knowable only as itself. It is irreducible. We can't disentangle the effects of so many relationships. The connections never end. They are impossible to understand by analysis."

In amplifying their concept that self-organizing systems merge through trust, they write, "Every act of organizing is an experiment. We begin with desire, with a sense of purpose and direction. But we enter the expereince vulnerable, unprotected by the illusionary cloak of prediction. We acknowledge that we don't know how this work will actually unfold. We discover what we are capable of as we go along. We engage others in the experiment. We are willing to commit to a systems whose effectiveness cannot be seen until it is in systems of trust, people are free to create the relationships they need. Trust enables the system to open. The system expands to include those it had excluded. More conversations - more diverse and diverging views - become important. People decide to work with those from whom they have been separate."

We long for meaning in our lives. "Each of us embodies the boundless energies of life. We are creating, systems-seeking, self-organizing, meaning-seeking beings. We are identities in motion, searching for the relationships that will evoke more from us."

A Simpler Way
Margaret Wheatley & Myron Kellner-Rogers
Berrett-Koehler, 1996

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Fourth Turning

This book by Strauss and Howe proclaims itself on the cover as "An American Prophecy", and the book has the subtitle of "What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny". Those are strong words when speaking of the future. H. G. Wells commented that demography is destiny. I believe that. For example, we know a lot about all the 20-year-olds in the U.S. in 2025. Why? Because they've all been born, even those that will immigrate into the U.S. But when you couple demography with social trends, I become less sure. Humans have a nasty habit of doing the unexpected, as well as responding to events in unexpected ways. Strauss and Howe couple demography with sociology and add in some ideas about generations to produce a prophecy. In doing so I think they fall prey to a weakness we all succumb too occasionally, especially me, of pushing their insights too far into specifics and detail. However, if their prophecy is 10% right, they still deserve to be listened to, and maybe even to take actions to prepare for the America they prophesize.

The book begins with a summary of their prophecy in Chapter 1. Winter Comes Again. "America feels like it's unraveling. Though we live in an era of relative peace and comfort, we have settled into a mood of pessimism about the long term future, fearful that our superpower nation is somehow rotting from within.

Neither an epic victory over Communism nor an extended upswing of the business cycle can buoy our public spirit. The Cold War and New Deal struggles are plainly over, but we are of no mind to bask in their successes. The America of today feels worse, in its fundamentals, than the one many of us remember from our youth, a society presided over by those of supposedly lesser consciousness...We yearn for civic character but satisfy ourselves with symbolic gestures and celebrity circuses. We perceive no greatness in our leaders, a new meanness in ourselves. Small wonder that each new election brings a new jolt, its aftermath a new disappointment. Not long ago, America was more than the sum of its parts. Now, it is less."

Remember as you read this that the book was published in 1997 - before 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The authors' views have been developed through several books including Generations and 13th-GEN. To understand their work, I recommend that you read all three of these books. However, The Fourth Turning is the best of the three.

The fundamental building block of their paradigm is that there are cycles in history of society called the saeculum by the "ancients".

According to the authors, there are three ways of thinking about time*: chaotic, cyclical, and linear. "In chaotic time, history has no path. Events follow one another randomly, and any effort to impute meaning in their whirligig succession is hopeless."

*Authors' note: I think that their description of chaotic time is really confusing. There are really four ways of thinking about time - random, cyclical, linear and chaotic. The characteristics they ascribe to chaotic time really apply to random time. In chaotic time, there is order, events are not random, but follow a higher order of organization not easily perceived. I think that the paradigm progression is from random to cyclical to linear to chaotic.

"Cyclical time originated when the ancients first linked natural cycles of planetary events (diurnal rotations, lunar months, solar years, zodiacal precessions) with related cycles in human activity (sleeping, waking; gestating, birthing; planting; harvesting; hunting, feasting). Cyclical time conquered chaos by repetition..."

"...linear time - time as a unique (and usually progressing) story with an absolute beginning and an absolute end...The Persian, Judaic, Christian and Islamic cosmologies all embraced the radically new concept of personal and historic time as a unidirectional drama."
The saeculum is approximately 80 years long and, according to the authors, is observable in Anglo-American history for seven cycles since 1435. The saeculum is divided into four turnings, each about 20 years long - a generation:

1. "The First Turning is a High, an upbeat era of strengthening institutions and weakening individualism, when a new civic order implants and the old values regime decays." In the current saeculum, this was the American High (1946 - 1964)

2. "The Second Turning is an Awakening, a passionate era of spiritual upheaval, when civic order comes under attack from a new values regime." In the current saeculum, this was the Consciousness Revolution (1964 - 1984)

3. "The Third Turning is an Unraveling, a downcast era of strengthening individualism and weakening institutions, when the old civic order decays and the new values regime implants." In the current saeculum, this was, and still is, the Culture Wars (1984 - 2005?)

4. "The Fourth Turning is a Crisis, a decisive era of secular upheaval, when the values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one." In the current saeculum, this era is left unnamed but would start around 2005 and end around 2026.

If Strauss and Howe are correct, at this point in time, we are at the cusp of entering a crisis era. The previous crisis era was introduced by the great depression and W.W.II. Prior crisis eras also began with wars - Civil War (1860), American Revolution (1773), Glorious Revolution (1675), Armada Crisis (1569) and Wars of the Roses (1459). Are the wars we are in right now the catalysts for our next crisis era?

The second building block in Strauss and Howe's model is the concept of generations. "Of all the cycles known to man, the one we all know best is the human life cycle. No other societal force - not class, not nationality, not culture, not technology - has a predictable a chronology. The limiting length of an active life cycle is one of civilization's great constants...Biologically and socially, a full human life is divided into four phases: childhood, young adulthood, midlife, and elderhood. Each phase of life is the same length as the others, capable of holding one generation at a time. And, each phase is associated with a specific social role that conditions how its occupants perceive the world and act on those perceptions." And, each phase is about 20 years long:

  • Childhood (0-20) - social role is growth, receiving nurture, acquiring values
  • Young Adulthood (21-41) - social role is vitality, serving institutions, testing values
  • Midlife (42-62) - social role is power, managing institutions, applying values
  • Elderhood (63-83) - social role is leadership, leading institutions, transferring values

Late Elderhood (84+) - social role is dependence, receiving comfort from institutions, remembering values

In this model, only the first four are considered active in shaping American society. This assumption is certainly suspect as the late elderhood bracket swells and people remain mentally and physically active longer.

These two building blocks of the Strauss and Howe model, the saeculum and generations, act together to create the engine for social change. Consider for example childhood. A childhood spent during a first turning, a high, would be vastly different than one spent during a crisis or fourth turning.

But the key thing to consider is the mix of generations in any turning of the saeculum. For example, in a fourth turning, the crisis era the author's predict we are now in:

  • The Midlife generation, whose role is power, experienced Childhood during a second turning, an awakening
  • The Elderhood generation, whose role is leadership, experienced Childhood in a first turning, a high
  • The Young Adulthood generation, whose role is vitality, experienced Childhood during an Unraveling
  • The Childhood generation, whose role is growth is getting its first life expereince during a Crisis

The Late Elderhood generation, whose role according to the authors, is dependence is the only generation to have experienced the last crisis.

The third building block of the Strauss and Howe model is the naming of generations, depending upon their place in the saeculum at different life stages. The naming implies that we can, to a first approximation, group people in a generation and ascribe some common characteristics. This is a dangerous assumption, but useful if you're going to make any sense of generations and social change. The characterizations are general tendencies and do not apply to individuals within a generation.

The fourth building block of the model is the concept of archetypes. Strauss and Howe identity four archetypes - Hero, Nomad, Prophet and Artist. These four archetypes cycle through our society as generations.

The generations in play right now are:

  • The Silent Generation (1929-1946) - an Artist archetype, suffocated during childhood, sensitive during youth adulthood, indecisive during midlife and empathetic during elderhood
  • The Boomers (1946-1964) - a Prophet archetype, indulged during childhood, narcissistic as a young adult, moralistic in midlife
  • The Thirteen Generation (1964-1984) - also called GenX, a Nomad archetype, abandoned during childhood, alienated during young adulthood
  • The Millennials (1985-2005) - Hero archetype, protected as a child

If the authors are correct, we have just entered a Crisis that will last for the next 20 years. In this Crisis the elders will be Prophets, those in midlife will be Nomads, young adults will be Heroes and our children will be Artists. According to the authors, families will be strengthening and we will over protect our children. The gap between genders will widen. Ideals will be championed, new institutions will be founded and our culture will be practical. Our interest in community will be growing and our social structure will begin to unify. Our worldview will be moving from complexity to simplicity. What will motivate us socially will be a concern over blots in our record. We will develop a sense of urgency and a sense that we need to fix our outer world. If wars occur, they will be total.

The morphology of a crisis era will is:

  • "A Crisis era begins with a catalyst - a starting event (or sequence of events) that produces a sudden shift in mood"
  • "Once catalyzed, a society achieves a regeneracy - a new counter entropy that reunifies and reenergize civic life"
  • "The regenerated society propels toward a climax - a crucial moment that confirms the death of the old order and birth of the new."
  • "The climax culminates in a resolution - a triumphant or tragic conclusion that separates the winners from the losers, resolves the big public questions, and establishes the new order."

While I am reluctant to present their recommendations, I do so for your own analysis. To me the recommendations appear to have a political bias. According to the authors to prepare for the fourth turning, or crisis, America should:

  • Prepare values - forge the consensus and uplift the culture, but don't expect near-term results
  • Prepare institutions - clear the debris and find out what works, but don't try building anything big
  • Prepare politics - define challenges bluntly and stress duties over rights, but don't attempt reforms that can't now be accomplished
  • Prepare society - require community teamwork to solve local problems, but don't try this on a national scale
  • Prepare youth - treat children as the nation's highest priority, but don't do the work for them
  • Prepare elders - tell future elders they will need to be more self sufficient, but don't attempt deep cuts in benefits to current elders
  • Prepare the economy - correct fundamentals, but don't try to fine tune performance
  • Prepare the defense - expect the worse and prepare to mobilize, but don't precommit to any one response

For individuals they recommend:

  • Rectify - return to the classic virtues
  • Converge - heed emerging community norms
  • Bond - build personal relationships of all kinds
  • Gather - prepare yourself (and your children) for teamwork
  • Root - look to your family for support
  • Brace - gird for the weakening or collapse of public support mechanisms
  • Hedge - diversify everything you do

It is incredibly important that we as a society understand the predictions in this book. We must decide not only if they are right or wrong, but also even if they are right, are we predetermined to this future, or can we through collective decisions and actions avoid the future they say is inevitable. Is technology a wild card in their scenario? Will it accelerate the Crisis or help us avoid it? And, for all the cases, what are we going to do about it?

The Fourth Turing - An American Prophecy
What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny
William Strauss and Neil Howe
Broadway Books, 1997

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Being There

It was Sunday. Chance was in the garden. He moved slowly, dragging the green hose from one path to the next, carefully watching the flow of the water. Very gently he let the stream touch every plant, every flower, every branch of the garden. Plants were like people; they needed care to live, to survive their diseases, and to die peacefully.

Yet plants were different from people. No plant is able to think about itself or able to know itself; there is no mirror in which a plant can recognize itself its face; no plant can do anything intentionally; it cannot help growing, and its growth has no meaning, since a plant cannot reason or dream.

It was safe and secure in the garden, which was separated from the street by a high, red brick wall covered with ivy, and not even the sounds of the passing cars disturbed the peace. Chance ignored the streets. Though he had never stepped outside the house and its garden, he was not curious about life on the other side of the wall.

Thus begins this amazing novel by Jerzy Kosinski. This 1971 book has stayed mostly dormant in my brain for over thirty years only occasionally popping to the surface. However, in my recent studies of McLuhan, it surfaced and requested that I reread it. I believe after rereading the book that Kosinski was drawing a metaphor for the impacts of electronic media on perception and thinking, and the emergence of the post-literate man.

Chance went inside and turned on the TV. The set created its own light, its own color, its own time. It did not follow the law of gravity that forever bent all plants downward. Everything on TV was tangled and mixed and yet smoothed out: night and day, big and small, tough and brittle, soft and rough, hot and cold, far and near. In this colored world of television, gardening was the white cane of a blind man.

By changing the channel he could change himself. He could go through phases, as garden plants went through phases, but he could change as rapidly as he wished by twisting the dial backward and forward. In some cases he could spread out onto the screen without stopping, just as on TV people spread out onto the screen. By turning the dial, Chance could bring others inside his eyelids. Thus he came to believe that it was he, Chance, and no one else, who made himself to be.

Chance, you find out in the story, is a person of unknown origin who lived his entire life tending the garden of a very wealthy man. His education was TV and the garden. When the old man died, his life was abruptly changed.

He rose early as always, found the breakfast that had been left at his door by the maid, ate it, and went into the garden.

He checked the soil under the plants, inspected the flowers, snipped away dead leaves, and pruned the bushes. Everything was in order. It had rained during the night, and many fresh buds had emerged. He sat down and dozed in the sun.

As long as one didn't look at people, they did not exist. They began to exist, as on TV, when one turned one's eyes on them. Only then could they stay in one's mind before being erased by new images. The same was true for him. By looking at him, others could make him clear, could open him up and unfold him; not to be seen was to blur and fade out. Perhaps he was missing a lot by simply watching others on TV and not being watched by them. He was glad now, after the Old Man died, he was going to be seen by people he never been seen by before.

Chance is called in to meet with the executors of the Old Man's will. He is found to have no papers, no record of his existence. The executors are unbelieving and fear a scam. Chance retorts,

"But you have me. I am here. What more proof do you need?"

He is told that the house and garden will be locked the next day and he must leave. On the morning of the next day, he dresses and packs his suitcase with the old, very expensive suits that the Old Man had given him, now back in style, and prepared to leave.

He turned on the TV, sat down on the bed, and flicked the channel changer several times. Country houses, skyscrapers, newly built apartment houses, churches shot across the screen. He turned the set off. The image died; only a small blue dot hung in the center of the screen, as if forgotten by the rest of the world to which it belonged; then it too disappeared. The screen filled with greyness; it might have been a slab of stone.

Chance got up and now on the way to the gate, he remembered to pick up the old key that for years had hung untouched on a board in the corridor next to his room. He walked to the gate and inserted the key; then, pulling the gate open, he crossed the threshold, abandoned the key in the lock, closed the gate behind him. Now he could never return to the garden.

Chance is now on the hero's journey described by Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

He almost immediately has an accident. A chauffeur driven limousine crushes his leg. The wealthy man's wife, Eve or EE, brings Chance back to her house to care for him. There through a series of misunderstandings his name gets changed to Chauncey Gardiner. Her powerful husband is old and very ill. The doctors already in the house care for Chance.

Chance thinks,

"When one was addressed and viewed by others, one was safe. Whatever one did would then be interpreted by the others in the same way that one interpreted what they did. They could never know more about one than one knew about them."

Chance wondered whether Mr. Rand would ask him to leave the house. The thought that he might have to leave did not upset him; he knew that he would eventually have to go but that, as on TV, what would follow next was hidden; he knew the actors on the new program were unknown. He did not have to be afraid, for everything had its sequel, and the best that one could do was to wait patiently for his own forthcoming appearance.

Benjamin Rand has a meeting with the President. He is prepared for the meeting by his handlers. Chance comments:

"I hope that you're feeling well, sir. You do look better."

Rand moved uneasily in his chair. "It's all makeup, Chauncey - all make-up. The nurse was here all night and through the morning, and I asked her to fix me up so the President won't feel I'm going to die during our talk. No one likes a dying man, Chauncey, because few know what death is. All we know is the terror of it. You're an exception, Chauncey, I can tell. I know that you're not afraid. That's what EE and I admire in you: your marvelous balance. You don't stagger back and forth between fear and hope, you're a truly peaceful man! Don't disagree; I'm old enough to be your father. I've lived a lot, trembled a lot, was surrounded by little men who forgot that we enter naked and exit naked and that no accountant can audit life in our favor."

Chance participates in the meeting with the president. The President and Rand are discussing the economy, which has recently taken a turn for the worse. Chance observes trying to emulate what he has seen on TV about how to act making sure that he looks straight into the President's eyes. The President turns to Chance and asks him a question.

"And you, Mr. Gardiner? What do you think about the bad season on The Street?"

Chance draws on the only knowledge he possesses, gardening, and replies.

"In a garden, growth has its seasons. There are spring and summer, but there is also fall and winter. And then spring and summer again. As long as the roots are not severed, all is well and all will be well."

Rand and the President are pleased. The President incorporates Chance's philosophy into his thoughts and in a national TV speech quotes him. This leads quickly to a TV appearance for Chance on a talk show.

Chance turned on the TV. He wondered whether a person changed before or after appearing on the screen. Would he be changed forever or only during the time of his appearance? What part of himself would he leave behind when he finished the program? Would there be two Chances after the show: one Chance who watched TV and another who appeared on it?

When Chance went to the studio for his telecast, Kosinski observes and comments.

Chance was astonished that television could portray itself; cameras watched themselves and, as they watched, they televised a program. This self-portrait was telecast on TV screens facing the stage and watched by the studio audience. Of all the manifold things there were in the world - trees, grass, flowers, telephones, radios, elevators - only TV constantly held up a mirror to its own neither solid nor fluid face.


Facing the cameras and the audience, now barely visible in the background of the studio, Chance abandoned himself to what would happen. He was drained of thought, engaged, yet removed. The cameras were licking up the image of his body, were recording his every movement and noiselessly hurling them into millions of TV screens scattered throughout the world - into rooms, cars, boats, planes, living rooms and bedrooms. He would be seen by more people than he could ever meet in his entire life - people who would never meet him. The people who watched him on their sets did not know who actually faced them; how could they, if they had never met him? Television reflected only people's surfaces; it also kept peeling their images from their bodies until they were sucked into the caverns of their viewers' eyes, forever beyond retrieval, to disappear.

When Chance gives his garden answer to the host's question on the economy, he becomes an instant national, and later even an international, celebrity. The story concludes with Chance being considered as a presidential candidate.

Chance is attending a large party for international dignitaries as the novel ends.

He crossed the hall. Chilled air streamed in through an open window. Chance pushed the heavy glass door open and stepped out into the garden. Taut branches laden with fresh shoots, slender stems with tiny sprouting buds shot upward. The garden lay calm, still sunk in repose. Wisps of clouds floated by and left the moon polished. Now and then, boughs rustled and gently shook off their drops of water. A breeze fell upon the foliage and nestled under the cover of its moist leaves. Not a thought lifted itself from Chance's brain. Peace filled his chest.

Marshal McLuhan wrote about three stages in the development of mankind - preliterate, literate and post literate. Preliterate society existed until the development of an alphabetic phonetic language. Literate society's development was accelerated by the invention of the moveable type printing press. Post literate society began developing with the invention of the telegraph and was accelerated by the development of TV and computers. Most of what we know is based on literate perceptions and means of communication.

McLuhan believed that the real impact of a change in a medium is in the medium's ability to alter our perception of reality. This altered perception of reality is nearly impossible for anyone to consciously notice, and therefore its impacts are profound. Media, which are extensions of man's senses, alter the ratio of our sense usage. Kosinski opens and closes the book with sense driven descriptions of reality.

McLuhan's post literate society has many of the characteristics of the preliterate society of the distant past. He labeled the society "acoustic", not that it was going back to being only an oral - aural environment of the preliterate age, but that it was going to be more "wavelike", as in the wave nature of matter. However, the post literate age was going to rely more heavily on the spoken word, rather than the written word of the literate age. And, instead of gathering around fires, we gather around the TV screens (TV or computer), in our caves.

Chance is Kosinski's conception of what someone would be like if they skipped the literate age entirely. Chance's learning is preliterate and post literate. He learned from nature and TV.

He draws a distinction in the second paragraph between nature and humankind in the ability to be aware and have intention. Later he points out that TV could portray itself, a feat unmatched in nature.

Kosinski gives hints about TV's ability to alter our sense ratios and it's impact on our perception of reality when he writes, "The set created its own light, its own color, its own time. It did not follow the law of gravity that forever bent all plants downward. Everything on TV was tangled and mixed and yet smoothed out: night and day, big and small, tough and brittle, soft and rough, hot an cold, far and near. In this colored world of television, gardening was the white cane of a blind man."

The last phrase is a particularly important piece of advice about how to cope with the changes when he advises the perception of nature as a way to achieve balance.

Chance is so altered by his TV education that he's not sure of his existence outside of the TV, and he thinks that he can change himself by changing channels.

In a literate world, existence is proven through demonstration of literacy and a written record. In Kosinski's post literate world, existence is proven by being seen.

"The cameras were licking up the image of his body, were recording his every movement and noiselessly hurling them into millions of TV screens scattered throughout the world," writes Kosinski. "Television reflected only people's surfaces; it also kept peeling their images from their bodies until they were sucked into the caverns of their viewers' eyes, forever beyond retrieval, to disappear." In a chaotic post literate world where electronic media have altered our perceptions of time, space, sequence, cause and effect, past and future, the present moment and temporality, Chance appears to be a wise man. He is "post literate" and wise in the way of the garden.

Being There
Jerzy Kosinski
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971

Also the movie:
Being There
Lorimar Production
United Artists, 1979
Screenplay by Jerzy Kosinski

For more information about McLuhan read my article The Wave of the Future.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

McLuhan's Ghost

Author's Note: This story was written to introduce a workshop on story telling.

Marshall McLuhan has haunted me for 41 years. Ever since reading Understanding Media in 1964 and Culture is Our Business in 1970, McLuhan's insights and diabolic turns of phrase have lain dormant in my brain, occasionally surfacing to interrupt a train of thought. Like a virus whose genetic structure takes over it's host's, McLuhan's memes have infected my brain, flitting around like ghosts, multiplying and modifying the way I perceive and think.

"The medium is the message."

"Media are the extensions of man."

"Hot and Cool media."

I think I am possessed.

My infection was dormant. Why now has it developed into a full-fledged haunting?

The short answer is that I was called.

The Wizard of Ads sent the first call. No, really, he's an honest to goodness wizard who practices his wizardry on a hill between Austin and Buda in his castle. He pretends to be a normal human who goes by the name of Roy Williams, but he is a wizard never-the-less.

His wizard-o-gram arrived mysteriously on my computer on November 22, 2004. Its title was "Marketing Without Media", an insightful piece about the declining effectiveness of mass media advertising. McLuhan's ghost started to stir.

The second call came from a guru, friend of mind. He asked me to call the Wizard of Ads. Nick G., also a friend and colleague of the Wizard, had spoken to the Wizard about me and the Wizard would like to talk with me.

In our telephone conversation, the Wizard mentioned an e-mail that he had gotten from someone who had also read his wizard-o-gram and commented that McLuhan had predicted that media technology always reverses itself. The Wizard asked if I knew what that meant. I said no. The challenge was given. The haunting started.

The last call came from a most unexpected source. A Wiccan brought me an article written by Norman Mailer published in, of all places, Parade, in January 2005. Donna P. knew that I was on this quest, and thought I should read it. Mailer's article, "One Idea", outlined his concern about the impact of television, and the increase of advertising, on the attention span of children and their declining ability to read. All the forty-year-old McLuhan memes were activated. This didn't sound right to me and I wrote back to Mailer telling him so. I was committed.

And, I was possessed.

I read and reread all of the books by McLuhan that are still in print. I began to write and talk about what I was learning. I am now beginning to understand what I knew 40 years ago. And, I still have a lot more to integrate and understand.

If this sounds like a mythological quest, it is. I'm not a hero, but this true story, follows all of the major elements of Campbell's "Heroes Journey" in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

When called on a quest, the hero has many choices. The mythological quest is really a journey into the self, the subconscious. Having accepted the call, and acting upon that call, if you reach the true understanding, your choice is whether to stay there (and become a shaman) or to travel back (and become a teacher) and teach others what you have learned. My quest is the latter.

McLuhan began to warn us over fifty year's ago in his first book, The Mechanical Bride: The Folklore of Industrial Man, that we were transitioning from the literate to the post-literate age. He called the post-literate age "acoustic" as he struggled to explain what he was perceiving.

As the Wizard of Ads has been saying, "A picture is not worth a thousand words. A word is worth a thousand pictures."

The post literate age has many similarities with the pre-literate age, including the power of the spoken word, and mimesis. Like the preliterate age that was filled with mystery and things that went bump in the night, our world is incomprehensible, and equally frightening. And, as pre-literate peoples gathered around a fire* in the dark of night and told stories that explained life's mysteries, so do we now gather. We live in a mosaic world of events for which there is no apparent cause and no apparent meaning. Stories provide the meaning.

* Author's note: This was not planned. Unknown to me, the facilitators arranged the workshop in a semicircle around a large candle.

My Quest for Beauty

In 1995, Donna Prestwood, Barbara Benjamin and I, created, produced and hosted 8 two-hour live satellite TV broadcasts for the National Technological University (NTU) on leadership, which we entitled "Leadership in the Interactive Age."


In the session called, Personal Ingenuity and Emerging Technologies, we described three characteristics of inevitable opportunities in technology:

  1. The space between
  2. Synergy
  3. Beauty

My point was, as I presented these three criteria, that if a technology operated on the space between people (things, ideas, concepts), enhanced synergy, and was beautiful (elegant), it probably had a good chance of being a success. I would probably add time shifting now, and still think it's a pretty good list.

I want to focus on beauty right now, because I think it is imperative that we keep our eye on this criteria as we move to more collaborative, emergent behavior types of human systems.
Rollo May was an existential psychologist and a philosopher. I read several books of his in the 1980s.

In My Quest for Beauty, May wrote, "Poincare, the great contemporary mathematician, sounds like Plato when he asks the question of how new mathematical discoveries are made. Then he answers,

'The useful combinations are precisely the most beautiful, I mean those best able to charm this special sensibility that all mathematicians know...But only certain ones are harmonious, consequently, at once useful and beautiful.'

Writing about Shiller, May comments, "...we best let him speak for himself.

'Beauty alone confers happiness on all, and under its influence every being forgets that he is limited.'

Shiller hastens to add that this forgetting is temporary, however, for the sense of limitations is crucial to our creating beauty. We actually create beauty out of the endeavor to come to terms with the paradox on the one hand of freedom and on the other of destiny. Our limits come from both nature and spirit, finite and infinite, objective and subjective."

May agrees with Shiller that beauty is born in play. "Play is the one activity where the fusion of inner vision and objective facts is achieved. Out of this comes the living form which is beauty. This living form is vital, alive, dynamic; and at the same time it gives serenity and repose..."

May remarks, "Artists wrestle with fate in the endeavor to make objective their inner subjective vision." And, in order to do that people must be psychologically healthy. Beauty is a result of creativity that is driven by the engine of paradox, the duality of opposites (finite/infinite, life/death, yin/yang, right/left brain). "Death is the mother of beauty", wrote Wallace Stevens.
"Thus creativity brings together what Freud summed up as the two purposes of life: to love and to work. (Otto) Rank was only going further than Freud by pointing out that both of these, love and work, are aspects of creativity."

May later writes, "Let us explore the human mind as it engages in the creative act. The capacity to create - which we all have, although to varying degrees - is essentially the ability to find form in chaos, to create form where there is only formlessness. This is what leads to beauty, for beauty is that form.

Beauty reveals a form in the universe - the harmony of the spheres, as Kepler called it. It is a form which is present in the circling of the planets. It is a form which is felt in the curves and balance of our own bodies. And it is present especially in the way we see the world, for we form and reform the world in the very act of perceiving it. The imagination to do this is one of the elements that make us human beings."

But what is form? "Form is a pattern, an image and an order given to what would otherwise simply be chaos. Form is the nonmaterial structure of our lives, on the basis of which we live and on which we base our own particular character." Henry Miller wrote of creative people that they want "to make of the chaos about them an order that is their own."

In another seeming paradox, May points out that "the form dictates the content." We select a form "because the content can best be formed out of the chaos" and put into "whatever form seems to fit." "Form", he continues, "is nonmaterial, and has its existence only as things are related to other things." Writing about Pythagoras, he explains, "he held that the fundamental element (of the universe) was no substance at all, but was really the form in which everything in nature is related to everything else."

At a personal level, our own quest for beauty through our creativity gives us grace. May writes, "Creativity gives us grace in the sense that it is balm for our anxiety and a relief from our alienation. It is grace by virtue of its power to reconcile us to our deepest selves, to lead us to our own depths where primary and secondary functions are unified. Here the right brain and the left brain work together is seeing the wholeness of the world."

Chaos is essential for creativity and thus beauty. Too much order will stifle creativity. The role of the artist changes depending upon the environment. If too much chaos exists, the artist creates new order. If too much order exists, the role of the artist is to create chaos.

If you have any doubt about beauty being a serious objective of any undertaking, listen to what Rollo May has to say. "Beauty is the expereince that gives us a sense of joy and a sense of peace simultaneously. Other happenings give us joy and afterwards a peace, but in beauty these are the same experience. Beauty is serene and at the same time exhilarating; it increases one's sense of being alive. Beauty gives us not only a feeling of wonder; it imparts to us at the same moment timelessness, a repose - which why we speak of beauty as being eternal.

Beauty is the mystery which enchants us. Like all higher experiences of being human, beauty is dynamic; its sense of repose, paradoxically, is never dead, and if it seems to be dead, it is no longer beauty."

Innovation commons, as well as other open, collaborative systems, are by their very nature chaotic systems. The goal is to find the order in the chaos through the individual and collective creativity of its members. This will happen if their is a shared vision, will and significance in the group. The balance of order and chaos is extremely important, as well as the timing of that balance, which should change from more chaotic to more ordered over time, or else the effort will not be productive. The group has to collectively and individually be on a quest for beauty, in addition to functionality, in order to avoid building a termite mound.

My Quest for Beauty
Rollo May
Saybrook, 1985

Understanding Comics

This book is a pleasure to read and it contains valuable insights. It is a book about comics written and drawn in comic book form. The principles of comics are related to story telling. After all, they both are stories. McCloud defines comics as "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an esthetic response in the viewer." The difference between comics and an animated movie is that "each successive frame of a movie is projected on exactly the same space - while each frame of comics must occupy different space. Space does for comics what time does for film."

McCloud demonstrates without a doubt the power and validity of comics to tell a story and to explain extremely complex ideas. My interpretation of McLuhan's idea of the post literate age leads me to believe that comics will be a growing form of communication.

Chapter 1 traces the history of comics from early cave art to the present. In Chapter 2 he develops a rather complete model for human written/drawn communication. In doing so, he considers the four dimensions of:

  1. Complex - Simple
  2. Realistic - Iconic
  3. Objective - Subjective
  4. Specific - Universal

From this he develops a model that relates reality, abstract and symbolic types of communication in a triangle. He also populates this triangle (which he alter expands into a pyramid) with examples of the many comic artists of history indicating how they relate to one another.

In Chapter 4, the author explains "closure". Closure is the mind's power to complete an image or an idea with incomplete information. Closure can be involuntary or voluntary. With many modern technologies, McCloud points out that closure is involuntary. However, with comics, the reader is a participant in completing the action or thought. He writes that there are six different types of closure employed in comics:

  1. Moment to moment
  2. Action to action
  3. Subject to subject
  4. Scene to scene
  5. Aspect to aspect
  6. Nonsequitur

He gives examples of each type. In addition he has statistics on which type is used by what artist and the differences between cultures. American and European comics rarely use the aspect to aspect transition, whereas Japanese artists use this type of transition frequently. This may be due to fact that art, like the Japanese garden, changes as you walk through it. With each new aspect, you get a different composition. In the West, the dominant transition is type 2 - action to action.

In a striking example, McCloud shows how different it is to view strips of cartoon, realistic images and abstractions. Closure is easy with cartoon images, very difficult with realistic images (tend to view each image alone), and almost impossible with abstract images (tend to look at the whole strip as a single piece of art).

Chapter 4 discusses time in comics. "Just as pictures and the intervals between them create the illusion of time through closure, words introduce time by representing that which can only exist in time - sound." In comics, it is the panel that is an icon that "acts as a general indicator that time or space is being divided." As a result, the size, shape and arrangements of panels on a page are an integral part of the creative effort for the artist to get the reader involvement he or she wants. The content of a silent panel (without words or action) "offers no clues as to its duration. It can also produce a sense of timelessness." The effects of such a panel can "bleed over" into subsequent panels creating a mood or sense of place. In this chapter he also treats the subject of motion in comics - multiple images, action lines, subjective (putting the reader in the action) and the use of a continuous background.

The techniques of conveying emotion are described in Chapter 5. In comics, emotions are conveyed through the character and spacing of the lines, by icons, the character of the word balloon and of course, the words themselves.

In Chapter 6, McCloud discusses the subject of the combination of words and pictures in comics through time - history and future.

In Chapter 7, he explains the seven steps of creating comics (or any form of art):

  1. Idea/purpose
  2. Form
  3. Idiom
  4. Structure
  5. Craft
  6. Surface

McCloud discusses the use of color in Chapter 8 and in Chapter 9 ties all the elements together. In the closing chapter he writes about the difficulties of an artist getting the ideas on paper and the viewer getting an approximation of the original idea. This is the dilemma of any artist and comics are no different. He sees a great future for comics, best told in his word and image:

After reading this book, you may want to read his second book, Reinventing Comics: How Imagination and Technology are Revolutionizing an Art Form, Harper Perennial, 2000.

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
Scott McCloud
Harper Perennial, 1993