Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Clues to the Runes

Note: This is an artilce I wrote for an IBM magazine I created and edited, Creativity!, in 1989. Creativity! was a success in that it greww to a circulation of 60,000 readers inside of and outside of IBM, Except for the reference to Fax's (how quaint that seems now), it's all still relevant. Perhaps even more relevant now if you consider that we're moving away from the literate to post literate society.

"Clues to the Runes" as a title to a column in an IBM publication may raise questions in your mind. The reference may be obscure, or even unknown to you. I briefly explained the choice in the first column written for the second edition of Creativity, 1983. But now, Creativity is seven years old, readership has expanded from 3,000 to 19,000, and the column has evolved. Especially for new readers, I thought it worthwhile to explain the reasons for the choice of the name. Then, I will close with some observations which I hope will be of interest and value to you, as I hope all the Clues columns are.

The purpose of the column is to provide some insight into the current and future business world, elucidating the forces for change, or explaining the present. The vehicle used for this purpose is personal observations and experiences, or the detection of weak signals of impending change buried in the avalanche of information that cascades on us daily.

Runes are an ancient written language. The language was discovered in the modern era, but not deciphered for some time. Since it was one of the early written languages in the West, and as I will discuss later in this column, important for other reasons, great interest existed in the interpretation of the runes. The runes have also been associated with magic and mystery, being tied to ancient religious ceremonies. This is true of most creative discontinuities. Unable to be understood by the majority of people, and demonstrating immense power, they become magic.

Consider the FAX machine in this context. The use of FAX machines has exploded just in the last year, and now they are common business tools. FAX machines can be found in the most unusual places, including many airports. A cartoon in a recent New Yorker showed two businessmen being escorted to their table in a restaurant. The maitre d' asks, "Do you want a table with or without a FAX?" We take the FAX for granted, a few may even know how it works. But consider a literate person of a few hundred years ago. Bring them to the present and show them the FAX. It would appear magical to them. Unaware of the actual physical workings, they could only assume that a letter was dematerialized and put back together before their eyes. To them there would be no difference between the Star Trek transportation system and the FAX machine.

If we now conspired to hide the secrets of FAX technology from everyone, we would be doing what the ancients did with languages such as the runes. They wanted the language to appear magical, with the power remaining in a few hands. Today, some authorities are concerned that we are creating the same two class society‑those that understand technology and those who do not. And as technology accelerates, the gap widens.

In addition, our society has honored "zero sum" activities more highly than technical activities, accentuating the problem of interesting students in technical careers. (See "Manufacturing and Product Innovation," Creativity 7:4, Dec. 1988). To a growing percentage of the population, an increasingly greater part of today's world is indistinguishable from magic.

The word "rune" itself is derived from the Norse word "runar," which meant "magic sign." It also has its roots in the German "runa," meaning either "to whisper" or " a secret." So the rune was a magical secret that was whispered only to those with a need to know.

In mythology, the origin of the runes is credited to Odin. Odin was the Norse god known in Germany as Woden or Wotan, and as Grim in Anglo‑Saxon England. He was a ferocious warrior who represented the wilder aspects of the dark forest of the northlands. He frequently was ascribed the powers of the all‑father, the creator of gods, nature, and men. Known as the one‑eyed warrior, who had given one of his eyes to Mimir, who guarded the well of wisdom and knowledge‑a caldron of inspiration, Odin had to go through a terrible ordeal to arrive at the runes. He was, in addition, as the myths say, the first to be able to communicate it to other beings. From the myths we are told,

"I know that I hung on the windy tree.
Swing there nights all nine,
gashed with a blade,
bloodied for Odin,
myself an offering to myself,
knotted to that tree,
no man knows
whither the roots of it run.

None gave me bread. None gave me drink.
Down to the depths
I peered
to snatch up the Runes,
with a roaring scream
and fell into a dizzied swoon.

Well being I won,
and wisdom too.
I grew and joyed in my growth.
From a word to a word,
I was led to a word,
from deed to another deed."

It is not clear when the runes originated, or whether they were the first phonetic alphabetic language. Unfortunately, runes first were written on wood, which often does not survive. Runic script is angular, with straight lines‑thus easy to carve on wood. Surviving records of the language exist in stone and bronze executed by Neolithic and Bronze Age artists.

Communication is the process that fuels progress. Innovations in communication have always driven major improvements in the human condition. No one knows when we first began to speak. No record has been left. The first art that we have records of is about 30,000 years old. The paintings on the walls of the caves in France are about 15,000 years old. These appear to be our first attempts to communicate ideas and feelings through media outside of our bodies, extrasomatically.

It took another 12,000 years before writing began in Sumeria and the hieroglyph was invented in Egypt. The pictograph‑based hieroglyph was a great step forward, a shorthand notation that facilitated communication greatly. But written and spoken languages remained separate. A student of the language had to memorize many symbols to represent important concepts. In addition, he or she had to memorize the sounds that went along with the symbol. The phonetic‑alphabetic language was a way to merge the two. The symbol set was based on pictographs or ideographs, but with sounds associated with them. This was a giant step. Now the student of the language could learn some rules, string the symbols together to represent the concept, and be able to pronounce the word. It also limited the number of symbols that had to be learned. Instead of thousands of characters, only 24 in the Runic alphabet, or the 26 in our modem English alphabet, need be memorized.

The first alphabetic writing has been attributed to Syria in about 1500 BC, and the runes may have derived from that invention. Many argue that the runes were independently created, and if transfer occurred, it was the other way around. The cultures of Babylon and Egypt left a history, a record of what they did. The early northern Europeans did not. The continuous and persisting society of the Near East thus became the basis for our historical perspective on our development, the fountainhead of our historical memory. No living memory links us with the inventors of fire, the cave painters 15,000 years ago in France, or the builders 4,000 years ago of Stonehenge. They left us signs of their intent. They left messages, but we do not clearly understand their meaning.

Runes then, in the context of this column, are secrets that are only vaguely understood, messages that must be interpreted. But the messages do not come only from the past. They come from the future, or our already complex present.

Runes are also symbolic of innovation and creativity arrived at through a process of hard work and struggle. According to legend, Odin struggled, gave up some of his life blood, and sacrificed an eye to achieve. Then, going deep within himself, from where all creativity must originate, he brought forth with a cry, symbolic of the birth cry of a mother, the runes. After the struggle, he felt joy as we all still do after having a creative idea. Then, he reaped the benefits as he applied his creation to one use after another.

We now know that the two hemispheres of our cerebreum are specialized. The right hemisphere is intuitive, holistic, spatial. The left is rational, linear, temporal. Our right and left fields of vision are also segmented and reversed. The right field of vision is interpreted first by the left hemisphere, and vice versa. Intuitive wisdom of the ancients is represented here also as Odin had to give up one of his eyes, symbolic of having to give up one of the ways of perceiving in order to develop the symbol oriented alphabetic language. Before the development of the alphabetic language, man was a dominate r‑mode perceiver and thinker. The alphabetic Language required the development of l‑mode, and western society has steadily progressed toward l‑mode dominance.

Since most of us live in a society that uses an alphabetic language system, it is hard to imagine what a great creative leap it must have been to originate the first alphabetic phonetic language. History does not tell us how the idea originated. But if the development was like others of major significance in recent times that have been documented, it probably was thought about by many people, and even tried out haltingly by some. After many tentative and abortive attempts, some individual put it all together, and the new language was born. It probably evolved then, making it better, more efficient. The improvement likely was a group process, with many people suggesting improvements.

Imagine the struggle of the lone individual groping with concepts only vaguely comprehended. The process of stretching the mind to new concepts is difficult, even painful. New neuronal connections must be made. A totally different way of thinking about language had to be forged; while interaction may have taken place with others, it was probably, as it is still today, a lonely individual process.

The epic poem that describes the myth tells us that Odin sacrificed himself for himself, symbolic of our nature. Creativity must arise from within us. We are creative because we have a need to be creative. We are creative for ourselves, not for anyone or anything else. Yet, Odin was tied to a tree and slashed with a knife, his life blood flowing out to nurture the tree. Trees are the oldest living thing on earth. To ancient man, the tree was symbolic of growth, and eternity, for the tree outlived several generations of mankind. So while creativity is driven from within, its purpose is outside the individual. In our highly structured society, the tree is symbolic of our institutions, made up of many individuals joined together for a common purpose that the individuals hope will outlive them individually.

In the mythical stories of Odin we are told that he was the first one to understand the power of the runes and be able to explain them to others. Creativity has no social purpose unless its results can be taught to others. This then is the essence of professionalism, driven from within to exercise innate creative powers, tied to a social or institutional purpose, capable of teaching what has been created to others and compelled to do so.

Creativity!, March 1989

Friday, November 3, 2006

Coase's Penguin, or Linux and the Nature of the Firm

"For decades our understanding of economic production has been that individuals order their productive activities in one of two ways: either as employees in firms, following the directions of managers, or as individuals in markets, following price signals. This dichotomy was first identified in the early work of Nobel laureate Ronald Coase, and was developed most explicitly in the work of neo-institutional economist Oliver Williamson. In the past three or four years, public attention has focused on a fifteen-year-old social-economic phenomenon in the software development world. This phenomenon, called free software or open source software, involves thousands or even tens of thousands of programmers contributing to large and small scale project, where the central organizing principle is that the software remains free of most constraints on copying and use common to proprietary materials. No one "owns" the software in the traditional sense of being able to command how it is used or developed, or to control its disposition. The result is the emergence of a vibrant, innovative and productive collaboration, whose participants are not organized in firms and do not choose their projects in response to price signals.

In this paper I explain that while free software is highly visible, it is in fact only one example of a much broader social-economic phenomenon. I suggest that we are seeing is the broad and deep emergence of a new, third mode of production in the digitally networked environment. I call this mode "commons-based peer-production," to distinguish it from the property- and contract-based models of firms and markets. Its central characteristic is that groups of individuals successfully collaborate on large-scale projects following a diverse cluster of motivational drives and social signals, rather than either market prices or managerial commands.

The paper also explains why this mode has systematic advantages over markets and managerial hierarchies when the object of production is information or culture, and where the capital investment necessary for production-computers and communications capabilities-is widely distributed instead of concentrated. In particular, this mode of production is better than firms and markets for two reasons. First, it is better at identifying and assigning human capital to information and cultural production processes. In this regard, peer-production has an advantage in what I call "information opportunity cost." That is, it loses less information about who the best person for a given job might be than do either of the other two organizational modes. Second, there are substantial increasing returns to allow very larger clusters of potential contributors to interact with very large clusters of information resources in search of new projects and collaboration enterprises. Removing property and contract as the organizing principles of collaboration substantially reduces transaction costs involved in allowing these large clusters of potential contributors to review and select which resources to work on, for which projects, and with which collaborators. This results in allocation gains, that increase more than proportionately with the increase in the number of individuals and resources that are part of the system. The article concludes with an overview of how these models use a variety of technological and social strategies to overcome the collective action problems usually solved in managerial and market-based systems by property and contract. "


Natalie Shell

Ten Steps to Take Advantage of the Public's Yearning for Community

“Ten steps for political, business, and religious leaders who want to take advantage of the public’s yearning for community:

1. Clearly define your purpose. It’s what galvanizes your community.

2. Give your staff the clear sense that they’re vital to achieving a common purpose.

3. Build your organization from the bottom up, not the top down. Technology makes grassroots organizing easier than ever.

4. Give your customers/voters/worshipers a say in how the product/campaign/church is marketed. Recognize that the consumer has more control than ever.

5. Tap into existing networks when possible. Create networks where none exist.

6. Be true to your purpose. Authenticity, accountability, and trust are the keys to building a bond or a brand.

7. Join the online community of bloggers to catch the first whiff of a crisis and to make sure your message is heard in the cyberspace community.

8. Wherever possible, make your enterprise a Third Place, a community outside home and work for people in search of connection.

9. Donate time and money to community causes. Customers are inclined to support civic-minded companies such as Home Depot, according to Bridgeland, the former head of UDSA Freedom Corps.

10. Identify the community’s leaders (Navigators) and get them on your side. Better still, use the Internet and other tools to create products that draw people together in online communities.”

Applebee’s America: How Successful Political, Business, and Religious Leaders Connect with the New American Community
Douglas Sosnik, Matthew Dowd and Ron Fournier
Simon & Schuster (2006)

Applebee's America

“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” Eric Hoffer

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most responsive to change.” Charles Darwin

This book is at the same time engaging and appalling. Either which way you might interpret it; it is a book that you have to read. It provides clues into some of what has been happening in America. By tying together the success of the Republican Party in the last several elections, companies like Starbucks and Applebee’s, and the mega churches, the authors have pulled the curtain back on the tools, principles and mechanisms of manipulating people into doing what an organization wants them to do.

Life targeting, or micro-targeting, as it has been recently tagged, is a methodology of predicting the behavior of micro segments of a society based on lifestyle and demographics. Then identifying specifically who these people are by name and contacting them with a message targeted to their micro sector. It is not necessary that the organization really hold the values held by the members of the micro segment, only that the organization can make the people believe that the organization does.

In the 1980’s I came to realize that organizational values were the key to success in the marketplace. While at IBM, I developed an organizational change methodology to determine the values of the customers, and change the values of an organization to reflect those values. This was described in a book I coauthored entitled Innovate! (McGraw Hill, 1994). We pointed out that here must be a values match between the customers and the values those customers perceived from the organization. And, that it was set of values that differentiated one organization from another. Moreover, that same set of values controlled the type of innovation most likely to be produced by the organization. Efficiency and effectiveness of the organization depends respectively on the target of the values focus and the spread of the values focus.

We, the authors of Innovate!, assumed naively that organizations were really interested in changing their values…

Do I hear protests from the readers? Some of you may be saying, “But lifestyle targeting has been used by consumer companies for a number of years.” That’s true, but not in the same way. Examples in Applebee’s America are described such as Applebee’s convincing individuals that they really cared about what happened to them. (Remember the ad showing the coach retiring?) When’s the last time you believed that a large corporation really cared about what happens to you. It is a business and until business stops being totally driven by shareholder value, concern for the individual will remain a lost value. Yet many of us need to believe that the message is true, and the corporation continues to grow.

Sosnik, Dowd and Fournier repeatedly give example from politics, business and mega churches that can be interpreted as I have. Politics goes one step further however. With American divided nearly equally between the two major parties, and low voter turnout, a small group of voters actually determine who wins. Using concepts like business, politicians can calculate the cost per vote in these micro segments and allocate money accordingly. The message they delver to these micro segments, if effective, swings the election, even if the candidate holds the values projected or not. It’s not about the issues. The American public glazes over when issues are discussed. It’s about the values connection between the candidate and the voters. This technique will win elections but it will forever divide us for there is no benefit of collaboration among differences. It exploits the differences.

Hypocrisy is defined as “a pretense of having some desirable or publicly approved attitude.” This is the line we have crossed over in the current use of micro-targeting.

Eventually hypocrisy is revealed. It is just too difficult to sustain a pretense, and actions do indeed prove louder than words. But what America’s powerful have learned is that it takes a long time for people to perceive the pretense.

In First Democracy, Paul Woodruff points out that in Athens the primary role of public education was to prepare Athenians to be able to participate in their democracy. Unfortunately, we haven’t done that.

To the author’s credit, while they do not take the low view I have of micro-targeting as it is now practiced, they do point out that the values connections has to be real to be sustained:

“Navigating the Stormy Present - How to Be a Great Connector:

I. Make and Maintain a Gut Values Connection. Voters felt President Bush was a strong and decisive leader. They felt President Clinton cared about them and would work hard on their behalf. Both presidents fell out of favor when they were not true to their Gut Values, proving that authenticity matters in this era of spine, not spin.

2. Adapt. President Clinton realized he needed to change his message and methods to appeal to Swing Is and Swing IIs. Eight years later, President Bush determined that there were no longer enough swing voters to make a difference and that he had to find new Republican voters.

3. LifeTarget. President Clinton barely scratched the surface of the potential to find and motivate voters based on their lifestyles. President Bush took it to a new level in 2004.

4. Talk Smart. Both presidents broke new ground in niche and local advertising, constantly looking for ways to communicate to their voters through the channels those voters used to get information.

5. Find Navigators. President Bush's campaign identified more than 2 million people who could influence how their friends, family members, and associates make political decisions.”

In each of the three markets they analyzed, they provide the above roadmap.

Applebee’s America describes a methodology that is borrowed from Myer’s Briggs Personality Type, the concepts of lifestyle, the concepts of generations, demographics and the concepts of the tipping point. It’s pieces of these sets of concepts lashed together in a way that is incredibly effective, according the authors.

Oh, by the way, how did the Republican’s get the specific names, addresses, telephone numbers and in some cases e-mail addresses for the members of the micro-target sectors? Well, they got them the same way that business do from credit card transactions, and from the membership of some of the mega churches. Is this ethical?

So far I’ve been writing about the first part of the book – Great Connectors. I personally found the second part of the book – Great Change – much more professionally interesting. The chapters on anxious Americans, the 3 C’s (connectors, community and civic engagement), navigators and generation 9/11 give a good, insightful view of present day America with some views of the future. However, as a professional I would have preferred to get accessible references to the data they quoted to make a point (none are given). Example:

“…’protecting the family’ rose to become the No. 1 value of American’s (cited by 53 percent of respondents in a 2000 Roper analysis.”

Anyone who works with data taken from surveys knows that it is important to know the context and how the data was collected and what else the data indicates in order to interpret it.

The author’s provide:

“Ten steps for political, business, and religious leaders who want to take advantage of the public’s yearning for community:

1. Clearly define your purpose. It’s what galvanizes your community.

2. Give your staff the clear sense that they’re vital to achieving a common purpose.

3. Build your organization from the bottom up, not the top down. Technology makes grassroots organizing easier than ever.

4. Give your customers/voters/worshipers a say in how the product/campaign/church is marketed. Recognize that the consumer has more control than ever.

5. Tap into existing networks when possible. Create networks where none exist.

6. Be true to your purpose. Authenticity, accountability, and trust are the keys to building a bond or a brand.

7. Join the online community of bloggers to catch the first whiff of a crisis and to make sure your message is heard in the cyberspace community.

8. Wherever possible, make your enterprise a Third Place, a community outside home and work for people in search of connection.

9. Donate time and money to community causes. Customers are inclined to support civic-minded companies such as Home Depot, according to Bridgeland, the former head of UDSA Freedom Corps.

10. Identify the community’s leaders (Navigators) and get them on your side. Better still, use the Internet and other tools to create products that draw people together in online communities.”

In spite of my negative reaction to what they were saying in the first part of the book, I liked the book. It’s a book that should be read by many and the focus for a lot of discussion.

It was very curious to me that the book (inadvertently?) undercut the approach of the first part of the book with the second part. In politics, the battle between micro-targeting and grass roots civic engagement is being fought out in present and future elections. If I have a vote, I vote for the latter.

Applebee’s America: How Successful Political, Business, and Religious Leaders Connect with the New American Community
Douglas Sosnik, Matthew Dowd and Ron Fournier
Simon & Schuster (2006)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Seven New Principles of Leadership

Leadership is now a state of mind, not a position. In this highly interactive age, we will increasingly find ourselves in situations that demand the exercise of our innate capability to lead. It is imperative that each of us bring up the leader within us. We must all develop our leadership capability to its fullest in order for our organizations and institutions to be transformed. The path to leadership is one of personal growth. Bringing up the leader within requires an understanding of seven new principles of leadership:

1. Know who you are.
"Who are you?" the caterpillar asked Alice in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. We are now confronted with this same question. Making the decision to answer this question is the beginning of the journey to becoming a leader. We must understand what we know and what we don't know about ourselves. We must assess our resistance to‑and tolerance for‑change, our fears, our preferences, and our skills and abilities.

2. Let go of what you've got hold of.
In the Industrial Age, the first rule of "wing walking" was applied: Don't let go of what you've got hold of until you've got hold of something else. In the Age of Interaction, progress cannot be made until you let go of what you've got hold of. We must discover the chains that bind us to our past and prevent us from understanding who we really are. Once we understand the chains that bind us, we must let go of them. Letting go puts us on the path to new experiences, from which we gain more understanding of who we are. Letting go allows us to become responsible for our own actions and future.

3. Learn your purpose.
Each one of us has a purpose. Not all of us understand what our purpose is. Even those of us who think they understand their purpose probably only have a glimmer of what their true purpose is. But if we define our purpose too soon, we may limit what we can accomplish with our life. We learn our purpose through lifelong introspection coupled with interaction with others. It is also important that we develop habits of mind that allow us to filter through interactions and choose the positive ones. Habits of mind are developed from values that we have. Values propel us along the path to discovering our unfolding purpose. As we discover more of our purpose, we can decide to change our values, allowing us to continue our lifelong process of learning.

4. Live in the question.
In the Industrial Age, we learned to analyze a situation, isolate the problem, and administer a quick fix. In the Age of Interaction, we must. recognize that everything is tied to everything else. Therefore, we must live in the question long enough to understand the relationships important to a systems solution. The temptation in Apollo 13 was to turn the spacecraft around and fire the engine as soon as the magnitude of the problem was known. The flight director avoided the quick solution and instead asked his team to "live in the question" for three days, relying on their capabilities to get the astronauts home safely. As it turned out, the quick solution would have been a deadly one, since the engine was damaged. Flexibility is required so that we can be open to the potential of the unknown.

5. Learn the art of "barn raising."
"Barn raising" is a tradition of the pioneer culture where people came together to help someone build a barn. Individuals applied their talents, teams were formed to accomplish specific tasks, and a community was developed in the process. Today's emphasis on teamwork recognizes this. basic need to work with and through others. A shared purpose motivates individuals to contribute their energy, skills, and abilities.

6. Give "it" away.
A paradox of life is that the more we try to hold on to something, the more likely we are to lose it. Viewing people as abundant, renewable resources and giving away authority allows the full power of individuals to be realized. The potential of teams and organizations can likewise be multiplied. This is accomplished through ennobling, enabling, empowering, and encouraging ourselves and others. Empowerment fails if it is attempted without ennoblement and enablement first. And it will fail if people are not encouraged to learn from their mistakes. We must relentlessly pursue the release of authority and control.

7. Let the magic happen.
The final principle of leadership is to let go of the deniands of our ego. We must become a member of the team and utilize our abilities‑joining in the shared purpose‑to help the team achieve its maximum potential. There are always three choices‑lead, follow, or get out of the way. The wisdom of leadership in the Age of Interaction is to know which action to choose for each situation.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Interviews on Creativity

At the American Creativity Association conference in Austin, Texas March 22 - 25, 2006, Catherine Crago and I interviewed many of the keynote speakers and some of the other speakers. These interviews were with:

Abdullah Taha Alsafhi (King Khalid University, Saudi Arabia) - Risk Taking as a Factor of Creative Thinking
Adam Blatner (Southwest University) - Creativity in the Cosmos: A Philosophical Appreciation Presenting the "Process of Thought"
Ann Herrmann-Nehdi (Herrmann International) - Extreme Creativity: A Perspective on the Future
Cheryl Honey (Excel Strategies) - Community Weaving: A New Solution for a New Century
Randall Macon (Lance Armstrong Foundation) - Creative Marketing and Fundraising
Carol McCormick (SpiritMind Institute) - ET Light: Enlarging the Circle of Creativity to Include the Doctor Who's
Andrew Ouderkirk (3M) - Creativity is Not Being Afraid to Fail
Alex Pattakos (The Innovation Group) - Discovering the Meaning Difference: Creativity and Responsibility
Kirpal Singe (Singapore Management University) - Whither the Creativity Clan: The Challenges for Global Solidarity
David Pearce Snyder (Snyder Family Enterprise) - A Formula for Sustainable Global Prosperity

All of these can be found at http://creativity-at-work.blogspot.com.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Innovation Commons Summary

The following two presentations summarize the work to date on the innovation commons. Download the presentation and then view the presentation while listening to the audio:

Creating an Innovation Commons
CreatingInnovationCommons (pdf, 208 kb)
CreatingInnovationCommons (mp3, 58 mb)

Trends in Organizational Creativity and Innovation
InnovationTrends (pdf, 169 kb)
InnovationTrends (mp3, 49 mb)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A Failure of Collaboration

Little Red Hen found a grain of wheat.

"Who will plant this?" she asked.

"Not I," said the cat.

"Not I," said the goose.

"Not I," said the rat.

"Then I will," said Little Red Hen.

So she buried the wheat in the ground. After a while it grew up yellow and ripe.

"The wheat is ripe now," said Little Red Hen. "Who will cut and thresh it?"

"Not I," said the cat.

"Not I," said the goose.

"Not I," said the rat.

"Then I will," said Little Red Hen.

So she cut it with her bill and threshed it with her wings.

Then she asked, "Who will take this wheat to the mill?"

"Not I," said the cat.

"Not I," said the goose.

"Not I," said the rat.

"Then I will," said Little Red Hen.

So she took the wheat to the mill, where it was ground.

Then she carried the flour home.

"Who will make me some bread from this flour?" she asked.

"Not I," said the cat.

"Not I," said the goose.

"Not I," said the rat.

"Then I will," said Little Red Hen.

So she made and baked the bread.

Then she said, "Now we shall see who will eat this bread."

"We will," said cat, goose, and rat.

"I am quite sure you would," said Little Red Hen, "if you could get it."

Then she called her chicks, and they ate up all the bread.

There was none left at all for the cat, or the goose, or the rat.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Wisdom of Crowds

From Publishers Weekly
While our culture generally trusts experts and distrusts the wisdom of the masses, New Yorker business columnist Surowiecki argues that "under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them." To support this almost counterintuitive proposition, Surowiecki explores problems involving cognition (we're all trying to identify a correct answer), coordination (we need to synchronize our individual activities with others) and cooperation (we have to act together despite our self-interest). His rubric, then, covers a range of problems, including driving in traffic, competing on TV game shows, maximizing stock market performance, voting for political candidates, navigating busy sidewalks, tracking SARS and designing Internet search engines like Google. If four basic conditions are met, a crowd's "collective intelligence" will produce better outcomes than a small group of experts, Surowiecki says, even if members of the crowd don't know all the facts or choose, individually, to act irrationally. "Wise crowds" need (1) diversity of opinion; (2) independence of members from one another; (3) decentralization; and (4) a good method for aggregating opinions. The diversity brings in different information; independence keeps people from being swayed by a single opinion leader; people's errors balance each other out; and including all opinions guarantees that the results are "smarter" than if a single expert had been in charge. Surowiecki's style is pleasantly informal, a tactical disguise for what might otherwise be rather dense material. He offers a great introduction to applied behavioral economics and game theory.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Handwriting on the Wall

The article below, from eSchool News online, is among the most devastating pieces of "handwriting on the wall" I have ever scanned. The force behind of the handwriting is SCORM (great acroname for an all-powerful messianic force). And the target of the message is the textbook publishing industry.

SCORM stands for "Sharable Content Object Reference Model: and is a rapidly emerging object-oriented coding standard for all instructional and learning management software. SCORM assures the interoperability, accessibility and reliability of all e-learning materials - including video, PowerPoint, simulations, or music, etc. - whether produced by George Lucas, the local 7th grade social studies teacher, or a bunch of high school students. What's more, SCORM compliant programs can be searched by key word or by subject and grade. Instructors are permitted to incorporate all or parts of SCORM materials into their coursework at no cost. Schools and school systems are rapidly building up repositories of materials for use by their faculties or by affiliated institutions.

The first half of the attached piece is devoted to describing the history, purpose and current uses of SCORM, while t he second half deals almost exclusively with the implications of SCORM for text book publishers. In particular, the experts quoted in the article urge text publishers to "objectivize" the content of their books, noting that DoD already requires all of its instructional materials to be "SCORM conformant" and that the Department of Education is expected to follow DoD's lead.

These folks are enthusiastically describing education without textbooks in five years as a natural trajectory of the accelerated e-learning adoption rate made possible by SCORM. The authors of the article point out that pure eLearning players "are not waiting for the traditional textbook providers to dictate how educational content will be used in the future," and that they mean to replace "subject-oriented" curriculum with "object oriented" curriculum. The authors also mention that textbook publishers did not return their calls for comment on the article. I suspect that's because the publishing industry does not have a viable strategy for responding to the competitive threat from eLearning.

I think that the traditional publishers should concede the market for the industrial-era K-12 basic skill set to the pure eLearning vendors. The content of the current basic K-12 skill set is so well known that the competitive marketplace advantage in that market from now on will rest with the designers of superior e-delivery systems, who (one suspects) will typically NOT be in the traditional publishing houses. The core competitive competency of the established publishing houses is their content development capacity. Rather than devoting that expensive capacity to repackaging "See Spot run" "1+1=2," "What I did last Summer," they should be developing the new basic K-12 skill set for the post-industrial workplace - e.g. teamwork, problem analysis, spatial literacy, cybernautics, systemic thinking, etc.

Many of these new skills are not yet will defined, but employers have begun to express interest in them. Tom Abeles and I have convinced the publisher of On The Horizon to devote an entire issue of the Journal to defining the basic post-industrial K-12 skill set. We have begun to envision the future of K-12 education in which the old basics are taught almost entirely via e-learning, freeing up classroom time to address the NEW, high order basic skills of the post-industrial age.

David Pearce Snyder


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Book recommendation: Wealth of Networks

Lawrence Lessig recommends us to read Yochai Benkler's 'The Wealth of Networks': How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Genes, Memes and the Innovation Commons

To make the next step in our organizations and societies, we need to develop cooperation within ever widening systems. And, if we are ever to develop "innovation commons", we must master cooperation and trust. An "innovation commons", calling on the old idea of a common pasture for a town where all the residents could graze their animals, is a place where ideas can exist, like the early molecules in the primeval sea, free to combine and reproduce to create even more complex ideas. A place where the stability of the complex ideas can be tested and their survival gauged. "Innovation commons" will be required to foster the trans-disciplinary innovation necessary for the merging of information, biological and nanometric technologies on our horizon. "Innovation commons" are needed now to handle the sociopolitical, economic and demographic problems we face amidst growing partisanship and yes, even hatreds. And, we must assure that we don’t fall prey to the "failure of the commons" where an individual or entity exploits the commons to the detriment of all others, and eventually themselves.

In the Selfish Gene, Dawkins writes, "In the beginning was simplicity. It is difficult enough explaining how even a simple universe began. I take it as agreed that it would be even harder to explain the sudden springing up, fully armed, of complex order – life, or being capable of creating life. Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is satisfying because it shows us a way in which simplicity could change into complexity, how unordered atoms could group themselves into ever more complex patterns until they end up manufacturing people."
Dawkins uses the phrase "selfish gene" not in the sense that the gene has a motive or emotion, but in the sense that it is convenient to express the actions of genes in human terms. Genes behave as though they were selfish. His perspective is that we humans are "survival machines" for our genes. His revolutionary concept is that genes use our bodies for reproduction and not the other way around. Dawkins asks the question, is there a general principle of all life, even radical life forms unknown now? He answers his own question writing, "…all life evolves by the differential survival of replicating machines."

If our bodies are survival machines for the genes within us, that does explain a lot of human behavior. Some individuals kill, steal, rape, dominate and otherwise consider only their own survival and well being. But, on the surface it does not seem to explain other, higher forms of human behavior – altruism, care for others, cooperation, collaboration and other humanistic traits we have.

The Selfish Gene, The Moral Animal and The Origins of Virtue address this issue from various viewpoints and offer at least two different perspectives. In addition they provide an insightful look at human behavior in general, and worthy of your study.

"Think of it: zillions and zillions of organisms running around, each under the hypnotic spell of a single truth, all these truths identical, and all logically incompatible with one another: ‘My hereditary material is the most important on earth; its survival justifies your frustration, pain and even death’. And, you are one of these organisms, living your life in the thrall of a logical absurdity" comments Robert Wright, The Moral Animal.

The basis for cooperation according to Wright and Matt Ridley, The Orgins of Virtue, depends upon our awareness of with whom we share genes. Clearly we share genes with our children and it is advantageous to the survival of our genes that we care for our children and assure their survival. But we do not share genes with our mates. We care for them because they can help in the survival of our own genes through our children. We also share genes with our extended families and likewise will help them survive because it increases the probability of the survival of some of our genes.

I’ve done a lot of consulting work with small towns and I often hear the same phrase, "I like it in a small town because people care for one another. You don’t get that in big cities." In a small town "everyone is related." This is of course not strictly true, but is largely true. People in a small town do share a lot of the same genes. It’s in the gene’s interest to help assure the survival of people who share some of the same genes. This is not true of large cities.

The next factor that comes into play is that our genes dictate cooperation when it is beneficial to the survival of our genes if the group survives. "If a creature puts the greater good ahead of its individual interests, it is because its fate is inextricably tied to that of the group: it shares the group’s fate," writes Ridley. He continues, "A sterile ant’s best hope of immortality is vicarious reproduction through the breeding of the queen, just as an aeroplane passenger’s best hope of life is through the survival of the pilot." This also explains cooperative behavior in families and small towns. And, it is useful in understanding why people come together under threat or attack.
One of the more successful of the "innovation commons" experiments is Open Source. Open Source is a project to collaboratively develop software operating systems and applications that are free, available to anyone and not controlled by Microsoft. It has been successful in part probably because the group that joined together to create these programs felt threatened.
The more that you perceive that you as an individual are part of an interconnected web of life, the more likely you are to act selflessly. Random acts of kindness, heroic loss of life in a cause and ecological mindedness are all examples of this enhanced sense of interconnectedness and dependence.

"Our minds have been built by selfish genes," writes Ridley, "but they have been built to be social, trustworthy and cooperative. That is the paradox that this book has tried to explain. Human beings have social instincts. They come into the world equipped with the predisposition to learn how to cooperate, to discriminate the trustworthy from the treacherous, to commit themselves to be trustworthy, to earn good reputations, to exchange goods and information, and to divide labor. In this we are on our own. No other species has been so far down this evolutionary path before us, for no species has built a truly integrated society except among the inbred relatives of a large family such as an ant colony. We owe our success as a species to our social instincts; they have enabled us to reap undreamt benefits from the division of labor for our masters – the genes. They are responsible for the rapid expansion of our brains in the past two million years and thence our inventiveness. Our societies and our minds have evolved together, each reinforcing trends in the other."

These thoughts lead to two conditions for a successful "innovation commons". Participants must perceive that cooperation in the commons – the exchange of ideas and information – helps the individuals assure their genes thrive, and their own genes' survival depends upon the group’s survival. Secondly, a system of trust must exist within the network of participants. The development of workable trust systems will be an essential building block to a successful "innovation commons".

Game theory plays an important role in understanding the types of trust systems that will work. Several different people have proven that the "tit for tat" game survives best in computer simulations. "Tit for tat" says that everyone starts with trust in the participants. Sharing occurs until there is demonstration that an individual is not giving back the equivalent to what they are taking. When this occurs, the person taking more than they are giving is no longer trusted. This is exactly how it worked in a real commons. If someone overgrazed the common meadow, he or she was shunned by the community cutting them off from the benefits of the community and possibly imperiling they ability to survive.

Dawkins writes, "What has all this to do with altruism and selflessness? I am trying to build up the idea that animal behavior, altruistic or selfish, is under the control of genes in only an indirect, but still very powerful sense. By dictating the way survival machines and their nervous systems are built, genes exert ultimate power over our behavior. But the moment to moment decisions about what to do next are taken by the nervous system. Genes are primary policy makers; brains are the executive."

The basis for cooperation according to Dawkins goes beyond. Dawkins introduces the concept of "meme", an idea replicator. Memes are the thought equivalents of genes. Genes last only a few generations before individual gene combinations that make up a characteristic of a person are lost. J. S. Bach’s genes, as prolific as he was (he had 20 children) are no longer present in any recognizable way. But his music continues to exist. Not only does it exist, it continues to replicate itself through all composers that have ever studied his music even after over 300 years. And, even a Bach music lover, has some of his melodies embedded like a virus in their brains ready to spring forth when prompted. Whether this is immortality or not is inconsequential. The point is that memes, the creations of our minds, once released from our minds, join in the generative dance of replicators in the primordial sea of memes awash in the world.

Dawkins writes, "But if you contribute to the world’s culture, if you have a good idea, compose a tune, invent a sparking plug, write a poem, it may live on, intact, long after your genes have dissolved in the common pool. Socrates may or may not have a gene or two alive in the world today, as G.C. Williams has remarked, but who cares? The meme-complexes of Socrates, Leonardo, Copernicus and Marconi are still going strong."

"Once the genes have provided their survival machines with brains that are capable of rapid imitation, the memes will automatically take over," Dawkins remarks. He stops short of concluding that the sharing of ideas is the equivalent of the sharing of our genes through sexual reproduction in order to secure their survival, but it does not seem much of a stretch to postulate that. We have many cases where individuals were so driven to spread their memes into the world that they gave up their lives to do so. Artists and writers who live in poverty in order to pursue their art. Zealots who gave their lives to promote an idea. Inventors who died broke because they dedicated their lives to their invention.

The individuals who have dedicated their lives to their memes strive for their survival. They also seek to be identified with their memes. It isn’t enough just to have the meme live beyond them. An "innovation commons" must have some system for tagging the meme with the person who originated it. In the scientific world there is a strict cultural code of referencing and footnoting the work. Like a family tree, with this kind of system, the heredity of the idea can be traced. The more often a meme is referenced the more important the meme is likely to be. Plagiarism usually results in severe shunning.

Memes can bind people together. Musical pairs like Gilbert and Sullivan, and Rogers and Hammerstein created many successful meme complexes. Business partners are often held together by meme complexes that tightly bind like genes. Business and entrepreneurial teams are also held together by their memes. Musical groups like the Beatles are also bound together by their memes and the promise of the creation of many more. These teams, pairs and groups stay together as long as the magic is there (the creation of meme complexes) and there is continued trust among the members. When one or more of the members begins to feel that others are taking more than they are giving, the bond is usually broken. "Innovation commons" will hold together as long as the magic is still in the air. A successful "innovation commons" will either be one that has a known limited life or his built in mechanisms to keep it fresh.

Very powerful meme complexes can keep many people together for long periods of time. This is probably another reason why Open Source has been successful. Its vision is very grand. Think of the metaphor of the movie "The Fifth Element" where a cab driver, a young boy, a "priest" and a woman from outer space join together to bring down Zorg and his "evil empire." Other movies like Star Wars and The Ring have similar elements. The United States has been held together by a meme complex created over 200 year’s ago. Benjamin Franklin was asked by a woman upon leaving the constitutional convention what type of government we had. He replied, "A republic madam. The question is, can we keep it?" Another principle for a successful "innovation commons" is that the meme complex must be grand to achieve longevity.

Memes can also control us like genes. We are inculcated with meme complexes through our families, tribes and our cultures. These memes can unconsciously control our actions with respect to cooperation and altruism, making an "innovation commons" difficult to obtain.
An ESS (evolutionary stable strategy) in evolutionary genetics is a strategy that does well against copies of itself. There are four generally recognized conditions for ESS – longevity, fecundity and copying-fidelity. Fecundity is more important than longevity of a particular copy. If memes are like genes, then how many brains it can infect is critical to its survival. Unlike genes, that have a particulate nature and high copying-fidelity, memes seem to be quickly morphed into new forms, just as I am writing this and putting my own thoughts into the writing and shading it to make the points I wish to make. But the fundamental ideas are those of the original authors.

There are therefor then two additional principles for a successful "innovation commons". It must be a safe environment constructed with the tools and methodologies that allow individuals to breakthrough their limiting memes to become an active member of the network. And, it must provide the equivalent of the primordial sea to allow the memes to freely combine. Survival of individual memes or meme complexes will in all likelihood be governed by ESS.

"We do not have to look for conventional biological survival traits like religion, music and ritual dancing though these may also be present. Once genes provided their survival machines with brains that are capable of rapid imitation, the memes will automatically take over," writes Dawkins.

He continues, "One unique feature of man, which may or may not have evolved memically, is his capacity for conscious foresight. Selfish genes (and if you allow the speculation of this chapter, memes too) have no foresight. They are unconscious blind replicators."

This leads us to another principle of a successful "innovation commons". It has to include and foster foresight.

Later Dawkins writes, "… even if we look on the dark side and assume that individual man is fundamentally selfish, our conscious foresight – our capacity to simulate the future in imagination – could same us from the worst selfish excesses of the blind replicators. We have at least the mental equipment to foster our long-term selfish interests rather than merely our short-term selfish interests. We can see the long-tem benefits of participating in a ‘conspiracy of doves’, and we can sit down together to discuss ways of making the conspiracy work. We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth and, if necessary, the selfish memes of our indoctrination. We can discuss ways of deliberately cultivating and nurturing pure, disinterested altruism – something that has no place in nature, something that has never existed before in the whole history of the world. We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We alone on earth can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators."

Our problems today have a high degree of complexity. In the future, they will be even more complex. We do need "innovation commons".

About the Author
Paul Schumann is an innovation coach, consultant and speaker. He is also the editor and publisher of The Innovation Road Map Magazine. For help in organizational creativity and innovation, or to discuss the concept of an "innovation commons", contact him at 512.302.1935 or paul@theinnovationroadmap.com.

The Origins of Virtue
Matt Ridley
Penguin Books, 1996, paperback, 295 pages

The Moral Animal
Robert Wright
Vintage Books, 1994, paperback, 466 pages

The Selfish Gene
Richard Dawkins
Oxford University Press, 1976 (1990), 368 pages

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Goose and the Commons

The law doth punish man or woman
That steals the goose from off the commons,
But lets the greater felon loose
That steals the commons from the Goose.
Anonymous folksong, 1764

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Orchestrating Collaboration

I've been writing lately about creativity at work and collaborative creativity, and those are the subjects of the book Orchestrating Collaboration At Work: Using Music, Improv, Storytelling, and Other Arts to Improve Teamwork by Linda Naiman and Arthur Van Gundy, both well-known in creativity and innovation circles. The book was published in 2003 by
Wiley/Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer, but is now available through Linda's website as a .PDF download for $48.99.

This is a hefty book -- 265 pages -- chock full of exercises that can be used for teambuilding, ice breakers, energizers, and to stimulate creativity, to teach teams to work through change, think strategically, and collaborate more effectively. I downloaded it, printed it out, and had it comb-bound, and now my copy is now is full of sticky notes on exercises I've vowed to try for various client projects and training sessions.

Those who have to defend the use of the arts in business will find a lot of help here as well. The first part of the book lays out th authors' argument that the arts are just what business needs today. A sample:
"Businesses today want to break away from their limitations, aim higher, and be a creative force for good in the world. We need the transformative experiences that the arts give us to thrive in a world of change."

This section includes interviews with luminaries such as John Seely Brown, and case studies from companies such as the World Bank and Lexis-Nexis.

Van Gundy and Naiman did not make up every single exercise -- approximately 35 others contributed exercises as well. The resulting variety is a welcome breath of air after the shelves of books available that set forth a theory for creativity and then offer exercises that don't vary much. In addition to many exercises, the authors' contribution is in the extremely useful and clear presentation of these exercises. They're divided into section according to the art form used -- music, drawing, painting, collage, storytelling, improv, poetry, and others. And each one includes a clear statement of the objectives, the uses (team-building, change management, etc.), the time required and materials needed.

Bottom line -- this is well worth the $48.99. I have spent many times that amount to go to week-long conferences that didn't give me anywhere near this much useful information that I could take back to my work.

Orchestrating Collaboration At Work:

Renee Hopkins Callahan
Idea Flow

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Creativity at Work

The American Creativity Association will hold it's International Conference on March 22 - 25, 2006 in Austin, Texas.

What will this conference mean to your organization and your employees? You and your employees will gain skills and knowledge that will increase their value to your organization while enhancing their self-growth. They will have opportunities to learn from and network with renowned national and international experts – including:
  • Peggy Van Pelt (Walt Disney Imagineering, Los Angeles, CA)
  • Andrew Ouderkirk (3M Corporate Scientist, 3M, Minneapolis, MN)
  • David Pearce Snyder (Independent Consulting Futurist)
  • Michael Beyerlein (Director of the Center for Collaborative Organizations, University of North Texas, Denton, TX)
  • Sam Stern (Dean, School of Education, Oregon State University, Portland, OR)
  • Doug Hall (Founder and CEO, Eureka Ranch, Cincinnati, OH)
  • Kirpal Singh (Professor, School of Economics & Social Sciences, Singapore Management University, Singapore)
  • Ann Herrmann-Nehdi (CEO, Herrmann Brain Dominance Institute, Lake Lure, NC)
  • Alex N. Pattakos (Director, Center for Personal Meaning, Santa Fe, NM)
  • Abdullah Alsafi (Professor, King Khalid University, Abha, Saudi Arabia)
  • Ta -Wei Lee (Professor, National Taiwan Normal University, Taiwan)
  • Betty Otter Nickerson (COO, Lance Armstrong Foundation, Austin, TX)
  • Mitchel Stoller (CEO, Lance Armstrong Foundation, Austin, TX).

A few of over 70 sessions offered in four session tracks plus Master Classes:
  • Enabling Collaborative Creativity at Work
  • The Athlete Mindset: Learn and apply the same creative methods used by professional athletes to succeed in pressure situations
  • Using TRIZ Lines of Evolution to Predict and Unfuzzy the Fuzzy Front End
  • Creativity, Innovation, and Global Competitiveness
  • Innovate On Purpose™
  • Creative Ways to Recruit a Creative Workforce – A Case Study
  • The Birth of Novelty: Ensuring New Ideas Get a Fighting Chance
  • A Study of the Applicability of Idea Generation Techniques
  • Risk Taking as factor of Creative Thinking
  • Top Ten Tips for Capitalist Creativity Success
  • A study of the relationships among gender, group size, personal creativity, and group technological creativity
  • Trends in Collaborative Creativity & Innovation
  • Creating an Innovation Commons

Contact Barry Silverberg for special rates for groups of 3 or more from the same organization.
(512) 223-7076

ACA's International Conference 2006 takes place at the beautiful Hilton Austin Airport Exhibition dates are: March 22nd through March 25th

We understand that location is everything in business, which is why ACA will place exhibitors in the flow of conference traffic. We want to help you succeed in the creative environment.

How much will it cost me to exhibit during the entire conference?
$500 for a full table $275 for a half table

How big are the tables?
6 foot & draped

Will there be a secure room to store my materials?
Yes. All three days

Can I exhibit without having to staff my table?
Additional or substitute promotional set-ups may be arranged so long as they remain contained within the area reserved for the specific exhibitor.

To contract for exhibit space and arrange payment by check or credit card e-mail: exhibit@amcreativityassoc.org

Exhibitors wishing to participate in the conference and/or meal functions, contact: barry@amcreativityassoc.org

Advertising Opportunities
A printed Conference Program will be distributed to all Conference registrants and include resource information that will lead registrants to retain the Program for future reference. Accordingly, advertisers have the opportunity to share their message at and beyond the Conference.

The Conference Program will be printed in black and white on white stock in a 8.5" x 11" portrait format.

Advertising options include:Full page - $750Half page - $500Quarter page - $250

To contract for Conference Program Book advertising, and arrange payment by check or credit card, e-mail confprogram@amcreativityassoc.org

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Luddites Revisited

"I doubt the Luddites would have seen the irony in the situation. On Jan. 19, 1812, in a news item titled "Execution of the Luddites at York," the London Times reported: "Precisely at eleven o'clock, on Saturday, the following persons suffered the sentence of the law due to their crimes: John Hill, Joseph Crowther, Nathan Hoyle, Jonathon Dean, John Ogden, Thomas Brook, and John Walker."

The Luddites were a group of 19th-century weavers whose name is now synonymous with opposition to technology, and the irony lies in the precise timing of the execution. A mechanical clock or watch was doubtless used for the occasion. So the Luddites -- who had destroyed the new weaving machinery that threatened their employment and whose protests had led to riots, assault, and murder -- ended their lives following the precise mechanisms of a machine.
At the trial, the judge gave a long speech in which he insisted on the "excellence of our machinery." Yet, in preferring the machines and what they represented, he showed little sensitivity to the human costs of new technology.

It is easy, I believe, to dismiss historical opposition to machines as being mindless or simply irrelevant because the events happened a long time ago. But when we consider the ways in which computer technology is used in education, particularly in developments such as virtual schools, it is useful to consider past examples of how people's lives have been affected by machines."

Virtual Schools: What Role Should Online Learning Play in the Future of Schooling?, Glen Russell (www.electronic-school.com)

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Row Your Boat

Do you remember the children's nursery rhyme and round "Row Your Boat"?
For some reason I thought of that poem a few weeks ago. Perhaps it floated into my mind because of the New Year. Perhaps because I just read the Urban Shaman by Serge Kahili King in which he focus on the premise that life is a dream. (Read the book review at http://illuminatedinnovant.blogspot.com/2005/12/urban-shaman.html.)

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream.

What a wonderful piece of wisdom that's been hidden right before our eyes.

I decided to search the Internet to find the source of this wisdom. First, I found that the poem is anonymous. Intuitive Connections Network (www.intuitive-connections.net/2002/opinion.html) states that "this round is from an ancient text of unknown origin. The Great Songs Thesaurus says the earliest found publication of these words was in 1852; the music was added in 1881."

I was amused to find that there are hundreds of essays on and references to this poem with titles like "Forming Your Opinion About Life", "Row Your Boat Mantra: A Buddhist Commentary", "A Guide for Living Life in the Divine Flow" and many others.
What I saw in the poem is slightly different.

William Crews' book Four Causes of Reality (Philosophical Library, 1969) builds on Aristotle's philosophy of the four causes of reality. Crews develops the four causes:

First Cause - Material Cause
Second Cause - Formal Cause
Third Cause - Efficient Cause
Fourth Cause - Final Cause

The basic idea behind this construct is that all reality has four causes, i.e. necessary elements of its existence.

The material cause can be considered to be what the reality is composed of. In the case of a house, it's all the building materials. The formal cause shapes or gives form to the reality that is becoming. In the case of a house, it's the plans. The efficient cause describes the action. In the case of a house, it's the construction. The final cause is the reality's manifestation. In the case of a house, it is the home.

In "Row Your Boat", the first phrase could be interpreted to say that the building blocks of life are actions. Row is repeated three times, forming a trinity, maybe in this case like past, present and future. The wisdom in this poem suggests that drifting is not an option. You're going to have to work.

The second phrase, and second cause, or formal cause is "gently down the stream." The wisdom doesn't encourage fighting the current, or even attempting to cross the stream. It suggests finding the currents in the stream and rowing to the currents and then in the currents. A whirling stream with eddies and many different currents is probably not a bad metaphor for the future. Out role, and what should shape our lives, according to this wisdom is to search for the shifting currents, find them and exploit them gently.

The third phrase, and efficient cause, is "merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily." To be merry is to be joyous in disposition or spirit. Good advice under any circumstances. "Merrily" is repeated four times. It may have been repeated for emphasis. Or, it may have been to remind us of the fractal nature of the four causes. For each cause there are four causes, and so on, and so on. If this was the case, the poet wanted to make sure that we got it. Joyousness was the key to the efficient cause of the reality you were creating, and the material through final cause of that efficient cause was in itself joyousness.

The fourth and final cause is in the fourth phrase "life is but a dream." We make reality up as we go. Our limited sensory capabilities provide information on our environment that we integrate in our minds with assumptions, prior history and paradigms to construct our reality. As this all occurs in our head, it is no different than a dream.

Happy New Year! May you row your boat gently down the stream joyously for life is but a dream.

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Social Forms

Quote to think about:

"The first of all moral obligations is to think clearly. Societies are not like the weather, merely given, since human beings are responsible for their form. Social forms are constructs of the human spirit."

Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism.