Thursday, February 24, 2011

Values and the Spirit of America

Anand Giridharas[1] was interviewed by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show several weeks ago. Toward the end of the interview, he said this:

“When we talk about India; when we talk about China in this country; we talk about the economic threats. We’re all obsessed with economic threats. We’re all concerned about emerging markets. I think the real thing that Americans need to think about is that these countries pose a challenge of culture, a challenge of spirit. Just look at the segment you did on culture and discourse in America. We are all engaged in pulling each other down. We’re creating a culture of destruction and pulling each other down. And, India and China for all the work that lies ahead of them, are starting to create cultures of hope, cultures of creation where there’s a consensus on how do we create something extraordinary. And, we need to not be worried about the economic threat but that spirit in about two and a half billion people.”

I think he’s right. Furthermore, I think that the talk about civility will achieve nothing without visiting the underlying values.

A culture can be thought of in terms of its elements: behavior (norms), values, beliefs and philosophy. Values are often misunderstood, adjudged good or bad, or confused with behaviors or beliefs. But values are the key to creating or changing a culture.

The following are things that I have learned about values[2]:

  • Values individually are neutral
  • Values are priorities (I value this over that.)
  • There are over 100 human values
  • Values come in two flavors – means (I value this way of doing things.) and goals (This is what I want to accomplish.)
  • Values are derived from beliefs and are the proximate causes of behaviors
  • Values in humans develop through maturation of beliefs (1. The world is a mystery that I must fear; 2. The world is a project that I must control; 3. The world is a project that I must join; 4. The world is a mystery that I must care for.) Not everyone, or every nation, matures through all four stages before they die.
  • Values sets can create positive or negative behaviors (Good or bad behavior judged by the belief system of the culture.)
  • Values operate dialectically in pairs (means and goals) to produce a third value (goal)
  • Chains of pairs of values operating dialectically results in the preferred thrust of the culture
  • Values are created, reinforced or destroyed by a leader’s actions or non actions
  • Any member can become a cultural leader
  • It takes a long time for cultural change to occur
  • You can temporarily affect change in values with resources and projects
  • You can make long term shifts in values with education, incentives, communication, infrastructure and measurements

We know a lot about human values and culture. So, are we building the nation we want and need for the future?

Only 10 – 20 years ago I would have told you that I thought we were moving into a stage three society (the world is a project in which we must participate) with hints of a stage four society (the world is a mystery that we must care for). But now we are being motivated by fear and control (stage 1 and stage 2 societies). It’s tempting, and too easy, to blame this on terrorism. I think the regression is internal and much more dangerous. Terrorism is being used as a tool.

In reality, what we know about culture and values is being used to build a new nation. Except it’s not operating in the open. It’s hidden. And, it’s utilizing the fear of some people of personal and organizational growth towards maturity. And, the ultimate goal is transfer of power and wealth.

Giridharas also talked about culture and spirit. What is meant by spirit?

According to Wikipedia, “Spirit has many different meanings and connotation, but commonly refers to the non-corporal essence of a being or entity.”

There were two things that I learned from interviews with the coaches of the super bowl teams a few weeks ago that shed some light on the subject of culture and spirit:

  • Football is a game played by emotional men. The coach’s roll is to channel that emotional energy.
  • A team develops spirit when the players stop playing for themselves and start playing for each other.

I think you could substitute life for football and people for men, and you’d still have some true statements.

As it turns out in the evolution of individuals and their organizations, commonly held values shift from a focus on self (selfishness or narcissism common in our culture now) to a focus on the other (all that is outside of ourselves).

Michael Novak’s Spirit of Democratic Capitalism provides some insight as well: “What do I mean by ‘democratic capitalism’? I mean three systems in one: a predominately market economy; a polity respectful of the rights the individual to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by the ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, and economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is pluralistic and, in the largest sense, liberal.”

One profound truth that emerges from Novak’s work is how delicate the balance is between democratic polity, capitalistic economy and a pluralistic society. And, any attempt to change this balance ought to be viewed with alarm.

[1] Giridharas is the author of India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking. He writes the “Currents” column for The New York Times and its global edition, the International Herald Tribune: it explores fresh ideas, global culture and the social meaning of technology, among other subjects. In 2009, he completed a four-and-a-half-year tour reporting from India for The Times and the Herald Tribune, as their first Bombay presence in the modern era. He reported on India’s transformation, Bollywood, corporate takeovers, terrorism, outsourcing, poverty and democracy. He was appointed a columnist in 2008, writing the “Letter from India” series. In his article in the New York Times on 1/28/11, reflected on President Obama’s State of the Union address, “Obama Tries to Recapture a Lost Dream.

[2] Values are something we choose freely after considering the alternatives that we prize publicly, and that we act on immediately and repeatedly. The Genesis Effect, Brian Hall

Monday, February 14, 2011

Innovation Systems

There were five questions about innovation systems that I posed in my blog of July 6, 2009. I answered the first two questions but never did complete the series:

1. Why did you begin working with innovation systems?

2. How would you define an innovation system?

3. What is your favorite aspect /concept of innovation systems?

4. In your opinion, what is the most problematic aspect/concept of innovation systems?

5. How do you see the future of innovation systems?

So, let’s see if I can complete the series now.

What is your favorite aspect /concept of innovation systems?

There are two. One aspect is that an innovation system can be generative, and the second is that it can improve the common weal.

An innovation system can be generative in that it can outlive the humans that fashioned it and continue producing innovation and reinventing itself.

Weal is an old word not often used in our society today, but it indicates a viewpoint missing from the common paradigm. Weal means prosperity; happiness or more broadly, the way I’m using it, the welfare of the community; the general good. If the innovation system is conceived to encompass all its important elements, it can produce innovations that improve the general good. Innovation doesn’t have to be sub optimized, focused solely on the bottom line.

In your opinion, what is the most problematic aspect/concept of innovation systems?

First that they even exist. Many people, particularly in business, think that innovation is an accident, a freak of nature. Their strategy is to let other people invest the money and roll the dice, and then to just cherry pick the ones that make it, paying the organization or individual who developed it. The second assumption they make is that their organization is like a machine with plug compatible parts. And, since “pigs is pigs”, they can just bring the innovation into their organization easily.

I tend to follow Peter Drucker in this respect. In Innovation and Entrepreneurship he defined systematic innovation as “the purposeful and organized search for changes, and in the systematic analysis of the opportunities such changes might offer for economic or social innovation.”

Systematic, purposeful innovation will create an effective and efficient organization. Systematic, purposeful innovation begins by identifying the changes occurring in a market. This is followed by understanding the opportunities and threats that will result from these changes, developing a strategy to take advantage of the opportunity and avoiding or minimizing threats, assessing the organization's capability to implement the strategy, and developing an organization which can effectively and efficiently innovate.

If this systematic, purposeful innovation process is followed, the organization will benefit by becoming market driven. It will do what is appropriate for the market and it will anticipate the market. As a result, the organization will become more effective and efficient. Society will benefit because the organizations within it that create wealth and meet societal needs will be more sharply focused on the proper targets.

The purpose of business is innovation, which, when properly focused, creates wealth as defined in the broadest sense. The creation of wealth benefits all.

There is another issue with innovation systems. Every innovation system has an innovation bias. In other words, each innovation system tends towards a particular innovation profile.

How do you see the future of innovation systems?

The future of innovation systems is complexity. I see an innovation system as a complex system composed of intelligent agents with emergent properties. The ecology of the complex innovation system is sustainable. It would be adaptable to its environment, and possibly under certain condition self replicable.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Power of Data Visualization

David McCandless turns complex data sets (like worldwide military spending, media buzz, Facebook status updates) into beautiful, simple diagrams that tease out unseen patterns and connections. Good design, he suggests, is the best way to navigate information glut -- and it may just change the way we see the world.

David McCandless draws beautiful conclusions from complex datasets -- thus revealing unexpected insights into our world.

Crowd Accelerated Innovation

TED's Chris Anderson says the rise of web video is driving a worldwide phenomenon he calls Crowd Accelerated Innovation -- a self-fueling cycle of learning that could be as significant as the invention of print. But to tap into its power, organizations will need to embrace radical openness. And for TED, it means the dawn of a whole new chapter.

After a long career in journalism and publishing, Chris Anderson became the curator of the TED Conference in 2002 and has developed it as a platform for identifying and disseminating ideas worth disseminating.

This commons based innovation, a concept I've been pursuing for years.

Tim Jackson's economic reality check

As the world faces recession, climate change, inequity and more, Tim Jackson delivers a piercing challenge to established economic principles, explaining how we might stop feeding the crises and start investing in our future.

Tim Jackson studies the links between lifestyle, societal values and the environment to question the primacy of economic growth.

This is a bold vision of a new economy, one with a human purpose.

Seed Video Feature: Paola Antonelli + Benoit Mandelbrot (Highlights) March 24, 2008

The curator and the mathematician discuss fractals, architecture, and the death of Euclid.

View Video

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

We are all cyborgs now

Technology is evolving us, says Amber Case, as we become a screen-staring, button-clicking new version of homo sapiens. We now rely on "external brains" (cell phones and computers) to communicate, remember, even live out secondary lives. But will these machines ultimately connect or conquer us? Case offers surprising insight into our cyborg selves.

Amber Case studies the symbiotic interactions between humans and machines -- and considers how our values and culture are being shaped by living lives increasingly mediated by high technology.

Addicted to Risk

Days before this talk, journalist Naomi Klein was on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico, looking at the catastrophic results of BP's risky pursuit of oil. Our societies have become addicted to extreme risk in finding new energy, new financial instruments and more ... and too often, we're left to clean up a mess afterward. Klein's question: What's the backup plan?

n the January 31, 2011, edition of The Nation, Naomi Klein reports from one of the highest-profile failures of 2010: the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And what she finds is a cascade of unintended consequences arising from a massive corporate risk.

In her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein makes the case that corporations (and capitalism-friendly governments) not only profit from disaster and conflict, but actively work to exploit countries in crisis. The “shock doctrine,” as Klein defines it, falls into place after a terrorist attack, a killer hurricane, a regime change—when corporate interests swoop in on a disoriented people to rewrite the rules in favor of commerce and globalization. In her deeply historical, carefully sourced book, Klein shows the link between commerce and crisis. The Shock Doctrine was adapted into a feature-length documentary by Michael Winterbottom; it premiered at the Sundance in 2010.

Klein’s previous book, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, took on the creeping influence of megabrands on culture and government—with arguments so persuasive that the book earned a point-by-point rebuttal from Nike. She is a regular columnist for Nation and the Guardian, and is now working on a book on the idea of ecological debt. You can follow her on Twitter: @NaomiAKlein

All the examples she talks about are complex systems and we are treating them as simple, or at best complicated, systems. These are all examples of why we should be making complexity our national challenge.

The Age of the Unthinkable

Joshua Cooper Ramo argues that in an era defined by instability, society must remain imminently flexible and turn disruption into a force for good.

Joshua Cooper Ramo, managing director of Kissinger Associates, believes that we live in a “revolutionary age” defined by problems whose complexity, unpredictability, and interconnectedness increasingly defy our efforts at control. Global threats such as terrorism, pandemics, financial meltdown, and climate change, according to Ramo, demand a systems perspective that draws upon chaos science, complexity theory, and the theory of disruptive innovation. In his 2009 book, The Age of the Unthinkable, he calls for nothing less than a “complete reinvention of our ideas of security,” even the reversal of a “couple of millennia of Western intellectual habits.”

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Friday, February 4, 2011

The Value of Mistakes

Compensation Cafe, E. James Brennan, 1/20/2011

If you are not making mistakes, you aren't doing anything important. You probably aren't learning anything, either, if everything you do is done perfectly every single time. Learning is a process of trial and error. No trial, no error, no learning.

The importance of mistakes is undeniable. You can read Peter Drucker on the subject or you can listen to John Cleese give his classic speech (mms:// Arts/P_JC2_02.wmv) on The Importance of Mistakes. Personally, I found Cleese no less cogent in substance but a far funnier speaker. As a historical side note, I happened to be presenting at that same conference where Cleese’s speech contained in that video was recorded, was the first to shake his hand before that keynote speech and was in the audience when it was delivered. That video, available in the link above, contains some of the most memorable and important lessons I have ever heard.

The facts are irrefutable and beyond question. Mistakes are essential for learning, improvement, productivity and creativity.

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This video by John Cleese is one of my all time favorites. And, it's a really important message for innovation, creativity, and leadership among others. I have a large format video of the talk that I purchased some years ago, probably in the 1980s. It's nice to see an online version available through the Compensation Cafe link above. If you want to license the talk, click on the Video Arts link below.

Video Arts