29 June 2006

If You Have Nothing To Hide...

...then don't think you have nothing to fear. Not after the report in today's Globe, that
Bell Sympatico has informed its customers that it intends to "monitor or investigate content or your use of your service provider's networks and to disclose any information necessary to satisfy any laws, regulations or other governmental request."

Bell Sympatico's new customer service agreement, which took effect June 15, is a clear signal the telecommunications industry expects the Conservative government to revive the surveillance law, said Michael Geist, an Internet law professor at the University of Ottawa.
Duly executed court orders and warrants, I have no problem with. But given the "I want to be just like my big brother, George" attitude that seems to characterize the Harper government, I'm more wary about the "governmental request" aspect of Bell's revelation (thanks for telling us, guys!).

The big problem with the types of intrusions into civil liberties that characterize a steady decline to fascism is this: Those with something to hide? They generally take great pains to hide it. Those folks for whom being evil, or criminal, or both is a livestyle choice know all about encryption, proxy servers, and anonymizers. Us ordinary, more or less law abiding, nothing-to-hide types? We do all sorts of things about which we don't think twice, that, arranged and juxtaposed in a particular way, against a ground of law enforcement officials needing to find something could make us look awfully suspicious. Think about those poor people who traverse the entire justice system and back, and are still wrongfully convicted due to overzealous officials. The reversal that applies to this situation cannot be understated: If you have nothing to hide, you have much to fear, since your innocuous behaviour can be deliberately and maliciously misinterpreted, when and how it suits those with discretionary power.

My name? Uh, Smith. Joe Smith. That's joe.smith@sympatico.ca, in case you're listening in.

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Creating a Culture of Innovation

I had the privilege of visiting the Service Canada Leadership Conference yesterday, hosted by the Canada School of Public Service. Some of the initiatives that I heard about were truly forward-thinking and tremendously encouraging as a new way to deliver Government services to Canadians (although it would be inappropriate for me to blog about them specifically). Suffice it to say, this isn't your parents' public service. I did a session with them called Creating a Culture of Innovation [pdf]. Here is the outline of the four principles that I shared with them:
four simple principles that are crucial to creating a culture of innovation. Here they are:
  • See what isn’t there.
  • Think what no one else can think.
  • Do what no one else dares to do.
  • Multiply your mind by giving it away.
In the talk, I describe how the Laws of Media tetrads can be used to create anti-environment awareness for the first two principles, and how the UCaPP world changes the nature of knowledge creation, and hence innovation, for the second two principles.
What haven’t you noticed lately, particularly about the four principles that enable the creation of a culture of innovation? If you line up the first three – See what’s not there; Think what no one else can think; and Do what no one else dares to do – you end up with some very mundane and ordinary advice: See. Think. Do. But by putting them through the tetrad tool that enhances and extends our perception and cognition we get a reversal: See – what isn’t there, what we have been conditioned to ignore because our attention has been directed elsewhere for so long. An extension – Think – what no one else can think, in other words, beyond the imposed mental restrictions that limit creative cognition. An obsolescence – Do what no one else dares to do, because the societal ground in which their actions once made sense is now obsolesced. And the fourth principle – Multiply your mind by giving it away – is the retrieval, the dominant mode of the tetrad. One could say that this fourth principle is the retrieval of simple, old-fashion charity, but in a new and incredibly powerful form. Because in the UCaPP world, multiplying your mind by giving it away is another way of affirming that together, we’re all smarter.
I also shared the tetrad-enhanced technique of better brainstorming. In retrospect, I would have liked to have had more time to spend with this "brains-on" application of what I spoke about in the talk, but then again, that sort of thing is rather difficult to do in a meaningful way with a group as large as 80 people (which was the sign-up limit for my session). (Of course, I'm always available to do a more in-depth follow-on session with individual departmental groups!)

Thanks, CSPS and Service Canada, for the invitation. It was an interesting day.

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27 June 2006

Understand the Ground, Understand the Speaker

A great object lesson in figure and ground, and the importance of the latter to understand the former. Via boingboing out of John Batelle, comes mention of a speech given by one Leo Hindery at the Convergence 2.0 conference in Washington, D.C. In this talk, Hindery predicts the demise (and/or acquisition and assimilation) of the "portals" (Yahoo, Google, MSN, AOL and eBay) in favour of the the content aggregators (big networks and media content companies like Time Warner and Disney) and the distributors (cable, satellite and the few RBOCs remaining). While conference attendees lap up Hindery's content (the figure), and Batelle and others deconstruct it, let's consider Hindery's ground and the ground of the conference itself, to understand what it is he is actually telling us.

Leo Hindery ran AT&T's broadband division for a short time in the mid-1990s, and was head of a content distribution company that distributed New York Yankees and New Jersey Devils games via cable. He also headed the National Cable Television Association (a Washington lobby), and is now involved in the merger and acquisition business involving content and distribution companies. Little wonder, then, that he views the Internet in the same way that most of the content and distribution companies do, that is, as only a communication channel. The conference itself is concerned with "consolidation in broadcast, cable, telecom and mobile." Little wonder that his talk focuses on the demise of those elements of the 'net that promote interactions that are not part of a broadcast model.

Irrespective of whether what he says would tend towards being an accurate or inaccurate prediction on its face (figure), what is more useful is to assess how the speaker perceives (or rather, conceives) the world (ground). As I say in a talk that I'm doing tomorrow (more about this on Thursday - stay, uh, tuned)
Our intense focus on precisely what we have been trained to do controls what we believe. And what we believe controls what we are able to see. ... We have been trained to ignore anything that does not support our preconceived point of view or expert opinion. ... We have been conditioned to believe that the world exists only in diametric opposites.
Hindery may make a logical and reasonable argument within the limited ground of his worldview, and that of the conference attendants. I wouldn't, however take that to the bank.

Update (27 June 2006): Jay Rosen over at PressThink has what turns out to be a great response to Hindery - The People Formerly Known as the Audience:
The people formerly known as the audience are those who were on the receiving end of a media system that ran one way, in a broadcasting pattern, with high entry fees and a few firms competing to speak very loudly while the rest of the population listened in isolation from one another— and who today are not in a situation like that at all.
  • Once they were your printing presses; now that humble device, the blog, has given the press to us. That’s why blogs have been called little First Amendment machines. They extend freedom of the press to more actors.
  • Once it was your radio station, broadcasting on your frequency. Now that brilliant invention, podcasting, gives radio to us. And we have found more uses for it than you did.
  • Shooting, editing and distributing video once belonged to you, Big Media. Only you could afford to reach a TV audience built in your own image. Now video is coming into the user’s hands, and audience-building by former members of the audience is alive and well on the Web.
  • You were once (exclusively) the editors of the news, choosing what ran on the front page. Now we can edit the news, and our choices send items to our own front pages.
  • A highly centralized media system had connected people “up” to big social agencies and centers of power but not “across” to each other. Now the horizontal flow, citizen-to-citizen, is as real and consequential as the vertical one.

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So Many Potential Titles...

... for this post: Weapons of Mass Distraction. Nope, overused. Monkey See, Monkey Do. Nah, too obscure. Hallowe'en Comes Early This Year. Maybe, but that only refers to the last half minute of the clip. A probe! A probe! My kingdom (such as it is) for a probe!

Looks Simple

Ah yes, that works on so many levels. (Exercise for the reader is to identify the many levels.) Magicians Penn and Teller have a great routine called, "Looks Simple," in which Teller apparently lights a cigarette, takes a puff, and discards it, all to illustrate the seven principles of magic: Palm, Switch, Simulation, Misdirection, Load, Steal, and Ditch. That sort of describes the goings on in the Excited States of America lately, with the recent arrest of seven suspects in Miami, allegedly for a plot to maybe blow something up, perhaps in Chicago, perhaps in Miami, without weapons or explosives of any kind. They were reported to be Black Muslims, who, as it turns out, "train with the Bible" (the Christian flavour), whose only contact with the Al Qaeda terrorist movement was via the FBI inflitrator who posed as a member of the Al Qaeda terrorist movement. The Daily Show treatment of the news conference hosted by U.S. Attorney General (although he should be busted down to at least Attorney Captain for this one) Alberto Gonzoles is priceless (wmv and qt via Crooks and Liars, The Daily Show's own site should have it up in a day or two). Watch for Stewart's rhetorical question ("So what harm does it [meaning the arrest and news conference] do?") being answered right at the end of the clip.

Precisely. With the Aministration's popularity, not to mention general credibility among even the Republican-controlled Congress, in a downward spiral, what better way to improve the chances with the Congressional mid-term elections looming than through "Palm, Switch, Simulation, Misdirection, Load, Steal, and Ditch." The current exercise in simulation and misdirection is even more important now, as it broke the day that it was (under)reported that the dead bodies of two U.S. servicemen killed south of Baghdad were used as the now-ubiquitous improvised explosive devices (identification could only be done with the DNA that could be collected). "Load" the 24-hour news cycle with supposed terror arrests, to misdirect attention from the news that, once again, the Administration seems to be violating the Fourth Amendment (against unlawful search and seizure) by accessing banking records without a warrant, and by initiating a call for repealing the First Amendment (specifically freedom of the press) by now insisting that the government should be allowed to restrict what is reported by the press, if it will embarrass the government (hello, "treasonous" New York Times).

Here in Canada, the situation is a little different. Our alleged terrorists actually attempted to purchase ammonium nitrate. They even had a computer, a cell phone, a barbecue and barbecue tongs! While some cynics might say that the U.S. is merely trying to keep up with Canada in the Great Home-Grown Terrorist Hunt, I, for one, am much more cynical than that!

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26 June 2006

Accountabilty Means Never Having to Say You're Poor

It also seems to mean that those with government-funded budgets for lobbying will be doing the lobbying. As Michael Geist points out in today's Star, the Harper government is actually paying an industry lobby group nearly $400,000 over the next three years to lobby the government. Some accountability!
According to government documents, last fall the Ministry of Canadian Heritage entered into a multi-year agreement with the Creators' Rights Alliance, a national coalition of artists groups and copyright collectives with members both small (the League of Canadian Poets) and large (SOCAN and Access Copyright). The CRA has eight objectives, which notably include "to ensure that government policy and legislation recognize that copyright is fundamentally about the rights of creators" and "to ensure that international treaties and obligations to which Canada is signatory provide the strongest possible protection for the rights of creators."

Internal correspondence also reveals that the contract was designed to further the department's own policy objectives. A senior official outlined the rationale behind the proposed contract, stating in an email that once the CRA funding was complete, "we should have streamlined, stable funding to an organization whose structure, purpose and activities suit our own policy needs."
Imagine the future of hearings concerning copyright reform and network neutrality. Government-funded lobbyists, who have influenced the formation of policy in the first place that serves the special interests of those with considerable commercial power and influence and who want to preserve their de facto monopoly positions, will be the ones heard from over the voices of many other constituencies. (On the other hand, compared to the former Bulte Commission, what else is new?)

So while the Harper government touts their special brand of lobbying and campaign financing reform from one side of their mouth, from the other side, they provide money exclusively to one, already well-financed, side of an important and divisive issue so that the government can be lobbied effectively.

With respect to the Harper government, I'm getting tired of calling out, "for shame!"

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20 June 2006

Congratulations, David!

Today, my son, David, convocated from University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Music degree, with honours! Four long years of hard and often difficult work, and it all comes down to the diploma, and proud parents and grandparents! His major was music history and theory; his minor, East Asian studies - putting his love of Japanese pop culture, manga and anime, not to mention his serious interest in Japanese history, classical literature, and the evolution of the culture's various art, performance and musical forms, to work for him while he learned the Japanese language, grammar and cultural studies. His first instrument is violin (playing since he was 3); during his university years, he has acquired experience with koto, shamisen, erhu, gamelan, and taiko, bringing together his two scholarly interests. In addition to his school work, he was active throughout his university years on the Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association as a frosh leader, treasurer, and was responsible for rewriting the student organization's constitution, and overseeing its elections (and revamping the election code). He won the University's prestigious Cressy Award for exceptional contribution to student life.

Congratulations, son! Your mother and I are very proud of you!

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The Unethical Ethicist

There has been much sturm und drang over the decision of Ryerson University to award an honorary doctorate to McGill professor and so-called ethicist, Margaret Somerville. The controversy arises from her views on, or to be more precise, against, same-sex marriage. According to the Star,
Somerville, who insists her views are not religious or political in nature, believes same-sex marriage is wrong because marriage is fundamentally about creating children and they deserve — and need — both a biological mother and father.

Acknowledging she has many critics, Somerville said it's important academia operate in "a discourse of mutual respect" about unpopular views rather than succumb to the "chill of political correctness."
I agree that the academy must be a place in which civil discourse can fully examine disparate opinions and unpopular views. So as far as I am concerned, Prof. Somerville is more than welcome to lecture at McGill, or return to Ryerson for a public debate on this controversial and divisive subject. On the other hand, an honorary doctorate confers a recognition tantamount to an endorsement of the honoree's work. Thus, it was entirely inappropriate for Ryerson - a university located in downtown Toronto, a mere stone's throw from the heart of gay culture in this city - to award the honor. What were they thinking? Well, according to some post-hoc statements made by Sheldon Levy, the president of Ryerson, the committee was not aware of her stance with respect to same-sex marriage. This, of course, does not explain why they didn't back down when the news broke.

Somerville's reason for opposing same-sex marriage raises some questions that I think belie her supposed ethical position. While I can appreciate the opinions of those who are opposed on religious grounds, Somerville claims that the purpose of marriage is to produce children, and children need both biological parents; hence same-sex marriage is unethical. Based on this position, one must conclude that she equally opposes adoption, and marriage between people who are not capable of (or not interested in) procreation. So, for all those who are enjoying a second or third marriage later in life, for all those who are medically incapable of having children, for all those who have enjoyed the love of adoptive parents, you're all in the same boat with gays and lesbians who want to create a stable, family unit, according to Prof. Somerville, and she is against you. Sad, really. And unethical on its face.

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Reflections on Spiritual Youth

My daughter has completed the first phase of her exploration of Spiritual Youth and has posted her reflections.
It is common that unfortunate events challenge one’s beliefs. However, many traditional religions teach that trials, tribulations, and suffering are meant to test and strengthen one’s faith on the path of spiritual enlightenment.
Even though the project for her course is now over, she is keeping the blog open and active. If you are in your teens or twenties, and want to share your own experiences of religion and spirituality - or the lack thereof - drop by the Spiritual Youth blog. All the details are there.

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18 June 2006

The Nature of Ecological Valence

In my last post, I introduced the concept of ecological valence as one of the defining valences of my Valence Theory of Organization. In this post, I continue to examine its nature.

An organization’s relationship to the natural environment can usefully be characterized as its sustainability – the net degree to which it utilizes natural capital. Daly (2002) describes two definitions of sustainability. Utility-based sustainability is consistent with that of the Brundtland Commission (World Commission, 1987), namely, sustaining a level of resource usage that presumable meets the needs of the current population such that future generations will be able to meet their own needs. Daly points out that utility is not measurable, and further, imposes today’s conception of “needs” on future generations. Relative to valence theory, no valence – that is, capacity to connect, unite or interact – with future generations can be formed. As the valence theory has been derived based on the UCaPP nature of contemporary society, it is not surprising to conclude that the utility-based definition of sustainability is, in effect, obsolete and out of step with the contemporary world.

Instead, Daly favours a throughput-based construct of sustainability specifying that “the entropic physical flow from nature’s sources through the economy and back to nature’s sinks, is to be non-declining” (2002, p. 1). Throughput can be measured as the amount of energy consumed by all physical entities, both human and non-human, on earth. Since all energy originates in nature, is transformed multiple times through various industrial, agricultural and other processes, and then ultimately reverts to nature, the amount “consumed” by entities on the planet – not returned to nature, as in consumption of non-renewable resources or non-decomposable waste – should not decline. Ecological valence could then be measured in terms of net energy exchange between an organization and the natural environment via a complex network of interactions and transformations.

Throughput-based sustainability has its origins in the work of Alfred Lotka (1922) who related energy flow through biological systems with evolutionary biology. Concerning biological systems of evolving species, he argues that “natural selection tends to make the energy flux through the system a maximum, so far as compatible with the constraints to which the system is subject” (p. 148). Further, in a system with a limited supply of energy, “the advantage will go to that organism which is most efficient, most economical, in applying to preservative uses such energy as it captures” (p. 150).

Buenstorf (2000) builds on Lotka’s argument (as have many others) in relating this principle of increasing both energy flow and energy efficiency in more highly evolved biological systems to human, socio-economic systems. He explains Lotka’s principles as emergent properties of complex, self-organizing systems, that would equally apply to those organizations defined according to the proposed Valence Theory. However, the implications are interesting, and perhaps useful relative to gauging the effectiveness of organizations.

Buenstorf interprets Lotka as follows: When energy is abundant, fast-growing, relatively energy-inefficient species can thrive. Under conditions of scarcity however, more efficient species will compete more effectively than the originally successful species, demonstrating both an increase in overall energy flow, and an increase in energy efficiency, for the entire system. Mutations that are able to exploit additional, previously unused, energy sources for which there is no prior competition will be more successful, similarly increasing both energy flow and efficiency. Framing this interpretation in modern, organizational terms would explain the rapid growth of relatively energy inefficient enterprises through most of the twentieth century (and especially the middle decades) when resources were abundant and energy prices, specifically, were relatively economical. Today, however, “more efficient species” of organizations will compete more effectively than their less efficient counterparts. “Mutations” introduced by process, and other, innovations would allow adaptable organizations to evolve, increasing energy flow through the system, while becoming increasingly more efficient. In other words, more evolved organizations would be more sustainable, according to Daly’s throughput-based conception.

Thus, ecological valence serves two purposes. First, it grounds an organization by definition to the natural environment. As much as an organization is defined according to the flows of value in an economic sense, or the identity relationships it forges among its employees and customers, or the knowledge that it creates and imparts to society at large, so too will it be defined according to the extent and manner in which it enables net sustainable energy flows with the natural environment. Second, ecological valence can provide a comparison of the relative degree of evolution among organizations. Those that are “higher” on the organizational evolutionary scale will, as Buenstorf suggests, conform to Lotka’s principles. Conversely, those whose ecological valence reveals them to be today’s organizational dinosaurs, should rightly be allowed to pass into extinction.

  • Daly, H. E. (2002, 2002/04/30). Sustainable development: Definitions, principles, policies. Paper presented at the World Bank, Washington, D.C.
  • Buenstorf, G. (2000). Self-organization and sustainability: energetics of evolution and implications for ecological economics. Ecological Economics, 33(1), 119-134.
  • Lotka, A. (1922). Contribution to the energetics of evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 8, 147-151.
  • World Commission on Environment and Development. (1987). Our common future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Ecological Valence

Thanks to the inspiration of a course on the responsibility of corporations in their context of global citizens, I have been contemplating how the issue of sustainable development fits in my Valence Theory of Organization. I’m breaking a very brief summary of these thoughts into two posts. Of course, the full essay on Ecological Valence: Responsibility, Sustainability, and the Reconception of Organization is available on request.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the definition of sustainable development was framed and accepted within the ground of a scientifically and industrially dominated economic paradigm that led to the Brundtland Commission definition of sustainability: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission, 1987). This model is predicated on an industrial process conception of organizations, and consequential production models of interaction, mutual dependence, supply and consumption, functional decomposition, and utility value. It’s also problematic, since it doesn’t quite answer the obvious questions like, How can current needs be distinguished from wants? How can future needs be ascertained? Against what standard should economic viability, social justice and a “better life” be measured? What specifically defines environmental “appropriateness” or even protection?

Authors Fergus and Rowney have recently called for a change in the “cognitive reality” in which business managers exist, integrating “various values, ethics and perspectives during the process of decision making” (Fergus & Rowney, 2005, p. 205). To accomplish this, they suggest that business managers “will encourage employees to view the organization as embedded in a larger society and, in turn, both these organizations and society are embedded within the natural environment” (p. 205; emphasis added).

This final observation by Fergus and Rowney provides an important additional consideration for my proposed Valence Theory: the environment itself is an important actant in the organization collective. This is especially true – and in retrospect, perhaps even obvious – when one considers the particular instance of UCaPP-organization. After all, to what is humanity more ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate than the natural environment? Moreover, the natural environment can be considered to be a foundational, ground actant. When two individuals come together to form a proto-organization by establishing various valence relationships, they do not do it in the void of space. The natural (and sometimes unnatural, as in an urban setting) environment is always present and contextualizing the nature and scope of their interactions. Under the former paradigm, and consistent with the instrumental ground of BAH-organization, the natural environment is rarely acknowledged except as an externality, or an adjunct to the instrumental orientation of the business. In the UCaPP-organization, the natural environment as a foundational actant suggests that the fundamental ground valence of any and all instances of organization is an ecological valence.

The next question, and the next post, is, what is the nature of the ecological valence?

  • Fergus, A. H. T., & Rowney, J. I. A. (2005). Sustainable Development: Epistemological Frameworks & an Ethic of Choice. Journal of Business Ethics, 57(2), 197-207.
  • World Commission on Environment and Development. (1987). Our common future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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17 June 2006

Global Education on Climate Change

John Whitman, an OISE colleague who just defended yesterday (congratulations, John!) is embarking on an initiative to introduce adult learning methods to create a program for Global Education on Climate Change. Much of the education that is available is focused on informing; very little brings in the type of action learning that is characteristic of adult education principles.

John's case and plan is contained in this PowerPoint presentation. Granted, it's not as fancy as Al Gore's, but it illustrates the problem, and proposes a plan for coordinating local education initiatives. What is perhaps most interesting to me about John's presentation is the graph showing the effect of the focused and concerted effort with respect to CFCs. The effect that CFCs were having on the ozone layer has been widely publicized, and the effects on human life (from sunburn to cancer) became important common knowledge. This impetus enabled policy-makers to ban CFCs, over the initial objections of those with vested interests in CFCs, and the atmospheric results became evident in a relatively short time (although it will take half a century for the ozone layer to repair itself).

The vested interests in the petroleum industry are, admittedly, more tightly connected to policy-makers (especially in the current governments of both Canada and the United States). Nonetheless, strategically situated education, with appropriate adult education principles of using collective knowledge, creating empowerment and a sense of urgency to action may be able to overcome many of the self-interested roadblocks. This is especially the case if those with vested interests can see the fiscal wisdom in changing their ways.

Strategically, this education must be directed at the very highest levels - the world cannot wait for K-12 program graduates to grow up and assume their future positions as leaders. Instead, it is vital that today's leaders (and very-soon-to-be leaders) learn, and learn well. Some important venues in which climate change education should be happening:
  1. The annual World Economic Forum in Davos - I can think of no better place to start than at the top, with the world's economic and policy elite. If the imperative for global survival can be compellingly impressed on this group, mountains can be moved... well, not literally... habitat preservation and soil erosion considerations... but you get the idea. While these topics are usually in the realm of the counterbalancing World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, the opposing discourses of two fora talk past each other, with little chance of one truly influencing the other.

  2. Business Schools: MBA and EMBA Programs - Future and current managers and executives receive relatively little in the way of environmental, and social responsibility consciousness-raising. In a course I recently took on Corporate Ethics in the Global Economy, the ethical focus was not on corporate governance, or fiscal accountability, or shareholders' rights, but rather on a critical view of ethics and social responsibility with respect to everything from labour practices, to global governance, to environmental economics, with much else beside.

    If you teach at a business school (or if you attend as a student please direct your professor here) I can suggest syllabus ideas and readings, and connect you with professors who are taking a broader approach to corporate ethics, that is the ethics of corporations as responsible citizens of the world.

  3. Schools of Public Policy and Governance - Like the business world, these are the locales in which future and current thought-leaders can be influenced. While the political dimension adds layers of complexity that are different from those in the shareholder context, the imperative remains the same.

The educational programs - such as they are - of government agencies, the public school system, and even NGOs like Greenpeace are, in a word, pathetic. "Turn off lights," "take public transit," "turn up your thermostat in the summer and down in the winter," and the like, are all things that individuals can do, but they alone cannot address the critical systemic issues that are creating the global crisis. Initatives that can change policy and industrial practices, and investments in environment-saving infrastructure are what we urgently need to ensure the survival of life on this planet.

Liveability is a human right - the planet doesn't need saving, we do!

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16 June 2006

Company of the Past; Company of the Future

An interesting and insight-provoking post concerning the relative grounds of companies, from a friend who is an employee of "the new AT&T," coming from "the old AT&T." The irony is that, according to their respective conceptual grounds, the old AT&T was actually newer than the new AT&T.

Let me explain: AT&T was once the telecommunications behemoth in the United States, providing residential and commercial, local and long distance calling. In the mid-80s, the company was broken up into AT&T, that handled long haul communications, and the so-called Baby Bells that served individual regions around the country. After trying out various business ventures, AT&T settled into a primarily business-oriented focus, becoming one of the global, tier-1 ISPs in the mid-to-late 1990s (and, incidentally, retaining their prolific and prestigious Labs division). Meanwhile, the various Regional Bell Operating Companies - RBOCs - enjoyed (and in some cases, didn't enjoy very much) varying degrees of success.

Among the successful ones was SBC, whose CEO, Ed Whitacre, went around the country buying up the less successful RBOCs. His second-last acquisition, completed last year, was to acquire AT&T itself - the ISP and Labs innovator - effectively reassembling what was once AT&T into what is now being touted as "the new AT&T." I'll let my friend continue:
At SBC, they have many different networks and systems. Nothing is integrated. If you want to know how many SONET rings are in the assets that belong to SBC, at least four different people have to pull inconsistent reports out of different legacy systems (probably old mainframes) in different regions, representing former Pac Bell, former Ameritech, former, SW Bell, etc. (At AT&T a single data steward reported a single number into a single system)...

On the other hand, voila, they automated HR. There is an automated HR system where the employee has to put in his accomplishments, properly written using "HOW" language, and also his goals for the upcoming year. The system automatically generates an email to one's manager to review the goals and accomplishments. Verbal advice has been to undercommit and overdeliver. Because of course, when dealing with an automated system, there is no opportunity for dialogue. It would seem to me that honest, regular dialogue with one's manager would be a more effective management tool than an automated system...

I don't know what this says about the cultures of the two respective corporations. That SBC couldn't figure out (or never even tried) how to automate networks and so tried to automate people? That SBC really thinks of the world as a giant factory and we are all only cogs in a big machine? That AT&T automated networks to save money but it never occured to them to automate people?
The answer according to the way I look at organizations, their effectiveness, and the temporal situation of their dominant ground (ie. where the boss's minds are at), is fairly evident. SBC is firmly rooted in the Industrial Age - an age built by BAH (Bureaucracy, Administrative control, and Hierarchy) in which the dominant psychology is to consider people as interchangeable machine components. The "old" AT&T, on the other hand, transformed itself into a more UCaPP-influenced company, in which relationships, interactions, and interpersonal dynamics were more influential in management thinking. I say "more influential," because even the old AT&T still had many BAH elements. But the change in mentality was clearly present, as evinced by where it invested its money for internal infrastrutural systems. (As well, this was strongly influenced by the leadership of former CTO, Hossein Eslambolchi, who was definitely a UCaPP guy.)

So the nominal new AT&T has retained the dominant BAH characteristics of the old SBC, while the old AT&T's UCaPP influences are becoming less and less visible - a step backwards, in my view. This, of course, is not surprising, given Ed Whitacre's apparent lack of understanding of the effects of UCaPP in world at large. Not surprising, but certainly ironic.

As an aside, I think the (post-doc? ...or am I getting ahead of myself?) study of the corporate culture implications of the merger between SBC and AT&T would make a great project. Here are two companies that came from the same origin, split for nearly two decades and then re-merged. In the interim, one stayed BAH, the other began to acquire UCaPP characteristics. It is rare that we have live examples that are so perfectly set up for empirical study.

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Better Brainstorming

The Wall Street Journal has a column (reposted here), about the myriad ways in which brainstorming is not an effective way of getting new ideas.
John Clark, a former university dean of engineering, says brainstorming sessions come in handy to distribute blame in the event of failure. But in his experience, most often someone hijacks the topic at hand, tries to prove everyone else wrong, works to impress the superiors who are present, or just plain blathers for his own enjoyment. "I can't remember a single instance where a group produced a really creative idea," he says.
Brainstorming is subject to a basic fallacy: it depends on gathering together all the current ideas that people already have (and hold, and often cherish), and throw them together in one big pot (or flipchart). What brainstorming doesn't have is a mechanism to discover the ideas that haven't been throught-of once everyone's brains have been tapped for all their content. What's more, any dysfunctional office dynamics are unavoidably brought into the brainstorming session; there is nothing inherent in mechanism of brainstorming to disarm the overbearing boss, the control-loving narcissist, the zero-sum gamer, and other similarly disruptive characters.

That's where the thinking framework of McLuhan for Managers, or Applied McLuhanistics, comes in. By using the Laws of Media tetrad to "sort" the various seed ideas - the ones that people bring with them to the session, what has been missed immediately becomes evident. Both the missed grounds, and the missed aspects stick out like big neon signs, flashing, "Here are the ideas we haven't yet thought of!" What's more is that the need to dominate, or to prove the rightness of your idea (or the wrongness of his) is automatically disarmed by the elimination of dichotomous value. Because of its focus on the totality of effects, tetrad-enhanced brainstorming is one of the most effective ways I know to enable a culture of innovation within almost any organization.
Via boingboing

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11 June 2006

The Poll-atariat

The Globe reports on their recent poll taken by none other than Allen Gregg, the statistician who would be policy analyst. Under the sensational headline, "Majority believe terrorists will hit Canada," the Globe goes on to quote Gregg as saying, "There's a recognition that this is just part of the world we live in right now and that we have to participate in it... it's part of almost an international realism." Such insightful analysis of a completely non-critical view of recent events!

And in a related poll, an overwhelming majority of Canadians who participate in polls do not believe that the frenzy of hyped-up news coverage about the recent arrests in the GTA have any influence whatsoever on their opinions about whether Canada is at increased risk of an attack, or whether our troops should be in Afghanistan. Nope, nada, none. No influence whatsoever. And on the question about whether the timing of the arrests were politically influenced based on the prior poll that showed support for the current government's policy with respect to the deployment declining, a majority of Canadians who participate in polls responded, "political influence in law enforcement affairs? Don't be silly!"

Okay, so I made up the last paragraph. The real poll, statistically "accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20," was conducted between June 7 and 8, in the wake of the over-hyped massmedia coverage of the alleged terrorist's arrests in the Greater Toronto Area. When considered from the ground of "spectacle," the news conference in full dress regalia, the repeated showing of the parade of cars taking the accused to be charged, the "evidence" table showing a cell phone, a computer and a bag of fertilizer (okay, so the props department needs work) all served to create an impression of fear in the public's collective mind. Even the depiction of family members dressed in burqas would serve to subconsciously connect Kabul and Baghdad with Toronto for anyone who consumes massmedia impression-making without critical awareness.

Whether or not the allegations will be successfully tried in court remains to be seen. The last time a similarly over-hyped arrest was made because of alleged surveillance of high profile "targets," the charges were found to be completely baseless, aside from some relatively minor immigration infractions. Nonetheless, the political effects of this "showcase of terror" are unmistakeable: Fear and paranoia are being systemically injected into the public consciousness. As "power loves a plague," according to Foucault, those who might consider consolidating their power by appealing to fear with "get tough on terrorists and criminals" policies, are celebrating not only the arrests, but the ensuing circus.

When the massmedia make us feel less secure, our liberty becomes less secure.
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