30 August 2007

Do You Live in Toronto? Take the Better TTC Survey

If you live in T.O., you'll know that there has been much noise from City Hall about budget shortfalls and cutbacks. The TTC has put out a survey that, not surprisingly, is somewhat skewed to a particular planned agenda of cuts. Torontoist has taken upon itself to tweak the TTC survey into The Better Survey. It takes only a few minutes to complete. Go contribute to the conversation.

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29 August 2007

Listening, or Putting the Relationship Back Into Relationship Marketing

My friend Leigh blithers about Lessons from Club Penguin, and is impressed about the active listening that organization does. By "active listening" I mean being truly responsive in a way that is experienced as authentic by its young customers.

I'm impressed as well. Club Penguin - "a kid-friendly virtual world where children can play games, have fun and interact with each other" - exemplifies how relationship, and eventually trust, can be created through listening and responding in a way that does not presuppose that the organization and its marketing team know best. Especially when dealing with a younger demographic, paternalistic and patronizing responses are seen for the bullshit that they are; the organization loses credibility and effectiveness. (I think that as we get older, many of us tend to develop a taste for bullshit, and come to accept, and sometimes even welcome it.)

As another friend, Loreen Babcock (click on Contact Us and look under Bios), puts it, we need to move from a little-r, big-M form of relationship Marketing - with the primary emphasis on the marketing - to a big-R, little-m form, with the emphasis on the Relationship. Or, framed in a slightly different way so as not to be confused with traditional, marketer-driven, suck-the-information-out-of-the-consumer's-head- so-that-we-can-sell-them-more-stuff relationship marketing, I would call this new form Valence Marketing, as an aspect of my Valence Theory of Organization, that literally considers customers as an integral part of an organization. In this form, the key relationship or valence questions have to do with creating multi-way Identity, Knowledge, Socio-psychological, Ecological, as well as Economic bonds among the organization, its customers, suppliers and others in its interconnected, complex environment.

Good relationships are hard to come by, and challenging to maintain. Reframing relationship marketing as valence marketing steps up to that challenge.

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Requiescat in Pace: "Dr. Music" - Doug Riley, 1945-2007

One of Canada's greatest musicians died suddenly of a massive heart attack on Monday. Doug Riley, known as Dr. Music, was a superb jazz artist, gifted composer, and musical director of the Famous People Players. There is a tremendous void in Canada's musical landscape today.

Here's a video from the 2006 Canada's Walk of Fame show, featuring Dr. Music, together with Paul Shaffer, Joey DeFrancesco, and Lonnie Smith on Hammond B3s.

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25 August 2007

Dan Dunn's Paintjam

Dan Dunn is an amazing artist-performer jamming to a medley of Ray Charles's music. But what is he doing on the rotating canvas?
This is another great example of a talented person, contributing to the culture via mashup in a new and different way, who becomes widely know thanks to UCaPP technology like YouTube.
(Thanks, Christine!)

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22 August 2007

When Bon Cops Go Bad

Over at Torontoist, they have a disturbing video from the SPP Summit protest in Montobello. It apparently shows a peaceful demonstration line organized by CUPE (I think) that is being infiltrated by agents provocateurs from the police. Several men with their faces covered with bandannas have rocks in their hands and appear to want to provoke a riot so that the undisguised police in riot gear will attack the peaceful protesters. This, of course, would enable the three powerful men in the summit to talk about increased needs for security, control and anti-constitutional, anti-democratic shows of force.

Fortunately, Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, outs the cops who quickly make a small show of "attacking" the uniformed police and are quickly and quietly led away.

This is blatant and shameful behaviour on the part of police. Attempting to incite a riot as opposed to helping to create a peaceful environment in which ordinary citizens can voice their constitutionally protected opposition is wrong, wrong, wrong.

So my question is, from how high up in the hierarchy of power did the "suggestion" come that created this situation. Given the culture of absolute control in the PMO, one wonders...

Update (24 Aug 2007): Under pressure from all the publicity, the Sûreté du Québec has admitted that these men were indeed their agents. Now, the RCMP, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, and the PMO all have some 'splaining to do!

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19 August 2007

Weinberger on Keen's Cult of the Amateur

Over at Huffington Post, David Weinberger provides a very sympathetic and insightful reading of Andrew Keen’s recent polemic, The Cult of the Amateur: How today’s Internet is killing our culture. As Weinberger explains Keen’s argument:
Our Western tradition has developed an "ecosystem" for developing talent (a scarce resource) and disseminating its fruit. … This ecosystem depends on an economic system that rewards the nurturers, the polishers, and the disseminators. … The ecosystem not only develops talent, it guides the masses to talent's works, and steers the masses away from that which has no merit … This is not just about the arts. We have an ecosystem also for producing and "polishing" knowledge.

This is Keen’s essential argument for professionalism over amateurism that is to be sorted out by the market, and by extension, the argument for credentialism. In other words, Keen is a modernist (that is, situated squarely in the early 20th century) and a capitalist. Weinberger listens carefully to Keen’s case, and ignores the obvious egregious examples of how the so-called democratization of access is trivializing culture into yet one more cute cat trick. Instead, Weinberger identifies the important distinction that is emerging between the modernist cult of market-sanctioned professionalism and the contemporary phenomenon of what might be described as referent authority:
Keen assumes that the replacement ecosystem has to be commercial. That's why he sees the world of talent divided between professionals and amateurs, whereas the real distinctions are the sliding, multi-dimensional scales of good and bad, worthy and unworthy, means-nothing-to-me and touches me. So, Keen spends a chapter trying to refute the economics of the Long Tail as championed in Chris Anderson's book of that name, as if that were the only alternative economic model. He thus misses the most fundamental phenomenon of the Web: The explosion of new ways to nurture, disseminate and discover talent -- including the collaborative economics that Yochai Benkler definitively expounds in The Wealth of Networks. Some of these new processes are formal and familiar, including sites like this one that have editors and editorial processes and the Public Library of Science that peer reviews its articles. Some are collaborative, such as Wikipedia, where a roughhouse of mentoring teaches people how to contribute well. Others use crowd-pleasing as a criterion that teaches one how to shape one's works. Some pay in money and some pay in other forms of social compensation. As a result, the quality and reliability of the works that are created vary. But we quickly learn how to find the works with the qualities we're after, for that is a requirement for the survival of the sites that are offering us these works.

Keen has confused talent with that which the modern ecosystem publishes. The modern ecosystem takes the economic strictures within which it operates as strictures on talent itself. With the removal of those strictures, talent is able to emerge that otherwise would be lost. The result is a much broader ecosystem in which the works of talent are spread across multiple gradients.

From where I sit, Keen would do well to augment his argument with a little history. He makes the all-too-common mistake of observing a moment in time, and concluding that this is all there is. Or, put another way, he is completely fascinated by figure, and ignores the ground, or context, in which all that he observes makes sense. Indeed, what Keen observes of our admittedly confusing time does not make sense, especially to an avowed modernist capitalist. His examples of the average Internet aficionado’s compulsion to seek out the trivial, the mundane, the banal and the profane apparently do demonstrate the value and importance of professionals in helping us sort through the dross to identify the gold. But, as I argue here (relative to research and knowledge production), here (in considerably more depth), and here (in audio form), this cultural race to the bottom will soon pass – and much like the swallowed peach pit, it will feel painful working its way through.

Western society has been in this predicament before – in fact, twice before. It takes time for fundamental changes in the dominant way in which we communicate and engage with each other to work through the culture. By my reckoning, we’re only just past the half-way point in the current transition. This means that the effects of the slow changes that have been working over our society for the past 163 years or so have recently become noticeable by everyone, and that the rate of apparent change – that which we notice – will seem to accelerate over the next four or five generations. As our societal institutions – education, commerce, politics, religion – evolve to adapt to these new conditions of ubiquitous connectivity and pervasive proximity, so too will our cultural aspects and social sensibilities and values evolve.

Let me give the final word, and perhaps definitive answer to Keen, to “the master”:
Professionalism merges the individual into patterns of total environment. Amateurism seeks the development of the total awareness of the individual and the critical awareness of the groundrules (sic) of society. The amateur can afford to lose. The professional tends to classify and to specialize, to accept uncritically the groundrules of the environment. The groundrules proved by the mass response of his colleagues serve as a pervasive environment of which he is contentedly and unaware. The “expert” is the man who stays put. (Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage)

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15 August 2007

Every Emperor Must Have His Clown

The title of this post comes from a quote from Marshall McLuhan's great, but under-recognized work, From Cliche to Archetype.
· Every emperor must have his clown … In rigid hierarchical societies only this licensed character dare exercise the probe of free speech. The clown is indispensable as audience-checker … Without his clown, the emperor has no means of contact with the public..
Yesterday's report of former Toronto Mayor, Mel Lastman, dressing up to dress down current Mayor David Miller is a perfect example of McLuhan's observation. By the end of his tenure as the so-called mega-city mayor, Lastman took on what one might describe as clownish characteristics. He was, and occasionally still is, ridiculed for having called in the army to clear snow, his inadvertent pun concerning the World Health Organization during the SARS crisis ("WHO are these people?") and his most ill-advised comments about cannibals during the last Olympics bid. But the casting of the putative clown as court jester (the literary role of the wise fool) is perhaps Lastman's ultimate revenge on the man who's personal imagery was that of the new broom that sweeps clean.

Instead of mayor-as-fool, Toronto has the man who, in his own mind at least, would be king thanks to the "strong mayor" system enabled by the relatively new City of Toronto Act. However, Miller has been handed what has been described as a stunning defeat to his authority by the rejection of his tax-hike plan. Instead of thinking strategically and collaboratively - especially with his ideological opponents - Miller's reaction appears to be more akin to a child's tantrum. This is a tactical and strategic error politically, and a structural error for the citizens of this city over the long term.

Therefore, "where are the clowns? Quick, send in the clowns. Don't bother, they're here..."

...and living at City Hall.

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09 August 2007

The Rise of the Industrial Revolution

A fascinating article in the New York Times that previews what sounds like an even more fascinating book by University of California at Davis economic historian, Gregory Clark, called A Farewell to Alms. Clark builds a case for the emergence of the Industrial Revolution in England based on the idea that during the period from about 1200 to 1800, those who were relatively affluent in the middle ages tended to have more children than those who were relatively poorer. Consequently,
Generation after generation, the rich had more surviving children than the poor, his research showed. That meant there must have been constant downward social mobility as the poor failed to reproduce themselves and the progeny of the rich took over their occupations. “The modern population of the English is largely descended from the economic upper classes of the Middle Ages,” he concluded.

As the progeny of the rich pervaded all levels of society, Dr. Clark considered, the behaviors that made for wealth could have spread with them. He has documented that several aspects of what might now be called middle-class values changed significantly from the days of hunter gatherer societies to 1800. Work hours increased, literacy and numeracy rose, and the level of interpersonal violence dropped.

Another significant change in behavior, Dr. Clark argues, was an increase in people’s preference for saving over instant consumption, which he sees reflected in the steady decline in interest rates from 1200 to 1800.

“Thrift, prudence, negotiation and hard work were becoming values for communities that previously had been spendthrift, impulsive, violent and leisure loving,” Dr. Clark writes.
He goes on to argue that there may be a genetic, or evolutionary component to these changes.
The middle-class values needed for productivity could have been transmitted either culturally or genetically. But in some passages, he seems to lean toward evolution as the explanation. “Through the long agrarian passage leading up to the Industrial Revolution, man was becoming biologically more adapted to the modern economic world,” he writes. And, “The triumph of capitalism in the modern world thus may lie as much in our genes as in ideology or rationality.”
Of course, this last bit is considered somewhat controversial by more conventional economists and some others.

What is fascinating to me is the way that Clark's argument can be interpreted through Valence Theory. In hunter/gatherer and primarily agrarian societies, the dominant valences would likely be Economic and Ecological, although knowledge itself plays a large part in both. However, the competitive nature of foraging societies would tend to minimize the extent of Knowledge valence relationships in favour of individual survival. On the other hand, with increasing family sizes among those who were more affluent, the other valences tend to emerge, namely Socio-psychological and Identity, with Economic valence also taking on more reciprocal characteristics. If Clark's argument is correct, that the peasant class tended to die out quicker and their occupations were taken over by those from relatively upper classes, it is also likely that these individuals brought with them their socialization - these more enhanced valence relationships. Working more in concert with others could have enabled Industrial Age values to emerge, consistent with Gregory Clark's explanation.

As a(n attempt at a) more generalized explanation of organization, it's nice to see that Valence Theory is at least not inconsistent with one of the more interesting emerging theories of the Industrial Age, as well as being a fairly good explanation of organization in our Ubiquitously Connected and Pervasively Proximate - UCaPP - world.

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03 August 2007

Ignatieff on Politics and "Lunatic Literalism"

Today's Globe and Mail has an interview with Liberal deputy-leader Michael Ignatieff in advance of an opinion piece that is to appear in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine. He reflects on the realities of politics, as compared to politics through the abstracting lens of the academy.
He writes in his article: “This ... hypocrisy of public life is not available in private life. There we play for keeps. But among friends and family, we also cut one another some slack. We fill in one another's sentences. What we mean matters more than what we say.

“No such mercies occur in politics. In public life language is a weapon of war. … All that matters is what you said, not what you meant. The political realm is a world of lunatic literalism. The slightest crack in your armour – between what you meant and what you said – can be pried open and the knife driven home.”

Even more interesting is his reflection on making the transition from the academic world to the world of realpolitik:
“You have to see the piece [The New York Times article] in the right frame – what's different about the judgments you make in the safety of academic life from the judgments you make in politics.

“You have to remember I spent five years getting up every Tuesday and Thursday morning, teaching political science to bright people, and what's funny about it, looking back on it, is that I would teach it totally differently now. That's what I think the piece is saying.”


What he would teach his political science students now, he said, is that whereas academics and other public intellectuals are responsible in the final analysis only to themselves for their ideas and their judgments, politicians have a deeper responsibility.

They have a responsibility for the consequences of their actions; a responsibility to see and understand the world as it is, not as they would wish it to be; a responsibility to be prudent, to listen to the voices of their opponents before they act, to recognize and learn from their mistakes, and to not let emotions be the primary determinant of their actions.
A thoughtful reflection from an obviously thoughtful man. I'm planning on looking for the article this weekend. I hope that more of our politicians do so, as well.
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