29 December 2009

Valence Theory Findings Now Posted!

After an intense two months of writing, the Findings chapters are now available and posted to my Valence Theory thesis wiki.

I have restructured the thesis into three parts: Ground (the invisible context), Figure (what is noticed), and Meaning (the interplay of figure and ground). These newly posted chapters comprise Figure, and tell the stories of the five participant organizations, as well as providing a summary of the characteristic differences between BAH and UCaPP organizations in seven categories: Change, Coordination, Evaluation, Impetus, Power dynamics, Sense-making, and View of people.

Of course, I would be interested in hearing your feedback and thoughtful reflections on my analysis. Organizations that are seeking to transform or gain insight into their current situations may find the results gleaned from others instructive.

For quick reference, direct links to specific organizations are:
Organization M, Organization A, Organization F, Unit 7, and Inter Pares.

As a reminder, Organizations M and A are BAH organizations. Organization F was transitioning from being mostly a UCaPP organization to becoming more BAH in nature. Unit 7 has been transitioning in the other direction, becoming more UCaPP. And Inter Pares is the archetypal UCaPP organization.

As always, the Conversation with Nishida chapters are intended to set an appropriate mindframe for the analysis to follow.

PDFs for the three posted Figure chapters, and for each of the Conversations, are available for downloading at the site.

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21 December 2009

Assault and Aftermath

I was assaulted today. Not metaphorically assaulted—a guy punched and kicked me; there was a trip to Emerg, police report, witness statements, the whole nine yards. Without getting into the details, (except to say that the incident was unprovoked by me aside from what the assailant may have perceived that caused him to fly into a rage), I’m pretty shaken up by the entire incident. But more disturbing than the physical upset, the bruises, and the post-adrenaline drag is the question of the level of both latent and expressed rage that seems to be pervasive these days. This goes far beyond lack of civility and manners. It seems that many people become violent at almost no provocation, sometimes with tragic consequences. (In fact the circumstances of my assault this morning are strikingly similar to those of Mr. Skinner’s attackers—no pun intended.)

That the world has become stressful to an extreme is not news. That people believe that their individual concerns, schedules, work priorities, or the few seconds of travel time saved by driving through red lights and stop signs are more important than anyone else’s concerns is a significant problem: It seems to demonstrate a type of collective, pathological narcissism that does not bode well for the survival of our society. As a social animal, we humans require the rest of the “pack” to ensure both our collective and individual survival. Sociopaths destroy the material from which the fabric of society is sewn. As an increasing number of people transform from responsible fathers, mothers, wives, husband, business colleagues, charity volunteers, soccer coaches, and hockey moms into channels of unbridled violence at the slightest slight, ultimately that fragile societal fabric is ripped asunder, and we are all inevitably lost.

McLuhan famously said that violence is the quest for identity. Although that may be true – a threat to one’s identity is often met by degrees of violence acted out in any number of ways – it is time, I think, for each of us to reflect on our own pent-up frustrations and latent rage. To heal the world, we must first heal ourselves.

I know that the man who attacked me was apprehended and charged. I hope that he will be able to use the lessons of the process he is about to face to reflect on how he can heal himself for the good of people who care about him, and for the rest of us as well.

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20 December 2009

The Future of Reading... Magazines

During the conversation the other evening on The Agenda about The Future of Reading, Bill Buxton of Microsoft Research (formerly a prof at U of T) described some very cool work on environmental interfaces, in which the wall of one's room, for example, might be variously a light source, a cinema screen, or an electronic, tactile-browsable bookshelf. Today's e-readers are relatively limited (especially by DRM!) and are not yet up to the capabilities required for what we on the panel envisioned for the future of reading, writing, and publishing. However, the work being done on the user interface for future devices is truly creative. Here's a look at some high-concept work on Mag+ from Bonnier R&D.

Mag+ from Bonnier on Vimeo.

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16 December 2009

The Future of Reading and The Empire of the Word

I’ve been invited once again to participate on this evening’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin (20:00 on TVO). The conversation tonight will be on The Future of Reading, the last segment of TVO’s highly recommended, four-part, documentary series, The Empire of the Word. As I’ve watched the first three episodes, I’ve been pondering the larger, and perhaps more fundamental question, why do we read? What is the role that reading plays in our culture that may transcend particular technological advances; therefore, what is the future of reading?

There is the old cliché of an infinite number of monkeys set to bang on an infinite number of typewriters – Gutenbergian versions of word processing software – producing all the works of Shakespeare. (I suppose it would be a somewhat less romantic gedankenexperiment to observe that they would also produce every blog post, Facebook status update, Twitter tweet, and—well, LOLcats is pretty passé now, isn’t it?) But in that trite postulate lies a fundamental truth: writing produces worlds. Written language provides a civilization the ability to create any number of possible existences, be they feasible for physical incarnation or not. Descartes has nothing on anyone who is literate: the French philosopher and mathematician thought and therefore he was. A writer thinks and writes and therefore a world as fantastical or as real as one would care to know is born, lives, and occupies not a physical space, but the space of our minds.

And those whose minds are inhabited by the creations of any number of writers have the opportunity to cast themselves into those realms. Readers have the ability to contextualize their lived experiences in the physical and social worlds with respect to these sometimes-fictional-and-sometimes-not creations, and thereby make meaning of their unique and respective existences. It is from that meaning that the Self is created as an inhabitant of the world provided by the writer. The writer may play Zeus in being lord over the worlds s/he brings into existence; it is the reader who fills the role of Prometheus, filling it with life and igniting that world with the fire of insight, reflection, and thought.

That reading in contemporary North American culture has become, variously, a banal chore, the surfing of snippets of information, or a cargo-cult fetish – witness the explosion of sales for Get a Grip on Physics when it was discovered in the rear seat of Tiger Wood’s SUV – is not to be blamed directly on technological advances like the World Wide Web, Google, Kindle, or iAnything. I cast my accusing eye towards school curricula and unmindful pedagogues who seem to have collectively devised a cynically calculated method for inculcating youth with a life-long aversion to instrumental reading through their insipid content tests, involving who-said-what-to-whom-in-which-scene. That many people today have lost the art of reading in depth is not surprising given the nearly two decades of training in reading to find a specific answer desired by an authority figure.

So what of the future of reading? I (and many others) have said that the private mind – and hence, a sense of self that is distinct and individual, that is, one’s identity – emerged from the ability to read silently, to take a world created by another and inhabit it, thereby gaining a better understanding and appreciation of one’s place in the society we all share. But in today’s ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate world, identity is collaboratively constructed. We each contribute artefacts and contexts to each other through a variety of interconnected means. A person’s identity emerges from amidst this collection of diverse artefacts and contexts. To borrow from Bernie Hogan, we become, in a sense, curators of our Self—multiple Selves, actually, depending on the locale, the contexts, and the particular artefacts that we care to display. If reading has always been about recreating the writer’s world and literally/literarily making it our own, then the roles and practices of contemporary writers and readers must necessarily change. Writing and reading, I think, become collaborative endeavours. Thus, the distinction between the two roles blurs somewhat, realizing James Joyce’s perhaps not-so-rhetorical query from Finnegans Wake, “my consumers are they not my producers?”

A future writer will indeed appear to be more like a producer, creating environments of engagement among multiple future-readers who participate with the writer in constructing, inhabiting, and bringing meaning to both fantastical and more prosaic experiences. This means that new and different skills will have to be added to our educational curricula. No longer will variations on See Dick Run; Run Dick Run (with its obligatory and corresponding content test—What Did Dick Do?) be sufficient for contemporary schools. Instead, students will need to learn how to create environments of engagement among multiple people who each bring multiple contexts grounded in diverse histories, cultures, and life experiences. The budding “wreader” will learn to facilitate reflexivity among her/his audience so that each participant in the book-of-the-future will see, experience, and understand their piece of the world-in-relation with perhaps just a little more clarity than before.

The book itself has been obsolesced as an instrumental medium. Instead, it becomes an aesthetic objet d’art, an academic talisman, an artefact in contemporary fetish rituals presided over by the likes of Oprah, Harry Potter, or Tiger at Twilight. Writers, editors, and publishers become, to various degrees, creators of experiential environments in the context of what literacy has always been when considered relative to individual and collective identity. The reader likewise continues, not merely as consumer, but as collaborative producer of Self and the World that Self inhabits.

The Agenda with Steve Paikin airs this evening at 20:00 on TVO. The full video of the conversation is posted on the episode page.

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02 December 2009

Identity and Organization Change

From the emerging thesis draft:
Among the dominant effects of the Industrial Age were the concentration and importance of capital. As the modern BAH organization emerged amidst the effects of that environment, it is understandable that the Economic-valence relationship became situated as the primary driving force among modern organizations. The modern understanding of organization dynamics according to the instrumental, managerialist discourse has, at its core, a primary concern for economic considerations. On the other hand, the emerging humanist, relational organizational discourse of the 20th century – the line of reasoning that leads to the contemporary UCaPP organization – is arguably based on situating the individual simultaneously in relation to other individuals and in relation to organization as a distinct entity in itself. I suggest, therefore, that in a UCaPP societal environment the dominant driving force shifts from the extrinsic instrumentality of the Economic-valence relationship to the intrinsic relationality of the Identity-valence relationship.

In suggesting this profound shift in conception, I am not denying the ongoing importance of the Economic-valence relationship. The fact remains that many people can be induced to enact certain behaviours (including working at otherwise dehumanizing jobs) through direct financial incentive. Even among anti-capitalists, barter and exchange – non-monetary manifestations of Economic-valence relationships – still remain important forms of interaction. Economic gain, one’s salary, possessions, and other material displays of wealth are often proxy markers for social status and reinforcements of psychological self-worth – all material, external expressions of identity relative to any particular cultural conceptions of social location. Nevertheless, my previous research (Role*: A reconception of role and relationship in the workplace) confirms and extends Herzberg’s conclusion that economic compensation, beyond a certain level, becomes for the most part an issue of hygiene, rather than motivation.

I have argued elsewhere (No Educator Left Behind) that identity – the location of oneself in relation to one’s society at the time – has always been important, and indeed directly defines the role of education in a society. In the contemporary UCaPP world, however, identity being collaboratively constructed in the context of multiple, massively-interconnected networks of social relations takes on an even greater importance: the preservation or enhancement (or both) of identity becomes a critical consideration in effecting organizational change, be it as simple as a rearrangement of an organization chart, or as complex as transitioning from being a BAH organization to enacting a UCaPP organization. As was clearly demonstrated by Aaron in Organization F as it is transitioning to become more BAH, and by many departing individuals of various ranks in Unit 7 as it transitioned to become more UCaPP, a perceived threat to identity, a felt diminishment of Identity-valence relationship, is sufficient reason to seek employment elsewhere. The clichéd resistance-to-change is not a resistance to change per se, but rather a resistance to a change in identity. Conversely, it follows that the optimal strategy to effect organizational change of any sort is to first understand and account for the requisite change in Identity-valence, and then facilitate the changes among the other valence relationships.

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01 December 2009

It's About Time

The Ontario Ministry of Education has announced that it will be revamping the K-8 curriculum to focus less on rote learning of facts, and more on creating connections, understanding context, considering complexity, and making connotation, or meaning. Seems they've been listening (in fact, they have, as I've been tracking hits from the provincial government and TDSB on my blog to the video of No Educator Left Behind).

While they're at it, they may also want to have a look at an Adult Educator's Manifesto, since adult education isn't just for adults.

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