Academia Redux: Joining the Institute of Technology at the University of Washington, Tacoma

My new office This past Monday, I returned to the classroom after a hiatus of over two decades. While I have given occasional guest lectures and other presentations in academic settings in the intervening period, for the next six months, I will be engaging with students in classrooms at least twice a week in my new role as a Lecturer in the Computing and Software Systems program at the Institute of Technology at the University of Washington, Tacoma.

I'm excited about the opportunity to interact more regularly with students again. I don't much care for the title, "Lecturer", as it implies a predominantly one-way style of communication, and I see education as more of a conversation, a cooperative endeavor in which I hope to learn at least as much as the students do. And given that the two courses I'm teaching this quarter are outside of my primary areas of expertise, I fully anticipate that this will be a quarter filled with teachable moments for all participants.

Having recently written about narrative psychology and the stories we make up about ourselves, I've been reflecting on my own life story, and what this latest chapter represents. 21 years ago, I resigned my position as Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of Hartford in order to work full time on a Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts, with the initial intention of returning to teaching with my union card in hand. However, after completing my thesis in Artificial Intelligence, I was interested in trying something completely different, and followed a path into industry research and development that involved a blend of Ubiquitous Computing, Human-Computer Interaction and Computer-Supported Cooperative Work Whatever. I've always imagined myself returning to academia at some point, and I'm grateful to have the opportunity to explore whether this is the appropriate time and place for a renewal of my passion for teaching.

My new colleagues at the Institute of Technology have been enormously supportive as I learn or re-learn both the content of the courses and how best to facilitate the learning of that content by the students. I'm impressed with the techologies that are available for promoting interaction in the classroom and hands-on experience in the labs, and am taking as much advantage of best practices developed by my colleagues as possible. Practicing Brene Brown's prescription for wholeheartedness and connection through courage, vulnerability and authenticity, I have been very open with the students, and they have also been generally patient and supportive as I do my best to get up to speed on multiple dimensions simultaneously. I know that several of these students know more than I know about some of the material we're covering in both courses, and I look forward to their continued contributions in this cooperative learning experience.

As part of my commitment to always do my best, I will postpone the inclination to write more about this transition at the moment, and turn my attention back to preparing for my second week of classes. After just one week, I can better understand the relative infrequency with which my Twitter friends from academia post status updates, and I expect my own social media use to continue at significantly reduced levels for much of the quarter.

FeelTheFearAndDoItAnyway-20thAnniversary In carrying on a tradition in past "transition" blog posts, I want to re-share one of the most valuable resources I've encountered - and regularly revisit - for making decisions about significant life events, the No-Lose Decision Model from Susan Jeffers' book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway:

Before you make a decision:

  1. Focus immediately on the no-lose model (whichever path you choose will provide learning opportunities … even if it’s learning what you don’t like)
  2. Do your homework (talk to as many people as will listen … both to help clarify your own intention and to get alternative perspectives)
  3. Establish your priorities (which pathway is more in line with your overall goals in life – at the present time)
  4. Trust your impulses (your body gives you good clues about which way to go)
  5. Lighten up (it really doesn’t matter – it’s all part of a lifelong learning process)

After making a decision:

  1. Throw away the picture (if you focus on what you expected, you may miss the unexpected opportunities that arise along the new path you’ve chosen)
  2. Accept total responsibility for your decision (don’t give away your power)
  3. Don’t protect, correct (commit yourself to any decision you make and give it all you got … but if it doesn’t work out, change it!)

I more recently re-encountered some corroborating wisdom from Dan Gilbert's book, Stumbling on Happiness - another source of insights I revisit periodically, especially on the cusp of important decisions - as articulated by Ze Frank:

Remembering Community: Fixing the Future via Community Currency at Hour Exchange Portland

Community is more like something that we're remembering than something that we're creating all over again.

I was inspired by physical therapist and sailor Stephen Becket's words at the end of a segment of David Brancaccio's upcoming special edition of PBS Now, Fixing the Future, shown on tonight's PBS Newshour. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed the series, and how disappointed I was when Now and Bill Moyer's Journal were cancelled. I was grateful to have another glimpse, and look forward to watching the full segment online this weekend (our local PBS affiliate, KCTS, does not appear to be carrying the show).

image from The Newshour segment profiles Hour Exchange Portland, where members of the community contribute and receive services in an exchange that lies entirely outside the traditional financial / banking industry:

We believe in people.

We believe everyone has knowledge and skills that someone in the community can use. We help people find what they need and give what they can. We are neighbors helping neighbors help themselves. We are a community service exchange.

We believe no one is more valuable than you, and neither is their time more valuable. At Hour Exchange Portland everyone's time is equal, an hour for an hour. If you give an hour of your time helping someone, providing a service, then you can receive an hour of someone else's time who provides a service you need. Time is what our members exchange. We are a community currency based on time. We believe all people are created equal, and so is our time. Our time is priceless.

I won't say too much more about the segment, but will include a another one of my favorite excerpts - and embed the 7-minute video - below. The entire hour-long version of Fixing the Future can be found online or seen on many PBS stations this week (at least, outside of Seattle).

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Are you connecting with other people? Are you meeting other people through this?

JENNIFER LUNDEN: This is like the new kind of community. In this country, we have lost a lot of the sense of community, and people are so focused on just surviving economically or doing better than their neighbors economically. We're so focused on stuff, that we have completely lost our sense of community. And Hour Exchange is a way that I have a built-in community. There are about 600 members that I can go to and ask for help.


STEPHEN BECKETT: We just have this arbitrary economic system that we all have -- you know, have grown up in and believe in and contribute to and work in. If it's not working anymore, then let's do something different. I think the seeds already are planted and sprouted and well on their way.

Indeed, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

Empowered: More Platform Thinking, De-Bureaucratization and Redistribution of Agency

Empowered-book The new book, Empowered, by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler of Forrester Research, proclaims an inspiring message: social media is increasingly empowering customers to draw attention to their problems, and the best way for businesses to provide effective solutions is to empower their employees with the same tools. The book makes a strong case for universal employee empowerment by including numerous case studies of companies that have benefited from successfully empowering their employees, as well as a few cases where companies suffered as a result of bureaucratic encumbrances. The main quibble I have with the book is the use of what I consider to be questionable quantitative data, but I don't see that data as essential to the empowering message or case studies presented.

The book describes four technology trends - the proliferation of smart mobile devices, pervasive video, cloud computing services and social technology - and presents a number of case studies about how people are taking advantage of these trends to achieve their goals, sometimes to the detriment of institutions that are not yet taking advantage of them. The authors argue that employee empowerment is more of a management challenge than a technical challenge at this stage, and they effectively highlight the ways that proactive employees - called HEROes (Highly Empowered and Resourceful Operatives) - can use the same tools that empower customers to respond more effectively to their needs. I see many similarities between HEROes and the e-Patients ("engaged, empowered, equipped and expert") I first discovered via Regina Holliday, "e-Patient Dave" deBronkart, Susannah Fox and other Health 2.0 heroes who are advocating platform thinking, de-bureaucratization and the redistribution of agency. [Update: just saw a tweet by @ReginaHolliday to another new book, The Empowered Patient, by Julia Hallisy, suggesting even more convergence - and momentum - in this area.] At the risk of adding the ubiquitous version number to yet another class of agency, I found myself thinking that perhaps we're also entering the era of Employee 2.0.

ItSuckedAndThenICried The book starts off with a case study involving Heather Armstrong, a mommyblogger and author with over a million followers on her Twitter account (@dooce), who experiences a series of mechanical and customer service problems with her new Maytag washing machine during the first few months after her second child was born. In a blog post containing a capital letter or two, capturing the series of problems and failed solutions, she writes about an exchange with an unempowered customer service representative:

And here's where I say, do you know what Twitter is? Because I have over a million followers on Twitter. If I say something about my terrible experience on Twitter do you think someone will help me? And she says in the most condescending tone and hiss ever uttered, "Yes, I know what Twitter is. And no, that will not matter."

I read this and immediately experienced a visceral "Uh, oh..." moment, sort of like watching a horror movie where the naive victim-to-be is about to open a door you just know they shouldn't. As anticipated, she then proceeds to share her frustrations with Maytag with her Twitter followers in a series of status updates. It is difficult to directly measure the long-term influence of this negative publicity, but I would imagine that many of Heather Armstrong's followers were / are young mothers with significant laundering needs who might also be in the market for a washing machine, and would be considerably less likely to purchase a Maytag after reading about her experiences.

Twelpforce This experience is contrasted with that of Josh Korin (@joshkorin), a recruiter with a more modest Twitter following (596) at the time of a suboptimal experience with an Apple iPhone purchased at BestBuy. Like Heather, Josh tweeted about his frustrations with customer service - they initially offered to replace his new iPhone with a Blackberry, even though he'd purchased the insurance plan. However, BestBuy had an empowered TwelpForce in place that monitors and responds pomptly to customer service problems expressed in social media streams (e.g., tweets addressed to @bestbuy or with the #bestbuy or #twelpforce hashtag). Even though Josh posted these messages on a Saturday, he promptly received responses from BestBuy CMO Barry Judge (@bestbuycmo) and empowered "community connector" Coral Biegler (@coral_bestbuy), and an iPhone replacement was arranged that Sunday, transforming a disgruntled customer into an advocate.

The second part of the book explores another acronymized set of concepts, IDEA: Identify mass influencers, Deliver groundswell customer service, Empower customers with mobile information, and Amplify the voice of your fans. I like the ideas [pun partially intended] in this section, and found the additional case studies presented interesting and compelling. However, this is where I encountered questionable data on peer influence metrics, which is based on Forrester's North American Technographics Empowerment Online Survey, Q4 2009 (US). The normal biases that arise in self-reporting (people generally tend to present themselves and their actions in a favorable light) are compounded when one is asking people - in an online survey - about how much online influence they have. I would expect natural "inflationary pressures" would lead respondents to overestimate the number of friends and followers they have, the frequency with which they post social media messages (e.g., Facebook or Twitter status updates) and the percentage of those messages that are about products and services.

To their credit, Forrester provides disclaimers on its web page for the survey, which very carefully highlight the sources of sample bias:

Please note that this was an online survey. Respondents who participate in online surveys have in general more experience with the Internet and feel more comfortable transacting online. The data is weighted to be representative for the total online population on the weighting targets mentioned, but this sample bias may produce results that differ from Forrester’s offline benchmark survey. The sample was drawn from members of MarketTools’ online panel, and respondents were motivated by receiving points that could be redeemed for a reward. The sample provided by MarketTools is not a random sample.

TheTippingPoint-cover Taking a cue from Malcolm Gladwell's 2000 book, The Tipping Point, the potentially biased survey data is used primarily to establish categories of Mass Connectors - the 6.2% of online users who generate 80% of the online impressions (status updates) across social media streams, each clocking in with an average of 537 followers and making an estimated 18,600 impressions per year - and Mass Mavens - the 13.4% of online users who generate 80% of the online posts (blog posts, blog comments, discussion forum posts, and product reviews), clocking in with 54 product or service-related posts per year (vs. the overall average of 6 per year).

Now, just to be clear, as someone who ardently believes that all studies and models are wrong [including my own], but some are useful, I believe that these are useful categories, and while I might question the actual numbers, I do believe that some people are more influential - as mavens and/or connectors - than others. However, I think it's important to note that there are significant questions about the extent of influence mavens and connectors have. For example, Clive Thompson's Fast Company article, Is the Tipping Point Toast?, contrasts Gladwell's focus on an elite few with Duncan Watts' more expansive idea of the connected many with respect to the sources of real influence in society. And given more recent views expressed by Gladwell this week in a New Yorker article on Twitter, Facebook and social activism: Why The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted, I suspect he may have reservations about his categories of influentials being mapped onto social media at all.

Slack-getting-past-burnout-busywork-and-the-myth-of-total-efficiency The reason I delve so deeply into this issue is that I actually believe that the influence of the connected many is better aligned with the overall message of Empowered than the elite few, and that the authors do themselves - and their message - a disservice via this detour in an otherwise engaging and enlightening book. They talk of efficiency in many places where I think they - and their readers (and clients) - would be best served by focusing on effectiveness (as Tom DeMarco effectively focuses on in his book, Slack). Should HEROes only focus on addressing their efforts toward the Mass Mavens and/or Mass Connectors? That would be efficient, I suppose, but would probably not be very effective.

As an example, another compelling case study described in Empowered is the experience of Dave Carroll, a "not-very-well-known local musician" from Halifax, Nova Scotia, whose guitar was allegedly broken by United Airlines baggage handlers at Chicago O'Hare International Airport on March 31, 2008. Dave responded by recording and posting a trilogy of songs, United Breaks Guitars, on YouTube (the first one, which now has over 9 million views, is embedded below).

As far as I can tell, Dave Carroll - while certainly talented - was probably not very influential at the time he recorded that music video, and if United customer service HEROes (if they exist[ed]) were to focus their efforts primarily on Mass Mavens or Mass Connectors, the empowered response by Dave Carroll may have still slipped under their radar. And yet his video turned out to be very influential: according to the authors, Sysomos estimates that positive sentiment for United Airlines in the blogosphere decreased from 34% to 28% and negative sentiment increased from 22% to 25%, while the proportion of positive stories about United in traditional media went from 39% to 27% with negative stories rising from 18% to 23%. [I recommend Dan Greenfield's analysis of the the social media impact of the United Breaks Guitars video at SocialMediaToday for anyone interested in more details.]

I've written before about how everyone's a customer. I think the central message of Empowered is - or should be - every customer matters.

In another inspiring case study - and this is the last one I'll share here - Kira Wampler, former online engagement leader for the small business division of Intuit (maker of QuickBooks) and now a principal at Ants Eye View, said that her primary customer service goal at Intuit was not to deflect as many calls as possible, but "how do I get you unstuck as quickly as possible?" This reflects a wisdom so clearly articulated in Kathy Sierra's Creating Passionate Users blog, e.g., her post on keeping users engaged, in which she so pithily promotes an empowerment strategy: Give users a way to kick ass.

As Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler convincingly show, customers have never been so empowered to "kick ass" as they are now. I hope that more businesses will follow their prescriptions to "unleash your employees, energize your customers and transform your business" ... or, as Kathy Sierra might put it, Give employees a way to kick ass!

Be Impeccable With Your Word: Confrontation vs. Condescension and Intimidation

TheFourAgreementsI've had a number of opportunities recently to reflect on don Miguel Ruiz' first agreement: be impeccable with your word. Amid public conversations at the recent Coffee Party kickoff meeting, private discussions about reviews of academic papers and proposals, and listening to an interview about the science of wisdom, I've gained a greater appreciation for the importance of making this agreement and adopting this practice. A comment advocating confrontation by my good friend Robb - an ardent defender of the Ruahines Mountain Range in New Zealand and wild places in general - on my blog post about political conversation vs. confrontation in the context of the Coffee Party movement helped me reconsider my opposition to confrontation (the meaning of which is "opposition"), and realize that what I'm actually opposed to is condescension and intimidation. I decided to further clarify my own beliefs about being impeccable with my word in a followup blog post.

I'll start off with the brief description of this agreement on the inner jacket cover of don Miguel Ruiz' book, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom.

Be Impeccable With Your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

In the chapter elaborating on The First Agreement, Ruiz defines impeccable as "without sin" and suggests that sin begins with rejection of myself, and in the case of the word, manifests in using words against myself. [Actually, Ruiz uses the word "yourself" rather than "myself", but I prefer to use "I" statements wherever possible.] If I reject myself, I am more likely to reject others, and if I use words against myself, I am more likely to use words against others. Or, as is observed in the recently released movie, Greenberg (and elsewhere): "hurt people hurt people".

Ruiz describes the power of the word as a form of magic, through which we can cast spells for good or evil. Impeccable use of words - pure magic - can have a powerful effect on people, helping us appreciate positive qualities and do positive things. I've written before about the power of positivity and appropriate praise (and the perils of inappropriate and profuse praise), and recently encountered psychological studies showing that even the unspoken expectations of others can influence us. Ruiz warns that the invocation of what he calls black magic - sowing seeds of fear and doubt in the minds of others - can also have powerful impact, alluding to Hitler, whose words so successfully demonized and vilified an entire race of people that 6 million were killed.

Given my recent revelation about confrontation vs. condescension, I want to distinguish between using words to criticize a person (or a race, religion or political party of persons) and using words to criticize a person's actions. For example, I can question the truthfulness or logic of another person's statements and still be impeccable with my word. However, if I call another person a liar or an imbecile, I am not being impeccable with my word.

S-JOE-WILSON-large The specific words and tone I use to raise a question or potential criticism also offer an opportunity to practice impeccability. For example, someone may say something like "The reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally". I may question the truthfulness of that statement, but if I say "You lie!" - especially if I were to shout that out in a nationally televised public setting - I am not being impeccable with my word ... though I may be giving that person an opportunity to practice the second agreement, don't take anything personally.

If instead I were to say "I disagree with that statement" - especially if I were to do so at another time and place - I am being impeccable with my word. And, if it turns out that the statement with which I disagree is actually true, e.g., the reforms that person is proposing include a provision that explicitly states that "Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States", then being impeccable with my word may help me preserve my integrity more effectively.

I was discussing the distinction between confrontation and condescension in the context of political conversations with a friend yesterday - over coffee - who suggested some references that might inform my perspective. One site lists two basic types of arguments:

There are basically two types of arguments: Aristotelian or adversarial, and Rogerian or consensus-building. Aristotelian argument is made to confirm a position or hypothesis or to refute an existing argument. Using the techniques at hand, the writer attempts to persuade the reader to a particular point of view. The writer uses logic, appeals to the rational in the audience, and provides empirical and common sense evidence to persuade the audience members to change their beliefs, attitudes, and actions.

Rogerian argument is a bit different—its goal is to develop consensus among readers rather than establish an adversarial relationship. The idea is that a successful argument is a winning situation for everyone. Avoiding all emotionally sensitive language, the writer phrases statements in as neutral a way as possible to avoid alienating readers by minimizing threat and establishing trust. The analysis of the opposition's point of view is carefully and objectively worded, demonstrating that the writer understands the position and reasons for believing it. In preparation for the conclusion, the writer points out the common characteristics, goals, and values of the arguments and persons involved. Finally, the writer proposes a resolution that recognizes the interests of all interested parties.

I believe both types of arguments benefit from being impeccable with your word ... assuming the goal is to arrive at the truth of the matter - or at least a deeper under understanding - rather than simply winning. I'm not so sure that truth is a top priority of some participants in our political process.

Speaking of truth, resolution and evolution, I'm reminded of Gandhi's inspiring insights into truth vs. consistency:

My aim is not to be consistent with my previous statements on a given question, but to be consistent with truth as it may present itself to me at a given moment. The result has been that I have grown from truth to truth.

Aristotle, who generally advocated dialectic (logic) over rhetoric (the art of persuasion), acknowledged the pragmatic value of rhetoric in civic affairs, and outlined three primary strategies of persuasion:

  • ethos: how the character and credibility of a speaker can influence an audience to consider him/her to be believable.
  • pathos: the use of emotional appeals to alter the audience's judgment.
  • logos: the use of reasoning, either inductive or deductive, to construct an argument.

Again, I believe that being impeccable with your word is an important ingredient in applying all of these strategies. One can establish one's credibility without resorting to the character assassination of one's opponent, although respectfully raising questions about the credibility of statements made by an opponent is consistent with the first agreement. One can also appeal to emotions without insulting an opponent. And, of course, constructing a logical argument can be done with impeccability, as long as one begins with impeccable premises.

A story on NPR yesterday morning, on anti-bullying programs in schools, based on the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, offers an instructive overview of the social culture of bullying that supports and promotes intimidation which has ramifications well beyond the schoolyard.


Olweus emphasizes the social culture that supports, condones or promotes bullying - the dark side of the idea that "it takes a village":

  • Students who bully: These students want to bully, start the bullying, and play a leader role.
  • Followers or henchmen: These students are positive toward the bullying and take an active part, but don't usually initiate it and do not play a lead role.
  • Supporters or passive bullies: These students actively and openly support the bullying, for example, through laughter or calling attention to the situation, but they don't join in.
  • Passive supporters or possible bullies: These students like the bullying but do not show outward signs of support.
  • Disengaged onlookers: These students do not get involved and do not take a stand, nor do they participate actively in either direction. They might thin or say "It's none of my business" or "Let's watch and see what happens."
  • Possible defenders: These students dislike the bullying and think they should help the student who is being bullied, but do nothing.
  • Defenders: These students dislike the bullying and help or try to help the student who is being bullied.

The NPR story notes that "The community can take away the bully's power by refusing to cheer him on, by telling an adult, or perhaps the ultimate step: stepping in to help the victim."

Anti-bullying tactics has a particular poignancy in political arenas outside of the schoolyard, given recent words and actions surrounding the health care reform debate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi alluded to the power of words yesterday, in response to the violence and death threats in the wake of this week's health care vote:

I believe that words have power, they weigh a ton. And they are received differently by people in - depending on their, shall we say, emotional state. And we have to take responsibility for words that are said that we do not reject.

A blog post about American Kristallnacht: Conservative Hatred Shatters the Peace includes an extensive rundown of the powerful, hateful and intimidating words used by various conservative leaders over the last several days, some of which explicitly call for the breaking of windows and the murder of elected officials who voted for the health care reform law. I wish I was surprised to learn that the frequency of death threats against President Obama is 400% higher than against former President George W. Bush.

I believe that with a "government of the people, by the people, for the people", the potential victims of this campaign of intimidation are not just our elected officials but all citizens, just as I believe the ultimate victims of the violent words and actions that crystalized on Kristallnacht were not just the persecuted Jews, but the Nazi bullies and their supporters, the passive or disengaged German citizens, and eventually most of the citizens of the world community.

CP_square So, what can someone who objects to the tactics of intimidation do to step in to help the potential victims? One could start or join a movement to "wake up, stand up and speak up", to re-engage in vigorous and respectful political conversation, to oppose bullying without resorting to the bullying tactics of condescension and intimidation. I'm not sure if the Coffee Party movement will ultimately succeed, but I plan to participate in one of the local National Coffee Summit meetings this weekend, as it appears to be a promising vehicle through which to promote and practice being impeccable with your word on a large scale.

The Coffee Party: Political Conversation vs. Confrontation

Coffee Party @ SoulFood Books, Music & Coffee I attended a Coffee Party kickoff meeting at SoulFood Books, Music and Organic Coffee House on Saturday. Approximately 40 people subdivided into smaller groups to discuss their hopes and fears about the state of the union. Amid the largely liberal perspectives voiced by several participants, I was delighted to discover an unanticipated diversity of opinions in our group. A number of common themes emerged, but I came away most hopeful about the prospect for preserving this diversity and promoting a resurgence of the middle way in American politics.

Among the issues raised by participants were ethics, elections, economics, employment, energy and the environment. At several points, I was reminded of Paul Hawken's book, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came Into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming, and a blog post I wrote about his systems view of the interrelationships between social, economic and environmental justice. At other points, I was reminded of Doug Rushkoff's book, Life, Incorporated: How the World Became a Corporation and How To Take It Back - e.g., one person championing de-marginalization, another recommending the de-personalization of the corporation (referring to the 1844 U.S. Supreme Court decision designating a corporation as a natural person) and another suggesting a transformation from a me society to a we society.

During the course of the discussions, there were a number of references to the Tea Party movement - whose members tend to be male, rural, upscale, and overwhelmingly conservative - mostly in the context of expressing opposition to or at least distinction from that movement. I believe there are some important areas of agreement between values espoused by the Tea Party and the Coffee Party: an affinity for transparency, accountability and responsibility, and an aversion to abuses of power and other perceived injustices.

There do appear to be areas of differences between the Tea Party and the Coffee Party; among the most significant - to me - are the tactics employed. Based on what I've read and seen, the Tea Party seems to be rather ideological and confrontational whereas my first experience with the Coffee Party suggests a more idealistic and conversational approach to politics. Some members and groups within the Tea Party appear to be adopting the demonizing and spiteful rhetoric that was used so extensively during the McCain-Palin campaign of 2008. The tone and tenor of the discussions and debates within the Coffee Party meeting - in which some people articulated and advocated strong positions - was far more civil and respectful.

In a blog post about coffee, conversation, community and culture at Starbucks, I proposed the possibility of promoting civic engagement without sacrificing civil engagement, noting that others have articulated a tension between the two:

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Coffeehouses: Bringing the Buzz Back, Michael Idov talks about some of the European coffeehouses I first read about in The Grand Literary Cafes of Europe, warning that Americans are "losing the coffeehouse ... to our own politeness". Idov claims that while coffeehouses were once "hotbed[s] of a proudly rootless culture", "seminaries of sedition" with traditions of "intellectual sparring", they have now become elitist bastions of "balkanization". While these coffeehouses may have promoted civic engagement, it appears that they were not well known for civil engagement.

I [still] believe it is possible to have vigorous debate - in the best traditions of the coffee house - without stooping to the vilification of one's opponent(s).

That said, one of my concerns about the Coffee Party is how effective a conversational approach can be at this juncture in American politics. We may come to understand and appreciate - if not agree with - one another better, but will this effect changes in policy and legislation? Especially if other, more ideologically unified parties and movements - and corporations - are more certain, focused and strident about their views. It's hard to have a productive conversation if no one else is listening.

In an earlier post, on conservatism, liberalism and independence, I recounted a classic Doonesbury comic strip:

In the main portion of the strip, Chase [a conservative] sums up the differences between liberals and conservatives: "[Y]ou liberals are hung up on fairness! You actually try to respect all points of view! But conservatives feel no need whatsoever to consider other views. We know we're right, so why bother? Because we have no tradition of tolerance, we're unencumbered by doubt! So we roll you guys every time!" When Mark [a liberal] replies "Actually, you make a good point...", Chase responds, "See! Only a loser would admit that!"

Listening to "The Science of Wisdom" on KUOW Weekday yesterday, I heard Stephen S. Hall, author of Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience, talk about the power of anger as a motivating emotion. While he said that anger and wisdom are not antithetical, the ability to regulate anger and other emotions effectively is one of the hallmarks of a wise person. However, he also observed that many famous wise people have been willing to run the risk of contradicting conventional wisdom and adopt adversarial stances.

The question, I suppose, is whether it is wiser - and/or more effective - to promote alternative perspectives through conversational or confrontational tactics, or to advocate adversarial positions with consideration or condescension. Personally, I tend to prefer coffee to tea.

The Past, Present and Future of Green

My wife and I attended the Seattle Green Festival last weekend. Amy spent most of her time in the exhibit area while I spent most of my time in presentation sessions, seeking and finding inspiration from Amy Goodman, Lawrence Lessig, Brett Horvath and Gabriel Scheer.

ASacredMoment Amy (my wife) spent part of her time helping out at the booth for A Sacred Moment, a local company founded by Char Bennett that provides home funeral vigils, green burials and life celebration services. Amy first read about A Sacred Moment in a Wall Street Journal Magazine article (Death Becomes Her). As a cancer survivor, she has given considerably more thought to death - and burial - than I have, and the sustainable, sensitive and sensible approach that Char offers through her services resonates on many levels with her ... and, judging from the number of visitors to the booth, many others as well.

I also spent some time milling around the exhibit area, and I have to admit I was feeling increasingly self-conscious, wondering what other people might be thinking about me, wandering around in my Weatherproof jacket, "Life is Good" (tm) t-shirt, Lee jeans and Merrell hiking shoes (not to mention the MacBook Pro in my backpack and the iPhone in my pocket). Were the things I was wearing / carrying "green" [enough]? (Maybe the t-shirt.) I was reminded of my days at Accenture, where my lack of style-consciousness in a different value system sometimes incurred negative judgments (I remember someone once referring to my "Mickey Mouse" watch, a Timex timepiece which I'd thought of as rather practical). As someone who thinks green but doesn't often act green, I was concerned that perhaps my true colors were showing.

GFTV_09_160x160 Fortunately, the person who introduced the person who introduced Amy Goodman's talk - whose name I did not catch - was very welcoming and inviting, assuring us that all people were welcome at the Green Festival, whatever stage of sustainability we may find themselves. She then introduced Kevin Danaher, who described the Green Festival as a "party with a purpose", encouraged us to reach beyond the festival with positive messages (noting "you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar"), let us know that many of the presentations at this and other Green Festivals can be viewed at Green Festival TV (leading me to wonder whether the green[er] action would have been to watch Green Festival remotely), and introduced Amy Goodman.

Dn_logo StandingUpToTheMadness Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, took the stage to a standing ovation, and told us some stories about Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times. She started off asserting that a healthy population is a national security issue (not just a health or fairness issue), decrying that health care is not a right in the most powerful country on earth (setting us apart from nearly every other industrialized nation), and reporting on an article "Are the Rich Making Us Sick" written by Stephen Bezruchka (back in 2000 (!)), which shows that inequality leads to poor health (the U.S. is among the world leaders in both dimensions).

Asking "Can President Obama redeeem the White House?", Goodman noted that it's not up to him, it's up to all of us (or, perhaps, all of us's). As she put it, "The door is open a crack - will it be kicked shut, or will it be kicked wide open?" She noted that this month marks the passing of some significant anniversaries: the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill (March 24, 1989), and the 30th anniversary of the Three Mile Island meltdown (March 28, 1979), "accidents" whose fallouts are still very much with us today.

NotOneDrop Emphasizing the need to break the sound barrier, listening not to the pundits, but to people on the ground in the local communities who are affected by corporate and governmental actions (and inactions), Goodman argued that we can't subsist on sound bites, that we have to allocate time for people to explain alternate points of view if we don't want to be simply and mindlessly repeating what others are saying (i.e., being ditto heads). One of her recent interviews with a person on the ground - and/or in the water - was with Riki Ott, author of Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Spill, who said that the "accident" was not just a pollution issue, but represents a fundamental threat to democracy. The success of the Exxon-Mobil Corporation - one legal person - in its legal battle against tens of thousands of U.S. citizens who are seeking redress, amends and compensation from the action of this powerful "person", is leading some to propose that we reconsider and revise or revoke the legal status of corporations (some going so far as to call for a 28th Amendment).

Goodman shared stories about heroes such as Peter Chase, a librarian who fought against the FBI's demand for library records, and James Hansen, a NASA scientist who went public with the Bush Administration's efforts to influence or edit his statements so as to make global warming seem less threatening. Toward the end of her talk - for which she received a standing ovation - she summed up her critique of mainstream media with a pair of pithy soundbites:

We need a media that covers power, not covers for power;
a media that is a fourth estate, not for the state.

RemixLessig The next presentation I went to was by Lawrence Lessig, on "Green Culture". The presentation seemed to be a remix of his book Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, applied to the green movement. But as he demonstrated in his talk, a good remix can be just as engaging and enlightening as the original(s) from which it is created, and I was just as impressed with the content and format of his talk as I was at his closing keynote at CSCW 2004. He started out with a Wikipedia definition of externality: "an impact [positive or negative] on a party that is not directly involved in the transaction". I'll include the entire first paragraph from the Wikipedia entry below:

In economics, an externality or spillover of an economic transaction is an impact on a party that is not directly involved in the transaction. In such a case, prices do not reflect the full costs or benefits in production or consumption of a product or service. A positive impact is called an external benefit, while a negative impact is called an external cost. Producers and consumers in a market may either not bear all of the costs or not reap all of the benefits of the economic activity. For example, manufacturing that causes air pollution imposes costs on the whole society, while fire-proofing a home improves the fire safety of neighbors.

Lessig went on to claim that the market tends to produce too many negative externalities and too few positive externalities, and argued that we need interventions to force producers of negative externalities to internalize the costs and to allow producers of positive externalities to internalize the benefits.

One of my favorite quotes from Lessig's talk was a quote he shared by one of my heroes, Aldous Huxley, who in 1927 wrote about an atmosphere of passivity:

In the days before machinery men and women who wanted to amuse themselves were compelled, in their humble way, to be artists. Now they sit still and permit professionals to entertain them by the aid of machinery. It is difficult to believe that general artistic culture can flourish in this atmosphere of passivity.

This reminded me of the parable of three storytelling societies - the Reds, the Blues and the Greens - that I shared in an earlier post about mutual inspiration, which was inspired by Yochai Benkler's book, The Wealth of Networks (briefly: Red storytellers are hereditarily determined, Blue storytellers are democratically determined, but everyone is a storyteller among the Greens). I suppose this passivity and delegation (or relegation) is one of the natural consequences of the specialization of labor that was accelerated in the industrial revolution. Lessig suggested that we're seeing a concentration or professionalization not just of labor but of culture itself.

Lessig defined two types of culture: read-write culture, in which people participate in the creation and recreation of their culture, and read-only culture, where creativity is consumed (e.g., in an atmosphere of passivity). Changing technologies often change ecologies, as well as changing what makes sense to regulate. For example, the carbon emissions produced by coal-fired power plants are, essentially, free, and yet media produced by the entertainment industry is heavily regulated. There have been zero U.S. laws regulating carbon emissions passed in the last 20 years, and yet there have been 22 laws regulating the use of copyrighted media. Lessig argued that our culture (and, I would argue, our global civilization) would be better served if those trends were reversed.

He shared a number of examples of fabulously entertaining media that were produced by remixing prior media that was protected by copyright (making all the examples, technically, illegal):

As these examples demonstrate, Web 2.0 offers a platform on which others are inspired to create, and share their creations, in a participatory "call and response" or conversational culture. However, the powers that be are colluding with Congress to stifle this read-write culture, declaring war on copyright infringement and using the rhetoric of war (e.g., weapons to kill piracy). Lessig argued that we need to give up on the obsession with "copy" and make meaningful distinctions between copy and remix, as well as professional and amateur uses:


Professional copies of creative works ought to be protected by copyright, amateur remixes ought not be regulated, and professional remixes or amateur copies are greyer areas.

Noting that there have been 22 laws governing copyright in the past 20 years, but zero laws governing carbon emissions, Lessig proposed a new angle on the Green Revolution: eradicating the corruption of money (greenbacks) in U.S. politics, which has led government to do nothing on the most important policy issue facing us and to do the wrong things on a less important issue.

Lessig invoked his hero (and one of my heroes), Al Gore, and showed Gore's presentation on averting a climate crisis at TED [aside: having recently watched the disturbing PBS Nova episode on Extreme Ice, documenting the imminent meltdown of glaciers across the world, I like the language shift from "climate change", which seems so benign, to "climate crisis"].

Lessig highlighted the segments where Gore is emphasizing the importance of - and interactions among - optimism, belief and behavior: "We have to become incredibly active citizens ... In order to solve the climate crisis, we have to solve the democracy crisis". He went on to say that the democracy crisis is that we don't see democracy as a tool to solve problems (another dimension of the "atmosphere of passsivity that Huxley wrote about). We have to act green - be environmentally conscious in our behavior - and also act against green[backs] - fight against corruption, and the addiction to / dependency on money.

Lessig differentiated between evil soul corruption (e.g., former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich) and good soul corruption (living inside a system that is corrupt and not changing it), and noted that most members of Congress exemplify good soul corruption. Comparing political corruption to alcoholism, he said we have to solve the addiction (to greenbacks) problem before we can solve the other problems, and invited those who are interested to learn about - and do - more at One near-term action he invited us to take was to actively support the Fair Elections Now Act that was introduced this past week by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-CT) and Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC). If anyone reading this is inclined to take such action, here are some links on how to contact your U.S. Representative and how to contact your U.S. Senator.

Rvl The final presentation at the Green Festival I saw was - fittingly enough - entitled "What's After Green?", by Gabriel Scheer and Brett Horvath, co-founders of Re-Vision Labs. Motivating their talk, the presenters articulated two fundamental problems with the green movement:

  • Green has lost its focus (environment, energy, social justice, food?) How do outsiders know what to make of us? At this transformational moment, it's critical that we define ourselves and communicate our values.
  • The Green movement is unsustainable (fueled by a real crisis and a fake economy). Green Industry piggy-backed on the housing bubble. How many green businesses can survive the economic downturn?

Green consumerism means that our only - or at least our main - weapon has been our wallet. There are only so many donors, customers, foundations, investors, volunteers. The growth of the green movement is not sufficient to keep pace with the growth of the crises we hope to solve, and so we most grow and adapt.

Steering us toward "collaboration, not congregation", the presenters suggested that the goal of the Green Festival next year should not be so [solely] an increase in attendance but an increase in impact in governments and other organizations. For example, they noted that no faith-based groups were represented at this year's festival.

Green_collar_economy_cover In order to grow and adapt the movement, we need to build more bridges and become more [obviously] relevant to more groups, as is exemplified by the Blue-Green Alliance between labor and environmentalists, whose goal is to create "good jobs, clean environment, green economy", and Van Jones campaign Green for All (and its companion book, The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems) [aside: Jones' recent nomination as Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) seems to opens the "door" that Amy Goodman referenced a little wider.]

Another example is the T. Boone Pickens Energy Plan, which redefined the energy crisis by reframing it from an environmental issue to an economic and national security issue, and signed up 1 million people in its first 7 months (and is now at 4.5 million), representing the potential for what they called a trans-ideological movement: "enviro-enthusiast meets NASCAR fan". One of the presenters, Brett Horvath, who is Director of Social Media for the PickensPlan, claimed they achieved a faster pace of growth than Al Gore's Repower America organization. This may be true, but I was glad to see that Repower America, which I believe was formed about 4 or 5 months ago, has 2 million members ... and I wonder how many people are members of both organizations.

While I'm in favor of seeking trans-ideological solutions, I'm not sure I can support an ideologue like T. Boone Pickens. I find it ironic that the man who is now championing energy independence helped fund the deceptively named Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which torpedoed John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, and helped keep George W. Bush in The White House, where he was able to continue colluding with his anti-environmental advisors, increase his dirty legacy and thwart many of the efforts of the green movement, ultimately leaving us more energy dependent than ever before. I wonder how much more progress the green movement (however it is defined) would have made, and how much more energy independent we would be, if John Kerry (or Al Gore) had been in the White House instead of Bush. President Obama, ever the community organizer and unifier, whose speech on trans-racialism was so inspiring, is willing to seek common ground with Pickens and his plan (and its supporters), and while I continue to distrust Pickens, I'm willing to withhold [further] fire in an effort to form a more perfect union ... and a broader, more inclusive community in the green movement.

Scheer and Horvath invited us to view - and focus - the green movement through the lens of community, noting that what brings us together is the desire to create healthy and powerful communities. Despite their earlier critique of a lack of focus in the current green movement, they proposed a rather broad agenda of 8 core components to growing and expanding the movement in the future: economy, ecology, governance, story, design, networks, commons and food. I found myself wondering whether, given the shifting priorities brought about by the current economic recession, the utilization of Maslow's hierarchy of needs might help add more structure to what might otherwise be a linear list of issues.

Invoking images of the front porch, the water cooler, and the campfire as prototypical examples of community spaces, they defined three dimensions to modern healthy communities: built space, spontaneous physical interactions and online networks (interestingly related to the themes that motivated our design of the Community Collage place-based social networking system). Reframing the Internet as a network of people (vs. a network of computers), they argued that a healthy network builds community, and that even "ungreenies" (online and offline) understand the power and necessity of healthy communities.

Scheer and Horvath made a compelling case that the current power of our movement is no match for the gravity of the crisis, and helped me think - and hopefully act - more broadly. Perhaps next year's Green Festival should be renamed "The Community Festival".

Revenge of the Community Organizers

Obama-ProjectVote One of the low points of the recent U.S. presidential campaign for me - and there were many - was Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's contemptuous dismissal of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's earlier career chapter as a community organizer during her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention:

I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a "community organizer," except that you have actual responsibilities.

At the time, I wondered how community organizers - on the left and on the right - and the people they work with (the community "organizees"?) felt about this perspective. There were reports the next day of how this snide remark galvanized Obama supporters, including some religious groups - my favorite response was "Jesus was a community organizer; Pontius Pilate was a governor" (heard on the Diane Rehm show). There were some compelling responses defending community organizing and noting how important this work is, in general ... and in elections:

The change voters are talking about this year builds on the shared problems community organizers have been helping people identify for decades. The change voters want builds on the solutions community organizers have been nurturing and putting into place, building the leadership of everyday Americans all across our country to demand that America work for everyone.

Scanlonplantcity It wasn't until I heard the most recent episode of NPR's On The Media - the segment entitled Net Routes, based, in part on a Wired article on Obama's Secret Weapons: Internet, Databases and Psychology - that this all came together for me, helping me understand the full irony of Palin's attack on Obama: the community organizing experience she so derisively mocked in her speech was actually a key to the success of his campaign!

The Barack Obama campaign's winning web strategy employed the latest in social networking to create a highly efficient update of old-fashioned politicking. Marshall Ganz designed the field-organizer and volunteer training systems that turned Obama's campaign volunteers into organizational leaders.

Ganz' emphasis on personal narrative as a means of empowering and engaging people was particularly poignant, given my recent reading of The Stories We Live By: Personal Myths and the Making of the Self, by Dan McAdams, in which he observes:

In order to live well, with unity and purpose, we compose a heroic narrative of the self that illustrates essential truths about ourselves.

I'm including an embedded link to the 6-minute audio for this segment, and a few quotes highlighting some of the most interesting and inspiring observations made by Marshall Ganz below.

[Ganz] helped develop a website to recruit and share information, and a weekend training program called Camp Obama, where volunteers created brief personal narratives to drive their message home.


The [community] organizing approach is that you hire full-time people, train them to be organizers, and their job is to recruit leaders from local communities, bring them together and equip them and train them to work together to reach out to their neighbors, the other people that live in the community, the voters themselves.


So there was a level of empowerment of volunteer leadership at the local level that is a theme that’s run all through this campaign. And that’s why you see the responsibility, the enthusiasm, the creativity. And that’s why when the campaign is over, as it is now, this isn't going to go away.


What we helped them understand is that the first thing they need to learn is how to articulate their own story, in other words, what is it that moved them to become involved and engaged, because it’s from their own story that they're going to be able to most effectively engage others. So when people leave, they leave equipped to do that. That’s sort of the foundational piece.

And in the initial series in California, we launched 200 teams in two weekends that, with the support of four staff people, built that operation out there to the point where it could make 100,000 phone calls a day. This is like an investment in civic assets, in local communities that no political campaign has done for years.

The right benefited from being rooted in social movements, which do this because that’s what social movements do. They translate values into action; they bring people in to work together. But on the progressive side, everybody had become marketeers. Everybody’d been marketing their cause or marketing their candidates as if it was another bar of soap, transforming people from citizens into customers.

What we did was bring the citizenship back in and put the people back in charge, and then put the tools in their hands.

While relatively few people attended Camp Obama or had access to the database made available to the official community organizers, I suspect that most voters did have access to - and did utilize - the other "secret weapons" used by the Obama campaign mentioned in the Wired article referenced above: the Internet and psychology.

Anyone who consciously or unconsciously constructed a personal narrative about what Obama - or McCain - means to them was engaging in a practice of personality psychology. I suspect that many of these personal narratives were influenced by other narratives that were accessed via the Internet, and that many people used the Internet to share their personal narrative, or at least their shared narrative, via the Internet (even via the simple act of forwarding an email to family, friends or acquaintances) ... suggesting a practice of social psychology.

So, although these interviews and articles are focusing on the formal community organizers, in some sense, it seems to me that the real impact of the Internet in this campaign - which was effectively promoted by the participatory approach embraced by Obama, Ganz and a legion of others - was to empower and engage people at the edges of the network(s).

DirtySouth As Arianna Huffington noted, the winner of the 2008 election was the Internet (and its users), and the loser of the 2008 election was Rovian politics [although, having listened to another segment in the same On The Media episode, The Dirty South, which incluced an interview with Stefan Forbes, director of Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story, who reviewed the dark legacy left by the "southern strategy" developed by Rove's mentor - "spin when you can, change the subject when you can’t and if all else fails, mine the voters’ resentment, and fear, usually of blacks" - I hope that what we have really witnessed is the end of Atwaterian politics.].

In any case, it seems to me that what the growing participatory affordances offered by the Internet, and Web 2.0, are ushering in an era of universal deputization of community organizers. I'm just glad that Obama, Ganz and their lieutenants had the experience and insight to ride this wave more effectively than their opponents.

The McCain campaign certainly had their own network of community organizers - as Ganz noted, the religious right had a very strong, pre-existing network ... although in my judgment, the fundamentalist and dogmatic orientation of many of these groups creates a different kind of network than one that is more open to diverse opinions and backgrounds (an "unfair" advantage, perhaps, among the differences between conservativism and liberalism I mentioned in an earlier post).

I am reminded of the classic Pogo cartoon, "we have met the enemy, and he is us" ... and thinking that perhaps this new movement represents a new twist on Pogo's observation:

We have met the community organizers, and they are us.

I hope that Obama and his community organizing lieutenants will now be able to direct the energies of this engaged citizen army - and find ways to deflect or co-opt the energies of the opposing, and often enraged, army of community organizers and organizees - in ways that will help us address the mounting challenges that we are facing.

A recent USA Today / Gallup poll suggests that a majority of us share this hope, and although I believe hope and dreams trump fears and smears, I also believe that, by itself, hope is not a strategy. Ganz noted the effectiveness with which the right has historically - at least in the Atwater / Rove era -  been able to translate values into actions ... it now remains to be seen whether / how Obama we can translate hope into post-election actions.

Leaving Nokia, Joining MyStrands

It seems like just yesterday that I was writing enthusiastically about joining Nokia, and then about my excitement about working at Nokia on an ambitious new project (related to Context, Content and Community) at an ambitious new lab (Nokia Research Center Palo Alto), but in fact it's been over a year since the initiation of that transition (I believe I'm always in transition, just differentially willing and able to recognize it). I am still enthusiastic and excited about prospects for the project and the lab; I have grown to love the people at the lab and throughout the rest of the organization; I am grateful for being given the opportunity to pursue the work I love in a supportive environment (instigating a new generation of proactive displays). All of which creates strong mixed feelings for me as I think and write about my decision to leave Nokia, but as I've noted before, this blog is first and foremost a platform for entering and working through my discomfort zones.

While I am sad about leaving Nokia, I am very excited about the new position I have accepted with MyStrands, a social recommendation and discovery systems company headquartered in Corvallis, OR, employing approximately 100 people in a dozen sites throughout the world. I have chosen the title, and will play the role, of Principal Instigator (which was my unofficial title and role at Nokia), starting up a new lab in Seattle - a startup within a startup - that will help design, develop and deploy new technologies to help people discover, relate to and better enjoy the other people, places and things around them. I am very enthusiastic and excited about joining MyStrands and creating a new lab, and will write more about that in a bit (and in subsequent posts, once I officially start with that company). For now, I want to acknowledge the joy I've felt at Nokia, and the sadness I feel about leaving some of that behind.

A year and a half ago, when I ran out of runway (as my entrepreneurial friends like to put it) for my startup company, Interrelativity, and started having discussions with various people in research labs about re-entering the research world, Nokia was one of the few places where my entrepreneurial endeavors were truly valued. Most research managers I spoke with saw a gaping hole in my publication record, and didn't understand why I wasn't writing conference and journal papers while I was trying to start a company. Even though my startup didn't succeed, Nokia - in particular, Henry Tirri - recognized the risks I had been willing to take ... and was willing to take a risk in hiring me. I, in turn, was thrilled to be able to apply some of that entrepreneurial energy in what is, in many ways, a startup within a large company with a long history that includes many generations of dramatic changes.

Some of this energy has been applied in traditional (or perhaps non-traditional) research channels, but much of it, especially early on, was channeled in far less tangible ways - contributing to the co-creation of a new culture, forging relationships with people and organizations, and attracting world-class talent to the lab. Nokia has an internal process for employees to define - and seek explicit managerial approval for - their own "individual incentive plans" which can include such intangible activities. I've been very fortunate to have a manager, David Racz, who has explicitly supported these activities, and who has empowered all the members of his team to assume leadership roles in activities that benefit the team, the lab and/or the organization ... as well as the team members themselves. I have learned a lot about management and leadership (and technology, economics, philosophy, psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology, to name just a few areas) from David, and hope I can effectively apply some of these insights and experiences in my new role.

Our team has grown from 2 to 12 over the past year, and despite - or perhaps because of - the diversity of people, I feel a strong personal connection with each of the members, above and beyond the professional dimensions of our relationship(s). In fact, it is these personal bonds - that also extend to many other members of the lab (which, under John Shen's leadership, has grown from 20 to 50), as well as people from other parts of Nokia - that I am saddest about leaving. I know from past experience that some of these relationships will persist well beyond the termination of my employment (January 25) ... but I also know that many of them will fade over time. I am grateful to have been a part of the Nokia family in Palo Alto, and to have had the opportunity to connect deeply with many people in ways that transcend "work".

Having recently written about the importance of aligning talents with roles in creating a high performance team, I can honestly say that I have never worked in an environment where I felt my talents – the things I cannot help but do (or, more formally, “recurring patterns of thought, feeling or behavior that can be productively applied”) – have been so well supported, or where I felt I could contribute so easily and effectively by simply doing what comes naturally to me: winning others over, connecting, relating, ideating and adapting (my top 5 talents, according to the Clifton StrengthsFinder).

So, one might wonder, why have I decided to leave such a supportive environment? In a nutshell, it is because my conversations with key members of the executive team at MyStrands lead me to believe that I will be similarly well-supported in engaging my talents there, and that my new role in setting up and coordinating the activities in a new lab will enable me to make even more significant contributions at MyStrands than at Nokia, through practicing what I’ve been preaching about leadership, innovation and – of course – helping people relate to the people, places and things around them ... and doing so closer to home, enabling me to strengthen relationships with my family and friends in the Seattle area.

Essentially, I am leaving the best job I've ever had for another job I believe I will love even more.

In making my decision, I've applied the No-Lose Decision Model from Susan Jeffers' book, Feal the Fear and Do It Anyway. I shared this model in a blog post during my last major transition (when I decided to join Nokia), and want to repeat it here, because I've found it very useful (again) ... and it may prove useful to others:

Before you make a decision:

  1. Focus immediately on the no-lose model (whichever path you choose will provide learning opportunities … even if it’s learning what you don’t like)
  2. Do your homework (talk to as many people as will listen … both to help clarify your own intention and to get alternative perspectives)
  3. Establish your priorities (which pathway is more in line with your overall goals in life – at the present time)
  4. Trust your impulses (your body gives you good clues about which way to go)
  5. Lighten up (it really doesn’t matter – it’s all part of a lifelong learning process)

After making a decision:

  1. Throw away the picture (if you focus on what you expected, you may miss the unexpected opportunities that arise along the new path you’ve chosen)
  2. Accept total responsibility for your decision (don’t give away your power)
  3. Don’t protect, correct (commit yourself to any decision you make and give it all you got … but if it doesn’t work out, change it!)

So, once again (or perhaps I should say "as usual"), I'm not sure what to expect, but I have high hopes that this new chapter of my career will unfold in ways that offer significant benefits for everyone involved. My experience at Nokia exceeded all my expectations, and I look forward to opening up new dimensions at MyStrands through which unexpected opportunities can be identified and embraced - by me and others.

Celebrating the Future Within ... Everyone?

Jubilee_logo Amy and I attended the Jubilee Women's Center's 10th Annual Benefit Breakfast on Wednesday, which had the inspiring title "Celebrating the Future Within" ... and a correspondingly inspiring program that included several women recounting their challenges, and now the Jubilee Women's Center helped them rise to meet those challenges. Our good friend, Mary, is on the Board of Directors for the organization, which is why we were there.

Jubilee is a transitional housing facility that offers homeless single women from ages 21 thru 60 a safe place in which to live and renew themselves. Women pay $250 / month for rent - the rest of which is subsidized through donations (such as those that are made during the annual breakfast) - and are offered a variety of training classes to help them become more self-reliant, both personally and professionally ... as Meeghan Black, of KING 5 TV, the MC for the event noted: these training classes sound like something everyone could use.

Deacon Steve Wodzanowski from St. Joseph Parish led the invocation, which was - synchronistically (for me) - based largely on a poem, The Journey, from Mary Oliver, a portion of which I'd referenced in my last post (on Blessed Unrest (which was based largely on Paul Hawken's book of the same name)), though he recited the full version, which I'm going to include here:

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice -
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles. "Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do -
determined to save
the only life you could save.

This, in turn, reminded of some of my earlier ruminations on Ralph Waldo Emerson's writings, which brought into focus my conflicting views on self-reliance vs. interdependence, inherence, adherence and coherence - essentially, the self vs. society. There does seem to be a conflict, or at least tension, between teaching self-reliance (independence) and yet preparing women to re-enter society (which is, by definition, highly interdependent). One of Emerson's observations closely aligns with Mary Oliver's poem (and the overall theme of the event):

Trust thyself: every heart every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events.

Getting back to the event, it turns out that the average age of the women residents of Jubilee is 45. That fact, together with the unexpected events along their unanticipated path toward homelessness - for which I kept thinking "there, but for the grace of God the flying spaghetti monster, go I" (leaving aside, for the moment, the gender issue) - got me thinking about Dante, and his observation at the outset of The Divine Comedy:

In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in the dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.

Susan Fox, the Executive Director of the organization, noted the stigma often associated with women who are victims of domestic violence and/or homelessness, and stressed the importance of the positivism that pervades all aspects of Jubilee's programs. She encouraged us - and everyone - to look for (and celebrate?) the essential goodness within each of these women, a perspective I try to adhere to ... and, yet (as with so many things), often feel conflicted about.

I suspect that Susan would extend this suspension of negative judgment and appreciation of essential goodness to all women, not just those whose paths happen to lead to / through Jubilee. Returning to the gender thread I suspended earlier, this got me to thinking about whether we draw the line at women, or whether we ought to suspend negative judgments and appreciate the goodness in all people, men and women alike.

Pushing further along this edge, I wondered whether / how we can offer the same graciousness to the men who perpetrated violence on the women residents of Jubilee (not that I mean tot imply that all residents there are victims of domestic violence). Can we - ought we to - celebrate the future within every person (not just every woman)?

I find this to be an immensely challenging proposition. Philosophically, I cannot justify the drawing of lines of demarcation - this person is essentially good, that person is essentially evil. However, in practice, I do this all the time (I've noted several times before my personal challenges with seeing the essential goodness in George W. Bush, who, in my judgment, is one of the biggest perpetrators of violence - scaling back social programs, reducing protections for our environment, supporting capital punishment, war and [other forms of] torture - on the face of the planet). Who knows, maybe more obvious expressions of goodness lie in his future ...

As usual, I don't have any good answers ... just good questions ... or, at least, questions about goodness.

Data "Mining" vs. Data "Oursing": On the Integration and Integrity of Data, People and Organizations (Len Silverston)

[The following article was written by my good friend, Len Silverston, founder of Universal Data Models, who is an inspiring thinker, writer and speaker, but not a blogger (yet). It weaves together many threads I've touched on about before -- radical transparency, us vs. them and the business value of openness, integrity, vulnerability and compassion -- and introduces a marvelously evocative and potentially viral new term -- "data oursing" -- that captures the essence of the siloing practices by people and organizations. He graciously agreed to let me post this on his behalf.]

How can we truly develop integrated information? Data management groups have struggled with the realization of this goal. Many of the people in organizations that I have witnessed have said (and I paraphrase):   

“We need to understand and implement best practices from other organization who have succeeded.”
“We need top level management commitment.”
“We need business buy-in.”
”We need to demonstrate value.”
“We need proper incentives in place to motivate people and organizations to share and manage information on an enterprise wide basis.”

It seems like these are all intelligent and appropriate statements that are important in developing more integrated information.

I want to share a hypothesis with you - one of the biggest issues in developing integrated information is data “mining” and what is really needed, at the core of this issue, is data “ours”ing. You may be thinking of data mining as in, “the process of automatically searching large volumes of data for patterns”. I am not referring to this definition, but a new alternative definition for data mining meaning, “acting in a manner where this data is mine”  As an example, John did not share company information as he was “data mining”, declaring that the customer contact information was “his” own personal information that he collected and thus declared “this data in mine – not the company’s or anyone else’s”.

Data “mining” is a root cause of not being able to integrate data – data silos come from people silos.

While there is much written on the need for data integration, it also seems that people and organizations have had a great deal of trouble in integrating data. I have given talks to thousands of data management professionals representing hundreds of organizations and when I ask the question, “Who has successfully integrated their data?”, very few people claim huge successes. Why is this?

According to, the definition of integrate is “to bring together or incorporate (parts) into a whole” and the definition of disintegrate it is “to separate into parts or lose intactness or solidness; break up; deteriorate”. 

When people and/or departments within an enterprise act too often in a manner where “this data is mine” and thus are “data mining”, then people and organizations move towards separation and disintegration. When people move towards disintegration, data becomes disintegrated. Data silos come from people silos.

Consider one common example that occurs in many organizations. A sales person maintains data regarding their customer contacts. Perhaps there is an enterprise-wide customer contact database to facilitate sharing and synchronization to enable data consistency, cross-selling, collaboration, and more effective sales and service.   

Enter data “mining”. The salesperson may think “I understand the benefits of an enterprise-wide customer database but this customer data is mine!”.  I even brought in some of this data from a previous employer and this is how I make my livelihood for my family. I am doing a good thing by providing to my family and by protecting my personal customer contact information. If I share it with others who I don’t even know then they could mess it up, misinterpret it or misuse it.

This type of thinking makes a customer data integration effort very difficult and I believe that it is a core underlying issue that results in lost power for the enterprise. If we each think separately, our data will be separate. I have worked in many organizations where there are over 100 sources of inconsistent customer information and after many years of efforts, they have still been unable to integrate customer information across their enterprise.

This type of thinking happens in many different circumstances. Here are a couple, but this list could go on indefinitely.

  • A department not wanting to share “their” department’s data into an enterprise data warehouse, master data management system, or enterprise data management effort. Sound familiar?

  • Government agencies not wanting to share critical information about counter-terrorism. This illustrates that lives are sometimes at stake if we don’t appropriately share. For example, in the September 11th incident, there were two hijackers that were on the FBI’s most wanted list and another two hijackers who had expired visas and the airlines did not have access to this information. There may have been regulations, privacy, and security considerations that hindered sharing. But could we have shared this data more effectively and were there motivations of not wanting to share?

I want to stress that there are many good reasons and situations where people should not share data freely even in the above scenarios or, for example, in a human resources department that is responsible for securing sensitive information.

Be the change you want to see in the world

What can we do? Mahatma Gandhi said "Be the change you want to see in the world".  If we each share more and consider data to be “ours” as opposed to “mine” more often, then I believe we will move towards data integration as opposed to data disintegration.

Here is an exercise that you can do and that you can share with others to do:

- Identify one of your most valuable pieces of data.   
- Ask the question “Do you completely own it?”
- How willing are you to share it and under what conditions will you share it?

The point of this exercise is to experience the feeling of data “mining” and get a clearer understanding of how data separation occurs, our underlying motivations, enabling us to act wisely and influence an appropriate level of data sharing.

So I invite you to conduct this exercise with me. What is one of the most valuable pieces of information that you own? Look at this data that you declare that you “own” and that is “your” data. For example, I have spent decades of my life working on a repository of re-usable data models that my company publishes and licenses called the Universal Data Model Repository. I would consider this one of the most valuable pieces of data that I own. What type of data is valuable to you? Is it personal data, intellectual property, corporate data, confidential data or some other type of data?

Do you completely own it?  I am not saying that you don’t - it may very well be your data. However, is this data really “yours” and not “ours”? Are you absolutely sure that this is “your” data or is it “our” data? Could it be that others own it, for example, your employer? Could it be that no one really owns it? For example, is the Universal Data Model Repository of template data models something that I, Len Silverston, own? Or is it something that my organization owns? Under intellectual property law, my organization has copyrights and trademarks, so there may be legal ownership. However, others have
contributed many ideas to these template models for which I am so grateful. So at a deep level, are the ideas contributed by others owned by me? I must admit, that right now as I write, I feel a certain amount of discomfort (and data mining). Hey, I spent a great deal of my career on this repository of models! I own this. I have paid for this by paying others and with my time. So, data “mining” arises. I do have certain legal rights regarding this data and at one level there is ownership by my company, Universal Data Models, LLC.

On another level, I cannot personally claim ownership to many of the ideas and if I spend too much energy towards these being “my” ideas and “my” data, then they would not be as shared and integrated into the industry where they can be of greater benefit.

How willing are you to share “your” data or information? A thought that runs through my mind is that, ooh, the more I freely share “my” data the more I am at risk of losing power! For example, I may have to trust someone or some organization not to copy these models indiscriminately! 

Some people have said to me, don’t publish your ideas so easy, it is a competitive advantage to offer these through my consulting practice. My personal experience has been that sharing these models through books and publications has been so gratifying to me in so many ways and has benefited so many people and organizations around the world. Sometimes I charge for sharing this work and sometimes I don’t. Data is an asset. So when to charge and when not?  What do you need in order to share your valuable data?

The benefits of information sharing and data “ours”ing can be realized and cultures can be changed to produce extremely positive outcomes. For example, a Fortune Magazine article [Seagate's Three-Day Revolution] told the story of how Seagate Technologies returned to financial health based on a change in culture from being “divided into vertical silos” to “putting group genius to work”, a buzz phrase from Matt Taylor, who developed a collaboration process called DesignShop that was used by Seagate and many other firms to help change culture via Capgemini’s Accelerated Solution Environment.  As a consultant, I have been involved in a few remarkable examples of the power of sharing information and data “ours”ing. For example, in a large financial services organization, the healthy environment that was developed enabled an enterprise wide system where there was appropriate sharing of client information throughout the enterprise, as well as with the clients, resulting in much better service levels.

Invitation to Share

Perhaps the next time someone is reluctant to share their data in a data warehouse, master data management or data management effort, we can better understand the behavior and influence more powerful and collaborative behavior. 

I invite us to share more and be an example of moving towards data integration versus data disintegration. I invite us to see data more as ours and less as “mine”. I invite us to move from people silos towards people integration and thus move towards data integration. I also invite us to share ideas about this topic with each other. I welcome any feedback from you and any thoughts regarding how we can move from data “mining” to data “ours”ing. Thank you.

[Thank you, Len!]