Archives For Change

So much comes down to design. Not just graphic design or user interface (or experience, or interaction) design, or even urban design. I’m thinking Design with a big D, encompassing all the ways we design our world, from the built environment to laws, regulations, norms and software.

Gain is the AIGA‘s business conference. It’s full of designers, mostly graphic, though Design Thinking seems to be pervasive.

This year’s organizer, Nathan Shedroff, bravely turned the usual  agenda upside-down: Rather than being about the business of design, #GAINconference 2014 was about the design of business — and more. Nathan threw down a fun, broad challenge and invited a bunch of interesting people to take swings at it. Including me. You can see all the talks from Gain here; mine’s embedded below.

My goal in this talk was to help designers read the landscapes they work in, to learn to see the hidden architectures of mistrust, then to design from trust.

Here are some of the high points:

  • We’ve been designing from mistrust.
  • There are architectures of mistrust everywhere, hidden from sight by their social acceptance.
  • Pioneers in many disciplines figured out how to design from trust. Mostly, their disciplines ejected them.
  • Architecture is destiny. Design creates architecture. Intent informs design.
  • Designers face moral decisions daily they can’t identify as moral choices.
  • Mistrust is baked in everywhere, breaking society. Most everything needs creative redesign.

If you’re a designer and you’d like to take a swing at this Design from Trust thing with me, please get in touch.

Thanks, Nathan, for one of the best after-speech Q&A sessions ever! (starts at 22″)

Automation in (of) my life

Jerry —  July 27, 2014 — 1 Comment

I’ve been in the workforce for (ahem) a few years, long enough that I’ve watched a few eras come and go.

The video below describes my first real job, at Mobil Oil (before its merger with Exxon), performing a daily task that we would naturally assume today is done in software. And it is.

I found a picture of the crew that did this with me:

Mobil Stiffs Day

If you believe that consumer, mass-market capitalism is toppling, about to be replaced by something much more open and more authentic, then the FLOK project in Ecuador should be one of the top projects you follow.

Michel Bauwens, the spark behind the Peer-to-Peer Foundation Wiki, has been invited to Ecuador to help convert their economy from the normal growth-addicted model (in which Ecuador is but a little guppy) to a Peer-to-Peer or Commons-Based Economy, in which knowledge is shared openly and all sorts of things ensue.

To get a taste of what this project is and what it means, watch this interview we did with Michel and John Restakis (we = IFTF’s Sara Skvirsky, David Evan Harris & yours truly):

Economists and ecologists are often at odds. Why?

In this short video I offer an opinion that gives us a wee glimmer of a possible solution.

We are modern. We see the world through modern eyes, in a modern context. It’s very hard to unlearn that perspective, or even to understand what it means.

From the modernist point of view, a lot of behaviors and institutions from times gone by make no sense at all. If you want to be entertained learning why the strange customs of the British pre-modern aristocracy were actually well suited to their times and contributed directly to a couple hundred years of Rule Britannia, read The Institutional Revolution: Measurement and the Economic Emergence of the Modern World, by Doug Allen.

That would be entertaining, but not as useful as a reading of The Great Transformation, written by Karl Polanyi in 1944. In the video below, I distill what I got from the book. I’ll offer some comments after it.

The three ways we stayed alive before: householding, reciprocity and redistribution. The three fictitious commodities brought by the industrial revolution: land, labor and money. Poverty, new in 1650; unemployment, new in 1750. The mind boggles.

I’m going to keep creating 5minUs of books that have influenced me, and I encourage you to, as well. Together we might be able to read our way through huge stacks of important works. Contradictions and debate welcome. That’s the point, too.

How will we deal with abundance?

Jerry —  April 24, 2013 — 1 Comment

Provoked by Tim Wu’s review of the book Abundance, Chris Mitchell of ILSR asked whether abundance might not be too much. Won’t we get bogged down in all the choices we have to make?

I love this question because I think seeing abundance (and acting in ways that generate abundance) is a big piece of the solution to the world’s present woes. As a point example, here’s 8 minutes on how we needlessly create artificial scarcity in education, when in fact there is abundance.

We’re just so accustomed to the institution as it exists today — in this case, education — that we can’t see the abundance, which violates many of our dearly held beliefs.

The problem with sudden abundance that Chris described is the Tyranny of Choice (pdf), which Barry Schwartz has investigated well, and Malcolm Gladwell has popularized by writing and speaking about it in his appealing way (I think it’s in this TED talk). A typical story: When faced with 23 jam samples, people bought fewer than when they saw only three. Our mental fuses pop when there’s too much to consider.

When the Cluetrain cabal announced that Markets Are Conversations, a common complaint was that nobody wants to enter a negotiation or selection decision every time they are thirsty for a soda pop. Yup. No doubt.

The good news is that over time we get used to abundance. We form habits. We learn what we like, we share opinions, we groove behaviors that make us happy. Now and then we change them.

The advent of the Internet is the latest firehose of abundance in our lives (compare to the telegraph, then TV). Despite all the hyperbole already written about the Net, it is an amazing thing. Now we can communicate instantaneously with half the humans on this pale blue dot, at zero marginal cost.

Now everything people write on line is available, as well as their movies, tunes, scribbles and (sigh) breakfast photos (well, Zittrain and Pariser show how companies and governments are trying to stop this wanton open sharing, but I’m hopeful it’ll be around a while).

We’re at such an interesting moment in history. When I run workshops about the great change afoot, I’ll sometimes read out loud the semi-famous paragraph from Borges’ short story The Aleph, in which he describes seeing everything that ever happened, is happening, and will happen, through the Aleph (it’s the paragraph that begins “On the back part of the step”).

The Net is our modern Aleph. It just showed up a few years ago.

We’re overwhelmed now, as we should be. (It’s an Aleph!) Since the dawn of hominins (is that what we’re calling our precursors now?), nobody has been able to do what the Net now lets us do — a pretty good reason to preserve Freedom to Connect, if you ask me. It will take us a while to sort out how to deal with it all. Along the way, many of us will just check out or give up. So it goes.

But we humans do sort things out. We find clever mechanisms to sift through the torrent to find what we want. Today it’s hashtagsWODsplaylists, timelines, concept maps and pinboards. Tomorrow, who knows? We curate, share and recommend. We create better tools. Our perception of the environment evolves over time.

The bigger win, though, is when we let abundance back in to industries and sectors of life that have been denuded by notions like “scarcity equals value,” or by social norms and cultural conventions based on trying to stop bad actors from acting badly, rather than on cooperation, then dealing with the bad actors later.

Think about copyright overprotection. Treating the radio spectrum as if it were real estate along a beachfront. The compulsory education system. At the start of this post I pointed to that 8-min screencast about education. I amplify on it in my TEDx talk, which plays out this idea of designing from trust in education, and teases about more.

That’s all fodder for much more than these couple paragraphs. It’s the foundation of the Relationship Economy.

Early on, when the firehose opens up, the barriers crumble and all the new choices multiply, this process takes patience. But it leads to a better world.

Some time back, I answered the excellent questions posed by the Pew Research Center about the future of smart systems. Enough time had passed that I was pleasantly surprised to read the results, and to see a quote of mine called out. It runs as follows:

Jerry Michalski, president of Sociate and consultant for the Institute for the Future, shared a comprehensive view of flaws he sees, writing, “A few years back, BMW and Mercedes Benz had to turn off some of the onboard electronics on their high-end cars because complexity gremlins were making things break. Those are smart German companies that one assumes have a lot of control over their components and their software. Diabetic Jay Radcliffe recently hacked into his own wirelessly enabled insulin pump, changing his dosage. The Internet of Things and the subsequent world of smart systems, from smart cars and smart highways to smarter cities and smart homes is mostly overblown, and, in fact, poses a significant risk of creating overwhelming complexity, which could take down the Internet we now have. It also opens the door to hacking scenarios we seem to not want to contemplate. Every security technology becomes obsolete. If we connect all these new things and expose them to external control, you can bet some of the forces controlling them won’t be the designers or owners. As these connected devices age, they’ll just become more vulnerable. Imagine also the court cases of people hit by autonomous vehicles, for example. I see our ‘smarter world’ much as I see genetically modified organisms right now: very powerful technologies that could do a lot of good but are being implemented poorly.”

I’m typically an optimist, though not a techno-utopian. Imagining how complex a world full of smart things will be, combined with how unlikely it is that we’ll have a satisfactory field-upgradeable infrastructure (meaning the ability to increase embedded devices’ security in years to come, once they’re installed) makes me extremely skeptical that this ends well for us all.

At a recent workshop, I gave a talk titled “Other Kinds of Innovation,” based on this Prezi:

In it, I described three sources of innovation that tend to get short schrift in the whirlwind of books, talks and seminars abot innovation: social innovation, dark innovation and innovations by (not for) the poor.

The first of these, social innovation, is getting more attention thanks to books like The Wisdom of Crowds and Crowdsourcing, even though our culture seems to idolize the lone inventor. Fortunately, recent books like Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From are tackling the myth of the lone inventor, but in our individualistic society, it’s a hard myth to shake. (In the Prezi above, this section is intentionally the least developed.)

The second kind of innovation that we often ignore is the category of innovations that are a net negative to society, which I’m calling dark innovations. These include defensive innovations by incumbents trying to postpone their doom, the unintended negative consequences of innovations created with good intent, and general overconfidence.

The third category is a subtle one in several ways. First, it’s not innovations for the poor, but rather by. Second, these innovations don’t always occur at the frenetic modern pace of innovation, so their pace can hide them. And third, some of these innovations are actually old, excellent ideas that have been buried for a few centuries and are now being rediscovered or reinvented, such as the methods of natural farming.

I intend to do a screencast of this Prezi, or perhaps several, but I’m posting now for a different reason.

Among the attendees as I presented was Peter Denning, who besides writing about innovation is the editor of the ACM‘s Ubiquity Magazine. Peter liked the perspective on dark innovation in particular, so we proceded to do an email interview, the results of which you can read here.

What do you think?

Spend a few minutes with Jordan Grader or Leah Perlman and you’ll discover why The Happiness Institute is bound to be a special place.

They’ve just opened the doors to HI and are still discovering who shows up and how they’ll use their space, which used to be a TV studio. It’s in its chrysalis phase, on the way to being a happiness-centered open university. Or something like that.

On Saturday, January 7, I’ll be exploring the Relationship Economy at HI from 10am to 4pm. In the spirit of happiness, you won’t be staring at my talking head the whole time. We’ll gnaw on some thorny questions together, hear from others with groovy, resonant ideas and mix it up, all with the goal of expanding our collective understanding of this Relationship Economy critter. We’ll also be recording a bunch, to create some media artifacts for use later.

Attendance maxes out at 70; the cost is a lunch fee. The Facebook invite page is here.

Background materials are mostly on this blog. I’d recommend the posts explaining the REXpedition, exploring abundance (in education) and looking at creators and Wikipedia. If you’re feeling adventuresome, learn about my Brain (and dive in yourself), and also browse the abundance and REX Prezis.

Upward spiral

Jerry —  November 13, 2011 — Leave a comment

About a year ago, I watched two videos within days of each other. Their cumulative effect gave me an important aha! moment.

The first was recommended by Arthur Brock during a really interesting conversation. He warned me that the video quality was poor, and boy, is it ever: picture bad VHS with weak sound, and the content is a bearded fellow who is waxing philosophically about nature. I almost tuned out, till I tuned in. Then I started hearing how Paul Krafel went around the Northern California hills near his home with a trowel and some awesome groundrules, which helped him heal the landscapes with simple, steady effort. Here’s that video.

The second video I happened across a few days later. It was a ten-minute segment of an hour-long documentary about the Loess Plateau, a part of inland China the size of Belgium and composed primarily of a fertile but very erosive soil called Loess.

The documentarian, John Liu, visited this area over a ten-year period. At the start, the area is dusty and brown; its residents are poor and leaving. Then, at a scale completely different from Paul Krafel, the local government uses principles similar to Krafel’s to heal the countryside. Here’s the whole documentary, so you can see for yourself how that story ends.

Seeing the second film got me to understand the first. Both together got me thinking two big things:

  1. What are the groundrules they were using, and can they be generalized?
  2. What would it be like to work in the world that way all the time? To create upward spirals wherever you go?
That’s the inspiration for this notion of Upward Spiral, which we’ll be revisiting here often.
Then I started noticing more initiatives like those that had inspired me.