Updated: 29/08/2003; 11:15:35 AM.
The Work Place
What is it about traditional work places that is so stifling to the creative? Is reform possible? What are the alternatives?

Friday, August 29, 2003

500 years ago the communications system in the west was owned by one organization - the church. If you wanted something in writing a monk transcribed it. Few knew how to read as a result of books being so expensive. Your network news was delivered from the pulpit. The system supported the status quo of the power of God's elect, the King and his henchmen the aristocracy and above supported the most powerful multinational enterprise the world had yet seen the church itself. The church was the largest landowner in the west at a time when land was the basis of all wealth. The barriers to competition were impossibly high.

I am sure that when Gutenberg built his first press that there was a lot of chatter about font types, about gearing and pressure and inks and about the best type of paper - the kind of geek talk that is central to all new things. This is where so much of the discourse is today about blogging - RSS etc. But the true power of the printing press was something else that went way beyond how it worked. It was how it was used that was to be important.

Within a hundred years huge numbers of people could read. It was possible to run off broadsheets - personal publishing very cheaply. So what happened as a result of this use of the new technology?

The reformation in Europe, the dissolution of the monasteries in the England the the redistribution of all that wealth to secular hands, the civil war and the end of the idea of monarchy being God's anointed. The modern world was created where new ideas based on observation - such as a new vision of the universe - could not be held back by the establishment in spite of persecution.

So this is what will happen with blogging. What blogging is, is an end run on the strangle hold of our conversation and on our mindset that the corporate and institutional world has established. Until now the costs of having a human voice were set impossibly high. Only Rupert Murdoch or a government could play. But now communication costs are ridiculously low compared to the mainstream media and communications in corporations and government. Not only are the costs low but the interactive element of blogging is so much more powerful than the broadcast technique owned by the institutions. Any one of us can have a voice and groups can have power.Institutions are frightened of this voice and will fight it because it means that they will die as a result.

As at the time of the reformation - the general adoption of blogging tools  will lead to the overthrow of the corporate and the institutional mind. In so doing it will release the vast treasure that it locked up in the costs of corporate and institutional  life. It will free men and women from being peons in a feudal state where they had to live as liege men and offer fealty to their overlords.

We are not only oppressed by those in power in institutional life, we, like medieval peasant, are complicit. We know of no other life. Knowing no other life, like those in Plato's cave, we cannot imagine what freedom from institutional life might be like. We fear freedom because we see no alternative to bondage.

Even simple blogging can help here. It offers for the first time to each of us the potential to find our voice. At first maybe to tell the world what we had for breakfast or to recall some work idea. But I have found in myself a huge change in the last year in my inner voice and in the confidence as I discover that I am not alone in how I think.

Until now people who think as I do have struggled alone. We are by nature are not joiners. Fewer of us every day work in institutional life and cannot use that voice. What "organ" do we have to speak with a human voice? Blogging By finding so many of us out there, we grow in confidence and our voice becomes less hesitant. I feel wonder as I read new blogs every week and see how close our thinking is. This is how power is created

Technical talk is helpful. It leads to better tools. But let's talk more about how we will use blogging to change our world. It is not about making the corporation better - this type of discussion would be the same as a group of monks talking about how printing was going to help the church. It is about how to we take the institution out of our lives.

(Thanks to Dave Pollard for getting me going this week)

11:14:24 AM    comment []

Enrollment for the media courses at our community college is way down this year. Is this part of the dot-com fallout or is something more going on?

What is on offer is a one year full time class based course that costs $10,000 and teaches you to create web pages. I asked my blogging friends on PEI, none of whom are older than 24 and most younger and all of whom are experts in web based communication, - note I did not say experts in web creation.- to tell me how they learned to be so good.

  1. They were all highly motivated and started to "play around" on the web when they were very young 
  2. They learned from each other and still do
  3. None of them see learning about a tool or a technique as being central - one said that when they see a resume that states that the person has mastered a set of named software, they bin it immediately - wrong approach. They do not take a product approach but a holistic approach

So who takes these courses? Maybe folks who have no talent but who think that the web is hot. What happens when they enter the workforce - they meet the web version of Miles Davis or Dave Brubeck with a high school band talent - result they are peons not masters.

So what do you do if you are our community college? Maybe you have to link those who want to learn to those that can teach rather than try and teach the sheep. This is a huge shift. Does it only fit with IT?

What about automotive trades. Until now you could go to a college and learn how to fix a car. But what about Hybrids and soon fuel cells - who will stop the train for long enough to create a conventional curriculum? It can't be done. We will have to learn on the job as the job will be changing too fast. So what does the Community College have to do to create the learning environment. The same process is true for many areas - think even of construction - post Kyoto we will change radically how we build and the material will change very fast. You can't teach stuff that is 3 years out of date.

Who can we learn from? eBay I think. They have made a business through creating a safe community where people can do business with each other.

For me the big challenge is how can we create a safe community where we can learn from each other?

eBay have revolutionized retailing as a result. No inventory! You think that education has no inventory - think again - it is all about inventory - they are called courses and departments - they build and sell. Changes in inventory are exceptionally slow. But the pace of change is accelerating. Formal learning cannot keep up and will only fall behind.

It is also all so expensive. Canadian university fees were up 7% this year while inflation is about 3%. School costs are rising much faster than inflation and the degree is falling in value as more kids enroll. Student debt will be cancer on the next generation. But if you get out of build and sell you get out of your main costs - inventory.

So here is the challenge. What small place that knows it cannot compete with the large traditional centres will have the balls to set up the eBay of learning?

10:42:35 AM    comment []

New movements tend to stall when the "in group" want to keep the movement within the
"in group"

The same may be true for blogging. The number of people that know about what a blog is among my clients is very small.  Intuitively I would say less than 2%. What would put them off? Anything technical. Blogging has to be made really easy.

Why do I mention St Paul? At the outset of Christianity there was a huge debate. The "In Group" as lead by the surviving disciples of Jesus insisted that to be a Christian you had to be a Jew. This meant adult circumcision for the men and backseat behind a screen for the women. Quite a "technical" hurdle!!!. Paul argued that all men and women should be able to become Christians - guess who won? Pride in coping with the technical sides of blogging is a block for take-up.

The real opportunity is when a group of "Ingroup folks" maybe like "socialtext" really engage with organizational life and find the fit. Step 1 has to be"Easy does it" Easy does it demands that anyone who can type can set up a good blog and that there are a number of great templates. We are exploring Typepad to see if we can make it even easier.

Step two has to be finding the immediate felt benefit. This is more challenging and I think demands that we find parts of an organization where building a community will help - maybe in the entire support area. This is where the whole KM issue rears its head. The idea of content management is an exceptionally stupid idea that flies in the face of how we understand knowledge. Only a small fraction of knowledge is explicit - the vast bulk is implicit - ie it is ten times better to talk to someone about an issue than to try and find what he has written about it. Who wants a manual when you can be walked through? BP has been a leader here in seeing that their key system issues is to find a way of connecting people with questions to people with answers. Each employee has a personal website that amongst other things has a lot of info about what they know. The deal at BP is that if you have question you search for the person.

Why should we care anyway? Blogging is our path back to being human at work. Blogging reveals who we are to not only others but more importantly to ourselves. For the first time mankind - the great tool maker - who has used tool making ingenuity to make the world and himself into a tool, or a thing, has created a tool that renews and brings back what it is to be human.

So like Paul - we are faced with an historic choice. We can relegate blogging to geekiness and tool making or we can work to change our relationships back from machine to human.

What do I mean by this bold statement? We can change democracy by making it essential for politicians to be real and to listen to us. We can get the issues that make sense on the table other than spin. We can make management of organizations transparent and give organizations a human Cluetrain voice. We can change how we learn - from each other rather than from institutions. We can change healthcare by empowering fellow sufferers to help each other rather than to rely on the priests of medicine. We so change the world as Paul did.



Blogs for What Business?. Jimmy Guterman's new piece on business blogging (sub. required) is sure to cause a stir. He charges the blogging community as being "self-absorbed and elitist" and says its not essential for business. He cites a Forrester study to back up his claims:

You don't have to believe me on this. Finally, some data asserts that blogs are hardly a popular pursuit. If anything, blogging is more marginal than its critics contend. Forrester Research (FORR) conducted an online survey of 3,673 people and found that 79 percent of its respondents had never heard of blogs, 98 percent had never read one, and 98 percent said they'd never pay to read or write one. Blogs can be wonderful things, but if a mere 2 percent of Internet users read blogs, the pastime is far from mainstream. The Forrester survey notes that the typical blog reader has been using the Web for an average of six years. For the most part, blogs feature the Net elite writing to the Net elite. This continues to be the case only as long as the elite are underemployed.

I believe what Jimmy is saying is that there isn't a consumer market for blogging and that it isn't essential for businesses to address it. The problem is we are at the very beginning of a technology adoption lifecycle. Some serious companies have forecasted this market to grow and made their bets accordingly. Every time a journalist tries to wrap themselves around the existing market, what's visible are early adopters. What stands out are the leaders in using blogs for publishing, who benefit from preferential attachment as the earliest entrants. And if you take the innovator dialogue to seriously it looks like a one ring circus.

The other story folks pick up on is unclueful attempts by businesses and PR firms to market to bloggers as an emerging and influential segment. Any attempt to treat bloggers as a segment will fail. Today the influence of participants who act more as producers than consumers is the attraction. The number of participants is growing at 400% per year, and that's before AOL's entry.

But the real story in the consumer market is how increasing numbers of real people are using blogs , but as a way to communicate an form their own communities. Its that skinny tail of the power-law distribution that's going to wag the market. A way to share with friends, communicate post-by-post and remain open to new people joining your community. Conversational Networks provide the most value to your average Jane.

Rick Bruner does make the case that there are lots of businesses using blogs in the consumer market and points out this is like the web in 1995 and where the weblog as publishing market is headed. And many of them are making money. I agree that more evidence in this area would help, always does, but give it time for these new ventures to tell their story.

There is another story of weblogs and business that is less visible because the real action is behind the firewall. At Socialtext we are adapting weblogs for use within enterprises. Weblogs are one Enterprise Social Software tool, because they are necessary but not sufficient for communication and collaboration.

The enterprise market is entirely different than the consumer market. What is in common is an efficient, and dare I say fun, way of having conversations that contribute to productivity. Maybe its time we start telling more of our customer stories, but the distinction between consumer and enterprise needs to be made. [Corante: Social Software]

8:57:54 AM    comment []

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

More Great KM Stuff.
Collaboration is in the KM toolbox.

Collaboration is the new KM

Why collaboration? I think it appeals because its less fluffy than 'KM' - people intuitively think its good (few CEO's are crying out for their people to collaborate less) - and it taps a current need: in trying to cut costs by e.g. reducing travel, people are feeling the pain of projects failing and mis-communication. 'Virtual teams' as a term has been around long enough, but few companies are getting it right.

[from Intellectual Capital Punishment]

This snippet from the middle of Sam Marshall's comments hints at why collaboration has gained new attention: collaboration = faster throughput with the same resources. He also reminds us that for this to be done well, we have to prepare for it.

As part of his discussion on expert databases last week, John Chu shared a report on the topic from Outsell, Trend Alert: Connecting People to People - Expert Databases (abstract only). Outsell surveyed a number of companies with expert databases and said some things about knowledge management and setting up expert databases. It was the conclusion that was most telling:

In our opinion, the pain won't be worth the gain if collaborative work practices aren't already inherent within the organization.

It is relatively easy to set up the technology to run video conferences and webinars. But to create a culture that takes advantage of these technologies is much more difficult, and much more interesting in the long term. Beyond saving money on travel, what does the organization expect to gain from having NetMeeting or WebEx or iSight?

[Knowledge Jolt with Jack]

Not only is collaboration important and allows more productivity with the same number of people, but the final aspect, culture, is critical. Companies that do not already have collaborative cultures will not be able to utilize these technologies efficiently and will thus be at a tremendous disadvantage to companies that already are collaborative. Simply providing collaboration tools to a company that believes that knowledge is power, where restricting the flow of information is the way to advance, will result in unused tools. In companies that already value transparency and open communication, that want as many eyes on the problem as possible in order to find solutions, these tools will only enhance productivity. So, in my mind, it is worthless to try and provide the tools to a company whose culture will not allow them to be utilized. You might make a buck but your customer will not be satisfied. If their industry requires novelty, creativity and innovation to succeed, then they will eventually fail. In such an industry, not having a culture that fosters collaboration is a business model of failure. [A Man with a Ph.D. - Richard Gayle's Weblog]

Richard is hot! I am 100% with you Richard - the new competitve frontier is culture. Those who have a collaborative culture will learn and adapat more quickly and will overwhelm those that do not.

You can't buy this type of culture - so the leadership issue becomes critical

7:09:20 AM    comment []

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Several years ago, a friend of mine came close to breaking free from the institutional life. He had a foot in each place. But frightened by the unknown, he pulled back into the world he knew - confident that he was safer there where his mastery lay. Last week he was fired.

In my own life and family too we have a recurring story, a Greek tragedy, where the pull of duty and obligation to the familiar overwhelms the preservation of self. The outcome - an early death for both my father and grandfather. It seemed to be their only exit. I thought that I was exempt from this story but find that I am well into it.

I too like my friend have a choice. The  paradox is that in a turbulent time, the greatest risk is in hanging onto what seems safe. The greatest safety - to reach into the unknown. This is surely not only true for each of us as individuals but also for organizations.

Here is how Herman Melville describes this in Moby Dick

"The port would fain give succor; the port is pitiful; in the port is safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm blankets, friends, all that's kind to our mortalities. But in that gale, the port, the land, is that ship's direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality; one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through. With all her might she crowds all sail off shore; in so doing, fights 'gainst the very winds that fain would blow her homeward; seeks all the lashed sea's landlessness again; for refuge's sake forlornly rushing into peril; her only friend her bitterest foe! " Moby Dick - The Lee Shore Chapter.

11:56:03 AM    comment []

Sunday, August 10, 2003

We live today in one of those periodic times, when shifts in beliefs and in communication technology drive a fundamental change in how power is defined and exercised. What are these trends and how do they manifest themselves in the lives of universities? How can universities, with their unique cultures and management processes, cope and even prosper in this type of environment?
What is going on? What are these trends and what do they mean for managing a University? In particular, what do they mean for the social and human aspects that HR will have to plan for?
  • A revolution in demography - By 2020, most people in the developed world will be over 50. This is a unique demographic event in the history of nature. This aging of society will affect all aspects of the social and work world. It will be especially challenging for organizations that rely on a stream of young customers or those who rely on the young to replace the old as participants. Universities are vulnerable in both ends of the age spectrum. Who will teach? Who will be the students? How will we attract and retain staff and students? Our previous assumptions about the answers to these questions will have to be revisited.
  • A revolution in values. There is a pronounced shift in organizational values in the developed world. The shift is from an acceptance in organizations of a top down and process driven approach toward a new set of values that built on self-expression and dialogue. This values' shift is proving a challenge to all organizations In particular, all "customer" interfaces in every field of service delivery are being challenged by this new values set. There is no reason why institutions of learning should be exempt from this shift. where the managerial culture is authoritarian. For academia, the shift is especially challenging as it demands also a shift in pedagogy from where the teacher and content is the centre piece to where the student and dialogue is the centre piece. What is meant by this shift? What is the right course to take? How will we get there? Our current approach to delivery and to teaching itself has to re-evaluated.
  • A revolution in technology - It is not an illusion, the pace of technological change is accelerating in a non-linear manner. The web revolution has however only just begun. The impact on society will be similar to the advent of the railway which radically changed how and where people lived and worked in the 19th century. We can expect no less of a revolution today. While the new design for society is not yet clear, the new design for service delivery is emerging with some clarity. New technology enables the customer to access the service provider on his terms and at times that suit the customer. The new manufacturing process, as developed by Dell, has turned the Ford model of make and sell on its head. The adversarial customer relationship of the transaction economy, is being replaced by a community and relationship based model as exemplified by eBay and Amazon. How will this affect education? Many say that education is different. This may be a dangerous assumption. These technological and cultural forces are located already on the edge of the Academic world and are becoming ubiquitous. They fit the new values and they fit the new service/cost criteria as we are seeing in the airline industry. They will bear down on how universities operate. What will happen to high cost, place and content based universities when an educational equivalent of Southwest Airlines or EBay emerges? Other organizations in other sectors that have not thought about this threat now face extinction. 
  • A revolution in educational costs and service expectations - A generation ago, post secondary education was an elite process. Now it is expected to be accessible to most young people. This has lead to a massive expansion in the scale of universities and to a new and challenging relationship with government. Governments, in many parts of the developed world, see universities as engines of economic and social development. As Governments pay many of the bills, their social and economic expectations are becoming important parts of the university agenda. In response, Universities have had little choice but to adopt many of the features of the industrial workplace. Mass production of content and mass processing of students has enabled student participation to rise but at the cost of a significant increase in infrastructure costs and a corresponding reduction in organizational flexibility. Development and fund raising have become critical skills of the President. Coping with Unions and labour relations has become an important Presidential skill. As a result, the culture of business is seeping though the academic world. Paradoxically, as more students participate and as the direct and indirect costs of education rise for the student, the value of a BA is devalued in the work place. The average student can no longer afford a 4 year term at university away from home. Something in the cost mix will have to break. The current system cannot deliver the price and the quality that the student can afford and that the staff can tolerate. The result is a growing conflict between the internal stakeholders. All the stakeholders intuitively sense that something has to give but have circled their own wagons to defend themselves. How can Universities break the deadlock between their constituent parts? Is it likely that the conventional process of fighting this out at the bargaining table will work? What new process would give us the chance of reconciling the fears of the competing groups?
What operational issues will be exposed by these trends? -
  • Bearing in mind, a very small pool and a huge demand, how will we attract and retain the key academic and specialist staff that we need? Rank this issue in importance? Is this a survival issue or just a tough one to deal with? What are the financial implications of getting this wrong? What are the reputational issues of getting this wrong? 
  • How important will dealing with the subset issues such as pay and work place culture be to the attraction and retention issues? Is money the only issue? What can you afford bearing mind the pressure on the cost front?
  • Is transforming our costs merely about finding new cuts or will they come from a redesign of how we do things? How will conventional cuts affect the ability of the university to deliver? What will happen to morale and to students? What will increasing risk of more internal conflict mean?
  • Will finding more effective and ways of teaching more for less be about the application of new technology or is it about finding a way to change our mindsets about how to do this differently?
  • Is affecting change itself an issue of power or is it an issue of understanding how we change from a psycho-social perspective. How important is being able to change?
  • How important is it to reduce the centrifugal forces that are affecting our university? Can this be done as a matter of power or are there social and organizational design issues involved?
  • How can we reduce the inertial and complexity drag of our union environment? How important is this in a rapidly changing world? Can we use power to do this?
  • Our health and benefits costs are growing at a non linear rate. How substantive is the threat to our financial health? Is solving this issue a matter of power or design?

More here

4:32:51 PM    comment []

I have been talking to a number of universities about what their world feels like today. Here are some of my early views.

The bottom line - Universities have become too complex for conventional management processes and conventional HR approaches which have a tendency to seek conformity and are based on both a mechanical mindset and the belief in cause and effect. Many enterprises have complexity such as different divisions, but at a modern university the complexity is overwhelming.
What is it about a modern university that is so complex? It is because there are a number of distinct cultures that are on a trajectory of conflict. This conflict is based on scarcity, the need to change the nature of universities completely, which will mean that the conflict will become very bitter.
The dominant culture of the university is the academic culture. In the past the academics also ran the university so there was an alignment between the dominant culture and management. That was a time when universities were like large clubs and were not part of the mainstream of life and high on the government agenda. This is no longer the case. The president is tasked with running the university and the largest group, the academics now play a blocking role. The main culture conflict is between the guild of academics and the President who represents a new culture that is an anathema to the guild - a business culture. The complexity is amplified by what I see as a "slave revolt". At a lower level are 2 grieving groups. A new class of teachers:  the TA and the Sessional Lecturers who are treated like helots by the Guild and who will fight for status. A rising group of administrators who in the past were cleaning staff but now are IT professionals and Lab technicians who also want status.
These groups are all unionized and their issues are being built into a deteriorating negotiating environment and into difficult meetings in the Presidents office where one side tries to win over another.
The President is the only person who can see the big picture. All the groups are hunkering down to win their own battles. This is what the President sees.
  • Fees for undergraduates are already too high as are the total costs of attending 4 years. Now $60,000 for a 4 year term they are expected to be $100,000 in 20 years time. The average debt on leaving is over $25,000. The theory was that with a degree, high paying jobs were a certainty. As the pool of graduates has got larger this is no longer a valid assumption and many are crushed by this debt. They are seeking a better way and will jump at a credited course that does not demand 3-4 years residency. Presidents know that their model of product push on campus will be disintermediated by an electronic alternative. Presidents want to find ways of structurally reducing these costs.
  • The new demography will cut the number of undergraduates severely in Canada in the next 10 years. Between numbers and money something will have to give. Presidents want to look at other groups such as seniors but this does not fit the system.
  • Over 50% of faculty in North America will retire in the next 10 years. Already there is a race to hire. Academic wages are going up to both attract and to retain good staff. Just as Presidents will have to cut costs, the core costs are under pressure to go up. The tendency is to ask government for more - but government will be coping with rising healthcare costs and will back off universities. Or to raise fees! Presidents would like to broaden the type of candidate but the faculty demand that the PHD is the benchmark.
  • Another way to reduce costs will be to change the delivery system of courses from face to face to electronic. The heavily unionized faculty will defend this to the death. Defending IP is their by word. In fact this is a smokescreen. The point is that within the universities, faculty do not understand the new medium and don't want too. They don't pay a great deal of attention to undergrads any way. Their status and pay is determined by where they are on the publishing research track and not by teaching. So they are creating a new underclass the TA and the Sessional lecturer. Presidents need to get into the faculty and help them see that holding on too tight is not in their interests
  • One of the things that faculty hate the most is the idea of a university becoming like a business. They see the President taking the university to that place. They want it to be a club again. Their club. So they still do all their hiring within the confines of their own discipline. The need to replicate themselves and the tenure system. In so doing they will by design add to the costs and the complexity of the enterprise.
  • There are 2 new groups at universities that will increase the complexity and tension in the next 10 years. In the delivery system are the TA and the Sessional lecturer which have become essential in the undergrad world. They both teach and mark. They are the face to face undergrad world. At the moment these are helots - poorly paid and low status. But tensions are rising - after all they do the work. The other group is the ever expanding Administrative world. In my day these were literally servants. Now they are a heavily unionized group of bitter people who feel put upon and without status. Many of them are in the IT area and are lab technicians. We can see the same trend in medicine.
The bottom line? The modern university has at least 4 cultures on a collision course. This type of cultural tension cannot be solved at the negotiating table. Some type of visioning process will be needed and a new managment process that can include these forces.
More later

4:26:21 PM    comment []

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

As the debate about Gay Marriage builds, I wonder what is the "natural state of marriage". Much of what I read in our local paper righteously informs me that Jesus, God and the church determine what marriage is all about. In short in this view, marriage is a union of one man and one woman whose role is to have children.

Just for fun, let's explore the history of the union of adults a bit further than the few thousand year perspective that the CW allows for.

For most of the 4 million years that humans and our predecessors have been around, our primary social unit has not been a union of two adults of opposite sex but a small tribe of between 15 and 25. 25 appears to be the optimal size with the right threshold of complexity for survival. These tribes were in turn linked into their surrounding tribes into "nations" of about 150. These in turn were linked into federations of around 500-600. Why these numbers?

The Math of Genetics - There is also a genetic link to group size and Magic Numbers.

A person living alone has a "half life " of about one year. Set ups of one lose half their number in one year, half in the next and so on. Living alone is a very weak strategy in a natural environment where there are many risks and challenges. Today the power of the state is encouraging us to live this way - the state is the dependency creating family and its not a healthy relationship.

The half life of a group of 5 is a generation or about 20-40 years

The half life of 25 people is 250-500 years. 25 seems to be an ideal blend of comfort and complexity. A company that lasted 250 years would be a remarkable organizations. In a tribe about half a group of 25 would be adults - say about 8 men and women - now we see the core underlying magic number revealed. It is the ideal single sex work group derived from the ideal familial work group, the tribe.

The 500 person group is the ideal "marriage gene pool" Incest taboos prevent breeding in the 25 person tribe. Wives and husbands have to be found outside this group. But not too far outside. After all we don't want our daughter to mary a stranger or worse someone who cannot add wealth by his connections. We also want them to speak the same language and worship the same Gods. So being close means that we can enter your wife's family hunting ground and that it creates the potential to have large scale group hunts on occasion. 475 people = the ideal gene pool of 19 x 25 member bands.

Dave Pollard writes eloquently about how great it would be to live/work in a group whose sole aim would be mutual support - this is what this tribal set up was all about.

The reality is then that for most of human time, we lived not in units of two adults but in social units of 25 that include about 8 adults. The purpose of this tribal unit was obviously to raise the next generation but to do so in the context of doing all of the related work as a large team. This was above all a social and economic unit.

There was no clear line between work, play and society. No Work/Life balance issues here. Belonging to the tribe and having a tribe that functioned well was in every member's survival interests. No individual was safe on their own. No child could depend solely on her natural parents. They needed the power of the larger group. If we are honest with ourselves, this issue of safety and the need for a support group has not changed. The game can disappear - we are fired. Partners and children die. Our kids need a job. We get injured or sick. In our diminished social world, we now look mainly to the state or to insurance companies for the benefits of the protection of the group. The most important unit in our history was not the "family", it did not exist, but the tribe.

Ah but you have left out the best bits you say. So what about men and women and sex? Any study of primal people tells us that there are many arrangements for how sex was accommodated. There are tribes where the big man has most access to most women. There are matriarchal tribes where the power and the choice is in the hands of the women. There are tribes where most of the sex is homosexual and where mating for children is a by product. In most tribes your own gender is where your primary social and affection relationships reside.

My point? The tribe is sacrosanct - sex and sex partner rules are diverse. The point of the tribe is to raise children not simply to produce them. No two parents in a tribe focus on only their own offspring. They look after all the children as do all the other adults. With all property belonging to all members, there is no need to make a strong link of who was the father.

So where does this leave us now?

The reality is that most so called families are now one adult organizations lead by a woman. This is as small and as vulnerable a unit as is possible. Even with two parents, most are so stressed out at work that they have little energy for their children. We see the results in grade 1 when 30% of the kids have behaviour problems that are so overwhelming that they are unlikely to make it through school. Many families are blended but are so hooked into the CW that they blame the other for the breakdown and have little or no contact. So the children can be cut off from Grandparents and are shuttled between warring parents. Many blended families have the potential to be tribes if only the warring parents could see through their anger and see the potential.

Our view of jobs has meant that work and social life have been split apart and we vainly try and find a balance. Our social structures have been destroyed. In desperation we turn to the state or to the company benefits plan or help for those times when we as individuals cannot help ourselves. .

What marriage really means now is a legal construct by which the benefits of the state and from insurance companies, pensions etc, can pass from one party to a related party. This is what most Gay couples want - legal recognition and access to the state and company tribal benefits.

The church is fixated on sex. No surprise that this is its own weakness. The church assumes that we organize around sex which makes the conventional marriage the central organizational unit. BUT the observed fact is that humans do not naturally organize around sex - we organize around work and survival. Human social organizations are not built for procreation but to raise children so that they can take over the leadership of the tribe. Sex is not why my Gay friends want the recognition of their union. They want the protection of the state tribe. Most importantly, they want to be able to raise children so that they too have the ultimate benefit of dying in the knowledge that they have raised good people who will remember them as their ancestors.

8:46:38 AM    comment []

A theme of my posting is to examine why so many people today are so deeply unhappy about their work life. Recently I have been looking at our need to have a higher purpose and at our need to have a more collegial relationship in the hierarchy.

I have posted two great articles by Ross Mayfield below because it seems clear to me that we have another basic flaw in how we organize - except for the military who have never forgotten - we are mainly are ignorant of the inherent numbers and structures that facilitate the optimal human relationships.

I bet also a dinner that there is not a text book on HR that talks about natural networks as opposed to formal departments and which then includes the theory of magic numbers for optimal relationships. My bet is that organizational theory today is an artificial construct just like the Ptolemaic view of the Universe. What is really on the table here is another Copernican revolution for organization based, now as then, on observation of reality that we are humans rather than acceptance of a  doctrine based on the hope that we are machines. .

7:41:14 AM    comment []

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

"The last obvious policy is in education. There is already a gathering counter-consensus in the UK around educational reform, led by voices like Tom Bentley of Demos, CreativeNet and the Scottish Council Foundation: they want to stop "factory schools turning out factory minds". The creative child can imagine new problems (rather than have them handed down to them); mingles ideas easily from one realm to another; makes mistakes, as long as they lead to more interesting solutions, and focuses on goals with all their powers of attention. That's a text-book list of the psychological attributes of play.

Yet creative education should be about more than producing fodder for the "creative industries", or a better class of info-worker. The democratisation of creativity could save lives - or at a minimum, turn those lives away from self-destruction. If the play ethic means anything tangible, it is about occupying the gap that drug culture occupies in our poorest communities. And that gap is created by the distance between "work" as it stands - job-seekers allowances, McEmployment of all kinds, the spiritual tedium of "workfare" Britain - and the individuals who cannot (or will not) conform to its dictates.

Drugs, you could say, are the dream-seekers' allowance: the most expedient way to boost your sense of human potential, when all the official routes heading towards that end seem rubble-strewn, or impossibly long, or depressingly unrewarding. This also explains the traditional hot-link between narcosis and pop culture. If your chemical dreams spur you to activity, then dancing, socialising and fucking - or making other people dance, socialise and fuck - is often the most gratifying way to make your mark on the world; to align your inner state with your outer reality.

What Ibiza has really "uncovered", for all its reckless, oafish hedonism, is an inarticulate but deeply-felt rejection of the false dignities of contemporary labour. "I’m largin' it" should be taken literally: it means, My precious self is bigger than this mousy, pointless social role.

An education for creativity which wanted to be truly “inclusive” would have to listen to this elemental and popular desire for playfulness. It’s an unruly vigour which has its subterranean link to an earlier, more carnivalesque Britain, evidently not entirely swept away by industrial capitalism. A time of "happy Mondays" and "the soul's play-day", when 18th century Gloucester bishops complained about "loutish mobs that are drunk with the cup of liberty".

Teachers would have to find ways to tap into these disruptive energies, and turn them into a repertoire of usable life-skills. That means, among other new approaches, that the much-abused "media and cultural studies" would at last get its proper curricular due. Bringing context and history to pop songs, computer games and tabloid tv could provide kids with an exit route from the cul-de-sac of these escapisms, into richer areas of cultural tradition and understanding. From Big Brother to George Orwell (or from Ibiza Uncovered to Epicurus) is surely a worthwhile educational gambit.

Economists who've read their Marx often talk about education as part of the "reproduction of labour" - the place where the character of the good worker is made. The play ethic wants an education which aims at the reproduction of creativity, the nurturing of the good player’s soul. Children should leave schools feeling motivated, in command of their faculties, and capable of expressing themselves in forms and behaviours which both please themselves and others. Why would such a child choose the temporary utopia of drugs, over the actual joys of skilful self-creation? Why would they not choose to play?"

If you woke up and found that you were 8 again and had to go back to school, how would you feel? Would you not want a school that was more on Kane's lines than the one you send your kids to now?

8:29:36 AM    comment []

Here is an extract from Pat Kane's body of Work on Play - Thanks to Ross Mayfield for the link

"Yet why believe in work, when work doesn't believe in you? The constant watchwords of the new capitalism are flexibility, creativity, self-improvement. Workers are urged to "get up to speed" with a runaway world: we must become mobile and tensile, enterprising and capable. We must harness our chariots to the sun of intense global competition.

Yet these injunctions come from companies which hire you for a year, six months, maybe even less; who might be taken over at any time in some City of London or Wall Street manoeuvre; who try to wriggle out of long-term entanglements like pensions, wage and holiday agreements; and who shed labour whenever their position in the global marketplace shows the slightest competitive disadvantage. Trying to excel for companies that are themselves transient, provisional and unforgiving might come to seem like the grandest folly.

When that realization comes - that is, when the work ethic crumbles before your eyes - then an intellectual vacuum opens up at the heart of contemporary capitalism, which desperately needs to be filled. Over the last decade, a procession of not-big-enough ideas have tried to fill the space - "downshifting", "work-life balance", all those slackers and idlers. None of them with much success or distinction.

They all try to speak to our deep common anxiety: that if we keep up our loyalty to the work ethic, in a world where competition, mutability and innovation rule supreme, we will destroy ourselves. The LSE's Richard Sennett calls this the "corrosion of our characters" - where the acids of the new capitalism eat away at the old industrial virtues of self-discipline, sacrifice and duty.

We need a new, similarly powerful social ethic for these hyper-demanding times. Some other world-view that can give a coherence to the frenzy of activities and interests that we scatter across our busy lives. Something - anything - that could make all these demands for "creativity" and "achievement" even worth the effort.


Welcome to the play ethic. First of all, don’t take “play” to mean anything idle, wasteful, frivolous or even necessarily childish. The trivialisation of play was the work ethic's most lasting, and most regrettable achievement. This is "play" as the great philosophers, and recently mind scientists, have understood it: the experience of being an active, creative and fully autonomous person.

“Man plays only when he is in the fullest sense a human being“, said the great German Romantic Friedrich Schiller. “As man apprehends himself as free and wishes to use his freedom, then his activity is to play", agreed Jean Paul-Sartre. The classic 20th century psychologists - like Jean Piaget, Donald Winnicott and Erik Erikson - all understood play as our most effective way of mastering the complexities of our world, rather than submitting to its routines.

And now that we can watch the very synapses of our minds perform, through medical neuro-imaging, the powers of play are even more confirmed. Those who clear space in their lives for activities that are pleasurable, voluntary and imaginative - that is, for play - have better memory, sharper reasoning, and more optimism about their future. As the dean of play studies, the University of Pennsylvania's Brian Sutton-Smith says, "the opposite of play isn't work. It's depression. To play is to act out and be wilful, exultant and committed, as if one is assured of one's prospects".

So to call yourself a "player", rather than a "worker", is to immediately widen your conception of who you are, and what you might be capable of doing. It is to dedicate yourself to realizing your full human potential; to take an essentially active, rather than passive stance towards your environment; and to be constantly guided in this by your sense of fulfillment, meaning and satisfaction.

The play ethic is what happens when the values of play become the foundation of a whole way of life. It turns us into more militant producers, and more discriminating consumers. It causes us to re-prioritise the affairs of our hearts, to upgrade the quality of our emotional and social relationships. It makes us more activist in our politics, but less traditional in their expression. And most of all, the play ethic forces us to think deeply about how we should pursue our pleasures - and how we reconcile that with our social duties.

So, like the work ethic, the play ethic is a set of feelings and principles about how we should be active in the modern world. But the difference between the two is huge. Work is always (to coin a phrase) the involuntary sector - the realm of compulsion and necessity, where men and women have to do what they have to do. But as Sartre says, play is what you do when you feel at your most free, your most voluntary. When every positive decision you make about your life carries both a risk, and a promise, of something new and challenging taking place. This is why the play ethic isn’t “the leisure ethic”: the last thing it involves is slumped relaxation."

This is an extract from a 4,00 word piece and a wideranging site with tons of material

8:18:47 AM    comment []

Saturday, August 02, 2003

Here is another view from the Whitehall study. What is shows are the rate of death from Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) your rank in the hierarchy and the risk factors. Look to the right at the longest bar chart. This shows that you are 4 times more likely to die form CHD if you are at the bottom of the pile than at the top. See that thin black line at the foot of the chart - that is your risk factor to scale if you have high cholesterol. yet what is the main topic of your conversation with your doctor? What are the best selling set of drugs, after anti deprressants? Pills to lower your cholesterol. The blank in the file (actually white so it doesn't show) is high blood pressure. Taking pills for hypertension? Even smoking is not too bad.

It's easier for us to take a pill I suppose than to face reality about our lives. Are we mainly slaves or free - that is the health question I think.

There is no doubt that many drugs are very useful but are the the only way to see health improvments?

I love this slide. It shows the relative decline of TB. Most of the battle was won in the public health sector way before the introduction of antibiotics in the 1950's.

How we feel about ourselves is another important factor.

Here we see the amazing rise in the crude death rate in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. What is the main factor. A loss of identity. We see the same prcess in our native population in North America.

So what's my point? One of the factors that is causing our healthcare costs to exceed the rate of groweth of our economy is the rising cost of drugs. We seem to belive that it is only drugs that keep us from death's door. This is especially true for seniors. How do we change this perception?


4:38:19 PM    comment []

I was struck this week by seeing "Augustine's wall". In the work I am doing on health, I have come to understand that one off the most powerful negative forces on our immune system is when we lose our sense of control and identity. The modern bureaucracy strips us of both. Hence now 17% of payroll is the direct costs of absence and health in the modern workplace. Just before you scan on past this -17% OF PAYROLL!!!!.

Most disease in the developed world is chronic. Diabetes, back problems, depression. They cannot be "cured" by using the germ theory.

 This type of disease is the largest cost in the modern work force and is also driving the revenues of the drug companies who have found a gold mine in problems that cannot be "cured". Drug cost are rising at a compound rate in excess of 9% and will move soon to the top of the list of costs in the health system.

But actually it is Augustine that has a sense of where we could more profitably look for help. The emerging key to chronic disease is culture. Our immune system is compromised when we live in a culture where only a few have voice and control - the modern bureaucracy. We are also learning that the same conditions apply when we look at societies. Those that are very top down such as Sicily have much worse health and economic outcomes that say the north of Italy that has a tradition of strong horizontal links of self help. We are also learning that the same is true in families as well. Egalitarian family cultures drive the best development for their children. All this is coming together in a grand theory of culture/the immune system/development and coping.

Here is Sir Michael Marmot, the world's leading workplace researcher on the topic:

The question is what is it about position in the hierarchy that determines different rates of disease?


And given that, the hierarchy in disease does change. All societies may have hierarchies but we know that the social gradient in disease is not fixed. It?s bigger in some places than others and it can change over time. This could be that the magnitude of the hierarchies change, but there are always hierarchies. But more importantly, it suggests that it is about where you are in the hierarchy that's related to disease and can we do something about that?


So you ask is it money? Is it prestige, self esteem? And in fact what I think it is has much more to do with how much control you have over life circumstances and the degree to which you?re able to participate fully in society..?


Here is what this means in real life.

Here is a graph showing the Gradient in mortality in the Whitehall Study that looked at the UK Civil Service over 20 years. In the UK, Administrative would be the top of the heap. People at the bottom have 4 times worse outcomes. These forces are much more powerful that the factors that we currently focus on such as smoking, obesity etc.


Putnam makes the same case for the impact of community on health as well.


The traditional "paternal cultures" such as Louisiana are at the bottom where only those at the top feel they have a voice and control, and the more egalitarian cultures such as Vermont are at the top where many feel that they are in charge of their lives and that they have a say. Again these indentity and control forces are huge.


Wilms at UNB has found the same correlation in family culture as well. Those families with very traditional authoritarian cultures shut down their children and set them up for very poor development tracks. By the way really permissive parents are almost as bad.


Augustine is so on the money! My sense is that in the next 20 years we will develop an approach to health that is largely governed by our emerging understanding of how our immune system is connected to our sense of identity and voice. Paradoxically, similar "Public Health" approach in the late 19th century hit infectious diseases on the head. Clean water, good sanitation, the end of child labour, the introduction of public schools etc all contributed to a huge reduction of infectious disease well before the introduction of anti biotics. I find it interesting that as parts of society break down that diseases such as TB are on their way back now.


My hope is that as we understand the issues of control and voice, that we can shift from medication to having a better life as the "cure".

9:49:52 AM    comment []

© Copyright 2003 Robert Paterson.
August 2003
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
Jul   Sep

The Work Place


Click here to visit the Radio UserLand website.

Subscribe to "The Work Place" in Radio UserLand.

Click to see the XML version of this web page.

Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.