Leadership Calgary

MoyMoyPalaBoy: Counterpoint

As a counterpoint to my previous posting on MoyMoyPalaBoy’s version of the Gypsy King’s version of Volare, I write this posting.

I’m reminded of the article where Conan O’Brian is paraphrased talking about the upheaval in the entertainment industry. This passage comes to mind from that article:

“O’Brien made the point repeatedly that “cream rises to the top” online and that if you consistently put out funny stuff, you’ll start getting paid to write or perform funny stuff. But he also talked about how the Web and the reality TV/ Paris Hilton generation had set a precedent that you could be famous not for any talent, but just for making a spectacle of yourself.”

I also would like to tie in an article I read from Ars recently talking about how students trust the top link in a search engine too much. The quote that gave me pause in that article is:

“Only 10 percent of the participants mentioned the author or author's credentials when performing their research, and according to screen captures of those students, "none actually followed through by verifying either the identification or the qualifications of the authors.””

I’ve been mulling this over in my mind, trying to figure out what is bothering me about these articles. I need to think about this a bit more, but the issue at hand seems to me to be the inability or unwillingness to assess the quality of the information and media you are viewing.

You may think I am moving in the direction of an ineffective “kids these days are not as sharp as the kids of the previous generations” argument. That isn’t the case, because I think such a statement is just as simplistic and reductionist as some of the media in question being viewed.

Rather, I think this is more about a trend towards using less assessment of quality while viewing information and media. That is a far more difficult problem to assess and counter, but I believe more accurately describes the situation.

There are a lot of forces influencing this trend to people using less quality standards.

One that comes to mind is the ongoing problem of information overload. It really isn’t possible for people to appreciate nuance when the information pipe is a firehose. Nuance takes time and introspection, neither of which are workable when there’s so much information that you barely have time to read it, let alone understand it.

As people of the internet age we believe that we can handle large amounts of information, but in reality we only pay attention to that which is novel, because that’s what immediately gets our attention. Like hoarding crows we look at and pay attention to shiny things without assessing whether they are jewels or discarded aluminum cans. People prey on this and learn to present information in a shiny way so we will pay attention to it in the flood of the information firehose.

The problem with any information is that it is inconsistent. It is incomplete, biased with agendas (intentionally or not) and of varying quality. It requires a force of will to stitch it together in a way that is cohesive and useful.

If we do not make this effort, then we remain vulnerable to influence from external agendas from anyone trying to sell us something, whether that something be products, politics, culture or ideas.

We cannot do that with a firehose.

I recall some other references, but I need to dig through my books to find them. I’ll leave this discussion at this for now as I ponder this some more.

And to think a bad video spoofing a song pushed me to this.

Framing and Forces Part 2: Forces

This posting is the second posting discussing my Framing and Forces thinking tool. You may read the first posting on Frames by clicking here.

The concept of forces comes from the book “The Art of the Long View” by Peter Schwartz. It’s used for his scenaric thinking technique of strategic planning, but performs well for other purposes.

Schwartz describes forces as “factors that influence the success or failure of a project, endeavour, or decision”. I usually write the project, endeavour, or decision at the top of my diagram to help focus my thoughts. It might be best to show an example for a specific problem and explain it after.

I want to draw a concept from Leadership Calgary that I was working on last year. I was in the human rights learning day and we were given as a starting point a definition of a right as “an agreement that can be broken”. Remember that this is a starting point, because you can see that there are several questions that get raised from this definition. The definition is provisional.

To map out the definition I wanted to draw the forces used in the different types of related agreements, where they apply in society. Specifically I wanted to indicate the frames operating in society that are concerned when one of these agreements is broken. There are all sorts of agreements, but I wanted to draw a few select ones to illustrate my thoughts on the matter. The drawing below is my attempt to illustrate this. (Thanks go to Meg for listening while I drew a different version of this.) You may click the diagram for a larger version.

On a diagram like this I draw forces in a few different ways, depending on what I want to get across. If I know the general position of a force, I will draw it with a dot and label the dot, positioning it in the appropriate frame, like “traffic and parking tickets” in the tactical frame and “corporate contract violation” in the operations frame.

Sometimes a force is broader than a specific frame so you need more than a dot. In this case I use line spanning more than one frame, which indicates a range of effects over multiple frames. An example of this is the human rights examples in the diagram. It’s important to place a dot on the line in each frame that is affected. It’s possible that you might skip frames in between, indicating that that frame is not involved with this force. You draw this using straight line through a frame with no dot in that frame.

The only other technique I apply is I sometimes use an arrow to indicate trends, direction, or desired direction. Sometimes forces move into different frames depending on a shift in perspective or to a shift in the problem at hand. In this case I draw an arrow showing the general direction.

I’ve drawn these by hand to show you that this isn’t supposed to be a fancy drawing technique. Rather much like Dan Roam’s book “The Back of the Napkin”, this is intended to illustrate and to reason through issues, either by yourself or with others. It is useful for chalkboards, paper scraps and napkins. You can certainly draft up a clean version afterwards, but the point in the tool is ease and spontaneity with depth. If I was drawing the “a right is an agreement” diagram on a paper or whiteboard working it through with someone, the discussion would probably go something like the following. You may want to bring up the diagram in a separate window.

If we assume that a right is an agreement that can be broken, how does that relate to other agreements in society? These can be broken as well, but how is a right different from those types of agreements? If we pick an example of a simple, trivial violation, traffic and parking tickets immediately come to mind. In this case the law has been broken, but the crime was probably committed based on a momentary mistake rather than part of a greater plan (thus a tactical decision). In addition, the impact to society isn’t as significant relative to other crimes, so this is an agreement in the form of a broken law at the tactical level.

Next we consider two corporations that do not live up to the contract they wrote between themselves. Corporations tend to be focused on day-to-day operations (getting the job done) and, if they break agreements, will probably break their agreements with one another in this frame (the operations frame). You could make an argument that corporations sometimes make immediate momentary decisions that violate contracts. That would then create a range extending down into the tactical frame. You could also make an argument that on occasion a board of directors might direct their staff to no longer follow a certain contract. This would extend the range up into the strategic frame and so a line would be drawn up to there as well. These are all cases where we have an agreement in the form of a broken contract at one of these three levels.

In the case of killing in society, thereby breaking agreements of right to life and safety, I selected a couple as an example. When a person is convicted of a murder charge, we consider their actions to have been preplanned or otherwise too egregious to lightly forgive. This is a violation of the ability to society as a whole to function properly, so murder exists at the foundation frame. We use the crime of manslaughter for times where there are extenuating circumstances and the intent behind the crime is less clear. I placed this in the strategic level (as I was thinking of defence lawyers operating strategically for their clients), but it might also be more properly placed in the operations frame, indicating that the crime was committed as something was being done, rather than with strategic intent (which then might be murder). You can see how other forms of killing in society might apply. “Crimes of passion”, self-defence, or crimes of temporary insanity might be in the tactical frame, even though the impact to society is greater. I’m not going to discuss the topic of euthanasia, but if you think about it for a bit you can see that it clearly sits in the transcendent and foundation frames, because of the effect it has on society and humankind as a whole. How we handle that topic defines a key portion of who we are and how we as humanity define ourselves.

By now you should also see that this isn’t a tool for judging right or wrong. Rather, it’s a tool for judging range of effect, range of importance and provides a vocabulary for thinking about difficult, not understood, or hard-to-pin-down topics.

In the case of human rights, I selected three from the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This functions as a useful mechanism for analysing in which frames the document is written. Freedom from slavery covers all of humankind and is part of the essence of how we define ourselves as a species. As such, it resides in the transcendent frame. Free speech is defined to varying extents from one culture to another. That is, the support of it or the suppression of it to a greater or lesser extent tends to be defined culturally. Thus, Free Speech resides in the foundation frame. Freedom of movement (to leave your nation and re-enter it) is quite variable from one country to the next, one government to the next, and changes based on complex combination of informal agreements, treaties and other factors. This then indicates that freedom of movement is operating at the strategic level.

So you can see that the definition of a right as an agreement that can be broken is useful for analysis purposes. We can do the following with this diagram:

Analyse the varying degrees of rights that the Universal Declaration defines:

  • relative to each other
  • relative to their importance in humankind
  • relative to how likely they are to be broken, and who might be likely to break them

Analyse agreements of other sorts:

  • relative to their severity in society
  • an indication of their impact to society and how violations should be punished
  • as a tool to evaluate “creeping rights” like a “right to a parking spot” and show them for the false importance that they are (this is clearly a tactical frame issue)

This posting is turning out to be a bit longer than I’d intended, so I will delay my second example, something from the business world, for a third posting.

At this point it may occur to you that a concept like forces really isn’t necessary to use the frames tool. To some certain extent that’s true. I find however that using the forces concept focuses my thoughts directly on what is influencing the topic I want to study. Before I added the forces technique to the frames tool I found that my thoughts were less focused and what I was drawing wandered around a bit. That can be helpful when you want less precision, but can get in the way when you want to think things through clearly. Your application of forces will ultimately lie in how much you want to focus at any particular time. It’s a simple thing, but important to keep in mind.

You may like to see the mindmap that was used to write the draft of this series of entries. Please click on the map below for a bigger picture.

Framing and Forces Part 1: Frames

I have a variety of thinking tools that I use to analyze problems, many of which I’ve mentioned in previous postings. In preparing a future posting, I realized that I should probably write up one thinking tool in more detail, since I intend to use it there.

The tool I have in mind is what I call my “Framing and Forces” tool. This tool is a combination of two other tools, which I’ve found to work well together. The first is the “Frames of Action” map taught in Leadership Calgary and the second is the concept of “Forces” as described the book “The Art of the Long View”, which I’ve talked about before.

This posting will talk about the Frames of Action and a second posting will talk about forces.

Frames of Action was designed by Ken Low from the Action Studies Institute. It is used as part of the Leadership Calgary curriculum (and used here with permission from Ken).

The term “Frame” refers to a particular level of focus. The diagram is built to keep your attention on several different levels of focus. We often pay attention to only one or two different levels and even then inconsistently and at different times. This tool helps you to be aware of what frames you and others are using. The concept of frames drives your understanding towards how you see others acting and how they see themselves acting. It also explains what they (or you) cannot see because they (or you) are focusing on other things, or on an inappropriate frame for the problem at hand.

You can use this tool to think about your own frames: your family, department, country, government, school board, or any other organization. It’s very versatile.

Below is a blank diagram of all the frames. Click for a larger version.

The frames are broken down into several different types. Not all of them are worthy of your attention at any particular time. That depends on the situation. The frames that most people are familiar with are the following (in order from general to more specific):

  • Strategic Frame - This frame deals with planning the strategy that is needed. Here you set up your plans for deploying your solution or approach. As with the name, this frame deals with overall strategy.

  • Operations Frame - This frame deals with the creation of common patterns that you use to implement your strategies (“the doing of the strategies” ). Often this is where processes are created, or simply things you regularly do in order to get the job done or problem solved. It might include training, logistics, ways of doing things, hierarchical roles and responsibility. As with the name, this frame deals with the doing of day-to-day operations.

  • Tactical Frame - This frame deals with the steps needed in order to accomplish a specific goal. The term “tactic” is used here to refer to something specific, like a specific project or goal. This could be winning a certain objective, delivering a certain product, and so on.

  • Sub-Tactical Frame - Below tactical frames are any number of sub-tactical frames, which are used to accomplish tasks for the greater tactical goal. These can be smaller tasks of any sort. It’s often not useful to list them unless they are in some way creating problems at a higher frame.

I think an example might be helpful. A company has overall goals to make money in a certain market segment, defined by their strategies (Strategic Frame). They decide that they need two different divisions “A” and “B” in order to achieve this, so they create those divisions. Each of these divisions has some common Operations Frames (because they work in the same company) but some independent ones as well. Other divisions like Finance, Legal and Human Resources have their own Operations Frames, though also share some with A and B.

You can probably see how this diagram can be used to show conflict. For example, if divisions A and B are in competition with one another for some reason (like bonuses for completed jobs from corporate), they might not be inclined to cooperate with each other. In adversarial companies they might even be “forbidden” to talk to each other or be physically separated to discourage communication. These are examples where divisions are operating in two different conflicting tactical frames, or even two completely opposed operations frames. This is usually not healthy for a company, but it is sometimes done with “startup” divisions that are isolated away from the main company in order to do some unique work. This may or may not be good for a company, but that is another discussion.

There are two other frames that are less well known but are just as important.

  • Foundation Frame - Above the strategic frame, this frame talks about the “story” of “what we’re all about”. It describes communities that an organization resides within and how it relates to those communities. These communities both allow and limit freedoms, provide opportunity for responsibilities and specify obligations. A computer company works with several foundation frames, such as what they do (and do not do) relative to other companies and competitors, the physical communities they exist within, including laws, culture, their employees and ways of doing business. A religious organization or charity also operates within many such frames. In fact, we all do as contributors to and people who benefit from society. Many ethics policies in companies, specified as partly strategic frame and operations frame documents, are written to abide within principles at the foundation frame level.

  • Transcendent Frame - Above the foundation frame, this frame is the “story” of our connection with existence and life. Despite the title, “transcendent” does not imply any religious or mystical connotation, though many religions do make strong connections with the transcendent frame. When we talk about essential wisdom, philosophy or experience from the past, this falls within the transcendent frame. Some environmental groups talk of protecting the planet for ourselves or for the future. They are describing a transcendent frame that promotes the continued existence of all life on the planet. An example of a company that directly connects their work to the transcendent frame is Ray Anderson’s Interface Inc, which plans to make the company 100% sustainable, and is actively working towards that difficult goal.

You often will not use all frames when drawing a Frames and Forces diagram, but it doesn’t hurt to at least list them on the diagram to jog your memory to see if they are involved in the problem you are trying to solve.

The next posting in this series will talk about Forces and provide an example.

You may like to see the mindmap that was used to write the draft of this series of entries. Please click on the map below for a bigger picture.

Experiment with Amazon Lists

I experimented with the book Lists on Amazon today.

Here are the two lists I created:

"Foundation for a Course on Thinking" from my previous post here.

"Leadership Calgary 2008 Class Reading List" from the reading list for this year.

Book Summary: The Assault on Reason

I read Al Gore's The Assault on Reason for the Leadership Calgary March learning day. Here's my thoughts for that book.

The Assault on Reason
Al Gore
2007, Penguin Press
ISBN 978-1-59420-122-6

In this book Al Gore describes the changing face of media information and communication in America, and how those changes are reducing American's ability to reason. He writes that the shift from newspaper (print media) to radio and mostly television has changed the way Americans perceive the world around them. Television, being a visual medium, can distort the message into short sound bites and prevent the detailed inquiry that people tend to do when reading and internalizing the printed word.

Gore also discusses the vision of the Founding Fathers of America, and how they constructed the constitution and the laws of the nation to be resilient to challenges to it. However, he argues, the Founding Fathers depended on an informed populous using healthy debate and inquiry through the printed media. Neither of these are in existence in today's society to any great degree.

Gore goes on to state that the Bush Administration has taken advantage of these weaknesses America today to create a society that is skewed from the way America was initially conceived, and this is causing America to be much more fragile to external threats.

There are many interesting points in this book, but quite a bit gets in the way from this being a great book. First, I should talk about my criticisms.

This book is badly edited. I understand that the quality of editing has slipped in recent years, probably due to cuts to editorial staff and funding. However, you would expect someone of Al Gore's statue to pay for good editing. There are many passages that are repeated in different parts of the book; one especially egregious passage is almost identical except for a couple of words, and appears on facing pages! The arguments wander a bit and some of the metaphors used aren't as compelling as they could be.

It's also clear that Gore has an axe to grind towards the current Bush Administration. This is hardly surprising, but after reading several pages of it one understands the point. More pages aren't necessary and the argument should move on. There are also passages talking about global warming and, although interesting, really don't have much to do with the decrease in the ability of the American populace to reason.

There is also an almost biblical theme running through the book of the wise old Founding Fathers setting out the path for the nation, how America has now fallen from grace, and how grace, integrity and honour can be regained through the restoration of that path. I say that this theme is almost biblical because Gore continuously has a seemingly idealized view of the Founding Fathers of America and uses "fallen" imagery in a way often seen in the Bible. I doubt this is accidental because Gore talks several times about his faith and is probably speaking in part to that audience. One Leadership Calgary colleague pointed out to me that Gore needs to use this mechanism because he hasn't actually defined exactly what reason is and how it works. If he had done that then he could rely on the assault on those concepts rather than an assault on the vision of the American nation.

All that said, I thought that the general message of the book made it a worthwhile read. The idea that constant bombardment from television, coupled with the steep reduction in readers of the printed media, leads to shallower thought has much truth in it. The idea that people are disengaging from their political responsibilities and turning towards more individual achievements rather than community ones is good. The point that governments can easily take advantage of this situation and control a democratic country a la Nineteen Eighty-Four is disturbing and probably far closer to the truth than we would like to admit. Gore provides many examples to try to prove that all of this is the case.

Much like Blessed Unrest, I find that there is enough dissatisfaction in this book that I cannot completely recommended it. However, also much like Blessed Unrest, I think this book sends an important message that should be considered. So it is with those reservations that I believe this book should be read, but the reading be carefully, ahem, "reasoned".

Book Summary: The Rights Revolution

I recently prepared a series of book summaries for my human rights presentation for Leadership Calgary. I thought it might be good to put them on my website as well. These were intended to be "capsule reviews" and so are quite short.

The Rights Revolution
Michael Ignatieff
2000, House of Anansi Press
ISBN 0-88784-656-4

This book is based on the CBC Massey lectures where Ignatieff speaks of his views on rights. Despite the name, this isn’t a revolutionary book, but it does cover the bare bones of modern rights thinking rather well. I disagree with Ignatieff on some points, but that doesn’t reduce the book’s usefulness. I wouldn't recommend it as the first book to read, though. You would probably do better with The History of Human Rights instead.

Book Summary: On Human Rights: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 1993

I recently prepared a series of book summaries for my human rights presentation for Leadership Calgary. I thought it might be good to put them on my website as well. These were intended to be "capsule reviews" and so are quite short.

On Human Rights: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 1993
Stephen Schute and Sesan Hurley, Ed.
1993, Basic Books
ISBN 0-465-05224-X

This book is based on the Oxford University/Amnesty International annual conference. It is a series of essays from a variety of writers on the theory of human rights. Many of these essays are quite thought provoking, though it should be noted that the target audience appreciates material a little on the heavier side.

I particularly liked the essay "Human Rights, Rationality, and Sentimentality" by Richard Rorty. It discusses the way groups of people infantalize or dehumanize others as a prerequisite for violating their human rights. That is, people need to see others as less than human so that, in effect, they are not violating the rights of humans. This essay gave me much to think about, especially with connections to "The Psychology of War".

Book Summary: The History of Human Rights from Ancient Times to the Globalization Era

I recently prepared a series of book summaries for my human rights presentation for Leadership Calgary. I thought it might be good to put them on my website as well. These were intended to be "capsule reviews" and so are quite short.

The History of Human Rights from Ancient Times to the Globalization Era
Micheline R. Ishay
2004, University of California Press
ISBN 978-0-520-23497-0

This is an excellent history book, and formed the major portion of my presentation to Leadership Calgary. It does a very good job of placing many of the influential human rights thinking in context, including such surprising observations as how Marxism had an unexpected influence on human rights. If you don’t like reading history books, you will probably find this a little dry, but it is filled with interesting information about rights and how thinking about rights evolved through times.

Book Summary: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

I recently prepared a series of book summaries for my human rights presentation for Leadership Calgary. I thought it might be good to put them on my website as well. These were intended to be "capsule reviews" and so are quite short.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Origins, Drafting, and Intent
Johannes Morsink
1999, University of Pennsylvania Press
ISBN: 0-8122-1747-0

I won’t beat around the bush on this one. This is a difficult book. It covers the entire history of the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There are pages that cover an explanation why one nation didn’t like a single word in the text and wanted it changed. If you can stomach that kind of book, you will find lots of interesting tidbits about the extremely laborious time the authors had drafting this document. In doing so, you will learn a lot about the politics of rights and the making of massive international documents before such a thing was common place. The Universal Declaration, though not binding, is the single most influential piece of rights text in the world and the creation of it changed laws in ways no one could expect.

Book Summary: The Psychology of War

I recently prepared a series of book summaries for my human rights presentation for Leadership Calgary. I thought it might be good to put them on my website as well. These were intended to be "capsule reviews" and so are quite short.

The Psychology of War
Comprehending Its Mystique and Its Madness
Lawrence LeShan
2002, Helios Press
ISBN 1-58115-238-8

This is an excellent concise (138 pages without notes) book about the human part of war; what makes us conceive of it and why we do it. I personally quite like the area on media and how messages sent to the media can change the minds of an anti-war populace and get them to go to war. Despite the topic, this is an anti-war book.

Book Summary: The Science of Good and Evil

I recently prepared a series of book summaries for my human rights presentation for Leadership Calgary. I thought it might be good to put them on my website as well. These were intended to be "capsule reviews" and summaries of important parts of the book.

The Science of Good and Evil
Michael Shermer
2004, Henry Holt
ISBN 0-8050-7769-3

This book proposes an “evolutionary ethics” approach to attempt to combat the fear of relativism in rights. Once religions were no longer a common standard with which to compare rights to, most thinking devolved into relativistic rights. Harshly put, extreme relativism states that you can commit atrocities in your country as long as you make the practice legal and don’t do it in our country, where it is illegal. This book attempts to counter that argument by proposing an evolutionary basis to rights and rights thought. Since evolution can’t really be questioned the way religions can as “standards of reference”, Shermer argues that evolution is the correct standard to use for judging the merits of various rights.

And So It Begins

In September I am going to start a new course, called Leadership Calgary. This is an unusual move for me because I'm taking it on a great deal of faith. The course isn't explained very well through their official media channels, and so I've had to rely on information mainly from talking with my friend Chris, who has already gone through the course and is now on the planning committee.

I'll have more on the course later once I get into it a little bit. For now, I've finished the first book on the reading list, and I'd like to give my first impressions.

The book is A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright. It is the text form of his CBC Massey Lecture. I was very happy with the book. It does a good job of providing an overview of the problem of civilization as we know it. Wright makes the case that we are currently in "The Great Experiment" of civilization, and we don't really know whether or not we've gotten it right. The author explains that there are many examples from the past that we fail to learn from, that many civilizations of the past also failed to learn from. There are also successes (Western civilization not necessarily one of them) that we could use as well.

I will be re-reading the book to make notes for the course, so I will have more to say on the book after that. I do recommend the book for anyone who is interested in the subject. It's a quick read and smoothly written.